Home, again

Readers of this blog will remember that a while back, Patrice and I took a long trip that took us to Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Far East including Australia and New Zealand. Since that five-month journey, starting in mid-2017 and ending in December of that year, during which we stayed at over 40 different B&Bs and met countless fascinating and friendly people, we returned to the U.S., first stopping in Los Angeles to spend the holidays with our daughter Kathleen, then traveled north to the San Francisco Bay area to spend a few days with my sister, Joan, and then headed up to Portland, Oregon, where we stayed for three months in an Airbnb in the Northeast part of the city.

Our travels had a twofold purpose: one, to see places that intrigued us; and two, to find a place to retire to, a permanent place to live.

There are a lot of ways to measure the desirability of a place. U.S. News published a list of best places to live in 2018, basing it on responses from readers as well as data collected from the U.S. Census, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the FBI Uniform Crime Report, and other data. Researching places is useful, but in the end, you have to rely on your own feelings about a place. In our many discussions of the most suitable place for us, one thought that preoccupied me was that I had always lived in the Northeast part of the U.S., and that it was time for a complete reset. The West called us, with its huge mountain ranges, its lattes, and its relaxed, friendly people. But there were lots of other places we could call home, or so we thought before thinking them through more carefully. While traveling overseas we kept a skeptical eye on places that looked and felt congenial, like Scotland (rainy, very rainy), or New Zealand (perfect in many ways, but way too far away from family).

But we wanted to take a serious look at the West. That is how we found ourselves in Portland, OR, in January. Visiting it in summer and loving the sunshine and ideal temperatures, we knew it wasn’t like that year-round. We wanted to experience the Northwest in winter, the rainy season, to give us an answer to the question: How awful could it be? It wasn’t at all awful, as it turned out, but it wasn’t exactly home, either, and we had business to conduct back east, including my son Derek’s wedding in Connecticut, which took place in July, where all the guests were treated to a New England summer shower; actually a deluge, really, with rain straining the tarps over our heads as we enjoyed the festivities.

Following the wedding, we continued our quest. We got back on a plane, taking the one large suitcase and one smaller one that functioned as our traveling home, and headed for southern California, where we spent several weeks in Pasadena, followed by a few weeks in Monrovia, a half hour up the coast. It was lovely, there was lots of great hiking and sightseeing, it was very, very hot and dry, but as with Portland, it just wasn’t home.

I want to take a moment here to stop and look at exactly what is meant by “home”: We were in quite comfortable surroundings, especially in Pasadena, where we stayed in a large (for California) house with a wonderful yard filled with fresh fruit growing on trees that had been lovingly watered, weeded, and trimmed to keep them alive in that desert environment. And people were nice enough. But we would have left behind something very important, so important that we decided that it outweighed all the other attractive qualities we found elsewhere. That was connections: friendships, and for us, as musicians we relied on good accompanists, churches that would hire us to sing and play. And finally, I think I realized that I missed the quirky, unpredictable weather of New England. As Mark Twain, a long-time Hartford resident, said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” That turns out to be a point of pride for many of us New Englanders.

To be fair, there are aspects of New England culture that are a bit of a challenge. One is the incessant, persistent movement of people everywhere. On the sidewalks, on the highways, people are always passing one another, rushing to get ahead. This seems to be tied to the Protestant Ethic that is so famous in this part of the country: this is a region of Doers, getters of things done, movers on to the next thing. At times it seems that drivers and pedestrians are oblivious of one another, and might collide at any moment. Sometimes they do. In a residential district of West Hartford, on an otherwise quiet street, I saw a stop light ringed with powerful, blinking lights. Beneath the stop sign was another sign that said, “Look left and right – twice”. No doubt there was a good reason the road department had singled out that particular intersection. On almost any street, narrow little residential back-street or wide, flat drive, people are likely to travel as fast as the road surface will tolerate, much faster than the speed limit.

Anywhere in New England, one has to watch out for surprises. It’s almost like a reflection of that famous weather. It’s the land where change is the norm. And here is where I have so many friends and colleagues that keep me young, as we continue to pursue the endeavor known as Retirement. Don’t care for retirement now? Just wait a minute. And by the way, that includes taking the occasional trip back west to experience the mountain ranges, the lattes, and the relaxed, friendly people. And, as it happens, the city of Hartford, very close by our city of choice, was ranked in that same list: number 46. So our personal preferences align with statistics. That counts for something.

 

 

Patrice and Richard’s 2017 Experience

Oh, what a year we had! Have you heard about our travels? (Observe us below at a Maori “Living Village” in New Zealand. I think we need to work on the challenge of lowering our eyebrows while sticking our tongues out.)

FullSizeRender (69).jpg In June Richard retired from full-time work, and we spent a crazy month emptying the house, selling it just before we left for our loooong trip around the world. On July 16th, we were off!

