Monday, September 30, 2019

Kotor, Montenegro - A Picturesque Wonderland

Kotor, Montenegro was the last port of our amazing Mediterranean cruise vacation.  We were excited to see this beautiful country in the waters of Boka Kotorska, a bay of the Adriatic Sea, surrounded by the Lovecen and Orjen mountains.  We planned on waking up early to enjoy the view of the magnificent fjord as the ship cruised through it to get to the port.  We weren't able to see much though because it was raining and overcast as we pulled in.

On the top of our must-see list, and the first sight on our itinerary of the day, was St. John's Fortress.  The view from the fortress was not to be missed, we heard, but because of the rain, we thought that climbing the 1,350 steps to get to St. John's might be a little difficult and very hazardous.  So we bought Soko an umbrella at the first shop we came to. he always forgets to pack one, and made our way to the Old Town of Kotor.  We would spend time looking around here until it stopped raining.  We didn't need to find transportation to get into the town as it was within walking distance of the port.

Lonely Planet named Kotor "#1 city to visit in the world" in 2016.  We could see why.

We headed to Saint Tryphon's Cathedral.  We had this cathedral on our list of places to see but we weren't sure if we would have time to go inside when we were making our plans.  It didn't look like we would make it to the fortress today so we decided that we would definitely be going in to get out of the rain for awhile.

We were so glad that we did go in.  This cathedral was very beautiful.

On the second floor of the cathedral, there was a balcony where we had a view of the town and saw that it was still raining.

Also on the second floor of Saint Tryphon's, named for the protector of Kotor, there was a museum where we found a collection of local dress, weapons and artifacts.  We were lucky that we found somewhere interesting to be while we waited, and hoped, for the rain to stop.  

The rain did eventually stop and the sun came out but it was still a bit wet outside so we stopped to enjoy a cup of coffee and hot chocolate at a cute little cafe while we waited for the sun to dry the stone steps leading to St. John's Fortress.

Kotor is the home of hundreds of cats, descendants of seafaring felines.  The first cat we bumped into here joined us as we climbed the first 50 of over 1,000 stone steps on our way up to the fortress.

I have to admit I was very happy to see the Church of Our Lady of Health on our way up.  I was hoping for a pew to sit on for a few minutes but there was no pew to be found here.

After our brief stop at the church, we were on our way to conquer the hundreds of steps we still had to go on our way up.  We encountered the ruins of many fortifications along the way and I hoped that they were actually the fortress itself and even tried to convince Soko that we had made it.  He didn't fall for it.

Soko found another friend here.

I am so glad that Soko did push me to not give up.  We finally got to the top, only because Soko helped me by carrying my bag and jacket. 

 The view of the fjord that we missed in the morning was spectacular.  

There wasn't very much of the fortress left to see but we are happy to know we did make it to the top to see it.

The trip down was a pretty hairy experience.  Even though it stopped raining, the stone steps were still damp.  I felt a little bit of slipperiness on the way up but the steps felt steeper and wetter on the way down.  I made sure that I had a hold of Soko for most of the way down and if I hadn't had him on one side and a small wall on my other side I would have gotten really hurt sliding off the steps.  My left arm was killing me after I grabbed the wall to keep from falling though.  My advice is not to attempt to climb on these stone steps if they are wet.  Unless you are an athletic, young person.  I couldn't believe these two young guys I saw running down the steep stone steps in flip flops!

I was so glad to get back to Old Town without another close call.  Now it was time to find the Church of St. Mary Collegiata in Wood Square.  (It was a good thing that we printed up directions from Google maps before our trip.  We were just getting the hang of using the GPS on my phone but the European sim card we bought before we left didn't work here so we couldn't use it.)  We heard that many of the cats of Kotor congregate at St. Mary's and I couldn't wait to see them all.   What a sight to see!  We had never seen so many adorable cats in one place like that before.  

We had a little time left before we had to get back to the ship so we stopped at Bokun, a little cafe where we had pizza.  The personal size pizza was a lot larger than we thought they would be.  They were absolutely delicious, but we should have only ordered one to share!

Lunch took a little longer than we expected so we now had to hurry a bit to get back to the ship on time.  Well, we thought we knew where we were going and then realized we were walking around in circles.  We did panic for a while but then I remembered my sister's advice to ask someone for directions if we got lost.  Lots of people around the world speak English she told me.  So that's what we did and we were pointed in the right direction towards the cruise ship port.

I took one last picture with a cute little kitty before we left.

And then we took one last look at beautiful Kotor, Montenegro as our ship left the port. 

