It was a dark and stormy night.
No wait, it was a bright and sunny day and Blonde and Brunette were out and about on a dolphin-delight wave runner tour of the Everglades with Captain Ron’s. Brunette had purchased a condo on Marco Island, Florida in the summer of 2012 and this was her first official snow-bird winter. Simultaneous with Brunette’s fun-sucking husband getting onto a flight back to work in Pennsylvania, Blonde was boarding her own flight to come to Florida to spend time, 8 days to be precise, with her sister.
But there was a lot of sun and fun on Marco and only cold and snow in Blonde’s home town of Boston. Eight days turned into something much closer to 3 weeks. Neither sister has ever been good with math.
Finally Blonde realized she had to go home at some point and actually do some of the W O R K stuff that paid the bills, so she returned to Boston. Upon returning she learned that her cat-sitter had not made any other arrangements for a place to live. Blonde could turn her out into the cold (strongly considered option) or once again save the cat sitter from her own poor planning and give her a place to stay temporarily. She caved and suddenly a condo with plenty of room for one crazy cat lady and one elderly cat now had two crazy cat ladies and one elderly cat. Blonde does not share her living quarters with pseudo roommates so was, at best, a begrudging benefactress. Then along came Nemo.
Nemo was not a cute fish played by Ellen DeGeneres but instead a nasty, paralyzing snowstorm that knocked Boston out of commission for several days in February . Days when Blonde’s new “roomie” could not get to work so was in the house FULL TIME with Blonde. Finally Blonde bribed the National Guard to arrange transportation to get the roomie to work in order to prevent a murder-suicide.
Are any among you foolish enough to think it was just a coincidence that a week later Blonde ended up in the emergency room at Massachusetts General Hospital with Tranisent Global Amnesia? This is a somewhat rare condition that is generally caused by vigorous physical activity. The first time the activity was named “Mark”, the second time it was named “Barre Fitness Level 2″.
Brunette operated as the Command Center from Florida making sure her kooky sister’s friends were getting her to the hospital where, once again, every neurology intern would ask her questions, nothing would be done to alleviate the problem and a $25,000 emergency room bill would result.
After about 8 hours of being daft Blonde was allowed to get in a cab by herself and go home at 11:00 at night in another snowstorm. This after doctors been studying her total lack of memory for 8 hours. Must have been the first step in Obama getting ready to kill everyone’s elderly relatives with his “healthcare”. Last time we trust a Kenyan.
Blonde needed to get discharged from the hospital as she’d won a contest for a stay at the Canyon Ranch property in Lenox, Massachusetts and needed to drive there, in the leftover snowfall, two days after getting an adequate portion of her memory back.
After paying a street-roaming man with a shovel $40 to dig her car out of the snow, Blonde drove around the corner, pulled up in front of her house and got a flat tire. Bad enough but a massive garbage truck trying to pass on a narrow street increased everyone’s adrenaline levels.
Blonde’s can of “Fix a Flat” was flatter than the tire and the garbage man said he’d get fired if he changed a tire. Back off walking down the street to find another would-be-shoveler to change the tire and then get that trip on the road.
The visit to Canyon Ranch was lovely (because Blonde brought her own wine to the teetotaling property) and Blonde had a wonderful time getting a massage, facial, highlights and everything her prize allowed her to purchase. Maybe she also did a healthy thing or two.
March really needed to be better than February had been and it was! The wandering sisters were off to Dubai and Thailand, two countries that struck us as being geographically reasonable to combine. Wrong again!
Dubai was fascinating. It’s such a city of newness and excess that it almost makes the Kardashian’s seem like tasteful old money. Almost; not really.
The Burj Kalifa is the world’s tallest office building, another is the world’s tallest hotel, one has the most slant, one has the fastest this or that and you soon realize this is a crowd that would stare blankly at you if you said “Good things come in small packages”. But it was easy to get caught up in the visual extremes, the newness, cleanliness and safety. It was even semi-easy to avoid the restrictions on alcohol.
