London to Lisbon by Train – Well Worth the Effort

In today’s world generally when people think of long distance travel airlines are usually the answer. In fact in most cases air travel is the simplest and quickest way of getting from Point A to Point B. However there are countless other reasons to travel beyond simply getting there. We are trying to make our travels slower and a little unusual whenever we can. So for our most recent trip we had to get from London to Lisbon and we chose to do the entire journey by rail. Great choice!


It would have been both cheaper and faster by air but we have always wanted to do an extended rail trip so this seemed like an opportune time. Once we started researching we realized that the most common route included an overnight train which would be the fastest. In the end we chose to do it only by day trains. We got our inspiration from a suggested itinerary on the excellent Man in Seat 61 website. If you are thinking of rail travel definitely check it out. We made all of our arrangements and booked our tickets through the English booking site Loco2.


We actually started our journey in Swindon where we were house sitting for three weeks. It is a short 1 hour ride into Paddington Station from Swindon with Great Western Railway ($18 CAD each). As we were leaving the next morning on the Eurostar, we took the Tube to St. Pancras and got a hotel room nearby. There are many within a 5- 10 walk of the station. Beware as they are generally very small rooms, but ours was clean and did the job for an overnight stay. There was also a great little pub around the corner and a very good Chinese restaurant nearby.


Other than a small bathroom this was the entire room

We found boarding for the Eurostar to be efficient and easy. There are airport style security measures but not nearly as onerous and complex. You will have to go through passport control prior to entering the departures lounge which is spacious and well organized. We were surprised by the amount of people boarding and like much of London, it was a great spot for people watching and speculating on where everyone’s lives were taking them.


The train we were on had 16 coaches and they all seemed to be at least half full. We had a wonderful table for two in a quiet car, and other than the free hot meal included with a 1st Class ticket it couldn’t have been any more comfortable, so in our opinion not worth spending extra money on. We had booked well in advance and got our tickets for $90 CAD each. Rolling into the countryside after London was relaxing and the train was fast, quiet and smooth. Free wifi is available as well. It wasn’t long before we entered the Channel Tunnel and emerged into France for our first time.


Arriving in Paris’ Gare du Nord

As throughout the trip the next day, we were very surprised at the vast open spaces, agricultural activity and the amount of wind turbines along the route. Coming from North America we typically think of Europe as more densely populated and compact. Passing by occasional towns and villages however we could see that we were in France by the style and age of the buildings.


It seemed like no time at all and we arrived in Paris at the Gare du Nord. We had purchased Metro tickets at the bar on the Eurostar and we easily found our way to the Metro station and took the M4 line to Gare Montparnasse which was where we were departing from the next morning.


Paris Metro


After a little bit of searching we found our hotel, the Hotel Concorde Montparnasse which surpassed our expectations. We were pleased with the price we got though Expedia which included an excellent buffet breakfast. It was on a quiet section of street just 5 minutes walk from the station.



We only had one afternoon in Paris so we opted to take the Metro to the Eiffel Tower and were overawed when we first glimpsed it through the trees. Paris has been in near drought conditions this summer so the Champ de Mar was very dry and quite dirty, but overflowing with people on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon.


Filled with an undeniable sense of excitement we took our time and strolled across the Seine on the Pont d’lena and just let the moment take us along. Drinks and a nice supper at a cafe across the street from our hotel completed an amazing day.




The next morning our train didn’t leave until noon so we ate our fill at the hotel’s buffet breakfast. We armed ourselves with snacks and wine for the train and set out on the next leg. We took the TGV Atlantique to Irun, Spain ($51 CAD each) which is just across the border from Hedayne, France.


TGV Atlantique at Gare Montparnasse

This leg was 6 hours and again we had wonderful seating. The scenery was pretty similar for the first several hours across vast agricultural landscapes with the odd towns and larger cities.


One of the features that surprised us as we neared the western coast were the vast pine forests that were obviously planted many years ago. Very soon afterwards we started to see vineyards as we entered the famous Bordeaux region. Around 6:00 pm we arrived in Irun and set off luggage in tow to find our pension (guest house). After a few questions in our rudimentary Spanish we found our way and were pleased with the small but clean and comfortable room ($61 CAD).


Early morning in Irun, Spain

We had time for drinks at a street cafe and then some kebabs for supper. The feel of the street in Irun seemed to us very Spanish, with many people of all ages out strolling in the cool evening air. This was our first ever taste of Spain and we liked it.


We were very fortunate with our seat selection throughout the trip

The next morning we boarded the Renfe Intercity train for our longest leg of 12 hours ($89.50 CAD each). As we pulled out of the station we soon entered some very spectacular mountain scenery. The hills became higher, more wooded and the limestone outcroppings were stunning. For a time we might have thought we were passing through Alpine villages. As the morning passed we entered into vast steppes which we traveled through for many hours.



