Shirl: Thoughts & Shots
Rowan: Paroxysms

Even Seasoned Travelers Can Make a Wrong Turn

When we came into Paris from Kuala Lumpur, the stamp on our passports into the EU was so difficult to find we had to locate it by a process of elimination, and it had no expiration date. (Most visas tell you how many days you can stay.) The date was very hard to read and we never worried about it since we planned to move from country to country until our departure from Stockholm on September first, giving us a nice 156 days of travel in Europe. It seemed like we had up to six months to bop around Europe, so after 10 days in Paris, a month in Lisbon, almost another month in the south of France, a week on Corsica, we were on our way through Italy when we discovered the Schengen Agreement.
Can you read the dates? The actual stamps that altered our travel plans. (For all photos, click to enlarge.)Unless you've traveled extensively in Europe yourself, it's likely you've never heard of this annoying little treaty amongst most, but not all, EU countries, and a couple non-EU states. But what it is? In a nutshell, because of the open borders that now unites large swaths of Europe, the countries affected developed this agreement to allow passport-less travel, which is very nice for those countries' citizens. Except for one problem: The limitation for Americans is 90 days out of every 180 days and you can't just cross a border into a non-Schengen country to reset the clock. Once you've used your 90 days of travel in the agreement countries, your travel time is up until 180 days have elapsed.

Which brings us to the sudden realization we had in Trieste that after all our galavantin around, we only had a few days left and not even enough to spend at the one-week apartment (already booked) in Stockholm to fly out at the end on our British Airlines flight (also already booked). Thankfully, the airline can be changed and the apartment was our only firm booking. But what, in a moment of shocking arithmetic awareness, seemed so remote was about to impact everything else we were about to plan.
SchengenFest? This must be the festival of irony!Through sheer luck, we had planned to stay in Croatia, not a member of the agreement, for a month, and we had time to figure out how we were going to arrive in Stockholm. The path we'd planned was to go from Istanbul to the Czech Republic, through Poland, up through Germany, then into Sweden or Norway. But ALL of those countries are part of the agreement! So, like fugitives, we had to route around all the countries now part of this new wall of bureaucracy. Thankfully the clock stopped when we left Italy, giving us a few extra days once we entered into Croatia, and Turkey wasn't part of the new deal either.

But how to actually get home using our already-book flight out of Stockholm? As it turns out, because there has always been a long-standing agreement between Ireland and the UK because of something to do with both being islands, both countries opted out of Schengen, although very oddly we've read stories where unsuspecting backpackers were interrogated at Heathrow and elsewhere in the UK when it was discovered they had overstayed their Schengen limit, even though the UK is not a signatory to it. But the good news is the UK and Ireland are both outside the zone, which means we're now going to spend the bulk of our time on a beach in Bodrum, Turkey, then Istanbul. We'll fly directly to Dublin from there, then to Glasgow, and finally leave out of London, which we were flying through from Stockholm anyway.
Most of the time we're like these kids on the Rijeka promenade: What's next?But for all the folks who want to backpack around Europe for an extended time (that is, longer than 90 days), you need to either get a special visa or plan parts of your trip to countries not part of the count-down timer of buzz kill.


A brief trip to Italy

Well, after spending a couple of days in Corsica, we were off on another ferry to Livorno, Italy.  This time, we were early and got the best seats in the house:

right at the front of the boat!  You can see the unique Corsica flag!

Then we had more traveling to do from Livorno to Pisa, a brief walk, bus ride, and train ride to the station in Pisa, where we were met by Romeo, the owner of Romeo B&B, a terrific little place to stay in Pisa.  Here are Rowan and Romeo in the very orange kitchen. 

Here are pictures of the gorgeous double room with nice big bed:

the little things count - fresh water for each of us on our bedside table

Lots of storage space

and our own work or eating table, where we started to deal with a "kernel panic" (if you havn't heard of it, you don't want to know) that indicated potentially big problems with our computer (our lifeline to the world).  All was well once Rowan figured out, with the rest of the Apple community, that a new "install" had been defective.  Needless to say, that was scary!

and cute communal kitchen with all you need, including an espresso machine, which Shirl learned to use (you have to stop it or it will keep making coffee all over!)

We stayed only one day and one night in Pisa, so we saw the requisite landmark, which is surprisingly hard to find!  Here, the trees look like they are holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa:

Our next destination was Florence, where we stayed at the Terrace with a View.  A new gallery will show the beauty of this architectural rooftop apartment.  We went to several events in Florence which were "off the beaten path."  First, we went to the Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, located at Villa I Tatti, in the hills above Florence.  Here are the gardens, which are closed to the public, but which we were able to see:

The villa is not open to the public, except on rare occasions when they have concerts like the one we attended.  It was called The Italian Tour of Four Japanese Youths in 1585 by I Fagiolini.  Here they are singing:

We happened onto two other cultural events.  First, there was a giant parade of people dressed up  in medieval costumes.  There will be a gallery of a bunch of them also.  This is "A Fine Manifestazione, the Calcio Storico."  This event dates back to the 16th century, when guys engaged in soccer, rugby, and wrestling (!) in historical costume.  We saw them on the way to play.  This guy looks like he has already been through a lot!

