Air BnB ~ Another Interesting Option

Here’s another lovely benefit of writing this blog – I hear from so many people who know WAY more about travel than I do and they offer great new ideas for me to check into.  How cool is that?  Very actually!   And that’s how I came to learn about Airbnb from Suzie, a lovely woman with a lot more travel miles on her rollie than the hubs and I have right now.

How about an art filled room in Giacomo’s stone house in Vinci, Italy?

I’d heard of this new player in travel accommodation but, frankly I thought it was sort of a step up from couch surfing and I’ve decided that’s probably not for us (at least right now).  Boy, was I wrong.  According to the founders (three young men in their late 20’s) it all started several years ago when these guys decided to buy some blow up mattresses and offer them (along with a tasty breakfast and local hospitality) to a few of young creative types who were attending a creative design conference in San Francisco where they lived.
Hence the original name Air Bed and Breakfast.  I am always tickled by creative ideas and love it when creativity + passion + vision + hard work = major success.

According to their website, it turns out that a whole lotta people were looking for places to stay where the “hospitality was genuine and the M&Ms didn’t cost $6.  The guests got insight into the city from a fresh, local perspective and an interesting place to stay at a very reasonable price.”  Bingo!   Airbnb took off and now offers diverse accommodations in over 26,000 cities and 192 countries around the world.

So, of course I took myself for a little cruise on the airbnb site and found every imaginable kind of place to stay.   For $71 a night you can rent a lovely domed cave house in Cataluna, Spain from Eve.  Or, for $85 a night you can stay in this yurt in the trees near Ashland OR with Becky and Sidney as your hosts.  We could do this for a long weekend! Or maybe, a small apartment on an agriturismo farm owned by Francesco and his family.  They make sheep’s milk cheese.  You name it, someone is offering you the opportunity to stay in it – cabins, rustic retreats, repurposed buildings, yurts, castles, boats, lofts, apartments – the list is endless.  And, of course, you can always rent a bedroom in someone’s home, often with meals and lots of social interaction.   Brilliant idea!  Let’s get packing.

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Doors of Mexico ~

In oneself lies the whole world and if you know how to look and learn, the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself.    Jiddu Krisnamurti

I am fascinated by doors, especially old wooden ones.  They are true works of art and function.  They keep you warm. They keep you safe.  They hide secrets.  They open wide to welcome friends and strangers.  On my visits to San Miguel, Guanajuato and the small towns in between, I’ve spent many happy hours studying and photographing doors – and making up my own stories about what was going on behind them.

I’m no professional photographer and my camera is a tiny point and shoot, but nevertheless, I hope you find these doors as beautiful and interesting as I did.

Entering the Art Instituto of course!

rich gringo doors

The door knockers were works of metal art.

Striking for sure, but somehow so wrong.

Who stole the doors?

Bicycle Built For Two ~

I had never seen a bicycle built for four until a week or so ago when we stumbled upon a whole herd of them.   I’m not sure exactly what you call a whole bunch of cyclists on bicycles built for two, or three, or even four riders – whole families riding in unison on the same bike!  And everyone was smiling.  And no one was arguing or complaining.   They were happy – at least 100 of them.  It was a beautiful sight to behold.  A few even stopped a minute so I could take a picture, others just whizzed on by so I had a lot of pics of rear tires and rear ends.

Of course, this prompted the conversation “We could/should do this.”  Really?  Are you nuts?   We’re a team, a pretty good team, but not one that always works in tandem.  We each dance to our own music.  Hubs is  “Meatloaf – Life’s a Lemon and I Want My Money Back” 70’s and 80’s rock and roll and I’m all Norah Jones.  You should see us dance!  It takes a considerable amount of alcohol to smooth out the differences.  And, I have that unfortunate tendency to lead.  That’s probably not going to change any time soon.  Now, picture those very same people on a tandem bike.  Scary thought.

Apparently there are names for each position.  The person in the front is the pilot and the person in back is called the stoker.   If we were to ever consider such a crazy thing, I’m calling dibs on pilot (it sounds easier and I get to be in charge, ie. lead, which we already know I have experience with).   Hubs can be the muscle in the back.I found some very helpful information from a couple who took a 3 1/2 month tour of Europe on a bicycle built-for-two pretty much on a whim and with no experience.  Sounds like a “Why Not?” to me.  Since their tips for keeping the peace in your relationship while riding tandem pretty much work for relationships in general, I thought I’d pass them along.

Pilot – Do not spit.
Stoker –  Do not be a backseat driver.
Pilot – Do not question the Stoker’s pedaling efforts.
Stoker – Do not lean.
Pilot – Communicate – do not expect the Stoker to be a mind reader.
Stoker – Do not suddenly stop pedaling
Pilot/Stoker – Do not walk away from the tandem and assume that the other person is holding it upright.

So maybe you’ll see us on the road someday.  If I don’t waive, it’s because I’m holding on for dear life with both hands.

