Alternating our Current Path*

*Note:  The title refers to Šibenik, Croatia, being the first city in the world illuminated exclusively by hydroelectric power.  Croatia’s most famous favorite son, Nikola Tesla, invented the alternating current generator now used in power generating plants throughout the world.

*Note: The title refers to Šibenik, Croatia, being the first city in the world illuminated exclusively by hydroelectric power. Croatia’s most famous favorite son, Nikola Tesla, invented the alternating current generator now used in power generating plants throughout the world. This statue of Tesla sitting outside his childhood home near Smiljan, Croatia, is nearly life-sized –  he was 6’4″ tall.

As we prepare to move to Šibenik (SHE beh neek), Croatia, several followers have commented things like, ‘You guys are The 6 Monthers.  Are you going to change your name to The 3 Monthers?’  No, we are not going to change our name.  Our plans have always been flexible and six months in a country is a guideline, not a rule. 

The Botanical Gardens in Glasgow, Scotland

The Botanical Gardens in Glasgow, Scotland

Coming to Europe our original destination was Ireland.  When the people we attempted to connect with for housing did not respond, we expanded our search to include Scotland.  The same thing occurred as we were leaving Panama last January.  Originally, we were going to move to Costa Rica.  No one responded to our inquiries about an apartment there, so we expanded our search to include Mexico.  Our decision to move there is one that we never regretted. 


Rosslyn Chapel, just south of Edinburgh, Scotland

Rosslyn Chapel, just south of Edinburgh, Scotland

Florence had visited Ireland on her first trip abroad thirty years ago.  Scotland represented an opportunity to explore someplace new for both of us.  We had an amazing summer in the land of bagpipes, Scotch whisky, kilts and castles.  We attended the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo at the Edinburgh Festival.  Among the many churches we visited on the ABC Tour, we saw Rosslyn Chapel, the 500 year old church made famous in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code where some of the movie was filmed.

A glimpse of the Dalmatian Coast from the nearby hills

A glimpse of the Dalmatian Coast from the nearby hills

The offer to visit Croatia as journalists in September was an unexpected opportunity.   We knew almost nothing about Croatia except that they and Romania were the newest members of the European Union.  We discovered a country more beautiful than anything we could have imagined.  We met people with smiling faces and open hearts that welcomed us.  We made friends that could hardly wait to see us again. 

When we returned to Scotland at the end of September the rain was regular. The days were colder and the nights were longer.  Popular attractions were closing for the winter.  When the opportunity came to finish out our current six months back in Croatia, it was a no-brainer.  The days are 20° warmer than Scotland, and we will save nearly half on our monthly expenses compared to the cost of living in Scotland. 


We made new friends in Croatia.

We made new friends in Croatia.

We had a great time in Scotland, and someday we hope to return to see some of the attractions we missed.  This weekend we are headed back to lower latitudes on the lovely Dalmatian Coast.  We will visit more of Croatia’s incredible sights.   We will party with new friends.  Then it is on to Spain in January where The 6 Monthers return to our regularly scheduled program to live in a new country every six months.  At least that is the plan.

100 Stories and We Have Only Just Begun

Entering Plitvička Lakes National Park, Croatia

On our September, 2013 trip near the entrance to Plitvička Lakes National Park, Croatia

This is my 100th post in the year plus since I started this blog.  Out of curiosity I went back over all of my previous stories to see which were the most popular.  I discovered the top five most-viewed posts dealt with some aspect of how we travel, how we budget, how we decide where to live and how we adapt to our living arrangements. 

Touring the islands of Lake Nicaragua - Granada, Nicaragua

Touring the islands of Lake Nicaragua
Granada, Nicaragua

As much as I would love to think readers wish to see our pretty pictures and learn about different places in various countries, it turns out what is most popular is to learn about the process of traveling.  This realization made me think perhaps I should use fewer words discussing ‘what’ and dedicate more effort discussing ‘how.’  I will keep that in mind.

If there is one thing I have learned, it is that there are thousands, if not millions, of travel blogs.  I am a relative newcomer to the world of travel and the blog scene.  While I would dearly love to do distinguish myself in that realm, I have barely scratched the surface.  I feel fortunate to have several things in my favor.

