Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Portland, part one

When we last left our intrepid heroes…. Oh, wait.  Wrong story 😋

The last installment of the Beth and Jeff saga had us getting back from Italy, regrouping in Colorado and not being nekkid anymore.

Since then, we’ve been a bit like leaves on the on wind.  Soaring, but a little bit lost, carried along by the fates/winds/norns/universe/what-have-you toward the Pacific Northwest.

Our original destination had been Seattle, WA, but opportunity and some persuasive talk from a few local friends swayed us to stop a few hundred miles early in Portland, OR.

The road to Portland
We landed in Portland, OR on Mother’s Day with a space reserved for a week at what online had looked like a decent RV park about 5-7 miles north of downtown.  The name had “beach” in it and it was on an island in the middle of the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington states.  What could possibly go wrong?

Turns out a lot – some issues were actual issues, other things were mistakes on our part.

The issues:

  • The park was on an island – BUT no beach, in fact, the park was in the middle of a retail/industrial area in the flight path for the Portland International Airport AND next to a shipping lane for barges and commercial freighters.  It was LOUD.
  • Portland seems to be home for many homeless people – and the island seems to be a gathering place and home to many of them.  While generally polite to us, it got uncomfortable being approached in our own home by people knocking on the door or going through the park on their way somewhere else at all hours.
  • The park facilities were not maintained.  The bathroom seemed to have mold older than our nephews.  Nuf sed.
  • The park also didn’t have any room for us after that first week, except for occasional days.  We were looking at being homeless ourselves.

Our mistakes:

  • Assuming that our being able to get a week-long space meant that there would be room for us to stay longer. There wasn’t.  This lead to a scramble to piece together places to stay for at least a night or two so that we didn’t have to boondock and risk being towed or ticketed.
  • Assuming that we both could find jobs easily/quickly.  In Jeff’s case, he got a temp job 3 days after we arrived and has been working steadily since then.  The wife didn’t get even a call or bite for 3 weeks, even though she was signed up with 4 temp agencies and actively applying directly to companies.  On the 4th week, the job gods finally had pity on her and she spent the week running from interview to interview.  By the end of the 4th week, she had a temp to perm job in downtown Portland.  (Yay for public transportation that actually works and is affordable – yes, we’re looking at you, Denver!)
  • Not taking into account that the cost of living in Portland is higher than Austin (which was really affordable!)  It seems to be higher that Denver even.

Overall, we didn't love Portland right away like we thought we would. Trying on the city felt weird and uncomfortable, even though it isn't all that different in vibes and values from Austin or Denver.   

By 6 weeks in, we still weren't super comfortable, especially in the park we we'd been staying.

All of this leads to what happened next: 
We moved to Vancouver, Washington 😊

Monday, May 21, 2018

We're not naked anymore.....

We're not a snowball anymore!

After much delay, deliberation, wind and cussing, we've started adding decals to the Imp.

(If you'll remember, one of the first things we did was take off all of the lame factory decals.)


It took almost 4 months to figure out what we wanted and get them custom ordered from a couple sellers on Etsy. Then we had to do a full cleaning of the exterior of the RV to make sure that all of the gunk and residue from the previous stickers was really gone. That took a while :)

Finally, we started stickering - and realized that we needed a ladder.  We "acquired" one and got to it.

First up were 10 little kitty paws - 5 on each side of the RV.  Then the heart and paws on the door.  Then, the husband took the plunge and tackled the 2 foot panda and 3 foot kanji on the passenger side walls.  There was much cussing and a large usage of blue painters tape.

 The wife is impressed with the results :)

The kanji means "Wanderer" or "Drifter"

Then, before we could install the back and driver's side decals, we had a Texas weather problem and all stickering stopped.  (Basically, it got hot and windy.)

Soon after that, we left Texas and headed to Colorado.  (Traveling and staying in campground - neither of which are conducive to applying decals.) 

Finally, we landed in Fort Collins and the weather cooperated.  (We also borrowed a couple ladders - thanks Zach!!! 😀 )

A four foot kanji on the driver's side and a world map on the back!
The kanji means "Adventurous Spirit"

Big markers on places we've lived!  Yellow dots on some of the places we've visited - we're not done yet!!!!

We still have plenty of room to decorate, so we're planning and plotting and designing the next round of decals.  We'll share once we've got them up!!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

We interrupt this life….

To bring you a new adventure!

Well, not a BIG adventure, but at least another chapter in the “how many places can we go before we die” book.

