One Bus Two Trains Due

After two hours at the coffee shop in Bergamo, a rough draft of the “One Bus” sojourn is complete. We pack up and head to the train station. We find, if we hurry, we can hop on the train that leaves in ten minutes. Cheryl kicks into critical mode and we start to decipher the train schedule. I’ve got “Google Translator” pulled up on my phone and I support with translation. We finally approach the ticket window and eureka, the clerk speaks English validating our computations. We make the 2:15 and exhale.

I just realized I hadn’t mentioned the purpose of this multi-legged trip is to get to Montenegro and Croatia across the Adriatic for some sightseeing. These have been on Cheryl’s wish list and the opportunity to “make it happen” has presented itself. The next stop is in Treviglio where we have to change trains. The ticket we bought covers both legs (thank God) and we show the ticket to a uniformed agent who points out we must validate the ticket via a machine
mounted on the wall. Still it’s a little foggy which train to get on, but we finally see it come up on the departure screen. Second train boarded, we head to Gallarate where we must find our B&B that Cheryl rented online.

The host of the B&B had mentioned a restaurant, “Il Barbaresco“, when Cheryl booked the room, that serves free hors d’oeuvres with the purchase of a drink, so we head there with backpacks in tow. The birra list is massive and difficult to decipher, so I order a German Hefeweizen for 5€ and am relatively happy. Cheryl orders wine for 4€ and heads up to get some food. “Appetizers?” she asks, pointing at the collection of morsels. “Yes,” replies the waiter hearing English. She digs in and I follow after she relieves me from watching our stuff. Olives, mushrooms, pasta, assorted nuts are a few of the apps that fill my plate but only for a moment.

Somewhat nourished, we pack up and head on via GPS to locate our room. The  directions are probably good, but there are so many roundabouts and so few street signs that we get tripped up. We stop in a gas station to get clarification. One of two attendants speaks English. Cheryl has her handy phrase book out but doesn’t need it. “Pink church?” we ask. “Yes, dis way,” as he points to the left, “den little more and dis way,” he points to the right. “Grazie,” Cheryl smiles. “Prego,” he proudly exclaims having spoken his little used English. About a half mile later, we find our room and hit the buzzer. The gate opens and we venture in. Another door magically opens and we head up the stairs to meet Joanna, a Polish transplant, who married an Italian, Alessandro, while he was there as a student. Joanna is interested in our travels and we engage in conversation while petting her lovable Golden Retriever, Denya, who immediately rolls on her back and kicks her hind leg up. “How bout a scratch?” Cheryl and I both speak dog and I realize it’s universal sign language. After a good half hour of chit-chat, we point out we are hungry and head down to a pizza joint we passed earlier. As we look through the menu, again it’s difficult to decipher. We change our minds several times and then just order one for fear of holding up the flow. Pizza in box, we bring it back and Joanna produces a bottle of wine.  Cheryl unveils our prize which has no cheese. Just crust and sauce. We all laugh realizing we ordered the wrong one.“Cheers,” as the glasses tink and we drink to travel.

We have an early flight to Podgorica, Montenegro in the morning and Alessandro has agreed to give us a lift to the airport. We decide to head off to bed, so we are fresh for another demanding day.

One Bus Two Trains

When on the go traveling with multiple stops, you’re either tucked in at your B&B or in transition. Once settled, everything is peachy for the most part. Yeah you have to figure out the washing machine or the shower knobs, but things are relaxed. However, when you have to pull up stakes and find the next place, it’s a bit stressful. After a cappuccino and a sweet, as is the custom in Italy, it’s on to the bus schedule. Sounds easy, but we just changed to Italian from Spanish and it ain’t the same. Thank goodness I’m with Cheryl who loves the challenge of booking airlines, trains, buses and taxis in different languages. Now don’t get me wrong, it is extremely stressful and I have blushed on more than one occasion as she has cursed when things don’t go as planned.“Mi scusi!” I offer to the casual passer-by, who is unaware of the necessary de-stressing comforts of a good curse. Once figured, we have to find the merchant (this time it’s a bar) that sells billettos for the bus.

