Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mama Mia - Here we go again!

At least I don't have to chisel our blog!
My how time flies in the blogosphere! In recent posts - Michael told a great football tale, and answered the first of several questions we received from readers of the New York Times story and the Huffington Post Live interview. His post is about our budget and we welcome your feedback. I am the one behind on travel tales!

Since my last post from Malta, we've been to Rhodes, Symi and Kos in the Greek Islands, spent time in Turkey, including a mind-boggling trip to Ephesus, and are now settled on the Greek side of the divided island country of Cyprus. All that in just twenty days! Not our usual Senior Nomads pace, but there was still so much to see in this part of the world.

Some of this whirlwind travel included a few hotel nights, and I have to say I didn't mind someone else making the beds and preparing breakfast, let alone going out for lunch and dinner! And we were within budget, so that made it even better.

Here's a quick recap of the past twenty days. Let's begin with my birthday, March 6th. We started the party early - as in a 2:30 am wake up call for a 5:00 am flight from Malta to Athens. Note to travel planner: Not your best planning, even if we saved a few bucks.

We arrived in Rhodes just in time for a national holiday - and that came with a parade!
One of the quirks of our nomadic lifestyle is "we always have to be somewhere" - as in not at home and not on vacation. Traveling these past few weeks  included stops in Greece with hardly another tourist in sight because "the season" doesn't start until early April. After a layover in Athens our first stop was Rhodes, a lovely fortified city with  history around every corner.  Our hosts picked us up at the airport and we settled into our home in the old city (as in really old city). https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1037492. Our back door opened onto to the courtyard of a church built in the 15th century.

The Byzantine church out our backdoor.
On the way to town along an alley that hasn't changed in 500 years. Well, maybe the restaurant has a new name.
Our first stop, as always, was the closest grocery store - since we were inside the walls of the old town it was more of a place that offered snacks, beverages, staples and limited fresh products. Nothing exceeded a 500 year sell by date, but there was dust on some of the cans. A small, random selection of fresh meat arrived on Thursdays (this was a Saturday) and produce got a top-up twice a week - another sign that we were on an island that was still gearing up for tourist season.

That's okay. We made fresh orange juice everyday and found some fun new ways to use eggs, potatoes, canned food, cured meats and pasta. And of course the delicious kebabs, Greek salads and fresh seafood at local restaurants (if they were open) filled in the gaps.

Not taking reservations quite yet
It turns out this time of year, once you've had your fill of ancient ruins all to yourself, there is not much else to do. Shops and cafes were closed or getting a fresh coat of paint. Museums and other tourist attractions were open sporadically if at all, and, again we were so far ahead of the hordes we couldn't even find a scoop of ice cream! But we did get noticed and appreciated by the locals who assumed we didn't get the memo about arriving in early April. It was nice though, because everyone had time for leisurely chats and were very friendly. I am sure that's not the case when four cruise ships have dumped thousands of tourists on your doorstep for the day.

Road repair Unesco World Heritage Site style
We took a lovely day trip to the island of Symi on a modern catamaran. In port we watched a ten minute performance that could have been a modern dance titled Unloading. The daily delivery of human cargo, a few cars, crate after crate of fresh food, mail, newspapers, building materials, flat screen TVs and whatever else needed to keep this community humming was critical. However, to keep on schedule and meet the needs of about 6 more islands the choreography was tight.

Off-loading the daily delivery of goods to the small island of Symi
Again, the town was deserted, but our same ferry and other day trip boats will soon flood this picturesque village with tourists. I am glad we got to see the sleepy side of the harbor full of fishing boats and lazing cats. We took the local bus around the island and saw two other villages - we didn't get off, we just enjoyed the ride, the view and peppering the locals with questions.

Symi harbor on a picture perfect day
Another highlight was a day trip to the historic hillside city of Lindos to visit the "must see" Acropolis. I'd read about donkey rides up the side of the steep hill to the ruins and that sounded like fun! But like the rest of Greece, the donkeys were still resting up for the season, so we climbed 600 stairs to the top - it was worth it.