The Mediterranean cruise that we dreamed about taking for many years is just a memory now but a memory that we will cherish forever!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Finding The Perfect Place To Retire

This is a sponsored post.  All opinions are my own.

My parents moved to Central Florida when they retired many, many years ago.  We loved visiting them there at least once a year, especially our kids who not only got tons of attention from Grandma and Grandpa but also looked forward to having a great time at one of Orlando's amusement parks.  Me and Soko would drive around my parents' community and imagine that we would retire in this perfect place one day.

But when the time came for us to retire, we were not ready to live full-time in Florida like my parents did, but knew we couldn't afford to continue to live in New York on our retirement budget.  Our house was paid off but the taxes were ridiculous and constantly increasing every year.  There must be other options for us, we thought, and that's when we started thinking about living part-time in North Carolina where our daughter Lisa lived with her husband.

North Carolina's property and school taxes are a fraction of what we paid in NY but besides for saving on taxes, we considered making NC a vacation home so that we would only be 10 hours, by car, away from our sons in NY, compared to over 20 hours if we had to make the trip from FL.  And it would be where we could go to get a break from Florida's summer heat.

After looking at real estate websites for something to buy in southeast NC, we found out that when we sold our home in NY, we would have more than enough to buy something in NC and Florida!  And the local property and school taxes in both of these states were 1/10th of what we were paying in NY.  But what about other taxes and what type of dwelling do we want to live in and what were our community choices?  These were some of the things we needed to consider when deciding on a place to retire.

The difference in the local property and school taxes between where we were looking to live in NC and where we lived in NY was substantial to say the least.   But NC has a state income tax.  Florida, on the other hand, is one of only seven states that doesn't have a state income tax nor does the state tax social security benefits.  There are 13 states that collect tax on social security.  This is why FL would be our permanent residence and NC our vacation home.

So now that we knew what states we would settle in, it was time to make a decision on the type of dwelling we would live in.  In FL, we pretty much knew.  We would be living in the community that my parents lived in.  When this community was created, it was made to be an RV park.  Many snowbirds parked and lived in their RVs here during the winter.  My parents were not people who ever camped or even did road trips.  But since this was an RV park they had to buy an RV to live in.  They attached a Florida room to the RV.  The house definitely could not be moved after that but it still had to have wheels.   They covered the wheels with a skirt.

Things have changed over the years in the park.  It is still where some snowbirds come in their RV's to spend the winter and there are lots of unmovable RVs, like my parents, still around but any new construction being put up is a single or double-wide mobile home.  So that is what we live in in FL.  We bought a previously owned double-wide that came with furniture and we love it.  It was so inexpensive that we paid cash for it and because it is smaller than a house, it is so easy to take care of.  But it's not as sturdy as a permanent structure and we get nervous when we hear of threats of hurricanes and tornados inching towards us.  We do have a community room in the park for the residents here to gather in until the storm passes.

Speaking of our Florida neighbors who live in their RV, that is an adventurous dwelling that some retirees choose.  A few of our Florida RV friends live in their RVs year round.  Some of them are renters who leave us for their parks up north at the end of  March.

We have also met more than a few retirees in the campgrounds we've stayed in on our camping trips that have made their RV their permanent homes and travel around in them all year round.  Lots of them camp for free by taking on the job of campground host during their stay at the campground.  Getting mail and medical needs taken care of gets a little complicated with this lifestyle but probably is worth it to enjoy the freedom that these campers do.

We had a few choices of housing in NC.  We needed someone to help us find our perfect place here.  Lisa had been working with a Real Estate Agent because her and her husband were ready to settle into their own home.  We gave Tim a call and met with him at his office.  After this first meeting, we knew that we would be happy working with Tim.  We needed someone we could trust and feel comfortable with most importantly.  He also listened carefully and considered all of our wants and needs.

We looked at condominiums and townhouses at first because we thought it would be a little less expensive than a house, and they were, but most of the HOA fees were very expensive.  If we lived in a condo or townhouse we would not have to worry about yard work which would get harder to do the older we got.  But the townhouses we looked at were often 2 or 3 stories high which means climbing a lot of stairs inside the house.  Also, it was hard to find a condominium apartment on the first floor.  I know, from watching family and friends grow older, that stairs are often physically challenging for many seniors. 