Before we went to Dubai Brunette had bossily admonished Blonde that she better behave well or she could end up in jail. Once we got there Brunette was the one taking prohibited pictures of Muslim women and almost preventing us from getting into the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi by flaunting her puny wrist bones. Once again Blonde had been the victim of Brunette’s malicious and unfair hair color profiling.
We were only willing (not exactly the right word) to cover our lust-inducing female forms and hair in this manner because the mosque was so spectacular. It seems safe to say that we could have run twerking through the place and people still would have only looked at the mosque, but we didn’t put that theory to the test. (It’s so hard to pack those gigantic foam fingers.) Also we had already noticed that guards in the UAE don’t seem prone to getting the giggles and enjoying pranks.
After a long, hot, and fascinating, day in Abu Dhabi, we went to the home of a family Blonde had arranged a home exchange with for most of July and part of August. They lived in Dubai but were exchanging their homes in Calella de Palafrugell on the Costa Brava in Spain and their home in Madrid. These two properties were being exchanged for Blonde’s condo in Boston to Brunette’s utter amazement. Under the flimsy pretext of giving them the key to Blonde’s condo we were really going to check out how expats lived in Dubai. As you can see below, they lived very nicely indeed.
We left the strict moral codes of the UAE and headed off to the hedonistic island of Phuket in the Andaman Sea. We were spending quite a few of our coveted Starwood points on a stay at the Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort. The resort was well out of the craziness, noise and smells of the town of Phuket and that suited us well. It also had a resident elephant, Valentine, whose 5 star hotel accommodations might have raised the ire of PETA, but we enjoyed her!
Thailand, with its natural beauty, ancient traditions, mellow Buddhism, cuisine, crafts and poverty was a stark contrast to the architectural beauty, newness, restrictive culture, undefined cuisine and wealth of Dubai. In Dubai the fear of behavior police kept us slightly nervous. In Thailand some behavior police (particularly to deal with the huge influx of huge, loud, smoking rude Russians) would have been very welcome.
After an all-too-quick trip we returned to our respective homes. Blonde needed to do some more of that W O R K stuff and Brunette remembered that she’s a teacher (and a begrudging wife) when she isn’t a traveler.
It was early April and Blonde decided that she wasn’t going to endure another Boston winter and that she should sell her condo. The Boston real estate market was hot and it could be the only time she’d ever profited from a real estate investment. She could then live mortgage-free somewhere else, maybe Marco Island, maybe not. Her realtor came over and pronounced that she needed to put the place on the market ASAP, not in September, as had been her semi-plan. Although the place was already promised for the summer home exchange she was assured that buyers wouldn’t object to a September settlement. Greed kicked in and Blonde went crazy turning her place from this:
In the midst of hectic home improvement Blonde was in her den the day of the Boston Marathon and suddenly heard seemingly every siren in the city. She looked out the window and dazed and frightened looking people were flooding into her neighborhood. It was about 4 blocks from the Marathon finish line where two cowardly, hated-filled, morons had set off bombs. Blonde could only offer a toilet, water, cab fare and general directions to the confused and disoriented runners and friends and families who had come to enjoy the event. Everyone wanted to help and all of it was appreciated, even when it wasn’t needed.
The city went into shock. It also went into high gear and tracked down the two bastards. It was an incredibly bizarre time and left everyone unsettled, mourning and angry. There was also pride in how we all stood together to help the victims and survivors and track down and trap the criminals. (Bummer, only one of the brothers was killed.)
Two violent, screwed up brothers both harmed Boston and made it stronger. The real Boston is beautiful, safe and full of proud history. Boston Strong became over-used as a slogan but at the time it was enough to make any one of us tear up (and probably donate some more money).
About a month later, in May, Blonde officially put her place on the market, sold it on the fourth day and then celebrated a birthday that has caused at least one of her friends to get a facelift.
June arrived and with it a notification that Blonde had won a trip to Iceland! Excitement and confusion, kind of like losing your virginity, ensued. Excitement because Iceland had long been a destination Blonde wanted to visit and one that Brunette always said she’d only visit if she won a free trip. Well now she, by sisterly proxy, had won a free trip but realized that her Wal-Mart quality lungs and enthusiasm for catching pneumonia were really not up for a trip to Iceland and all of the outdoor activities it included.
