The Luxury of Slow Travel

A side street in Lisbon, Portugal

What do you think of when you think of luxury travel?

Is it flying first class and having a big, comfortable seat with a footrest, one that reclines into a bed? Dining on real china with real silverware instead of having to use plastic everything? Receiving special treatment the airport, like being seated early and greeted with fresh coffee or a cocktail?

Is it being pampered in five-star lodgings with high thread-count linens, every amenity you could imagine, or a staff that knows your name and takes care of every whim?

Or is it taking the time at your destination to truly unwind and experience your location in more depth versus skimming the surface and racing from sight to sight or activity to activity?

While I have greatly enjoyed the first two aspects of luxury travel, over the past year I have come to realize that embracing slow travel was the most luxurious thing I had ever experienced. While we enjoyed our structured tour of India, and our train ride across Australia, embracing the ethos of slow travel and the opportunities to connect with a place and its rhythms, culture, food, and sights has made for our most memorable travel experiences, with the added benefits of costing us far less than it would otherwise and being easier on the environment.

A magical shot of St. Peter’s at dusk, captured as we walked back to our apartment one evening in Rome.

Our slow travel experiences didn’t mean we had to make or find the time to be in a place for a month or longer, although we were able to do that in a couple of places. But it did mean what the name says, that we slowed down, and didn’t feel like we had to try to do and see everything (especially on a rigid schedule) or eat everything, or try to fit every experience into our visit. Slow travel meant interacting with the local culture up close whenever possible, trying to overcome some of the language barriers that we encountered, and taking the time to notice and observe local customs. Slow travel for us was about making connections. All of this took place sometimes within the space of a few days all while visiting and experiencing some amazing sights along the way.

Street art can be found down alleys or off the main thoroughfares, but sometimes you have to look up to find it, like with this work in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Some of the ways we did this were:

  • Staying in homes and apartments through Airbnb versus staying in hotels.
  • Shopping for most of our food in local markets versus eating out all the time.
  • Using public transportation most of the time.
  • Not having a set schedule every day, or a list of things we had to see or do. For the most part we got up and got going when we were ready to start our day. And some days we did nothing but explore the neighborhood we were staying in, or stay home and read.
  • Adapting ourselves to local customs whenever possible, such as removing our shoes when entering a home in Japan (and then turning them to face out), or greeting shopkeepers and other workers in France with Bonjour! before any beginning business operation.
  • Not expecting people to speak English with us. If they could or wanted to that was great, but we never made it the expectation. We tried to learn how to at least say hello and thank you in the local language of every place we visited (and excuse me or pardon me if possible).
A fruit market in Italy

Time, whether long or short, can either be one’s nemesis or one’s ally when traveling, something that there’s never enough of or a luxury to be savored even if all one has is a few days. When the emphasis is on experience over sights, and quality over quantity, the time one has can become the ultimate luxury of travel. 

Minimalist Life, Simple Life, Happy Life

When we moved to Hawai’i back in 2014, we only shipped 4500 pounds of household goods over with us. We were ready for a simpler life, and during the four years we lived on Kaua’i we only added five small pieces of furniture, a washer and dryer, and not a whole lot more. It was enough.

Still, Brett and I often asked ourselves if we could make do with less. The answer was always no though, mainly because we still had two of our daughters living with us, and we were using everything we owned. However, when it came time to prepare for our last daughter leaving the nest, and for us to begin our Big Adventure, we began shedding items again and eventually got our possessions down to just 1500 pounds. No furniture other than two small side tables, one made from an antique hibachi and one from an antique Japanese kotatsu, and two small rugs made the cut to be put into storage back on the mainland. We sold it all.

As Brett likes to joke, these days we carry our net worth in our suitcases. While that’s not true, we do move around with very little these days. We are living a very stripped down, minimal life now, especially so this summer. Our Airbnb apartment is nicely decorated and has everything we need, up to and including a slow cooker and small hand mixer, but there are no extras, no frou-frous. We are living without a car as well, and have found that to be less hassle than we expected. Going with out a car has actually been quite freeing.

We love our life right now. We can’t get over how free and light we feel living with so little. There are no geegaws or tchotchkes to dust or maintain, no books to keep track of, no car insurance to pay or gas to buy. We’re producing less trash these day. We have a basic set of cookware and enough utensils, but our cooking is simpler these days and we eat less. There is a small set of dishes but enough that we usually can get away with running the dishwasher only every other day. All purchases, clothing included, are made with purpose, and after thought and discussion.

We are also not tied down these days with loads of obligations. While we miss our family and love spending time with them and our friends, our days and our time are for the most part our own for a change, with the freedom to decide what to do each day or even if we want to do anything at all.