On a side note this area is along the route of the famous Camino de Santiago and we saw many pilgrims and other walkers getting on and off the train at various stops. Their walking sticks, backpacks and the famous scallop shells were dead giveaways. For a couple of hours we shared our table with a wonderful Canadian couple who were walking the trail. We had a wonderful time exchanging stories with them and they have pretty much convinced us that we can do at least a portion of this famous trail. Something else for our bucket list.


Intrepid walkers Glynn and Sharren

Our last overnight stop was in Vigo, Spain. There was a light ran but we decided to try and find our way on foot in the dark to our hotel. In about 15 minutes we arrived at the NH Collection, Vigo which was exceptional. The staff were welcoming and the room surpassed what we are generally used to. At $70 CAD this was great value. We were only in Vigo for a short overnight stop but immediately felt comfortable and liked what we saw and felt. Another spot to visit in the future.


Morning coffee in Vigo-Guixar Station

Our last day of train travel was spent on the Portuguese trains ($50 CAD each). We had a short stop in Porto where we changed trains for the last leg. Our quick views of Porto were stunning as we looked down on the river and house along the banks. Definitely another place to spend some time.


Campanha Station in Porto

We arrived in Lisbon on time at 2:30, again in some light rain but with blue sky starting to appear. We couldn’t believe that we had made it. After 4 days and 2794 kms we were right on time and had no difficulties at all. The train journey was long but so well worth it. It was tiring stopping each night but we were rewarded with having had the experience of being able to see the wonderful landscapes, catching quick glimpses of local life and meeting fellow travelers along the way.


Lisbon’s Santa Apalonia Station

A few tips for anyone looking to do a  similar trip. Book your tickets ahead of time to save money. Double-check your station connections as there are often more than one in a city. The trains are very punctual and it is easy to get used to the boarding signs. Take along snacks, food and wine for your trip as the snack / bar cars can be expensive and have limited choice and certainly minimal gluten free options. This can be challenging if you have an early departure as very few shops in the towns open before 8:30.


View from our roof top terrace in Lisbon to the Tagus River

Our first impression of Lisbon, and the view from our apartment took our breath away but we’ll tell you all about that in upcoming posts.

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House Sitting as a Part of our Lifestyle

When we started to seriously consider adopting a nomadic lifestyle we realized that house sitting could be a integral part of our plans. Accomodation in particular in many places is beyond our reach financially for extended stays. Much of Western Europe, England and the Caribbean can be pricey and we knew that if we wanted to spend some time in these areas we would have to be adaptable.


Using this approach we were able to afford two weeks in London by house sitting for three weeks in the nearby town of Swindon.


“Old Town” Swindon

There are several reputable house sitting websites to chose from. We are currently registered with TrustedHousesitters and HouseCarers. There is an annual fee for membership on both sites, $100 USD and $50 USD respectively. TrustedHousesitters offers more opportunities, however there are many more potential sitters so there is a trade off. Both sites have opportunities on a world wide basis.


Typical suburb in the area we house sat in.


Great pathways for walking or biking

The principles of the agreement are pretty straightforward, and some more formal than others. People looking for sitters to look after their homes and pets while they are on vacation are in the majority, but there are as many variances on this as you can imagine. Some people are looking for help with large estates, others looking for help with Bed & Breakfast operations and many others are looking for the security of having people in their homes while they are overseas for extended periods of time or trying to sell their properties.


There is generally no money changing hands in these arrangements, although on occasion stipends or small wages are offered and as well the house sitters will sometimes pay the utilities while they are on an assignment.


A friendly neighbour

We began corresponding with our first house sitting host about a year ahead of time. Again this varies and often can be last minute. It really comes down to establishing trust and mutual understanding. For people to leave their most valuable possessions, their home and pets, with what can be a total stranger requires trust. In our case we communicated by email for several months in order to build a relationship that everyone felt comfortable with.


Who wouldn’t want to live here? In the nearby village of Ashton Keynes

The way that we are approaching house sitting is to apply our total time and energy to the pets and home we are responsible for. We are in a unique situation that we can do our personal explorations in times leading up to and after the house sit. The learning and personal rewards come from interacting with the pets and community on a much more intimate level. In fact one of the great benefits of house sitting is to be able to actually live in a neighbourhood and experience day to day life there.


This scene looks pretty familiar anywhere

We have experienced that first hand in our recent house sit. The town of Swindon does not immediately come to mind when you ask someone where in England they would like to visit. But after having lived in a suburb of the town we can honestly say that it has been a very rewarding and enriching experience. Thanks to the generosity of the people we were sitting for we had access to a car and were able to do some short visits to nearby areas which were extremely beautiful and filled with medieval charm.


Holy Cross Church in Ashton Keynes


Ashton Keynes


We found the neighbours and everyone we met to be very welcoming, helpful and friendly. This was a great change after two weeks in London. By walking the dogs twice every day we became familiar with some of the wonderful parks in the area and met countless other people out walking their dogs who always had a smile and a greeting or story to share.


It is a big responsibility and one that we do not take lightly. You must be prepared to take it seriously and work closely with the homeowners. We don’t see ourselves as full time house sitters but we do expect to continue at least a couple times a year. There is a great deal of satisfaction and reward in knowing that you have genuinely provided a good service to someone. The friendships you make along the way and the animals you get to know on a personal level are all added benefits.


