Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Senior Nomads - 500 Days on the Road!

On July 7th, 2013 Michael and I left Seattle behind to begin an incredible adventure we call Senior Nomads in Europe.

Departure Round I July 2013
Departure Round II November 2014.
We both stopped working, rented our townhouse for a year, downsized our personal belongings and household goods to a tight fit in a 10' x 15' storage unit, sold the sailboat, sold my car, stashed the other car and stuffed what was left into two large suitcases and a couple of backpacks! Sounds easier than it was at the time - but it feels great now!

Note: Other than good electronics (including Kindles) the only other real indulgence allowed was packing our own pillows. At first it seemed a little silly, but every time we faced sleeping in a different bed (see below) in a new city, after a long day of travel we both agreed those two fluffy friends made all the difference.

Since that auspicious day, we have visited 25 European countries, 48 cities and slept in 45 different  beds (most of them in airbnb apartments) along with the occasional family guest room or hotel.

If you want details, most of our adventures are posted in past blogs, however to summarize this experience so far would be to say we have been completely transformed. We have a better understanding of the world and just what it takes to get by in life and still be comfortable. We have slowed down and enjoyed each day as it comes. And even after 36 years of marriage we really enjoy each others company.

Our credo: "We will keep doing this as long as we haven't run out of money, stopped having fun, fallen out of love, or fallen over and can't get up". So far so good!

Our golden rule: "If you can't eat it, drink it, or experience it, don't buy it." Unless you are willing to exchange something out of your suitcase, of course. Weight restrictions and a firm budget do wonders to curb impulse shopping. It also helps if no one but your travel partner sees you in the same five changes of clothes on a daily basis - bonus points for saying "you look nice today."

After a 3 month layover in the Northwest (details in Where Oh Where are the Senior Nomads? blog) we stuffed our bags to the brim and left for Senior Nomads Round II on November 4th.

500 days later we can say the credo still stands, and we are loving this blessed life as we start Senior Nomads Round II.

As I write this we are in Bilbao, Spain sitting at the kitchen table drinking home squeezed orange juice ('cause we are in Spain and oranges are practically free) in a delightful airbnb apartment:

It will be hard to go back to anything but fresh OJ after this.
We arrived here after spending ten days in France catching up with Mary's family and meeting with our friends Boyd and Francoise Browning, who have graciously offered us the use of their home in Compiegne, a lovely city about an hour north of Paris, and their Paris apartment while they travel this winter! We checked out the house and will return with Mary for a long Christmas holiday in mid-December. I might have to break the "no shopping rule" for that.

Mary's family - Coco, Marcel, Mary, Jacques and Gregoire
We spent a week in the Paris apartment as well and I was able to repat a little of their generousity by taking some updated photos. If you ever need a large comfortable apartment in Paris that sleeps 4 with American sensibilities (whatever you think those might be) this is a good choice in an interesting neighborhood: (new pictures coming soon)

The living room in the Browning's Paris apartment.
 You can see the Eiffel Tower in the distance from the kitchen
Our relationship with the Brownings goes back over 35 years. Michael first met Boyd when he brought The Virginia Slims women's tennis tournaments to Seattle. Michael worked with him as his "man on the ground"and this event became one of the first events produced by Campbell Sports. Francoise Durr, Boyd's wife was a top ten tennis player at the time and is in the French Tennis Hall of Fame. She is still good friends with Billie Jean King, Tracey Austin, Martina Navratilova and other tennis greats. It was wonderful to see them again and spend a few days together.

This event was a great start for Campbell Sports
Meanwhile ... back to Spain. Last year we spend two weeks in Barcelona and we both felt we wanted to return to explore this fascinating country further.

Michael getting geared up to take on the Guggenheim
The afternoon spent at the museum makes our top ten
The ancient city of Bilbao has been a great place to start. It sits on the northern coast near the Bay of Biscay. CascoViejo, the area where we are staying, is a maze of narrow streets and alleys leading to the main Plaza de Santiago where the Catholic cathedral dominates the old town. Just like in other European cities there seems to be at least one coffee bar, bakery, greengrocer, fish monger and in this case a jamon (delicious cured ham) shop on every street. Not to mention, the largest indoor market in Europe is three blocks away. Most shops close between 1:30 and 4:00 so hardworking Spaniards can spend time in any one of multiple small bars serving distinctive Basque tapas called Pintxos along with local wine or beer for just a few euros. Life is good here.

The view from our balcony of the cathedral and old town.
Just one of over 50 pintxos bars in our neighborhood
As always, Michael makes a new friend discussing football and politics!
I also noted multiple lingerie shops, children's clothing boutiques and toy shops. Did I mention the wine bars? Catholic churches? Add to that a weird concentration of more twins under the age of four than I have ever seen (ten and counting) and you start to see a strange synergy here in old town. 

As ancient as this city is, it also exudes modernity. The metro is pristine and efficient. The city is filled with stunning architecture that compliments the well preserved traditional buildings.   buildings by Philip Stark, and of course Bilbao is home to the Frank Gehry masterpiece, the Guggenheim Museum

We spent several hours at the museum today and it was one of the highlights of our journey. The building itself is beyond a work of art - and the collection of contemporary art inside was, to use a term from the times "mind-blowing". And of course, Koon's giant, pansy covered Puppy was a whimsical counterpoint to the museum's exterior.

Puppy was just one highlight of our Guggenheim visit
Today we are taking a day trip along the coast to San Sebastian. Friday we head to Madrid on a bus for a two week stay. Then on to Seville followed by Granada. That should take us to mid-December and back to Paris for Christmas. Last year we had Chinese food in Lisbon for Thanksgiving. Maybe we can find an American style restaurant in Madrid - or at least some Turkey Tapas. 

We are not sure where we will head in January. Somewhere even warmer would be nice so perhaps Morocco and Tunisia, the Canary Islands and Cyprus, and a revisit of Turkey before heading to central and eastern Europe for the Spring.We bought one way tickets this time so we are free to wander. As long as our pillows hold out!

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends and family. We all have so much to be thankful for. 

Debbie and Michael Campbell
Senior Nomads


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  2. Hi guys! I'm headed to the Algarve for a few months of personal time - no pet/housesitting! If you're in Seville for Thanksgiving, consider this an official invite for dinner. Seville is a very short 2-hour bus ride from Lagos and my little cottage is next door in Ferragudo. It will be interesting to see if I can find a turkey.


  3. We have been following your travels. What an adventure. We are wondering how far in advance you generally book your Airbnb spots? We are planning to travel in Portugal and Spain through March, April & May. We like to be somewhat flexible in planning but are wondering if that makes finding places to stay difficult.

  4. I really like the suitcases you have. What brand are they? We are planning an extended trip and they would be perfect. Thanks

  5. I really like the suitcases you have. What brand are they? We are planning an extended trip and they would be perfect. Thanks

  6. Good for them for doing what so many of us only dream of doing! I too love Airbnb and have found some amazing ways to travel doing it.

    Rim Sanson,
    Jasmine Kokumo

  7. " look nice today"
    We just never know when we may need the bonus points.

  8. Your discussions at the Airbnb Open event for hosts in Paris were inspiring. Your experiences reminded me as a host only of my most enjoyable guests. If you are ever thinking of staying in London I know my listing would land in a different vacation price bucket from your life budget. But do look me up at room 501171 and I would be delighted to revise my price to your budget if I were able to welcome you.

  9. Whatever happened to the Senior Nomads group in Detroit, MI? The group use to have their own chartered plane and private hanger at Detroit metro Airport in the 1970's and 80's.