So Blonde reached out to a fellow travel blogger, Nola of NewTakeTravel and home exchanger extraordinaire, and asked if she would like to go. Oh yes, she would like to go and go she did! It was painful trying to organize the trip because the sponsor seemed to be surprised that after people won they would want to go. It had to be taken by the end of August and Blonde and Brunette were going to be spending July and about half of August in Spain. So June it was!
Nola is a horrifyingly organized and sensible Canadian (at least she redeems herself by having a streak of bright pink hair) and she and Blonde did some quick planning and were soon in Iceland.
Our ten days in Iceland included massive stupidity on our part (file under rental car keys category), lots of good food, very friendly and attractive people (many of whom fervently believe in elves) and some of the most unique and stunning scenery you probably can’t imagine.
We were also there at the time of year when it’s light 24 hours a day. That has its pluses as you can sure get a lot of sightseeing in and its minuses when you repeatedly decide you want dinner at 10:30 at night and everything’s been long closed.
We covered a lot of ground in our old rental car from SadCars, the sponsors of the contest. Nola personally admired every single sheep or lamb in the country (Hint: There are a hell of a lot of the wooly buggers) and we used the word “amazing” more than any Valley Girl on a sitcom.
We had been given 6 different sporty activities as part of the prize and made the most of all of them. None of them involved looking even remotely attractive.
To our mutual surprise a glacier hike was one of our favorite activities. This assessment was in no way influenced by the handsome, sweet, elf-believing guide we walked alongside like two hormonal teenagers.
After some debate as to the touristy aspect of going to The Blue Lagoon and the high price tag…. we went to The Blue Lagoon. There are other lagoons that are at least as beautiful, less crowded and even free right along some of the highways so save your money and enjoy laughing at us wasting some of ours.
The wonderful trip to Iceland ended at least a couple days earlier than we would have liked but Blonde had to get home to get ready to go to Spain for 6 weeks.
Back to Boston and after declaring that she would rent for a year wherever she moved after Boston, Blonde flew to Marco Island and back in the same day, looked at two condos and bought one.
Now, back to getting ready for Spain!
Blonde and Brunette have spent about 9 weeks in Spain in the last 15 months and we “specialize” in Catalonia. This year we arrived in Barcelona and spent 3 days there before heading to the seaside. One of the most beautiful and enjoyable things we did this time was to go to the performances of the “Magic Fountains” a couple nights in a row. To our surprise/horror/amusement Harley World Europe was also being held on the grounds by the fountains and made for some odd juxtapositions.
The fountains were built for an exposition in 1929 and operate primarily from 30 April to 30 September (with a show on Christmas and Easter too). They are colored water in dancing patterns accompanying an eclectic collection of recorded music and they’re free. Lots of things we like!
Our next stop was to our home exchange in Calella de Palafrugell. We have a post about some of the things we wished we’d known before that but, if we’d been better prepared we might not have had some of the good laughs we had. We loved the town, the pool where we stayed and the surrounding area if the accommodations were a bit problem-plagued. But without the issues maybe Brunette wouldn’t have used Google translate to write a note to the property manager asking if his wife was available to hire to clean the place when we left and then have knocked on his door and read it to him. (The esposa was too expensive so we didn’t hire her but thinking back on it that might have been her price for us.)
Collioure is coastal, adorable and has lots of fun shopping. Carcassonne is charming, also has some good shopping and if you get your timing right you can see it when there are light shows. We did not get our timing right and Brunette was a bit petulant about being in yet another walled city and still not seeing a light show. Oh the agony of First World Problems!
Back to the Costa Brava for a few more weeks then a few days here and there and massive frustration with the rail passes we’d purchased in the States for use in Spain. Hint: Don’t do that. Just show up and buy a ticket for where you want to go when you want to go.
Some of our stops were a trip to The City of Arts and Sciences and the beaches of Valencia.
Onward to Cordoba for a four hour stop in stifling heat. Despite the heat and hydration challenges we loved Cordoba and would gladly return to see more of it.
