stories

Beautiful Cannes

Posted on Nov 7, 2011 in stories | 0 comments

Here are a few photos of our time in Cannes (courtesy of Ryan). I’m adding these in St. Jean Cap Ferrat, which is a real shame because I realize now that we didn’t get any pics of Ryan. Only a few of me and a few of the area. Oh well. We’ve been here!

city view of Cannes

We hiked up a really steep alleyway to a castle that overlooks the city and saw a panoramic view of the whole coastline. Very beautiful. We hung up there for a few hours: Ryan wrote a few blog posts while I was slowly consumed by The Paris Wife. The castle itself wasn’t really worth capturing.

view of the main boulevard

This is the beach down the street from our apartment. We spent a lot of time here, sunbathing, people watching, and otherwise goofing around.

the lively Croisette shopping area (where we stayed)

The area we stayed in is the ritziest part of town (little did we know that when we reserved it). There were shops for blocks and blocks, and we had a great time checking them all out and testing the bakeries on every corner. We spent a few hours looking for a coat for Ryan (this has been a regular task in every city we’ve visited thus far), but without success. (He’s a bit picky. lol)

restaurants, restaurants everywhere

There really were restaurants lining every street. It kind of added to the character, though things got a bit crazy on weekend nights. We didn’t really frequent any restaurants here, though (and we preferred it that way). We had a small kitchenette in our apartment that we used regularly.

delicious ham-wrapped veggies by Ryan

Case in point. Ryan had the idea to wrap our sauteed veggies in ham, and it was a hit!

isn't my hair getting long?

Yay, a pic of me. (Ha. Don’t pay too much attention to my [wrinkled] shirt. I guess I care less about certain things after 3 months living out of a suitcase–particularly on exploration days.)

beautiful twilight

One night, the sun went down and the temperature outside was perfect. We grabbed a wool blanket in our room and headed out to a beach chair, where we listened to the waves hit the beach and watched the lights twinkling on the water. It was perfect.

Audi R8 in matte black (!)

I have the best husband in the whole world! He gave me a sexy Audi R8, just out of the blue!

…Of course that’s a lie, but we did have fun admiring the many (MANY) expensive cars in the area. Ryan took lots of pics, but I only wanted to show my fav. (In matte black! I hadn’t seen that before.)

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Our Travel Backpacks: Pros and Cons

Posted on Nov 1, 2011 in stories | 0 comments

Ryan and I both have the Osprey Porter 46 Travel Pack in black. The pack opens the same way as any rollerboard suitcase, which makes it easy to pack and live out of, but the exterior is designed like a backpacking pack, with all the same padding, belts, and straps for the shoulders and (almost) for the waist.

We purchased the pack specifically for this trip, for $99 per bag. Kind of a hefty expense, but we knew we needed a pack that would work for us. Overall, we’ve been pleased.

 

Wheels or No Wheels?

We flipflopped back and forth for awhile about whether we wanted a bag with wheels or not. We almost got the Osprey Meridian or Rick Steves’ wheeled backpack (each of my family members have one of these), but we ultimately decided against the wheels. We were flying to Europe via Iceland Express, which has a 20-lb weight limit for carry-ons. We needed to save all the weight we could. (We ended up checking one bag anyway, but that’s a different story…)

Ryan has told me there have been times when he’s wished we had wheels, but honestly, I can’t think of a time wheels have crossed my mind. I know I have total control over my bag: if it is too heavy, I can toss out more stuff.

If the wheels didn’t add so much weight, I would go for them in heartbeat, but as it stands right now, no wheeled backpack is light enough to justify the feature on a trip like this.

 

Our One Major Complaint

The one complaint we’ve both had about our backpacks is the waist belt–a pretty serious complaint, in my eyes.

Our packs do have a waist-belt feature, but it is nothing more than a strip of fabric–no padding whatsoever. This means that even with the waist belt cinched tight around your hips, there is still weight pushing on your shoulders. It’s an ineffective system, make no mistake. (We’ve been trying to figure out who in their right mind would fashion such a great pack and then put a faulty waist belt on it. Someone wasn’t thinking.)

If you keep your pack at a reasonable weight, however, the waist belt works well enough to make everything okay. After a travel day, I can usually feel tension in my back and neck for a day or two afterward, but this is mainly because I need to lighten my pack by at least 5 pounds.

 

Pros

Other than that one complaint, the packs are fantastic:

  • Standard size for international carry-ons (22 x 14 x 9 inches), which means less bulk and more options when you travel.
  • Super lightweight (about 3 pounds), which gives you more weight to work with when you fly.
  • A nice, open square of space to store items. I’m continually amazed at how much I can fit into my bag.
  • Several large pockets–mesh and otherwise–to hold smaller items or dirty laundry.
  • Durable fabric. Our packs look pretty much the same now as when we got them 4 months ago, and we haven’t babied them.
  • Strong, lockable zippers. My bag has been so full at times that I’ve had to sit on it to close it. The zippers still held like magic.
  • Strong, well-placed handles. There are large ones on the top and side and two thinner straps on the front, so you can pick up the bag from almost any angle.
  • Distribution straps. Two buckle straps wrap around the front of your bag and pull tight to distribute weight more evenly and diminish the pack’s width.
  • Appealing design: There isn’t anything tacky or unusual about them, although they do look different than your traditional backpacking pack.

