The “In’s and Out’s” of Spain

I love decorated doorways, courtyards and windows.  For some reason I tend to take a lot of pictures of these things.   In the country of Spain I had a wealth of them to choose from.  In every city we toured and in every region of Spain everyone seemed to like flowers in their window boxes and doorways or entrance courtyards with intricate carvings or decorations.  My last video on Spain is therefore a retrospective of the many decorated windows and intricate doorways and entranceways I found during our time there.

Mostly what I wanted was to create something using music with a Spanish guitar as the main instrument.  While Flamenco may by the most famous dance associated with Spain to me it is the playing of a Spanish guitar that invokes movement and rhythm and that which sets my heart racing.  The song Pure Paradise performed by Armik therefore does this slide show justice.  Enjoy.

Florence Lince

Tourism Tolerance 101

Or, Is Travel Really Good for the Planet?

The simple answer is no.  Travel is destroying the planets resources and in many countries there is no way to recover from this destruction.  Many countries were hit so hard by the economic meltdown that they have turned to tourism as their main income stream which is never sustainable and usually means that the planets biggest ‘users’ go  to poorer countries and use precious resources such as water, electricity and food.

No government however has stopped the madness to give the locals what they need the most, ‘tourism tolerance training 101’.  It is not easy dealing with demanding tourists or tourists from another country.  Even if the tourist isn’t demanding, to the locals who have very little money and who might have never been able to travel away from their home, seeing tourist after tourist coming to their city gives the false illusion that tourists are wealthy and the hostility towards tourism in general begins to build.  I think this is where the crazy notion that all Americans are wealthy comes from.  Mike and I have heard this over and over again from people in almost every country we have been too and on every continent.  They think that all Americans are wealthy which simply isn’t true.  By American standards we are far from wealthy; we just travel smart to make our dollars go further.

This false perception that Americans are wealthy arises because many of the locals in some countries make less than $500 a month and they have never been outside of their own cities let alone explored their own country.  What this mentality has done however is to make locals, who are working for next to nothing in income, have a negative attitude about tourists and how selfish and self-centered they think we are.  In many of these countries the government leaders sold the locals a bill of goods telling them that having tourists and even retiring expats invading their shores would help the economy and therefore they would all make more money.  This is really not the case.

This has lead to some locals not caring if they cheat tourists.  We were in London recently and because the local bus was two hours late in arriving in the London bus station we had to have a taxi in a hurry to get us to the airport instead of having the luxury of using the cab we had hired which was no longer waiting for us.  The dispatch ass who was behind the counter therefore wanted $100 to get us to the airport on time.  We had no choice.  I don’t waste time in wishing people ill but I also hope he’s still sitting on a toilet somewhere.

What the locals also see is crime rising in their cities, water shortages, costs of food and the cost of property rising; costs that wouldn’t be going up if those selling them didn’t realize that tourists and even expats will pay more for these items so they sell them for more to everyone. So locals are now spending more to live in their own countries.  This is not the way to build goodwill.

In Panama we were there when the locals told us that they were being pushed further and further out of the town of Boquete because the cost to live there was too high now that so many expats had swarmed the city.  Many of these families go back generations of living in Boquete and now they are being pushed out.  When tourists and expats have an adverse affect on a local what type of relationship do you think gets built?

Take the recent request from the authorities in Rio, Brazil to its citizens. We are months away from the World Cup and they are already telling people to conserve water because they do not have enough fresh water to accommodate all the tourists who will be coming to watch the games.  If you don’t have the resources why are you hosting the games and making the lives of your own people more stressful than it needs to be?  Why isn’t their government telling the World Cup folks that they need to find some place else to go?  Money!  Lots and lots of money coming into the country from all those fans of the World Cup and no one voluntarily walks away from money.  Especially heads of government no matter the true costs to its own people.

This is a pretty large issue and it’s becoming larger by the day.  Locals are being sold a bill of goods that having tourists invade their shores will equate to a higher income for everyone.  Take the falsehood surrounding cruise ships.  Resistance to cruise ship passengers docking in certain cities is on the rise and in some areas they do not want cruise ships at all.  We have heard locals scoff with comments about those getting off cruise ships who leave nothing behind but waste.  They do not contribute to the local economy because they usually only shop where they are directed to do so; they take tours ascribed by the cruise line or an agent; they don’t eat in a local restaurant since all their meals are included in the price of the cruise.  In fact most cruise passengers buy very little when off the ship besides ice cream or plastic trinkets; most of which are not made locally. There is not a lot of sympathy towards cruise passengers in some places where they get cheated or robbed.  People in some countries where all these ships dock are starving or their children are starving and people do desperate things sometimes to survive.