And then on Saturday night, we were treated to a concert on Madonna's world tour.  See the large lights?  That is the stadium from the roof-top terrace at our apartment.  Her new music is great!

So, Forence was a wonder, although it was quite hot.  We were very thankful for our air conditioning.  If we had a euro for everyone who has said "This is an unseasonable hot (cold) snap" on this trip, we'd be rich! 

Then we went on to Trieste for just a couple of days on the way to Rijeka, Croatia.  Trieste is the home of the Palazzo and Museo Revoltella. a combination of a restored 19th downtown palace for the first three stories and a museum of "Modern" (19th-20th century) Art, which is just stunning, on the top three floors.  Baron Pasquale Revoltella was a life-long bachelor who cared too much for his mother to marry!  A sponsor of the Suez Canal (see depiction below), he left his whole estate to the city of Trieste.

It has the following view over the the Gulf of Trieste:

See the gallery for Shirl's favorite paintings in the museum.  And the biggest event that happened in Trieste was that we "discovered" the Schengen Agreement.  More to follow on that.  Arrivederci for now!



Celebrating One Full Year of Travel!

Wow, an entire year traveling! It seems surreal. We're now in Florence, Italy, thinking about the past 366 days (because of leap year) and wondering where the time went. Like a dream, details fade. Like a revelation, so many flashes of insight, discovery, and realization. Rowan is writing a Top 10 list of discoveries from our time in Australia and Asia. For now, though, on our one-year anniversary of travel, here are some thoughts:

We learned tourist destinations are boring, expensive, and disappointing. Angkor Wat, Great Barrier Reef, Tokyo Imperial Palace, Leaning Tower of Pisa, were all big yawns for us. Were they somewhat interesting and worth our time? Sure, of course! If we had not seen them, would it have mattered much to our overall trip? No, not really.

We found serendipity was the antidote to worn-out, must-see spots. Float down a river of warm, spring-fed water near Mataranka; walk across a sky bridge in the clouds in Langkawi; motorboat through a floating city in the Sultanate of Brunei; stroll down the beach with four dogs from the house we stayed at on Bali (who disappear but are always waiting for you when you get back); watch first-run movies while laying on floor cushions with other backpackers in Phnom Penh; gaze up at  the night sky as it illuminates with floating wish lanterns on New Year's Eve in Chiang Mai; walk among thousands of butterflies and moths in the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary in Kuranda; listen to a concert of Renaissance music in Florence. All of these and many others were places or events we just happened on, without planning, and thoroughly enjoyed.

We met people everywhere also. Australians in all the caravan parks from the 9100 kms we drove; other travelers also back-packing for months at a time; and, most significantly, all the English-speaking AA meetings we attended that often had one or two people who would become friends. We could write pages on the wonderful, varied, and unique people we've connected with, just by going to a new place, or getting lost, or talking in an elevator.

Maybe most important of all, we discovered a key insight into how we need to travel. Through much trial and error, we found we can move from one place to another, being in a new place to stay, with new things to see, changing every day or two, but only for five or six weeks at a time. Then, it is Time To Stop. Maybe because we're older, perhaps because we're saner, definitely because we have the time, we've learned the key ingredient to long-term travel is stopping in one place for three to four weeks at regular intervals. Not to sight-see, not to do more locally, not even to save money (although long stops do decrease costs). No, just to really do nothing. Wake up late. Eat breakfast at noon. Read for a while. Walk to dinner somewhere. Rinse and Repeat until we're ready to flip open our passports to a new page.

And in-between we'll meet some new folks, see some spots not on any map, and discover more about ourselves that we ever thought possible. Happy One Year of Travel to and the plucky travelers.


Nice in Nice! And then Corsica, for an extra treat!

We arrived in Nice on May 16 and stayed there, with many side trips, until June 6. The beautiful apartment, which belongs to an American named Olivia, has been in her family for more than fifty years.  It is called Palais Bel Mare, and it has a to-die-for view of the Mediterranean, access to a beautiful beach, and offers life on the top of the world, among the many birds - seagulls, pigeons, and doves. 

