Thursday, July 28, 2011


Our home window got replaced yesterday and we were told the partial roof is coming up in rotation likely when I'll be gone so D will supervise the job. Nice to see things come together.

I forgot to comment on using our Nexus iris scans to get through customs coming home from our last trip. We need more practice centering our eyes but it was pretty fast when you don't have to answer verbal questions or line up.

One tip. If you are travelling as a couple or family, use separate machines. D waited for me to get done thinking he was using the same "program" since we have one family declaration card. The machine doesn't know that nor cares so we could have been done at the same time.

Now that I have my tablet, I've been considering getting a Boingo account for airport internet access as I'll be hitting 4 airports this next trip.

Upon further research, it is only reasonable in north america. European prices and global plans are much higher so not really worth it for my casual use. I'll just use wifi when I can get it free, like at Pearson.

I'll be leaving tomorrow for my next adventure. Back in 2 weeks.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Car Insurance

We just received our annual car insurance renewal and to our surprise, it went down!

There has been a change in the car insurance policy in our province whereby the base coverage has now gone down explaining the price decrease.

There are a handful of pages of charts explaining the base coverages of all the categories. What one must do now is decide whether the new lowered coverage is sufficient?

If not, you will need to call them to discuss increasing either back to where it was before or boosting it higher. As much as a $20 decrease a month is great, we need to make sure we are not under insured.

Well, the time has come for trip preparations once again. I've been printing out maps and scouring weather forecasts to get some idea of temperature ranges so I can pack properly without checking in luggage. This one is challenging me.

After "freezing" in Slovenia last month I'm not taking any chances this time. I don't want to be walking all over the place looking for an inexpensive pullover to buy when I have more than enough clothes at home.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Addition

Well I bit the bullet and bought myself a tablet--A Motorola Xoom. So far so good, getting used to a touch screen. D has been busy loading all my stuff onto it. He is surprised at how easy and quick it was to do.

The purpose of it initially was for reading and emailing while away without having to lug around my laptop. Now that I've started at my new office, having a lighter computer helps immensely with keeping my briefcase weight under control. An issue I didn't expect to have to contend with before.

An extra bonus I hadn't thought of was using the tablet as a replacement for my chunky ipod (80 gig), reducing travel weight once again. And the sound is good!

It also has a gps map function that will locate where you are and give you travel directions ie bus, train, plane to where you want to go without you needing a data plan. Don't ask me how that works.

Since my recent trip research to Asia someday, D and I have started amassing better travelling clothing ie. lighter, quick drying, hand washable, nice looking (non safari, non travel looking...) so we wouldn't have to pack as much.

We were impressed with the selection available. Some of the materials are simply astonishing. Some of the prices were as well. I will get to try out a couple of new pieces on my next trip.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Frustrating People 2

Well my frustrating people experience took place at Best Buy. I'm inching closer to buying a tablet.

Basically I've down graded what I would like it to have. My last search was for something that runs Windows 7 and would be basically a laptop replacement. So I had my heart set on the Asus Eee 64 GB.

Now I've decided I don't need something even that big. I am willing to consider an Android running tablet like the Motorola 32GB Xoom. At half the price of the Asus, and I can buy some conversion app that will convert my excel spreadsheet into a usable form. I can read my books and send email using a WIFI connection.

For some reason I was caught up with having a specific and expensive browser/operating system when it isn't necessary.

D and I figured this on our own because the fellow who was the "expert" in the department couldn't help us at all other than offer to "look it up online" with us. I told him I could do that at home. The value with being here is to be shown how something works.

I don't understand what the value is in hiring someone who doesn't know the products? All he was able to contribute was for the $20 price difference, you can get an iPad 2 and it can do everything.

What does that mean? And when I asked him that, all he could say was it that it is the second generation iPad, so you know what you are getting...vs the Xoom and others which are first generation...

So I ask about my spreadsheets. He didn't know. He didn't know if it can be done on the Android tablets either. The way he said it, it felt like I was supposed to find his answer acceptable. Oh yeah, the spreadsheet app on an iPad is called "Numbers". OK.

Yes, I realized he was telling the truth of he didn't know. But I don't find that acceptable. I would not hire someone who cannot really help other than to say they don't know. Aren't they supposed to learn about the products? I'd like to get paid just for being there and not being helpful.

This isn't the first time I've run into issues with help at Best Buy. When I was looking to purchase my bluetooth headset, the guy then didn't know how the set up with my computer would be like because he owns a Mac.