A note to anyone thinking of this for the first time, it can be disappointing in the beginning as the competition is great with a lot of experienced sitters available. We have applied for about 10 assignments so far in places as varied as St. Lucia, Botswana, Italy, Thailand and Malaysia. Our research indicated sitters get an assignment about one in every 20 they apply for, so we were really pleased to get our first one. We are determined to build up our experiences and references for future opportunities.


We were very pleased when last month out of the blue we received a request from a home owner in an entirely new area of Costa Rica for us to house sit for them, based on what they had read on our profile and our blog. As we have said before we are not looking to this as a full time occupation but as a way to experience local life in areas we wouldn’t normally think of spending time in and to meet and help out like-minded people.


As we slow down and reflect now that we are in Portugal, we are thankful for the opportunity we had and it has helped prepare us for future assignments.

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Cricklade – First Town of the Thames


The historic town of Cricklade in North Wiltshire makes for a charming and enjoyable visit. While house sitting in nearby Swindon, we packed a picnic lunch and went for a history lesson in this quintessential English town. Founded in the 9th Century by the Anglo-Saxons, Cricklade was strategically located where the Roman road Ermin Way crosses the Thames.


St. Sampson is the Church of England parish church and was built between 1240 and 1280 on the site of a 9th Century Saxon church. The majestic 4-pinnacled tower was built in 1551 – 1553 by John Dudley the 1st Duke of Northumberland.


St. Sampson stained glass window


Jenner Hall was built in 1652 and was one of the first free schools in England. It borders St. Sampson church yard and serves as a community center today.


Views across the rooftops reflect several centuries of history.


High Street boasts many fine Georgian homes as well as a mixture of cafes, shops and services.


There are fewer  of the iconic red telephone boxes in operation these days


The Red Lion Inn is a traditional English pub dating from the early 1600s.




The pride of the residents can be seen in the appearance of their homes along High Street and adjoining alleys.


St. Mary’s Catholic Church dates from the 12th Century and was built just inside the Saxon walls. Cricklade was one of several burhs (fortified towns) built by King Alfred in 878 – 879 as protection against the Vikings.


As you reach the north end of High Street you cross the River Thames which at this point is near its headwaters. There is a lovely foot path along the Thames and through a National Nature Reserve.


We spent about three hours wandering along High Street and the narrow lanes that led off it and could easily have spent the entire day. The pubs and restaurants looked inviting.


There are hundreds of fascinating historical towns and villages throughout England. This one was close however and we particularly enjoyed the feeling we got from a few short hours in Cricklade and wanted to share some of its charms.




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Parting Thoughts from Two Weeks in London


Millennium Bridge with view of St. Paul’s Cathedral

We finished our two week visit in London and while it is not the way we normally travel we did learn a lot and had a great overview of the city. First up is a very quick snapshot of some of the places we visited in the second week and then some overall thoughts on our London experience.


London Eye

We took a couple days off in between sightseeing to recharge and rest our feet, but we did go to visit Emirates Stadium (home of Arsenal Football Club), the Globe Theatre, Windsor Castle, Harrod’s of London, the British Museum and we walked the Millennium Bridge.


We loved the tour of Emirates Stadium and had a lot of fun walking around behind the scenes in the Director’s Club, the media areas, the team lockers, the tunnel and Anne even got to sit in the manager’s seat. Cool!


Windsor Castle and one of the gardens

Windsor Castle was overwhelming, both the structure itself as well as the remarkable collection of art, furniture, weaponry and other artifacts on display. Windsor was a quaint and interesting town but the overall touristy theme complete with high end boutiques, souvenir shops and McDonald’s didn’t work that well for us. We did enjoy a leisurely picnic lunch by the Thames which was great.


The Assyrian Exhibit – unbelievable reliefs!

The British Museum surpassed our expectations. Our downfall was spending over two hours in the first exhibit. It was massive and incredible. The Egyptian Afterlife exhibit also captivated us but it was very busy and there were far too many people crammed into the gallery. We were there on a weekend so perhaps a weekday would be better. We will definitely need to return!


Lady Diana and Dodi’s memorial at Harrods of London

One of the things we wanted to do while in London was to see a West End show. Our London Passes offered good discounts on some of the longer running productions, so we chose to see Stomp at the Ambassadors Theatre. It was a very entertaining and lively production and we thoroughly enjoyed it.


Outside the Ambassadors Theatre waiting for the afternoon show to start


Inside Ambassadors Theatre was wonderfully ornate with velvet seats

We had purchased two 10 day London Passes before leaving. We knew that we wanted to take this opportunity to see as much of the city and its attractions as we could and this seemed like a good way to do it. They are not cheap but you do have the opportunity for considerable savings.


