03 Apr

I Want To ‘Go With Oh’ to Prague!

I’m embarrassed to admit that I know next-to-nothing about Prague. Other than it sounds all ‘old-worldy’ and must be filled with all kinds of great architecture. I imagine foggy street-scapes, imposing town squares and church spires. I actually had to look up which country it’s in. Embarrassing. (The Czech Republic…I’ll save you the time…’cause you were going to look it up too…right?)

Foggy Prague

See...like this. All 'old-worldy' and foggy.

Photo Credit: kiwi vic

Turns out it is all old-worldy and filled with great architecture. And of course I already knew that Czech beer is some of the best in the world so, that seals it, I have to go!

Our first stop would take a care of the ‘old worldy architecture’ and ‘great beer’ part of the tour:

Dating back to the 9th century the Prague Castle definitely falls in the category of ‘old’ and its history of occupation, liberation, and habitation qualifies it as ‘worldy’. A tour of this castle and its varying architecture styles would surely work up a thirst.

Prague Castle

Photo Credit: Sam and Ian

Which is good because the Strahov Monastic Brewery is just down the road. With its own history dating to the 17th century and a tasty St. Norberts Ale it would be the perfect place to finish off the day.

Strahov Monastic Brewery, Prague

Photo Credit: Al S

It’s not the Eiffel Tower (because then we’d be in Paris wouldn’t we?) but the Petrin Lookout Tower is worth a visit for the incredible views of the city from the top. The best part is that there is a funicular we can ride to the top in case we had too many beers the night before. I love funiculars because it’s always much easier to ride to the top of a hill rather than walking and because it has FUN in its name – how could you not love them!?

Petrin Tower, PraguePhoto Credit: Vlastula

The giant Metronome may not be as historied as other parts of Prague but it definitely fits the quirky and cool factors on the list of things to visit. I love public art and the weirder the better. What could be weirder than a giant music counting machine?

Prague MetronomePhoto Credit: http: macskafarok

And if we’re going to be keeping time then we should visit the Astronomical Clock to watch the march of Christ and his disciples every hour. I wonder if all twelve march every hour or if only the correct number per hour march? I’ll let you know!

Prague Astronomical ClockPhoto Credit: kainet

So I was serious when I said that I knew nothing about Prague but, after researching it a bit to see what I would get up to, I can say that Prague is definitely on my list whether I am the next ‘Go With Oh’ guest blogger or not.

**You could win 500 Euros of accommodation with Go With Oh to see Prague yourself!! They’re also giving a way an iPad, a Panasonic Lumix Camera, and 500 Euro of Samsonite Luggage.**

 

02 Apr

Monday Moment: The Longest Parade In The World, Cuzco, Peru

Inti Raymi Parade, Cuzco Peru

We left our hostel at 8am heading to the Plaza de Armas to get a good look at the costumed paraders as they started. The parade had already begun by the time we got down to the square but we needn’t have worried that we missed too much as it turned out that the parade lasted all day and most of the night.

One by one, groups of colorfully adorned Peruvians and their small bands paraded around the square passing by the judging panel before turning the corner out into the surrounding streets where they marched out to find a picnic spot in surrounding city squares. Here they would merrily set up their small grills, pull out crates of beer and proceed to have a party in honor of the great sun god.

Hour and hour after hour after hour this went on; thousands and thousands of paraders made their way around the Plaza and into the streets beyond. The city was soon filled with joy, happiness and drunk Peruvians and still the parade was not over.

They paraded well into the night; long after I had gone to bed I could still hear the parade marshall on his bullhorn. I would guess it was well over 16 hours when I finally fell asleep but they were still not finished. Truly the worlds longest parade!

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Don’t want to carry contacts or glasses with you around the world? Consider laser eye surgery before you leave.

31 Mar

I Want To ‘Go With Oh’ To Venice!

Venetian Gondolier

Photo Credit: http: stoper

Ooooo-Soooollllleeee-Miiiiooooo….

Isn’t that what you think of when you think of Venice? A full moon, a handsome man at your side, bubbles in your hand and the gondolier paddling through the canals while crooning old Italian standards?