Halfway to the Acropolis in Lindos
The site at the top of the climb - I am sure crane would have been welcome  in 300 B.C.
The view of the sea from the top was worth every step
Ten days later we left Rhodes on very choppy seas for a quick stop on the Island of Kos. We were lucky not to be sea sick - a lot of people were. We had just one night in a hotel there before heading to Bodrum, Turkey the next day. We walked the town and bought our boat tickets then we took it easy as we prepared for another sea journey. Perhaps it was due to the candle we lit at the Greek Orthodox church service in the morning, but our Sunday afternoon ferry boat ride to Bodrum was, as they say, smooth sailing.
The Greek Orthodox church in Kos was stunning
Bodrum is considered the "St.Tropez" of Turkey. It is a sleek and stylish city with a harbor filled to bursting with giant yachts, sailboats, charters, ferries and fishing boats. We wandered the marina on our way to our hotel and were awed by the size and magnificence of most of the boats. On our second day we returned to the marina and found a gregarious French couple living aboard their 60 foot sailboat. They invited on board for a look around the good ship Kavira and libations. They have been cruising throughout the Mediterranean for the past four years - and spent the winter in Bodrum.

Michael hard at work in the hotel lobby in Bodrum
Our small hotel, the Akkan Luxury Hotel www.akkanhotels.com  (don't take the word luxury too seriously) was near a maze of lively shops and restaurants that all seemed more than open for business - including the gelato store! The sun was out, the beach was beautiful and we were happy to relax for a couple of days before moving into our next airbnb home in Izmir.  The hotel was great. It was small but well staffed, served an interesting complimentary "mezze" breakfast and boasted a reserved spot for guests to lounge on the beach across the street - starting in April, of course. I don't know if we would have found this wonderful city if we were not Nomads. Bodrum is worthy destination if you ever find yourself exploring this wonderful country.

Admiring the boats in the harbor in Bodrum
Note: I seemed drawn to eating octopus while in this part of the world. I don't know why, really. It's ugly and chewy and never seems to meet my expectations - but I persevere, and I have had some that was tasty. Stewed in wine with garlic was best - lightly grilled came in second.I guess it had to do with it being so fresh - and it's definitely not something I would wrestle with in an airbnb kitchen!

Grilled octopus and a Greek salad makes for a perfect lunch
From Bodrum we took a pleasant four hour bus journey north to Izmir. Our ultimate goal was to visit the ancient ruins of Ephesus and Izmir, Turkey's third largest city is just an hour away. The city itself felt bigger than Istanbul - crowded and full of high rises jammed together.

 A stone carving of  Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey gazes down on Izmir
Our airnbnb https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1626650 was downtown, but our neighborhood felt almost tranquil. When we search for our apartments I can easily get sucked into photos (especially of the kitchen and outdoor space) and put my tick mark in the yes box without going too deep.

Michael is more thorough and looks at practical things like location, accessibility, local transportation, reviews, and cost. Good thing, really. More often than not however, we circle back and agree to my "gut feel" choice. In this case, everything about it was awesome - except we both overlooked (or chose to ignore) the notation about 5 flights of stairs with no elevator. This particular gauntlet was a winding stair case in an old building. We had to off-load some things in the lobby and carry them up in shopping bags before we could tackle bringing the actual suitcases up. Luckily, our host was helpful (although winded at the end).

Ready to tackle 5 flights on stairs in Izmir
 One of the challenges is we have packed for a year - and that equals heavy suitcases (23 kg each) I always want to explain to our hosts, taxi drivers,  and anyone else who handles our bags that we travel full time, blah, blah, blah.They don't care - they have already decided we are crazy Americans and I must have 20 pairs of shoes in my suitcase. I should stop trying.

Ephesus is not easily described. I feel like we had been teething on other sites like Pompeii, Lindos, and Rhodes just so we could truly appreciated the magnitude of this place.

Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has visited Ephesus more than a dozen times, says the city "is almost like a snapshot in time. You get the sense of what walking down the street of a Roman city was like without having to use your own imagination."

