Happy Thanksgiving to my American peeps!
Personally, it has been one hell of a month and luckily, it's because Perry and I have had more travel-related high points than low ones. Here's a quick run down of our November.
First, we will be spending Thanksgiving in Innsbruck, Austria, which has to be the most beautiful city we have stayed in to date.
It has also been an unusually warm 63F, so we have been strolling the Christmas market sipping Gluhwein (mulled wine) in short sleeves, which somehow just feels wrong. Prior to our arrival, we spent three days in rainy Zurich, Switzerland, which was also lovely, but has officially overtaken Stockholm and Oslo as The Most Expensive Place We Have Stayed. Like $20-for-two-hot-chocolates kind of expensive. We moved on quickly to Innsbruck with the most spectacular train ride through the Arlberg Pass.
Prior to that, we spent five days near Lausanne, Switzerland with one of the finest families on the planet, The Lind's. Big hugs and thank yous to Sara, Eric, Griffin and Guthrie!!!
Unfortunately, I was sick most of the time we were in Switzerland, attempting to recover from whatever bug I picked up at a language immersion program where we volunteered in La Alberca, Spain. PS. It was a life changing experience for which I am truly grateful and will be posting a recap soon.
Finally, we started this crazy, thankful month in the south of France (ooo la la) before flying to Madrid for the language camp.
And if that wasn't enough, we made it onto one of our favorite podcasts!
We were recently interviewed for the Zero to Travel podcast and shared the story about how we transitioned from 9-5 to long-term travel. The episode hit the airwaves earlier this month and we would love if you checked it out or shared it within your social media network. THANKS!
Back to France. I had only been in Paris prior to this trip so I enjoyed seeing a different side of the country. Southern France is as idyllic and adorable as you think it would be. Even their scummy areas are cute enough to be considered 'shabby chic'. All in all, since we left the UK, our travels in Western Europe have been very good and I shouldn't complain.
But... this is Things I'm Getting Used To, so I'm going to whine. Just a little. You know. For entertainment purposes.
Hungry Like The Wolf
I recognize our meal routine is anything but traditional, but it seemed to work just fine in Northern, Central and Eastern Europe. Western Europe, however, has given our routine a big fat middle finger.
What is our routine, you ask? Generally, we eat breakfast at home between 9:00 - 10:00 am. Then, we will usually have a light snack around 1:00 pm before heading out for our walk. We like to eat something substantial between 3:00 - 4:00 pm and then something light, if anything, in the evening. We do this to keep our costs and our waistlines in check.
*Top Tip* This routine does NOT work in Spain and France because restaurants stop serving lunch between 2:00 - 3:00 pm and do not re-open for dinner until 7:00 - 8:00 pm. There is no such thing as 'fast casual' here in Europe.
We have been foiled countless times because we try and time our arrival as close to the end of lunch as possible. We've found that while you can get lunch as late at 3:30 pm in Spain, France tends to shut down by 2:00 pm. Plan B means a grocery store lunch, unless it's Sunday.
In addition to being caught out on the lunch thing, we've somehow gotten on Sunday travels, breaking our rule of traveling during off-peak days/hours. The last three weeks we have arrived in a town around 3 pm on Sunday, hungry, and not able to find an open lunch place OR grocery store.
The bright side of going hungry is that my pants still fit despite all the time I spent in the land of Pain aux Raisins. I have been accused of eating one every day I was in France but will Plead the Fifth.
Our high mileage walking days continue and while I was plagued by foot trouble for the first month of the trip, things have been pretty good the last six months.
Unfortunately, my foot woes are back.
It started with my socks. They were full of holes and I couldn't hide them from Perry any longer. I know that sounds pretty desperate, but these were my Bombas and I didn't want to throw them away because I really, REALLY love them. Alas, it was time. I picked up three new pairs (NOT BOMBAS), however, after the first day of wearing them, both my pinky toes turned into giant blisters.
Things are healing and I'm adjusting to the new socks, but it's a lesson learned. Next time, don't mess with new socks, just bring plenty of Bombas.
For the traveler, public toilets are an endless source of frustration and entertainment. Sometimes, your potty is a hole in the ground or filled with a stench that makes your eyes water. Then there are those coin-operated portable toilets found near tourist attractions.
I've attempted to use at least three of these toilets over the last few weeks with zero success. Trust me when I tell you that if I've put my faith in a coin-operated public toilet, it's a desperate situation. All three times, it ate my money and left me in a worse predicament as my brain was fooled into thinking I was about to take care of things. Psyche!