Off to Bergamo. The buses are modern and relatively new in this area, so it’s an enjoyable ride. Once there, we cross the street, admiring some awesome architecture on the way, and find the train station. Oh no, another schedule! “Mi scusi, piccolo problema.” (I got your back Cheryl). The check-in at our next place is 7pm and it’s lunch time, so we have some time to kill. Soda, wifi and a place to sit and write this entry. There’s a library here, but we have to find it. My iPhone skills always improve geometrically in these scenarios and that is always a good thing as I’m an “old guy” (as pointed out by several former friends.) There’s a wifi sign on a pole and we gather around it and pull up “Around Me” – an app I use to find stuff. No soap, can’t hook up for some reason. So I ask a student in black with backpack, “Dove biblioteca?”. Hot dang! He speaks Inglese and directs us in the right direction. Five or six blocks later, we find it and it doesn’t open till 2:30. “Mi scusi,” I say to the Italian woman who scowls from under her scarf as Cheryl blurts out yet another necessary curse. We settle for a cafe with wifi and cappuccino. “Cappuch!” yells the person behind the register to the barista as I order another cup of ambrosia. I must admit I’ve never had a poor cup of coffee or cappuccino in Italy. They all have those machines with steamed milk.

So here we sit in Bergamo typing at a table in a cafe while waiting for the train and I like it. We’ve been in Europe for 42 days and I‘m not homesick. We’re even in that rough transitional period of relocating and still content. Now that’s amore! I’ll make this a two-parter as I’m sure there will be more story on this one bus two train sojourn. Arrivederci.

Americans in Spain

I know this is a travel blog and I try to avoid politics when writing these articles. But as I was halfway in to writing this, I asked Cheryl her opinion. “Is this appropriate for Travel Morsels?” With knitted brow and increased volume, she exclaimed, “TRAVEL IS POLITICS!” Cool! I take that as a yes.

Guinness Storehouse, Dublin 2014

Having lived exclusively in the U.S for the majority of our lives, we found through traveling that our view of the world had been quite narrow. During these past 20 years of increased globetrotting, we’ve unknowingly widened our perspective. This realization first occurred in October of 2004 just before George W. Bush won his second term. Cheryl and I traveled to Lahinch, Ireland with some friends to play golf and sample some of the Emerald Isle. It seems at night you hang in the pubs, drink a Guinness, and possibly catch a futbol (soccer) match. As we settled in at a pub, a brave spokesman from a group of locals approached us and in his thick brogue asked, “So what do ya think of your president”? Not being fans of the current regime, we truthfully unloaded our disdain. I think within five minutes, our entire group was staring at a new Guinness sitting before us, purchased by the inquisitive Irishmen. We were a bit surprised they were so tuned into American politics. I didn’t know the name of their… Well wait a minute what do they have, a Prime Minister, a President? I didn’t know. For the same reason I speak only one language, I’m aware of only one country’s politics. Blinders are the reason which, by the way, slowly dissolve as you add stickers to your backpack. Looking back from afar, you can actually get the lay of the land. The big picture.

Currently in Spain, Cheryl and I picked up a four week house sit (as we did the year before) to escape the cold Pennsylvania winter. We arrived at Mary’s place a day early so she could introduce us to her dogs and go through the systems of the house before she left on holiday. OMG, a solar unit on her roof, as it should be. We were invited to dinner that night with Mary and her two friends, Pete and Jackie. All three are British expats. Over dinner the discussion turned to politics. BBC had been airing the Trump inauguration for days. Our British compadres were as informed as we were, if not more, on the issues. We became educated on the impact Brexit will have on theirinterests. Specifically, if Great Britain secedes from the EU, British citizens will no longer be residents of Western Europe and may have to leave after three months, like us on a tourist visa. They have all been here in excess of 10 years or more and own their own places. Wow! I thought we had problems. Great Britain seems to be as divided about Brexit as we are about Trump. During the same time, the EU Council has sworn in a new president and the labor party lost.  Another split issue.

Brexit series for FT.

At times in Spain as well as South and Central America, I watch the local news. Yes in Spanish, but sometimes with English captions. I see the people of these regions protesting regularly. Masses of people gathered to hold their governments accountable to the will of the people. It must be our turn. It’s always our turn. As they say, freedom isn’t free. One thing’s for sure, through our regime change with it’s aggressive start up, it sure has mobilized the masses in the U.S. The millennials with all their tech savvy ways have finally been shaken hard enough to pull their noses out of their phones and realize only through protest and the persistent calling of Congress members can the will of the people be brought to the foreground. Wait, maybe they didn’t pull their noses out of their phones. Only with the advent of social media are we able to connect and share our accounts of daily happenings unencumbered by paid pundits spouting whatever they are paid to say. Vive la Resistance.

