Cynthia: Now that our European Magical Mystery Tour is over, let’s discuss what we liked and didn’t like about each place we visited while it’s fresh on our minds.
Edd: We may not agree on this, but at the end let’s also rank them worst to best from a “retiring abroad” point of view. Our first stop was Lisbon, Portugal.
C: There’s not much to dislike about Lisbon. It’s beautiful. The weather was great. Prices are low. Public transportation was outstanding.
E: That last point is key when thinking about living there. The bus and metro systems are so well integrated, it’s easy and inexpensive to get anywhere in town. Trams and trolleys service the historic and hilly sections, and the train station for destinations outside the city is easily accessible.
C: Right. We were staying in an older area downtown. When we got together with friends who used to live in Cuenca, we were surprised their...
Edd: After 2 ½ hectic months in Europe exploring four countries and five major cities, it was nice to spend a relaxing week with our son-in-law’s parents on the southeast coast of England before returning to the States.
Cynthia: Such a lovely part of the world the villages and countryside of Kent turned out to be.
E: They are avid boaters, and what a treat it was to tag along for a trip past the famous White Cliffs of Dover. I even played captain for a few minutes.
C: You actually looked confident piloting the boat, and we somehow survived. It was fun to see France in the distance. Strolling around the charming little towns and learning some of the history was interesting as well.
E: Most of the buildings were so old. Heck, this inn opened its doors before our country was even discovered! That’s mind boggling.
C: What’s a visit to the English countryside without going to a castle? Luckily, several were nearby...
Special Note ~ How prophetic our blog about London follows the recent death of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. Her lifetime of service is truly remarkable. We join the millions of people around the world extending our heartfelt condolences to the Royal Family.
Edd: London is one of the most expensive cities in Europe, so our week there wasn’t a typical scouting trip to explore possible budget retirement expat destinations.
Cynthia: You’re right. Our visits to both Paris and London were more of a 51st wedding anniversary gift to ourselves.
E: Which included a scrumptious lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant York & Albany beside The Regent’s Park.
C: While we were in the area we took the opportunity to climb Primrose Hill for a view of the London skyline and stroll through the Park’s lovely grounds.
E: We’re both fascinated with the whole concept of time, so a spontaneous excursion we took to the Royal...
Edd: We’d read lots of articles about how fabulous Versailles is, and devoted a full day to go check it out during our stay in Paris.
Cynthia: A 45-minute train ride took us directly into Versailles. Since the Palace gets all the attention, we knew nothing about the town itself. As soon as we arrived, we were impressed with the lovely architecture and cobbled lanes.
E: And zero graffiti. Yay! We found ourselves in the midst of a cute Saturday farmer’s market and an irresistible bakery. Believe everything you’ve heard about French pastries, folks. They are the best!
C: From town the Palace is only a short walk away. According to our research we chose the absolute worst time to visit—a summer weekend. But honestly, the crowds weren’t that bad.
E: Inside the Palace I had to constantly remind myself this was an actual residence where people once lived. Everything—the size of the rooms—the ceilings,...
Cynthia: Where do we even start talking about our 2 weeks in Paris?
Edd: Maybe by briefly explaining how we can afford to stay 2 weeks in Paris, as well as Lisbon, Madrid, and Bordeaux on a Social Security budget. One big money saver is generally booking private rooms with shared common facilities through Airbnb.
C: When you think about it, what you just described is not that different from renting a hotel room, except we also have access to a full kitchen.
E: Many times our hosts have been valuable resources for “insider intel” about the area that you don’t find online. Another money saving strategy is to book a short distance outside the central tourist area and take inexpensive rides on public transportation.
C: Being in the ‘burbs can come with other perks like a bigger room and laundry facilities. At our place in Paris we enjoyed our morning coffee on a lovely private patio.
E: Shortly after our arrival we jumped...
Cynthia: Since Bordeaux was a late addition to our European travel itinerary, we arrived not knowing much about the place beyond the fact that a lot of great wine is produced there.
