Keep Your Eye on the Baltics

July 11th - July 24th. Three countries in 14 days! That isn't how the Senior Nomads usually experience countries and their capital cities - but we were rolling towards the finish line and couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit this fascinating part of Eastern Europe.

Our destination sits above Poland and across the water from Finland. The Baltic States are made up of three countries: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. We wanted to visit these three countries to learn how they survived a Russian occupation before WW II, a brutal German occupation during WW II and another terrorizing Russian occupation from 1945 until they all gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

It was incredible to see the transformation from occupation and oppression to active membership in the European Union and NATO. The countries may be small (their combined population of 6 million + is about the same as Washington) but they are very proud of their heritage and are now fiercely independent. And they love to sing!
This poster visually sums up the power of song and the part  it played in Baltic Independence
I won't go too deep into the politics, but if you have a chance Google "The Singing Revolution" you'll  learn how in part, these countries sang their way to freedom. In August of 1989, approximately two million citizens formed a human chain stretching 600 kilometers starting in Tallinn, snaking through Latvia and ending  in Lithuania. This amazing effort brought the world's attention to their plight as occupied nations. In 1991, after continual (and mostly peaceful) protests, all three countries gained Independence. 

Join us on our journey:

Tallinn, Estonia: This was a grand city featuring a postcard perfect UNESCO Heritage Site old town. It was a merry mix of medieval towers, ramparts, stone walls and narrow alleys, teetering houses and towering churches. But just outside the stone walls there were stark reminders of Soviet occupation. Depressing Communist block apartment buildings and severe gray government offices surrounded imposing squares where massive statues of Soviet leaders once stood (more on that later).

Our view of the lovely old town of Riga.
My new strategy for short stays - if it's on a postcard it's worth a visit!
It was a decent bowl of soup - and there was a 20 minute wait to prove it.
Our apartment was huge! We often stay in places under 400 square feet - so this 700 sq. ft beauty was palatial in comparison. It even had a sauna - an unexpected treat. Here's the link:
I found President Clinton in a souvenir shop  presented as a Matryoshka doll. He is in good company! And yes, that is Ms. Lewinsky peeking out of his jacket. I opened him up and found Monica, another lady friend and finally a very small but angry Hillary. I didn't dare open Stalin or Putin!
In our quest to keep costs down, we were always on the lookout for free entertainment - and we scored in Tallinn. We were looking forward to being in Riga, Latvia for the 2014 The World Choir Games during our next stop. As it turned out, two groups, The Linn-Benton Community College Choir (Albany Oregon), and Australia's Gay and Lesbian Choir (Sydney), were both giving free performances as they worked their way to the games. 

Riga, Latvia: We enjoyed a scenic four hour bus trip to Riga. The apartment we chose to call home was very nice. It was small, but since it was owned by an art-director and architect couple it was well designed and decorated with a lovely view towards the city.Here's the link:
This was our street - we had a bad feeling about this one!
The apartment building itself was in total disrepair. If we hadn’t already braved some fairly sketchy entryways during our travels, we might have turned right around at the sight of this one! But once you got past the five flights of stairs, a faint waft of urine, the peeling paint and broken windows – hey, it was fine. At this point in the "new order" people can now own their apartments. So often times terrible buildings have lovely homes inside, but there are no funds to renovate the exteriors and common areas.That should right itself in the future. 

Michael at the front door of the building. I will spare you the stairwell.
A stunning Art Nouveau building down the street just waiting for some love.
We were near a tram and bus line so getting in to town was easy. We took a walking tour with an interesting Australian guide who fell in love with Riga twenty years ago as a younger "bloke" and stayed on. His was a good perspective since he wasn’t personally mired in the occupation era. 
Another lovely old town was just a short tram ride away and a church the Soviets turned into a torture museum!
As we continued to learn more about the history of these countries we found it hard to imagine what life was like under such oppressive occupations. We visited the KGB museum in an apartment building that was first the Gestapo’s headquarters and then became home to the KGB when the Soviets arrived. We also took a guided tour of the Occupation Museum. Heavy stuff.
We had some great meals during this last leg. The buildings may be falling down,
but the restaurant scene was on the rise!
On a lighter note – attending several concerts during The 2014 World Choir Games was one of the major highlights of our trip. We could attend free concerts from morning to night as hundreds of choirs competed in over a dozen categories. We had no idea there were over a dozen types of choral music. The games were attended by 460 choirs from 74 countries with a total of 24,000 singers! We even caught the Linn-Benton College Choir again. 