The best thing though about our simple, minimalist life in Portland is that we’re getting to experience and contemplate how small we can live after we eventually settle down in our own place. We may not want all those things we thought we couldn’t live without when we left Hawai’i, although I suspect we will keep most of them. But maybe not. We can see ourselves living in a much smaller space than we first imagined, even a studio apartment, as Brett and I have learned this past year about how to carve out our own spaces. Being in a truly small place doesn’t scare us any more. Being able to live without owning a car would be the icing on the cake.

Less truly is more these days. 

Sunday Morning 6/23/2019: Week 6 in Portland

What a busy, crazy, mostly wonderful week we had!

Happy and proud Mom & Dad!
Our graduate – I caught this shot of Meiling as the grads were recessing out.
The Don Latarski Trio provided music for the reception following the ceremony. We know Don from the years of campouts we attended when the girls were little. He’s a professor of music (guitar) at the University of Oregon.

We departed for Eugene at a little after 7:00 in the morning on Monday, had an easy drive down, and arrived around 10:00 with one stop for coffee/tea in Albany. Parking near the UO campus was already a nightmare by then, but we eventually found a timed spot somewhat near to Meiling’s apartment. A little before noon we had to move the car again, but this time found a metered spot and gave ourselves enough time to attend her ceremony. The Department of Computer & Information Systems ceremony was lovely. A bagpiper led the graduates in, there were a couple of short speeches, those winning awards were recognized, and finally students were presented with their diplomas. The whole thing was over in a little less than an hour, a good thing because it was very sunny and quite hot, although thankfully there was a breeze from time to time. Meiling’s department graduated 113 students this year (although not all attended the department ceremony), but only 13 women, including graduate students. In spite of all the female computing genius characters on TV shows, associations like Girls Who Code, and so forth, CIS appears to still pretty much be a boys’ club, but hopefully the number of women in the field will continue to grow over time. After the students recessed (again to bagpipes) we were entertained with live music, with the lead guitarist an adoptive dad we knew through the campouts we used to attend every summer! There was also a lovely buffet provided for everyone. We mingled a bit but didn’t eat much so we could enjoy a post-graduation lunch with Meiling at her favorite spot, where we all ended up ordering breakfast for lunch. By late afternoon Brett and I were still feeling full, and tired, so we headed down to our hotel in Cottage Grove while Meiling got together with friends for the last time and finished up cleaning her apartment.

The Mosby Creek Covered Bridge, built in 1925, one of four we visited.
The interior architecture of the bridges was just as beautiful as the exteriors.

On Tuesday morning, before picking up Meiling, Brett and I drove a bit of the Cottage Grove Covered Bridge tour and visited four bridges. I had known there were a couple of them in the area, so was a bit surprised by how many there actually were. We picked up Meiling and her cat around 11:00, she turned in her keys, and we headed back to Portland where she rested at our apartment for a while. In the late afternoon we took her and Sophie to the airport (through horrific traffic), dropped off our rental car, got her and the cat checked in with the airline and said our goodbyes. She got bumped up to first class for her flight to New York (!), although she apparently fell asleep the minute she got into her seat and said she didn’t get to enjoy any of the amenities. She is now happily settling in to her new life in New York City!

Ready to head to New York with her beloved cat, Sophie! She’s wearing the lei we forgot to take along to Eugene for her graduation

On Wednesday afternoon I saw the dentist again for what was to be crown prep for the molar that broke last December. However, when she took off the temporary crown she discovered things were much worse than expected. There were some heroic actions that could be taken to save the tooth but they would have cost thousands of dollars and taken loads of time, so I made the decision to have the tooth extracted. She took care of the second filling while I was there (and discovered yet another cavity – no!), then made an appointment for me with an oral surgeon and early Thursday morning I had a second extraction done. This tooth was a big molar so not as easy an experience. On the plus side, the extraction costs less than a crown, and our insurance covers more for an extraction than a crown as well, but down the road I am going to have to get an implant. At least I have some time now to save up for that. I just got the first bill for the initial x-rays, comprehensive exam, two fillings, and first extraction: $504 after insurance, although insurance hasn’t paid for the second filling so really more like $350. It’s still awful, especially with another filling, the second extraction and then the lower bridge to come.

Later Thursday afternoon Brett and I headed back downtown to meet reader Pat, and to give her the obi she won in the first giveaway. Like us, Pat had previously lived in Portland, and we had a delightful time chatting for a couple of hours. I have always had the best experiences when meeting readers and this time was no exception.