The latest bathroom shenanigans involve a restaurant in Nîmes, France. Not seeing a sign for the toilets on the ground level, I headed up the stairs and looked around. There was a dark corridor and at the end, an unmarked door. I knocked, hesitated, then opened it to discover a toilet. After doing my business, I squirted a large portion of liquid soap on my hands and seeing no handles, waved them in front of the faucet to start the water.
I kept this up for a few minutes berating myself for applying the soap before I determined there was water. Then, I noticed a shower (la douche in French) also in the bathroom. Since I was in no position to be fussy, I turned on the shower and rinsed off my hands, while also making the legs of my pants wet from the shower spray.
Downstairs at the table, the manager came by to check on us (as we were the only patrons in the entire place-- it was ~3:30 pm and somehow we managed to find the only restaurant in town that was serving food then). We complimented the meal and Perry excused himself to the bathroom. As he headed up the stairs, the manager called out 'No, monsieur, over here!' He was pointing to a door near our table, and asked me why I had used the employees bathroom? I laughed and indicated I had not seen the one downstairs and then proceeded to tell him the sink wasn't working. He looked puzzled and responded.
'Madame, as it is an employee toilet, the sink is hands free. You must press your knee on the lever below the sink.'
All In The Family
On the LaBine side, I'm proud to say I descend from a long line of crabby SOBs. While I don't have direct experience with relatives before my grandfather, I've seen their photos and let's just say there isn't a lot of smiling. Today, we tell side-splitting tales of Grandpa Leo's cantankerous behavior and his effective use of the word hell in greetings and farewells, such as the delightful 'What the hell do you want?' or my personal favorite, 'Get the hell out of here!'
Legend has it that on his death bed in the nursing home, he began to speak quietly such that my father leaned in, ready to receive instruction or perhaps a pearl of wisdom. 'Yes, Dad?' he asked.
'Tell...that...SOB... to get the hell out of here.' Apparently, an orderly he didn't care for had entered the room to drop off something, and even with his dying breath, it was a no filter situation. I'm not being cheeky when I tell you I miss him terribly. Maybe because I always admired his ability to not give two shits what anyone thought.
In addition to being an occasional crabby pants myself, many of you also know that my hearing is awful, but what you probably don't know is that I also get this from the LaBine's.
My dad (another proud crabby guy) has had bad hearing for decades, so he's never been a big phone person. On the farm when I was a kid, he hated answering it, but if forced, would greet the other party with a loud, unexpected 'YEAH?' After moving to the city, he adopted a more genteel approach by actually saying 'HELLO', but in a tone that definitely conveyed, 'What the hell do you want?' Dad, you are not quite Grandpa yet, but there's still time.
It's fair to say I come by my cranky, auditorially challenged ways genetically and in honor of my French-Canadian heritage, I will relay the story of a recent incident in France.
I was walking in Montpellier alone, lost in thought, when I heard what sounded like whispering. Suddenly, I became aware of a man walking in step with me, just a little too close. He whispered again, which is the first and only time I've heard French sound creepy.
'YEAH?' The word came out of my mouth a bit louder than I intended. He jumped, but continued whispering as we passed Place la Comedie. I couldn't understand him so I shook my head which usually works, but he just kept following me.
Irritated, I stopped and looked directly at him. 'What the hell do you want?'
Startled, he responded in English, 'I speak with you. I seek friendship with you.'
I walked away but left him some parting advice: 'Get the hell out of here'
Grandpa would have been proud.
Kick the Bucket
I was thinking about my bucket list recently and have mixed feelings on this subject. At best, this type of goal setting has provided me a much needed kick-in-the-pants to think about the dreams I have and then the encouragement to get out there and go after them. The flip side is that it's a great way to become controlled by the social media monster. I've begun to question: am I really enjoying my experiences or am I just enjoying telling everyone about my experiences?!?
While some experiences have been worthwhile, I've found most items on my list set me up with super high expectations that inevitably led to disappointment. Such was the case when visiting the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. I was so overwhelmed by Russia and the crowds at the museum that I don't think I really 'saw' anything.
If I keep my eyes open, there should be plenty of bucket list-type experiences right in front of me. So, instead of running around trying to check things off a list, I'm throwing it away.
I'm curious what you think about bucket lists. Shoot me a note or leave feedback below.
Thanks for reading!
Next time on Gobsmacked. A Tale of Two Cities: Lisbon & Porto