Jane's Travel Blog

New Chapter: Explore the World


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Kandersteg, Switzerland

We are housesitting in a 500 year-old farmhouse in the Swiss Alps for three months. To live in the middle of the Swiss Alps has been on Bob’s wishlist from the beginning of our travels, and now we are here, surrounded by snow-covered mountain peaks. You can see glaciers from our porch. I am overcome by awe as I look up.

The weather is good so we are hiking as much as we can. The three gondolas that whisk us high up the mountains are only open until Oct. 20th, so we’re taking advantage of them. I like hiking down better than up in these steep mountains.

During the first hike, I got winded just walking up the trails, which made me realize just how high we were. The altitude is a good ego check. We ate our picnic lunch overlooking the magnificent Swiss Alps. Seriously, the beauty takes your breath away.

The next gondola took us up another mountainside to Lake Oeschinen. As we walked to the lake, the scenery opened up to a pristine steel-blue lake surrounded by partly glacier-covered mountain peaks. I keep thinking I’m on a movie set.  

We wanted to hike the trails above the lake and that’s when the difficulty started. Again, the altitude. It was a steady climb with little relief. The challenge was certainly worth it, for the lake opened more, the mountain peaks seemed even grander and the workout was, well, honest. 

The first Saturday we were here, it was des Alpabzug. It’s the day the cows come down from the high alpine valleys. The cows are dressed up with flowers on their horns and huge clanging bells around their necks. The families proudly walk the cows through town on their way to their new lower pastures. Kandersteg is so small, in fact, that cows graze in the middle of town.

To our surprise, five cows were placed to graze just outside our chalet. And I mean just outside. I could easily touch them from the patio, however, I did not. A tiny thread-like electrified string keeps the 1300 pound cows from coming onto the patio. Sometimes the one I called Bessie, would look me in the eye then turn away, caring more about the sweet clover than me. The continual sound of cowbells reminded us of our new friends. The cows stayed for about two weeks. I guess all the clover was eaten and they were taken to another field. Hopefully, they will return. 

So, a bit of news. Our next big adventure after we leave Switzerland is Philadelphia. We have decided to set up a home base, renting an apartment in the Chestnut Hills area.  Now, before you ask, yes we are still going to travel. The difference will be that when we are in the states we’ll have a place to land and we’ll stay a bit longer. 

You may be asking yourself, why Philadelphia? It’s where four of our six grandkids live and it’s just a train ride away from Brooklyn and Albany where the rest of the family lives. It’s also an easy flight to Wisconsin to visit more family and friends. 

So, that’s the big news. We are in Kandersteg until Dec. 8th and then on to Philly to set up the apartment.


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Scotland. Summer, 2019

Ah, Peebles, Scotland…  We are now in what we have come to call our summer home. We arrived June 11th and are here until Sept. 12th. We have five wonderful housesits. I thought I’d feel a bit unsettled with all the moves, but my love of Scotland has kept me balanced.

When we first arrived, the poppies, yes… I’m going to say it… The poppies were popping in Peebles. They grow wild along the pathways and in the groomed gardens. The paper-thin red petals wave in the soft wind. This fairy tale town offers many small surprises and I always look forward to discovering more.

As it’s our 4th year in Peebles, I’m likely to run into someone I know. One of the first mornings, camera in hand, I’m walking through the magical Eishels Woods and I hear voices and I think how delightful, a family enjoying a picnic in nature. To my surprise, it’s Hannah (our very first housesit host) and her boys sitting by a small campfire having lunch. They’d biked to the River Tweed for a bit of Sunday fun. Another simple surprise. We chatted for a bit and I was on my way. One day, I ran into Julie (another housesit) at the grocery, and Sharon, the taxi driver who has moved us to our housesits many times, often beeps as she drives by.

We had a week between housesits, so we went on a five-day tour to the Highlands of Scotland. It’s hands down one of the most beautiful areas we have visited. The mountains, the valleys, and lochs come together causing you to stop, breathe, and let it flow over you. The van drove through the countryside, my hands rested quietly in my lap as I took in the beauty.

The shades of green dominate, making me feel this odd combination of giddiness and calm. Yes, it rains some here, but it’s the “Scottish mist” that creates such shades of green beauty.

Our tour’s clan consisted of 14 people from all over the world: Aussies, Taiwanese, Americans, Chinese, and our leader, a Scot. As the five days passed, we learned a “wee bit” about each other’s story and shared a few laughs. 