No longer. O Sole Mio is a Neapolitan tune and the gondoliers association has deemed it inappropriate. Oarsmen should be crooning Venetian songs to their passengers instead.  Besides, isn’t taking a gondolier ride passe? A pricey touristy fancy that should be avoided as cliche? Not terribly authentic any longer and filled with fanny pack toting turista?

I don’t care! I want to go on one anyway. I’ll close my eyes and ignore the fanny packs and the funny visor hats with sequins on them. I’ll pay the exorbitant fee, clink my champagne glass, sit back and enjoy every minute of it. Sometimes you just have to embrace the cliche!

One of my favorite things to do, especially in larger cities or those with great history, is to take a walking tour. I know, I know…I’m supposed to be an independent traveler figuring it out on my own…blah, blah, blah. I’m a lazy independent traveler. I love having a guide who will fill me in on the history of a place, give me a sense of scale, tell me what’s worth seeing and teach me the local custom. How else am I supposed to know whether it’s okay to order a cappuccino after breakfast or which way to twirl my spagetti on my fork?

Murano Glass

Photo Credit: shironekoeuro

Another classic image I have of Venice is of an artisan hunched over his art; shirtsleeves rolled up as ignoring the perspiration on his brow as he carefully sculpts a blob of glass before inflating it to its final form. The island of Murano, just off Venice, is the pre-eminent place in the world to experience glassmaking. I’ve seen the Murano glass ceiling of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas and I’ve visited glass blowing studios on Granville Island in Vancouver. Watching this great artform take shape in such a historied location would be amazing.

I imagine that Venice is a photographers dream. Beautiful architecture, hazy light, canal reflections and iconic imagery. I imagine myself wandering around trying to capture it all and yet knowing that I can’t. I’ll try though. Pictures of waterways and bridges. Shots of old Italian women and their daily gelato (because if I was an old Italian woman I would eat gelato every day!). Photos of meals and wine as we enjoy them. Images of buildings from all kinds of angles. Close ups of quintessential Venice.

Venice Canals

Photo Credit: http: wenzday01

I’ve read that the best part of Venice is the back canals and cul-de-sacs. Where we could make our way early to the market to get fruit and cheese and bread for a lazy breakfast. Where we could slip back to our Oh-Venice apartment for an afternoon siesta. Where we could find tiny trattorias to visit night after night to gorge on pasta and pizza and wine. That’s the Venice that I really want to see.

**You could win 500 Euros of accommodation with Go With Oh to see Venice yourself!! They’re also giving a way an iPad, a Panasonic Lumix Camera, and 500 Euro of Samsonite Luggage.**

29 Mar

Searching For The Magic Number

Magic Number PlateOne plus the interest rate (stated as a decimal) divided by the number of times interest is compounded by year to the power of the number of times the interest rate is compounded by year times the number of years. All multiplied by the amount of the principle.

Huh?

Where:

  • A = final amount
  • P = principal amount (initial investment)
  • r = annual nominal interest rate (as a decimal, not in percentage)
  • n = number of times the interest is compounded per year
  • t = number of years

Huh?

This is what has been swirling in my head for weeks now. The calculation that tells how much money deposited today will be worth in t number of years.

Of course it’s all hedging isn’t it?

We’re assuming we won’t save another dime once we leave Canada. That probably won’t happen. We have no idea when we’ll have to stop working, or what working will look like between now and then. We can’t predict when either one of us will die or how many years we’ll have to finance between retiring and dying. I don’t even want to talk about dying. We don’t know how much money we’ll spend per month once we stop working so we can’t calculate how much we’ll need. We don’t know what interest rates will do. Or the stock market.

If you ask the ‘experts’ they all say you need 80% of your current income in retirement. But my current income supports me quite nicely here in the Western world. In an expensive part of the Western world. What if I lived somewhere else? Thailand, Columbia, Chile, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Belize. What would that look like?

Then I start thinking that it’s doable. That our savings could grow to be enough to support us in a modest retirement. That it’s likely that we would still be able to save once we leave Canada. That we won’t get paralyzed by fear and stay here because it’s easy.

That’s my biggest fear. Bigger than that we won’t have enough money. My biggest fear is that we won’t go because we can’t see a clear path to the end. And then I realize that I can’t see a clear path to the end from right here. Staying here is no guarantee that it all works out. The only guarantee then is that I haven’t done what I wanted to do.

