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A Look Back

 Reflections of 2013

I love this time of year.  I have always written a ‘Year in Review’ letter to family and friends highlighting the crazy things I have been up too and stuffed that letter inside a Christmas card.  With the advent of so many social media channels I find that I really don’t have to recap my year because everyone has come along for the ride.

However, this is my first year with a blog and sometimes I want to tell my story in more than 140 characters or have more connection than just filling an album with pictures.  There are stories behind the pictures that just need to be told, and memories that I want to expound on beyond a tweet.

This was quite a year.  As 2012 ended we had thought we would be in Panama for at least two years but things changed quickly and we realized that our time in Panama was at an end.  It was while we were leaving that I came up with an inkling of an idea and we turned our lives into The 6 Monthers; a concept where we would stay 6 months in every country we wanted to live in.  Six months allows us to really get to know the locals and to explore more of the country on a completely different basis than just being on a two-week vacation.  So our adventure began.  I started out looking for countries where we could live for 6 months on our regular visas and while there are some, not all the countries we want to live in allow it.  Those that don’t we will deal with them on a case by case basis.  I also began in 2013 to work on obtaining dual citizenship for Italy which we hope will help with our request to stay someplace longer than 3 months.

Where we thought we would live for two years turned out to be no more than 6 months but it gave me an idea...

Where we thought we would live for two years turned out to be no more than 6 months but it gave me an idea… © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Leaving Panama we looked north and decided on giving Mexico a try.  Other than stopping in various Mexican cities during cruises I had never spent any real time in Mexico.  Arranging our time in Mexico was easier than I expected and we found the ideal location to begin 2013 in Cuernavaca.  Mexico was a nice surprise and nothing like what the news media would have us believe.  We never heard a gun shot and we never felt unsafe.  We met nice people and we ate wonderful food.  We visited amazing places and loved every second of our time there.  Yes Mexico has its challenges but there is nothing about Mexico that should stop someone from exploring this beautiful country.

See more about Teotiuachan by clicking here

See more about Teotihuacan by clicking here. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

We returned to the US for a short period to exchange clothing and to clean out the last few boxes of items we had left in my parents’ garage.  We then packed for our move to Scotland.  Hindsight they say is sometimes best and sadly living in Scotland was not the dream that I was hoping it was going to be.

Being ever alert to prospects for new adventures, and wanting to build our 6 Monthers brand, earlier in 2013 I had connected via LinkedIn with the manager of Dhar Media in Zagreb, Croatia.  They were looking for journalists interested in exploring Croatia and filming a web series called Discover Croatia.  Filming was scheduled for the month of September.  September couldn’t come fast enough and while our 24 day filming schedule was grueling our time in Croatia was fun and filled with great contacts and new friends.

I know this was supposed to be serious business but I was having so much fun!  Our visit to Zelingrad Castle happened during the filming of Discover Croatia. Loved it!

I know this was supposed to be serious business but I was having so much fun! Our visit to Zelingrad Castle happened during the filming of Discover Croatia. Loved it! © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

But we returned to Scotland because we had prepaid our six months rent.  We were however increasingly unhappy in Scotland and wanted to leave.  The people were not friendly or in some instances unkind.  I received more than one look from strangers where I just felt that if anything happened to me on the street no one would help me.  The weather was turning colder and the costs to heat our small apartment that had no TV, no internet and no elevator was getting to be ridiculous.  We talked with our landlady who would not return our money since she said the banks didn’t allow money to flow in reverse but that if we found someone who would take good care of the place we could sublet to them.  And the hunt was on.  I told Mike I was determined to find someone to get us out of Scotland.  He wanted to know where we wanted to go.  I told him Sibenik, Croatia.  He was surprised since I have family in Sicily and they could have arranged a place for us to stay, even on short notice.

Scotland is a beautiful country and there is a lot to see. It was just not the right place for us to live.