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July 17 – Ireland

PMF windy Ireland.jpg We started in Dublin, and then went up to County Donegal where Patrice met three new Irish second cousins. See her at right, standing in the field where her maternal grandfather was born—and yes, there was a cottage there back in the day. We saw the glorious Ring of Kerry, drove on the “wrong” side of the road, and felt right at home in this gorgeous country.

August 2 – Scotland

It’s been our dream to sing at the Festival Fringe in Edinburgh, and this year we finally did it, giving a cabaret performance and leading a worship service the next weekend, both at St. Mark’s Unitarian Church. The city was packed with excitement, performers, and attendees for the 75th Fringe Festival. After Edinburgh, we went north to the tiny town of Leslie, in Insch. We stayed in the Leslie Room at Leslie Castle, and we weren’t the only Leslies there! Our visit included an impromptu concert for the owner—the daughter of the Baron of Leslie—in the Baronial Hall.

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August 20 – England

We zipped down to London and saw the fabulous “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” with Audra McDonald… and we got a chance to meet her outside the stage door. An amazing talent, and very gracious to her fans.

FullSizeRender (77).jpgAugust 23 – France

We flew Paris for Patrice’s birthday at the end of August. Highlights of France included mouth-watering crepes, the rental of a snazzy black Jaguar (not our choice—it was probably the last car they had left), and a visit to a charming medieval town where we stayed with Facebook friends who offered a cottage to us sight unseen. Another friend-of-a-friend in Paris showed us around and took us to a fascinating open-air market with delicious Moroccan food. Throughout this trip, we managed to connect with kind, never-before-met friends who generously shared their towns, their homes, and often their yummy cooking. Thank you—you know who you are!

September 1 – Belgium

Our brief stop in Brussels featured a jam-packed beer festival set smack in the middle of the Grand Place, and Belgian waffles that had to be seen to be believed.

Sept. 4 – The Netherlands

In Amsterdam Patrice connected with a law school chum and friends from Connecticut, while Kathleen joined us from California. Loved the city, the incredible art, and the charm, but found the streets full of bikes difficult to navigate.

Sept. 11 – Germany

Kathleen continued to Berlin, where we took a long walking tour ending up at the Holocaust Memorial. We had just been to see the Ann Frank House in Amsterdam, and the next day we toured the Jewish Museum. Powerful and meaningful, yet full of disturbing truths.

Sept. 19 – Austria

Next up was Vienna where we got a fabulous personal tour of the Wiener Staatsoper from our friend Speedo, a rising international opera star. In contrast to her visit years ago as a student (while living on bread and cheese and staying in youth hostels) Patrice wanted to spring for tickets for both the Vienna Choirboys and the Lipizzaner Stallions. Absolutely worth it.

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Sept. 26 – Italy

Florence and Rome. What else needs to be said? We spent hours and got sore feet walking around the Uffizi Gallery, and we adored our Airbnb view of the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio. A highlight was a trip to a farm in the Tuscan countryside, where we made pasta by hand and enjoyed a concert featuring a soprano diva and harpist—and then stepped in ourselves to sing a duet!

Oct. 10 – Thailand

Then for something completely different, we went to Thailand. Loved the food and the people and had trouble with the heat and the humidity. Our trip up to Chiang Mai to visit an elephant rescue park was phenomenal. A very different world.

FullSizeRender (63).jpgOct. 16 – Vietnam

More heat and humidity, delicious food, and lovely people. We went to Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). The traffic and the hordes of motorcyclists were somewhat scary. We visited the War Remembrance Museum, a sobering experience for Americans, despite the fact that 90% of the Vietnamese are too young to remember the war. We sang for our Airbnb hosts in Hoi An to thank them and their neighbors, tailors who made us cool custom clothing.

Oct. 31 – Singapore

The orderliness of Singapore was in startling contrast to Vietnam. We were there only a couple of nights, but we were impressed with this city-state, one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

Nov. 2 – Australia

Australia is a gorgeous country that is so big that we could visit only a small part of it. We rented a car and made our way to Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne, and then had a grand time at a friend’s sheep farm in the wilds of Victoria. Along the way we saw kangaroos, koalas, kookaburras, and assorted other creatures—including little penguins on parade—and had an altogether excellent experience down under.

Nov. 21 – New Zealand

New Zealand was one of our favorite places on the whole trip. Miles and miles of beauty, clean water, and friendly people. Plus Hobbits! We adored it. It’s not cheap to live there, but it would be high on our list of spots to settle in, if only it weren’t so far from our kids.

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Dec. 4 – Tahiti

At the end of our journey, we spent two weeks in glorious French Polynesia, visiting Moorea, Bora Bora, and Papeete on the main island of Tahiti Nui. It doesn’t get any lovelier than this paradise in the middle of the Pacific. And Patrice got a chance to dance with the locals.

FullSizeRender (76).jpgDec. 21 – California

We spent Christmas with Kathleen in Los Angeles, where we were thrilled to jump in with her local UU choir for their Christmas Eve service. It was amazing to be back in the U.S. Water you can drink. People who not only speak English but pronounce it the way we do. Money that doesn’t make you feel like an idiot as you puzzle over the coins in your hand when trying to pay the guy at the 7-Eleven!