There were choir performances of every size from 74 countries!
Riga is home to one of the largest indoor markets in all of Europe. Every imaginable food stuff is on offer in five restored Zeppelin hangers – each one with a different speciality; Diary, Meat and Poultry, Fish, Produce and a Clothing and Housewares pavilion where you could really feel the Russian influence. There was another half-acre of outdoor stalls with seasonal offerings. I was in heaven for almost an entire afternoon. 

Just one of five massive market halls.
The outdoor stalls were overflowing with seasonal produce.
There were stalls and stalls of clothes just like this! Hard to pass up this leopard number!
Vilnius, Lithuania: Back on the bus for another four hour journey. The train system throughout the Baltic’s hasn’t caught up with the need so bus travel is the most popular transportation choice. We weren't sure what to expect when we booked these two bus trips. Peasants? Crates of chickens? But it turned out the buses were cool. This time we were on a LUX Bus.There was plenty of leg-room, free Wifi, an entertainment system, free espresso drinks and a WC! 
This was our bus to Vilnius. Front row seats, movies, Wifi and free espresso!
Lithuanian Litas. One of only 5 currencies in addition to the Euro we used on our trip.
Our host Alius met us at the station and drove us to his flat. I have to say it was one of my favorites of the entire journey, so I am glad it was our last. It was also in a building that had seen better days, but repairs and renovations were underway so it didn’t feel quite as hopeless as our Riga dwelling. Here's the link:

Our apartment was the one with the first balcony.
The view down the street - a lovely bride and groom heading to church during a brief shower.
Once again, the owners work in creative fields. Alius is a film production manager and his wife Alana is an interior designer and together they have created a great space for their airbnb guests. Lots of interesting antiques, tons of books, a lovely balcony and an awesome kitchen. We were steps away from the center of Old Town and smart shopping streets.
Again, the scars of German and Soviet occupation were still visible – but there was a vibrancy to this city that was authentic. Tallinn was a bit touristic and Riga was still covered in Soviet dust, but it felt to us that Vilnius was truly breaking free from the past. Oddly, it is the last of the three to switch it’s currency to the euro. That happens in January and the feeling is it will be smooth sailing. 
There was a lot of construction in Vilnius and most of it was renovation work. I was glad to see new cobblestones being installed instead of paving over them with asphalt.
Of course we took the walking tour and continued our education. Of the three countries, Lithuania lost the most Jews during to the holocaust during World War II. From a thriving population of 70,000 that filled almost half of the city, only 4,000 Jews remain in the entire country. 

On our last day we took a two hour bus trip out of Vilnius to Grutis Park - also known as Stalin World. This private park houses a huge collection of imposing statues and memorabilia from the Soviet era. All three countries had huge monuments dedicated to the glory of the regime and the communist ideal, and each disposed of them after independence in there own way. In Lithuania, a millionaire mushroom magnate was granted permission to purchase statues and other memorabilia destined for the scrap heap. The idea was controversial, but in the end a successful, if not unusual venue was created. It was surreal to wander woodland paths and pass 20 foot statues of Lenin, Stalin Marx and many other USSR "heroes" reposing in the woods instead of staring down on the proletariat in city squares. It was a great end to our adventure - and now we have an enlightened perspective on the Lenin statue in Fremont!
Just another day in the park with comrade Lenin.
Who knows what Stalin has in his hands! 
A tapestry no home should be without!
I know it looks like I stole the Lenin tapistry - but I was wrapped in a scarf and a towel trying to stay dry at our forsaken bus stop!
The people we’ve met in these countries have been so friendly and are very willing to talk about politics past and present. Michael enjoyed some very lengthy and interesting conversations that have truly satisfied his eagerness to learn more about life here. 
Here's Michael teaching a new Russian friend about the "Selfie". In the background is another example of a statue moved to a remote military cemetery outside of Riga.
We've been home for a week enjoying friends family and sunshine. Amazing as it sounds, we are not sure what's next. We liked being Senior Nomads so much that we rented our house through June 2015 so we will continue to be homeless in Seattle (by choice) for another year. We attended an event in Europe we are considering starting in the Pacific Northwest - while on the other hand, we have talked about getting back our on the road for places unknown.

We are here for the next couple of weeks then heading to Canada until the end of the month. We'll be back in Seattle for most of September but after that, we may feel the itch to catch a flight to somewhere. More blogs to come on how it all came to be! Thanks for joining us!

I am happy to be in a QFC. But I don't want to let go of my regional, seasonal, don't buy more than you need sensibilities. Not easy in this land of plenty.
 Happy Summer everyone!