On Friday I pretty much collapsed, so no Japanese and Rose Gardens again this week. My mouth still hurt quite a bit from the extraction that day and both Brett and I felt tired and worn out. So, we stayed in and read, relaxed and recuperated. I mostly did the same again yesterday, but Brett went his calligraphy class in the afternoon and we took a short hike when he got back. We don’t have any plans for today other than to take a nice, long walk in the forest – this tooth thing knocked me out and I’ve also now got a cold. Life is good though.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished with two more books last night: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone and Spearhead: An American Tank Gunner, His Enemy and a Collision of Lives in WWII. The second book is about a tank division stationed in Europe near the end of WWII. It’s been a fascinating book for two reasons: 1) although I have seen tanks operate in every war documentary, film or mini-series I’ve watched, I have never really had any idea of how they worked, the tactics of using them, and their vulnerabilities, and 2) the book also delves into the German side of tank warfare, and includes information and opinions from both soldiers and civilians, which makes the story all the more interesting. The best part though was the reunion at the end of the book of an American and a German tanker who had fought against each other – it was a wonderful finish to the book (they became good friends). The Tatooist of Auschwitz came off of hold this past week so that’s what I’m reading next as well as continuing to pour through the Cotswold guide book (I renewed it for another three weeks).
  • Listening to: Another quiet morning here, although both Brett and I are coughing quite a bit. It’s going to be another lovely Portland summer day so we plan to get outside later and enjoy it as later in the week rain is expected.
  • Watching: Brett and I finished the miniseries The Pacific, and then for something completely different have been watching Father Brown. It’s been fun seeing places around the village where we’ll be staying.
I’m looking forward to a big VERY low-carb Cobb salad tonight topped with Trader Joe’s green goddess dressing. YUM!
  • Cooking: My mouth is still a tiny bit sore today from the extraction, but getting better and I’ve already returned to eating regular foods. Because I had to go with fairly soft foods for the first couple of days Brett was eating leftovers and such, but tonight I’m going to put together the Cobb salads I had on the menu last week. Also on the menu this week will be CookDo mabo dofu, Polish sausages with sauerkraut, Scotch eggs, and a Friday evening chicken fajita pizza. We have a lot of food on hand that we need to use.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: It was a good week even with the surprise dental work, but just getting through it all took a lot of coordination, and there were still lots of regular chores, like the laundry, to fit in among everything else. We were able to book a Zipcar for two days in late July and made a reservation for a night at a wonderful B&B for a getaway out at the coast (we got the last available room at the B&B), something we wanted to do while we’re in Oregon this summer. I somehow managed to get my goals card completely filled in for the week – the only thing I missed was a walk on Friday. Even though it doesn’t feel like we walk very much some days, by the end of the day our tracker usually shows we’ve done over two miles so I’m happy with that. I have arrived at the end the first section in the kanji workbook and can now read over 40 words! I am getting ready to take the first big review test in the book, but that probably won’t happen until next week. It’s humbling to remember I’m still struggling with characters and words Japanese kids learn in the first grade.
We greatly enjoyed meeting Pat, winner of the obi giveaway. I think I look rather dopey though, like someone who just had a major tooth extraction a few hours earlier.
  • Looking forward to next week: We will have a less-busy week coming up, and I’m also excited about finally getting over to the Japanese Garden and the International Rose Test Garden. Brett starts a beginning Japanese conversation course at Portland Community College on Wednesday. Mostly I’m looking forward to not having a whole lot of stuff on our calendar.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Both Brett and I greatly enjoyed Meiling’s graduation ceremony – the smaller departmental gathering was so much nicer than having to sit through a giant all-school event like big universities traditionally hold. Our short drive through the area around Cottage Grove on Tuesday morning to see the covered bridges was delightful as well, especially with the beautiful weather and blue skies. Our meet-up with Pat on Thursday was great fun, and I hope we will be able to get together again some day. Not entirely sure having another tooth extracted was a good thing, but the procedure didn’t take too long and if it had to go, sooner was better than later. All three of the girls called me on Friday to see how I was doing, and they’re all having a good summer so far. YaYu has started getting out on her own – a big step for her – to visit places in Japan. She went to Harajuku one day this week and then to the maneki neko (lucky cat) temple another day. We’re very proud of her initiative as she’s the least adventurous of the three girls.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) We thought we’d be eating out a lot in Eugene, but our affordable post-graduation brunch orders were so large that there were plenty of leftovers. Meiling took those with her and finished them off for her dinner and breakfast, and Brett and I were full enough that we skipped dinner and then ate the free breakfast at the hotel on Tuesday morning. 2) The rush-hour traffic was terrible when we set out to take the car back to the rental agency on Tuesday (even though we left more than an hour early), and we had no time to top off the gas before dropping off the car which cost us an additional $23. That was the more frugal choice though – bringing the car in late would have added an additional $67 to our bill. 3) We picked up 30 cents in pennies on the ground in front of a ticket machine at the Max station when we went over to the dentist on Wednesday – apparently someone discovered the machine would not take their pennies and dropped them all in disgust. 4) We ate all of our leftovers and didn’t throw out any food this past week. 5) I closed the Amazon Prime account so that I wouldn’t get charged following the free trial period. 6) We put $18.52 into the change/$1 bill bag – along with the week’s change I also discovered a small stash of $1 bills I had hidden away in my wallet!
I’m so grateful for opportunities this summer to enjoy Oregon’s beautiful scenery.
  • Grateful for: It’s difficult to pick any one thing this week as so many good things have happened and are happening. I have so much to be grateful for these days, including my children; my health (bad teeth and all); having good health and dental insurance; the opportunities we have this summer to enjoy Portland and other parts of Oregon and be close to friends for a few months; the time I have to read and relax these days; an abundance of good, healthy food; and our upcoming travel and opportunities for adventure. I am feeling especially blessed right now.
When I saw Eggs Benedict on the menu I knew that’s what I’d be having for our post-graduation brunch. I went with the smoked salmon, spinach and dilled hollandaise option. Meiling ate my ciabatta bread, and took the sweet potato fries for her dinner.
  • Bonus question: Do you have any “must order” items when you see them on a menu? Yes! Eggs Benedict are always a must order item for me. The restaurant we ate at in Eugene had ten different varieties of Eggs Benedict to choose from and they all sounded delicious so the decision of which one to choose was not easy. Other “must order” items for me have always been Reuben sandwiches, French dip sandwiches, or patty melts. If two or, heaven help me, all three appear on a menu I will do rock, paper, scissors to decide which one to have. Since I’m not eating starches this summer, the sandwiches have been easy to avoid so far, and in Eugene I asked them to leave the eggs off of the bread this time (which Meiling ate). Otherwise than these items I go with whatever on the menu looks good!

