Monday, June 13, 2011

We didn’t run into a lot of Americans in Spain

The sun and beaches are a big attraction for residents of cooler, cloudier northern Europe. There are three ferries a week from Portsmouth and Plymouth in England to Santander, shown here, on the north coast.
In a tapas bar in San Sebastian I heard American voices coming from several different corners. That’s unusual here in Spain. Salamanca has a Spanish language center for foreigners, so we heard Americans there.

But the U.S. doesn’t even make it into Spain’s Top 10 countries for foreign visitors. Great Britain is No. 1 with more than 12 million visitors to Spain, followed at some distance by Germany, France, the Nordic countries and Italy. Even tiiny Ireland, with 1/50th of our population, beats us out.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

How to spend 9 weeks in Europe without losing your shirt

When I completed my contract in Mexico in December without having another one lined up, Cindy came up with the idea of taking two or three months to travel around Europe. We might never again have the free time to do it, she reasoned. 

We originally considered an involved itinerary that inlcuded several places we always wanted to see -- the Greek Islands, Sicily, the Cinque Terre in Italy -- but found the logistics were too complicated. We decided to focus on one country, Spain, with a visit to our daughter in Germany at the end. 

We bought plane tickets and rail passes and Cindy began the process of building a budget-minded itinerary. In the end, the all-in cost for nine weeks in Europe was a little more than twice what we spent for two weeks in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

Friday, June 03, 2011

A visit to Paris to meet our French cousin

Cindy, Laurent and me. 

Seven or eight years ago, I got an email from one Laurent Brener, who lives in Paris and said he was a distant cousin.

He sent me an elaborate spreadsheet -- he’s a financial controller for Nissan Europe, so he knows his way around spreadsheets -- that tracks our family roots back more than 10 generations. He found me online through an expert on the genealogy of southwestern Germany, where my great-grandfather came from.

We corresponded by email, and he even invited me to his wedding, so I figured we had to visit him when we passed through France on our way from Spain to Amsterdam.