Sneekin’ out in the middle of the week ~

Finally, summer seems to have arrived in our little piece of the Pacific Northwest.  Although the betting pool at our house this year pegged it closer to mid-July, I’m happy to say we celebrated the independence of our nation and paid homage to the Sun Gods on July 4th by taking a short trip across the river into Washington and out the Columbia Gorge to join the revelers at Skamania Lodge and watch the fireworks light up the sky above the mighty Columbia River.  It seemed like the perfect time for a spur of the moment getaway and since hubs had won a mid-week stay at this lovely lodge a while back, we threw our rollies in the car and off we went for a little fun close to home.   Fun?  On a Wednesday?  Wow!  For this corporate desk jockey, I have to admit it felt a little strange.  For the Old Guy, it felt like retirement – and he mentioned that several times – Him:  “This is what retirement is all about.”  Her:  “No, this is what vacation is all about.”   Whatever.  Let’s just get going and soak up every minute.  So, soak we did.  We also went on a great six mile walk going down the hill from the lodge, along the Columbia River, through the tiny town of Stevenson, and out onto the landing to watch the sail boats, windsurfers, kite boarders and jet skiers.  Lots of interesting things to see and a few that made you wonder…

Back at the lodge and with time on our hands until dusk, the appointed fireworks hour, we snagged two adirondack chairs on the lawn and camped out to eat, drink, eat, drink, talk with and watch interesting people, and play a few rousing games of croquet on the grass.  I trounced him!  Maybe that’s because hubby insisted on playing while continuing to hold on to his cocktail.  Or, maybe I’m just that good.  All in all, a great start to summer.

Returning home by midday on Thursday, I was refreshed and recharged.  Maybe we should take more middle of the week “sneek away trips”.  What’s your favorite get away within an hour or so of home?

Home Exchange ~ An intriguing offer

Don’t you love it when you go in to shut down your laptop for the night and you take one last peek at your email and there, glowing in your inbox, is a message that you just have to open – and read – and read again.  And now your mind is buzzing with possibilities and excitement and fear and what ifs?   Sleepy?  No, not now.  That was so five minutes ago.

Well, here’s the short story on my enticing email from Heidi.  When I signed up for Home Exchange three weeks ago, I had no specific goals other than to test the waters on some short stays closer to home and otherwise figure out how it all worked.   A shakedown cruise of sorts.   Plus I would get to peruse all the offerings and dream.  Well, my friends, Heidi came a-calling with a pretty interesting offer… Heidi, her husband and five year old daughter live in Century City, a very nice suburb in LA between Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.  I worked there back in the days when I lived in LA so I know it pretty well.  (I’m sure a lot has changed since 1987, but still.)  Turns out they are thinking about moving to Portland and are looking for a home exchange from August 2012 through June 2013.   Nowhere in any of my thinking was the idea of a long term stay like this a possibility right now.  That was for way off in the future.   And frankly, I’ve lived in LA and while I do like to visit from time to time, it is definitely not on my list of places to live permanently.  Too busy, too crowded, to expensive, too L.A.  But, for a few months…say January or February through June…when it’s cold, gray and gloomy to the max in Portland, well I have to say I perked right up at the idea.  Hubby, Mr. “let’s become Citizens of the World”, was seriously not enthused.  In fact, he was kind of a wet blanket on my initial enthusiasm.   Big Bummer!   And it raised a few very interesting points for future discussion.  Apparently the move from talking to doing is not going to be as easy as my Pollyanna mindset had led me to believe.

Obviously, there are logistical questions to be considered and worked out in any kind of long term swap, but, it would be so much easier to do between Portland and LA than say Portland and Prague.   First, (again) what the hell do we do with Mr. Ricky?  He and hubs are a team – the dynamic duo, and I fear that Ricky might fare slightly better than his human half if they were separated.  Second – August?  Leave Portland during the one or two months of really lovely summer weather?   After I waited a whole year for summer to come back?  And third, we would have to actually pull the trigger and do something so far out of the comfortable box we currently live in.  Whew.  Not so quick or easy as it turns out.

Actually, if it were just me, it would be an easy decision.  But it’s not, we’re a team.  So I’m going to move us through this slowly to see where it might lead.  Here’s my tentative plan:

1.  We have to take the cat.  Will they be amenable to a handsome well mannered fur boy moving into their “gorgeous, art-filled, 3-level contemporary town-home with a grand piano in Century City”?  If no, end of road for now.  If yes, take one step forward.

2.  Heidi indicated she was flexible in her dates and might consider multiple swaps to get the full year.  Ok!  How about Les and Nancy from February through mid-June?

3.  If 1 and 2 fly, then it’s time to start working on my armchair based and very comfortable there world traveler.    Baby steps.  Stick and Carrot.  Sexy lingerie.  Time to bring out the full bag of tricks!

