Our obligatory "Visa Run" to the border to stamp out and back into Thailand, for a 60--day renewal of our Tourist Visa. Across the Friendship Bridge over the river on the Burmese side is a large crowded Market selling every kind of counterfeit designer label goods. 4-hr Bus Ride from our home in Chiang Mai.
Friday, December 31, 2010
Monday, November 15, 2010
Some folks wonder how we can afford our World Travel Adventure now going on 2.5 years -- here's how: Rent for our fully Furnished Luxury Condo - $400/mo.; 4-5 course Dinner for 2 including 4 bottles Beer - $5; Motor Scooter Rental with insurance (for 3 mos.) - $3/day; 1 Hr Oil Massage whole body - $5; Men's Haircut incl. razor finish - $2. Any more questions?
Thailand also makes it very easy to obtain a Visa for long-term residence or retirement. If you are over 50, the only requirement for obtaining a 1-yr Retirement Visa renewable annually (for only approx. $67), is to deposit and keep US$30,000/person in a Thai Savings Account (or, have a verifiable Pension that pays the annual equiv.). And, for the time-being we have an even easier method of staying up to 4 mos. at no-cost: before coming we obtain a double-entry 60-day Tourist Visa from any Thai Embassy which has been promotionally free for the past 2 years (and, may remain so indefinately?). We only need to take a 4hr day-trip to the Laos Border, and stamp out, and stamp in again for free 60-day renewal (totalling 4mos.). For now, we find a 4-mo. stay between Nov. 1 - Feb. 28, to be the best time to visit weather-wise, because it gets very hot from March - June, and then its the Monsoon season until thru October. (Though we've heard it's actually not so bad during Monsoon -- raining heavily usually in the morning and early afternoon, and then clearing). So lots of westerners for obvious reasons do live here year-round.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
(10/1/10 – 11/2/10). To be clear, Bucharest was never considered to be a place we might desire to live. However, timing and location conspired to make it a destination for a month’s visit, since it was still too early to head back to Thailand as intended because of Monsoon Season, and the remainder of our 90-day Visa to the EU (or, more accurately, the Schengen States) was insufficient. To clarify, although Romania is now a new member of the EU, it is not yet a part of the Schengen Agreement countries (allowing borderless freedom of movement among them) which (surprisingly) also still does not include the UK. Likewise, neither the UK nor Romania have yet adopted the Euro s their Currency, which was another ‘plus’ for our visit since the US Dollar has held its value against Romania’s Ron, unlike the British Pound.
Romania, and Bucharest especially, has recovered significantly over the past two decades since the revolution that freed the people from the dark years under the rule of former dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu. But, the economy still has a long way to go to before it reaches the standards of the westernized European countries. But, in stark contrast to the morose and depressed population we saw last year in nearby Budapest, we found the Romanians here generally to be open, friendly and helpful. Furthermore, for a country that has long been considered one of the poorest in eastern Europe, there appeared to be relatively few numbers of street people or other open evidence of poverty in the Capital. Similarly, at least on the exterior, the physical appearance of the City in terms of its architecture and design, is quite beautiful though we did notice that many of the lovely old European-style buildings have regrettably been allowed to decay on the interior.
Positive impressions aside, Bucharest is not really a place that holds a great deal of interest for a long term visit. Probably 2-3 days is really all I’d recommend to others thinking of coming, and then perhaps another week to travel the country if you had the time and means. So our Stay of slightly longer than a month was no doubt unnecessary and far too long, but as stated initially it served our purpose of a layover.Of course, we saw all the ‘top’ tourist sights, such as Ceauşescu’s monstrous (and wasteful) Palace of Parliament, the National Village Museum (consisting of a large outdoor area within one of the City Parks upon which sit a couple hundred actual old rural homes and farmhouses that were transported to the Capital for preservation), the obligatory Arch of Triumph, the National Palace and Art Museum, the Museum of the Romanian Peasant (containing an electic and interesting collection of Peasant artwork, clothing, and other traditional artificacts), the historic Center, and a dozen or so very nice Orthodox and Byzantine Churches. We also had an opportunity to experience some culture, by attending a classical music performance by the highly regarded George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra at Bucharest's Romanian Atheneum.
