Sunday, November 22, 2009


(10/22-11/21/09). Never a serious contender (or even on the “radar”) as a place for our future permanent residence, nevertheless we decided to visit Goa after seeing a show about it on the Travel Channel. Since it was getting cold and rainy in Europe (not to mention budget-busting expensive), yet still too early to move on to SE Asia (still Monsoon season), we thought Goa might be an interesting diversion. For those considering travel to India, be forewarned that obtaining a Visa in advance from an India Embassy is mandatory and will cost about US$100 pp. The standard Tourist Visa is valid for travel up to 6mos following issuance, and permits a stay in India of up to 90 days.

As will be evident from our Photos, Goa is a tropical beach resort area located on the Arabian Sea. Hardly representative of the rest of India, Goa was actually a former Portuguese colony, and only became a part of India in the during the past quarter-century. For this reason among others, it is unusual in its majority Catholic religious population and relative wealth compared with the rest of India. Nevertheless for those novice travelers uninitiated with the Third World (unlike us), it would still be ‘culture shock’. But for us, having visited such similarly poor and undeveloped countries as Nicaragua, Guatemala and even Ecuador, it was as expected. Livestock (especially Cows and Water Buffalo) roaming freely around the streets and beaches, hawkers everywhere selling their fruits, homemade snacks and schlocky souvenirs, beggar children and sad mothers carrying their newborns looking for handouts, public buses packed with sweaty unbathed bodies, public restrooms with no toilet paper or soap (some even consisting of a mere ceramic hole in the ground the floor surrounded by gross muck, local restaurants where hand washing by the staff or cleaning the kitchen once in awhile are stranger concepts -- are all part of the scene – even in ‘wealthy’ Goa. Yet, from what we heard from other travelers (as well as read or have seen on other Travel shows), you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve visited the incredibly overcrowded dirty and crime-ridden population centers in India’s largest cities of Mumbay (f/k/a Bombay), Kolcota (f/k/a Calcutta), and even Delhi – which we did not.

On the other hand, Goa is a popular Tourist destination, particularly among the British and more recently wealthy Russian travelers, and therefore has built a fair infrastructure catering to these foreigners. Along the beautiful silk sand beaches that stretch for endless miles, are limitless ‘beach shacks’ serving snacks and drinks, more upscale restaurants with menus including Lobster and Tiger Prawns, each providing Sun Beds or chairs and tables together with waiters ready to attend to the visitors’ every need. Likewise, new ‘luxury’ hotels. small resorts, and luxury condominium apartments with swimming pools, all built to accommodate relatively modern western standards, have become quite numerous. By Indian terms such foods, accommodations, and services would be quite expensive, but for Tourists these luxuries are very cheap when compared to their home countries.

Aside from the usual routine of suntanning, beach and swimming pool lounging which Nancy and I are not particularly interested in as we ‘get on in years’, or grossly overpriced touristy water sports provided at the beaches, unfortunately the Goa area does not really offer much else of interest to see. Our rental condo apartment was located in Candolim which is just south of the bustling central beach community of Calangute. Most days, we would hop a local public bus for the 4-5km ride to Calangute for a cost of 5 Rupies p.p. (approx. 12cents US), and then have a relaxing lunch of Jeera Rice and Roti/Naan along with a large Kingfisher Beer, at one of the beachside restaurants overlooking the sea; enjoying our view of the ocean and watching amusingly as the pale skinned foreigners foolishly broil into nice red lobsters ignoring the risk of Melanoma. We also frequently travel a little further north to our favorite nearby beach area of Baga, which has beautiful cove surrounded by low cliffs which also affords the option of hiking a dirt trail along the cliffs around to beaches even further to the north. We also traveled to the nearby village of Mapusa which hosts a weekly local Market, but found it to be much dirtier than we would like if we had been really interested in purchasing fresh produce, fish or meat for cooking. But that was really a moot point, since our rental apartment here in Goa was not equipped with a real stove or oven, leaving our only real option here to eat out every night for dinner. Naturally, we chose to visit Goa, because we both like Indian food, so this did not prove to be a big problem other than spending a little more than we would have preferred on meals even while eating at some of the more value oriented restaurants we scoped out. But we definitely did enjoy our traditional spicy Indian dishes such as Mutter Paneer, vegetable Byrani, Chicken or King Fish Tikka, Rogan Josh, tandoor chicken and kabobs, Naan, Jeera Rice, as well as some uniquely Goan dishes such as Sausage Chili Fry and Kingfish Curry Rice.