4.  If 3 flies and the hubs climbs on board, then it’s time to negotiate with the LA swappers to see if we can work out a lovely FREE winter vacation in sunny Southern California.  If so,  here’s where you’ll find us on the weekends…

And here’s where you might find Heidi and her family…

Yep, this is definitely worth pursuing.   Words of wisdom from the Old Grey Haired Guy I live with ~ “Keep saying Yes until you have a reason to say No”.  Words I now need to remind him of.   I’ll keep you posted.

Reflections on Water

I love being by the water.   It soothes my soul.  My bio-rhythms seem to slow to keep time with the rhythm of the waves.   My favorite childhood memories are of summers spent at our summer cottage on Balsam Lake.  In the lake, on the lake or lying on the dock by the lake.  I spent so much time in the water I’m surprised I didn’t grow gills.  My skin did turn prune-like on a regular basis however.   So it’s not a surprise that I see many water-related destinations in our future adventures.

A few years ago, my hubby and I went on a midnight canoe trip on Mt. Bachelor.   We slid across the lake guided by the light of the moon.  The only sounds were our paddles pushing through the water and the night song of the forest around us.  It was truly an awe-and-then-some experience.  Living in the Pacific Northwest we are truly blessed – ocean beaches and bays, rivers, lakes, streams, ponds – all right in our own backyard.  Before we set sail for parts unknown on the other side of the globe, and I even now, as I’m lusting after rivers in Egypt or Bulgari, we’ll keep on exploring and enjoying the natural bounty we have so close to home.

Floating and fly fishing on the south fork of the Flathead River in Glacier Park.

Fifteen minutes from our house and we’re canoeing on the Tualatin River.

Early morning sun salutation on the inlet – Wheeler, OR

Off  the beaten path near Steamboat Inn in Southern Oregon.

What’s your favorite water destination?  I’d love to check it out and maybe add it to our travel adventures bucket list.

Mi Casa es Su Casa ~ exploring home exchange

Exploring another of the many options available for traveling on a budget, I decided to sign us up for home exchange.  I’m pretty darned excited about the possibilities.  Oh yes, I am more than ready to spend a little time in the charming garden in the photo below…

18th Century Bastide in Aix en Provence

I was first intrigued by this idea in 1996 when I discovered an organization called Intervac.   It was started back in 1953 by two teachers who were looking for an economical way to travel and it’s still a great option for people with limited funds.  You can exchange homes, flats, boats, cabins…pretty much any living accommodation you can think of in towns, cities, resorts and out of the way places all over the world.

So, way back when, I signed up to exchange my condo in Lake Oswego hoping to work out an inexpensive European vacation for my son and myself.  This was during the stone age before everything was online.  I wrote a short description of our home and the great things to do in the area, took a couple of photos and sent it all off with a check to be published in a very large book printed on newsprint – nothing fancy here.  It took a while (they only published once a year) but I finally received my copy in the mail.  The photos were black and white, small and often a little blurry, but I was hooked.  I poured over the available exchanges every evening for weeks.  Then, truth be told, I chickened out and didn’t follow up on the few opportunities that came my way.  I’m pretty sure Portland, Oregon was not on a whole lot of international vacationers’ top ten destination lists back then.  I’m hoping things have changed.  I know Portland has.  And I know I’ve changed too.  These days getting signed up is SIMPLE.   Here’s how it went when I registered a couple of weeks ago – I paid online using my Pay Pal account, uploaded several photos of our townhouse, wrote my description and voila! here’s our listing with homeexchange.com.  It still needs some tweaking, but I’ll keep updating and improving it as I get a better feel for how everything works and what attracts potential exchangers.   Within a couple of days we had two offers for exchanges.   So easy!

Why home exchange?  Well, to me it seems like the perfect way to travel just a little bit off the tourist path.  You literally have all of the comforts of home if you understand that the home you are vacationing in may be very different from the one you currently live in.  Having had several successful vacation rentals with VRBO – Vacation Rental By Owner – I’m ready to take the next step – swap vs. cash payment.  For those of us who count their travel pennies, it is a great option.  I’ve talked to several veteran house swappers and have yet to hear one horror story (although I’m sure there are some and it would be good to hear those as well).

Right now because I’m still chained to my office desk most of the year, we’re looking for a few short, easy exchanges closer to home.  The two offers that came in right away were from St. Paul, MN from a couple that were coming to Portland in September for a conference and another from some folks in Redondo Beach, CA who were looking to exchange in July.  Neither fit in our plans, so I just hit the “No Thanks, Not This Time” button.   So, you know where to find me for the next several weeks, I’ll be cruising through the thousands of listings and tossing out a few offers of my own to see if we can connect on some west coast shares, maybe something in Mexcio and (fingers crossed) a house for next summer in France, Italy or Spain to tie in with my walking vacation that is also in the plans.

I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime.  Here are a few options to consider for your own travels.

A lovely flat in London

2 Bedroom Apartment in the center of Madrid

Sit on this patio in San Miguel de Allende Mexico.

Have you tried home exchange?  What was your experience?  I’d love to hear!