That's really helpful, especially when the tone intimated at the superiority of Macs. I couldn't help rolling my eyes at D.

I have no issues with Apple. If they produce a product that will work for me, I'll happily buy it. Knowing the differences between the products, pros and cons is what I was after, in order to make a somewhat educated decision.

Isn't that true for most things? I just wasn't going to jump on any bandwagon just because someone tells me it is the best but cannot explain if it would be the best for me.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Frustrating People

D and I both had frustrating people moments yesterday. Here's D's first.

There is a colleague of D's who makes bitey comments about other peoples' "better" lives. And yesterday it was targeted at D, who didn't appreciate it.

She said things like "Oh, it must be nice not to have kids...", or "It must be nice to have all that money to travel..." or "I wish I could just take off somewhere like you can..." and various variations of the above in an accusatory tone.

Luckily for her, she wasn't speaking to me as I do not have as much patience as D and this is hardly the first time plus I do not do well with "victim mentalities" in the first place.

Background story: She has a deadbeat husband who she supports along with 2 kids. She isn't particularly good at what she does and is one of those people who has become complacent in the 20 plus years with the company.

Her husband is emotionally and mentally abusive and she likes to manipulate her in ways that ensure she cannot have a life outside of catering to him and the kids. He doesn't "allow" her to take a vacation. They do not live together but he certainly seems to control her. A decade's worth of counselling hasn't helped yet.

So D's replies to yesterday's bitter comments: "How much do you spend in daycare in a month? Now times that by 12. (holy crap)", "How many people work (one) and how many people are you supporting? (4)" and "Did you choose to get married and have kids or were you forced to? (by choice)".

"Well, our lifestyle was chosen by choice too. Vacations and vacation properties didn't just fall out of the sky onto our lap because we were lucky. We actively planned to make it happen. So until you have that figured out, don't make any more negative comments to others because you are frustrated with your choices and perceived lack of control."

Next post will be my experience.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Heat

My new office air conditioning can get really cold. So much so I have left a permanent emergency layer there just in case. There is nothing worst than feeling like doing jumping jacks in the middle of summer because you are freezing.

At home we hover at the 74 - 75 degree F range. Not enough to make one freeze but enough to take the humidity out of the air. It is not on overnight. The house has done really well this season in light of our high high temperatures.

They are calling for 49 C humidex today and there is talk records may be broken.

Our city has asked people not to water lawns due to lowered water levels from lack of rain the past month. Our grass is showing dry patches now. They say it is just going dormant.

We have made an extra effort to close blinds during the day to help keep heat out. Our hydro and water bill came out to $108 last month. Not bad for us especially when actual usage is barely half of it.

Being on well and septic at the cottage has advantages here. Not having to pay for usage or the fees that cost well more. Makes for reasonable monthly running expenses.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Net Worth Accounting

I'm not completely accurate in my monthly net worth postings. The reason being there are certain account movements I don't bother to track due to the amount of work and there being no real need.

So I do not account for credit card balances because they are paid off with no penalties. I don't account for our checking accounts because monies sitting there is monthly/planned spending. Nor do I account for cash we keep in various currency for travel purposes. I don't even update at the same time each month.

The only things I track for net worth purposes are items that don't get much movement, large items that form most of our assets and liabilities. So that I can get a broad strokes idea of where we are.

I do not get involved with perennial arguments of whether primary residences and cars and personal property ought to be on a net worth statement. I have them on mine.

The one item we don't have any numbers for yet which will become significant with time is D's new pension. I'm assuming we are supposed to get some kind of statement regarding the value of it.

D has looked into it and he was told there is an annual statement that gets published. So we'll just have to look out for it this year sometime. Once we get our hands on it, I'll be able to do a once a year update.

I probably ought keep on top of things in the real estate valuation area. We are likely still undervalued for our main house and cottage. But our ski condo worth is likely higher than it ought to be as markets have fallen in the area. Factoring everything, I'm still expecting us to come out ahead overall.

Whereas in the automobile department, it tends to only goes down. That pricks a bit. I can only imagine how it would feel had we bought new instead of 50% off.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Looking Ahead Again

Time is just clicking away here. Now that work has slowed for me, I am noticing the rest of my life's pace as too quick. My mind is still racing when it attacks a new idea. It hasn't figured out I have more time now and no rushing is needed.

Now that I am looking around more, I told D I feel we are doing too much. He says it has gotten significantly less vs a month ago. So he feels we are on the right track. That's good to at least hear.

