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Photo Gallery: Treviso Italy

23 May

Here are some photos of my recent trip to Treviso, Italy, in the Veneto region, just north of Venice.

 

 

 

Quality, Bargain Travel within Europe

8 May

Water Wheel: Treviso

While I loved my new life as an ex-pat in the lovely Mediterranean village of Altea, Spain, I relish the opportunity to affordably travel to other destinations. For my most recent trip, I went to Venice, Paris, then back to where I live, with all three flights costing only 150 Euros.

 

There are many low-cost options available for transportation and accommodations. My original plan was to go to central Spain to the historic, beautiful and interesting cities of Salamanca (with arguably the most beautiful plaza in Spain), Segovia (with its intact Roman Aqueduct), and Avila (with its intact medieval city wall), all UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Spain has the second most UNESCO World Heritage Sites, after China.

 

Piazza San Marco

However, getting to those locations from where I live is not easy to do in a timely manner via train or flight. I did not want to rent a car or take ride-sharing Bla Bla Car. As I did not want to spend many hours to get to my destinations, I looked at the direct (non-stop) flights that departed and arrived from the two airports closest to me, Valencia and Alicante. Originally I found direct flights from my preferred airport of Alicante to many destinations, and I decided to go to Venice, then Paris, then home to Alicante airport. I also checked for airlines and hotels that accepted dogs, as I initially planned to take my small dog, Pepper. I subsequently decided not to take him because it would preclude us from going to events like the ballet in Paris, or restaurants which have only indoor seating.

 

Often flight, bus and other transportation schedules within Spain and Europe are not published until a few months before departure. Whereas my initial search found direct flights from Alicante to Venice, when I went to book it, there were no scheduled flights for March, none until July. Being flexible and willing to search for other options can yield reasonable alternatives. I was going to meet my son in Venice on a Sunday in March, and all the flights with more than one leg took a ridiculous length of time. I then found a flight the prior day, a Saturday, to Treviso, which is only a mere 30 minutes train ride to the Venice train terminal for only 3,40 Euros. I decided to get a hotel in Treviso, “The City of Art and Water,” that Saturday and explore the town, which has interesting history and culture. The next day, I strolled around town before heading to Venice. Of course, I had researched, and where necessary, scheduled all the connecting ground transportation for the whole trip. That was not necessary for the train from Treviso to Venice. In Italy, (and some other European countries), after you purchase your ticket, you must validate it in one of the machines on the wall or you risk getting a large fine when they train staff check your ticket.

 

As private water taxis are very expensive in Venice, as are taxies in Paris, I scheduled them on Alilaguna, a group water taxi for about 14 Euros one way and 25 Euros roundtrip, and Blacklane for a roundtrip private transfer from Paris Orly airport to our hotel in the Plaza Vendôme area for about 50 Euros each way.

 

One unexpected issue we had on the flight from Venice to Paris on Transavia was just as we got to the staff to present our boarding passes we were told we could only have one carry-on, and that we would have to put any other items including my purse in my carry-on suitcase, which was already stuffed full. I had to throw out a few items in order for my purse to fit. All three flights were about two hours. It was the first time I had taken low cost airlines, and found them organized, and comfortable enough.

 

We enjoyed stops in historic churches, art museums, live music venues, and public gardens. Included in this article are some of the interesting sites we saw on this trip.

 

For me, one of the many considerations, albeit not the most major, in making a decision to move to Spain was the ease and cost of travelling to relatively nearby European and African countries.

 

 

 

NOSTALGIC TRAIN RIDE…IN HELL

27 Nov
Thello train from Dijon to Venice

Overnight train from Dijon to Venice

As I am planning a trip to Venice and Paris soon with my middle son and am in the process of making transportation reservations, I am reminded of our disastrous overnight train ride from Lyon France to Venice.

I had always fantasized about a nostalgic overnight train trip. Thus, on my last trip to Europe before moving to Spain, I was determined to realize that overnight dream on the leg from Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France, to Venice, Italy. Admittedly, I had trouble figuring out exactly how to book the rail trip over the internet, so I eventually enlisted the more competent staff from the travel department of my credit card. Even so, it took them considerable effort to negotiate the details.

I was ecstatic when they were able to book a sleeper compartment for the two of us. The cost for the compartment was more than it would have been for both of us to fly from Lyon to Venice, but then that wouldn’t have been much of adventure. Little did we know what an adventure it would be.