The main media room of Emirates Stadium

The biggest drawback we found was that they need to be used on consecutive days. Once they are activated the clock starts ticking. Ideally we would liked to have had 6 or 7 days to use throughout our two week stay. In the end we did save approximately $100 CAD but in fact we found that we were going too much and would have preferred to take things at our normal pace. So yes, a good choice for first time visitors but once is enough.


Leicester Square

You absolutely need an Oyster card for getting around the city. You can buy one online ahead of time or at thousands of kiosks and shops around the city for just £5 . We found getting around London to be quite efficient, but it was very crowded, hot and stuffy at times on the Tube. We used the buses a lot and found them excellent – it just takes a little longer but you get to see parts of the city you wouldn’t see using the Tube. The biggest challenge we found with buses was finding the stop going in our direction, particularly on busy or one way streets. All the routes are online so we would map out how to get where we were going ahead of time. It was always an adventure!


In front of Buckingham Palace at the Changing of the Guard – we just arrived!


Changing of the Guard escorts waiting for the march down “The Mall”

Big surprise! There are a lot of people in London. Even though you think you are prepared for the press of people, the sheer numbers can at times be overwhelming. The combination of Londoners and tourists at rush hour, at the markets, on the Tube or jostling to the stations and the tourist attractions requires patience, perseverance and a little bit of passive aggression at times.


Low tide on the Thames – Looking for pieces of pipes and other bits on the foreshore

It is certainly easy to try and do too much. We probably did and felt like we needed some down time in between. Most days our feet and legs were sore at the end of the day – but no blisters!


We had a wonderful lunch in Chinatown


The “Old Guard”marching into Wellington Barracks


Leicester Square – setting up for premier of the new Ron Howard Beatles movie

The cultural diversity of London is amazing and it is reflected as you walk the streets and hear the myriad of languages commonly used, peruse the shops and smell the aromas coming from the markets, restaurants and food stalls which can be found in many areas. The diversity of activities is just as broad and you could spend weeks and never repeat the same experience.



St. James’s Park with Buckingham Palace in background

We loved the parks and green spaces that can be found in almost any area. Not being used to city living, we found ourselves drawn to the greenery, the bird life, the relative quiet and just the general respite from the bedlam and tourists. St. James’s Park in particular was very welcoming even though it is a stones throw from Buckingham Palace. With the pelicans swimming past and small flocks of parakeets overhead (yes parakeets) we almost felt we were in Costa Rica again – not!


White pelicans in St. James’s Park

We did miss the friendly good mornings and even smiles while we were in London. For the most part if you meet someone on the street and say good morning or hello you will get blank or even hostile looks thrown back at you. On a more positive note all of the staff we interacted with at the Tube stations, tourist attractions and most of the shopkeepers were very cheerful and helpful.


Shared back yard of our Airbnb apartment

Overall this was a wonderful experience and we don’t regret anything. We could have chosen a 6 day London Pass instead of the 10 day as our bodies were tired after about 6 hours of walking and exploring. We really enjoyed Leicester Square and Soho and would have liked to explore longer and see more shows. We were totally pleased with our Airbnb apartment and as always we love the freedom and the feeling of having a “home” that an apartment brings when we are in a place for an extended period of time. The next time we return to London we will feel more at ease and will start to delve a little bit deeper into its many charms.



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On the Tourist Trail in London

We have been in London for almost two weeks now, and are still very much in the “we can’t believe we are here and doing this” stage. As we mentioned in an earlier post we purchased the 10-day London Passes and decided we would be tourists for this two week period. Through this post, and the next, we will give you an overview of some of the sights we visited and our own impressions and reactions.


The flight “across the pond” was uneventful but tiring. We left St. John’s, Newfoundland at midnight and 4.5 hours later landed at Gatwick Airport. We had our train route picked out ahead of time and were able to catch a Thameslink train to London Bridge Station, and from there it was an easy bus ride to get us close to our apartment. We arrived around lunch time and immediately knew we were going to be happy in the cozy lower flat of a Victorian terrace home in Stoke Newington.


After an initial day of getting groceries, finding our way around the neighborhood and some relaxation we were ready to start exploring. But where to begin? One of the positive aspects of the London Pass is that it gives you free access to over 60 popular attractions. Of course you then have to decide which ones are right for you and once it is activated the 10 days have to be used consecutively.


View from the walkway of Tower Bridge

We decided to make it easy on ourselves and start with the ones that  were easily accessible by bus. Using the essential Oyster Card we could get on any bus, underground or train within the city limits. Of course the farther from the city center you travel the more expensive the fares are. The following are some of the attractions we were able to visit free of charge.


The Monument to the Great Fire of London was completed in 1677 and designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The 311 steps of the spiral staircase certainly tested our legs first thing in the morning, but the views were very impressive and a great way to see Central London.




Southwark Cathedral is London’s oldest Gothic building, the main structure being built between 1220 and 1420. One of the fascinating aspects of London is the juxtaposition of medieval and modern structures. Just a few blocks away stands The Shard which is the tallest building in Europe. The Borough Market next to Southwark has a good variety of international street food at fairly reasonable prices.