As I look at my travel plans for the remainder of the year, I feel rushed. There is a lot going on for me. Exciting things put in place at a time where my work days and amounts were different. Some of the holidays don't fall on the "right" times now but I'm not going to change it.

Even the Chilean volcanic ash news is looking up. A large part of that rushed feeling comes from my not picking "easy" places to go. I'm not a lie down on a beach and drink for a week type. Never have been. I like to challenge myself with different cultures and languages which takes effort and energy.

With the type of travel deals we've been seeing so far this year, we are planning on not really planning for 2012. Go forth on a "see what comes up" attitude instead. Still research and learn and save so that we will be ready to move on an opportunity should it pop up.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Looking Ahead

The result of our Turbo Hub this weekend was "OK" in the mornings and down the rest of the weekend. So "regular" summer weekend usage is still overwhelming the system.

So I just switched to reading books on my laptop instead. By the way, the final Harry Potter movie was very satisfying. I even splurged on popcorn!

Out where we live, we are in dire need of rain. It hasn't rained for weeks and we finally broke down over the weekend to water our trees and gardens. The high temperatures has stalled our outdoor painting and other work.

I'm starting to compose in my head a secondary maintenance list that will require capital savings. Things like repairing/replacing our septic tank at the cottage, re-surfacing our asphalt driveway at home.

Not really sure when the septic will need to be replaced. Any checks we've had has been great and being just the two of us, we do not constitute a high load for the system. It doesn't hurt to have some money set aside just in case, now that the account won't really be needed for a new roof for a while.

The driveway I can comment on. It does need some help and I have no idea how much things like that cost. One of these days I'll get around to requesting a quote. Nearby neighbours recently had theirs done in concrete. I want to get quoted for both just to know the difference.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Turbo Hub Update

D got us an answer about our terrible experience with the Turbo Hub a couple of weekends ago. There was a major outage due to overloading of the system.

Because our hub uses the cellular network and we are in cottage country, our tower (which is fairly new) has to be able to handle all the weekenders who are just coming for the weekend.

They have underestimated the volume of users. There is no issues during the business week but come 5 pm on a Fridays all matter of heck breaks loose.

A lot of cell phone plans entice you with free calls after 6 pm depending on your company. And with most families there are multiple phones. So the picture is easily formed.

Each family coming up either renting or owning or visiting brings with them phones that use data on top of what locals already use. Add to that the popularity of downloading photos for all to see, a data traffic jam is what can happen.

We are interested to see how this non long weekend stacks up now that summer vacation is here. Hopefully better!

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Venice was very much like what I thought it would be and better. I wasn't prepared for how much I would love all the back alleyways, all the small bridges where you can experience total silence for a long time before seeing anyone.

It's not as confusing as you may think. We only got turned around once and we didn't have to use a map. Once you get out of the San Marco area you'll find the real neighbourhoods with local cafes and restaurants with their much more reasonable prices. It was refreshing not to hear the sound of lawn mowers and cars. We didn't realize how significant that would be until we came home.

Sure, we did the tourist trap thing and ate (not the best food) by the Rialto bridge and paid through our noses for the privilege. One of which is being entertained by the traffic chaos of multiple commuter ferries, gondolas, private boats all come within inches of each other, criss crossing the canal all over the place. There is no right of way, traffic lanes or no wake zones in Venice that we were able to see.

One time, we saw a fire boat tear down the middle of all that, creating such wake that the water splashed up on the sides of the restaurant seating. The gondoliers all hunkered down the best they could to avoid having themselves and their guests dumped on the water. You know you are in Italy. Imagine Rome traffic but on water! It was great fun. D and I were grinning ear to ear and shaking our heads.

Our first ferry ride was captained by a trainee whom I got quite impatient with because all he was concerned about doing was singing and dancing to tunes on the radio instead of watching for available docks. His trainer didn't seemed concerned.

Loading docks were on a first come first serve basis and we sat there in the water for almost 20 min watching other more assertive boats get the available spots as soon as another boat would back out. I wanted to go up there and take over! All our other rides were captained by seasoned fellows who just pushed their way into spots. I loved it!

Over all, there are surprisingly ample opportunities to get off the beaten path in Venice. The food wasn't as bad as some tour books would lead you to believe. And like most cities, you pay more in the areas where everyone goes. As this was our first immersion in the city, we paid more. The next time will cost less as we will be renting an apartment in one of our favourite districts.