I have a solution for this problem which I will write about in another piece; Tourist vs. Resident pricing and how to make this work so that the locals really like having tourists around.  The leaders of all these governments forgot lesson one in Tourism Tolerance 101 – there has to be a reason for the locals to like having tourists in their country.   Without a real tangible for the locals to see or to bank on, tourism feeds anger and disgust, indifference and even theft.

I’ve never been one to believe that things cannot be changed for the better.  There is always time to act on positive thoughts and create a system where locals can thrive; where the planet does not suffer more than it needs too; where tourists still feel valued and wanted.  I just hope I am right.

Florence Lince


It Feels Like Home…and Yet…

As we leave Croatia and look forward to our move to Spain I take a minute or two to reflect on the Croatia I came to know, and love.

The Good

From the first I felt at home here.  From the first greeting; the first meal; the first excursion, I felt at home.  Croatia and its people are very familiar to me and I’d never been here before.

My family comes from Sicily and when I told everyone here how familiar everything seemed to me using this as a reference there were some who were offended.  I meant no offense.  I had stumbled upon an old feeling of historic resentment between Croatia and Italy because of centuries of domination under Italian rule.  I am extremely proud of my heritage and to me comparing these two countries meant that what I found here in Croatia was good people with good hearts; great food with flavor and presence; beautiful scenery and a grand history.  These are all things that I hold dear and finding them here was a nice surprise and a pleasure.  I chose to live in Croatia before I lived in Sicily so that alone should speak volumes.

The Bad

Sometimes living in a country as we do for extended periods of time we learn way more about a country than just a casual visitor.  Take Croatia for instance.  We have learned that some people spend a lot of time in being jealous of their neighbors who are doing well.  Businesses where locals try to get ahead and do well are looked upon with suspicion.  Local government is not a purveyor of growth but most jobs are gotten by who pays for the privilege of having that job.  Then when they get into that job they do nothing to build or foster growth for all the citizens but to line their own pockets with money.  This leads to an environment of every man for themselves instead of team building.  We have seen this type of political environment in third world countries and it is never good to keep the masses as the poorest of the poor because when they rise up against you, you have no solid footing to stand upon.  Croatia needs leadership in all areas where the people have a say and a government that works for them, not in spite of them.  They need teamwork and cooperation between agencies and companies not jealousy and suspicion.

Croatia has a lot to offer the world and the world is beginning to come here.  What is not happening however is that the many are not receiving the benefits of these visitors; the few are.  What those at the top fail to acknowledge, as they pocket more and more money, is that everyone in Croatia at one time or another comes into contact with a tourist.  And if they treat those tourists badly; if they give Croatia a bad reputation, then no one here is going to make any money.  Make all the people of Croatia benefit from the influx of tourism coming here and then Croatia will flourish.  Will there be a leader among the generations who will lead this change in Croatia or will the status quo hold?  I hope it changes, for everyone’s benefit.

I will be watching.

Florence Lince

Authors Note: I have created a short video of the highlights of our time in Sibenik, Country, Croatia.  The people in Sibenik opened their hearts to us and we will forever be grateful.  I had also wanted to create a video using the traditional music of Croatia known as Klapa.  Recently a young group of musicians known as Klapa Adriaticum performed a selection of songs at a post Christmas gathering on the waterfront in Sibenik.  I approached their manager and with his permission created my video with their music.  I hope you will enjoy it.

We wish to make special mention of the following people who made our time in Sibenik and Croatia so wonderful.  We will miss you all.

Nina Belamarić our landlady and friend. She took care of me when I got sick and in general was our best source for information on Sibenik. Thank you, thank you.

Tina Vickov, owner of Sibenik Plus Tourism Agency; another new friend who made sure that we saw and experienced more of this area than most tourists.  We are happy she entered our lives.  We will stay in touch.

Biljana Lambasa, owner of Personal Insider; another new friend who engineered some great travel experiences for us coming all the way from Zagreb to do so. Thank you Biljana.

And to our friends Lea Brezar and Manuela Tunjić from Dhar Media; we would never have Discovered Croatia without you and we will be forever grateful. Hugs to you both.

