Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Noel's Solo Trip to Switzerland and Greece

I'm off feeding my vagabondness with a 24 day trip equally split between southern Switzerland (the Italian speaking canton Ticino where my paternal ancestors are from, where I continue to stay in touch with cousins there, and where I have visited many times) and Greece (first time).

The trip started as many do -- with me finding an incredibly cheap airline ticket flying roundtrip from Los Angeles to Zurich -- for $316 cash value of Chase credit card points.  The flights from Zurich to/from Greece were $119 and $134, respectively.

August 28/29 - comfortable Delta flights from Los Angeles with a connection in Atlanta - departing 8:45am on August 28 and arriving Zurich at 8:45am on August 29.  I then picked up a rental car at the Zurich airport and drove 3 hours over (and through - many tunnels) the Swiss Alps to Gordevio -- a still small village within a dead-end valley known as Valle Maggia.  I've written before about my roots here in Gordevio - here is a good overview.  I've posted photos from today on Instagram here.

I'll be staying at a cousin's home here in Gordevio until September 9 when I'll fly to Athens.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Am I Addicted To The Vagabond Life?

It's true - sometimes it seems that in my retirement I have become increasingly addicted to a vagabond ("having an irregular course") life.  But, like all things, it's way more complicated than any single word might express.  Let me try to explain.

It has been my observation that if you ask anyone fortunate enough to even be contemplating retirement about their plans -- among the first answers you get will be "travel."  But I've also observed that most just say it wistfully as they really have chosen to occupy their lives with commitments (houses, gardens, lawns, pets, activities and routines) that discourage more than short holidays much like they took while working.  And, some of those further limit their "travel" interests to specific, expensive destinations (only western Europe, for example) or to managed travel (cruises, tours, groups).  All have their place and purpose -- but I think my addiction is, therefore, not just to "travel," but rather to an "irregular" course of life.

I'm a little different.  I tend to love everything about the kind of travel that I undertake -- independent adventure traveling -- from the finding, booking, planning - to the in-country execution (navigating, exploring, learning) - to the satisfaction I get from completing my plans.  I never was a fisherman or a hunter -- but I suspect that my addiction to traveling as I do -- is similar to the fisherman/hunter.  Great satisfaction is gained from all aspects from anticipation/preparation to reflecting on the trophy photo/memory.

I'm addicted to the gambling-like rush that I get when I find the incredibly low air fare, when I score a superb accommodation at a reasonable price, when I successfully find great local foods, when I navigate in lands where I am sometimes forced to meet my daily needs without an ability to understand the spoken word, speak the language or read the signage -- where I must rely on my own ingenuity (and increasingly travel/translation apps).  I'm also addicted to what I call "senior backpacking" (NO - not actual backpacking - I need a comfortable bed and daily shower) - but where I make choices that keep me staying among fellow interesting and interested travelers - focused on local culture and cuisine rather than trying to recreate their USA life in a foreign land (sure there is western food and Starbucks everywhere - but I'll never understand why wealthy, often snooty, Americans travel just to experience what they do and eat at home!) Similarly, I refuse to buy any souvenir or trinket or gift (carry on luggage only).  I try to keep the focus on the experience - my photos provide adequate reminders of the trip.
So, yes -- I am addicted to the vagabond life.  It's not for everyone -- and I don't know how long my addiction will last -- but for now I'm having a blast.  If I never mow another lawn again in my life -- that'll be fine by me.

Santiago and Buenos Aires - Until Next Time

After 7 nights in wonderful Buenos Aires, I flew back to Santiago -- moved into yet another Airbnb - super nice in different location - and set about another couple days touring Santiago.

Tonight - May 3 - I catch Latam Airlines (the largest Latin American Airline) to Lima, Peru with a connection to Los Angeles - arriving Friday, May 4 at 8:00am.

Another wonderful and satisfying adventure complete!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A Week in Buenos Aires

Well, once again - as sometimes happens - my blogging spirit has diminished -- as I reflect happily on my amazingly fun week in Buenos Aires.  It seems an insurmountable task to try to capture the many contacts, conversations, tours, meals, walks, vistas, impressions, thoughts, and feelings that I experienced.  Even my photos seem incomplete and inadequate to explain the visit.

Suffice to say, as I did on Facebook:  
Just wrapping up a week in beautiful Buenos Aires with great thanks to my Great Barrier Reef dive partner who graciously gave me her apartment to stay in and shared her family, friends, and time with me.