The London Bridge Experience is billed as one of the scariest attractions in the city. While it was well done, and quite informative, we would have been disappointed if we had to pay the full £27 admission fee.




One of our favorites so far was a visit to the HMS Belfast. This World War II warship is an iconic piece of Bankside and should be a part of your visit if you have an interest in naval or nautical history. We found it to be entertaining, educational and very well interpreted.



One of the most famous bridges in the world, the Tower Bridge is a wonderful example of a combined bascule and suspension bridge. The story of the bridge, which was completed in 1894 is told through an interpretive exhibition in one of the towers. A recent addition are glass floors in the walkways between the towers. We couldn’t help ourselves but to join the countless tourists in posing beneath the mirrors or photographing ourselves above the river and street traffic many feet below.



City Cruises is one of several Thames cruise and ferry operators between Central London and Greenwich. A full day pass is included with the London Pass so we opted to visit Greenwich which holds several treasures, especially for nautical enthusiasts. The ensemble of buildings and parks form Maritime Greenwich, a well deserved UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum, the Cutty Sark and the Queen’s House form the Royal Museums Greenwich, and are each fascinating in their own right but it is the feeling of living history you get that captivates you.


The critical role that Greenwich played in British (and world) maritime history can be felt and seen as you wander through Greenwich. The views are exceptional across the museum, Queen’s House and the Old Royal Naval College with the modern skyline of London as a backdrop.


Particularly emotional for us was the Nelson display in the Maritime Museum which includes the uniform he was wearing at the fateful but ultimately victorious Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. You can see the small hole in his uniform in the top left shoulder where the bullet entered piercing his lungs and lodging in his spine.


The voyage between Central London and Greenwich is equally as educational. Narrated by staff you learn some of the fascinating history of the pubs, wharves, docks and other structures along the riverfront. A popular example is the Captain Kidd pub which is named for the notorious pirate who was executed nearby on the gallows of Execution Dock.


We could not come to England and London without doing our utmost to see a proper football match. We are big fans of the Premier League, however tickets for matches are extremely hard to obtain, unless you are a member or buy an expensive travel package. So we were extremely lucky to get tickets to a Championship League fixture between Queens Park Rangers and Blackburn Rovers.


As we walked down the street approaching Loftus Road Stadium we were pinching ourselves and asking again “are we really here?” The obvious pride and enthusiasm we observed in the Londoners going to a match was infectious. This may have been a regular event for them, but for us it was huge!



We had excellent seats, just a few rows from the pitch where we could hear the players calling to one another, the calls of encouragement or derision from the supporters around us and see the expression on the referee’s face as he made his calls.


To try and sum up how we are feeling now, over a week into our new life it really still is amazement, excitement and thankfulness. We know already that we do not like the life of tourists and it is not what we have chosen over the long term. We are much more comfortable with taking our time, exploring local neighborhoods, meeting strangers and doing occasional day trips.


We have been enjoying London however and are amazed by the cultural diversity represented here, the ease of access to transportation and believe it or not by the great weather we have had! We’ll summarize our London experience in the next post and thank you for following along with us.




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Next Stop London


We are down to the final few days now and all that can be done has been done. Our bags are ready (a backpack and small suitcase each!), we have airline and train tickets bought, London Passes in hand, and our hotels and apartments are booked through until the end of March 2017. The house is empty, our car has been sold, the seemingly endless paperwork is looked after, and many goodbyes have been said. We are more than ready to begin….


House Rented – Car Sold!


5″x 10″ Storage Locker with U-Haul

Looking back at our time in Costa Rica we can clearly see now that it was only a trial run. It was a most enjoyable three months in many ways, however it was not the wholehearted change we are embarking on now. We still had a house and car to come back to and it was easy to tell everyone we would see them in three months – it didn’t seem real.


View of Lake Arenal, Costa Rica (2016)

As our departure date nears (Sept 4th) and our anticipation builds one of our major conversations has centered around the question of “what is our purpose for doing this?” In the end we decided that it doesn’t matter all that much. We know we need to do this, we know we want to explore and we know we want to open ourselves to new ideas and experiences, so for the time being that is enough. We are thrilled to have this opportunity and we recognize what a wonderful blessing it is! Where we will be and how we will feel about it all a few years from now – we have no idea – and that is totally fine.


We have also been busy streamlining our site to make it easier to navigate and we have created a Welcome page introducing what features are available and how they work. The content pages now use a drop down menu to access information specific to a destination. We hope that our changes provide a faster and easier way to sort through all our information. As always, we would love to hear from you and welcome any comments below.

Next stop – London for two weeks of sightseeing!

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View from London Eye (2009)


Tower Bridge (2009)

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Travel Tips: Simple European Train Booking

Eurostar_Class_374_on_HS1_(cropped) (1)

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Other than a short trip through Hamburg for Tim’s work, our only experience with European train travel was using a BritRail Pass in 2009. It was a great experience and we enjoyed the freedom of having the pass for our trip from London to Scotland. We were able to travel north to Edinburgh and return from Glasgow and incorporate stops along the way.