The Butterflies of Cuernavaca

Living in Mexico was sort of an afterthought.  It really wasn’t on our list of countries to live in, it just sort of happened.  We needed a place to live after our exodus from Panama and we needed it quickly.  We had already been in Latin America for two years exploring through Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina and we wanted to live someplace new.  We had met some people on a cruise who were from a town called Cuernavaca so we decided to investigate what it had to offer.

Cuernavaca is called the “City of Eternal Spring”, which we never actually saw.  Instead we were surrounded by more butterflies than I have ever seen in the wild in my life.  Our yard was filled with them in every shape, size and color.  I never knew that butterflies came in so many colors.  We found out that Cuernavaca annually has thousands of butterflies that descend on it so we had come at the right time of year.

As is normal for us we had no car while living there and it is not easy to get around.  Yes, they have buses and taxis that were cheap enough but the town is built on hills and while it was great exercise, not everything was paved so the simple task of walking to the grocery store was a full exercise event.

We met and rented a flat from not only a local but also a fellow expat.  Professor James Horn taught about Latin American studies at Brockport University well before it was fashionable to do so.  Professor Horn had retired to Cuernavaca some years before and he rents out the floors of his house to fellow travelers.  We were lucky that he had an available flat and we left for Mexico.  Professor Horn is also a fine dining patron and a Mexican wine connoisseur so we were invited to go to some of Cuernavaca’s best restaurants on a weekly basis – thank you Jim.

Contrary to what the news media will report, we never once felt unsafe in Mexico.  Now, we didn’t do anything stupid like buying or dealing drugs or taking part in prostitution or using a gun, and we were always home by dark but we never once heard a gunshot, and we always felt safe.

We did a lot of touring around this section of Mexico during our 5 months in the country and we loved it all with Mexico City, Taxco, Teotihuacan  and Xochicalco standing out for me with some great memories.

The people of Mexico were warm and friendly.  When you tell a local that you are living in their country the look of first, surprise, and then pride, that shines through is worth the price of a passport.  The people of Cuernavaca were helpful in sharing with us the best places to eat and visit.  It is also incredibly helpful that my husband speaks Spanish since in some of the smaller towns there wasn’t a word of English to be heard.  This is after all their country so speaking Spanish, or at least understanding it, is the way to go.

We lived incredibly well while in Mexico and we would have no hesitation in promoting its charms, or its people.  Viva Mexico!

                                                                                                Florence Lince

Our time in Perth, no not that one, the one in Scotland

We had every intention when landing in Scotland of being here six months.  We had done a lot of extensive research on places to live, costs of living, and so on before we came there. Unfortunately things didn’t turn out the way we had been told they would, or how we wanted.

I had been online well before we landed chatting with realtors and letting agencies.   I had appointments lined up in Perth with agencies and house sharing folks.  Most of the apartments I found before we landed were around the 400 pound or less a month range and we knew that this was acceptable for us as costs went.  The reality upon landing however was somewhat harsher.  Even though I had communicated for months that we were coming all of a sudden people didn’t want to rent to us as expats.  They had forgotten what our requirements for a place to let were (one bedroom fully furnished with internet).  Since we weren’t asking for the moon we thought our request would be simple.

We went from letting agent to letting agent and however much you see it on TV where they work with an expat and show you from place to place with ease that is not the case.  We were told in office after office that they simply did not have anything to show us and they didn’t seem all that interested in renting to expats.

We thought we had hit the mother lode when one agent in a local agency in Perth said she remembered that a two bedroom unit, renting for 495 pounds a month, fully furnished was going to come on the market, but we had to wait a month’s time to get into it.  Being resourceful and desperate, we decided to see the apartment anyway.  We did, thought it would suit us just fine and left to explore other parts of Scotland for the month we had to wait to get into the apartment.

We toured Perth, Kinross, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and then Birmingham staying for a week in each city while we waited.  To say we enjoyed our tours of each city would not be an understatement.  Scotland has beautiful vistas and lush and green valleys and there was much to see and do.  Most of which Mike wrote about on his blog.

Our fateful day arrived and pulling our last two suitcases through Perth to the letting agency we found that they forgot to tell us one little piece of information; that the rent needed to be paid in advance.  You see we didn’t have a credit history in Scotland and hence they decided that since they couldn’t do a proper credit check we needed to pay the rent in advance before we were given the keys.  We toddled off to the local bank and there found out that they would not wire money from our bank in the US (even though it was the same international bank).  That should have been our first clue that things were not going to work out well in the end.