I am so glad D and I got to experience this together. Incidentally, we haven't gotten a real answer to D's time off without pay question. They are still investigating. Guess this particular manager has never been asked that before. We are staying hopeful.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Learning Lots

Yes, I will be one of the adults pushing their way through the crowds of ankle biters at the opening of Harry Potter this weekend. I can't wait.

It's hard to believe but taking away my Friday shift (2 1/2 hrs) has made a difference in my frame of mind. The rest of the week is more relaxed. Last week I felt a bit hyper (withdrawal likely) from not needing to gear up anymore. This week nothing. Improvement I believe.

I've been learning so much about South East Asia the last couple of days. Enough to make me appreciate my national airline so much more. It isn't easy nor possible to fly with one airline between Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. I told D yesterday I need a computer like Tony Stark's to manage all my pages.

Am also getting used to the various currencies too. And what about flight passes, you ask? Crazy restrictive and confusing. I'm beginning to appreciate just how much work it takes to get good itineraries together.

Sometimes it just is easier to train it between certain destinations. Maybe those seemingly "expensive" prices are worth it after all?

National Geographic publishes the results of their top Adventure tour companies surveys online. It is a good place to start your research on what is out there and get familiar with companies and places you've always dreamed about.

One realizes quite quickly just how developed niche world travel is and just how many others have already tread the paths you are just starting to discover.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Adriatic

Travel review posts continued...

D and I are liking the Adriatic side of things more and more. It is vastly different from the Mediterranean side. The wealth there is more hidden. There is much more space and vastness. Areas are pristine and tourist groups (if you even see any) are much smaller.

Whereas evidence of wealth is pretty much in your face in Monaco and Nice port. Loads of tour groups following hand raised signs everywhere. Not as bad as Venice (our high water mark now) but enough for you to wonder what is going on? Why are people reluctant to discover very safe places on their own?

As we are being changed by the new places we encounter, we are increasingly wondering if our "old favourites" will continue to hold favour still? We'll be returning to France in the fall, specifically Paris first then renting an apartment in Nice again.

We are also aching to get back to Germany and Holland again. But the lure of Belgium is enticing and everything is tempered by D's restrictive holiday allowance. He has officially asked if taking time off without pay would be acceptable. We are awaiting word.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Future Travel Plans

I have been slowly but surely doing research on travels to Indochina -- Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand. The original idea was to use turning 40 as an excuse to go. But seriously, when have I needed an excuse to see a new place, right?

So it may not happen next year. The cost is high to cover all that distance and to get in the experiences I would like in less than a month. It's because I am considering an adventure tour and flights are used instead of spending days on end on trains which is what a lot of travellers do in order to save on hotel nights.

Speaking of hotels, you may consider me a wimp as I want air conditioning and my own bathroom. I don't need 5 stars, 3 would be fine. Even though it may be a tourist trap, I am really excited at the idea of spending a couple of nights on a Junk Boat in Halong Bay and eating some fantastic seafood.

What I'm not excited about is the possibility of having to get inoculated for Japanese Encephalitis and possibly rabies, on top of malaria pills. Torturous side effects aside, the price tag on those 3 items cost over $1000.

So it is almost like buying 2 plane tickets a person before the price of the trip. (I already have Typhoid and Yellowfever, from last year's failed trip to Argentina) My life is worth more than $1000, I know. It's another significant line on the trip budget, that's all.

Friday, July 8, 2011

10 Pictures

Rialto traffic

Back street Venice -- So quiet and lovely

The Craziness that is San Marco -- We preferred to be away from the crowds
Arsenale district -- Where we will call home next time...

Quick trip over to Dubrovnik to show D the sights

Small town Italy



Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ljubljana, Slovenia

[This is the first of a number of posts about my trip to Venice. Warning: They will not necessary be in order or be related to each other, nor about Venice. You'll see why as the story unfolds... :) I'm still processing it and basking in the afterglow of it all.]

Our recent trip was enhanced when we took a day trip to Ljubljana, Slovenia -- 2 1/2 hrs by car from Venice. What a cool hip but gentle city. Lots of young people due to the university. Easy to get around. Hard to get really lost. Lots of upscale stores.

A colleague of D's made us promise to have a Union beer or two on her behalf as it was her home town. Apparently if we drink the other main brand Lasko in the city, we would be looked upon weirdly.

Later, by the coast, we did try Lasko. I think the waiter thought I was surprised by the cost because it was more than I expected when it was the opposite. Two pints and a large bottle of sparkling water was 7 euro! I thought he meant 17 euro and we would have considered that cheap as you can easily pay 12 euro for 2 espressos or 10 euro for a large beer in Venice sitting down.