Altar of the feathered serpent Xochicalco, Mexico

Altar of the feathered serpent
Xochicalco, Mexico

First, The 6 Monthers concept is fairly unique.  There are other travelers who choose a variety of destinations and stay for extended lengths of time.  However, I have not discovered anyone else taking our six-months-at-a-time approach, which is why we purchased the web domain.  Our challenge now is to increase our visibility beyond the few thousand people that have heard of us. 

Mike: 'What's that sound?' Florence: 'My teeth chattering.' Torres del Paine NP, Chile

Mike: ‘What’s that sound?’
Florence: ‘My teeth chattering.’
Torres del Paine NP, Chile

Second, I retired a couple of years ago and I now have time to pursue with a passion both travel and writing.  With Florence’s social media and photography expertise, we leveraged our skills to earn an invitation to travel for three-and-a-half weeks in Croatia as the guests of Dhar Media and to help promote tourism in their country.  That was cool!  Our ambition now is to carry our experience forward to other countries to help bolster their tourism industry while saving on expenses.  Sharing those kinds of experiences would dovetail nicely with writing more about the ‘How to’ of travel.

On the main island of Antigua - Leeward Islands, Caribbean Sea

On the main island of Antigua
Leeward Islands, Caribbean Sea

Finally, I want to someday point back to something meaningful to say, “I created that.”  Perhaps it will be a book.  We have published one children’s book, and we have a dozen more waiting in the wings.  We would love to score a publishing deal so we could get our books illustrated for young readers.  We would love to teach children about the people and animals and cultures from around the world.  And we would love to build our name, The 6 Monthers, which might one day be worthwhile to the next generation of travelers.

We have our work cut out for us.  Every great idea that amounted to something required perseverance, creativity, and passion, things we think we have.  We now look ahead as we pursue our journey and continue our travels down as yet unexplored roads.  As always, I hope you will accept my invitation to join us and share your thoughts along the way.

Dunfermline, Scotland – Birthplace of Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie statue in Pittencrieff Park Photo credit:

Andrew Carnegie statue erected in 1914 in Pittencrieff Park, Dunfermline
Photo credit:

While visiting Dunfermline we discovered the Andrew Carnegie Museum which was built around the humble cottage where Carnegie was born. The story of his youth makes his rise to become the richest man in the world* all the more intriguing.

The Carnegie's occupied the top floor, left half of this cottage.

The Carnegie’s shared the top floor of this cottage with another family.

In addition to telling the life story of Andrew Carnegie, the museum preserved the humble one room loft apartment where he was born and where his family cooked, ate and slept. Another family occupied the room across the hall. The first floor space was taken up by hand looms. Andrew’s mother, Margaret Carnegie, worked to hand weave towels and linens. Once textile factories mechanized the weaving process, the Carnegies fell on hard times.

Andrew Carnegie was born in this room, beds on the right, dining table to the left.

Andrew Carnegie was born in this room, beds on the right, dining table to the left, no kitchen, no bathroom. Cooking was done at the fireplace.

Against the wishes of Andrew’s father, Margaret decided they should emigrate to Allegheny County, Pennsylvania where she had a sister. Andrew was 12 years old when they made the journey. Although education was not mandatory, Andrew had voluntarily attended school starting at the age of 8 and learned the basics. He put his sharp mind to use on his first job at age 15. He earned $1.20/week as a telegraph operator where he became invaluable by being able to translate Morse code messages by ear without having to write down the words.

Two of these hand looms occupied the cottage's first floor.

Two of these hand looms occupied the cottage’s first floor.

Carnegie was hired as a personal secretary at $4.00/week at the age of 18 by Thomas A. Scott, owner of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, one of the largest railroads in the country. Carnegie quickly rose to the role of superintendent of the Pittsburgh office. Carnegie’s relationship with Scott made possible an investment in Adams Express, which carried messages to corporate offices as they came in by telegraph. Margaret had to mortgage their house for $500 against its $700 value to make the payment. The investment paid off. Adams Express later grew to become American Express with Carnegie getting in on the ground floor.