We also spent another day taking a local bus and ferry connection to the capital city of Goa State, called Panjim. For a state capital, the city is surprisingly small, walkable and populated mostly by low-rise buildings. Just a few kilometers outside the city, is the historical area known as Old Goa, which was the former capital under Portugese rule since the 1600’s, and has a pretty Cathedral and some half-decaying centuries-old buildings and ruins from that period. Not overly exciting, but about as much of a cultural experience as you will find in the State of Goa.

In sum, Goa was a relaxing and pleasant if not overly interesting or exciting place to visit, but definitely not one to consider for residence (or even a return visit). For Americans, I would not recommend anyone go out of their way to see travel half-way round the world just to stay in Goa. Of course, there is far more to India than Goa, and we do sincerely regret not traveling lightly enough to tour around the country to see Delhi and nearby Taj Mahal, perhaps even spend a couple of days in Mumbai, or travel to the north of India where the Tibetan influence is considerable. But, as we have said before, we are not traveling as mere tourists on holiday, with merely a backpack or lightweight suitcase; and even though we have downsized, we still have to drag with us 3 suitcases, 2 backpacks, a large computer briefcase with our invaluable Notebook Computer, our monetary lifeline of our only credit cards and ATM cards and travel documents. To have those lost or stolen while we make short unsecure visits to tourist destinations, not to mention incurring the budget-busting extra travel costs which we would incur to travel to and stay in multiple top tourist destinations, is something we cannot afford to do. Our purpose for now remains steadfast (with only certain exceptions, as admittedly was Goa), which is to limit our travel to places we actually might consider living where we rent an apartment for a stay longer than a mere holiday traveler, and generally try to spend our time living as we actually might if it were to be our home. Of course, if a historical or other tourist site is either directly on the way during our travel or is close enough to our rental apartment to see by day trip, then we naturally take the opportunity. But, otherwise, such sites will have to await a time when we have made our permanent relocation and our intended re-employment or other earnings opportunities, when we needn’t be concerned about depleting our savings nest-egg.

NEXT UP: S.E. ASIA, BEGINNING WITH THAILAND FOR 2-3 months. Our first stay will be in the City of Chaing Mai, where we have already rented a luxurious upper-floor Studio Apartment in the center of the city near the night market, with balcony overlooking swimming pool and view of the City.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


(8/21-10/21/09) As advertised, Budapest exudes Old World European charm. The wide lazy Danube River cuts right through the center of the city, naturally dividing what was originally two separate cities of Buda and Pest. The Pest side is home to the business and shopping center of the City, while atop the hills of Buda sits Castle Hill, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Alongside the Danube, on the Pest side, is the spectacular Parliament designed to closely mimic London’s Westminster Abbey. From what we have seen on Travel Channel, Budapest also looks and feels quite similar to Prague.

Our rented Apartment was on the top (4th) floor of a courtyard apartment complex, with a view over the small street below. Not unexpectedly smaller than we have been accustomed to during our travels thus far, nevertheless the rent was at the top end of what we have paid. Unfortunately, the high rent merely reflects the unfortunate high prices found throughout Europe ever since the European Union was formed and the the Euro adopted as its Currency. While Hungary has not itself yet adopted the Euro, it is a member of the EU and in preparation for its anticipated Euro conversion, we understand it has "pegged" its own Hungarian Forints currency to the Euro. Bottom line, at this time, living in Budapest is definitely not a City we would call a "value". As a result, we severely curtailed our usual dining forays out choosing to cook more meals and avoiding other unnecessary expenses. We were, however, very fortunate to discover a local eatery only a block and half from our apartment that served up wonderful home-cooked Hungarian favorites with dozens of daily specials, including wild game, that was in fact quite reasonable. So, after trying a few different restaurants during our first couple of weeks, we finally gave up looking elsewhere and stuck to our local favorite we dined out usually twice a week. No problem, we really liked it and looked forward to our visits (and, the Staff got to know and like us too).

For our first 6 weeks of our Stay, the weather was divine. When we first arrived it was quite warm, but within a week or so tapered to beautiful Fall weather around upper 70’s during the day. And always, the Sun shined brightly as Hungary is known to have the sunniest country in all of Europe. This gave us plenty of opportunity for nice long walks, including a wonderful day hiking around the hills of Buda, with its upscale residential neighborhoods. We also liked to take walks along the Danube, and through the lovely gardens and park on Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube. Only during our last 2 weeks, towards the end of October did the weather turn predictably colder, wetter and gloomier – not all too different than Fall in Chicago. As its gotten colder, we have enjoyed riding the streetcars (Trams) throughout the City, having purchased Monthly Passes to hop and off at our leisure. This has given us a chance to thoroughly explore the entire City, including its outlying areas. Hopping aboard the Suburban Railway also allowed us to venture 20-30km outside the City to the recommended nearby river towns of Szentendre and Vac. Though each was quaint and had some picturesque architectural buildings and homes, the towns were also a bit too touristy for our tastes.