We are now in Peebles enjoying the serene morning hikes with Misty, one of the pups we care for. My new friend Sharon (the taxi driver) invited me to her uncle’s farm. I saw new lambs, her daughter practice jumping her horse, new pups and many dogs and horses. I had flashbacks to my childhood with all the visits to the Kelley and Wilson farms in central Wisconsin. There’s nothing better than the sweet smell of a farm. I even got to have a “wee bit” of a walk around on Tonto the horse.

We have just over a month left in Peebles and plan to take total advantage of its magic.


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Edinburgh, Scotland

Ah, Edinburgh. We only had two weeks, so lots of walking and exploring were in order. After a day of grocery shopping and settling in, Bob and I decided to hike the extinct volcano just minutes from our apartment.  

The original plan was to hike up the main peak, Arthur’s Seat, but there was a “challenge race” that day. The sign read, “How many times can you climb Arthur’s Seat in 24 hours?”

Ok, I can answer that question. “Once.”

Because we didn’t want to slow down the participants of the event, we hiked up a nearby peak instead. From the top, a birds-eye view of the city sprawled out in front of us.

Sunday I walked across town to a delightful farmer’s market and explored along the way. Four organic apples and a beet later, I was on my way home.

Life keeps offering up gifts. On Friday our new friend Christine (mother of our friend Joanna from Malaga) took us on a captivating tour of Edinburgh. We explored the nooks and crannies of Edinburgh that only a local would know.

One of our last stops was the Royal Bank of Scotland. Why stop at a bank? Well, the answer became clear when we walked in and looked up to see a blue domed ceiling with at least 100 gold-rimmed star-shaped skylights. The day was filled with many gems like this. It was a special day, one we will not forget.

We are now in Peebles, which we affectionately refer to as our summer home since this is our fourth year in a row housesitting here.


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Mijas, Spain

Unlike our entrance into Paris (see Paris blog), arriving in Mijas had more grace. We took a direct flight from Paris to the Malaga airport and were met by a prearranged car to drive us the 30 minutes to Mijas. Seamless.

It’s felt easy every since. The mountains watch over us, the wine is cheap, and a small, yet well-stocked grocery store is minutes away!

Bob’s done it yet again. Our apartment is minutes from a trailhead leading into the Sierra de Mijas. The workout starts instantly out our apartment door, with a left turn to face many stairs leading us to the mountain.

As we walk along the trail, the sun catches the many specks of marble making me wonder if I’m walking on diamond chips. I pause more than usual. I’d like to say it’s to take in the view of the Mediterranean Sea in the distance, which is true, but also to sip water and take a breath as the trail is up, up and more up. With each hike, I got stronger. Mijas hiking has kept us in shape.

On our first hike, we were serenaded by The Blue Basement Big Band playing down in the main square. The acoustics of the mountain created the perfect amplifier. I found myself with an extra hop in my step for “Down by the Boardwalk” and a slower saunter for “Lover Man”. On the way back down the mountain, we decided to see if we could get to the city center in time for another set. We made it in time to enjoy our lunch and dance to the tunes, albeit in hiking boots.  

Things are more relaxed in Mijas. Bob joined a gym and normally he would be issued a  membership card. Here they simply turned over his receipt and drew lines on the back, dividing it into 6 sections. Each time he goes, someone initials the next section, noting his visit. We need to be careful not to toss that receipt. (Oh, I forgot, I learned not to toss receipts in Paris.)

Mijas is one of the “white villages” in Andalusia, hence all the buildings are painted white. One day I saw a painter working on a wall and chuckled to myself thinking about how little time he must spend thinking about paint color. There’s no choice.

Most of the white walls have potted plants affixed to them. Being the gardener that I am, my only thought besides how beautiful they are, was, “How do they keep all these pots watered?” I got my answer when I came upon a crew of people armed with wheelbarrows, buckets, and sticks with cans attached to the end. They haul the buckets of water in the wheelbarrows, scoop the can in the bucket, reach high and pour the water into the pot. I can’t imagine how often this crew will have to water when the summer temperatures rise. All for the beauty of Mijas Pueblo.

Since we are so close to Morocco, I decided to pop over and visit my friend Karla in Tangier for a few days. I took the ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar. Karla greeted me at the ferry gate and even though we hadn’t talked in almost four years, we picked right back up with that kindred spirit friendship thing. I love ya, Karla. It was a delightful visit. Thanks.

We also catch up with Joanna and Jose Marie, friends we met in Malaga years back. We hiked for a couple of hours up past the cute little chapel on the mountain, had a typical Spanish lunch complete with grilled sardines and fried calamari, and topped off the day with a visit to a local ice cream shop. All in a day’s fun.