We arrived in Nice just as the Cannes Film Festival was geting underway, and we went from Nice to Cannes a total of four times.  There was a train from near our apartment which took us down to the festival.  We met a bunch of new friends there too.  We figured out how to see movies there if you are not a big cheese, and we saw four movies. And Shirl had plenty of glace (big ice cream cones)!  Here is a classic picture of the whole environment with people who are marketing a film called Owner, which is about a backpack:

and then there are the photogs, who are  everywhere:

and here are the stars of Ernest and Celestine, a movie about a lonely bear and a mouse who does not want to be a dentist.  It was part of the Quinzaine, which is open to the public and was a premiere, so the stars came to the showing.  The two on the right are Celestine and Ernest.  Look how they love each other!

Another side trip was to Monaco, where we again met new friends and saw the incredible wealth that is Monaco.  We were able to catch the bus just outside our front door at the apartment right into Monaco!  This is a shop in Monaco where we got a couple of small gifts.  You can see Prince Albert looking over the shop owner's shoulder. 

Our next destination was to go to Bastia, on the French island of Corsica, on June 6.  We didn't get there directly because the boat left 20 minutes early!  But we were offered a lovely stay overnight on the boat in the Nice harbor, with free dinner because we had tickets and the boat had left us earlier that afternoon.  We met two incredible bicyclers who are touring Europe from their native Holland and through France, Italy, Slovenia, Austria and many other countries, all by bike.  This was their first non-camping night since April!  Here are John and Helen:

And here is our lovely room on the boat.  It was great to sleep before the boat left at 8 AM (no, we did not get up and see Nice while we left the Nice harbor at 8 AM!), and Shirl slept for a total of twelve hours!  Lullaby, baby, when the boat rocks (and you have taken your Dramamine)

Shirl was taking pictures, so we were shown what we suspect you would have if you were on your honeymoon, with a staff member dancing through it:

Because we arrived at Calvi, which is a couple of hours away from Bastia, we were able to take a ride on two great nice and slow trains that took us for at least an hour right on the coast of Corsica and then over the mountains to Bastia.  We would never have seen this part of the island, but for missing the ferry.  This definitely demonstrates the serendipity of "changes" in plans on travel.  The coast of Corsica is gorgeous, and there are some seriously tempting places to drop out (I mean without anything, including the internet)  ??  :)  ??  Here are some examples of the beauty:

And this picture below really reminded us of the movie A Map for Saturday, a movie we saw at our favorite movie theater of the trip, The Flicks in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Here is a German tourist reading to her fellow backpackers on the train:

and here is a guy who was following the train journey, stop by stop, on an incredibly detailed map.  He was, as are many we met on Corsica, riding a bike.  Europeans seem to love to camp on Corsica...

And whew, it was the light at the end of the tunnel, not an oncoming train!


Marvelous Marseille (with a lovely side trip to Aix-en-Provence)

So again, dear readers, you have probably been wondering where are those Morrigans now?  Well, you can always tell where we are by looking at the Journey page, where it says "Detours:  We are here now."  This entry covers the time we spent in and around Marseille in mid-May:  First, we had another celebration of Rowan's birthday (lucky him!) with new friends in Aix-en-Provence, a lovely little town that is a short train and bus ride away from Marseille.  Here is his lovely French birthday cake:Then, just outside Marseille, we stayed at the Etap Hotel in the area called "L'Estaque," which is known for its art and fish (or fish who paint):

and where Shirl first got to see the Mediterranean, here in a calm port before the storm: and then in what are starting to be very stormy conditions (see the white caps?)

It turns out that L'Estaque has been a real artist's center for centuries.  Cezanne lived here and painted in a very simple house in L'Estaque much of the time between 1870 and 1882.

We'd like to do art with these views too! 

On Sunday, we got together with wonderful hosts, Cathy (a friend of our good friend Daniel in Hanoi) and Patrick, who on no notice, took the whole afternoon to take us to a beautiful brunch at the end of the road on what was Mother's Day in the US (wow, sparklers on the profiteroles!) Here are Cathy and Patrick with Rowan:

and Cathy with Shirl:

and the beautiful view (one of many!) at the end of the road by the restaurant:

Cathy and Patrick showed us the highest place in Marseille, L'Eglise Notre Dame de la Garde, where you can see in the background the scope of the giant city of 850,000 inhabitants that is Marseille, and where there is incredible wind (look at Rowan's hair and hood in the air): and here at Notre Dame de la Garde are Rowan and Patrick, who are both striving to keep from flying away in the wind:

And the 2nd-century (!) Abbaye Saint-Victor.  Here Patrick peers into the second century:

and Shirl again captures the old and the new together:

In stark contrast to the giant city that is Marseille that you can see from Notre Dame de la Garde, here are two pictures of the Vallon des Auffes, a tiny little fishing village right in the middle of the city, below the main street.  Seeing it from above:

and at the Vallon level:

Shirl is again taken by the graffiti.  Sweet place.  We love France!

Thanks so much for showing us things we would never have found, Cathy and Patrick!  Our trip is all about the people we meet!