2017 Travel Challenge

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Budget travel is our passion! A passion born of necessity! Our travel addiction coupled with our limited incomes creates this need. As many of you know, we try to escape the winters in Pennsylvania. This is our third annual escape! With each subsequent year, we have extended our time away from the US. We continually sharpen our travel hacking skills.

Home – January 2016

This winter we are traveling for almost eight weeks.  The challenge —  live on $40 a day/person! That will include all transportation costs (airfare and rental car), lodging, food and entertainment!  A tall order to be sure!

We are on Day 21! With airfare factored in, we have spent a daily average of $16.16 each! Two factors that have helped keep our costs so low so far are housesitting and cheap airline tickets! You all know my “hobby” is searching for hot deals with the airlines! Last year, we started playing the credit card points game.  We each signed up for a Bank of America Travel Rewards card that awarded 20,000 frequent flyer miles after we spent $2,000 in the first 3 months. No problem! We charge our gas, groceries, some household bills and anything else we need. We carefully put aside the cash as we charge and then pay off the balance when the bill arrives. We also earned an additional 1.5 points for each dollar charged. I found tickets on Norwegian Air for $363.80 round trip from NYC to Malaga, Spain.  Then we cashed in the points!

Final price for our international flights:

  •  Mitch $111.39
  • Cheryl $60.83

When we landed in Malaga, we had a free room for two nights courtesy of some old points I had earned on my Citibank card.  That card is now retired! Those two nights were at the Hotel Zen in Torremolinos, Spain. It is a short distance from the airport and they offer a complimentary shuttle. There is a nice little restaurant/bar on site. What a welcome sight after our transatlantic flight. A pizza with a few beers and we were ready to tuck in to our room for some seriously needed zzzzz’s.

We paid $33 for our third night’s lodging at the Hostal Sol y Miel in Benalmadena. Clean and located in a more Spanish neighborhood as opposed to the beach which is very touristy. Since then we have been house sitting. Needless to say, this saves a lot of $$! Free lodging in exchange for caring for the dogs and watering the plants!

I will post occasional updates on the budget. At the end of the trip, I will let you know how it all turns out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

The Hashers

If you are looking for some budget entertainment and a good workout while you are traveling, find a local chapter of the Hash Hound Harriers. They are an international group with chapters all over the world. www.gthhh.com or www.gotothehash.net

Cheryl learned from our house sit host, Mary, that there is a Hasher group that meets bi-weekly in this area of Spain. Mary informed us we were welcome to join in and hash along. As an added bonus, it would give her younger dog Carlo a good workout.
The Axarquia Hashers, a group of expats who meet every other Sunday, do a hike that kinda turns into a scavenger hunt. There’s a 4€ buy in (hash cash) that includes soda, water, snacks and beer.

Flour Blob

The trail is marked with flour clues (blobs) to insure you’re on the right path. Occasionally the trail splits and the flour shows a y with an arrow for each way. If you go the wrong way, another clue called a check back (CB) appears informing you’ve gone the wrong way and must return to the y and eliminate the wrong arrow for the following crowd. Now you can continue on the right path. When you see a blob, you yell “ON ON” to assure your fellow hashers that they’re on the right path.

There was a meet and greet at a parking area above the village of Canillas. The group was 20 strong. Water and soda were available as we got acquainted. Everybody had a “hash handle” and we were required to call them by their handle while the hash was on. Names like: Up The Creek, Pocket Rocket, Second Guess, Routemaster, Bunion, Zulu, and Plummet are a few Cheryl and I recall. One of the ladies (I don’t recall her handle) distributed homemade lemon marmalade to the group and we were more than happy to receive a jar.

Alright! The hash is on. “ON ON” exclaimed the grand master and the participants scurried to the beginning three options. Shortly thereafter, we heard “CHECK BACK” from one of the paths and then another signifying the left path up the hill was the correct course. Things settled down to a good hike up a narrow dirt road with an occasional “ON ON” heard in the distance to ease our questions. Cheryl hooked up with GiGi and Pocket Rocket and exchanged conversation on topics of Brexit, Spain as a home, and the new President Trump. How embarrassing!

Carlo

Four dogs joined in on the hash. One was our Carlo. What a time he had! Our daily walks involve a leash, but the hash was untethered and Carlo was able to do dog things with his buddies and check back after half-hour romps to God knows where! I didn’t ask!

