Pet and house sitting in the United States

When we are home from Europe during the winter we sometimes pet and house sit domestically. ( If you want to know more about how to pet and house sit please look at this blog post;
https://seniorgapyear.wordpress.com/2016/02/07/house-and-pet-sitting-on-the-road/ ).

This last January we pet sat in Santa Cruz for a wonderful cat named, Baxter.  He warmed up right away and spent a lot of time sitting next to us purring when he did not command a good spot on our bed, grin.  We also met his humans, Susan and Rick and enjoyed having dinner and getting to know them.

sunset santa cruz pier net
redwoods
deer_edited-1

Santa Cruz is a beautiful beach town in Northern California and we had a great time there.  Here is a photo of the sunset from the pier where we are dinner. There are many redwood forests in the mountains that are very close so we took 3 drives up to see them.Here is a deer that we saw from the road out of the Big Basin Redwood national park. The highlight for me was the trip down to Monterey to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Taking photographs there was thrilling.

moon jellyfish 5 net
moon jellyfish dancing
moon jelly one net
sea anemone yellow net
shark eating larger net
Shark being hand fed by diver
windsurfer net
windsurfer air 2

One of the most spectacular sites was at the beach watching the kite surfers.  It is amazing how high they fly above the ocean.It was a wonderful pet sit and it was good to be able to go somewhere different in our home state of California.

We tacked on a visit to relatives in Sacramento on our way home.  I love pet sitting.

Price shock in Switzerland … and a tale of two ATMs

You may remember our amazement at the prices of nearly everything in Copenhagen … the Burger King lunch for two for $21 stands out in my mind. We knew Switzerland would be expensive, and that’s why a week’s pet-sit was such a good opportunity.

The 3-km cab ride from the station to Sixt car rental was a quick introduction, as it cost $37 — $8 to start, $5/km, $1.33/minute, and $5 extra to bring our 3 suitcases, even though the driver was older than me and I had to load them into his cab myself.

Food in the grocery store is about 2 – 3 times US prices for most things.  Cereal is $7 a box, ground beef is $10 a pound, a croissant that might be €1 in Paris or Rome is 1.70 here. A lemon was $0.70. Frozen vegetables are all about $6.50 for 800g, about 28 ounces. Although a liter of milk is 1.60, if you add chocolate and sugar and air and make a liter of ice cream that weighs 500g, it’s 10.60 (on sale last week for only 7.40!). This is Carte d’Or, who make a dark chocolate that is Linda’s favorite. But still! Gas is 1.70 a liter ($6.43 a gallon), not quite the highest we’ve seen in Europe. The shocking thing was transportation — we’re 19km from Zurich and a 1-way tram ride is 10.60; an all-day ticket twice that at 21.80. Even in London, where we stayed about the same distance from the center, transit was capped at £8.00 — about $10.40 per day, so about half the Zurich rate.

The Swiss Franc is just about on par with the dollar now, costing about $1.01 from an ATM. Everyone seems OK with these prices, so I looked up Swiss salaries and discovered that the median is about $72,000. There’s less range … a lot of professional types (IT, etc) make around $110,000, but even grocery clerks clear $50,000. There isn’t a formal minimum wage, but effectively it’s about $25/hour, and everyone gets healthcare.

All this would make sense to me if a Swiss Franc cost US $0.50, but as it is, it makes Switzerland and Swiss products really expensive, and must make traveling worldwide a great deal for the Swiss! The roads are great, the trains are spotless, and the cows look happy. They actually wear those bells you see in drawings.

Anyway, yesterday we were in Zurich, and as those francs had been flying out of my wallet, I went to get some more.  At the Paradeplatz, the center of shopping Zurich, there’s an immense Credit Suisse bank.  In front, there are two ATMs, and as someone was using the one on the left, I approached the one on the right.  It informed me it only dispensed 100- and 500-franc notes, and if I wanted smaller, I should use the other ATM. Well, harumph! The money is really pretty, though:

Image result for swiss banknotes

and the 5-franc coin is huge, as it should be.

Saturday, we’ll return the Mercedes A180 that Sixt gave us “because we’re out of everything else,”  and take trains back to Milan and then to Civitavecchia, and our rendezvous with Celebrity Reflection on Monday.  We’re feeling a little better.