Debbie and Michael Campbell
Senior Nomads 2014


Finland - The Land of the Umlaut

July 4th - July 11th. Since Michael and I play a lot of Scrabble I often wonder what the tile make up might be in the various countries we've visited. In Finland it is the rare word that doesn't have  duplicate letters and a healthy sprinkle of umlauts. Google tells me the word with the most umlauts is: kääntääjää (Finnish for translator). So you must get extra tiles with ä, ö and ü along with more j and h tiles or there would be no Bingo for you! More on the hard working umlaut can be found here:

I wouldn't mind some "hardcore" punctuation in our daily correspondence.
As we wind down our year of Senior Nomadic adventures we've picked up the pace with shorter stays in  more cities. We flew from Oslo to spend a week in Helsinki, Finland. As expected, the Oslo airport was not only beautiful, functional and people friendly - we had the smoothest security clearance of the whole trip. When you were done you were asked to take a "smiley" button survey to rate your experience. Take a tip TSA - happy people beget happy people.

There are many places I would like to take this simple one-touch survey .
Riitta, our Helsinki host picked us up at the airport. Always much appreciated - however Riitta's car had a manual transmission and she seemed to know very little about how it operates. It made for a wild and crazy ride especially for Michael sitting in the front seat. It was all he could do not to have her pull over and let him drive! Fortunately we arrived safely and found the apartment to be one of the more interesting of our apartments so far. Here's the link:
The snow boot scraper, a standard fixture in every entryway wasn't necessary in July.
This interactive sculpture was just around the corner. You could sing into the pipes or tap them to make hundreds of different sounds.
Around the corner the other way from our house - a sunny beach side promenade
You may have seen that airbnb recently changed their logo and updated their interactive experience. We are big, big fans of airbnb as you know. After staying in 29 different apartments in 12 months  (with three more to go) we have only positive things to say about this amazing peer-to-peer community. Without airbnb this trip would not have been possible from a cost standpoint. But that aside, staying in peoples homes all over Europe made this a cultural experience that would not have been so impactful any other way. Here's a link to Thomas Friedman's column about airbnb in lastSunday's International New York Times: Give it a try next time you are on the road!

There wasn't a television in our flat, and normally that wouldn't disappoint us, but we had become World Cup addicts and now we weren't sure how to get our fix. Michael did some quick research on pubs that were showing the match so we headed into the city. It was the Germany v France quarter final and it brought out the many German fans living in Helsinki so every bar was full. Even a venue called The Sports Academy that can accommodate 1,000 people on two floors was standing room only! That's where we squeezed in and it was fun, but my fellow France fans and I were very much lost in the crowd.
Watching the World Cup match with 1,000 of our closest friends!
Our host had an LCD projector set up to watch movies from the Internet on a white wall so we were able to stream the other matches from the local television station website and create our own Sports Pub. That was a good thing since some of the matches went until 2:00 am our time.
Michael setting up the LCD so we could watch the World Cup at home.
Not shown - beer, peanuts and a Backgammon game in progress.
Our Helsinki apartment was in a great location. We were minutes from large open parks, the beach side home of the famous Regatta Cafe (where they pay YOU five cents when you refill your coffee) and we were close to the tram line that beelined to the center of the city.

The delightful Regatta Cafe. Great pastries and coffee and a fire pit for roasting your own sausages.
The free walking tour took us all around the city, which is very walkable indeed. The Russian influence became more apparent in its influence on history, culture, architecture and lifestyle as we went along. Hanna was our guide and she was adorable in her fuzzy reindeer hat and I 'heart' Finland t-shirt. She was very proud of her country and as enthusiastic as any of the young guides we've had.

Our tour guide Hanna pointing out the entire bay behind her freezes solid in winter and you can safely walk on it!
I spent a great day at Helsinki's huge market. During the summer there are dozens of produce stalls outside the year-round market hall. I continued to shop mostly with my eyes, since we can't pack anything else, and we are on short hops now, so buying ingredients for cooking is also limited. I made up for it with a steaming bowl of market-fresh Bouillabaisse for lunch. It was brimming with shrimp, mussels and a Finnish twist of smoked salmon. Delicious!