A month after taking the unit we received in the mail a bill from the council tax folks for the whopping sum of 900 pounds.  This equates to roughly $1200 USD.  This bill is for the taxes on the property and the water bill.  Here in the UK (and Scotland is still a part of the UK) the tenants pay the council tax on a rental.  To get a 900 pound bill for taxes for a place we did not own was just outside the realm of reality so we marched down to the letting agency who said, oops, didn’t we tell you that you had to pay that too?  Needless to say we were not happy and never in a million years would I suggest anyone deal with this agency again.  So this little two bedroom apartment where the rent was 495 pounds is in reality 650 pounds a month, and its way overpriced.  Because this is a socialist government the taxes collected pay for the free bus rides seniors get, medical care for the locals and other benefits, none of which we could use as expats, so why were we required to pay it?

Now to be fair and in answer to why did we rent this place it is the unit on the top floor of a four story building.  There are no common walls between us and any other apartment in the area and the location is terrific as it is in the city center of old Perth.  It is ideal if you want to walk everywhere and have access to shops and buses and even coffee shops.  What was not ideal was that this apartment was now costing us the equivalent of living in the sunnier state of CA in the US and we had no TV, no internet connection and we were paying the utilities.  To say we felt like we had been cheated would be putting it mildly.

We tried to chat with the owner, and you guessed it, once she had our hard earned cash she certainly wasn’t going to let that go.  She said the bank didn’t allow money to flow in reverse and there was nothing she could do.  Really?  I wouldn’t let anyone rent from her either.

What have we learned?  Never give anyone six months rent in cash, ask exhaustive questions about the rental and the costs that go with it and be prepared to leave the country in question if you don’t get the answers you want.  In hind site, and what other kind is there really in this situation, when we were told that we would have to wait a month for a place to live, it would have been better to have left the country in question immediately.  And that is what we will do in the future.  If we get someplace and things are just not as they were told to us or they don’t seem to be lining up correctly we’ll leave.  And it is that easy.  This is a great big world and sooner or later someone will want to rent to an expat and treat them fairly.  We just didn’t find that to be the case in Scotland.

                                                                                                            Florence Lince

Welcome Wagon

Everyone wants their first blog post to be epic and profound and newsworthy.  I’m not sure how many people actually succeed and I have no expectations of grandeur, because after all I’m just like the millions of other folks out there who are traveling and blogging about the stuff they think is worth writing about.

I’m going to write a blog to explain how I view life abroad, actually, life as a woman living abroad.  A woman who is a Baby Boomer and an expat all rolled into one.  Growing up in the US I am used to certain comforts that I mostly took for granted while I lived there; like hot water, a good drinking water supply, screens on windows, toilet paper and hand soap in all the public toilets, trash bins for those that want to use them, restaurants that ban cigarette smoking and so much more. However, if I write something that makes people smile, or makes them angry with rage, or makes them want to vent back and take the time to comment and interact with me, even better, because to me, a blog isn’t just me saying whatever I want to say, it’s about building a relationship with my readers and engaging them in lively conversation.  If I just wanted to write and be silent I would write in a diary that no one would see.

I will also impart information about the locals that I meet on my travels.  I have always found that spending time with the locals of any culture helps me to see the world differently.  We are not so different.  If the leaders of the world were forced to spend time in a kitchen, cooking together, they would soon learn how much we had in common across ethnic boundaries.  Maybe then they would think twice about wars and trying to do harm to others because deep down, where it really counts, we are more alike than they realize.

And still, with all the problems and challenges I have experienced while traveling, and the things I will impart in future posts, I wouldn’t stop traveling and seeing the world for anything.  Sitting and reading about all the beautiful places in the world that someone else has written about doesn’t even compare to actually seeing all of these places for myself.

If I am going to write about all the bad things that happen when one travels why do I keep traveling?  That’s easy, because over that rainbow, at the next bend in the road, past that next bridge or waterfall, lies the world, and everything it has to offer and I want to see it all.  I want to meet its people and share in its beauty.  I want to look back when I’m 100 and know I did my best to leave a mark on this humanity and I want to know that I lived up to my motto; “Don’t make an impact, make a difference.” 

                                                                                                                       Florence Lince