Right before we headed out in the RV to explore Texas, we took a long planned and repeatedly delayed trip to Greece.  The Peloponnese - and particularly Sparta - had been on the husband’s “must see” list for decades, but life kept happening.

Then the Imp happened and life changed.   

The Imp, slightly less naked.....
Now, we’re playing by slightly different rules since our daily and monthly expenses dropped by two thirds.  

Now, we can work one week to pay our regular monthly bills, another week to pay for the irregular but known expenses like car insurance and Christmas, another week to fund the life happens/emergency funds and one week to save for travel.  Once we have enough saved up to travel, off we go!

While in Texas, we planned a semi-spontaneous trip back to Europe to get a few of the tiny countries off “The List.” The micro countries have been on it for quite a while, and the only reason to visit most of them is to say you’ve been there. Well, we’re gettin’ there this time, dammit!

We picked Italy as the country to start from – and Rome in particular, since it has Vatican City (smallest country in the world!)  San Marino is also pretty close to Florence and Milan is close enough to get to Monaco.  We’re ending our trip in Zurich since getting to Liechtenstein from there is relatively easily.  

The Vatican in Rome was simple: just walk in. 

The Colosseum in Rome
The Republic of San Marino (RSM) takes a bit more travel. From Rome to Florence, then to Rimini by train, and then by bus to RSM. Totally worth it. Beautiful countryside, and a quaint old town. Got a pretty cool Tourist visa stamp in the Passport as well. It kinda makes up for all the places we’ve been that we don’t have stamps for. (Looking at you, Mother Russia!)

View from the walls of San Marino
On the way back to Florence from RSM we had a transfer in Bologna.  We walked all over the station, looking at every departure board and couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t find the 4:15 train to Florence.  It’s cuz there wasn’t one!  We were looking at the wrong time on our tickets and we missed our 3:40 train! 

Duomo di Firenze in Florence

The Travel Gods were watching out for us, though – the train to Florence had been delayed and was 20 minutes late.  So, it’s like the Gods held the train for us since we weren’t paying close enough attention. Derp. Thanks Rad.
Morning train from Florence to Milan
And Rad was watching out for us again in Milan.  We stood in line forever to get tickets for Saturday to Monaco – we got stuck in front of a crabby old nonni (grandmother) who bitched at everyone in line ahead of her as well as at all of the Italia Rail employees within earshot about the wait.

Once at the counter, we were told that there were no seats on any trains to Monaco the next day.  (Apparently it’s a popular place for Italians to go play on the weekends.)  Boo!  (We bought our tickets to Zurich instead....)

Discouraged, we headed back to our hotel to make a new plan. Once there the wife wielded her internet travel magic and found train tickets that routed us a bit out of the way, but got us to Monaco in about 6.5 hours.  Whew!  

Monaco overlooking the Grande Prix track

View of the harbor from the Grande Prix track

The next morning, we were off to Switzerland, which has two of our favorite things: mountains and chocolate!

We've been to Switzerland before and have always loved the beauty and order of the country.  If we ever expatriate, it's on the list of placed we'd want to live.
From there it was a beautiful train/bus ride over to Liechtenstein to get another passport stamp for the husband and ice cream for the wife :)

We were back in Zurich in time for a walk on the river, a cider at an Irish pub while hiding from the spring afternoon rain showers and dinner before it was time to go back to the hotel and pack :( 

Then it was back to the US for us.  Where, upon landing after a 20 hour travel day, discovered that our bags were still in London.  Dammit Rad!!  

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Not your usual WTF

These are W(onderful) T(reasure) F(inds) from our last trip.  

Some are more "well isn't that fun" than "what the f*****".  A few are more "what the heck?" or "was that what they intended?", but still, mostly fun....

Found these in an Italian grocery store: 

Car names in Italy were interesting as well:

Citroen JUMPY
Renault - I have no idea..... but I want one!

We’re not much for getting souvenirs, but the wife found one of the best things ever in the train station in Florence:  a USB charger/converter for phones and tablets.  We saw people on the trains with these things and had to have one!  We’ve been limping along with an old plug converter that we’ve been lugging around for 20+ years and we’ve run into trouble when all our electronics need to be charged at the same time. (Also, on plug converters, it takes longer. 😒)

Espresso wine - nope, it's not coffee wine.

They're single serving wine glasses, similar to the sake juice boxes and single serving sake cups we found in Japan. The wine wasn't great, but they were portable! 