So true. We decided to splurge on a guided tour and it was worth it. Our mini-bus picked us up in Izmir and again, since it was early in the season, we were the only guests. We had the bus and our very knowledgeable guide, Sky to ourselves. As we entered the grounds of this 3,000 year old city called Ephesus we fell under it's spell - probably because we were able to explore it with just a couple of hundred visitors. In the peak season over 10,000 people visit every day!

I am sure in another life time, Michael was putting on events in this huge stadium
I am also sure Nike was a sponsor and this was the signage
One thing that always struck me from Florence to Paris, and certainly in these ancient sites, is that we sit and rest with a water bottle on stones that are hundreds or even thousands of of years older than any revered structure in America. I love that our country is still new and shiny and full of the ambition and the bravado of a teenager, but the awe that comes with being able to perch on a bench that Caesar might have passed on his way to have lunch in the Forum is an amazing experience.

The library building at Ephesus - an amazing sight.
We could call the last month The Old Stones Tour - and I don't mean the rock band.
Five days later, we left Turkey for the island nation of Cyprus and are having a wonderful time here. I'll catch you up on this divided country next time. From here we head to Israel for a much anticipated visit. We will be there during Passover and The Orthodox Easter celebration.

Thanks for following along,

Debbie and Michael
Senior Nomads




Sunday, March 22, 2015

Michael Answers Reader's Questions



Ready to Answer Questions about being Senior Nomads
When we left Seattle in July 2013 to begin our Senior Nomad adventures many friends and family suggested we start a blog. We'd never written a blog before but it sounded like a great way to share our adventures with those closest to us. We hadn't expected anyone outside family and friends to read it. You can probably tell, because Debbie's stories are like sending breezy personal letters home. So we were a bit unprepared after the New York Times ran the story about us (picked-up by many other newspapers and websites) that resulted in so many new people finding us. And of course there were lots of questions! The most popular queries came from people who dream about trying to do what we are doing in some way or the other.  Here are the top 10 questions we were asked:
  1. How much does it cost you every month? Do you have a budget?
  2. How can you stay in Europe for more than 180 days at a time?
  3. What do you do for Medical Insurance both in Europe and back home?
  4. How do you pay your bills and keep up with mail back home while you are gone?
  5. How do you pack for such a long trip? What did you bring besides your  pillows?
  6. How do you get from place to place?
  7. What apps or websites do you use to for travel planning?
  8. How far out in front do you book your travel and apartments on Airbnb?
  9. What do you do about cell phones - especially calling friends and family.
  10. How do you avoid foreign currency transaction fees and ATM fees?
I'm going to start with "The Budget Question". Cost seems to be the biggest hurdle for those who want to try long-term travel as a way to rethink retirement. In future posts, I'll answer more of the questions in between Debbie's travel stories and my occasional "football" post.

Ongoing Expenses Back home - We reduced our monthly expenses as much as possible by renting our house for a year, selling one of our cars and our beloved sailboat. We donated many of our things to charity, or gave them to friends and family. Whatever was left, we put in a small storage unit in Seattle. So now, our monthly expenses are down to our health and life insurance premiums, our storage unit, and a monthly post office box rental.  

Our Daily Journal for tracking our adventures and expenses
Place to Sleep - This is our single biggest line item each month. As we said in the New York Times story we spend $90/night using Airbnb. We work hard to find the right balance between what we want and what we can afford. In expensive places like London, Paris, Oslo and Stockholm we spent more, but we make up for that in Bosnia, Morocco, Greece and Turkey.

Door to our first Airbnb apartment in Amsterdam

Travel - This comes in two parts. 1) Travel from the USA to Europe. If you come and go often this could be a significant line item. But if you travel for a year then it is just a matter of round-trip airfare to wherever you start your journey and back home. 2)  Travel between cities. We generally stay from 7-10 days in each city so we are on the road 3-4 times per month. We use a mix of transportation: planes, trains, buses and ferries depending on the situation. Flying in Europe on the most popular routes can be really cheap but extra fees like baggage weight and seat selection can add-up. Super fast inter-city trains can be expensive; we've found local trains are very affordable. Another option is taking a bus. Besides being affordable, it is a great way to see a lot of countryside. We love going by bus whenever that's an option if the journey is less than 5 hours. Once we are in a city, we walk as much as we can and then use the public bus and metro systems. We've only rented a car twice in 20 months. Taxi's are a luxury and we only used them when it makes sense. 