I’ve been peppering friends and acquaintances with the ‘how much do you think is enough to retire?’ question.

The answers are varied. Some will disclose a number. One million dollars is a popular sum. Others try to suggest some formula outlining how much they think they will spend per month times the number of years between retirement and death. Many duck the question being either uncomfortable with the question or not wanting to disclose their own finances. What is with our culture and its inability to be transparent with finances?

So, we came up with a number. Based on what we think monthly expenses might be ($4000/month), when we think we’ll ‘retire’ (let’s say 65 years old), and taking a wild guess at when we’ll die (I don’t know but we don’t seem to live terribly long in my family…80?).

$720,000

 

Based on our pension plan contributions so far it’s likely we’ll have a pension income of about $1500/month between the two of us. That’s a yearly income of $18,000 over 15 years is $270,000. So we only have to have $450,000 saved by the time we’re 65.

Hmmm. That’s still a big number. But here’s where that calculation at the top comes in. I’ve worked it nine ways to Sunday and have just about got myself convinced that if we save $200,000 before we leave at a rate of 4% interest over the 20 years until we’re 65 then we’ll have almost $450,000 in the bank.

And then it just comes down to how long it will take to save $200,000. Well $125,000 as we already have about $75,000 saved.

Two years? Three years? Four years?

It’s maddening. Do we really need that much? Do we really need to wait that long?

My next steps are to connect with people who have made the leap. How are they managing this question? Is it blind faith that it will all be okay? Trust that it will work out? Do they have a plan? Have they saved? What’s their number? Is my number too big? Too small? Does it all differ depending on how old you are now?

For once in life, the math is probably the easiest part of the whole thing. It’s what goes on inside my head that drives me crazy.

I would really love to hear what you think. I put the numbers out there in the spirit of transparency and because I’m looking for advice. Are you saving madly for retirement? Are you a traveler or expat who has faced the same questions? What’s your number?

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One way to prepare for a trip away is to try the foods of the countries you will be visiting. We’ve been slurping ramen noodles and enjoying sushi in preparation for our upcoming trip to Japan. If I lived in Perth I might try this Japanese restaurant for a tast of the fine dining aspects of Japanese cuisine.

 

26 Mar

Monday Moment: Chiang Mai, Thailand

Baan Chang Elephant Camp, Chiang Mai, Thailand

I really wanted to see elephants in Thailand. After coming up with nothing while searching for wild elephants in Khao Yai National Park we decided to visit an elephant camp outside of Chiang Mai.

There is plenty of controversy around elephant camps in Thailand. Whether they exist to actually help elephants or whether they are created to breed elephants for tourist enjoyment.

The Baan Chang Elephant Camp we visited seemed well run and we enjoyed our time petting, feeding, riding and bathing the elephants; they are much more gentle than I would ever have imagined.

This little guy took a liking to Jason.

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Whether you’re traveling to Thailand or anywhere else in the world you should always carry international travel insurance. If that baby elephant steps on your toe you’re going to want to be able to seek medical help!!

24 Mar

I Want To ‘Go With Oh’ To Rome!

For this imaginary (for now) trip to Rome I thought I would look for an apartment and pretend like I am actually going (which I will be if GoWithOh selects me as their next Guest Blogger….right, GoWithOh?).

During our travels we have stayed in apartments in Buenos Aires and Berlin. I love having a small apartment in a regular neighbourhood. Being able to have coffee and breakfast ‘at home’ in the morning, heading out to see the sights, and then returning to have our evening meal somewhere close by. Makes me feel like a local resident and lets me pretend, for a little while at least, that I am a Porteno, a Berliner, or perhaps one day, a Roman.

Which is how I found myself spending two hours on the Oh-Rome site this morning trolling through listings, looking at pictures, and using Google Street View to stroll through the lanes and piazzas to see what cafes and trattorias might be in the area.

The site was super easy to use. Simply select a date range and search. The results can be filtered by location, price range, apartment size and amenities or you can view all the options on a map. The details in the listings have everything I was looking for. Plenty of pictures, a list of characteristics and included equipment, a floor plan and detailed description. It also includes reviews from people who have actually stayed in the suite. The listing doesn’t include the exact address but the map pinpoints the location so I could easily find it on Google Street View.