If I were to do it again, I’d buy this pack in a heartbeat. It’s true that the waist belt limits its usefulness–for future US backpacking/hiking trips, I’ll definitely choose my traditional pack over this one–but it has served us well for our current circumstances.

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Travel Possession Confessions

Posted on Nov 1, 2011 in stories | 0 comments

Our backpacks are the standard size for international carry-on luggage: 22 x 13 x 9 inches. This is exactly as much room as it suggests (i.e., not much).

With such limited space, I continually find myself making value judgments about my possessions. Some things fall out of my favor after awhile and get left behind. I can even name them: 2 frumpy button-up sweaters in Ascot; my travel pillow in London; a too-short shirt and a large bottle of sunscreen in Bristol; my Cetaphil lotion (I miss you!) in Marham.

I’ve also picked up new things along the way: two dress shirts and a pair of stilettos in Ascot (so I could work with my Dad in London), nail polish and a yoga mat in Bristol, hair cream in Marham.

Whether I abandon it or adopt it, the same concept holds true: every item becomes a part of my memory of that location.

Living with such tight constraints can get tedious if you let it. The trick is to think long and hard about the value of something in your life before you give it up or buy it. I’ve found myself missing my expensive sunscreen and lotion (didn’t think those through well enough, I guess), but the clothes I tossed hardly ever cross my mind. I should have thrown them away long ago.

Traveling provides great lessons about the amount of energy things take to keep. We sold most of our possessions to get here, and that took a change in habits and perspective. We’ve then been living out of a suitcase for 3 months, which also takes certain habits and perspective. I no longer have a closet full of clothes to wear, so I’ve had to be really careful/creative about the clothes I keep. I have a long way to go to reach my perfect traveling wardrobe ($$$ is the main factor there), but I’m slowly getting there.

No matter what your lifestyle, possessions always demand some level of your emotional attention (even if you don’t notice you’re giving it). And it is 10 times worse on the road. If I am stubborn enough to keep something pointless (and I have many things like this at the moment), then I am forced to carry that weight on my back until I can no longer justify keeping it. If I see something I really want to buy, the same is true–will I be able to carry it feasibly? Okay then.

Sometimes I’m amazed at how long I keep black-listed items around before I chuck them. I’m on another continent, living a completely different lifestyle, and I’m STILL fending off ridiculous attachments to illogical or unnecessary possessions?! Ugh. When will I learn?

I guess it shows that old habits die hard, but the good news is, I am progressing. I can now recognize which items are worthless to me, what these silly items are taking from me, and then relinquish their control over me at any time.

We humans really don’t need that much stuff to live happily. (Our travels are evidence of this; we don’t have much and yet it usually seems like enough.) It just pays to be smarter about the things we buy and the things we keep.

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My Travel Backpack: Heavy LIfting

Posted on Nov 1, 2011 in stories | 0 comments

I swear every time I pack my backpack in preparation for another move, it’s internally 5 square inches smaller and yet 10 pounds heavier when I put it on. I still haven’t weighed the thing yet, but it has got to be at least 40 pounds. Most people who pick it up for me–man or woman–groan with the effort and look at me with astonishment.

“Do I surprise you?” I think.

I should get a picture of me with my backpack on a some point; it really is half as big as I am.

The nice thing about carting that kind of luggage around is that my legs are stronger–which makes running easier–and my arms are slowly getting back their definition from my gymnastics days.

I guess it’s all that lugging, lifting, and shoving into tight places in trains, planes, and automobiles.

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Giving Back

Posted on Oct 31, 2011 in life, stories | 0 comments

Being at Jan’s has been a great opportunity to step in and try to make life easier for another person, at least in the only way we know how: cleaning and simplifying her living spaces.

Since we arrived, we’ve cleaned out and reorganized her kitchen area; we’ve done lots of dishes; we’ve helped to clean out and organize her fridge; we’ve cleaned up and more effectively organized our own room, so future pet-sitters (there will be others) can stay here comfortably. And Ryan has gone around fixing things left and right: our bathroom door (ha ha), the internet, the printer, our bedroom lights.

Helping in this way feels natural to me now. Maybe it’s easy because Jan is generally easy to serve, or maybe it’s because I’m becoming more comfortable with getting my hands dirty and understanding how to help other people feel more comfortable.

For all those situations in the past where I’ve stood around wondering how in the world to help out without getting in the way, now I’m learning how to recognize what to do and then do it. If something needs to be done, why think about it? Action is better, particularly when it comes to helping someone else.