And if you want to see some of the photos that will help me remember my friends and activities, I've linked them in this album.
I definitely want to return to Buenos Aires -- and travel farther and longer in Argentina -- and keep in touch with my friends there!  What a great week!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Valparaiso - April 21-23, 2018

I still rely heavily on Lonely Planet guide books when planning my trips -- and my reading encouraged a 1 1/2 bus-ride side trip to the coastal of Valparaiso, home to 300,000 - where I arranged a two-bedroom, two-bath Airbnb so that Marta could accompany me.  I love the way Lonely Planet describes Valparaiso: "Syncopated, dilapidated, colorful and poetic, Valpara√≠so is a wonderful mess. Pablo Neruda, who drew much inspiration from this hard-working port town, said it best: 'Valpara√≠so, how absurd you are…you haven't combed your hair, you've never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you."
Marta and I enjoyed two wonderful days being tourists in this city "widely known for its bohemian culture, brightly coloured houses, and beautiful seaside views."  The city is known for its many "Ascensores" - funiculars that run between the coastal area to the nearby hill tops, and offer gorgeous views of the cityscape, port, and the Pacific Ocean.

To be sure, no amount of my photos can match the beauty of the many photos available on Google here.

The weekend passed quickly and in a blink we were back on the bus to Santiago where I stayed in yet another Airbnb near the airport - got some laundry done and a home-cooked meal by the Bolivian owner - and readied for my departure the next day (April 24) for Buenos Aires.

Santiago - April 18-21, 2018

In 1978 - the last and only time I had previously visited Santiago, I was working in Washington, DC which had just gotten its light rail metro a few years earlier - and I was fascinated to see Santiago's metro propelled on rubber tires.  So I snapped a photo and was immediately detained by local police -- and taken to an interview room where, thankfully, my boss, fluent in Spanish, explained my innocent photo intent.  That 40-year old lesson - during the rule of the repressive dictatorship of Pinochet (1976-83) - quickly reminded me that dictators don't take kindly to the photography of public facilties.  I'm pleased to tell you that I ran into no problems recreating that 40-year old "mistake" - in a Santiago that is a very different place - a thriving home to 7 million that transitioned to democracy in 1990.

And Santiago's metro, the 3rd largest in Latin America, still uses the French-designed, metro cars with rubber tires (though some of it now runs on steel wheels).

Getting pesos (about $600 Chilean Pesos to $1 USD), finding the inexpensive bus to downtown, and arranging the Uber ride were superbly easy and comfortable -- but because it was still early in the day, I proceeded to the home of the "mother of a friend of a cousin" who I had only briefly met when we were both visiting Switzerland last August.  I had kept up texting-correspondence with "Marta" since our meeting in the hopes of crossing paths in Santiago.  She had explained that she didn't have a large enough apartment to host me -- but that we could share meals and tourist activities.  From our short visit in Switzerland I could tell that she was a very youthful 83 year old -- and spoke perfect English.

Her apartment - like the nice Airbnb I stayed at - is located in the thriving downtown -- so we immediately set out on her introducing me to the local area and food - and later a delicious salmon lunch at her apartment.

For the next 3 days Marta was my tour guide in visiting some of the sites/neighborhoods - including the impressive Cerro San Cristobal with expansive views of the city.

And on one of the days, Marta's friend took us on a driving tour of the city with a lunch time stop for a massive hot dog loaded with avocado - at the local, long time favorite cafe Fuente Alemana (Trip Advisor rated #33 of 4,450 restaurants in Santiago).

I also did some afternoon sightseeing on my own - including visiting the very interesting Museum of Memory and Human Rights which provided a close examination of the horrors of the Pinochet rule.

I didn't write about everything I saw, did, and ate -- but it was a wonderful visit to Santiago -- followed by my pre-planned trip to the beautiful, coastal city of Valparaiso (next posting).

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A New Wanderlust Fix - South America: Santiago & Buenos Aires - April/May 2018

My addiction to wanderlusting cheaply was excited again in January when I was alerted to an affordable fare to Santiago, Chile - $629 round trip plus a $25 airline ticketing charge -- flying out of Portland and returning to Los Angeles (ticketed by Latam Airlines).  Why Santiago?  Well, why not?  After all, I have wanted to continue my exploration of South America ever since a 1978 (40 years ago) business trip from Chile to Panama (and places in between).  And, in the past year I had the opportunity to meet and add friendships in both Santiago and Buenos Aires that added current inspiration to the long-held goal.  So, I proceeded to buy the tickets to Santiago -- and added a round trip from Santiago to Buenos Aires for $165 in credit card points.

As I went about my trip planning, I was super pleased to learn how affordable complete Airbnb apartments are in Santiago ($45 to $55 a night for a fully equipped, downtown condo) and to have my dive partner from my Australian trip (an Argentinian living in downtown Buenos Aires - posted about here) offer me her apartment for my time there.

The trip got underway on April 17 - when I flew from Portland to Dallas/Ft. Worth (Alaska Airlines) and then direct to Santiago on American.  American even gave me a complimentary upgrade (no, I don't know why) to their spacious premium economy seats on the new 787 aircraft - complete with an empty seat next to me.  It would have been more comfortable journey if I hadn't been fighting a head cold -- but the medication and complimentary wine did provide some needed sleep on the overnight 9+ hour flight from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Santiago.