The whole affair took upwards of two hours
with a serious hill climb in loose stone that I thought would never end! But it did and soon a Land Rover appeared with coolers of soda and beer. Cheryl and I took the latter. We then rendezvoused back at the parking area. Once again, we formed a circle with the Grand Master in the middle to dole out penalties for “transgressions.” The penalty was one down-down (chugging a cup of beer) while the group sang their club song. If you didn’t chug the beer, they would pour it on your head! Cheryl and I were first in the circle as we were hash virgins. Plummet and another were chastised for wearing shorts as this was a rugged hash and it was pointed out on the web site to wear trousers. Their bleeding shins were noted as they were handed their cups. Several more transgressors were called in to the circle for their punishment.

After the festivities, we loaded up and headed for the Mirador Restaurant in nearby Canillas. We ordered 2€ glasses of wine… twice… before we ordered our meals. After a serious two hour hike, that was more than ample to grease the conversation. For 10€, I had Pollo Indonesia with three sides which was awesome. Cheryl had the equally enjoyable salmon for the same price.

I knew it all had to end eventually and following the meal, promises were made and hasta prontos were shared by all. Cheryl and I packed up Carlo and headed back to Comares and our house sit. We fed the dogs and loaded back in the car to make a birthday party at the nearby Table Rock Restaurant in Los Torrenos. But, that’s another story.

It’s a Homer!

Cheryl and I have been serious dog and cat lovers since the beginning of time. We both had that childhood pet that seemed to live forever. When you’re a kid, thirteen years is your entire school career (plus one hopefully). When you get older, thirteen years pass rather quickly and you realize you’re gonna have to go through another passing of a best friend. Nigel our black lab is thirteen and he is getting close. Rear end is about shot. I have to lift him up on the sofa when he looks back with those sad eyes. Good god, it takes both of us sometimes to get him up there and my rear end is starting to go too. We look like a hook and ladder truck when the coffee table is in the way. Anyway, the day will undeniably come. We frequently tell him he’s our last dog, our last heartbreak. Pet-wise that is.

Which brings me to a solution to this problem. Since Cheryl and I have been house sitting for over a year, we’ve had the opportunity to keep several pets. They’re like grandkids, ya love ‘em, then you can give ‘em back. With a new pet, it takes a few days to feel each other out and, of course, they will test you like that 2 year old nephew that just gets a timeout when he acts up. “Why my ol man woulda,” wait… that’s for the therapist. We’re dog people dammit and we know the drill. “Don’t you look at me with those big brown eyes… You’re not getting the last bite of my hotdog!” We’ve made the mistake of allowing Nigel table bites and there is hell to pay because of it. Never again.

imageHomer, on the other hand, has been handled much better in this regard. He must sit on a small rug and “shake paws” to receive that treat. Knowing the error of our ways, we are very careful to adhere to this regimen. This nine month old yellow lab crossed with beagle or something is a large part of our current house sit in Sedella located in the Andalusia region of Spain. Homer’s owners told us he is a rescue dog and he has separation issues. Actually, I don’t see any issues. Our dog Nigel gets mad when we go grocery shopping. We used to take him but we have to… Ya know that hook and ladder thing again. Nigel weighs 105 pounds! Uh! My back! Homer on the other hand is a sleek 48.5 pounds (22 kg). Heck I can Richard Kimble (one arm man) him into the car. Cheryl is already in the habit of walking Nigel every morning for a mile or so. Homer… same thing. But he wants it at 6 am and it’s dark here. Did I mention this house sits among the steepest of the Sierra de Tejeda mountains? That’s right, it sits in the shadow of Mt. Maroma at 2,068.5 meters (6,826 feet). Not the tallest, I said steepest. I previously said Homer was a lab crossed with maybe a beagle, but after a couple of days I’m thinking goat. Yes, I take the evening walk with Homer and Cheryl and at first I said things like, “Wait! You want me to walk down there?… Is there a tractor or something that’s gonna come get us?” Mind you I hike the Appalachian Trail and I’m no slouch carrying 30 pounds on my back and navigating some challenging topography. But these are goat paths image(and I know this because there are goats right over there with a shepherd and dogs and everything). After about five days of this, I became acclimated and could handle the steep terrain. It was always a workout though and building a fire and helping prepare dinner afterward was a joy.