It’s almost hard for me to believe that we’ve already been in Portland for six weeks, and have two more full months to go. The time seems to be going very quickly here though. I’m also enjoying using the buses and trams more than I thought I would, and it’s been easy to reserve a car when we need one. I am especially enjoying living on the west side of the city, and being able to easily get down into downtown because Portland’s downtown is so pretty, easy to navigate and walk around in. I think if we ever came back to Portland we’d settle somewhere over here.

Here’s hoping all of you had a great week and are looking forward to the one coming up, that you got a lot accomplished, have a good book to read, and had lots of good things happen for you. Finally, don’t forget to enter the Kitchen Set Giveaway!

We Have a Winner!: Giveaway #2

There were 109(!!!) entries for the Supermarket Favorites from Japan, and after inputting all the names the random name generator chose:

JAN!

Congratulations!

Jan: I will be contacting you by email to get your mailing information, and will send off your package at the beginning of next week.

I also want to thank everyone for entering and for your lovely comments – I enjoyed reading all of them (and some of them made me very hungry). If you have a large Asian market near you, or a big section in your supermarket, you may be able to find some varieties of CookDo sauces and/or Kewpie mayonnaise there if you still would like to give them a try. Finally, I promise to offer more of these giveaways after our next trip to Japan – I had no idea it would be this popular!

Sunday Morning 6/16/2019: Week 5 in Portland

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there! It’s going to be a fairly laidback day here, but we will be heading out in a while for lunch at a nearby cafe to celebrate Brett’s day.

The forest was a cool and comfortable place to spend time when the temperatures climbed last week.

Metaphorically speaking, it seemed like we traveled from Alaska to the Bahamas all in the space of week. Brett and I were bundling up the week before this past one, trying to stay warm, and then this week it got HOT. On Tuesday the temperature climbed to 95 degrees (over 100 degrees west of the city), and on Wednesday it was up to 98. We had planned to visit the Oregon Zoo, the Japanese Garden and the International Rose Test Garden on Thursday, but even though it had cooled down some it was just still too hot for us so we decided to postpone that visit and not risk getting overheated. We did go out for a walk in the forest in the early evening which turned out to be very pleasant and cool. By Friday temperatures were back down in the 70s so all is well again, at least for the time being. While our apartment does not have air-conditioning we thankfully have three efficient fans so we were able to stay fairly comfortable inside.

With the blinds closed and fans running we survived three days of very high temperatures. This fan could really move the air around!