Next stop was Seville where we stayed in an apartment we had also won in a contest. It was in an ideal location but didn’t have ideal air conditioning for the oppressive August heat and had enough eccentricities to make us realize (once again) that we’re really hotel girls. Authenticity is all well and good – for other people.
And finally we made our way to our last few days of the trip in Madrid. Our home exchange home was too far from the city center so we (accompanied by a flatulent turtle) decamped to a hotel in the city. Blonde had been in Madrid many years ago and Brunette had never been and, for some reason, our expectations were low. However, it was a lovely city and we also thoroughly enjoyed spending most of a day in the Prado Museum. We learned, after hours of fruitless tries, that you really can’t purchase Prado tickets online. We showed up at the window in August and got right in. Arrgh!
After our longest vacation ever we returned home. Blonde’s antique cat had had a sort of kitty stroke and been in an animal hospital for the last week we were away and racked up $2,000 in medical bills but survived. And Brunette’s socially impaired husband had not had his work contract renewed (after 40 years) and was now a forcibly retired workaholic who didn’t know what to do with himself.
Blonde had to sell much of her furniture (many places in Florida are sold furnished), pack, get movers and say goodbye to 17 years worth of dear friends. One held a going away party called The Last Supper to really make a point of it.
It was time for Blonde and her amazingly alive antique kitty to catch a flight to Florida and start a new adventure.
The move in to the new condo aroused the ire of the head condo Nazi who called Blonde 5 times in 3 days to cite infractions. The movers made racist remarks, thought Michelle Obama “hates white people and wants to make us eat organic food” and spoke lovingly of their firearms. Blonde freaked out a fair bit and had a WTF? bubble over her head much of the time. But the kitty was happy so something was going well.
After 10 days on Marco Island Blonde left for 10 days in Ireland. The timing was a bit less than ideal but it was an annual travel bloggers’ conference and Blonde and Brunette had planned to attend months earlier and were hoping to wring all of the freebies out of it that they could.
The cat sitter who had been a temporary roommate was flown to Florida to take care of the antique cat and it was now proven beyond any doubt that Blonde was daft even when she wasn’t in a hospital for being daft! And off we went to Dublin and then western Ireland.
We went to Day One at the conference and decided to skip Day Two and take a short train trip along the coast. Blonde swam at The Forty Foot Club (where the water was about 55 degrees) because she’d heard that some people do it year round. Not that she’s competitive or an idiot or anything.
We went on a three day trip to The Wild Atlantic Way part of Ireland and, in this picture, rode a hooker. (This is different than pictures of Eliot Spitzer that may be similarly titled.)
Although the weather was consistently dismal we did some walking, some biking and even some clay pigeon shooting. (Blonde loathes pigeons and hoped this would train her for the real thing but if it did the pigeons will be around for a very long time to come).
We learned that we still like Ireland, that people who write travel blogs full time never seem to get a minute to slow down and enjoy the travel and that we’re too lazy and luxury-oriented to do it full time anyway. But we had a good time and flew home once again. This time Brunette to Pennsylvania and Blonde to Marco Island which clearly wasn’t Boston and felt odd to be calling “home”.
Luckily a friend who is as Bostonian as you can get flew in to help Blonde decorate and Brunette and Mr. Annoying also came down as did another friend of Blonde’s who personally changed the racial demographics of Marco Island for at least a couple days. Old friends met a new friend and life started to look more encouraging.
Somehow this busy, change-filled year is over and we’re hoping for a calmer but no less traveled 2014. We will be off to a good start as we leave in mid-February for a couple weeks where we will fly to Doha, Abu Dhabi and The Maldives. Brunette won business class air fare for us on Qatar Airways and we expect to have plenty of posts to write from our adventures. Even the antique kitty is excited (and if you must know, yes, her Boston sitter is flying in for the occasion).
If you want to enter some of the contests that we seem to keep winning then go to our Facebook page where we post most of them. And if you need a travel companion, dial 1-800-Blonde!
May you have a happy, healthy and travel-filled new year and thanks for reading our posts!