And speaking of portable Italian stuff, the wife is 3rd generation Italian-American. Apparently, she looked comfortable enough in Italy that people thought that she was a local and kept coming up to her in grocery stores, train stations, on the street and asking her questions about train schedules and sale prices – in Italian. Unfortunately, the only Italian she speaks is the basic traveler's Italian (you know: please, thank you, espresso, cappuccino, vino.... 😉) and a few food and cuss words.

Wandering through the neighborhoods in Milan, we found Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon in the courtyard of the local art school: 

Life-size dragon is LIFE-SIZED!

Right up the street, we found this mural:

The Bluebird of Happiness?  Nope.  The Duck of Peace!

Then, in Zurich, there was the Ass Bar.  We have no idea why since it was actually a coffeeshop?!?!?

Cost of a cup of coffee: almost $7
Translation of the ad on the left:
"The more affordable that a coffee in Zurich car."

On the right, proof of the cost of a cup of coffee in Zurich.  It wasn't fancy coffee either!

And finally: Pretty tomatoes.

That is all.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Lessons from Austin

We miss Austin. 
No we don't. 
Yes, we do.
Sort of.  
Ok, we miss some things about Austin.

We had a blast during our 4+ months hiding from the Colorado snow. We met a bunch of interesting and cool people. We ate a ton of tasty barbecue (and a couple of meh barbecue meals.)  The wife ate a bunch of tacos too.

We walked a lot, explored some caves, saw interesting wildlife (the wife wanted to pet the bats), attended JuggleFest, got a good start on our summer tans, and the husband got more tattoos.

We also drove A LOT.  Too much for our tastes, but since the nice RV park that we chose was 30 miles north of Austin proper, and most of the interesting stuff, as well as our jobs, was far south of us, we just did it.

The best things about Austin for us were:

The people are so freakin' nice!
Lots of outdoor stuff to do - hiking, walking, biking, caves, lakes
Texans know how to eat!  We became frequent flyers are a couple places: 
Terry Black's Barbecue
We're not usually "take pictures of your food" kind of people, but damn, this was some pretty brisket!


Creative, nontraditional yummy yummy tacos. Also, there was queso.  (More on this in a second..... ) The wife was working her way through the menu and hadn't finished before we left.  Lucky for her there are a few locations in the Denver and Fort Collins area now😵


Blue Cat Cafe   

Cat people that we are, we had to check out the local coffeehouse/cat rescue.  Blue Cat has a couple of "house" cats and usually about 15 adoptable cats.  All the cats are free-roaming - in fact, they rule the house - completely.  They have no sense of personal space and will invite themselves into your face or lap without provocation.

Two ginger cats :)

There were a few bad things:

As mentioned above, we drove A LOT.  More than we ever did in Denver. (Except for when the husband was training BJJ in Boulder.)

With all the driving, we got to experience the phenomena that is Austin traffic.  Our observation was that the volume of traffic isn't all that different from Denver.  The difference specifically is the drivers.  It appears that they pretty much all drive however they want (fast, slow, weaving, no turn signals, eating a cheeseburger, texting or reading a book - no kidding!)

The weather:
We went to Texas to avoid the cold and snow in Colorado.  We got cold and snow anyway..... darn! And when it wasn't cold, it was warm or hot.  And it was waaay more humid than we expected.  Both of us had 4 bad hair months 😱

The WTF things:

No french fries with barbecue?? 
Anathama!  Any barbecue joints we've ever been to usually have some kind of fries or onion rings or fried okra.  Of all the barbecue joints we tried in Austin, only one offered anything fried.  They all did have a condiment bar with at least pickles and raw onions- some even had pickled jalapenos too.  (That was a thing that we could get behind!) 

Also missing was Texas toast - plain, untoasted white bread always accompanied barbecue.  Odd, but tasty.....

The bird thing:

The Austin area has a large type of black bird (maybe a type of crow??) that congregates in flocks of thousands in parking lots and terrorizes the humans.  They seem to enjoy it, in fact.  They also imitate car alarms and cell phone ringtones..... a lot.

The taco/queso thing:

Apparently, Texans will try and put anything in a taco.  (Honest!  A born and bred Texan told me this.)  We saw a chicken and waffles taco?!?!   The good news is, pretty much everything tastes good as a taco!

Queso seems to also be a thing. Again, queso is pretty darn good, but we saw it on all sorts of foods that didn't seem to be queso-compatible.  (See above chicken and waffles taco thing.)

Per the husband: And that's all there is to say about that :)