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.

Day in the Life of a Housesitter

We are just two days away from finishing a fantastic housesit in St Croix, USVI!  This has been a six week stint and we have relished every day of it!  The weather has been perfect – warm breezes and temps in the upper 80s.  As with Florida weather, there is often a brief period of rain each day but before you know it, the sun is shining and there may be a beautiful rainbow to enjoy!

 

Several friends and family members wonder what we do all day…..aren’t you bored?!  The answer is a resounding no!  You may even think that we would be getting on each other’s nerves by now.  Not really.  We do enjoy each other’s company and since we have different sleep patterns, we each have a portion of the day for “me” time.  My time is in the morning as I can’t seem to ever sleep past 8 am. Mitch, on the other hand, is a night owl after so many years of musician hours!  So, he will be up and prowling around for several hours after I konk out.
But anyway, back to the daily life here…..There are the usual household chores to do – cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping for food. Then there are plenty of plants to tend to and the pool to clean.  Now that the Christmas winds have kicked up, cleaning the pool has become a bit more time-consuming.

Food shopping in St Croix can encompass the better part of the day.  Everything here is imported.  And other than booze and cigarettes, it is quite expensive.  I think the mainland prices are catching up, but we shop at Aldi’s when we are home, so these prices leave us in sticker shock!  It is time-consuming to review all the store ads and drive from place to place to get the deals!

What else do we do?  Being away from the work world (for the most part) has afforded me the time to pay more attention to my health.  I have been walking 4-5 miles almost daily.  Mitch joins me more and more often.  We have to keep our health together so we can continue traveling. It is quite hilly here. And there’s nothing like hill workouts to get a good sweat going!

Home Sweet Home

The driveway alone is killer. We both had shin splints for several days from the walk down the driveway.  I am not exaggerating when I tell you it must be a 65 degree angle at the least.  Following the walk, a dip in the pool is an absolute must to recover!  We had hoped to do more swimming on this trip, but the pool isn’t that long and the water is a bit to cool for me.  The walking has been working out fine. One of our walks is rather flat.

Cheney Bay

This is the 5 mile one. Only problem is that the turnaround point is a beach bar, so Mitch has been successful (on more than one occasion) into talking me into a cold beer break before the return!  Seems a little counterproductive, but who can resist this view?

Cheney Bay Beach Bar

Then it’s time for blogging.  This has turned into a longer learning curve that I realized it would be.  Picking the right name was a long process.  And we needed two names.  One for this blog and one for our housesitting site. Next step, web hosting.  Reading other blogs for inspiration, watching youtube tutorials, pitching ideas to each other…..editing, photo runs, more editing, #*#@*%!.. We have to discipline ourselves to block out the Caribbean, the pool and the beverages so we can be somewhat productive on this goal every day.

We have both been able to work on this trip.  Not nearly as many hours as we put in at home, but more than enough to keep us going.  It’s nice not having to dip into our savings to cover food and entertainment.  And the bills back home don’t disappear, so we have that to think about as well.  Mitch has made some new contacts for gigs down here. He is gigging at least three times a week.

Cafe Fresco

Meanwhile, I have been covering some shifts at Cafe Fresco. Fresco is owned by our friends Damon and Yonka Maynard – transplants from nearby Maryland. Delicious food made with the freshest of ingredients and generous portions! Check them out if you get to St Croix! http://www.cafefrescousvi.com

One last thing about how I spend my days – planning the next voyage or two.  I have spent many hours searching the cheapest airfare for our trip to Ecuador which will be in April.  There was also time spent figuring out the cheapest way for us to get from home to JFK at the end of January when we leave for our next housesit in Spain.  Yes, it would be easier to leave from Baltimore or DC, but the airfare out of  JFK was $300 less/person.  That extra $300 each will allow us more money when we are actually in Spain. The most cost-effective way from home to JFK would be to use Megabus from Harrisburg, but the schedules didn’t coincide. Looks like we will be taking Amtrak from Harrisburg to NYC.  Then the Long Island Railroad from midtown Manhattan to the airport in Queens.  The flip side of that (when we return in March) is we take the LIRR back to Manhattan and then the Megabus from NYC to Philly where we will catch another one to get us back to Harrisburg.  Many logistical hoops to jump through?  Yes, but this cuts our travel expenses to roughly $60 each and we avoid paying airport parking fees, tolls and gas.  Parking alone would be over $450.  Oh, I failed to mention that I scored us a free hotel room right by the airport on the night of our return.  Thank you AAAdvantage Award points!!

Hey Diella, would you bring me another Presidente, please?

 

Fairly mundane, right? Since we have been here so often, we haven’t been doing much of the touristy stuff. Sunday is almost alway beach day with our friends Damon and Yonka and their kids. A great way to recharge before the start of another work week for all of us!