During our Stay, I/Bob also contacted and met with the woman that almost hired me as a Manager the year before we left Chicago. An ex-pat American, she runs a legal recruiting company headquartered in Budapest which serves the large corporate lawfirms in most of Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, and now she says is seeking to expand East to India and West to South America. Who knows, maybe in the future it could be a job opportunity that might be pursued. Either way, she is a good contact to have.

We also explored Budapest’s history, which is more often dark than enlightened. The Country’s central location in Europe has no doubt contributed to its unfortunate past, having been repeatedly invaded and conquered by many different peoples. Recent history includes its domination by Austria and Germany, and following World War II by Russia and the communist party’s secret police. As a result the people seem accustomed to heavy-handed governmental and police authority. Indeed, the Police here still dress and act in a way more reminiscent of the goons from the past. Of course, I had to see the famed Dohany Synagogue, the largest Jewish synagogue in Europe, which was quite an emotional site. It is home to the National Jewish Museum housing many Judaica ceremonial religious artifacts left over from the sad era of Jewish ghetto detention during the Holocaust, and finally has a Holocaust Memorial Tree which is a metal sculpture in its Courtyard with thousands of brass leaves commemorating Jews who perished. From a different era, we went to the Terror Haza (House of Terror), which was the actual home of the feared AVH Secret Police from the two-decades of communist domination and terror following World War II. Like I said, Hungary has a dark history and is only in recent times beginning to emerge into the light.

In sum, generally we liked Budapest. It’s a pretty city, with wonderful architecture, the Danube flowing through its center, lots of cultural activities, and decent climate. But, of course, for us the big negative at this time is the high cost of living. Would definitely recommend for a visit, but not for a place to consider living for now. (P.S. For fans of our friend Mike Shaker a/k/a Monk's Pub -- sorry, no visit here in Budapest).

COMING UP: Leaving Budapest on Oct. 21 ’09. Our travels continue eastward. We fly on British Air (via London) to Goa INDIA, arriving Oct. 22. Though not considered a real contender for our new home search, we saw it on the Travel Channel and it looked quite exotic and beautiful. And it doesn’t hurt that we have also always enjoyed eating Indian Food. Though our true intent is to move on to Southeast Asia, it is still too early due to seasonal monsoons. So we thought Goa would be a nice diversion, and we understand it is a good value. We will stay in Goa for one month, before heading to Southeast Asia starting with Thailand, in the northern highland city of Chaing Mai.

FYI – For those who might consider visits to either country, planning ahead is essential, especially for India. A Visa for entry into India is mandatory and must be obtained prior to arrival by applying in person at an Embassy. It is valid for up to 6mos. prior to travel, but your period of stay in the country is still limited to 90 days. Thailand, while not quite so strict in that it allows Tourists from most western countries (USA, Europe etc.) to enter the country without any Visa, the stay under the Visa Exemption is limited to 30-days and cannot be renewed. So, if one wants to stay longer in the country (as we do), you must like India apply in advance at an Embassy outside the country for a Visa. The standard "Tourist Visa" allows a stay of up to 60days and is also renewable for another 30days (for a total of 90 days maximum). Of course, I am referring to ordinary Tourist Visas, and not to any kind of longer term residency Visa or for folks intending to do business or work. Then, even more complicated Visa procedures apply requiring more detailed information and documentation (not to mention sometimes steep fees).

Thursday, August 20, 2009


(8/18-8/20/09) It had been 16 yrs since Nancy & I last visited Madrid (when we spent a week). Of course, lots of changes but also much the same. Biggest change was 'sticker shock' --- damn Euro". Really only had a day and half, and first half day we were Jet-lagged, so after arriving in the morning we just spend a couple of hours walking around in a daze until we went back for a nap at the Hotel. Although I won’t say we awoke refreshed for the evening, we were anxious to once again experience our favorite part of Madrid – the famous Tapa ‘Pub-Crawl.’ For those unfamiliar, that just means we went to one of the neighborhoods loaded with quaint tavern eateries, where the purchase of a drink (our preference Wine, of course) is always accompanied by some small but delicious appetizer. Of course, some places are better than others in terms of what they serve, so the object is to keep moving on after each drink to a new Pub and hoping for the best. Either way, it’s always a blast and you can skip dinner since a night of drinks and Tapas is plenty to fill your tummy. One memorable experience for us, was to find that our favorite little Sherry Pub was still around after so much time had passed, and still quirky in that they ordinarily forbid the taking of pictures inside (who knows why?). But, because we struck up a nice conversation with a regular who was apparently a favorite of the bartender, he was allowed to take our picture there.

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