This evening Brett is picking up a rental car at the airport, and early tomorrow morning we will head to Eugene (about two and a half to three hours away) for Meiling’s graduation. She is not participating in the university’s big ceremony but instead only in her department’s (Computer Science), which will happen at noon. Afterwards we will take her out to lunch, then head back to her apartment to help her finish up the last of the packing. We’ll pick up something light for dinner, then Brett and I will go to our hotel for the night while she spends the last night in her apartment (to stay with her cat). On Tuesday we’ll take Meiling and her cat to the vet to get the last paperwork ready for their flight to New York, then leave for Portland in the early afternoon. We’ll drop her off at the airport and say our goodbyes after she gets her cat checked in, then return the rental car and take the tram/bus home. So many memories are floating around in my head and heart right now about this beautiful, smart girl and what she has overcome and accomplished to get where she is now. We know (and hope) she will continue her almost-daily calls and messages and let us know how and what she is doing. I know she is going to do great things going forward, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.

For many months WordPress had been sending me a notice to “try out” the new editor feature, but I had resisted and stayed with the classic editor. But last week for some reason I decided to see what the new editor looked like so I clicked on the “try out” button . . . and am now permanently stuck in the new editor! Grrrrr – I hate it! I can now only get back to the classic editor if I purchase an upgrade (for $96, so that’s not happening) and I am having to work with features that I don’t want and are not as easy to use as well as the loss of some I had in the past (especially the special alphabet, although I think I have figured out a workaround to access it). The new editor also refuses to let me preview my posts even though there’s a live button that says “preview.” Images are a pain to insert compared to how easy it was with the classic editor. Anyway, if you see some odd formatting changes or other weird things going on in the next few weeks (like when WordPress out of the blue inserted their own generic photo in my header for who knows what reason), that’s what’s going on. Also, I still cannot comment on blogs using the Blogger platform, not even anonymously.

And, another reminder: There are four more days remaining to enter the giveaway for a few of our favorite items from a Japanese supermarket!

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I have read a LOT this past week, and finished four books (Small Fry, Anatomy of a Scandal, The Unquiet Dead – which was excellent – and Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.) The last book was recommended by reader Laurel and had lots of food for thought. Currently I’m reading Distant Echo by Val McDermid (in the evenings) and Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb, during the day, another book recommended by a reader. It looks like I may accomplish my reading goal of 30 books by the end this month – when I made it at the beginning of the year I was having trouble fitting reading into my day while we were traveling. If I do finish 30 books by the end of the month, I’m going to increase my goal for the year to 52.
  • Listening to: Brett is studying Japanese and enjoying his morning bowl of oatmeal, and there’s not a sound coming from outside. We love how quiet it is up here in the hills.
  • Watching: Brett and I finished Band of Brothers and are now watching the companion series, The Pacific. One of the actors in the series, somewhat of an “unknown” at the time, is Rami Malek, who won the Academy Award for his role as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. Tonight we’ll also be watching another episode of Big Little Lies.
  • Cooking/baking: I’ve got turkey pepper pot started in the slow cooker for our dinner tonight after Brett gets back with the car. Also appearing on the menu this week will be sausage and pepper pizza, pork chops with fried cauliflower rice, Mediterranean night (spanakopita, feta cheese, hummus, cucumbers and tomatoes), and we’ll have a big Cobb salad one night.
Onions, broccoli, and fresh cherries from the farmers’market . . .
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: We went to the OHSU Farmers’ Market on Tuesday, and bought a flat of Hood strawberries and some other produce. It was a very different experience from the markets on Kaua’i: only two farms were selling produce, but there were lots of other interesting products and several booths selling some delicious-looking meals, from Mexican to Indian to Chinese. Brett and I think we’ll go back one week for a lunch date – a stand making Mexican-inspired dishes looked particularly appealing. I filled in all of my goals card although I missed two days of walking because of the heat (I drank a whole lot of water though!). I finished the first section in the kanji book, and have committed 20 words using the characters in the section to memory. I’m still working my way through the first grade though. We used ZipCar for the first time on Friday to pick up my prescriptions at Costco, and bought a few other things while we were there, and also made a stop at Trader Joe’s so we’re good to go for the next few weeks.
. . . and lots of sweet Hood strawberries.
  • Looking forward to next week: Of course the number one think we are looking forward to is Meiling’s graduation tomorrow! Also, on Friday we’re going to have coffee with reader Pat, the winner of the obi, and hand over her prize. She just happens to be visiting Portland right now – how convenient is that? I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every meeting I’ve been privileged to have with my readers and don’t expect this one to be any different. Brett and I are going to try again to go to the Japanese and Rose gardens on Friday, so fingers are crossed for some good weather and decent temperatures that day.
We dined al fresco on two kinds of wild-caught NW salmon, and two delicious salads on Friday evening along with enjoying beautiful weather and wonderful company!
Sarah and Chris have been nomads for over two years – they are inspiring!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We had an absolutely wonderful evening at our friend Joan’s house last Friday evening, and were privileged to meet another set of traveling nomads, Sarah and Chris, who are staying at Joan’s while they visit Portland (Joan hosts an Airbnb room in her home). We enjoyed a delicious salmon dinner and traded travel stories – Brett and I were impressed by how light the two of them travel compared to us (backpacks only for them). They are currently on an eight-month haitus in the U.S. before taking off again for more international travel. Yesterday afternoon we attended Brett’s calligraphy class’s annual summer potluck hosted by one of the students up in the NW Portland hills. Although attending a party of strangers is worse than going to the dentist for me, I did have a good time and also got to try speaking a little basic Japanese (and did OK). Guests brought a wide variety of dishes which included several traditional Japanese ones (we took an Asian-y chopped salad which was easy for me to carry on the bus).
The salads and appetizers table at the potluck – there was also grilled teriyaki chicken and pork, desserts and wine and beer – we left full and happy.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Even though we bought groceries at Costco and Trader Joe’s, our monthly spending average is still below $50/day – we did not go crazy this time. I rarely buy books, but the wait at the library was so long for Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (like months) that I decided to go ahead and use a Kindle credit I had with Amazon before it expired, and saved $2.25 on the purchase. I made one last small order with Amazon (some vacuum space bags, new socks, and a couple of other things) and closed my Prime account once again before the free trial expires and we start getting charged for it. We didn’t put anything into the change/$1 bill bag this week – we used our debit card for our few purchases so no change.
  • Grateful for: I am so very, very grateful not to have to deal with humidity here in Oregon. While last week’s high temperatures were a bit uncomfortable at times, I was never miserable like I was when we lived on Kaua’i because of the low humidity here. I am loving being able to take care of daily activities and chores, or go for a walk or hike, and not end up sweating like a human fountain.
We set up our Portland “recyling center” out of sight behind the sofa.
  • Bonus question: Do you recycle, and if so how much? Brett and I got bit by the recycling bug during our last tour in Japan (1989-1992), where recycling was already a big thing, and we’ve stuck with it ever since. I think we still have plenty of room for improvement, but we make an effort every day. One of the biggest changes we made years ago was cutting back on using items that wasted resources (paper products, over-packaged items, plastic bottles and so forth), but some of it we just can’t escape. We haven’t given up anything completely (for example, I would love to give up Ziploc bags but we have found them invaluable when traveling), but we try as much as possible to purchase only what can be recycled. We’ve been able to get our trash down to one bag every two weeks. We did lots of recycling in Hawai’i, and lots when we were in Japan, and tried our best when we were on the road. We’ve set up a “recycling center” in our Portland apartment, but have noticed they’ve changed some of the procedures from when we lived here before, and are also not accepting many items that were taken in the past (especially plastics) because of the changes worldwide in who will accept recyclable items these days.
Yes, it rained the entire time during M’s walking challenge yesterday.