How to store luggage in England cheap

So there we were in England in the middle of a five-month visit. With the addition of the fan and a new suitcase to wheel it (and a few art supplies) around in, we now had four suitcases and two backpacks. European airlines all charge a lot for checked baggage. We were going to Helsinki on Norwegian Airlines, and they wanted £40 each. Each way!

There is a left-luggage facility at Gatwick, the airport we were flying from. They wanted £37.50 per bag for a 4.5 day period. Better than 80 each, but still too much. Our previous host in Ealing said we could leave them there, but that would require collecting them (train, underground, and Uber or (gasp) driving in London) later.

Europe is not big on self-storage places like the US is, but the UK is an exception. The biggest chain is Safestore, and they have a facility in Three Bridges, which is the next train stop south of Gatwick, and the location is just a six-minute walk from the station.

safestore

They rent for as little as a week. We went down there before going to Ealing, and the manager on duty set us up with a locker big enough for about four suitcases (about 4x4x4), but with a start date for the day before our departure, and finishing a week later. All for a little over £12, plus a lock from amazon.co.uk …

Sunday, the day before our flight, we arrived one minute before closing (they do have access during closed hours, but it’s more complicated) and deposited the two big bags and one of the little ones. We had intended to walk over from the station, but it was raining, and Uber responded in less than two minutes. The driver took us to Safestore, waited while we left the bags off, and returned us to the station, all for the Uber minimum of £5. We returned to the airport, had dinner, and snuggled in for the evening.

The following Saturday, after returning from Finland, we rented a car, drove to Three Bridges, collected our bags, closed the locker, and had lunch at The Snooty Fox across from the railway station before proceeding on to Epsom.

One thing I want to mention is that we take care not to stress ourselves when changing locations. Pushing all that luggage is a challenge sometimes, depending on weather and pavement, so we stay at an airport hotel before and after flights where it makes sense. Gatwick also has good rail connections, as do most UK airports, and there is a Courtyard by Marriott there, which is within walking distance if you only have one bag each. Otherwise there’s a shuttle. So we found a good rate for the Sunday night before our outbound flight Monday, and stayed on points on the Friday we returned. There’s even a McDonald’s within walking distance of the hotel. The whole setup is highly recommended.

Brighton Beach, a beach resort city

Due to camera malfunctions there are not any photos from our trips into London from our Forest Hill pet sit.  We did take the train and the underground into London to visit the British Library, the British Museum and Westminster Abbey.  Just a couple of observations about these visits.  It is July in London and in the middle of the hottest summer they have ever had.  This means that the museums are hot and full of tourists. It does not make for a contemplative visit.  I did get a chance to see the new Diamond Jubilee gallery above the floor of Westminster Abbey that opened for the first time in 700 years this last June.  It was not crowded and they did an excellent job displaying historical wooden effigies of kings and queens plus a beautiful copy of the crown jewels that were made for coronation rehearsals.  This was the best 5 pounds that I have ever spent in London (you do have to pay the 20 pound entrance fee first).

Because it has been so hot and there has not been any rain, almost all the grass in the parks is brown.  The heat is supposed to stay through the rest of the summer.  Due to this fact, we decided to go to Brighton Beach for our 3 day break between sits.  I am so glad we did.  It is glorious here.  It’s about 10 degrees cooler than inland and the beautiful blue sea is right outside our window. The camera problem has been solved.Brighton beachWe went for a walk out on the Brighton Beach Palace Pier in the early evening.Brighton Palace PierIt is a wonderful pier that juts out into the ocean with lots of arcade games, fish and chip stands, ice cream and donut shops and an amusement park on the end.carousel horsesWe ate fish and chips on the pier and then I tried my luck in the arcade.  I put one pound into a Wheel of Fortune machine, pulled on the lever and won 350 tickets.  It was so funny to see the tickets keep pouring out of the machine.

It was a lovely sunset. Brighton pier sunsetToday we walked around Brighton and it was still pretty hot.  The sea gulls were taking baths in the fountains to stay cool.seea gulls bathing 3sea gull bathing 2 copyI was tempted to join them for a splash.