Deciding on the community we wanted to live in was another decision we had to make.  Our community in FL is 55 and over.  We are very active in many of the clubs here and we enjoy living in a community of  people our age.  We have a clubhouse where we can join in many activities that happen here and also a small gym, game room with pool tables, shuffleboard, tennis and horseshoe courts, lake and pool with hot tub.  We pay an HOA fee here so that all these areas are taken care of for us.  Our fees also pay for the security patrol we have in our gated community and our garbage pick up.  We knew we wanted a pool like we have in Florida but we didn't necessarily have to live in a 55 and over community. 

In the end, we chose a one level single-family home in a wonderful community with a pool.  We pay hardly anything in HOA dues but lawn service is not included.   Lisa and Pete actually really liked the community Tim found for us and decided to buy the lot two doors down from us.

It's never too early to start thinking about retirement and where you could envision yourself enjoying these years.  There are many websites to visit and blog posts to read that can help you make your decision.

If you are considering Florida, as many people do, as the state you might want to retire in, there are many wonderful cities to look into.  One website you should take a look at for homes in Jacksonville's beautiful neighborhoods is run by Erin E. King, a Best of Zillow Realtor, who specializes in Jacksonville's historic neighborhoods.  His website answers many questions you might have as a buyer, or seller, and is designed to not only show you pictures of available properties, but to give you lots of information about the communities they are in and what it would be like to live in these neighborhoods.  Visit Erin's website, Jax Historic Realty, and then here to view the gorgeous homes he helps to sell.

We spent years exploring the possibilities of how to spend our retirement years.  We learned a lot from our parents and others that retired before us and we looked at different websites and blogs.  Now we can say, we have been happily retired for 4 years and love living the life of 2 snowbirds.  Our good life got even better when we bought our RV last year, but that's a whole other story!
(You can read all about it here!)

Monday, September 9, 2019

Split, Croatia - Exploring Diocletian's Palace, Marjan Hill And More

Split, Croatia was the seventh port on our Mediterranean Cruise itinerary.  It was not supposed to be a stop for us when we booked this cruise.  Our original itinerary had Ravenna, Italy as Port 7.  We were excited to see lots of beautiful mosaics and the Basilica of San Vitale there.  We were a little disappointed at first when we were told of the change of plans because we didn't know much about Croatia.  But we researched and started to get curious about all we could do and see in this country.  Now that we have been there, I can tell you that Split, Croatia is in the top three of our favorite ports on this cruise!

There was no need for us to book an excursion here.  We were able to walk off the ship and to everything we wanted to see and do.  I Googled a map of the area before we left home.  We were happy that we purchased a sim card here before we left so that I could also use Google Maps on my phone.   Our map directed us to walk along the Riva, Split's waterfront, to the first sight on our list.

The first place we headed to was Marjan Hill.  It's a steep hill, with steps, to climb but when you make it to the top, you are treated to amazing views of the city below.  There was a cute cafe, Vidilica, halfway up the hill that I thought we might stop in and we did but only to use the restroom.   If we weren't worried about not having enough time to see everything that we wanted to in Split, we definitely would have spent some time there.  The view from their outside dining area was spectacular.

When we got to the top of Marjan Hill, there wasn't much to see but we really just wanted to see the view of the city.  We did find a church which could have been either St. Nicholas or St. Jerome or maybe neither.  There weren't any signs to tell us.

But even if there was a plaque on the church, we couldn't read it anyway.  Like this one above this sink.  It could have said "Use this sink at your own risk."  We didn't know.   Soko was fine after he washed his hands so that's probably not what it said!

The view from the top of this hill did not disappoint us.  It was as wonderful as we thought it would be.

But what I will remember the most about Marjan Hill was the very friendly, very adorable dog we met up there.  He was ready to play with anyone who wanted to play.  He brought his stick over and offered it to me.  We played throw and catch for awhile until he wanted to change the game to hide and seek!

Next on our list was Diocletian's Palace.   It was only an 8 minute walk from Marjan Hill through a cute little town.  We passed two stores that actually had English signage.  The Little Beer Store was a little beer store but we knew it would be before we even looked inside because the sign said so.

The other store was the Car Shoe shop.  Hmm...we could read the sign but what in the world was a car shoe?  Did the people of Croatia put shoes on their cars somehow?  We peeked inside and saw a shoe that looked like it might have been made out of a tire but there wasn't anymore English for us to read to confirm that!

We knew we made it to Diocletian's Palace when we spotted Gregory of Nin (cover photo)t just outside the entrance of the palace.  He's very hard to miss as he is 28 feet tall.  We were not going to walk past him without rubbing his toe.  We didn't want to miss out on the good luck we would have from performing this small act.