DSCF4007 (2015_10_17 13_44_39 UTC)

For our upcoming trip from London to Lisbon we will be traveling through four countries and utilizing various rail systems. We also wanted to travel during the day to maximize the amount of time we would have to see the countryside of western France and Spain. Where to begin? After searching through many pages we realized that everything we needed was there for us at The Man in Seat Sixty-One. The wealth of information is amazing, but beware, as you can easily get distracted as you plan hundreds of amazing itineraries.


Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

After looking through the material we found an itinerary that was just what we were looking for. We chose to take a longer and slightly more expensive four day journey from London to Lisbon via Paris, Irun, Vigo and Porto. The site laid out which trains to take, which stations they use, time for each leg and the estimated cost.

So the next question was how (and when) to book the tickets as the trip involved four different systems: Eurostar, TGF, Renfe and Portuguese Regional trains. We utilized Loco2 which is a British site that allows tickets to be purchased from Canada or almost anywhere you happen to be. One thing we hadn’t realized when we started researching was that most all of the European trains operate similar to airline style in that seats go on sale up to 3 months in advance and prices rise the closer you get to the departure date.


Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Once we had decided on the route we wanted and the dates, selection of our tickets was very straightforward on the site. You can view your seat selection (predetermined) at the time of booking. Some systems allow print at home ticketing while others require you to pick them up at the station using a reservation number. We were even able to purchase tickets on the the same transaction for the local British trains from London to Swindon where we will be house sitting.

We will let you know in October how we make out using the rail system itself, but for now we are very pleased with the ease in which we were able to research and purchase tickets. We are also trying out Tripit which collects all of our travel arrangements, reservations and information in one place with a handy app to use on the go. It is amazing how much technology can enable us to do once we take the opportunity to learn how to use it. We can’t imagine living this lifestyle without access to the tools that are currently available online.

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Unfinished Business: Back in Nova Scotia


Wolfville, Nova Scotia

We have been back in Nova Scotia for a month now and it has been somewhat of a roller coaster ride since we left the sunny beaches of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. We accomplished everything we had hoped for and more during our first extended trip.


Playa Coco, Costa Rica, April 2016

We had promised ourselves that when we returned to Nova Scotia we would try to maintain the same feelings of optimism, relaxation, exploration and adventure that worked so well for us over the past three months. Things didn’t work out quite as we thought. Here we were in mid-July, the weather was very cool and damp and we were in the same house with our old routines and absolutely no interest even for a house showing. This left us to wonder if we were even going to be able to rent it before we left in September. We were starting to experience some of the same concerns and anxieties we experienced back in March.

Back Yard with Gardens

Back garden of our house

We took a deep breath and started to process it all again, but in a lighter way. There were plenty of routine things to keep us busy and the weather was excellent once the first week of chilly days passed. We had visits with family and tried to focus on the all of the positive aspects of the past three months and the excitement of our upcoming adventures, but little setbacks kept creeping in.


View from the Look-off near Canning, Nova Scotia

We couldn’t sell our house and had to try the rental approach. Some disappointments in that process also added to the reality of how much was out of our control when it comes to dealing with the housing market.

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Across the Grand Pre dykelands to Cape Blomidon, Nova Scotia

We also learned we are going to have to get used to the fact that not everyone is as excited or as free of responsibilities as we are. We have accepted the feeling of being outsiders in many ways as we set off on our travels. Other long term travelers have shared that they have experienced similar reactions. We are okay with this and will make everything work. We may never get this chance again and we want to make the best of this opportunity we have created!

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Taken from the London Eye while on our 2 day visit in 2009

However has been a lot of fun making the final preparations for our European fall. With the money we save by house sitting for a month we decided to treat ourselves to two weeks in London. We were there for two nights in 2009 and liked what we saw. We have rented an apartment and purchased a London Pass and Oyster card to become the ultimate tourists. We’ll let you know how they work out but they do seem like a great way to see many of London’s top attractions at somewhat reasonable cost.

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London Tower Bridge 2009

We also have our train tickets for the trip to Portugal in October. We set out to be aimless nomads but we already have apartments booked in Lisbon and Lagos, Portugal as well as a cabina in Ecuador for the winter. Perhaps we aren’t quite as aimless as we thought, but we certainly allow random ideas and inspirations to take over our planning. We have also found that in order to get rentals within our budget we have to book early or when opportunities present themselves.


Habitant River near our house in Habitant, Nova Scotia

In the last few days things have turned around and we have a renewed sense of excitement. The biggest step forward is that we have secured a long term arrangement for our house. So when we leave for London we will truly begin our nomadic lifestyle and won’t look back.


Dartmouth, Nova Scotia with our Son, Erik and Tim’s Sister, Jennifer

The weather has been absolutely perfect for the past three weeks, our blueberries are ripening and we have spent some enjoyable time with friends and family. By being back here for the past month we have learned that it is easy to slip back into the familiar routine that we had been in for the past 10 years and that isn’t at all what we want. Our time in Costa Rica gave us a brief glimpse at what we have created through our years of planning so now we want to see it through!