I used to worry about making a mistake, disrupting someone else’s way of doing things, or coming across looking inexperienced when I helped, but in a lot of ways, who cares about those things? (I’m trying not to care.) Overwhelmed people, in particular, will be glad for the kind gesture, an extra hand, and a little less to worry about.

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A List of Perks

Posted on Oct 31, 2011 in stories | 0 comments

Bailey may sound like a nightmare, but it hasn’t been too bad so far. He’s just clearly untrained (which surprises me considering how big and strong he is, but oh well). Jan’s stressed-out behavior is probably a lot worse than the dog situation, but at the same time, I like Jan. She is easy to get along with, comfortable to talk to, and she is very easygoing and generous with us.

No situation is perfect; even the truly wonderful ones have their bad points. The more I do this, the more I am learning how important it is to stay positive and look at the good things. So I’ve made a quick list of the perks at this place. (There are probably a lot more, in fact.)

  • The animals here are generally entertaining and easy to be with.
  • We’ve had some great chats with Jan, who has a kind and open spirit about her.
  • We are staying in a beautiful place (I can’t wait to show you pics!) in a very expensive tourist area for free, and we’re only a stone’s throw from Monaco and Italy.
  • We get to drive Jan’s mini cooper around when she’s home–and she’s encouraged us to take a few day trips to Monaco and Ventimiglia (Italy) to see the sights.
  • We have a cozy place of our own and loads of time (1) for Ryan to finish his online portfolio / find a job and (2) for me to get my own life in order and continue working on projects I love.

To our astonishment, Jan has also insisted on paying for our food expenses while we’re here. We’ve returned the favor by insisting we pay for our own food up to this point, but we might oblige her on occasion. I don’t want to be a bum, but she really wants to share food costs with us and has done it with all the other pet-sitters who’ve stayed with her. It means we’ll be saving even more money than I had hoped, which is a blessing in disguise.

As with any new situation, it takes some time to adjust to the annoying bits of this pet-sit. Some days (like right now), I have to lock myself in our room for awhile to deal with the situation, but then I’m fine again. It’s a good opportunity to learn patience, emotional/mental control, optimism, etc–all traits I can use some more practice on!

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Bailey Round the Clock

Posted on Oct 30, 2011 in stories | 0 comments

Whether she is at home or away, Jan’s primary concern is Bailey, who has an unstable stomach condition and continually weakening back legs. It isn’t his health condition that worries her most, though. It’s Bailey’s inclination to terrorize, or panic, at any moment.

He’s been conditioned to be wildly unpredictable.

According to Jan, Bailey eats everything in sight, tears up couch pillows, steals and chews on remotes, etc.  We’ve seen this behavior when Jan is around, but when he’s alone with us, he’s usually an angel. Maybe he hasn’t gotten used to us yet, or maybe he likes to react to Jan’s continual fretting. (It stresses ME out to be with Jan when she’s controlling Bailey’s every eye bat.) I guess we’ll find out as time goes on.

Bailey’s terror tendencies are arguable, but his neuroticism is not. Traffic scares him. People aggravate him. Other dogs send him flying blindly in the opposite direction (which is usually into traffic). Walking with him is a struggle, only because he is so poorly trained. Since his hearing and eyesight are fading, he will also suddenly break out into a fit of mad barking at “strange” sounds or at the sudden awareness of a person in the room. It’s weird, and unnerving.

Even before we came here, Jan made it clear that Bailey is a 24-hour project. We’ve been told again and again that we must watch everything he does and (in a matter of words) allow him to do nothing: he can’t lick himself, he can’t scratch himself, he can’t touch/eat things besides what is given to him. All he can do is lay down. Walks are scary and unpredictable. One person must be with him at all times to avoid disaster.

That schedule/mentality seems too exhausting and pointless to us–Bailey is just a dog; not a child (and even then, children can’t be controlled like this)–so we tend to do our own thing with him most of the time. (Within reason, of course. I try not to discredit all of Jan’s routines because she does have good points to make in between all the emotionally panicky ones: like not exercising him after a meal to avoid bloat.)

I can understand why Jan has this attachment to her pet: it’s a natural response for every animal lover, and Bailey is Jan’s only constant companion (besides Piccolo), so he’s basically graduated from dog to child in a lot of ways. And as such, she knows him better than anyone. It does seem that in his younger years, Bailey was a terror–kind of like Marley in Marley and Me. (I’m glad I have the old Bailey to work with. Otherwise, I’d be on a plane back to the US within a week, I’m sure.)

Once again, this experience only confirms to Ryan and me that we will not be getting a dog of our own any time soon–if ever. We’re mainly cat people; with cats, it’s much more difficult to control them or build your life around their silly routines, and I like that. They’re just as affectionate as dogs, but they have lives of their own, so you can have a life, too.

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