Monday, September 29, 2014

A Year In Paris and New York City

Today I turn 66, (Happy Birthday, Jim).

I am spending the day preparing for a house sitting stint for a home owner heading to Europe for the next six weeks. While she is away, I will house sit and care for her home and much loved feline companion. Two days after the owner returns, I will begin house sitting another home―this time for a period of almost three months. This house sit includes a very active dog that loves to chase balls and run on the nearby beach. Both these homes are within thirty to forty minutes of the apartment I live in.

So why am I house sitting for the next four to five months when I have a perfectly good place of my own to stay in and look after? Because from time to time I like to get out of my comfort zone. Because I want to challenge myself. To remind myself that despite my 66 years, there is still ‘life in the old boy, yet’. And because I want to show my friends, my family, my nephews and nieces, and anyone else who feels stuck in a rut, or afraid of trying something different, that they can challenge themselves at any age to break out of their own particular comfort zones, and try something different.

During the 1970s, I spent five and a half years living and working in London. Each summer I would head into Europe and generally end up in Greece where I have extended family (my parents were Greek). Little did I think, after I returned to Australia in September 1976, that 32 years would pass before I would once again venture away from Australian shores.

Thirty-two years!

Now I am making up for lost travel time. I have travelled to Europe and/or America every two years since 2008, and I am not done yet.

At the end of August, I returned from my latest trip―a four month extended stay in Greece and Paris―infused and excited by the idea of again spending a year living in one of the worlds great capitals. While I was in Paris, the thought occurred to me that I was free to spend the rest of my life pretty much anywhere I chose to live. It might be Adelaide, my home town, or it might be Paris, London, New York City, Berlin, or somewhere else.

Since this idea hit me in Paris, the ‘City of Lights’ was my first choice. Now that I have had time to think about it, I am still excited by the challenge and prospect of living there. I am also exploring the possibility of spending a year in New York City. Having been to New York three times, I would dearly love to spend a whole year there. Even though I have already spent a total of almost five months visiting New York City, I am not done with that most amazing and exciting of cities by a long shot.

Heck. Why not spend a year in Paris and New York City?

Why not, indeed?

Of course, not everyone has the luxury of being retired, and even those of us who are, don’t always have the freedom to pull up stakes and move away from hearth and home for twelve months. Or for greater or lesser periods. However, I firmly believe that we all have many choices available to us throughout our lives, and that we can choose to take the easy way, the comfortable way, the safe way, or we can choose the way ‘less travelled’.

After the idea to spend a year living in Paris or New York City fired my imagination, I wrote in my travel journal:

Life is short.
The clock is ticking.
If not now
So do it now.

Love The Life You Live
            ―or Change It.

At sixty-six years of age, life does indeed seem short, and the clock is definitely ticking. It may take me another year before I finally sort out all the details for my yearlong Parisian or New York sabbatical, but I am working on it. I’m working on it. Watch this space.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Cost of Four Months Travel

Parisian river scene
 I recently returned from an almost four month extended vacation spent mostly in Greece, but with a two week side trip to Paris, France. As near is I can calculate it, my total costs for this trip were just under $7,000 (Australian dollars). Incredibly, this figure is pretty much what I would have spent if I had stayed at home in Adelaide, Australia.

By way of explanation: Transport includes all public transport (taxis, buses, trains), excluding ferries and flights; Eats includes meals out and snacks; Groceries includes purchases made at local supermarkets in Greece and Paris; Recreation includes visits to museums, galleries and other landmarks. It also includes shared family meals which I hosted and paid for; Other includes purchases that did not fit neatly into other categories. Finally, Bank Fees on overseas purchases and ATM withdrawals have all been lumped into this category. Here is a breakdown of my trip expenses (figures in Australian dollars):

Accommodations             $1526.40
- AirBnB, Paris         $779.00 (10 nights)
- Palace Hotel           $270.50 (4 nights)
- Delfini Hotel          $476.90 (10 nights)
Tower of St. Jacques, Paris, France
Flights                              $2013.97
- Emirates                 $1619.91
- Air France              $394.06
Ferries                             $225.00
Transport                        $127.37
- Greece                  $46.02
- Paris                     $81.35
Eats                                 $697.92
- Greece                  $390.27
- Paris                     $307.65
Groceries                       $552.39
- Greece                  $481.89
- Paris                     $70.50
Shopping                       $536.50
Recreation                    $762.64
- Greece                  $644.79
- Paris                     $117.85
Other                            $386.95
- Global Rorting      $18.22
Bank Fees                    $154.15         
TOTAL:                       $6983.29

Clearly, some of the costs in the above breakdown overlap with other categories. For example, I could have added bank fees (Currency Conversion Fees, etc) to their associated purchases, but I liked the idea of separating these costs out from everything else. Also, my hosting and paying for several family gatherings at restaurants could have gone into the Eats category, but I saw these as separate from meals and snacks I bought just for myself.

