Monday, January 31, 2011

Braan Walk

waterfall on the River Braan
Yesterday we ventured north-west into Perthshire for our first ramble of the new year.  We selected the Braan Walk for this occasion due to its close proximity to Dundee and also because it was one of the few walks we've found in our Scotland walking book with a recommended time of year as January/February for the waterfalls and snowdrops.

Bridge to Dunkeld from Birnam
over the River Tay
Our ramble started from Dunkeld & Birnam train station, which is actually only about 40 minutes away from Dundee but, due to our layover at Perth train station, wound up taking us closer to two hours one way.  Regardless, we arrived in Birnam before noon, walked into the tiny town for a coffee, and then set off on our ramble.

We began by walking along the River Tay and then branching off along the River Braan into the Hermitage.  The scenery we encountered was beautiful, reminding us quite a bit of the Pacific Northwest.

The Hermitage
The weather was chilly, probably warming to only about 1 or 2 degrees Celsius, but did not prove to be too much of a problem.  On the other hand, the snow and ice, and especially the ice, did prove challenging, adding a bit of excitement and comedy to an otherwise serene adventure.  Next time though we'll remember to bring extra pairs of socks and wear more weather appropriate shoes.  Scotland is a year round rambling destination only if the correct kit has been selected.

River Braan
The ramble was about 6 miles long with barely any elevation gain.  We started our walk around noon and ended around 4PM.  We saw several small and lovely waterfalls along the river but, besides seeing evidence of deer and/or rabbits, we had no wildlife sightings beyond a red squirrel.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Self Improvement

Our continuing quest towards self improvement has us hoping to become fluent in Spanish this year.  Desi has attempted this several times over the past years, via non-credit university classes and at the community college, but none of these efforts have proved successful, so we're approaching this new attempt from a different angle.

la cocina
We initially wanted to buy Rosetta Stone but since we can't afford the ridiculous price we researched their methods instead.  Apparently, they go the 'approach it like a child' route, so we're going to give that a try.

We bought a vocabulary book for beginners, 'First Thousand Words In Spanish,' and are placing post-its around the flat.  We'll try to learn a few words each month to increase our vocabulary.

el cuarto de baño
This method, as expected, will cause us to speak like toddlers ('I walk door, I eat sink, I watch bed') for a while but it'll give us a good foundation and we can improve our grammar as we pick up more words.  At least, that's the hope.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Magic Toilet

I experienced my first magic toilet in 2004.  We had just renovated the bathroom in our Seattle house and our new toilet was sparkling, especially when compared to the old, gross toilet.  Amazingly, the toilet stayed sparkling for at least a year before I began noticing a slight ring around the waterline.  It would only appear occasionally and never stay around for long so I wasn't terribly concerned by it.

One day, however, I did mention to Mike, probably about two years after the renovation, that I thought our toilet's self-cleaning mechanism might need a new piece soon.  Perhaps there was a rubber something that was worn or perhaps a pad that might require replacement every few years?  Mike just stared at me in silence.  I don't remember exactly what happened next, probably because it was traumatizing, but it had something to do with Mike laying down a hard truth.

According to Mike, he had been cleaning the toilet this whole time.  That one time I saw him actively cleaning the toilet?  That was him actually cleaning the toilet.  I had thought he was just helping the self-cleaning mechanism along because it needed a piece.  Instead, Mike was the piece.  Mike was the magic toilet.  I was devastated.

With this bit of hard truth my reality suddenly shifted.  Not only did I no longer have a magic toilet but now I had a husband cleaning the toilet this whole time without any gratitude or assistance on my part whatsoever.  I suddenly realized that I was a horrible person and, perhaps, somewhat mentally retarded.  My world crumbled.

To protect myself from spiralling into a mass of self-pity I decided not to believe Mike.  I may have even told him I didn't believe him or perhaps I just kept this to myself but, regardless, years later and I still half believe that we had a magic toilet.  Moreover, I'm pretty sure we have one here in Dundee, too.

I Wish I Was That Cool

The other day I saw this tweet from @jimicrayon: 'To the man who got on the bus dressed as a wizard who had removed the chip from his oyster card and put it in a magic wand. I salute you.'

Two reasons why I love this statement and can't stop thinking about it:

1) the usage of 'I salute you' as a compliment.  I must use this more.  I laughed so hard I couldn't speak.

2) some dude dressed as a wizard touches his wand to the Oyster Card machine and is magically allowed access.  This would've been incredible to see in real life.  Who is that cool?  Who not only thinks of this amazing idea but also executes it with such style?

I wish I was that cool.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Spring Break 2011

Although we just returned from an extraordinary trip to Paris we are already looking forward to our next trip abroad.  Today we finalized our flight to Mallorca in April.  We'll be staying on this Spanish island for 18 nights, in the north east coastal village of Puerto Pollensa.  We're pretty excited!

Paris For Less Than €40 A Day (per person)

One of the reasons we wanted to move to Scotland was its proximity to the European continent.  We believed that if we lived in Europe we would be able to see more of Europe and in less time than had we stayed in the U.S. where vacation time and funds are limited.  However, the reality is that Desi is earning much less than what she had been earning in Seattle and during our planning we had not taken that possibility into account.  Diminished funds coupled with more vacation time required some creativity but we resolved early on that travel was a priority so we have adjusted all other aspects of our life to make sure we don't waste this opportunity of proximity.
We were able to do everything we wanted to do on our first big holiday as European residents which we find especially satisfying because we did it all under such tight financial constraints.  Our final budget came to €38.24 for expenses per day and €36.67 per night for accommodations creating an overall budget of €37.45 per person for the 25 day holiday.  We're quite pleased with ourselves.