Finally, a BIG shout out to our son who completed his fourth annual walking challenge yesterday. M walked for 12 hours and completed nearly 34 miles (54.3 km), and with a few other friends and co-workers who walked part of the way with him, raised over $6500 for a charity which supports children suffering from severe and often incurable diseases and their families.

I hope everyone had a great and productive week, that you’ve got a good book to read, got to eat lots of tasty food, had lots of good things happen for you and you’re looking forward to the coming week. Thank you all for reading and for all your comments – I have the best readers! On Thursday I’ll be announcing the final Japan giveaway, and the winner of the supermarket giveaway will be posted on Friday.

Close to Perfect

While none of the Airbnb homes we’ve stayed in has been perfect, in hindsight they’ve all come pretty close. Finding a place for us to stay was one of my responsibilities, although Brett always got a final say in whether it was a yes or no. Although I never had any sort of secret formula for choosing a place, in looking back I can see there were certain things I looked for when choosing a potential home to stay in, and a certain process I followed, and so far it’s worked well for us.

Our studio apartment in Strasbourg was less than 300 square feet, but was very comfortable and in a great location for exploring the city. The sofa hid the most comfortable mattress we slept on during our travels.

After setting our price perimeters (using Airbnb’s handy slider), I started by looking at places with five-star ratings (usually more than 50, if possible), and then crawled over the reviews looking for things that stand out. What did former guests say about the cleanliness of the place? What about the kitchen? The bed? The location? The host? Are they a Superhost? Reviews are subjective, but I found that I could get a pretty good idea of what we were going to find after reading around 20 of them. The more stays and good reviews the better, too. Patterns would develop about what was great about a place and what might or could be an issue.