We excitedly boarded the connecter train in Lyon which took us to Dijon where we were to transfer to our “sleeper” compartment. Alas, due to the late hour, none of the shops in the train station were open, so my plans to buy Dijon mustard from its town of origin was foiled. Perhaps that was an omen.

After boarding, we expectantly made our way with our suitcases through the jostling, narrow corridor toward our special place. When we opened the door we were shocked to see two people already sleeping in the compartment. They appeared just as surprised as we were, but since they didn’t speak English, we couldn’t be sure of what they said.
In spite of the language barrier, they kindly arose, helping us with our luggage into this micro area and then showing us how to convert the seating area on our side into two beds. The thin back of the seating area was raised to be horizontal above the bottom seat. The top “bed” appeared to hang perilously from the straps which allegedly supported it.

So much for my romantic notion of a luxurious, relaxing overnight rail trip. Now it was just about survival. I decided my best option was to head for the train’s bar to drink my way into a somnambulant state. After about an hour into imbibing in the train’s dining car, the train came to an abrupt stop. We sat motionless for an hour and a half. Meanwhile, the lights inside the train flickered and then went completely out.

After the train finally resumed moving and the lights came back on, we inquired around as to what had occurred. No official word, but other passengers related that here was some suspected illegal activity and that when the train stopped, those allegedly involved fled. At least those suspects weren’t my cellmates…I mean roommates.

Weary, we finally proceed to the room where we are greeted by the loud snores of our rather corpulent male roommate. I barely slept, but my son demonstrated one of the benefits of being a young adult male—being able to sleep anywhere.

As daylight broke, I stumbled to the communal bathroom to freshen up and change clothes. Obviously we slept in our regular clothes due to the unexpected roommate situation. Yet another surprise awaited me–a flooded, filthy bathroom. Guess I wouldn’t be changing my clothes or spending any unnecessary time in that area.

At least with the sunlight, we were able to enjoy the bucolic scenery of the Veneto, with its rows of grapevines, and villas dotting the countryside against the backdrop of the craggy Dolomite Mountains. As we approached Venice, I was thrilled to unexpectedly see one of the Palladian villas of UNESCO-fame. When I shared this information with parents travelling with young children, instead of thanking me, the mother corrected my pronunciation. Killjoy. For what it’s worth, much later, I learned my pronunciation was correct.

Adventure to El Campello

3 Sep
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Enjoying Xiringuito Ton-Tin with Sandie Sheppard

 

 

With so many interesting places and events here on the Costa Blanca in Spain, I have decided to start taking short trips to some of these spots. Serendipitously, I met a woman at a local jazz fusion concert, who also is a live music fan. While we shared a table, I was expressing my frustration about the difficulty finding information on the internet about live music venues. She then volunteered that she knew several live music venues and offered to send me the information.

 

Xiringuito Ton-Tin in El Campello, just north of Alicante, was one of the locations she recommended. During July and August, they offered daily performances every evening. The day we went the saxophone and trumpet players were featuring jazz, soul, bossa nova, and swing. The two musicians were fantastic. A few people danced, but at other events there seem to be far more dancers. Xiringuito Ton-Tin features a wide variety of music genres, and will continue to have live performances in September. It is located on the beach, with the seats and tables and large globe-shaped white lamps, all situated on the sand, which we loved. For those unfamiliar, Xiringuito, also spelled chiringuito, is typically a small beachside business where one can get beverages and snacks. Many times they are only seasonal summer spots. Xiringuito Ton-Tin regularly posts their calendar of events and video excerpts of concerts. Reservations are recommended as many tables were booked in advance.

 

Pepper at a concert

Pepper at a concert

To get there, we took the tram from Altea to El Campello, which took a little over an hour. I brought my little dog in a wheelie back-back, although I have gotten inconsistent information on whether pets are allowed, so I just placed the backpack in a position between my legs where no one could see what was inside. When we arrived, we ate at a local restaurant across the street from the ocean, and a very short distance from the tram station from which we exited. I only booked the trip the day before we left, yet still managed to find a reasonably-priced hotel that was pet-friendly in nearby San Joan d’Alacant. It was a bit too far for us to walk, so we took cabs to the hotel. A couple of times, the drivers appeared to be taking a circuitous route, which unnecessarily added to the fare, but I wasn’t familiar enough with the area to give directions.

 

The next morning, we took a cab to another area of El Campello, including a busy, active beach area. It offered numerous cafes and restaurants, a variety of water sports including an inflatable floating gym for kids. In the heart of central El Campello, there were some quality eateries for very reasonable prices, and interesting stores if you enjoy shopping (which I don’t.) We headed back to Altea mid-afternoon. This was a very economical trip, even with all of the activities, food and beverages. I am looking forward to my next Costa Blanca adventure.

