05 December 2019

Brittany - Walking on the Wild Side

So what's better about train travel?
We've been doing a lot of trains. 
And boats.

Why travel? HERE is a good reason.  Want more trains? Try HERE.  Swiss Glacier Express HERE


They aren't any less expensive.
They usually take longer.

But - it just feels more like - traveling.
And somehow - that feels important.

The journey, you know?

Boats, ships - they're great. But - if you have to take a plane, the best is flying your own. Like THIS. 


From Ireland, we got on an Irish ferry.
To France. 
Nice enough cabin.

Ok, so it wasn't the Queen Mary.
But the Queen Mary was 7 days.
This was only 20 hours.

(Remember the Epic Trip earlier this year?

Train from Albuquerque to New York.
Ship to England. Train to France. 
Transcontinental. Transatlantic. No planes.)


Celebrating my 65th birthday - in Brittany.

This trip, we headed way back - the furthermost corner of Brittany.
Finistère.
Land's End.

Territory of Asterix and Obelix.





Brittany is still France. But. 



France tries hard to incorporate all these independent regions (and islands!) into LA FRANCE.

Brittany must be one of the most difficult. 
It's just - different. It FEELS different.




Signposts are in French and Breton. 
Dolmens. Rock circles. There's a Celtic - air - about the place.

You can almost hear the music.



Dolmens - are all over.
Dolmens!

Just - standing out in corn fields.
Among the cows. Or behind someone's house.




How wild is that? 
A prehistoric stone structure - towering over your clothesline.


Brittany has miles of beautiful sandy white beaches.
But - no crowds.
Why?

It IS August, after all.




It has almost 3000 km of coastline.
That's twice as much as California.

-Guess that means there's plenty of beach for everyone.




And - there's an EXCELLENT walking trail around the coastline.
Maybe one of the all-time best anywhere.

400 km long. The GR 34.


It's a rocky, dramatic invigorating coastline.
Perfect for walking.


Natural harbors. Tidy sailboats. Crashing waves.

And - the tide goes WAY out.
So it looks different every day.



You KNOW - it's got to be fierce here in the winter.
Raging winds and storms. Howling.





Like most Atlantic coasts in Europe.
Cornwall. Connemara. Canaries.

The wind has time to gather speed across the entire Atlantic Ocean.

As they used to say in Ireland, the next parish west - is Boston.




But in summer, it's pretty wonderful.

View from our bed in the cool tiny house we rented.

We stayed in 3 different places.
Airbnb. Gîtes de France.
Just - exploring the region from different bases.


The seafood is - of course - excellent. 

First stop as usual: Moules frites and a pitcher of rosé.

Steamed mussels and French fries. 
Mussels. Scallops. Oysters. Fresh fish.



(Not only are French fries really Belgian.
Moules frites is the national dish of Belgium!
Thanks, Belgium.)


The place is FILLED with flowers. 
Particularly hydrangeas. In almost ridiculous profusion.




There are also canals.
Rivers.

With barges and locks and flower-filled stone cottages.



Occasionally we ventured into the towns.

Brittany is actually pretty busy in summer.
It's "the season".

Ice cream stands. Tourists.
The popular Breton crêpes everywhere.




But - the coast is what it's all about.
That's where the magic is.




After about 3 weeks wandering Brittany, it's time to get back onto the trains for us.

Heading back down to Maggie May.

Thru Paris.
Crowded in August with all the foreign visitors.



The Parisians themselves?

They're all on vacation.



Probably - in Brittany. 

24 November 2019

"OUR Castle" - in Ireland

An old Irish castle.
With a ghost and a dungeon and a place for the portcullis to fall.

Even a hole for pouring boiling oil on unwanted visitors.

5 bedrooms. Not counting the dungeon.

That was our home for a while this summer.
The ghost we brought ourselves. In a story.

Erik, Kilian, Stan, Trish Ray, Mikey, Noah and Iris. Aidan's taking the picture. Rick, Jenny and Tati haven't arrived yet.

There was Guinness and smoked salmon and mussels and pubs.

But also pig racing and bog jumping.

Each pig has a number. And a stuffed cotton jockey. 

And the retelling of the "Ghost of Castle Kilkarney", the book my mother wrote 50 years ago.
About us. And a castle. In Ireland.


Aidan, Kilian, Iris, Mikey, Stan, Ray, Erik, baby Noah and Trish

In 1969, my parents moved from the Chicago area to Ireland.
We 5 kids - I was the oldest - went to Irish schools.



We got uniforms.
Counted money in pounds, shillings and pence.
Learned the differences between roods, perches and furlongs.

Learned what a chancer was.
Messages. A press. A quid.
That "the jacks" and "banjaxed" were not necessarily related.




We lived in an Old Rectory, built in 1725.
Complete with a ghost and an underground tunnel to the graveyard.