‘Global Rorting’ is my not so tongue in cheek name for Global Roaming fees imposed by all telecoms providers on travellers using their mobile phones outside of their home networks. Travel blogs and websites are full of horror stories about people who have returned home to find massive phone bills waiting for them, because they used their phones while travelling.

I got around this potential problem (just $18.22) by using Skype as much as possible, and by using my phone only when I absolutely had to. As soon as I had used my phone to make a call, I would turn off Global Roaming to ensure there was no chance of incurring costs and charges I was not prepared for. If you don’t have Skype installed on your smartphone or tablet device do so at the earliest opportunity. Calls to other Skype users are free―even if those users are on the other side of the planet. And calling people who are not Skype users incurs a fee that is a fraction of what your phone company charges, so do yourself a favor and install it now. Even the app is free.

Statue of Apollo, Versailles, France
An additional word or two about the Accommodations and Groceries expenses may be in order. Firstly, Accommodations. Clearly, since I only paid for a total of 24 nights in hotels, I must have had other sleeping arrangements in place for my remaining three months, and in deed I did.

I am lucky enough to have extensive family connections in Greece where two sisters and their extended families now live. Hence, I was able to share my time between both sisters at no cost in terms of accommodation. However, I did of course contribute financially in other ways while staying with family, either by hosting and paying for the already mentioned family gatherings, or by paying for petrol, groceries (other than my own), and for a new digital television and computer desk for family members (both Shopping expenses), and for other items.

As for Groceries: For most of my time in Greece and Paris, I lived in accommodations that enabled me to cook my own meals, thereby saving me a small fortune by not having to eat out at restaurants and caf├ęs all the time. To clarify, most of my stay in Greece was spent in a self-contained studio apartment owned by family members for which I paid no rent, which obviously kept my accommodation costs to a minimum. A good example of how costs can add up quickly can be seen by comparing the Eats figures. I spent almost as much in Paris ($307.65) over two weeks as I did during 14-15 weeks in Greece ($390.27).

Of course, not all travellers have the luxury of free accommodation available to them when they travel, so I am extremely grateful to my sisters and their families for making my stay not only affordable, but the absolute delight it turned out to be.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Another City, Another Scam

Back in January 2011, I wrote about a Gold Ring Scam I fell for while visiting Paris during the winter of 2010. Recently, I was reminded of the following scam I fell for while visiting New Orleans in 2012. Apparently, it is a well known scam in the city, but unfortunately, I had never heard of it.

While out walking one day I was approached by a local person of doubtful character who complimented me on my boots! I immediately sensed that I was about to be scammed by a panhandler for a dollar or two, but this guy was better than most. He wanted to guess, with absolute certainty "Where you got your boots." I tried to ignore him, and said there was no way he could know where I got my boots, but he was insistent, so I let him guess, since he was quite persistent, and didn't seem to be able to take "No" for an answer.

Sucked in again, Jim!

Of course, he knew exactly where I " my boots."

"You got your boots on your feet!" he crowed triumphantly.

With that, he bent down and smeared some gunk on both boots and then insisted on cleaning them for me - for an 'donation' of course. I wasn't too happy about the scam, but took it in good humor when I realised he wasn't alone, and that a couple of friends were providing back up for this con man.

However, my good humor quickly soured when he (and his friends) tried to scam me out of $20 for the so-called 'shoe cleaning', I baulked and gave him $9.00 in small bills, which he happily took. I did have a $20 note, but I was not going to give him that if I could help it. I suspect that if I had only given him $5 he would have been just as happy with that, but what the heck.

I paid because, just like the gold ring scammer in Paris, I should have known better, but despite my Scammer Alert warning system, I still fell for his patter, and for that I needed to pay for my stupidity. I also paid because I had a feeling that his own 'good humor' and that of his friends might also have turned sour very quickly, and I was in no position to defend myself against three men.

Next time - and there will always be a next time - I hope I have the presence of mind and the good sense, to simply ignore the scammer and walk away before they have time to launch into their well rehearsed patter.

By the way, I was in Paris again just last month, and the 'Gold Ring Scam' as I like to call it, is still going strong. This time I was approached by some guy trying to con me while I was visiting the Eiffel Tower, but of course he went away empty handed.

And while I’m at it, if you ever go to Paris, watch out for the young women (and they always seem to be young women), who claim they are collecting money for institutions providing services for people with disabilities of one sort or other (mostly for the deaf or deaf-mutes). Some of them even pretend to be deaf-mutes themselves, but watch them long enough and you will see them talking together as they go about their lucrative ‘business’.
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