 

Have you had any memorable short trips?

Costa Blanca Spain: Quality European Living at Affordable Prices

10 May
Iconic View of Altea

Iconic View of Altea

The Costa Blanca area of Spain is often overlooked by North American as an ex-pat living option. While less familiar than the more well-known Costa Brava and Costa del Sol, the Costa Blanca offers a more temperate climate. It is an area of approximately 120 miles of Mediterranean coastline in the province of Alicante. In the month of August, highs average around 84 degrees Fahrenheit and in January around 52 degrees, with total rain about 14 inches annually.

Besides the great weather, the area has many other inviting features. European culture with contemporary music, opera, symphony, ballet and other forms of dance, visual arts are widely available. There are many famed Spanish festivals here, including Easter week (Semana Santa), and Moros y Cristianos. Alicante is in the Valencian province, with Valencia being the third largest city in Spain, where there is the famed unique City of Arts and Sciences complex which houses museums of several sciences and the arts, Las Fallas (featuring elaborate paper mâché statues often with characters that reflect pop culture which are ultimately set aflame in their numerous neighborhoods) and the nearby La Tomatina (infamous tomato throwing festival.) Many Spanish are avid sports fans, as participants or spectators, particularly for soccer; bike, car and boat races, basketball, ocean activities and more.

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Typical street in Altea’s Casco Antiguo

Besides the many coastal communities, there are numerous charming inland towns in the hills, valleys and plains which have castles, ancient ruins, historic buildings, caves, and parks and other nature attractions. Many local words and names such as those beginning with “al” or “ben” are Moorish in origin. The influence of the occupation by the Moors from 718 AD to 1492 is still visible in the terraced hillsides, and numerous orange trees. Each town on the Costa Blanca has its own distinctive charm. Altea is considered the “cultural capital” of the Valencian region and is also known for its iconic hilltop church with shiny blue cupola and white tiles. Villajoyosa has distinctive differently brightly-colored seaside homes, which were intended to guide fishermen back to their specific abode. The provincial capital of Alicante is a sophisticated and historic city, with a stylish promenade area featuring cafes and upscale stores, a large marina and beach area, and the Santa Barbara Castle sitting atop the Mount Benacantil. Elche is home to a grove of about 200,000 palm trees, which have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Benidorm is a popular spot for people wanting a lot of activities, and is party central for many European vacationers. Its two beaches are consistently rated as among the best in the world.

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Sample of delectable (free) tapas served with beverage

The cost of living is surprisingly affordable given all that the area has to offer. For example, rents in Altea range from 325 to 350€ per month for a one-bedroom apartment or studio, and 400€ plus for a large three bedroom. In Elche one can find a 300€ three-bedroom apartment that is centrally located. The Costa Blanca offers ample apartments or homes for sale for under 100,000€, and some under 50,000€. Because of the unique characteristics of each town, it can be advantageous to stay in the widely available, affordable vacation rentals while test-driving a town or even a neighborhood. Several websites, which feature both real estate rentals and sales, can be accessed before visiting the area.

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Bounty of Local Crops at Farmer’s Market

Olives, olive oil, wine, local fruits and vegetable, and the bounty of the Mediterranean are diet staples, and, of course, Spain’s ubiquitous jamones (hams.) Food is generally inexpensive. Most towns have a weekly farmer’s market where there is dizzying display of colorful flowers, fruits and vegetables. At restaurants, in many towns, there is a menu del dia (typically a two or three course meal, with bread, beverage, dessert or coffee) at a nice beachside restaurant cost between 10 to 14 €, and less if one goes to places less upscale or frequented by locals. A glass of wine or small beer (“caña”) can be found for under 2€, which includes a tapa.

The area has many European ex-pats, including British, German, Norwegian and Dutch. That makes for a supply of English-speaking medical professionals. Medical treatment are good quality and prescriptions tend to be significantly less expensive than in the U.S.

Many people do not have cars, instead walking or riding a bike. There is good and inexpensive public transportation on the Costa Blanca, with clean timely buses, and a tram that runs from the northern most town of Denia to Alicante. In Alicante, one can access the national railway system including high-speed trains, and the modern and efficient airport, the sixth busiest in Spain. One person can comfortably live on 1000€ a month or two for 1500€, which includes rent, food, utilities, public transportation and entertainment.