Scotland is a beautiful country and there is a lot to see. It was just not the right place for us to live. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Luck was on our side, or fate intervened, and we left Scotland without looking back on October 26th and landed once again in Croatia. Since we had already spent 24 days in the country we were only allowed to stay in the country on our regular visas until early January 2014 but we didn’t mind.  We found a great apartment to rent in Sibenik for 2.2 months and we grabbed it.  We connected with several locals who toured us around and we learned more about this region and this country.  To thank everyone we had met and who treated us so warmly we threw a Holiday / 6th Wedding Anniversary party.   It was a happy event and we are glad that we did it.

From left; Our own Personal Insider - Biljana Lambasa, Tina Vickov, owner of Sibenik Plus Tourist Agency, Mike and Me.  We were in good hands with these two who showed us the Sibenik we called home.  We wouldn't have learned as much without them.

From left; Our own Personal Insider – Biljana Lambasa, Tina Vickov, owner of Sibenik Plus Tourist Agency, Mike and Me. We were in good hands with these two who showed us the Sibenik we called home. We wouldn’t have learned as much without them. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Holidays in other countries are always interesting because so many customs and traditions are different from our own country.  Here in Croatia they celebrate St. Nicholas day (December 15th) and the Epiphany (January 6th) which hold just as much significance as the main event; Christmas.  New Year’s Eve is yet to come but we already know there will be parties to attend and more stories to file away.

Mike and I met St. Nicholas along the waterfront in Sibenik - he tells me I've been a good girl this year

Mike and I met St. Nicholas along the waterfront in Sibenik – he tells me I’ve been a good girl this year. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

So while 2012 ended on a sour note we turned 2013 into a time of new beginnings, new friendships and new memories.  After all, isn’t that what the ball drop on New Year’s Eve represents?  Isn’t this why everyone cheers and sings and toasts the coming year?  New Year’s Eve is a time to say goodbye to the past and to look forward to the future.  New Year’s Eve is a time to make a toast to the coming year’s possibilities and a time to sing to let the world know that you are coming.

Here we come 2014, let’s see what you’ve got…

Florence Lince

http://www.6monthers.com

There’s no place like home…

I just don’t know where that is exactly

I was born in Buffalo, NY.  I escaped when I was 18.  That’s a joke based on years of dealing with harsh winter weather.  Buffalo is a beautiful city with a great history and warm people.  And the food!  I think what makes people laugh is that when they tell me that they are going to Buffalo we recount all the places they need to visit to eat some of the best food in the US.  Yes, they call that Buffalo Proud.

I moved from Buffalo, to Glendale, CA in 1978.  I stayed in CA until 2005.  I had homes and family in Nevada by then so I was going between the two states.  In 2005 I met my husband Mike (on a singles cruise to Alaska) and he was living in Washington State.  In December of 2005 I had sold both of my homes (one in Nevada and one in CA) to be with Mike full time in WA.  We made Olympia our home.  It was a beautiful little city and is actually the capital of WA.  I enjoyed my time in Olympia very much.  They have an awesome farmers market and they host the yearly northwest a cappella competition which Mike and I attended.

In 2007 Mike wanted a career change and we moved to Redmond, Oregon.  It was a nice little town with a very homey and comfortable environment.  We lasted until 2008 when Mike took a better job based in Salem, Oregon.  I really liked Salem.  It has a great university town feel and is again the capital city of the state.  We lived across from the weekly farmers market and the city was central to all things cultural.  What was hardest on me was the white supremacist feelings in the neighborhood and with my clearly ethnic looks I never felt safe unless Mike was around.  I had never lived in an area of the US with such a feeling and while I was angry as hell about this situation it also made me incredibly sad that in this day and age stupidity and bigotry ruled the day.

By 2010 I had had enough of cold weather and we moved to Las Vegas.  Now, you can move to Vegas on two conditions.  One, that you do not like to gamble and two that you like it warm.  Mike and I do not gamble.  In fact in the two years we lived in Vegas Mike never stepped into a casino unless he was going to a buffet to eat.  Not too many people can do that in Vegas.  The second factor, liking it warm, really takes a lot of learning.  It’s not always scorching hot in Vegas, they do get some cool evenings.  It’s just that having it warm outside all the time is exhausting, so you have to learn to adjust.  Mike did a great job of it.  The real problem with Vegas is that making friends is really hard.  The attitudes of people in Vegas are just not geared towards anyone trusting someone else.  They are so used to people scamming them or cheating them that they don’t trust.  When Mike decided in 2011 that he had enough of the working life and wanted to retire I wasn’t all that upset over it and we looked forward to the next adventure.