We leave Mijas Wednesday with sadness in our hearts. Our choice would be to stay a few more weeks, but we are out of Schengen visa time, so off to Scotland we go (which is also a very good thing). We have eleven days in Edinburgh and then the rest of the summer in our “summer home” of Peebles with our usual three housesits plus a new one. The summer is looking good!

Until Later,

Jane


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Springtime in Paris

Our Arrival…

We said au revoir to Venasque April 4th and took the fast train from Avignon to Paris. Our seats were on the second level of the train and we relaxed watching the French countryside pass by. “I’m not on Amtrak anymore,” was all I could think. This train was modern, clean and fast. It’s sweet.

Two and a half hours later, we arrived in Paris. Our next step was to find the metro and catch the 1 line. Naturally, we needed subway tickets, and since we are in Paris for the month, I made the executive decision to buy unlimited passes.  

The woman at the service desk oozed kindness, debunking the rude Parisian stereotype, and explained how to prepare our passes. We’d need to sign the cards and get photos to tape on the cards. I’m thinking, “great, we can figure all that out tomorrow,” and we’re off to the turnstile to catch the metro.

I scan my card, the gate opens (think the beginning of a horse race) and I plow through with my large black duffle in tow. I get through, but my duffle does not. The gate closes and my duffle is trapped. Bob is on the other side with his duffle and guitar wondering what is going on.

I’m pulling, pushing, laughing and attempting to problem solve this one. A tall Frenchman walks to my gate and I wave him off, explaining in English, “I can’t get out. I’m stuck, so use another gate.” I have no idea if he understood me, yet he knew exactly what to do. He waved his Metrocard over the reader, my gate opened, and with one easy pull, my duffle was free. The Frenchman smiled, walked through following my duffle and I said, “Merci, merci, merci,” with a namaste bow. I’m free and now for Bob.

Having watched my less-than-graceful attempt to navigate these gates, Bob was a bit more cautious. There was no way he was getting through those skinny gates with a duffle and a guitar. Wisely he returned to the service window, used his proficient French and learned where to enter with a wide load. We are on our way. So we thought…

The metro arrives quickly, and we are zipping along toward Neuilly, our neighborhood. All good. We get off the train and head to the escalator to go above ground when we are stopped at a checkpoint. They ask to see our tickets and we produce our unsigned, photoless passes and the woman says, “Wait here. You need to speak with my manager.” Ugh.

The manager asks when we bought the passes. I explain about 20 minutes ago and that we have just arrived in Paris. We have not had a chance to sign our passed or get photos. He asks for our receipts.

Shit, where did I put the receipts? Did I even keep the receipts? The kind woman at the original service desk sold the passes as two separate transactions (why I don’t know). I find one receipt in my wallet, show it to him and then he says, “This is only for one pass. Where is the other receipt?” I look him right in the eyes, and say,  “I have no idea.” I start to dig.

My duffle has an outside pocket where I stuff last minute stuff, so I open it up, and voilà, the other receipt is sitting on top of two maps of Paris that were included with the second purchase.

We received a small reprimand for not having photos, and we were off to our Airbnb.

So, the next day we find a Woolworth style photo booth. We sit down on the stool, push some buttons and for 5 euro each we have pictures for our passes. We are ready to explore and yes, the receipts will be in my wallet until we leave Paris.

Exploring Paris…

Since the purchase of our Metro passes, we’ve taken total advantage, traveling all over Paris to see the sites. It’s spring. The trees are leafing out, the tulips and daffodils are in bloom and the grass is green. The temperature climbs as the weeks pass. When we arrived, it was in the 50s and now for our last week, it will be in the 70s. No complaints here.

Notre Dame, the Rodin Museum and garden, The Marmottan Monet Museum, and the Eiffel Tower were a few of our first stops. We jump on the Metro with a destination in mind, visit the site, and then explore the neighborhood, often stopping for a light lunch and a glass of wine. It’s a great way to just soak up the Parisian scene.

Paris has everything, including friends from our past. We met up with Kaye and Tom, who just happened to be in Paris at the same time as us.  We met them in our first year of travel in Cuenca, Ecuador where they were escaping the cold of Upper Michigan. I couldn’t believe that we were all in Paris at the same time.  We shared a Parisian lunch at Le Balzar Brasserie. Perhaps we will meet again somewhere else in the world!

Neuilly, where we are housesitting, is a gorgeous suburb of Paris. Rio, the dog, is our new best friend and he helps us explore our new neighborhood.  Its wide sidewalks, gorgeous gardens, and churches make it the ideal dog walking scene. He has ideas on which turn to take, and I have ideas, and most often we agree. He’s a fun one to hang out with.

We have a few days left in Paris and I’m planning to visit a few more museums. On Saturday we fly to Mijas, Spain for the month of May.