Of course, no visit to Bucharest would be complete without a visit to the nearby region of Transylivania. Enduring the long 3-hour train ride, we stopped first in Sinaia to see the spectacularly designed and furnished Peles Castle, which absolutely lived up to its reputation as being a sight not to be missed and one of the finest Castles in all of Europe. Then, we headed further on the next train to the highly regarded medieval-flavored Town of Brasov. Aside from its quaint village feel, and delightful town square, Brasnov is home to the largest gothic church in Romania, known as the Black Church because it was charred to a dark color during the Great Fire of 1689.
As for dining, like Bucharest generally, nothing very impressive to highlight. But, we did eat at a few nice restaurants that serve traditional East European stick-to-the-ribs food, not much different than we had in Budapest. Wines, too, are just basic drinkable table wine, and nothing that is going to win any international tasting awards.
All-in-all, our month in Bucharest was pleasant but not memorable, and it would be highly unlikely we would go out of our way to return again.
On the other hand, we are looking forward to a return to Chiang Mai, Thailand!
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
(8/1-10/1/10) This was actually our second visit to Barcelona, but the last time about 5 years ago was only for a whirlwind 5-day tour of the City (combined with stays in Amalfi and Sicily). We liked it a lot back then, and always thought it might make a nice place to live (or at least test out for a longer stay). The only thing keeping us from coming sooner was our fear of the expense, especially while the Dollar-Euro exchange rate remains poor. Frankly, the only reason we dared to come back at this time was because of our difficulties in finding an apartment in Seattle and finding the terrific airfare from Vancouver (non-stop). But, as it turns out our fears were for the most part unfounded. We were pleasantly surprised to find that for the most part, if you stayed away from the touristy restaurants and the like, that living here is actually a fairly reasonable value. Finding an apartment for a reasonable rent is probably the biggest hurdle, but we were lucky in that respect as previously noted in our Seattle Blog entry. Lucky again, we had one of the better/bigger and most reasonable Grocery stores located only a block away from our apartment, and most meats, produce, staples etc. were on par with or slightly less than one might expect in our former home in Chicago. And, for us, best of all, the selection and value of Wines here were as good or better than we previously boasted of during our stays in Buenos Aires. Likewise, the Metro/Subway system was as convenient and cheap as Buenos Aires; as was our find of a superb Fitness Gym.
Of course, we revisited all of the major tourist attractions that we saw during our first Stay, including: Antoni Gaudi's amazing moderniste architectural gem of the La Sagrada Familia Basilica, his equally amazing Palau Musica Catalana, the ‘Block of Discord’ and Gaudi’s moderniste residential designs Casa Battlo, Casa Mila (a/k/a La Pedrera). Strolling along La Rambla, wandering in the Barri Gotic (along with Tapa tasting at its many taverna during the evenings), the medieval Catedral de Barcelona, the Palau Reial, the Museo Picasso, the Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya, hiking around the top of Montjuic, and likewise journeying by way of funicular to the top of Tibadabo to gaze at the beautiful city below, and leisurely strolls through the beautiful Parcede Ciutadella (which this time had its lovely Fountains working for us).
In addition, new for us this trip, were our day-trips to Sitges and Montserrat, and the amazing experience of the Le Merce Festival (See 3 Separate Blog Entries for these), and the not-to-be-missed (though somehow we did on our first visit???) moderniste Parc Guell designed by Antoni Gaudi of course. Also thanks to Bob's 'charm', we received a special invitation for private VIP Box Seats at the Palau Musica Catalana for a Saturday evening performance by Manuel Gonzalez, one of Spain’s leading Classical Guitarists.
Aside from seeing all of the Tourist attractions, as usual for us the most important aspect of our visit is simply trying to meld ourselves into experiencing daily living as a Barcelonian. We think we did that nicely, and found life here not only affordable, but comfortable and attractive, and in many ways quite comparable to Buenos Aires. So Barcelona will definitely be at the top of our list as a candidate for return stays if not permanent or semi-permanent living along with Buenos Aires, Chiang Mai (Thailand), and Portland. It may just be, that until and unless a job or other business opportunity anchors us to one of those locale (and Bob is making occasional inquiries as noted in our Portland/Seattle Blog Entries), we may remain on a ‘round robin’ among those cities along with an occasional new place that fits into our travel scheme.
NEXT UP: We left Barcelona on Oct. 1 and arrived in BUCHAREST (Romania), where we will stay in a rented Apartment until Nov. 2.