We've been eating just picked berries for weeks!
From the fish monger to my bowl of Bouillabaisse - it doesn't get any fresher!
The indoor Market Hall in Helsinki
I found a natural food and drug store in the market similar to PCC. In keeping with the "If we can't eat or drink it don't buy it" mantra, I decided dying my hair sort of fell into that category since there wasn't anything left over after the fact. So I dyed my ever longer head of curls Strawberry Blonde. The dye was made from all natural ingredients including coffee, chamomile, ground roots, essences of things I cannot pronounce and a dash of Henna. How bad could it be? I mixed the large packet of powder with boiling water until I had a murky swamp green goo that smelled like a bag of pre-mixed salad gone very bad. And I actually smeared this on my head. The results were not bad - but I would say the color is more satsuma blonde than strawberry. I am counting on it fading before I get home, as well as it being trimmed away when I finally get to Coupe Rokei for a much needed cut. I've only had three haircuts in a year!

There was great vintage shopping in Helsinki - I hoped to find some affordable Marimekko but no such luck.
If fur grew on sustainable trees instead of adorable animals I would wear it head to toe!
We celebrated Senior Nomad Day 365 while in Helsinki! We found a little waterside bistro and started with a champagne toast - but when the glasses arrived and contained a scant 1/4 cup of bubbly for $10 and nothing but expensive and uninteresting choices on the menu, we made our excuses and dashed away to find something more affordable and enjoyable. We ended up at a Sushi Bar - Michael's first ever!

On our last day we took a two mile walk to Seurasaari Island. It was a perfect summer day and a lovely journey. The island has an "living" museum made of collection of salvaged wooden houses, a farm, a windmill and a church with volunteers in period costume showing what life was like in rural Finland during the late 19th century. There was also a nude beach that was tastefully fenced off for privacy. For just 3 euro you could experience the national affinity for the naturist lifestyle. Tempting ... but not today. We found a bench in the sun with a view to the sea and settled in for some reading time and a picnic.

Houses nestled on the nearby coastal islands.

One of the old restored houses on Seurasaari Island.
A peek at the past instead of the nudists.
The next morning we were off to take a Ferry to Tallinn, Estonia. Being one not to waste food, Michael took it for the team and had the leftover spaghetti and an ice cream bar for breakfast on our way out the door!

We are so excited about our last two weeks. We will be in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania learning more about their recent history and The Signing Revolution! We'll see you there.

The Viking Line ferry from Helsinki was our first travel by sea.

Debbie and Michael,
Senior Nomads 

It Pays to be Norwegian

June 27th - July 4th. We learned why Norwegians were such friendly, relaxed, happy people. In a country where working is almost a "lifestyle" choice,  everything they could worry about is taken care of.  The average citizen enjoys free health care, childcare and education. Women recieve forty-six weeks of paid maternity leave, and even being old has its benefits. All this is covered by Norway's benevolent government and funded by taxes of course, but mostly from oil revenue. So really, the hardest decision a Norwegian might make is how to spend their six weeks of paid vacation. 

Here is a excerpt from a recent Rueters article - the source is Norges Bank:

The country started a "wealth fund" in 1990 from the proceeds of their oil royalties. The fund now owns 1% of all the stocks, bonds and real estate around the globe. If you take the total value of the fund in 2014, which is 5.11 trillion Krone and divide it by the 5 million citizens of Norway, then every man, woman and child is a theoretical millionaire.

Norwegians on the way to the bank.
Oslo could be one of our favorite cities of the trip. It was clean, it was beautiful, it was prosperous. It was expensive! We had read that prices in Oslo would be higher than Paris or even London and it was true. Especially the cost of food and drink - the two things we purchase most. It didn't help that the Norwegian Krone is one of those currencies with lots of zeros so there were large price tags that we needed to convert into 'dollar-think' so when I spent an eye-popping 200 kr for a few groceries - it was really only about $33. Still not cheap for coffee, milk, cereal, OJ and two bananas.

They make it difficult to buy alcohol here so that saves a bit of money. When you do buy it you just have to close your eyes and not think about paying $20. for a $6. bottle of wine or 5 bucks for a can of beer. The rules are: No sales on Sunday, no wine in grocery stores - you need a special store for that and hard liquor. Not many of those to be found and they close at 5:00 on weekdays and 3:00 on Saturday. Beer can be purchased at the grocery store between 10:00 and 8:00 on weekdays, and until 6:00 on Saturday. The moral here: drink in moderation and plan ahead!

A typical Nomad dinner with a dash of NBC Nighly news.
Our apartment was small but comfortable and the deck was welcome since it was warm for Oslo. The best part was the location - very close to the city center, but in a quiet complex of mixed income housing. There were several parks and fountains and two grocery stores with the confines of the complex. And the center of the city was just a fifteen minute walk away.