The adjustment from the US wasn't always easy, but it changed our lives.
It also gave us incredible freedom.




The bus left outside our gate.

From there, we could go on our own into Dublin.
Take a ferry to Wales.
A train to anywhere in Europe.
And beyond. 

I wound up going to school in England.
Germany. France. Switzerland. Italy. Ireland.
Working in a dozen or more countries.

We got the gift of thinking internationally. 



In 1969, my mother also wrote a book in Ireland, starring the 5 kids.
"The Ghost of Castle Kilkarney".

Steve, Trish, Rick and Pete in 1969.

Every day after dinner, she'd read to us what she'd written that day. 

When my kids were small, I read the book to them, too.

Erik, Mikey and Kilian. Okay, they're really reading Tintin, but - still.

This year was the 50th anniversary of that book.
We put together a new version, digitized it, included a few pictures.

And - rented a castle in Ireland for a family reunion.
One that was as close to the fictional "Castle Kilkarney" as possible. 


With a suit of armor.
A stone staircase.

Even a dungeon.


Noah and Kilian. Involved in castle activities.

We had the place to ourselves.
Cooking, shopping - and driving - was a combined effort. 



The windows were small and narrow. 

The stairway was steep, and wound to the right. 
They usually do, so that the defenders could use their right arms for weapons. 



Someone saw a poster for "pig racing". 
Off we went - to an excellent local county fair. 


Kilian and Aidan check out the potential new wheels. Not for NM, with the driver on the right-hand side.

Tractors, tools. And - yes, pig racing.
(It was very popular. You could bet on the pigs!)






Ireland today is a long way from what it was like in the 70's.



Central heating was a rarity.
Some of my friends' homes had no refrigerators or washers.
Milk was delivered daily, and kept outside on a windowsill.

None of my friends had a car.

My rented cottage in Connemara had no electricity.

There was a pump in the field for water.
I used turf - that we dug and dried from the bog - for heat.


The "ould" days: Temple Bar in Dublin. My hearth in Leitrim, with the "crook and crane". And Trish at 20 years old.

It's changed drastically.

Something lost, something gained. 




This trip - this family reunion - was a chance to share a bit of Ireland with my kids.
Ireland played such a large part in my life.

My brother Rick also wanted to show his daughter, Tati, where he grew up.


We even went back to our home in Co. Wicklow, The Old Rectory.
The current owners are my parents' friends, Jimmy and Miriam Carroll.

They kindly gave us tea and let us wander through our old rooms.

At the Cliffs of Moher. We used to go there before they built the walls. Watch the ocean from the edge. Sometimes at night.


What an adventure - both then - and now.
A trip with stories of the past.

And now - we're creating new stories of our own.
For our kids - and grandkid.
How cool.

Noah says,"That's OUR castle!"
And - he's right. -At least for a while.




"Remember the time we went to Ireland? And stayed in a real castle?"

Yep.













03 July 2019

FI Chautauqua and the Cost of Living on a Boat in the South of France


So I spent last week at FI - Chautauqua, in the UK.

You know, the whole FIRE movement .
"Financial Independence Retire Early" thing.

This get-together was in Shakespeare's home, Stratford-upon-Avon. 
At a pretty spiffy ol' mansion, Ettington Park.



A friend of mine, JL Collins, started the idea years ago, and it took off.  

There were about 30 attendees and a half dozen FIRE movement bloggers, including Brandon, The Mad FIentist, Kristy and Bryce from Millennial Revolution, Alan and Katie and Simon and Henry of Pop Up Business School, Carl - Mr. 1500, and Jillian from Montana Money Adventures.
And Jane and - Jim Collins, who wrote "The Simple Path to Wealth". (and I did the cover art!)



Beautiful location, well organized.

A perfect time to be in the UK. 
It was fun - there was a murder mystery, a Shakespeare play.
Oxford nearby, sticky toffee pudding.

And the library had a proper secret door. 

Everyone seemed to be talking ALL the time.




When I mentioned that living on a boat is low cost, I got some weird looks. 
"Isn't a boat a hole where you pour in money?" was a frequent comment. 

But - really? Compared to a HOUSE?




For those who don't know, Stan and I spent this past winter getting rid of all of our STUFF. 

Selling the house. The cars.
The motorized bicycles.
Antiques. Rugs.
Giving away tools.
The cat. Guitars.
Clothes. Art. 
Books (many carloads of books-).


One corner of the house - before.
We kept in our minds the vision of leaving.
Just the backpack.
Hopping onto a train (all cars sold-). 

Taking off, waving to the new owners of the house. 
Hittin' the road.

And - it happened pretty much just like that. 

But it was a LOT of work.

The same corner of the house - after.

So now, our only "home" is a canal boat.
Off the grid. 

The idea was to continue traveling, which we've been doing for the past 5 years. 
Without needing to return to a house to maintain things. 

