When we left Seattle in the Summer of 2013 to become Senior Nomads we'd rented our house (which we sold two years later) and divested ourselves of almost all of our possessions. One of the hardest things to let go of was our much-beloved sailboat Butterscotch. Over the years, I have said many times, I miss our boat more than having a home.
Last March while we were still in Australia, we charted a course for our next three months of travel through Asia and we also decided by the time summer came we wanted to be back in Europe. Taking my comments about missing our boat to heart, Michael starting searching Airbnb for boats in Europe. You may not know that’s an option - but just like tree houses and Airstreams, you can filter for the type of home you are looking for. In most cases, you cannot take the boat out of the Marina - and that was fine with us. We just wanted to sit back and watch the world float by.
We were surprised to find literally thousands of boats to choose from, and many of those were close to our budget. We didn’t have a specific destination in mind, so it was really the boat, not the place driving the decision.
The Chief Travel Planner was as happy as can be as searching the high seas for just the right floating home. He went from Sicily to Sardinia, and Croatia to Corsica, daydreaming about this boat over that boat, one marina over another, and how we would get there, wherever "there" might be. I was happy to wait for the list of finalists to help decide where we would "live aboard" for the summer.
The winners were Skradin, Croatia; Valencia, Spain; and Menton, in the south of France. We booked them well ahead of time and looked forward to a total of six weeks of chill time in three very different settings.
The most affordable flight we found to Europe was an eight-hour trip on Aeroflot from Tokyo to Vienna with a 3-hour layover in Moscow. I’m still a little nervous about flying Aeroflot - but it was smack in the middle of the World Cup so I figured Russia would be on top of plane maintenance to avoid any bad publicity. Of course, we made it, and enjoyed all the WC hoopla at the airport.
After a wonderful week of R&R in Austria’s capital - in an Airbnb that has just made it on to our Top Ten, we took a spectacular daylong train trip through the Alps to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. We are often asked out of all the countries we’ve visited, do we have a favorite? And the answer is almost always Croatia. Italy is a close second, but we fell in love with Croatia from the day we first discovered it in 2014. This would be our 4th visit.
We spent the night in Zagreb and then took another scenic journey, this time by bus to Skradin. The winding roads in Croatia make for an interesting ride. One minute you are high in the hills with craggy stone walls on either side of the narrow road, and then you turn the corner and plunge toward the sea - only to wind back upwards again. After six hours we could finally spot the red terra-cotta roofs of Skradin and the sparking Adriatic Sea.
Our hosts met us at the dusty little side-of the road bus stop and we were off to our first Airbnb boat! Yans and Anna were delightful and she spoke English well enough to make sure we knew what was available in town as well as how things worked on the good ship Hiram. She was built the same year Mr. Campbell was born, so that makes her 73. She looked good for her age, but there were a few wrinkles.
We are used to small spaces and living on a boat, so we were comfortable with our living quarters. The drawbacks were the propane was off limits so there was no hot water and only an electric plate for cooking, and not being able to use the toilet or the shower. We weren’t aware of that when we booked it, but it was alright because the marina was beautiful and modern and the immaculate bathrooms with excellent showers were just a two-minute walk up the dock.
Skradin itself is very charming. It is the gateway to Krka National Park with its trails and spectacular waterfalls, so there is a lot of tourist traffic, but most of the busloads of visitors and day trippers go directly to the dock to catch one the many ferries to the park. The town itself stays relatively quiet, and during our two weeks there we became friendly with the vendors at the markets and the restaurants. In fact, this lovely village was a favorite of Bill Gates and his family when they recently spent a vacation in Croatia.
We also took a daily swim at the small beach near town, and we spent a day at the park. The boat ride up the estuary is beautiful and the leafy trails crisscrossing the waterfalls matched the effusive text in the tourist information. Our main goal was to ease back into a more leisurely pace of life after our intense travel in Asia. Most of our days were spent basking in the sun in the cozy marina. On one of those lazy afternoons a journalist from Croatia's largest morning paper was doing some interviews with boaters and asked us a few questions. Before long he was busily taking notes on our lifestyle over coffee and had a photographer stop by in the afternoon. Two weeks later a two-page story appeared in the paper!
However, the highlight of our stay in Croatia was joining the locals at the local bar for four Croatian World Cup matches including the finals! I’m not sure heaven could look much better to Michael than that.
From Croatia, we took a side trip to the Italian island of Sardinia to meet our daughter Mary and her family for a week. This little rendezvous required 22 hours of travel to get there. You can read about in a previous blog called 22 Hours: 2 Cars, 2 Buses, 2 Trains, 1 Plane, 1 Boat and, 2 Bad Paninis.
From Sardinia, we headed to Valencia for two weeks on Airbnb boat number 2. We were happy to revisit Spain, and we had not been to Valencia before, so we were looking forward to exploring a new city. Our journey began with a 12-hour ferry voyage from Porto Torres, Sardinia to Barcelona, where we would spend one night in a private room. We arrived at night to a sprawling ferry port and began the search for a taxi only to find they were on strike protesting the pending reinstatement of Uber. We missed the last bus by an hour, so there was nothing to be done other than hauling our bags over a mile into the city. Ah, the traveling life of a Nomad.