Our RV relocation experience; what you need to know

We met a lot of very nice people, particularly in connection with our flat tire the first morning, which happened to be a Saturday.
After our first night on the road we woke to this flat tire.  RV flat tireRVs nowadays don’t have spare tires, which came as a surprise to the RV service support line you’re supposed to call if you have a problem. Practically, this matters a lot, as service trucks are equipped to change tires, not repair them. As it happened in our case, we were only two miles from town, so the driver took off the tire, took it to his shop and repaired it, and brought it back in under two hours. If we’d been a hundred miles farther west in the middle of South Dakota, this would have been a very long delay.  Between the late start and having to deal with the flat tire we lost one day of our time to drive to Las Vegas.
The screw we found in the tire was identical to a couple we found loose in the RV. Just sayin’ it could have been “supplied” in the pickup lot of the factory.
When I booked this adventure, and again when we picked up the RV, I asked if roadside assistance was included, and was told that it was. So I didn’t extend our AAA coverage to include RVs. Turns out, “it’s included” means “we arrange it, but you pay for it.”
Apollo ( the rental company that purchased the RVs and for whom we were locating them) has a great business model for preventing giving you a credit. They collect $1000 as a deposit, not just a hold but an actual charge, and refund it at the end. So you have to pay for the tire repair, and there is no way they’re gonna give you any credit for that, or the loss of the extra day you bought. In fact, their logic about the latter was “Well, you got 10 days for $1 each and 2 days for $145 each. That’s $25 a day average, I can give you that…”
We picked up the RV on a Friday. Although we arrived at 11am, there were dozens of parties also picking up their RVs and we didn’t get done until about 4pm. The briefing was … brief. The water tank had never been filled or tested. You know, the one they say to sanitize and flush before use. The sewer hose was stuck in the carrier, and without fittings. The holding tank valves hadn’t been closed, so when we tested the drains, water ran out. But the A/C and heater worked, the slides didn’t get stuck, and 90% of the cabinet and drawer hardware was correctly installed and stayed shut.  Sometimes going around corners the fridge door would suddenly open and the contents would crash to the floor.
The RV was a Winnebago Outlook 27D, which uses a Ford E450 base and got about 7.5 mpg overall. Driving it varied from very smooth, on a good road with no wind and under 60mph,  to a highly stressful experience when all those conditions were reversed and you’re being passed by a semi at 80mph, in which case it feels like you’re driving a 27-foot sail.  There are a lot of roads in the midwest with 80mph speed limits. I never felt safe much above 72, so there were lots of times when those semis were charging past.  Plus if you have 3 people as we did, the third person is seat belted behind the table.  The seat is very uncomfortable for an adult as you are tossed around a lot and cannot see out the front window.
Wal-Mart is everywhere, and a great resource to RVers, because they sell EVERYTHING in one place (except, oddly, alcohol in Wyoming, for which you have to go next door), there’s always easy parking for huge vehicles, and the price is right.
Here’s our summary opinion of the RV experience: it was nice for a national park experience when you’re planning to spend a few days, and the alternatives are tenting or $350 lodge rooms.  Wow, at $14.08 a night, the senior rate in Yellowstone is unbeatable, even without any hookups. But driving it is kind of a pain, so it’s not so great for the road-trip experience, where you have to move 300 miles a day. We could also see that this mode would be stressful during summer, when RV parks fill up. Even in mid-May, it isn’t “the season” yet in Yellowstone, and places weren’t too hard to find along the way.

A cross-country relocation RV trip

We have always wanted to take an RV ( recreational vehicle) to see if we would like to purchase one.  An opportunity came up to relocate a new RV from Iowa to Las Vegas for $1 a day plus gas in 10 days, sounded like a dream come true.  We took this trip from May 4 to May 16.   We include my sister Sandi in this trip. We flew into Minneapolis and drove to Forest City, Iowa to pick up the RV.  RV photo I will not talk about the particulars of how the trip went as David has promised to deliver one of his data packed posts to fill you in on the details and the actual costs of the trip.  What I will say is that we had a great time in the places that we stayed, but there was way too much driving for me inspite of the fact that we purchased 2 extra days at $150 per day to extend the time.

The first place we stopped at was Mount Rushmore.  It was quite inspiring.  None of us had been there before and we enjoyed the spectacular mountain carvings.mt rushmore heads 5x7We then drove to Yellowstone National Park.  This was my favorite part of the trip.  The park was still snowy in places and the animals had just had babies.  The hot springs and geysers were stunningly beautiful.  Here are some photographs.