We had a great time doing those touristy things when our friend Chris came to visit from Pennsylvania!  It’s always fun to show someone new the amazing things that St Croix has to offer!

Sailing to Buck Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Doors of Tangier

By now you have probably seen a poster or two of the doors of various cities….London, Boston, Paris…perhaps even Tangier! I didn’t realize until I was reviewing my photos yesterday that I had taken an abundance of pictures of doorways when we visited Tangier last February!  It’s no wonder!  They are so beautiful and intriguing!  I wonder, what lies behind them?  Mystery, lush interior courtyards, a robed woman preparing dinner in a tangine on an open flame, or maybe some litttle boy playing video games! Let your imagination lead you!

 

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Jimi Hendrix lived behind this door in the 70s!
Jimi Hendrix lived behind this door in the 70s!

 

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Beginnings

The fact that you’re reading travel blogs tells me you’re dreaming of that alternative lifestyle which is so prevelent in today’s media. It’s the dream man, the dream. Traveling to those far away, exotic places. Everyone has the dream, they’re just different. It may be Asia, Europe, even South or Central America. The point is that practically everyone shares this dream in one way or another. I’ve been chasing it for years and I am getting closer all the time. For Cheryl and me, the allure of third world countries seems to scratch that itch. Maybe it reminds us of our childhood, a simpler time – not to mention the economy making way for that next trip.

imageMy first trip was to the Caribbean back in 1994. A friend had the opportunity to take their band down and play some venues in St. Croix, USVI. That friend invited me down for a long weekend to check it out. While there, I was able to get around and see some of the sights on this 23×7 mile island paradise.

As the plane began its descent and we emerged through the clouds, I could see St. Croix in its entirety. The vibrant green carpet covering the mountainous spined island contrasted against the aqua blue of the Caribbean Sea. Breathtaking! As we drew closer, I could see the houses of various affluence dotting the hillsides. Upon exiting the 747, the warm humid air washed over my air conditioned, hermetically sealed, sardine canned body. My flight mates and I walked down the 1960ish rollaway stair to the tarmac and made our way to baggage claim. The last time I walked on a runway was in the Air Force back in the 70’s. Sharing the concrete floor with chickens and small lizards was a new experience. With the addition of the Cruzan rum stand offering free shots, I soon realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. The livestock may have been unsettling to some, but I loved the time warp back to a simpler time. An old black man was sweeping the concrete with a broom. A Cruzan woman pushed a cart and offered locally made trinkets. The cab drivers gathered outside sitting on mismatched chairs and boxes in a corner close to their 15 passenger vans. Again the warmth reminded me of my cooler acclimated clothing and I ducked into a restroom to zip off those long legs and sport a tee shirt.

 

imageThe gang was waiting with cold beer and a couple of jeeps to gather me and my backpack and deliver us to downtown Christiansted. After getting settled, an offer was quickly accepted to tour the island. We four wheeled our way west to Fredricksted. “Left side!” yelled one of the guys. It takes awhile to get used to driving on the Brit side of the road. When we made Fredricksted, we began bar hopping and my friends introduced me to many bar and restaurant managers which would prove very useful in the future. Like the US, St. Croix is a melting pot and peeps turn up from everywhere. Fred was from Indiana, Diana Wisconsin, Tom was from PA. Each owned a bar and each had an interesting story of how they got here.

In the southwest corner, Fredricksted (like Christiansted) has an old fort which once protected the bay from imageinvaders with a cache of cannons and now serves as a museum on protected grounds for tourists to enjoy. Also, Fredricksted maintains the large pier for mooring the 10+ cruise ships per month that list St. Croix as a port of call. After several stops on the west side , we proceeded through the rainforest to the north shore and Cane Bay Beach. On the way, we stopped at the Domino Club to give the beer drinking pigs a non-alcoholic beer. That’s right! Just hand them the can and they puncture it with their tusks and drink it down. How bizarre! Continuing on to Cane Bay, we found more venues and once again introductions were of interest to a traveling musician like myself.

Three years later, Cheryl and I ran into a young man at home tending bar who had roadied for a band that played in St. Croix. I was able to get the contact info of a woman who owned a bar on the east end. I called that bar owner and she not only gave me some dates to play, but picked Cheryl and me up at the airport and found us a place to stay. It was an easy first trip. Everybody spoke English, US currency, free place to stay, and I made enough money to pay for the trip. Little did I know that this was all Cheryl needed to embark on a long list of travels and trips that have continued for over twenty years!

I frequently return to St. Croix simply because I can pay for the trip by playing and singing at the various venues I learned of during that first trip. Each time I return I learn something new, meet new and interesting people, and see the island from a different point of view. As a matter of fact, I’m writing this in St. Croix on our 17th trip! And, of course, not our last.