The next morning we caught the train to Valencia and pulled into the most beautiful train station I have ever seen - it was out of a movie set in the 1930’s. There was equally stunning Art Nouveau architecture throughout the city. Not to mention some "out there" modern structures as well.
First things first. We needed to get Spanish SIM Cards and provision for the boat because we had read there were no supermarkets near the marina. Once we got to the marina - we realized there wasn’t anything close to the marina. It was a 25 minute bus ride from the city and sat in the shadow of a very busy working port. The marina itself was sort of industrial and the only facilities outside of boat related retail and repair were the bathrooms, a small restaurant, a decent swimming pool that cost 10. Euro per day to use, and a small Yacht Club. It was the opposite experience to Skradin, but the boat was newer and nicer.
Once again, the toilets and shower were off limits, but this time, the walk to the facilities took almost ten minutes, so these things needed to be timed. We took a lot of showers under the cold water from the hose on the deck because it was also very, very hot! There was a beach within walking distance, and once we got the bus figured out, we could walk about twenty minutes to the bus stop and get into the city half an hour later. That same bus took us in the opposite direction to the super popular beach of El Sayor where clothing became optional!
Valencia is a historic treasure trove of a city. We enjoyed a free walking tour, and a free cycling tour, and Michael took an additional half-day cycling trip to the Alburfera wetlands on an Airbnb Experience. I enjoyed the markets and the cafes and my own Airbnb Experience touring the alleyways to see some amazing street art.
On to the South of France to Airbnb boat number 3! But first, we spent two nights in Barcelona. Our Airbnb was in the perfect location for exploring the city, and it was nice to be back after four years. I truly love this city - it wouldn’t be hard to live here, at least for a while.
This city is so rich in history and culture and stoic in its position as the epicenter of Catalonia, that you can't help but fall in love with it. We only had one full evening to enjoy a night out so we booked an Airbnb Experience that included a private tour of the Born district, a delicious Pintxos (tapas on bread) dinner, and an intimate Flamenco performance. It was a best of Barcelona all done under three hours. We also took in the Maritime Museum and the Museum of Barcelona History. That was particularly well done - you took an elevator three stories below street level where you walked on platforms over Roman ruins that lay under the city. As you moved upwards along the winding walkways there were more layers of other discoveries and artifacts found throughout the centuries. Finally, you reached street level again and found yourself in the 15th century in the very room where Christopher Columbus presented his discoveries to Ferdinand and Isabella on March 15, 1493.
On departure day we arrived at the Barcelona Airport over two hours early, and it was a lucky thing we did. It was chaos at check-in for our Vueling flight to Nice. It was the first day of totally automated check-in and the lines were long enough that we thought we might miss our fight. But eventually, we got through the chaos and out the other side.
The bus ride from Nice through the glittering center of Monaco and along the coast lined with beaches and mega yachts just offshore got us really excited about this next location. We had high hopes that we’d saved the best for last - and we were not disappointed. The boat was beautiful, the heads were large and you could use the toilets and showers. There was a large supermarket and several great restaurants a short walk away, and the views back toward the city of Menton were captivating. We even had two nights of spectacular fireworks over the water.
Menton itself is a beautiful, drowsy little city with charm to spare. It is the last stop along the Cote d’ Azure before crossing into Italy just a miles down the road, so there is a lot of Italian influence in Menton, from the food to the villas to the elaborate formal gardens filled with Cyprus and olive trees.
The marina was a mix of beautiful sailboats, boats similar to ours, and a bank of Mega Yachts that took up one side. There was plenty of boat traffic coming and going all day - and we spent one day on the water ourselves on a very enjoyable Airbnb Experience that included sailing along the coast with a stop for a lunch and a swim. I broke up the two-week stay with a trip to St. Remy near Avignon to spend three days with daughter Mary and our 8-year old granddaughter Colette.
We had a fine time at the markets, sampling ice-cream, playing games, and bubbling away in the hot tub at our Airbnb. Colette returned to Menton with me and stayed with us for a few nights on the boat. A few days later, the three of us headed by train to Samois-sur-Seine to reunite with her family.
And that’s where we are now. We’ve been here for almost two weeks in two different Airbnbs. The first is one we’ve stayed in twice before and is just around the corner from the Bouron’s. This second one is made of stone and was built in the 17th century. It sits right on a bucolic stretch of the Seine where barges slowly lumber up and down river carrying freight or holidaymakers. It is just a short walk up the hill to Mary’s house, so once again we are ferrying food and grandchildren back and forth and enjoying every minute.
Fall has arrived and its become sweater weather here in Samois. After almost 9 months of intense heat and sun, we don't mind! We leave for America this Saturday. We’ll stop in Los Angeles to see the Campbell’s and our other adorable grandchildren for a week, and then on to Seattle at least through the first of the year. Then …. who knows?
Thanks for following along,
Debbie and Michael Campbell
The Senior Nomads