The Carnegie steel mill at Homestead, PA, 1905 Photo credit:

The Carnegie steel mill at Homestead, PA, 1905
Photo credit:

The outbreak of the American Civil War called for rapid, large scale expansion of the railroads. Carnegie did not invest in railroads. He invested in the companies who supplied railcars, locomotives and parts to the railroads. Carnegie used money from his investments to open a steel plant using state-of-the-art technology to sell rails to the railroads. He also invested in iron mines, shipping and refineries. Eventually, Carnegie’s expanding steel empire threatened the future of other steel producers because he now owned the entire supply chain as well as the finished goods.

The library at Homestead, PA included a swimming pool, a 1,000 seat theater and a bowling alley as free facilities for employees.  Photo credit:

The library at Homestead, PA includes a swimming pool, a 1,000 seat theater and a bowling alley free for employees.
Photo credit:

In order to stop him from overtaking the industry, the steel producers needed an investor who had the funds to buy him out. John Pierpont Morgan envisioned an integrated steel industry with efficiencies based on consolidation and minimizing waste. In 1901, Carnegie was 66 years old and ready to retire, so he accepted the largest corporate buyout in history.  J.P. Morgan paid Carnegie $480 million ($13.2 billion today) and U. S. Steel was born. Carnegie spent the next twenty years of his life funding public works including the building of over 2,800 public libraries. He endowed the Universities of Scotland with $10 million including scholarships for boys who could otherwise not afford a university education. The Carnegie Trust continues to endow numerous universities.

The World Court at The Hague, The Netherlands Photo credit:

The World Court at The Hague, The Netherlands
Photo credit:

As a pacifist, Carnegie had the Peace Palace built at The Hague in The Netherlands, which today houses the International Court of Justice (The World Court), and is still managed by the Carnegie Trust. The Trust also supported the Children’s Television Workshop. The Carnegie Museum displays Bert and Ernie puppets to commemorate the Trust’s support for the production of Sesame Street, now in its 44th year and broadcast in 140 countries.

Growing up in Dunfermline, Carnegie was excluded from entering the nearby private Pittencrieff Estate. In 1902, Carnegie purchased the 76 acre estate and gifted it to the people of Dunfermline. Today, as we depart Dunfermline, we pass Pittencrieff Park where now stands a statue of Andrew Carnegie, a self-made business mogul and philanthropist, a famous American and a favorite son of Scotland.

*Note: Using CPI cost-of-living statistics, Carnegie’s net worth would have been $13 billion today. Using GDP figures to determine the costs of goods and services at the turn of the century, Carnegie’s purchasing power would be comparable to $165 billion today.

Expat Scotland

Stanley Mills – 200 Years of Textile Production

We entered the Stanley Mills site on the same path used by employees for two centuries.

We entered the Stanley Mills site on the same path used by employees for two centuries.

Just seven miles north of Perth is the village of Stanley, a town that was originally built to house mill workers in the late 1700’s. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, workers were drawn from farm labor to factory work. It was often the women and children who took the factory jobs at Stanley Mills to supplement their meager farm income, at least at first. Less than 400 workers were needed in the first years of flax weaving. However, over 2,000 workers were needed at the height of cotton weaving production.

Carding tons of cotton was a huge job requiring big machines.

Carding tons of cotton required big machines.

Some of the buildings had been vandalized and one building was lost to fire – perhaps arson. Historic Scotland took possession of the mills to preserve them for posterity. Interpretive displays and period carding and spinning machines are exhibited to help visitors picture what the textile workers’ daily lives were like. Much of the work was mind-numbingly tedious, like placing spools on spindles and threading looms. Factory noise must have been nerve wracking given the number of machines at work.

Giant troughs housed waterwheels large enough to power the factory.

Giant troughs housed waterwheels large enough to power the factory.

The mills increased production capabilities based on technological advances throughout the Industrial Revolution. At first, a giant water wheel turned belts connected to drive shafts on all four factory floors, each with its respective task. As cotton became the most profitable fabric, one floor was for carding the fibers, cleaning out impurities. Another floor began the spinning process to make threads of various thicknesses. The top floor was for weaving fabric on huge looms. The factory also produced continuous belts of various sized loops and thicknesses to ship to other factories for use as drive belts for their own machines. Cigarette factories were important customers for drive belts from Stanley Mills.

Stanley Mill condos now overlook the Tay River.

Stanley Mills condos now overlook the Tay River.

The water from the Tay River provided the mill with the energy required. Water tunnels were eventually built from upriver because the water level ebbed and flowed with the changing seasons. The water wheels were replaced with water powered turbines for a more efficient energy source, and in the 20th century the turbines drove generators that provided hydroelectric power.