So we say farewell to Nova Scotia with fond memories and open ourselves to an amazing adventure ahead of us when we leave on September 4th. Unlike our time in Costa Rica, which was primarily for relaxation and contemplation, the next few months will be new territory for us. We expect to be challenged, educated and amazed with our new lifestyle.

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The sky is our limit….

We really appreciate that you have followed along so far and hope you will enjoy our stories. We will continue to provide practical information on the areas we visit and express how we feel about our homes along the way and our new lifestyle. We would love to hear from you! Please feel free to comment below with your thoughts on what we are doing or experiences any of you have had from embarking on the same path.

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Parting Thoughts – Three Months in Costa Rica

It is hard to believe that we have come to the end of the first leg of our adventure. We have a much better tan, have lost a few pounds, shed a lot of emotional baggage and have accumulated innumerable fond memories from our time in Costa Rica. We are only beginning to come to terms with what it means to adopt a nomadic lifestyle but so far it has exceeded our expectations.


We chose Costa Rica as our first stop as we wanted an opportunity to relax as well as ease into our new life. It is a country we love to visit and generally knew what to expect. What we didn’t know was how we would respond to being on the road for an extended period.


Our condo complex in Playas del Coco

It was easy to settle into our condo at Playas del Coco and we were very happy with it throughout our stay. There was plenty of space for us, a nice pool on site, WiFi coverage was decent and it was a short walk to the beach and a small supermarket. Probably the aspect that took the most time to adapt to was the lack of privacy that living in a small enclosed complex like this affords. In the future we are going to be spending more time in apartments and other close quarters so we will get used to it.


We were there in the shoulder season so rent was affordable. Water, internet and cell costs were also very reasonable. Electricity is expensive so that was our largest utility cost. Food prices tend to be expensive so you have to be careful what you buy and where. There are some good options like trucks selling fruit, vegetables and eggs, sale days at the local grocery stores and farmer’s markets (ferias) where they are available. Anything imported is very expensive so this is another good reason to eat local and fresh. To have a look at our monthly expense summary you can check out our Money Matters page.


One of the aspects of staying in one place that we particularly enjoyed was being able to settle into a routine. Watching school children head to school every day, seeing the changes in the vegetation as the seasons change, saying hello and practicing Spanish with the staff at the local supermarket and experiencing a different scene on the beach every day were just some of the simple pleasures we were able to experience as a result of having time.


We observed as every day a pair of white-winged doves constructed a nest on our roof, putting it together one blade of grass at a time.

After a week of rain around the first of June there were literally dozens of baby iguanas and lizards all around the yard and pool. We were able to watch them grow and laughed as they ate the fresh flowers around our patio each morning.


During our stay we did use the opportunity for some great road trips, exploration and a chance to visit more of this diverse and beautiful country. We rented a car for two extended trips and in both cases we were very pleased with the quality of service and price we received.  For our trip to Monteverde we used a reasonably priced local shuttle service. There are many ways to get around and we would recommend taking the opportunity to visit as many places as you can.

We have noted most of the major areas for birding that we visited on this trip on our Birding Along the Way page. Undoubtedly the Monteverde cloud forests were a highlight for us and we were fortunate to see several life sightings including our first resplendent quetzals. The coastal areas also provided many interesting sightings.


White Ibis

Throughout our stay, as in previous visits we were treated with respect, kindness, openness and friendship from nearly everyone we met. At the risk of offending others, we found the people of Monteverde to be especially gracious and welcoming with a sense of pride and entrepreneurship that was a delight to experience.

So will we return to Costa Rica? A definite yes, but it may  be a while. There are so many positive aspects to this relatively small country. Its biodiversity and beauty are undeniable while the friendliness of its people, the relatively good infrastructure and accessibility all make it an attractive destination for a short term visit but also a potential long term option.


However, Costa Rica is not as cheap as it used to be. Prices for accommodation, essentials and services have risen quite dramatically in the past few years. While this places a strain on visitor’s wallets, it has a serious impact on Ticos who for the most part have to pay the same increased prices we do, and generally on a much lower wage. As tourism continues to expand, infrastructure must be put in place to accommodate the millions of visitors and funding must come from somewhere.

As with anywhere that tourism is a major industry there can be significant divides between the local communities and their visitors. In many instances Costa Rica has done an excellent job in setting aside large areas of land and marine spaces for conservation, encouraging local ownership and entrepreneurship and fostering a pride in its beauty, culture and diversity.

For our tastes we enjoy the smaller mountain and coastal towns and tend to avoid the larger areas such as San Jose and its surrounding areas, Tamarindo and Jaco. But that is just our preference and many others have found what they have been looking for in these larger towns an cities which do provide more services.


In summary we reconfirmed that we love warm weather, a relaxed and friendly lifestyle and rich biodiversity. We also reconfirmed that we are entirely comfortable in spending our time together. By the end of our three months we felt fulfilled with what we had experienced and learned, but we also recognized that we there are still many aspects of a nomadic life that we need to get better at. Packing lighter (no surprise), better use of technology and adapting to less privacy are at the top of our list for improvements.