Here's the link:

We were prudent and found several inexpensive concerts and of course took the free walking tour. Our favorite find was an afternoon concert series at the stunning opera house - so good we went twice. Not only is the building stunning - the music was really great. Opera arias on one day and a very entertaining male A Cappella quartet the next day who had some some with Barbershop.

The stunning Opera House dips into the North Sea.
Taking advantage of the short Scandinavian Summer
We also spent a day at Vigelandsparken. This 112 acre park was designed by Norwegian artist Gustav Vigeland and contains 225 of his unbelievable statues throughout the grounds. The work covers a span from 1919 to 1944. The pictures won't do these incredible figures credit. The multiple bronze figures were outstanding, but the massive granite people were so expressive and emotive of moments in real life that it was easy to imagine them slowly waking up after midnight, having a good stretch and then lumbering around chatting with each other until it was time to take up their positions again at dawn.
A busy Norwegian Stay at Home Dad
Honestly, we didn't do it!
123 figures are striving for the top in this centerpeice.
"I just realize I am naked. Wait - all the statues are naked!"
Only Vigeland could capture what it's really like to be a mother.
As I said, the city was pristine. The streets were spotless, no scribbled graffiti tags (more on that later), and not a homeless person in sight. Every thing was so well groomed it felt like the city had a good nights sleep and a daily mani-pedi. The public spaces were well thought out, with human comfort always top of mind. There were parks of all sizes filled with flower beds, shade trees, benches, public art and imaginative play areas with climbing toys and splash ponds for kids. The trams and underground trains were on-time, and spotless. The crime rate is very low here and we didn't see a single homeless person. Even the few gypsies we saw seemed content.

If you do want to earn money in Oslo - you have options.
On day two of our week in Oslo we joined in celebrating the culmination of EuroPride Week by watching the grand parade! We found a great vantage point and enjoyed watching thousands of happy, colorful, flag-waving, people dance and prance along the parade route ending at a  large outdoor festival on the waterfront.

A glimpse  at the merry marchers in the EuroPride Parade.
Happiness, rainbows, butterflies and glitter. Lots of glitter.
Our walking tour turned out to have a street art focus so it was less about the history and highlights of the city and more about the many murals and smaller portraits and icons found mostly in the hip (and hippie) Grunerlokka district. While the art is technically illegal, the city turns a blind eye to most of it, and if fact has sponsored some of the larger murals. The tour ended near a market hall filled with a dozen restaurants and food vendors where we had a great (expensive) lunch. Fish and chips, Mussels and Frites, and two glasses of wine - $50.

Several styles of street art on one corner.
Me surrounded by cats, of course!
Street art naturally makes you hungry for street food!
During the tour we did pass Youngstorget Square where in 2011 Anders Breivik set off a bomb in front of a government building as a distraction while he was an hour away shooting down young people attending a political party summer camp on the island of Utoya. 77 people died that day. It's difficult to imagine such a tragedy taking place in what otherwise feels like utopia.

Another piece of public art we found fascinating was layed out in front of the City Planning building. The piece is called Grass Roots Square and was created by Korean artist Do Ho Suh. At first glance it looked like the paving stones were interspersed with squares of grass, but on closer look, the "grass" was actually made up of hundreds of tiny bronze figures. There are 500 different types of people created in different sizes for a total of 40,000 figures.

Grass Roots Square. At first we thought this was grass.
With a closer look we could see the squares were filled with people!
I could have looked at this all day. Absolutely amazing in it's scope.
Contemporary architecture mixed with old-world grandeur gave the city a vibrant skyline, while lush forests and the brisk North Sea hugged the edges. We hopped on a tram line that took us straight up into the hills behind the city to the Holmenkollen ski-jump site where we could look down on the city. The ski-jump was massive, and a little eerie looking without snow. This beautiful, half hour journey is a hoh-hum daily commute for many residents who live along the way - we should all be so fortunate. The lodge-like Holmenkollen hotel and the views from its grounds made for a great (affordable) day out.

These buildings are fondly referred to as The Barcodes.
The Ski jump from a safe distance.
The grand Holmenkollen Hotel.
The view from the top of the hill towards the fjord and the city center.
We watched the USA v Belgium match at the Boheman Sports Pub late that night. The match started at 11:00 pm here and it was still light out when we walked to the pub. We were sorry to see the USA go home - but what an interesting match to watch, if only for Tim Howard's superhuman efforts at goal.

This shot was taken shortly before Midnight!
We attended church in the Lutheran cathedral. It was elegant yet austere - kind of like Lutherans. Very Nordic and the priest was a young women who wore black skinny jeans and Tom's under her robes. Loved it. Norway's Prime Minister is a woman, as well. Good job Norway.