We passed through the Golden Gates and into the palace.  Diocletian's Palace is the central hub of Split where 2,000 people live or work.  

We walked on original Roman streets that cut through the palace as we followed Rick Steve's walking tour.  The most important street in the palace, we read, was Cardo.  It connects the main entry with the heart of the complex.  It was here that we would find Nadalina selling dark chocolate using Dalamatian flavors like dried fig and prosecco, an Italian white wine.

The oldest cathedral in the world, Cathedral of St. Domnius, is here also and AAwas Diocletian's mausoleum but then converted into the town's cathedral.  The cathedral's wooden doors have survived since the year 1200.

We were excited to see and hear an all-male a cappella group singing in the Entry Vestibule, the grand entrance into Diocletian's living quarters, but they were not there the day we visited.

What we did get to see, though, was the 3,500 year old sphinx in Peristyle Square.

After exploring the very interesting palace, we went to find nearby Pjaca Square.  

I was dying to see St. Anthony's statue there.  We read that the donor of the statue is seen clinging to the leg of St. Anthony as a reminder that he was the one who made this donation.  It took us awhile to find, but when we did, it was more than we had hoped for.

After taking a quick walk around the square, we walked along Split's pride and joy, the Riva, once again on our way to find the beach.  I got a charm for my Pandora bracelet here in one of the many shops that line the waterfront along with cafes and bars.

It was a little bit of a walk, maybe 20 minutes, to get to Bavice beach.   We thought we would relax there awhile before heading back to the ship.  We read that it was a crowded and lively beach and the only sandy beach in town.  It was crowded and lively but not very sandy.  Most of beach goers were sunbathing on concrete.   We decided that it might not be too easy for us to relax on the concrete so we headed back.

We had some Croatian kuna left at the end of our day in Croatia that we didn't want to bring home with us.   Soko found a beer to spend it on, German because he couldn't find Croatian, to enjoy before we made our way onto the ship.

Croatia was wonderful!  We loved it and would love to return one day.  Hey, we rubbed Gregory's toe.  Maybe he will make it happen for us!  Bye Croatia!  Off to our last port, Kotor, Montenegro.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Fayetteville, NC - A Budget Friendly Getaway

Have you discovered fun places to visit just around the corner from where you live?  We just did.  I had heard about Fayetteville, NC from my daughter and son-in-law but we had never been there until just a few weeks ago.  It is only 1 1/2 hours from our home which makes it a breeze to get to.  Not only is it an easy commute but, because it is so close, it doesn't cost us much in gas to get there.  Add the reasonable cost of the many hotels in the area and this road trip becomes exactly the kind of vacation we can have on our retirement budget.  And these are only a couple of the reasons why I am calling Fayetteville, NC a budget friendly getaway!

We stayed at TownePlace Suites Fayetteville Cross Creek and definitely would stay here again.

Most of everything we did in Fayetteville cost nothing or just a few dollars.  One of the things we did, which was free, was enjoy the art that was all over the downtown area and beyond.  We had a ball finding all 14 sculptures in the "Work In Progress" collection while we toured the downtown area.  Read all about it here in our recent blog post.

Process by Christian Happel

The first thing we did when we got to Fayetteville was to stop by the Fayetteville Area Convention And Visitors Bureau at 245 Person Street.  This is where we got our (free!) "Passport".   This little passport was our guide for finding things to do in the Fayetteville area and downtown Fayetteville.  Inside we found pages of information, complete with addresses, of the main attractions not to be missed in Fort Bragg and the Communities of Cumberland Counties.  There is even a handy little map in the passport that we used to help us get around.  We had a great time collecting our stamp at each of the attractions we visited.

We spent 48 hours in Fayetteville.  It wasn't enough time to see and do everything we wanted to but now we have a great excuse to go back.  Maybe we will come back for one of the popular events Fayetteville hosts.  I know Lisa and Pete are looking forward to Comic Con in October and have been to the Brews N Blues Festival a couple of times already.

We visited Fayetteville, this time, mostly because the Cape Fear Botanical Garden had a special event going on that we wanted to see.  Me and Lisa are part Japanese, thanks to my mom, and have grown up with Japanese culture in our everyday lives.  So when we heard Origami in the Garden was happening here, we had to come and check it out!  It costs $10 plus tax to get into the gardens but it is well worth it.
FYI - There are discounts for military, seniors and children.

Another thing we came to do in Fayetteville was catch a baseball game at Segra Stadium, home of the Fayetteville Woodpeckers.  We were excited to see a game in this brand new stadium.  Prices vary depending on when you go but are much more reasonable than going to a major league game and just as much fun!