I guess you can say I’m lucky since I have always enjoyed every place I have lived.  I can find something good about every place.  I just have never felt that I belonged in any of these places long term and no place has ever felt like home to me.  I have always had a bit of the wanderlust that people talk about.  Most people in my family stopped asking me “how are you” ages ago, they learned to ask, “where are you now”.  As Mike and I keep moving from country to country we have met some great new friends and have lived in some wonderful countries, but home?  I’m not sure what that is exactly.  If home is a place where I feel comfortable and happy and have everything I need then I guess every place we’ve been is home to me.  I think I’m lucky in this regard.  It helps me to want to keep traveling and seeing new places.  Maybe some day I’ll be a homey and have roots and one place to call home.  Until then I’ll just make the world my home…

Florence Lince

www.6monthers.com

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

http://www.6monthers.com

Life in Boquete, or that’s not my idea of Paradise

Everyone talks about Boquete, Panama as if it was paradise.  Funny, paradise to me isn’t filled with the problems that life in Panama represents.

Now to be fair we didn’t live high end.  I mean we didn’t live in a 5000 square foot home with all the expat comforts. You know what I mean, things like expensive granite countertops, fancy kitchen appliances, or even a car.  Most locals cannot afford any of those things in Panama and I wasn’t interested in living my life worried about ‘stuff”, I mean that’s why I sold it all in the US, so I didn’t have any ‘stuff’ to worry about.

We lived in a one bedroom cottage with hot water only in our shower and that is because most Panamanians do not have hot water in their homes, that is another N. American luxury.

We only had one incident with a scorpion and it was just a baby but other expats deal with scorpions on a more regular basis.  I think we would have moved sooner if that had been the case for me.

We had no clothes dryer because 95% of the country cannot afford a clothes dryer.  We are not the type of expats who go to a country and look to live the way we did in our own country.  What’s the point of that?  And the cost to do that is the same as staying in our own country.  Why would I spend the same amount to live in a third world country as I could in my own, I might as well have stayed in the US.

Kids can’t ride their bikes on the streets because most of the streets are not paved.  Try walking down a street that isn’t paved nor has any sidewalks.  And because of the bugs most kids cannot play on the grass or on their front lawns.  Some of my happiest memories as a child are from when we were able to play in the front yard; I cannot imagine not being able to do that.

We lived without water at times because in Panama water is rain water and when the water stops, or when the water flowing through the ditch stops, you have no water.  We had one situation where for a month we had water and then we didn’t, it would trickle in from time to time.  Seems that the pipe had gotten clogged with mud and it took them a month to figure out how to get the pipe unclogged. We left before it could happen again.

You cannot bring jewelry or anything of value with you to Panama.  The national income average is still less than $600 a month.  Think about that a second.  The average Panamanian family is trying to feed themselves, cloth themselves and take care of their bills on less than $600 a month.  Can you do that?  We tried.  Our rent was $300 a month and food was around $300 a month.  We never went out and we shopped like locals.  It’s not easy living like that.  We were able to save a lot of money but as a woman after a while it wears on you having to cook and clean and chase bugs all the time, and then there was not having any hot water.  Nothing bothered me more than not having an endless supply of hot water.  I wasn’t raised like this so I know there is a better way to live.  It’s called being in the US where we have screens on our windows not bars; were we have hot water tanks; were we have water that we can rely on; good roads that won’t gauge tires; yards where children can play, and more.

The scenery in Boquete is beautiful.  In fact Panama is a beautiful country and I think everyone should see it and explore what it has to offer.  But paradise, I don’t think so.  And like I have said countless times, if this was paradise, why are there always homes for sale?

                                                                                                            Florence Lince

www.6monthers.com

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