The Cathedral ceiling.
Michael took some time to tour the Parliament building
Our take-away was having the stork drop you down a Norwegian chimney would be a very, very good piece of luck. But remember, this is a city where you need "Summer Down", and that chilled our enthusiasm a bit. Plus very long, dark winter days could be depressing. Here's a fun blog I found about the pros and cons of moving to Norway:

A hint about the weather here.

Happy Fourth of July America! We love you, too.

Debbie and Michael
Senior Nomads

Men in Plaid

June 20th - June 27th. After two weeks in Ireland we flew to Edinburgh, Scotland - home of clan Campbell. My Day family heritage is equal measures Irish, Scottish, English and Welsh so I was with my people, but we are really faux Campbells. Michael's mother was fortunate to marry William Campbell after Michael's father passed away when he was very young.  However Michael's wonderful stepfather passed on some very important Scottish values to his young Danish and Portuguese son that have been the foundation for our our own family values.

We flew to Scotland on Ryanair. An airline to be avoided if you ask me. We were at the mercy of some very convoluted luggage requirements that forced us to buy an extra carry-on bag to avoid excessive checked bag fees by complying with their generous carry-on weight allowance. I guess a tick in the plus column was having the chance to do a little Spring cleaning of our belongings. We still brought most everything except my favorite condiments like good olive oil and mustard.

Ryanair also lands at the airport furthest from Edinburgh. Like an hour-and-a-half-city bus ride  further. But one thing we often have is time so no stress on our end. We spent $6.00 for the journey into town (one of the top ten bargains of the trip) and settled in on the top level of a double-decker bus and had a birds eye view all the way.
The view from our front row seats on the bus from the airport.
A sign sighted from the bus offers deep fried Haggis balls. I need to research before I take up that offer. 
We were dropped right across the street from our apartment where we were met by the host's parents. They were very jolly, and very proud of their son Dario with his lovely flat and his 'fab' job. However, it soon became apparent that he needed a wife, and his mother is bound and determined to find him one. She even asked me if I knew any lovely American girls that might be willing to move to Edinburgh. He is handsome -so let me know.

Here's a link to his flat:

A van parked outside our door - they'd better be more than good at what they do!
The pub where prisoners could have a last pint before they met their maker.
It truly was a great apartment.  We found a well equipped kitchen with a little breakfast nook - and the best flat screen TV yet! We were all set for watching the rest of the World Cup matches - made even better with BBC's world-class coverage. It's a good thing we were within walking distance of the city centre because with three matches a day we had to pop out to see the city when we could or duck into sports pub (poor us) to catch a score. It was fun to keep track of the results because of  our family pool - but it turns out I have really came to enjoy the game! Who knew?

My first and only World Cup bet £10 on the USA
Our free walking tour took us throughout the city centre including parts of the Royal Mile, the castle and some sites that inspired J.K. Rowling as she wrote Harry Potter in a upstairs coffee shop. Her perch overlooked a foreboding cemetery and a coal blackened, gargoyle covered building that was once a home for orphans but became the public school her children attended.

Our walking tour group. What a great city to explore through history.
The grave site of Voldemort where Harry Potter fans leave letters daily.
Never pass a Mr. Whippy truck without stopping. It's the best soft ice cream on the planet.
Classic Mr. Whippy - dense vanilla ice cream stuck with Cadbury chocolate stick.
Edinburgh is a manly city even though the men wear skirts. Muscular soot-covered buildings loomed everywhere and statues of great men sat (usually on horseback) in most every square. There were secret doorways, narrow alleyways, and hidden gardens. There were large churches with massive spires and an imposing castle carved into the stone hillside overlooking the city.

Back to men in kilts. I love the look - and it is very, very manly (and sexy) when you see it worn properly with all the right accessories. We are not talking Utilikilts with Sub-Pop T-shirts here.

No doubt an ancestor resplendent in the family tartan
Along the Royal Mile - with the Queen's Summer home, Hollyrood Palace, at one end and the castle at the other, beautiful gardens shops of every kind flanked the sides. I am fond of Marks & Spencer, especially the food hall, so I was happy to find a huge one in the heart of the city. Since we really only buy things that can be consumed, food and beverage browsing is my retail therapy.

I did try haggis - and it was good, but it smelled like a barnyard!
Michael spent an afternoon at the Scottish Lawn Tennis Club where years ago he organized a pre-Wimbledon tournament to allow some of ProServ's best players, including Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Conners and John McEnroe to get some practice on grass between The French Open and Wimbledon. He met with the current director who knew of the event and gave Michael a lovely coffee table book commemorating 100 years of Scottish tennis that included a section on The Bank of Scotland Grass Court Championships held between 1987 - 89. Mr. Campbell was 'chuffed' as they say here.