One of the many luxury buses we rode in Lithuania
Waiting for the city bus on the Island of Rhodes
Medical Insurance  - When we visited Europe in the past as tourists, we never purchased travel insurance or medical insurance. However, to obtain our one year French visas to allow access to the Schengen zone (more on that in the next blog), medical coverage in Europe was required. I'm not sure we would have purchased it otherwise, but now we have it. Like any other health insurance one can trade-off the amount of coverage vs. deductibles and of course premiums are impacted by age. We got our coverage through an online company called Insuremytrip.com but there are lots of options on the web. 

Ice cream must be in one of the food groups
Food - This category is the quintessential "how long is a piece of string" question. Only you know if you want to eat in restaurants most of the time, and what that expense might look like. Debbie loves to explore the local markets and cooking is something she really enjoys so we eat most of our meals at home. Breakfast is almost always at the table while planning the day. Lunch is split between packing a picnic and grabbing local street food (always delicious) on the go. Of course we eat out on occasion to get a flavor for the local cuisine and to give Debbie a break from cooking and me from doing the dishes. 

Debbie shopping in Stockholm outdoor market for fresh mushrooms
Debbie enjoying a recent lunch in Greece because who wants to cook an octopus at home?
Entertainment and Education - This is another bucket that only you can decide how to fill. We are not on vacation, so we don't feel obligated to hit every tourist attraction and museum in the guide books. We know what we like and plan accordingly. Free walking tours (just tip the guide at the end), are one of our favorite activities. Debbie is always on the lookout for a good cooking class and I've got my eyes out for sporting events especially football matches. We both love to read, explore our neighborhood and the city by foot and then at the end of the day we are home for dinner followed by one of our favorite games: Scrabble, backgammon, cribbage or dominoes. Of course we also try and find free or affordable concerts in local churches or small venues.

Couldn't miss the Louvre! Cultural experiences of any kind are a bargain.
Debbie taking a cooking class in Marrakesh, Morocco
Daily Living  - This category covers everything not included above. Most are not really significant by themselves but they add up day after day. Just staying comfortable on the road  seems to constantly require top-ups of things a person needs: socks, soap, makeup, toothpaste, shampoo, band-aids, laundry detergent and/or laundromats if your house does not have a washing machine, e-books for the Kindle, apps, the occasional English newspaper, snacks, cookies (that's a category all by itself), haircuts, manicures, flowers and candles for the apartment, cooking ingredients (must have spices and olive oil)  and every now and again a jigsaw puzzle - which we leave behind for our host.
Saving money - our host in Dublin's barbershop gave me a free haircut
Hopefully these categories will help you start your own budget. Six months before we left Seattle, I created budget that projected monthly spending with low, medium and high columns. Three months later I revised it. Upwards of course. Now looking back after 20 months on the road we're probably running 10% over projections but Debbie and I are in agreement. It has been 100% worth it.

Most apartments have a washer, but still have to buy laundry detergent some times
I suspect that when you sit down and start crafting your own budget you too will find a sweet spot. I think you can reinvent your retirement and be fiscally responsible at the same time. You may need to make adjustments along the way, and not do everything on your wish list but that's half the fun. 

My favorite entertainment expense - football matches. Here I am in Athens with our host Vaselli.
Thank you for joining us and we wish you safe travels where ever you go. Next time: How we've stayed in Europe for more than 180 days at a time. 

 Michael

Sunday, March 15, 2015

MC Sports Report: A Lesson in Loyalty


Saturday Afternoon watching FC Bari at home
After Naples, our next stop in Italy was Bari, directly east on the Adriatic Sea. I checked to see if their football team was going to be at home and the answer was yes! It's always exciting for me to find a match to attend. Bari would be playing against Vicenza Calcio SpA, a team from Northern Italy not far from Venice.

Like all European countries, football in Italy is divided into divisions. The best teams play in the top division, next best teams play in the second division and so on. The names of the divisions vary from country to country. In Italy, the top division is called Serie A. The second division is Serie B.