There happened to be a cat detail affixed to this house sit that was a big concern to Homer. There were 7, no 8 (not sure) feral cats that the homeowners were feeding and we marveled at the pecking order, rules, and social proprieties. Homer seemed to tolerate the ruling three, but the others, not so much. The three rulers would not flinch when Homer passed by and would continue issuing their orders such as “r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-roooooul (must imagebe Spanish with the rolled R) which meant time to rotate since there were only three bowls. These cats would announce to us each morning it was time for breakfast. Cat mess was at 9 am (but we would get the call at 8:45 to give us time to prep).

When taking a break, we glance out across the peaks and valleys and see two men teams trimming the olive, almond, orange, and carob trees, as well as the grapevines, that thrive here in this dry soil. Too steep for tractors, plowing is done by mule. They plow frequently, so the earth accepts the small amount of rain yielded by this arid climate. This ensures low noise so you can hear the wind and the bells from the ever-moving goat and sheep herds that mow under the trees growing on these steep slopes. It’s extremely remote out here in the mountains. I think it’s like five km to the hard road, then another two to the nearest small town of Sedella. It seems we’ve lost this simple agrarian way of life for the most part in the US. Right before my eyes as a matter of fact. And the quality of food, wine and olive oil is so noticeable in this region. Hand raised, free range, farm to table. It’s very inexpensive as compared to home. I can actually survive on the pittance social security gives me and eat noticeably better. Hopefully Homer’s folks will take another trip come next winter. If so, as Arnold said, “I’ll be back”.

Laundry Day in Southern Spain

It sounds simple enough! We’ve only been traveling for about three days, but when you only carry a backpack for a six week trip, it doesn’t take long before the idea of fresh clean clothes is quite attractive for several reasons! Especially when the outfit you are wearing is the same one you put on and have worn for the past two days since you left home! (OK, Mitch, I get the hint! Stop holding your nose!)

I find myself with a washer readily available at our housesit, so let’s get this done! Instructions left by the homeowners – three small scoops of detergent and one small scoop of “anti-cal” to combat the hard water. Got it! I gather up an armload of dirties and head out the kitchen door to go down to the gym/laundry room to get this chore going.

About halfway down the steep staircase of 18 narrow steps, I feel my feet go out from under me as my middle back hits the hard concrete…tripped up on some dangling dirties! Coupled with some prolonged moaning and bellowing, I do a quick mental inventory of my conditon. OK. Just some scrapes – no breaks! Onward to laundry!

I load the clothes and detergent and then I see this!!!IMG_1239

What??? I need a home ec class for this! Youtube and Google Translate to the rescue! Some of the settings are pretty obvious, others not so much.

Algodon – cotton.

Algodao – cotton in Portuguese!! What – it’s in two languages??

Sineteticos – synthetics.

Delicado/Seda – delicate/silk.

Lana/La – wool (never did figure what La is or how to get that little ~ above the a on my keyboard.)

Antialergias – Hypoallergenic (I’m guessing).

Sport – duh.

Plumas/Penas – feathers (What? No, more Portuguese).

Camisas/Blusas – shirts/blouses.

Ropa oscura/Ropa escura – dark clothes.

Rapido – quick!

Ignoring most of the other buttons, I choose Algondon. (By the way, “Prelav” is like a pre-wash or extended wash, I think.) Then I see the numbers illuminate!! Are you kidding, 2 hours and 45 minutes to do a load of laundry? Guess I will skip my hiking plans for today!IMG_1238

Turns out that these front-loading European washing machines don’t have agitators, so they are gentler on your clothes. But the wash cycle takes forever. And the water temperatures?? US average for a load in hot water is 120°F. Well, here it is 60°C which is 140°F and if you want to get those babies really clean you can up to 90°C (194°F)!!! Dang! Now that’s some clean clothes! I feel dirty again! I never did figure out the other controls – but I realize the little clock symbol is a timer. I guess it would be convenient to load them the night before and have it start while you are still sleeping. Especially if it is going to take almost 3 hours to get the load done! We learned later from the homeowners that many of the locals do their wash at night since electricity rates are lower during off peak times.

So, the washing is done. How about the drying? It is a very common practice here to hang your clothes out to dry. Fortunately, I do that at home too. Saves on the electric bill, makes your clothes smell fresher and bleaches those whites in the sun! But, it has been since I was a child that I saw an umbrella or rotating clothesline!  It is a battle of woman and the wind!  Those sheets were wrapping themselves around me like a mummy!

20160209_131813

Gotta say, once you figure it out and make some adjustments to your schedule, I like it this way! And my clothes have never seemed so clean! Now watch out – I am going hiking!