Michael worked with some of the best, and nicest players while at ProServ.
Staying in the sports mode we took a day trip to St. Andrew's to revisit the golf course where the British Open is played every five years. For the first time we traveled with a tour company by mini bus. It was just right for this outing. There were 16 passengers on board along with an engaging guide who took us through a seaside village and a fishing port on the way, and stopped in a quaint village for a stretch on the way back. We had three hours in St. Andrew's and that was plenty of time to watch lucky amateurs (make that wealthy amateurs) have a go at the Old Course.  Also tme for a pub lunch, a wander along the seawall, a stroll through the college campus and some time at the Abbey ruins. It turns out we were there on graduation day - so there were many St. Andrews graduates decked in robes and garters being photographed by proud family throughout the village. St. Andrew's is where Kate and William met and I could have bought the commemorative plate to prove it, but just like the tennis book, it wouldn't have made the weight cut.

The rich kids putting-out to finish their round at St. Andrews.
Michael enjoyed revisiting this magnificent course
There's always time for lunch!
A peek into the grave yard at St.Andrew's Abbey
The week went by quickly and soon we were off to Oslo, Norway! As we head to the finish line of our year as Senior Nomads, our travels are looking more like a grand finale -  bursts of short colorful stays in several cities including Oslo and Helsinki followed by stops in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Then home to Seattle through London on July 24th!

Nomads on the move!
The Queen Anne house is rented through the end of December, so our nomadic life will continue ... so the blog may never end! Look for more posts, more often over the coming weeks.

Debbie and Michael Campbell
Senior Nomads

Everybody's a Wee Bit Irish

June 6th - June 20th. After a tearful goodbye to Mary in Paris, our next leg took us to Ireland. As we started our decent into Dublin we could see that most every part of this country truly was emerald green.
The must have look for the Irish Lass under 30. I've never seen so much long, twisted and twirled hair in my life!
We were in Ireland for two weeks so that we could watch the group stages of the World Cup with English commentary. We have become committed fans due to a family pool called The Grandpa Cup that Michael put together. We divided the family into eight teams and each team received four randomly selected countries to follow from the group stage to the finals. The last team standing and the runner-up get the honor of making a donation to a favorite charity from our Seattle Foundation Grandpa Fund. It has been great fun so far - and a good geography lesson for the youngest team, Spencer and Lucy.

Spencer takes the World Cup seriously!
Opening match of the World Cup at O'Neill's Sports Pub in Dublin
Meanwhile we found our way to our apartment in the center of Dublin's Temple Bar neighborhood.  Perhaps we should have paid more attention to the word "Bar" when we made the reservation. We met our host Alan who owned the building and runs an old-fashioned barbershop on the ground floor that even offered hot towel shaves! We knew we landed a gem as far as accommodations go - lots of light, a big deck, fast Internet and a serviceable kitchen with a well stocked fridge. Temple Bar, centre of Dublin City What we didn't know was that starting around 4:00 in the afternoon and not ending until the wee hours of the morning, we would experience the equivalent of camping on Bourbon Street. On St. Patrick's Day!

 Our landlord Alan giving Michael a trim
Seriously, we could have tossed beads off the deck to all the wandering, often stumbling tourists, students, boisterous stag and hen parties, and other characters drifting from pubs and whiskey bars and off into alleyways. We were also in the cross hairs between two of the most popular live music venues and buskers on each corner. Since we were only there for a week, we made the best of it - and wisely decided against the old "if you can't fight 'em, join 'em" adage.

The pub just below us was full from open to close
We found our Dublin neighborhood a much calmer place in the light of day! There was an intriguing used book market outside our door and a nearby farmer's market. And lots of galleries and second-hand stores. Most days were sunny, and we were told many times over that we were experiencing unusually nice weather. We took our standard (and always enjoyable) free walking tour and got a well informed overview of the city and it's history. The number one reason Americans come to Ireland is to trace family history! In 2012, the Irish tourism board invited the world to The Year of The Gathering - a "come to Ireland and we will help you find your people" sort of thing. Dozens of pop-up genealogy resource centers were staffed with experts and banks of computers. Apparently it was a success.

Walking along the cliffs above Bray in a bracing breeze
A day trip to Bray was a breath of fresh air. We took an hour long train ride that hugs the coast to this popular seaside resort town and took in the cool sea breezes, lunched on hot tea and toasted cheese sandwiches, and took a long walk on the cliffs overlooking the sea.