F.C. Bari currently plays in Serie B. Since I had never seen a Serie B match before I was really looking forward to it wondering about the quality of play. Bari plays in Stadio San Nicola built for the 1990 World Cup. It seats 58,200 which is probably about 40,000 more seats than a Serie B team needs.

But I've gotten ahead of myself...

When we arrived in Bari we saw an unfamiliar site - an beautiful historic building that looked like a museum that turned out to be an old theater. All around the exterior of the building were life-size cutouts of football players, something that one does not see every day. Turns out, they were hosting an exhibit called "Football Heroes". A few days later I went back for a visit, paid my $8 and went in, and found I was the only person there on a Wednesday morning. Not to surprising during this quiet season. Inside I met Gianfranco who gave me a one-hour personal guided tour featuring jerseys, photos and memorabilia of the greatest football stars not just of Italy, but Europe and beyond. A fun and fascinating warm-up for my Saturday afternoon match.

Museum in Bari with a special exhibition on "Football Heroes"
Gianfranco spoke limited English, but still gave me an informative tour
Often times, figuring out how to get a ticket to a match has been a challenge. This time it was easy. Our Airbnb host made a few calls and directed me to the betting shop around the corner and after showing my passport they printed out a $17 ticket in no time.

Figuring out how to get to the match can also be a challenge since I use public transportation but again, this time it was easy. It was a 10 minute walk from our apartment to the Bus Station and for $1.20 I rode a city bus to the stadium with a handful of other fans. The bus got me there much earlier than necessary.

Stadio San Nicola in better days. Built for the 1990 World Cup, now home to F.C. Bari
Entering the grounds involved the usual security checks then scanning my ticket and going through the head-to-toe turn styles. I made my way up to the concourse and that's when I realized that the wind was blowing through the stadium like I was inside a Boeing wind tunnel and it was freezing. It was a solid hour before the match started and the place was almost empty which made it seem even colder.

I found someone who looked like an usher. After examining my reserved seat ticket he seemed to say in his limited English that my section was closed for some reason so I could sit anywhere.

One hour before the match got underway
I was told I could sit anywhere I'd like - and that meant anywhere!
I found a place out further out of the wind on the main level, ate my packed lunch (Thank you Debbie) decided to move up to the 2nd level in the hopes that the wind wasn't blowing quite as hard. I followed a couple of Bari fans to the 200 Level and good news - warm sunshine and calm air.

Bari supporters
As it got closer to match time, the F.C. Bari supporters filled-in their end, while all 50 away supporters from Vicenza were huddled at the other end.

Compare and Contrast:
  • Bari - 15th in the table, home in a stadium that was less than 20% full but a supporters section that was jammed with loyal fans hoping for a win and the 3 points that could help them move up the table and someday soon...a return to Serie A.
  • Vicenza - 7th in table, 800 kms away from home with 50 super loyal fans was also hoping for a win, 3 points and a return to Serie A.
Away supporters separated by Plexiglas in their own section
View the video below to hear the Bari fans singing their support just before the match got underway. It gave me goose bumps then, and again just now when I played it for Debbie...

video

Now the match. If you have read any of my football blogs before, you'll know that I really like the game but I'm not that knowledgeable about how the game is actually played. So take this with a grain of salt, but I have to say that neither team looked that great to me. In fact, pretty poor! Vicenza played better in the first half but no one scored so it was 0-0 at the half. In the second half, it looked like more of the same until Vicenza went ahead in the 72nd minute with a nice looking goal by Andrea Petagna, their 19 year-old striker from Trieste. And that's how it ended. Lots of sunshine but cold. Some pretty mediocre football but still a great day out watching the world's most popular game.

The small band of loyal supporters who traveled all the way from Northern Italy went crazy. Their reward, came after the match when the Vicenza players came over to their corner of the stadium and acknowledged them by applauding their supporters with hands above their heads.

My take away  - Loyalty comes in all sizes from 50 super fans who traveled 500 miles to support their team to 3,000 home-town fans who went home disappointed in their teams' performance on the pitch that day, but I am sure they will be back for the next match cheering, chanting and even whistling when they don't like a call.