Lunch was eaten in the heart of the old town a couple of store fronts by a wonderful chocolate store (more later). I wanted to try something local. The menu translation left a bit to be desired as my dish was called "roasted pork knuckles" served with potatoes and garlic.

The waitress's clarification wasn't much better but I went for it. D had a steak with an interesting brandy sauce and about a palm size hunk of baked goat cheese. There is some serious cafe culture here. Had an excellent medium bodied glass of white wine made by Vinakoper.

My meal ended up being roasted ham hocks. It was fall off the bone tender. The meal portion was huge -- I got 3 of them. And the potatoes was a a baked potatoe chunk pie held together with lots of garlic and I think cream or creamed goat cheese.

Despite my better judgement, I ate it all and followed it up (not all at once) with a large dark chocolate macademia nut bark from the above mentioned chocolate store -- 5 Euro! Would have been much much more expensive in Paris.

Slovenia is hilly and very lush. Whoever does their tourist website has done an excellent job. I was very excited to see it. While on the highway to the capital we saw numerous wind warnings and wind measuring devices found at small airports.

Apparently wind is a serious issue and highways get closed often as cars have been known to blow off the highway. Roads are in great shape otherwise. Everyone heads to their small coast on the weekends to see and be by the water so there is serious road congestion then.

We met a wonderful Slovenian lady who spoke perfect english and she painted a picture of Slovenia that was "typical" of middle class families. People get paid once a month. Average income is $1000 euro a month and typical housing expenses (rent, utilities etc) eat up $700. People dream of owning their own apartment and car. Neighbours get along as long as you car isn't better than theirs (no joke).

The government of Slovenia provides a pension equivalent to 70% of a person's income. There is universal healthcare and "free" education. There is a general aptitude test taken after highschool that will allow you to choose a professional path based on results. Like many countries, the government is trying to cut back retirement benefits.

The day we were there was "freezing" compared to the mid 30's Celcius we had been experiencing so being unprepared for 11 degrees celcius we were frantically looking to buy clothing. The main department store in town was Salvatore Ferragamo upscale so no go there. I just wanted an inexpensive pullover. We did find something that worked when we finally found a Zara.

We both were surprised by how much we enjoyed Slovenia. I've already looked up potential apartment rentals when we are ready for a return trip. If you have a chance, please go.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


We have a theory that our cell phone provider (Bell) must turn down their reception on holidays and weekends in cottage country because our turbo hub and cell phone doesn't work well at all then.

I cannot confirm it and D will get around to calling them to find out but if anyone knows, please let me know. We are happy it works on work days as D works remote from there a few Fridays a month. Guess that is the most important thing.

But, since we are paying for all the other days of the month, it would be nice to access it.

Going up on a Thurs night has really changed our cottaging experience. We don't run into the type of chaotic traffic like we used to. It will likely prolong our cottage ownership as well. I've found myself less apt to want to sell this year.

By the way, the cottage roof looks really good. Due to the postal strike we just noticed the check for the work was just cashed yesterday, 3 weeks later. We are still waiting for the work at the house to be done. Our turn ought to be at the end of the month.

Everything is paid for via investment accounts set up for that purpose. Luckily those types of capital expenses won't (knock on wood) come around for another few decades so there is plenty of time to save up for the next round.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mish Mash

Because of the differing travel markets, I'm not hearing much news/updates regarding the Chilean volcano eruption outside of airline sites.

It has been going on for a month now and the ash spewed is still very significant with regards to air travel. The impact to the country is strong. I'm afraid world weather disruption is now the new normal.

My business has moved into "summer mode" which usually means slower work levels. I'm actually taking 3 weeks off not til August but my mind has already started to switch to vacation setting.

This is also the first month of my semi-retired work week. It hasn't sunk in yet. I'm sure it will by the end of July. Funny enough, I'm looking at our budget differently, more conservatively, "just in case", when there isn't any real reason for it. Natural protective instinct, I'm guessing.

We went to the drive in twice over the Canada Day long weekend and saw 4 movies. It was a lot of fun.

The amount of mosquitoes were ridiculous! The car was swarmed. So much so I didn't even want to leave the car to pee. I am one of those people when bitten, the bite swells up like a large welt and I am miserable for days. Plus they seem to love me.

So this summer, despite not liking putting chemicals all over me, I am using the strong mosquito repellent stuff. All the organic products used in the past haven't worked well enough for me. I've had enough of the bites and the suffering that come along with it.