Yellowstone bisson and baby 5x7 net

Moma buffalo and baby Red dog

 

_DSC0923

Dave on right checking into Madison Campground

 

hot pool Yellowstone 5x7 net

Yellowstone hot pool

_DSC0943

Sandi and David

yellowstone snow hill bw 5x7 net

 

old faithful yellowstone 1 5x7

Old Faithful

We spent 3 days here and it was wonderful.

We then moved South through Jackson Hole.  It was so cold and rainy there we only stayed overnight and then headed south to Bryce Canyon.

Jenny lake Tetons 5x7

Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons

Bryce was sunny and warm.  It is hard to capture the magnificence of the rock formations in photographs, but I tried.

Bryce canyon bowl 5x7 net

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon tree 5x7 net

Linda Sandi Bryce canyon 5x7

Linda & Sandi on the Bryce Canyon Lodge porch

We drove to Las Vegas the next day , spent the night and returned the RV in the morning.  Rented a car and drove home.  I was so happy to sleep in my king size bed with my honey that night.

Doing some Pet sitting in California

We took care of two sweet kitties last month for a week near La Jolla, California. Here is a photo of Eddie. _DSC0597 It was a nice break from the house and the routine.  The sea lions, seals and cormorants were all having babies in La Jolla this February.  We drove down to see them.  Here are some sea lions who are lying on the rocks in the sun.  sea lions la jolla Feb 2018 netsea lion nursing feb 2018And here is a mom still nursing her pup.

Here is a photograph of a cormorant sitting on her just hatched babies.  I love seeing new born  animals in a natural environment. bandt cormornds nest feb 2018 netThis is an interesting adjunct to pet sitting in Europe.  There are people in the USA who want pet sitters too.  We have another pet sit lined up for Portland next month for 6 days with 2 sweet kitties.

I am lining up our summer pet sitting schedule and it is almost finished.  We have two people that we sat for last summer who we will sit for again.  Plus 4 other new people to meet and some new pets to love.  We will go on the Baltic cruise then pet sit until the beginning of Oct.  It should be another fun summer.

Amsterdam a city of flowers and canals

We finished our cruise in Amsterdam and had 3 days to visit this interesting city in Holland.  The first day we went on an hour cruise of the canals.linda david Amsterdam canal cruise netAmsterdam lovers cruise net Then we went on a tour that took us to see working wind mills, a working cheese factory and a working wooden shoe manufacturer.  Amsterdam windmills netAmsterdam cheese factory net  Here is an old pair of wooden shoes made into ice skates; Amsterdam wooden shoe ice skates net  I almost forgot to add this photo of the wonderful young woman who served us a warm cherry waffle. Amsterdam waffle server net  Needless to say, it was gone very quickly.

The next day we went to the Keukenhof Tulip and flower gardens.  Every year they plant over 7 million flower bulbs and make this place into a wonderland of color and fragrance.  keukenhof landscape 5x7 netkeukenhof pink tulip 5x7 netkeukenhof 3 white tulip 5x7 netKeukenhof orange tulips net  I could have stayed taking photographs for hours; it was heaven.

The last day in Amsterdam was cold and overcast so we went indoors to see Our Lord in the Attic church.  My dear friend Alison recommended that we go see this stunning church that was built in the attics of 3 side by side houses.  Catholics could practice their faith in Amsterdam in the 18th and 19th centuries but they had to do it in a concealed church.  They were tolerated if their place of worship was not seen by people on the street.  This was true of any faith other than the official state church of Holland.

This lovely petite church was an amazing revelation when you entered this house Our lord in the attic house net  Up stairs in the attics you find this beautiful church;Our lord in the Attic church net  It was a fun and whirlwind tour of Amsterdam that we enjoyed very much.

We flew to Cork, Ireland that night and then drove up to Lisdoonvarna on the West coast of Ireland to start our 10 day pet and house sit in this lovely village.   More on that topic to follow in the next blog entry.

Sintra is a lovely city in Portugal

We landed in Lisbon two days ago, our first landfall after 8 days on the sea crossing the Atlantic Ocean.   Lisbon city 5x7 netOur crossing has been very pleasant, mostly sunny but not warm days with only a little rocking.