Edd: And as reported in our last blog, we did extensive “field research” on that subject with numerous tours and tastings. During our 2-week visit we discovered some really cool, non-wine related things to do in Bordeaux as well.
C: Including one of the most astonishing things we’ve ever seen or done. “Cool” is the appropriate word for something we stumbled upon when the temps unexpectedly rose to over 100.
E: Wow, during those few days it was brutal to be outside. Looking for an air-conditioned, indoor activity we saw that Top Gun: Maverick was playing at a local cinema. We were delighted that our Airbnb host told us U.S. movies in France are always in English with French subtitles. So…
C: Off to the movies we went!
E: The cinema...
Edd: Bordeaux, France was the wildcard of our European Magical Mystery Tour. It wasn’t even on our original travel itinerary.
Cynthia: Right. After Madrid we planned to go to Barcelona, but the accommodations there weren’t within our budget.
E: The next stop was going to be Paris, so I literally looked at a map to see where else in that general direction we could go. And voila—Bordeaux!
C: All we knew about Bordeaux was the famous wine produced there, but online pics of the city and surrounding area were beautiful and the price was right so we said, “Let’s do it!”
E: Turns out we picked a winner. Bordeaux is drop-dead gorgeous.
C: Locals told us visitors often say, “This looks like a little Paris.” To which they smugly reply, “No, Paris is like a big Bordeaux.”
E: As expected, the wines from nearby vineyards were terrific and quite affordable. Especially at Bar à Vin, a...
Edd: The excursion we took from Madrid to Toledo and Segovia was fantastic, and I can’t wait to tell our readers all about it. But I realized we ended our last blog without answering the big question about Madrid—could we live there? So let’s quickly cover that.
Cynthia: That will be easy because the answer is “No.” We very much enjoyed visiting but found that Madrid is too large and too busy for us. Plus the temperatures in summer can hit triple digits. Yikes!
E: We’d perhaps be open to a smaller city in Spain with a more temperate climate. The cost of living is certainly affordable, and we loved the food and wine.
C: Let’s talk about our day trip. Toledo is an ancient city dating back over 2000 years that has preserved its medieval layout. Walking around there was like stepping back in time.
E: Until we saw a Starbucks. Toledo has two nicknames: the Imperial City because Charles V had his court there, and...
Edd: After our wonderful experience in Lisbon, the bar was set pretty high for European capitals. So how would our next stop, Madrid, measure up?
Cynthia: It turns out the two places are so different that comparisons aren’t really fair. Lisbon is quite small with a population of about 500,000; Madrid is a sprawling city of almost 7,000,000!
E: With lots of people and lots of traffic. Fortunately, our Airbnb was located on a quiet side street with grocery stores and metro stops nearby.
C: Our experience with public transportation in Europe has been fantastic. People who never use it in daily life may be hesitant to try riding a tram or subway in a foreign country.
E: That would be a mistake because the systems are safe, clean, well organized, and very economical. By using them extensively, we were able to do and see so much in Madrid. I’m glad we had two weeks to take it all in at a relaxed pace.
C: Everything is on such a grand...
Spending weeks scouting a potential expat destination gives you time to immerse yourself in the local culture at a relaxed pace. To wander through neighborhoods and savor the cuisine. Enjoy the attractions. And to venture out into the surrounding area for enriching day trips.
From Lisbon we first explored the medieval town of Óbidos. Originally a Roman settlement, the location was next occupied by the Moors before being retaken by the Portuguese in 1148.
Given to Queen Isabel on her wedding day in 1282, Óbidos has since been known as the “town of the Queens.”
Strolling through the narrow, cobbled streets was eerily like being transported back in time.
At the highest point of Óbidos stands an impressive castle surrounded by fortification walls.
Walking around up there was honestly a little scary (no handrails!), but the expansive views demonstrated why this site was originally chosen. Nobody was going to sneak up on you, that’s for sure....