  • The number one thing I focused on in the reviews was cleanliness, and the more reviews that mentioned the home’s cleanliness the better. On this point we batted 1.000 – every apartment and home we stayed in was spotlessly clean. The second most important thing I focused on was how well the Wi-Fi worked; again, it was great in every place we stayed.
  • We soon discovered during our stays that having a comfortable bed was another important factor in how we judged a house, and in this regard we lucked out with almost every place we stayed. We knew not getting a good night’s sleep on an uncomfortable bed could and would ruin the next day or even several days for us. We learned though that just because reviewers said a bed was comfortable didn’t mean it would be comfortable for us. Brett and I prefer a firm mattress, but for others a softer mattress is the apex of comfort so we were never completely sure going in what we were going to get. Believe it or not, the best mattress we slept on was the one in the sleeper sofa in our Strasbourg apartment – it was just about perfect, surprising when you consider that many sleeper mattresses are pure torture. The second best bed we enjoyed was the 14″ memory foam in Buenos Aires. There was no worst.
  • The location of an apartment was also a very important factor for us. Reading through reviews we could usually tell if a rental was near to public transportation so that it was easy to get around and get back home, or like in Florence, in a good location for walking to the places we want to visit. Another important factor for whether the location of a rental was good for us or not was its proximity to grocery stores and other shops for necessities. Our apartment in Sangenjaya, Tokyo, got our top mark for location – we were about three or four minutes away from the subway station, and just two stops away from Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s major transportation hubs. There were also two large grocery stores nearby as well as many other shopping and dining options (like coffee shops and a Muji store!). Our Perth location was also fantastic – located in a quiet, residential neighborhood yet walking distance in one direction to stores and restaurants, and in the other to the train station making easy to get into the city and also for getting our suitcases over to catch the Indian-Pacific. Except for our Montevideo apartment, none of our homes was in a truly bad location. During the day in Montevideo our location was fine but we were warned not to go out after dark.
  • When looking for a place to stay I always, always looked for what reviewers said about the host and their communication with them, and I was definitely swayed by reviews that mentioned the ease of communication and the hosts’ responsiveness to questions or problems. Some of our hosts interacted with us more than others, but we still managed to establish a good rapport with all of them, and even if we didn’t actually meet them almost all had wine, snacks and/or other refreshments waiting for us when we checked in, which were always appreciated. The most amazing host experience we had was our short stay in the farmhouse outside of Lucerne, Switzerland. Even though our hosts did not speak English we were welcomed into the family, fed like royalty and chauffeured to and from the train station every day – they went above and beyond anything we expected and we will never forget their hospitality and the memories we made there. We aways wrote a review within a couple of days following any stay, and thankfully have never had to write anything negative about a host – all of our reviews have been five-star. We have also always received positives reviews in return from our hosts as well except for two places (Rome and the Portland house we stayed in last December) but they apparently don’t leave reviews for any of their guests. We still stay in touch with some of our hosts!
The view from our kitchen in Paris . . .
  • A clean and well-equipped kitchen was always a delight, and for the most part all of our kitchens provided everything we needed to prepare most of our own meals. There were of course exceptions now and again and going forward we will take along our own vegetable peeler, corkscrew, and paring knives, just in case. We were pleasantly surprised by how many of the places we stayed in had dishwashers as it was one of the things I never really paid attention to in the listings or reviews – every place we stayed in Europe had one (although we never could figure out the one in Normandy – everything on it was in French that we couldn’t understand). The most wonderful kitchens we encountered were in Paris and Florence – they had everything, from an amazing array of cookware and bakeware to a wide assortment of utensils (sharp knives!), dishes and linens, and storage containers for leftovers, something we came to regard as a sign of a well-equipped kitchen. These two places also had wonderful views from their windows.
. . . and later in Florence.
  • As I wrote above, every place we stayed was spotlessly clean, so the bathrooms were all very nice. Most of them only had a shower, but the bathroom in the home we stayed at in Wellington, New Zealand, was pure luxury with its huge shower, bathtub, and the toiletries available for our use. Our homes in Buenos Aires and Napier had jetted tubs. While our apartment in Florence had a remarkable kitchen, the bathroom was tiny (although clean, stylish and efficient), and we still laugh about how difficult it was to turn around in that shower.
  • Except for our apartment in Tokyo, all the places we stayed in were nicely furnished (our Tokyo place was just OK). Some places were furnished better than others, but having a gorgeously decorated space wasn’t a big consideration on our list of expectations, although I was always more impressed by pictures of clean, uncluttered spaces. The exception to that was our Paris apartment, which was actually quite cluttered but it still very charming and comfortable (and clean).