Win or lose - Loyalty was on display by both Bari and Vicenza fans
Until next time.

Michael

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Life on Planet Gozo

We just finished two weeks in Malta, the EU's tiniest country. One of those weeks was spent on the island of Gozo. Bonus points if you have any idea where that is! We didn't. While searching for airbnbs I fell in love with this unique listing: https://www.airbnb.com.mt/rooms/718401 and since it was in our search for Malta, we took it. It turned out to be "in Malta" but on a smaller island and it took some extra effort to get there.

It started with a 40 minute drive from the Malta airport to the center of town where we spent one night. Then another 40 minute drive to a ferry terminal followed by a 30 minute boat crossing before arriving on Malta's shy little sister island, Gozo. This still worked, we just needed some adjusting. After all we were booked for a full week in the bustling city of St. Julian on the bigger island, so we were looking forward to this idyllic week in the countryside. And once again - seeking the elusive warmth we thought we'd find in southern Europe.

The views from the winding roads on Gozo were stunning
Our wonderful hosts picked us up at the ferry terminal and took us on a long and winding drive through green fields and gentle hills offering sweeping views of the sea and jumbled ruins around every turn. A bundle of ominous dark clouds were gathering and the wind was picking up, but stormy weather just seemed to add to the romance of it all.

Ominous clouds were forming and the wind was gusting as we arrived on Gozo
We reached our destination - the ancient village of Zebbug (pronounced Eezz-a-Booch). Let's just say Maltese is not an easy language to grasp. It is one of two Semitic languages (the other being Turkish) that use our alphabet. It sounds like a mash-up of Italian and Arabic with spelling that could only have come from Galactic occupiers. But no worries - 95 percent of Maltese speak both the native language and English because really, where else can you speak Maltese?

The passageway to our new home in a former bakery - "Il Forn"
Our hosts proudly showed us around our new home - a renovated bakery that served the village for over 200 years. I'm afraid I was so taken with the ancient stone walls, the tile floors and the restored ovens that I may have missed a couple of important details of the orientation. As in "Golly this has been an unusually cold and wet winter here on Gozo."

"You'll want to be using the wood stove on the first floor to take the chill off the place (not to be confused with heat the house). And if you use too much of the heating system - (or any electricity really), well that could be expensive extra unit costs so go easy." What? And with a wave goodbye and a the advice to "be sure and catch the vendor trucks coming by in the morning. They'll honk when they are outside". They were off. Vendor trucks sounded quaint at the time. But I realized the next day that if you miss the fruit & veg, the fish, or the bread & milk traders, you've missed the shopping experience that might be someone else's "Live Like a Peasant" fantasy. It certainly wasn't mine.

The Fruit & Veg truck with a few other goods on board. Each truck had a distinctive honk.
And let's just say that Zebbug redefines village - as it turns out - there is not a single shop. Not even a place to buy milk. You can attend church in the morning and buy a pizza after 7:30 at night and on occasion get your hair done, but that's about it. Perhaps that explained the lack of earthlings on the streets of this bucolic but nearly empty city.

Our next door neighbor. Gozo is covered in cats!
No time to worry about that now. We had to catch the only bus to dash off to the first of Michael's dental appointments to have a tooth implant done. That's practically a blog in itself, but suffice it to say we are saving a couple of thousand dollars doing this dental work in Malta and that's one of the reasons we were drawn here - it's a hotbed of medical tourism!

Bus #309. Our lifeline to the city for shopping and dentistry
So we caught the bus for the short ride into Gozo's largest city - Victoria. We both had our teeth cleaned and Michael was prepped for stage one of his procedure. By the time we were done it was 7:30 at night and it was pouring rain. We dashed to the grocery store and loaded up for the next few days and slogged back to our nest. We could see from the bus that the town was shuttered and dark. We were happy to be home in what was described as a warm and cozy refuge. Instead the house was cold, damp and dark.We had a few pellets for the fire - but it was going to take some work to get even close to warm and dry.