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After Los Angeles, we visited Richard’s sister Joan in Oakland. It was great to have time to be with her and see her current digs. We then went on to…

Dec. 30 – Oregon

… where we are checking out Portland for three months. Seems very cool so far (and not, fortunately, as freezing as New England right now).

April, 2018 – Connecticut

We plan to be in the Hartford area from about mid-April through October. We will catch up with friends, decide where we want to visit/live next, and celebrate a family wedding—Derek and Lindsey are getting married!

Here’s wishing all of you a fabulous 2018.

Watch this space for news from us next year… living who knows where?

Patrice and Richard

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Lovers of Leaving: Traveling Styles

Over the course of nearly four months, we have traveled in thirteen different countries, and we have traveled by plane, bus, train, rental car, underground train, overhead tramway, and of course, our own feet.  One aspect of all this traveling is the physical act of getting up and leaving the place where we currently have our stuff, and getting ourselves and our belongings transported to another place.  And by now we have it down to a routine — more or less. The night before, depending on how early we have to check out, I perform a few preliminary steps:

  • Open closets and pull any clothes off their hangers;
  • Consolidate the many bottles of shampoo and shower gel, and place them in the shaving kit;
  • Put away all miscellaneous electronics, including adapters, USB cords, and power cables, and have them ready to pack up the next day, when phones are disconnected from the charger;
  • Fold and pack any clothes that were taken out for the present hotel room / Airbnb / whatever space we have occupied, and carefully layer them into our respective bags;
  • Decide which food items we will bring.  I like to pack a bag of granola or muesli that can be eaten for breakfast, plus a few fruits.  Weight is a consideration when it comes to items placed in the bags that will be checked, but we can carry quite a bit in a backpack for the purpose.

On the morning of check-out:

  • Find a place to deposit miscellaneous small change, especially if we are traveling to a country where a different currency is used.  I generally pour these into a spare pocket of the shaving kit;
  • Jam shaving kit into the bag;
  • Place Patrice’s toiletries bag into my bag, trying not to crush it (notice I am more careful with her stuff);
  • Close up our respective bags;
  • On second thought, remove some of the smaller change from the shaving kit, and place in the room someplace (the bags often get overweight due to this stuff);
  • Close the bag;
  • Remember that I have not yet packed the miscellaneous electronics, and swiftly reopen and re-close my bag;
  • Hope that the zipper holds up when I close my suitcase — every time;
  • Roll out the door.  Wait! Take one more peek under the bed, in the bathroom, or wherever there are likely to be belongings hidden away.

(Side-note:  Patrice claims that she can pack in ten minutes.  That is her super power.)

While the routine is much the same, the space we occupy adds a special challenge.  I am what I would describe as a “geographic” type of organizer:  I need to have my shaving kit, Kindle, smartphone, etc.,  kept in the “same” place, so I don’t lose them.  See the challenge here?  Every rental space is layed out a little differently, and it takes about a week for me to get used to where things are — just in time to move again…

Every city is different and has its own climate, and every temporary living quarters, whether an Airbnb, a freebie from friends (rare, but welcome), or a fancy hotel (equally rare, and usually in reaction to issues where we lived previously), has its own personality. One recent place, in Singapore, was fairly small, with a very minimalist kitchen, and an enormous bed that took up fully a third of the entire place. But on the other hand, affordable food places were readily available, and the condo complex that it was part of had three gyms (one women-only, one men-only, one coed), plus a huge outdoor swimming pool.  There were inviting outdoor spots where you could enjoy the cooler air in the evening and watch kids having a swimming lesson.   We stayed over Halloween, and were entertained by a little costume party for little kids, as they excitedly flitted this way and that in their costumes.  The concept seems to be that people tolerate a small footprint in terms of personal living space, but the common space is generous and very actively used by the membership. It made me think about the big, wasteful homes I have lived in for the past few years.

With rare exceptions, we have found something to like about each of the spaces we’ve traveled to.  Amsterdam had a great, roomy kitchen, and the hosts had left us a number of yummy snacks to tide us over while we got used to the neighborhood. Florence had a nice, long table that could double as work area and dining place.  Singapore, besides the wonderful pool, had a bathroom scale, which we used to weigh our bags.  Most airlines were allowing no more than 20 kg per bag, or for two people traveling together, a total of 40 kg.  Sydney had, among other things, an actual overstuffed couch that was so comfortable we would sometimes stay there for hours.  That was a rare treat after many hard sitting surfaces in other spots.

One characteristic of all the places we have stayed is that they are temporary; as “lovers of leaving” we somehow look forward to the next place, the next experience.  Truth be told, some of us like the leaving more than others.  😉

The last phase of this trip will be to pick out a place (or several places) in which we plan to stay for at least six months, before we decide where to settle “forever.”  I confess I am looking forward to that, so at least I’ll know where my Kindle is.