It’s not any sort of a record, and I don’t consider myself an Airbnb expert of any sort, but we’ve stayed in 19 different Airbnbs so far (21 for me – I stayed in two in Japan in 2015 trip). A couple of times the frying pan or saucepans in the kitchens were too small, or the coffee maker didn’t work. Once there were squirrels in the ceiling. A couple of times the bed was a little too soft to our liking. Sometimes we had to climb several flights of stairs at the end of a long day to get to our place and sometimes the shower was too small and lacked someplace to place a bar of soap. But there was never anything we couldn’t live with in any of our Airbnb rentals, that we couldn’t find a way around or adapt to. And thank goodness nothing or no one ever scared us or made us want to leave or question our decision to rent the place. There isn’t a place we’ve ever stayed that was perfect, but all were better than good and some were great. Perfect has never been the goal but we’ve gotten very close, and the experiences we had were better than any hotel we’ve ever stayed at.

Reminder: Supermarket Favorites from Japan Giveaway

The winner will receive three CookDo sauces, Asparagus Biscuits, soy peanut crackers, a bag of dark chocolate KitKats, and a container of Kewpie mayonnaise.

There are still seven days remaining in Giveaway #2 for the chance to win some of our favorite supermarket items from Japan. One entry is allowed each day although there are a couple of ways to earn an extra entry if you’re just getting started.

The giveaway will end at midnight PST on Wednesday, June 19 with the winner announced on Friday, June 21.

I’m enjoying all the entries so far – I love reading about your favorite Japanese foods and flavors!

Merry Christmas!

May this Christmas season bring you and your families boundless joy, peace, grace, and comfort. The happiest of holiday wishes to all our friends, near and far!

Merry Christmas from the Occasional Nomads family!

Take It To the Limit

We all have our limits. While several things we’ve run across on our adventure have been annoying at times there are other things that have passed beyond merely annoying to outright frustrating or “avoid if at all possible.”

While this path may look somewhat smooth I can assure you it’s not. I have to be careful with every step I take so I don’t fall, creating extra work and strain on my muscles and joints. Smaller cobblestones are even worse.

For example, I have reached my limit with walking on stones or cobblestones, or at least my right hip has. Our wonderful Thanksgiving Day tour of the Colosseum, Palantine Hill, and the Roman Forum had us walking on ancient stone roads for nearly five hours, and the bursitis in my right hip has finally screamed “enough!”

Stones or smaller cobblestones have become the one thing I have come to dread. Because of a past left knee fracture I have to be especially careful about falling again, and in being careful on stone streets I’ve ended up putting lots of extra strain on my right hip. I did fall while I was in Florence because of a cobblestone (thankfully without injury), and while stone streets couldn’t be avoided there I learned which streets or sidewalks were the smoothest, and had the time to rest between outings so as not to aggravate my hip. I left Florence in good shape. All that went out the window on our Colosseum tour, and the bursitis is now at a near-crippling level. We have another two weeks to go in Europe too, so I see a big, fat cortisone shot in my future upon our return to the U.S., but in the meantime it is affecting how much and how long I can walk and what we can see and do in Rome. If I can be grateful for anything it’s that I am not suffering from arthritis, and won’t need a hip replacement. Bursitis is pretty awful though.

A huge tour group of more than 50 in Strasbourg (from a Viking cruise).

Both Brett and I have reached our limit with large tour groups. We have met many wonderful travelers from all over on our adventure and had some great conversations as well as picked up some good tips, and for the most part people from all over are considerate and accommodating, but tour groups have been something else to behold at times no matter their nationality. We’ve run into some with up to 50 people who can fill a square or take over a prime viewing spot in a matter of moments. Since a tour group’s time in any one location is usually quite limited, some members feel no compunction about pushing others out of their way or going in front of even though other visitors have been patiently waiting their turn to view a painting or take in a view. Brett has had his fill with some of the leaders of these large groups too, who are usually polite but then make sure to position their group right where he’s been waiting to take a photo or view something up close. According to him, it’s happened one too many times, most recently yesterday in St. Peter’s Basilica. Mostly though our experience with other tourists and visitors has been very positive, but these big groups have been another thing entirely. (Full disclosure: we were in one big group ourselves, on the wine tour to St. Emilion in France. There were around 40 in our group and while the guide was delightful we were miserable being part of a crowd, and were happiest when the guide let us wander off on our own and gave us a time to meet back at the bus.)

We entered the “time for a haircut” stage soon after we left Switzerland.

Finally, both Brett and I are in desperate need of a haircut, and are way past our limit of where we like to be with this. Brett’s hair is downright shaggy now, and I once again am sporting what I call my “old lady pouf” and want to scream every time I look in the mirror or try to do something with it especially since I am also down to my last drops of styling cream. We both regret not getting our hair cut when we were in Florence, but neither of us could pull the trigger – there was something a bit frightening about not being able to communicate with a barber or stylist in English.

All in all though everything is continuing to go well and we are having a good time, hip pain, head colds and all. But we do have our limits and in a few cases we have reached them. It feels like it’s time to go “home” for a while and we will be doing just that in another two weeks.