The sun did come out! Michael at the bus stop enjoying the view (note hoody and coat)
After that first, very cold night we had our hosts come back over to better explain what they meant about "extra expenses" around using heat and electricity. They explained that in the house rules it is stated that 15 units of electricity per day are included in our rental. After that each unit would cost 35 cents extra. We had never heard of the "unit" concept. I could see Michael was getting a bit twitchy when he asked how we could get by with just 15 per day when we had already used more than double that in just 14 hours. The answer was simple. "Live like a Gozian! No one has central heating on the island because most of the year they have wonderful weather and in summer it gets very hot! Just bundle up, don't use lights you don't need, and, we don't know... maybe stop being so Western!"

Enjoying the mulit-media" Gozo Experience" with the theatre to ourselves
That's the kind of challenge that gets Mr. Campbell fired up - so we wrapped up in sweaters and woolly socks, loaded extra blankets on the bed, only had a couple of lights on in the room we were using, occasion treated ourselves to heating the water (that takes 2 hours and God knows how many dreaded "units"), and frugally added wood to the tiny stove that was no where near the kitchen or bedroom.And never mind about the hot tub in the photos. Michael kept a careful log of our usage and we were darn close to the 15 units a day goal.
On day three, the ants arrived. Michael had gone to 7:00 am mass to pray for patience. When he returned and started to add wood to the stove he was met by hundreds of tiny black ants marching in lockstep towards the stairway leading to our bedroom. I believe he choked out something like "We are leaving! Now!" I couldn't quite hear since I was burrowed deep under the pile of blankets. He came upstairs determined to remain calm while informing me we were under siege. Fortunately I had seen a can of bug spray when I was foraging for candles so we were able to beat back the enemy. The fact there was a large can of ant killer in the house spoke volumes. Again our hosts assured us that bugs were part of Gozonian life and these little cuties were nothing to worry about.

Where is everybody? A lonely statue of St. Paul on Gozo's highest hilltop
We stuck it out for two more days and that was good. The sun came out and we took the local buses all around the island and came to appreciate what a gem it is. The natural beauty is stunning.

The Azure Window on Gozo's coastline - as seen in the Game of Thrones!
If you love to trek, swim, sail, or dive (don't miss the Blue Lagoon), especially if you have a car this is a great place to be in spring and summer. But what we learned from our Gozo experience is we're city mice. So for the first time ever in 46 airbnb stays we left two days early and headed to our next stop.

In St. Julian looking towards our new townhouse just to the right of the church.
Our final week in Malta was made better by the contrast. We stayed in one of the most stylish homes we've ever rented, and it was in the perfect location. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1596489

Our townhouse in Malta made the cover and several pages of Design & Decor magazine
We could walk to the harbor, the castles, the beach. And stores galore. It had heat and lights and a killer kitchen. And it was the location for my birthday so that added to the fun. I was able to indulge my "inner Pisces" with a fish pedicure, a fish lunch and a boat tour of the three main harbors. We also saw the New York Times article while we were here - so this place will always bring back great memories.

Happiness lies just beyond the green door
Shopping deprivation in Gozo caused me to go overboard in Malta
Again - there so much natural beauty here. And the island's history is epic - actually, a good use of that word. Malta has been occupied by the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Normans, the Knights of St. John, the Turks, the French, the Italians and most recently the British. They even make the Bible - the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked here in 60 A.D. and performed several miracles and caught up on his letter writing. The British occupation was the most recent and left the most influence on modern Malta. There are pubs everywhere, red phone boxes, and the Maltese drive on the left. No wonder this is such a popular destination for Brits.

Red phone booths now take phonecards and serve as wifi hot spots
The harbour cruise passed by Valletta, Malta's capital city.
Before we left, Michael had a follow-up dental appointment. We most likely be back in a few months to finish the implant process. After seeing more of Malta, and with the weather certain to be fabulous, we'll be happy to land here again. And we wouldn't even mind another orbit around Gozo.

We are currently in Greece on the island of Rhodes. Lovely weather and a very quiet, beautiful ancient city. With two weeks to go before the tourist season officially starts, people are taking it easy while getting ready. Lots of painting, planting, stocking of shelves and plenty of time to chat to us.

Thanks for following along,

Debbie and Michael
Senior Nomads