We had been in Lisbon for 3 days about 3 years ago so we decided to take the train to Sintra.   We decided to get there ourselves with 3 other couples from the ship.celebrity group 5x7 net We took the Metro to the train station (€1.45 cost) and then the train to Sintra (€3.80 round trip with senior discount) then walked to the 343  bus to go up to the Pena Palace (€5.50 for the loop). Lisbon metro 5x7 copy When we got there we purchased a ticket to the palace and another ticket for the tram up the steep hill to the entrance (€31 total). Pena Palace 5x7 net This journey took 2.5 hours.

Sintra was the summer home for the Portuguese royal family.  This is were the Pena Palace is located on the top of hill overlooking the town.  Pena palace 1 netThe palace was a renovation of the old monastery that was on the top of the hill.   King consort Ferdinand II decided to build it for a summer palace for the royal family.  It was completed in 1854.  In 1889 it was purchased by the state and turned into a museum. It is a very ornate design called Romanesque Revival.  As you can see from the photographs there were many arches and tiled walls.Pena Palace clock tower 5x7 net

Pena Palace David lunch net

The always-popular ham and cheese sandwich lunch.

David and I brought our lunch to save time.

We left Lisbon as the sun was setting over the long suspension 25 of April bridge.  25th of April bridge 5x7 net  We left to sail to Le Havre France.

Life in Glasgow’s Tenement House

We spent six days in Glasgow after our two-week pet sit in Edinburgh (I still miss Jodi the dog).    One of the places we visited there left a big impression on us.  It was the Tenement House.  This was a upper working class tenement home of one Miss Toward and her mother Mrs. Toward.  They lived in this one bedroom flat from the early 20th century until 1965.  Here is her  story from the exhibit.glasgow tenement house ms toward smallglasgow miss toward bio small It was being able to see how a single working woman survived in the 20th century that was so affecting.  She rented her apartment, like most people in the city.  She was very thrifty and saved whatever money she could.  Here is a layout of the apartment she and her mom lived in glasgow Miss Toward's tenement floor plan smallShe and her mom slept in the double bed recess in the kitchen and rented out the bedroom to a boarder to save money.  The kitchen would have been the warmest place in the house to sleep in those cold Scottish winters.  The docent told us that the bathroom was very luxurious in 1911 because it had an indoor toilet and hot and cold running water.  There was a shared wash house in the back of the building in which everyone had a day to use to do their washing.

Here is a photo of a photo of her kitchen ( I was not allowed to use a flash and it was not bright enough for a photo from my camera) glasgow tenement  house kitchen smallThat is a coal heated stove and oven. Above the the oven she had a drying rack that pulled down to hang clothes and up to dry them. Miss Toward did not want to pay for electricity to be put in for her landlord’s benefit, so she made do with gas lights and no refrigerator.  She did break down and converted to electric lights in 1960, but the stove was still working so no replacement was needed.  She left the flat exactly the way it is now when in 1965 she went into the hospital.  Not having a refrigerator was not as hard as it seems.  The door in the  upper right hand of the photo opened into a cold larder.  A shelf room that had holes drilled into the walls that kept everything as cold as outside, which in Scotland is pretty cold.

There was even a bit of elegance in this hard working woman’s life.  It was the parlor. glasgow tenement house table smallThis room was only used for company.  Here is the table as it would have been set for tea.  In this room there is also a stand up piano that both Mrs. and Miss Toward used to play.  No electricity meant no radio and no TV .

Remember she worked long hours being a typist including Saturday  (they eventually got a half day off on Saturday).  There were no grocery stores, you had to purchase food almost every day from separate stores (groceries, produce, meat, etc.) and prepare it from scratch.  It must have been an exhausting life, but she and her mom kept their standards and  their sense of dignity.

She spent ten years in the hospital before she died in 1975.  Her apartment was rent controlled at around 30 pounds a year and she kept paying for it the entire time she was in the hospital ( I supposed hoping someday to get to return home).

After her death the house was left in her will to the church which intended to sell it to raise funds. It was only on inspection of the flat somebody noticed its potential as it had remained completely unchanged from the olden days and decided to preserve it.  That lady purchased it and lived in it for 9 years before selling it intact to the National Trust for Scotland.  They reinstalled gas lights and made it as close as possible to the way that Miss Toward lived there. (##budget travel tip:  If you have an English National Trust card you can get into any of the National Trust of Scotland properties for free).

We both found this testament to a thrifty hard working woman to be uplifting and beautiful.