Our final budget breakdown is outlined below.  Upon review we could've spent a bit less on food but Desi does enjoy the eating and the drinking.  We'll try to manage that part of the budget a bit better in the future.

€880 spent on accommodations. We rented a 19 sq meter studio in the 17e for 24 nights for €880.  We were conveniently located on a corner next to a Metro stop so we were able to 
maneuver throughout Paris quite easily.  However, if we were to do it again we would look for something in the 1e-6e arrondissements because we found ourselves there most often and we could've saved some money on the Metro, not to mention our poor feet, had we been located in that area.
view from our flat
€678 spent on dining out and groceries.  We spent €439 on dining out, a lot of which can be traced back to our many €3 vins chauds enjoyed at the Christmas markets.  We started spending €1-2 on bottles of wine and making the vins chauds at home, which helped the budget a bit after the first week.  We spent €239 on groceries (including wine).  Our dining out expenses also include the many trips to the boulangeries and patisseries.  Our most expensive meal was €50 at Brasserie Lipp where we enjoyed the choucroute.  For the most part though we stuck to cafes and salons de thé.
proper vins chauds at Le Petit Pont
€131 spent on entertainment.  Museum admission costs for both of us were as follows: €16 at Musee d'Orsay, €24 at Centre Pompidou, and €20 at the Louvre. Versailles was only €18 because Mike was free due to his status as an art school student.  We went to three free museums: Palais de Tokyo, Petit Palais, and Victor Hugo's House.  The Menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes cost €17, the catacombs cost €16 and the Bateaux Mouches was €20.
€114 spent on transportation.  We spent €30 on our cab ride into Paris from Charles de Gaulle airport.  We had budgeted €18 for the train but because we arrived too late due to weather we wound up missing the last train into Paris.  Luckily, we shared our cab with another couple saving €30 off the €60 fare.  We purchased 6 carnets of 10 Metro tickets, costing €12 per carnet or €1.20 per ticket.  It cost €12 for two return tickets to Versailles.  We also managed to get a free train ride back to the airport at the end of our journey, so we saved €18 there.

€33 spent on miscellaneous items. We spent €5 on mittens from a street vendor when Desi's gloves developed a hole, €12 on postcards and postage, and €16 at the laundromat because the clothes washer in our flat was broken which was an unexpected expense.

Our next holiday is in April and we hope to spend it on a beach.  Our budget will be even further diminished but we will make it work.  We always make it work and have a great time doing it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Paris: Nous ne regrette rien

With two days left in this lovely city we're thoroughly sad to be leaving but looking forward to getting back to reality and to the continued pursuit of our long term goals.  But, before we leave we want to be sure to list our favourite things about our time here and the things we'll miss most.

We already miss the many marchés de Noël.  They were fun and festive and provided us with a unique and memorable introduction to Paris culture.

Mike loved the free and frequent public toilets.  These things were fantastic!  Clean and convenient they were used often during our long days wandering the city streets.

We loved turning any corner and discovering something completely amazing be it architecture, a fountain, a park, a statue, a cute street, or a beautiful church.  This city is full of s
urprises with one literally around every corner.

We loved the café culture and outdoor seating options.  While living in Seattle Desi would always comment on the lack of rainy day culture.  She thought it bewildering that Seattle would basically shut down for the six months of winter.  No one seemed to agree with her on this point but now, after witnessing the possibilities, she knows a culture can thrive in poor winter weather with little change to summer weather routine.  Paris does outdoor seating during these cold days so well that we rarely sat indoors during our meals and thoroughly enjoyed our occasional café crème and espresso in the heated pavement seating areas, even on the coldest days.

The vente a emporter options and street vendors were convenient, cheap, and very good.

Food and drink, especially on our almost non-existent budget, were amazing.  We savoured everything we ate from the street vendor hot dogs and gaufres to the restaurant escargots, choucroute, and moules frites.  The €1.07 bottles of wine and equally as cheap fromages from the supermarchés were as good as we've had anywhere for much more.  The fresh €.85 baguettes will be craved daily.

Vin chaud is our new favourite winter drink and will be enjoyed often.

We'll miss the Parisiens; amazingly kind and friendly people.

We'll miss the convenience of the Metro system.  We traversed the entire city for only €1.20.  Great system.  We'll especially miss the faces pressed against the Metro doors during rush hour.  They pile you into those train cars like sardines and it's quite an experience.  We've never seen a population utilise their mass transit like the Parisiens do.  It's inspiring.

The plethora of world class museums is astounding.  To have any one of them at your doorstep would be amazing but this city is filled with them.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

2011 Hello, 2010 Goodbye

As we bid farewell to 2010 we'd like to take this opportunity to thank the year for being kind to us.  We experienced a lot of change this past year but we're grateful it was due to anticipated events and we weren't hit with any surprises.  We're not fond of surprises.

We'd especially like to thank our amazing friends for all their help this year.  We're not ones to ask for help unless absolutely necessary and this year we had to go to that well a few times.  Luckily, we have cultivated amazing friendships with amazing people and we're truly grateful for their help over this past year.  

We're also very appreciative of the places we were able to travel to this past year.  2010 saw our first Asian and European experiences as well as some great travel experiences state-side.
As far as our hopes for 2011, of course we hope for the best: good health and happiness.  Our resolutions include learning a new language, more European travel, Desi would like to enter one or more writing competitions, and Mike would like to develop more professionally as an artist.

We hope 2010 was kind to you and that 2011 brings you good health and happiness as well.  Happy new year!
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