The apartments all look beautiful with a European chic to them and the prices are what I think is reasonable to be living in the heart of such a worldly city – the ones I looked at, and would have chosen, were all under 100 Euro per night.

Although I, obviously, have not used the site to actually book an apartment I would recommend it as a place to look. It’s an easier method than the one I used to find apartments previously (a combination of guide book and extensive Googling), the quality of the stock looks great and the prices seem fair. I would definitely use GoWithOh if I was planning a trip to any of the ten cities they service.

So what would I do if I actually got to Rome? The classics of course!

The Colosseum

Colosseum in Rome

Photo Credit: OneRandomMonkey

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain, Rome

Photo Credit: Caribb

The Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Photo Credit: MShai

Vatican City

Vatican City

Photo Credit: fsamuels

The Pantheon

Pantheon, Rome

Photo Credit: Silver Bromide

But mostly I would stick near my fabulous apartment visiting the cafes and trattorias and gorging on gelato!

**You could win 500 Euros of accommodation with Go With Oh to see Barcelona yourself!! They’re also giving a way an iPad, a Panasonic Lumix Camera, and 500 Euro of Samsonite Luggage.**

 

22 Mar

To The Coast

We flew to the coast this past weekend. As we descended through the cloud cover our first glimpse of the ocean was through a rainbow. A good sign…no?

Vancouver IslandWhere I come from the beaches are rocky. Smooth and round up the beach; rough and barnacled near the water. Turn one over and you’re likely to see crabs darting about scrambling for cover.

My favorite part of the beach are the logs. Pushed up high on the beach by the swelling tide they are mostly lost logs from the many booms that pass by. As kids we would beg my dad to push a log or two into the water so we could play on them. Yep…we’d get plenty of splinters, wrinkly fingers and toes, and chattering chins from being in the water far too long.

I read a letter to the editor in the local paper a few years ago. A new resident was complaining, saying that the beaches would be so much better if only ‘the waste wood was cleaned up from the shoreline’. Give him time, I thought, he’ll soon see the beauty that this natural decoration brings as the scent of wet wood fills the air after a storm; the secret hiding places that his kids will create as they build forts; the ever evolving landscape that each revolution of the tide brings.

Some of the pieces are obvious logging left overs and are quite large. Sometimes I wonder how they even float long enough to get here.

On this day we sat in the logs and watched a storm approaching before running inside and hunkering down.

 

20 Mar

I Want To Go To Barcelona!

Oh! Could we go to Barcelona? Pleeezzeee!!

It’s been on ‘the list’ for a while. I think it would be the perfect playground with its Gaudi architecture, tapas culture and public art and it would be a great chance for us to work on our (very) rusty Spanish.

And that’s exactly how we would spend our time…

gaudi architecture in barcelona

Photo Credit: 3dom

Exploring the Gaudi sites would definitely be a highlight. Casa Batllo, La Sagrada Familia, and Park Guell are must sees. The unusual architecture, the attention to detail and the history therein will be education and entertainment all wrapped up together.

tapas in barcelona

Photo Credit: In Praise Of Sardines

Great food, great beer, great locations and great local culture will see us visiting many a tapas bar I imagine. The smaller the better for me as I love little hole-in-the-wall spaces with tons of character. La Cova Fumada sounds about perfect to me. Family run, small and filled with Barcelonians; the rustic food they serve there would likely have us coming back again and again.

castellers in barcelona

Photo Credit: Calafellvalo

I wonder if we will be lucky enough to see a castell being assembled? These human towers have been created since the 18th century for I-don’t-know-what reason (I guess I’ll find out why while we’re there). The multi-levelled towers, up to 10 levels high, are made of traditionally dressed men only. No support structures, no outside assistance. Cool.

gehry peix barcelona

Photo Credit: jamie.silva

I’m a huge fan of public art and, quite frankly, the more obscure the better. Peix looks enough like a fish for me to understand the association with its seaside location but is abstract enough for me to appreciate that it’s art and not just a literal representation of seafood. I’m sure there are plenty of historical figure statues to be found but in a city filled with Gaudi inspiration I would expect to find much more that will make me think.

We could just practice our (terrible) spanish on random strangers…or…we could sign up for any number of spanish practice meet-ups in the city. What a great way to learn the local slang, hang out with some residents, and get to know the city!