Another day out took us to Belfast. We booked a Black Cab Tour - basically two hours spent in a cab with a knowledgeable driver who takes you to see the murals and the peace wall and some of the sites where "The Troubles" took place. It was eye-opening and very interesting. On July 12th the city will be bracing for potential new outbreaks of violence during the Orange Walk.

A stop across from the Mural wall controlled by the Sinn Fein party. The dozen or so hand-painted messages
are constantly changing.
On July 12th  huge bonfires made of wooden pallets and tires are lit in Protestant parts of town to celebrate William of Orange's conquest over James the II in 1690. It is an aggressive act by the Protestants disguised as a celebration.This photo shows a pyre ready to be lit draped with the Irish flag and a statue of the Virgin Mary on top.
Part of the 22 mile long wall that divides Belfast's Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods
One of the many murals in the Shankill neighborhood - a rough Protestant area.
Signing  the Peace wall
For our second week in Ireland, we traded city life for a tranquil stay in the countryside at a farmhouse in Wexford. - We drove two hours south from Dublin along the picturesque southeast coastline.  Here's a look at our new digs: Traditional Irish Farmhouse. For only the second time in a year of travel we rented a car... so why not challenge ourselves with the steering wheel on the right side - and driving on the left? Left. Left. Stay left. Good thing we had all that practice when we lived in London. Mr. Campbell did an excellent job and we arrived at the front gates safe and sound.

Welcome to Hillbrook Farmhouse!
Hillbrook Farmhouse was the perfect antidote to life in Temple Bar. Within minutes of arrival our matronly neighbor and farm caretaker, Mrs. Mary Doyle, brought us a welcoming platter of freshly baked scones and all the neighborhood news.

Famous Wexford Strawberries for breakfast in our courtyard.
The farm was in a gentrified part of the country. Lovely homes and farms rolled away on all sides. The village of Wexford was a short drive away and offered every amenity... so we weren't in the middle of nowhere, but it felt that way once we were up the drive and tucked in.

Our nosy neighbor Victor looking for carrots.
A picture perfect church just down the lane was designed by the same architect that created Big Ben. The interior was sedate, but really stunning in its detail. The Sunday Mass was short and sweet and afterward we wandered in the cemetery. That afternoon we took a long walk on the nearby Three Rocks trail to a quarry that has been turned into a lake. I was in charge of directions so we took a more 'scenic' route due to some directional dyslexia. But we had the time and it was a crystal clear afternoon.
The view of the Quarry and the valley below was worth the trek.
Michael was able to attend two new sporting events! Gaelic Football and Hurling. Both are played by amatuers and are the two most popular sports in Ireland - even topping soccer. He enjoyed both outings very much. He has been writing great recounts of his sporting adventures to our sons and a few friends. When we get back we'll put them all in blog form so you can read his stories first hand. His opportunities to attend sports events in most every country have been a big part of the trip.

After a Hurling match it is tradition for the fans to run onto the field.
Mr. Campbell was also able to dust off his jacket and attend Rotary in Wexford. Not only was it enjoyable, but he made some new friends - a couple of whom lived near the farmhouse and invited us over to their homes. The first stop was dinner at Heike and Tom's house. Theirs was a large rose colored ranch house set back from the road and surrounded by manicured lawns and abundant gardens. We were joined by two other couples and sat in the shade for a barbecue and thoroughly enjoyed the company!

Next stop was a coffee at fireman Ray's house. He and wife Michelle and two wee bairns live in a 'house-in-progress - set on a rambling lot overlooking the Wexford valley. The reason for our visit was to learn about their nomad travels through South America where they spent a year, ten years ago. They took a more backpacks and "whatever bus looked good on the day" approach. As Senior Nomads, if we decided to give that part of the world a try, we would do it a bit differently... but it was good to hear about their adventures and learn more about traveling there.

A traditional house along the narrow roads near our farmhouse
We had some lovely days driving through rolling hills and on coastal roads. So much of Ireland is rural and often times the main roads squeeze down to a single lane barely wide enough for two cars. Just around any corner we were likely to find herds of sheep, a crumbling castle, a convoy of tractors, or a thatched roof pub. I felt like we were in a travel brochure much of the time!

As we near the end of our travels we could use a pot of gold right about now!
Rested and refreshed and with a new fondness for porridge in the morning we headed to the airport for our next stop. A week in Edinburgh. See you there!

Debbie and Michael
Senior Nomads