Perhaps more than anything we realized that we love this lifestyle and are so thankful and excited to be able to have this opportunity. Thank you all for travelling along with us, and we hope you join us on our next adventure – we are off to Europe!


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Walking in the Clouds – Monteverde Part III


The technical definition of a cloud forest is not universally agreed upon but in general terms it refers to tropical or subtropical mountainous regions where conditions allow for consistent cloud cover. This causes significant moisture to condense on the canopy which in turns drips to the plants below. These important ecosystems occupy approximately 1% of the earth’s surface and are home to an immense diversity of unique flora and fauna, many species of which can be found nowhere else.


The Monteverde area is one location where cloud forests thrive, and provide some of the best opportunities to experience these productive ecosystems firsthand. There are currently four reserves in the area which have various levels of protection. The Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserves are the most well known but there are also the private Curi-Cancha Reserve and the Children’s Eternal Rainforest in the area which are well worth exploring.


For our first hike we chose the Curi-Cancha Reserve ($14 USD entrance fee) which is lesser known, but it contains a mix of primary and secondary forests in the lower reaches, which allows for good viewpoints.


As you venture further into the reserve you encounter mainly primary forest and gradually reach slightly higher altitudes.


We had chosen to hire a local professional guide for our first hike and we would recommend this whenever you can. All of the guides we have encountered in Costa Rica have been knowledgeable, professional and extremely proud of the biodiversity of their country. Rafael was no exception and we would have missed so much without him.


As you are walking through the forest there are many sounds and to the untrained ear most are indistinguishable. We have done quite a bit of birding but when we are in a new area are still unable to determine the species we are hearing. Additionally, trained guides like Rafael are able to imitate almost every bird and animal sound in the forest which can draw them close out of curiosity or to see who is encroaching on their territory.


One of the birds we were interested in seeing was a resplendent quetzal which is one of the reasons many people travel to Monteverde. We heard one off in the distance, but even after repeated calling Rafael was not able to get us close to it. We did see several three-wattled bellbirds whose distinctive appearance and call are unmistakable. This species has the loudest call of any on earth and can be heard for over a kilometer.


Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

We spent about 4 hours on the trails of the reserve and with Rafael’s assistance we were able to identify over 40 species of birds of which nearly half were life time sightings for us. Of equal enjoyment was the great exercise in a wondrous natural setting and all that we learned of the cloud forests from Rafael. We arrived back at the parking lot just as the rain began.


For our next hike we chose the Monteverde Cloud Biological Forest Reserve ($20 USD entrance fee) and decided to do the hike without a guide. We wanted to take our time, explore the trails and we were comfortable enough to at least hear and spot the birds and animals along the way. As well, we wanted to use the opportunity to stand astride to Continental Divide which runs through this reserve. If we were fortunate enough to spot a quetzal then that would be an added bonus.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Since we weren’t going to be with a guide we gathered as much information as we could at the main entrance. As it turned out there was a quetzal nesting area just 100 m from the entrance and we headed there straight away. We were treated to the unforgettable sight of both a male and a female feeding a young chick in a nesting box. It was a remarkable experience and one that will always remain with us. Unfortunately the sun was directly behind them so we weren’t able to get any shots as spectacular as the one we featured above.


We set out on the 2 km long Sendero Bosque Nubosa trail that gradually winds upwards through some magnificent vegetation with very scenic viewpoints. We met few people along the way and the scents, sounds and visual features of the forest placed us in a very primeval setting, far away from the modern world.



At the end of the trail we took another short path further upwards to La Ventana look-off which is astride the Continental Divide. From this panoramic viewpoint at an elevation of around 1280 m you are able to look across both the Caribbean and Pacific slopes. The vegetation is remarkably different at this point with stunted trees and forests sculpted by the winds giving way to the giants of the cloud forests below.



The trail system within the park is very well marked and maintained. Given the amount of rain within the reserve it is obvious that a lot of care and attention has been given to keep the surfaces reasonably dry, even and very easy for walking. As we gradually descended along a different route the feeling of being in a different time remained with us until we arrived back at the entrance.


During our time in the reserve we identified 15 different species of birds, including 5 life time species. Compared with the number of species identified with a guide, this is quite low, however we felt that we did not miss too many and were able to spend as much time relaxing along the way as we wanted to.


There is a very reasonably priced ($1.50 USD) bus service to and from the reserve which we took back into town in the early afternoon rain. While we were waiting we took the time to go across the street from the entrance to a fabulous hummingbird feeding area which is free of charge. There were at least 50+ hummingbirds there and if you stood still around the feeders you could actually feel them buzzing by your head. Their colours are exquisite and we could have spent hours there!


We were very satisfied with both of our cloud forests hikes and they solidified for us the main reason for visiting Monteverde area. The unique flora and fauna, the spectacular habitats and vistas all combine with the friendly and proud residents of the cloud forests to create an experience like nowhere else in this country with so many memorable areas. We’re already looking forward to another visit in the future.


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