We’ll get there one day – hopefully sooner rather than later.

 

19 Mar

Monday Moment: Vancouver Island, Canada

West Coast Canada

It’s just about a year ago that we packed up all of our stuff and headed east over the Rocky Mountains to Calgary. We’re really enjoying it there; taking advantage of living so close to the mountains and exploring the surrounding prairie, but this weekend we flew back to the coast to visit family and I’m reminded of how much I love gazing out over the ocean.

This is the view from my mum’s place. It is a constantly changing vista that provides countless hours of quiet entertainment.

There are always ducks bobbing just off shore; often we can see seals looking for a morning meal or Bald Eagles patrolling the beach before settling into their perch in the trees just off the beach. Tugboats such as this one are common traffic, pulling log booms or barges and, in the summer, there is a parade of cruise ships passing close enough to see the passengers waving from their decks.

I love it when it’s calm. I love it when it’s stormy. I love it when it’s clear and the mountains look so close. I love it when the clouds drop down to meet the water and we can hardly see the beach. I love it all the time and I’ll always love coming back to spend time just staring out the window at it.

12 Mar

Monday Moment: Bia Hoi Shop, Hanoi, Vietnam

Beer Shop Owner, Hanoi, VietnamOne of my favourite things to do in Hanoi is to find a Bia Hoi (or fresh beer) shop, sit, and watch the world go by. It’s a popular pastime; there are over 3000 Bia Hoi shops in Hanoi.

We visited this one regularly during our time there. This is the owner. He would come down the steep staircase, pull up a stool, and enjoy a beer at the end of his day.

He even smiled at us once.

*****

Have you read our review of The Long Term Traveler’s Guide? It is the most comprehensive guide on the subject that I have seen anywhere and, at$25 it’s a great value for those of you looking to get a leg up on researching and planning. The digital package includes resources and planning tools that are worth the price alone. If you are planning a big trip you should definitely check it out.

We’re giving a copy away!! Jeremy has given us a copy of the book and the digital package for us to share with you. All you have to do is ‘Like’ our OneGiantStep Facebook Page. It’s also a great resource for travel articles and great conversation. So come on over, give us a ‘Like’ and be entered to win a copy of The Long Term Traveler’s Guide.

We’ll be drawing a random name from all the ‘Likes’ (whether new or old) on March 15th.

 

10 Mar

I Want To ‘Go With Oh’ To Dublin!

Guinness Barrels, Dublin, Ireland

Photo Credit: ccharmon

I know that Dublin has tons to offer. History, culture, architecture, park space, castles and seaside. But if I were to go to Dublin it would be all about the beer!

Knowing my love of beer it might be hard to believe that I’ve actually never had a Guinness! You see, I come from the Pacific Northwest; an area of Canada and USA that is known for great beer. Handcrafted, small batch, micro-brewed, and extremely local, the beer here is better than any I’ve had around the world. Okay, maybe Germany comes close.

I will have my very first Guinness in Dublin. Quite the pilgrimage don’t you think?

Here’s how I would spend my time:

I’m a fan of getting a lay of the land. I love small scale city tours that show off the best of what a city has to offer. Then I can return to my favorites later on my own. So a Dublin Pub Tour would be the perfect way to kick off a visit to Dublin that focuses on beer.

Then I think it would be straight to the source; a visit to the St James Gate Brewery where Guinness is produced. Should I save my first official pint of Guinness for here? Drink from the headwaters so to speak?

A chance to step back in time comes with a visit to The Brazen Head. Claiming to be Irelands oldest pub you’d have to think that they know how to pull a pint!

The Porterhouse is an opportunity to try some Irish micro-brewed beers. They tout fresh, local, unpasteurized  lagers, stouts and ales. I will do my duty and try them all.

Finally,  Messrs Maguires gets as close to the true brewpub as I know it here. A small pub centered around the constant brewing activity in the kettles. Brewing only three beers; an ale, a bock and a lager, you know they are taking care with each of them. I have a feeling this might be my favorite.

Don’t worry now, I wouldn’t do it all in one day! It’s all about pacing…

**You could win 500 Euros of accommodation with Go With Oh to see Dublin yourself!! They’re also giving a way an iPad, a Panasonic Lumix Camera, and 500 Euro of Samsonite Luggage.**