Although the team didn't win that night, we did have a great time cheering them on.  Not only did we have a fun time watching the game, but we were also treated to a beautiful sunset and then...

... an amazing firework display that was being presented at nearby Festival Park for the 4th of July!

Lisa had always wanted to go to some of the museums in the area, all free, but never had the chance so, with our passports in hand as our guide, we set off to find the museums.  One she really wanted to see was The Airborne & Special Operations Museum.  We learned all about the soldiers and the missions and everything in between and were amazed at the life-size dioramas.

Soko retired after working more than 35 years for the NYCTA as a train operator so we weren't going to miss seeing the Fayetteville Area Transportation & Local History Museum located in the restored 1890 Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad depot.

The Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex consists of a two floor museum building with exhibits about the history of southern North Carolina...

General Store Display

...the grounds of Arsenal Park which was the last major site to be destroyed by General Sherman's Union Army...

...and the 1897 Poe House.  We enjoyed our tour, with a very nice and informative tour guide, of this grand home of Edgar Allan Poe, the businessman, not the famous writer.

I still can't get over the fact that admission to these incredible museums cost nothing.  We did make small donations, though, at each museum.

One highlight, for us, of this road trip was hiking on one of the three trails at J. Baynard Clark Park & Nature Center.  We stopped in at the Nature Center before we went on our hike.  There were so many interesting displays there and the Park rangers were eager to answer any questions we had.

We hiked the Bear Trail and started to hike the Cape Fear River Trail until a fellow hiker told us how long it would take to get to the river and back!

Bear Trail

Another park, North Carolina Veterans Park, is not to be missed if you visit this area.  The exhibits here, especially the Hands of Support columns, really made us stop and appreciate all that the veterans did, and the sacrifices they made, to keep us safe and free.

Finally, I can't say enough about all the delicious food we ate in Fayetteville.

Lisa had a couple of restaurants picked out that she wanted to try.  She knew about them from her previous trips but never had the chance to go.  We agreed that of the four restaurants we went to, Fayetteville Pie Company was our favorite.  The uniqueness of their food, all served as a pie, was something different from our usual dining experiences, which is always fun.  Their daily menu changes frequently and features three savory pies ($10.00 each) and three sweet ($4.00) pies that are selected from their extensive sweet and savory pie recipe collection.  We each ordered a different entree and dessert pie so that we could try the entire menu of the day.

Dessert Pies - Berry Beloved, Nutella Mousse, Blueberry Vanilla Swirl

I have to go back to The Fried Sandwich Shop to try a selection from their Thanksgiving Style menu.  I almost had the Fried Turkey Bowl, which would have been Thanksgiving dinner in a bowl, but I changed my mind at the last minute and chose the Turkey Club Sub.  It was yummy but I haven't stopped thinking about that bowl!  My sandwich was $9.00 for a whole sub.  Lisa and Soko's choices cost a little less.

Gohan Bistro was where we had ramen.  It was definitely not your college staple variety.  I got the Paitan Ramen which sounded the least spicy of all the choices and I enjoyed it.  My soup and Lisa's Spicy Miso Ramen cost us $10.50 each.  Soko ordered the Mushroom Lover's Ramen which was one of the more expensive soups, but didn't break the bank at $14.50.

Spicy Miso Ramen

And, last but not least, we ate at New Deli.  I think the real reason Lisa decided we needed to eat here was mostly so that she could get an apple covered in chocolate, caramel, candy pieces, nuts and more.  There was an entire wall behind the cashier filled with apples.  We got three!  We also got really good sandwiches.  My Daville Panini was a scrumptious portabello mushroom and cheese sandwich and cost only $7.49.  Soko and Lisa's sandwiches cost about the same.  We enjoyed our sandwiches and also really enjoyed the fun decor here.

If you think you would like to check out this great city one day, keep in mind that many places are closed on Monday.  Also, if think you might want to try one of the delicious restaurants mentioned in this post, please note that Fayetteville Pie Company and New Deli are not open for dinner, so plan your visit for lunchtime.  The Fried Turkey Sandwich Shop downtown closes at 3:00 pm but their restaurant on Bingham Dr. near Hope Mills is open until 9:00 pm.  All of the restaurants are closed on Sunday.

Also, if you'd like to see Origami in the Garden, it runs through September 8, 2019 so hurry over!

We had a wonderful time getting to know Fayetteville.  We can't wait to visit again.  We know we will return because we have more lots more we want to do, see and eat here!