Now it’s time to talk about a question that we sometimes get from people who meet us when we travel: What’s it really like, traveling from place to place, being away from home (and in our case, not having a “home” that we own at all)?
The short answer is, Great. It’s really great to travel to different places, meet different people, see a lot of wonderful sights. The longer answer is that it’s a bit complicated. We do enjoy the change of scenery, the many choices we have, the element of chance that always has the potential to spice up our lives — or, in some cases, throw a monkey wrench in our plans.
It can actually be a bit intimidating, to have all these choices. For example, when we started planning where we wanted to end up after Scotland, first we had to decide where we want to go next — Paris, Rennes, London? Do we stay at an AirBnB, a hotel, or what… and for how long? How many floors does the place have? (Richard does not like to carry his 50 lb. bag up too many flights.) How many nights do we want to stay in Aberdeen where we happen to be at the moment, before we take off?
So many questions to be answered.
What shall I do in the morning when we get up? When should I get up? When is breakfast? What day is it, anyway? Is it time for another of my famous naps? (Patrice estimates that I had five naps between Wednesday and Thursday, or was it Thursday and Friday?)
Actually, in between naps we have been doing quite a bit — researching, writing, and publishing blog posts and pictures, and occasionally taking time to do necessary chores. And I make it my business to check out the surrounding countryside, whatever it might be. Yesterday I stepped out of our Doubletree Hotel, which is located close to Aberdeen’s coast, and took a five-minute walk. I was greeted with this view:
It felt like I had just stumbled into Heaven, and I did what I will likely do when I reach that place, should it actually exist: I took off my shoes and socks, hung them over my shoulder by the laces, and immediately set off down the beach, soaking in the sunshine. Around me, mothers in dress clothing enjoyed the serendipity, and watched their toddlers run gleefully up and down on the sand, playing chicken with the waves, while whole families gathered for impromptu picnics, right on the sand, without even bothering to lay a blanket. Finally, I started hearing the tune to “Dancing Cheek-to-Cheek” in my head. That’s the one that goes:
Heaven, I’m in heaven,
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we’re out together dancing, cheek to cheek.
Oddly, no adults were in the water, and no one was actually swimming. Wondering why, I approached a man who held the hand of a bouncy child eager to get splashy with the waves.
“I think it has to do with the riptides,” he said after a moment’s thought. (His thick Scots accent cannot easily be conveyed here, and is another topic altogether, perhaps the subject of another blog post.)
It happened that this particular day was a gift, because the very next day, Mother Nature gave us an opportunity to appreciate this sunny visit to the sand by turning cold and rainy. It’s all good, although personally I would take the sunshine over the other stuff.
Then there is the whole aspect of travel and lodgings. When planning this trip, we made a conscious decision to leave our travel arrangements very loose: we knew we wanted to spend some time in Ireland, spend some time in Scotland, then spend some time elsewhere in Europe, but we have no detailed itinerary; some might say no itinerary at all. Tickets to France or the Netherlands have not yet been purchased, but we have a general (again, some would say vague) idea of where we are going, and when. Occasionally we will have a conversation that goes something like this: Gee, Honey, we need to figure out where we will be staying in France, and decide whether we want to take trains and ferries across the Chunnel, or just fly there.
We have worked out a relaxed approach to getting where we want to go: when we know we will spend a lot of time in one place, as we did in Edinburgh, we generally look for an AirBnB. Staying in an AirBnB apartment is a rarified mix of all-the-comforts-of-home and something-out-of-the-ordinary. All kinds of people rent out their living spaces, in many cases their own homes, and in the process visitors get to meet some of the most fascinating and possibly the nicest people on the planet. Whether the place you rent is just like the home you left behind, or not, there is a real person behind the space, and the act of communicating with them, and frequently meeting them in person, adds a dimension of something other than mere comfort or convenience. A stay at an AirBnB can be way more rewarding and interesting than staying in a faceless room in some anonymous hotel with garish carpets and clunky furniture.
It has to be said that hotels have a lot of attributes themselves. Price, for one. The hotel where we are now costs half of what we paid for our last AirBnB. Free and reliable WiFi, is another. We have been staying at a Doubletree Hilton in Aberdeen for a few days, catching up on paperwork, correspondence, etc. Prior to Aberdeen, we stayed at Leslie Castle (see earlier post), which despite its many charms, lacked even the most feeble internet signal; even the cell service failed to penetrate the thick walls. I know people will tell you how wonderful it is to get “off the grid,” but I’m still looking for my own personal reason to prefer off-grid living. Even a few days without any internet feels like punishment. Call that extreme, but that’s how I roll.
Every AirBnB has its own rules. The lady from one potential Paris flat we looked at had this in her Rules: “Please be careful of my luster, and don’t touch the heater. ” Not sure why anyone would mess with her luster, and whether after disturbing the luster, people tend to move on to mucking with the heater? Almost worth renting the place just to find out.
Food is a whole other topic. It’s really phenomenal how everyone here in Europe thinks seriously about food. No sloughing off on the food. In a month, I had exactly one bad meal; ironically, on my last day in Edinburgh. Bad falafel. Which serves me right; it isn’t even typical Scottish food. But one caveat: the traveler should be careful of over-indulging in rich food, and for that matter, over-spending. It is very easy to fall into the habit of eating out in a nice restaurant every night, as we started doing for a while in Edinburgh. We stopped that with the purchase of a few items at a local convenience store, including fresh fruit, which often is lacking in restaurant fare. A single box of Alpen cereal and a packet of Activa yogurts kept me in breakfast for over a week.
When you travel for a long time, you will need to wash clothes, unless you have more money than God and can just buy new every few days. AirBnB will tell you whether a place has a washing machine, and in Europe we have found that they tend to be combo washer/dryers, which have a single drum that doubles as the dryer. You put in dirty clothes, and a few hours later (it takes quite a long time), you pull out clean, fluffy clothes. Magic! Well, not quite: we find that often you need to add more than one extra dryer cycle before you are done. The trick with these is to put a modest amount of laundry in. The tendency for us Americans with high-power dryers is to stuff. What happens if you do that with combo dryers is that it will run endlessly. Less is better.
Happiness is having clean clothes. To paraphrase the good book, Blessed is he who is pure of heart and clean of sock. And now, a little music…