We wanted a place where we could easily close up and leave. 
A "turnkey operation". 

A boat works. 
It's simple. 

And it's cool. 
I like it.




It was accidental that it turned out to be inexpensive. 
That wasn't our main reason for doing it.

I mentioned at this FI seminar that a boat, a canal barge, is low cost living. 

So I got to thinking about it. 
Just how much does it cost? 

Then again - when this post appeared on reddit,  people were asking - so how much?

So in the spirit of the Chautauqua, where people are pretty open about financial stuff, here are the numbers. (I put it in dollars - so the comparison is easier) 

We weren't trying to live cheaply. 

This is roughly what it cost. 

Here's what I was paying to maintain the house in New Mexico:

Per Year:
$1200 home insurance
$3100 property tax
$2300 electricity and gas (ok, we had a pool)
$900 water and waste (it's NM. Water can be $$)
$1500 wi-fi (Xfinity. SO expensive. So annoying.)

So basic costs of the house were about $9000 a year.  $750 a month.


Here's what the boat looks like on an annual basis:



Per Year:
$250 boat insurance
$1000 mooring fees (calculated by boat length. Our boat is 14m long. 80€ a month.)
$120 for water - waste is free. We fill the water tank about once a month.
$120 propane
$300 wi-fi
$600 canal usage fee. The French waterways system charges us to use the canal.

So that comes to $2390 a year.  About $200 a month.


We're off the grid, so no utilities as such. 
We have solar panels, which work GREAT.





Granted, the house we sold was a pretty sweet house. 
My dream house. 

A 100+ year old adobe in the Rio Grande valley.




But a house also requires a LOT more general maintenance stuff. 

Garden hoses and plants and parts and tools and cleaning supplies. 

We had a big yard.
Gardens.
Ponds.
A pool. 
That is in addition to the numbers above. 

Not sure how to calculate all that. 
I just know we spent a LOT of time at Home Depot.


Yes, you do need a visa to live in France as an American.

Here's more info on getting the original long-term visas
(It gets a bit easier after the first time.)  

Also, we're on the French health system, which is free.
Yep.

I was paying $650 a month in the US for insurance. 
That - was the cheapest I could find. With a $7000 deductible. 

If you count the health insurance, it doubles the cost of living in NM.
-Don't get me started.

Back to the boat: 
Obviously, there's the cost of the Boat itself. 

This is ours, Maggie May. 
She's a beauty.




You can find a good live aboard boat anywhere between $5,000 and $200,000.  
I suppose you could pay more - or even less. 

There are always a LOT of boats for sale. 
Pretty much any price.



Prices range widely. 

There's a single guy down the canal from us on an old sailboat. 
You could probably buy one like it for $3000. 

However, he usually finds a girlfriend to live with. 
So he doesn't spend all that much time on the boat. 

Works for him.

I'm not talking budget living here. 
I did that in the 70's. 
Had the ol' self-sufficient farm, off the grid. 

Catching fish and rabbits, growing potatoes. 
Kept chickens and collected mussels. 
Out in the West of Ireland.




Hitchhiking around Europe.
Sleeping on the ground or in haystacks.

I'm not living that way now. 
There's a time for everything.


That's JL Collins. Digging turf at our place in Ireland with the landlord. 1975. He was a good sport about it.

You can do all of this for much less. 
And it would be just as much fun. 

Yes, there are also very inexpensive houses in the French countryside. 
Roll up your sleeves, those can be serious work - and time. 

If that's how you want to spend your days, fine.

Our goal was to make our lives simpler. 
Have more time for art, music.

Exploring the world.



That it was also less expensive was a plus, not the original intention. 

Here's a place to start. Try looking for canal barges.

Our boat has 3 cabins and 3 bathrooms. 
This is pretty ridiculous, and more than we need.

But - we have kids and friends and family who visit. 
Since Stan and I are not boat experts.
We wanted one where all the systems were integrated. 

Another question I get a lot - do you have to know your way around boats? 
Not really. Here's how much we really didn't know. 

Sure, it helps to be mechanical.
Doesn't it always? 

But the canals and ports are filled with people who know all about boats. 
They've built their own boats. 
Sailed around the world with them.

These are people who grew up with boats. 
Most are more than willing to share their knowledge.

It's a good community. 

More about the boat hunt here. And finding a boat

So that's the basic financial picture. 

Plus, when you sell a house, there's a nice chunk of money to invest. 
FI types like that.
Your income grows, too.




Also - did I mention wine?

Do you know how good the wine is in France?
And how inexpensive - compared to the US?

Beautiful wines.
Great prices.


Sometimes I wonder just how much we save on the wine alone...

I know a boat isn't for everyone. 
It's just - another possibility. 

Like van dwelling.
But somehow - way cooler. 

It gives us the chance to spend more time on the things we love doing.




With the plus side of working out way less expensive than we'd planned.