The mills went through several cycles of expansion and shutdowns based on fluctuations in the economy. When India gained its independence, they began their own cotton production and imposed tariffs on British cotton that cost Stanley Mills a huge market for their goods.

Women wove belts on these machines. Skilled hands sewed the belts into continuous loops.

Women wove belts on these machines. Skilled hands sewed the belts into continuous loops.

Eventually, cotton was displaced by synthetic fibers as the favorite materials in the marketplace. Stanley Mills made the conversion to synthetic weaving to keep the factory operating. Cotton made a comeback as a desirable fabric in the 1980’s, but the mill could not afford the cost of retro-fitting and Stanley Mills ceased operations in 1989.

Country living at stylish Stanley Mills

Country living at stylish Stanley Mills

Today, some of the buildings have been refurbished to provide housing. The condominium units overlooking the river now sell for £125,000 GBP, about $193,000 USD, plus grounds maintenance fees. There are still units available for anyone who might like to live in this historic pastoral site overlooking the Tay River.

Picturesque Pitlochry, or How Scotch is Made

The castle-like house marks the entry to the 5 star Athol Palace Hotel.

This castle-like house marks the entry to the 5 star Atholl Palace Hotel.

An hour long bus ride from Perth took us through scenic farmland, villages and towns on the road to Pitlochry at the foot of the Northern Highlands. We were seeking out Edradour, the smallest distillery in Scotland. However, the two mile trek through fields and forests to get there convinced us to take the more accessible tour of Blair Atholl Distillery instead.

Courtyard entrance to the distillery - no cameras allowed inside.

Courtyard entrance to the distillery – no cameras allowed inside.

As we arrived we were quickly slipped ahead of a bus tour group into a private tour with an English couple as we began to learn how Scotch is made. So as not to bore you with a lot of details, here are a few high points:

  1. 1. A 69,000 liter vat of mountain spring water is mixed with over eight tons of malted barley and fermented to make a ‘barley beer’ with 9% alcohol. After siphoning off the beer the remaining mash is sold as feed to dairy farmers.
    2. The first distillation comes out of the condenser with a 25% alcohol level. The liquid is then diverted to a spirit still where it comes out as a clear liquid at or near 70% alcohol.
    3. The amber color of Scotch comes from aging barrels of American Oak previously used to age bourbon whiskey. After four years aging Scotch takes on a pale yellow hue. After eight years it is a darker yellow, and twelve years later Scotch attains its classic amber color.
    4. Scotch aged longer than twelve years is not necessarily a superior product. Evaporation takes place during aging which alters the composition and thus, the taste of the whisky.
    5. Most Scotches are blends of up to 35 varieties to achieve a smoother taste. Blair Atholl, a relatively small distillery, produces 3 million liters/year of single malt Scotch, about 1% of the world market.
Pitlochry is a popular vacation destination and tour stop.

Pitlochry is a popular vacation destination and tour stop.

We sampled a dram of twelve year old Scotch with instructions on how to maximize the experience. For example, a single malt Scotch should be stored at or below room temperature. Never chill good Scotch over ice, or you might as well get the cheap stuff and add soda pop. You can enjoy a milder taste by adding a little cold water of the purest quality available. Warm a small serving of whisky by cradling the glass in your hands. Breathe the vapors as you would a fine wine. Then sip and let the liquid move slowly over your palate before swallowing. We enjoyed the experience. However, the flavor of Scotch is still not one of my favorites, and I certainly would not pay over $50 for a bottle of single malt.

The countryside outside of Pitlochry is lush and scenic.

The countryside outside of Pitlochry is lush and scenic.

After the tour we walked up the road into the town of Pitlochry and found out it is a major stopping point for tours. We saw busloads of Russians, Germans and Swedes during our walk through town. A drive through the outskirts showed that B&B’s, hotels and guest houses were numerous.

The town is bordered on the north by a huge national park, so the surrounding scenery is captivating. It is not difficult to see why it is so popular a destination. If we were to continue north from Pitlochry, the road would take us past Loch Ness to the northern city of Inverness, but that is a story for another day.

The Most Influential Blogger Award

Who won an award? Seriously?

You won an award?  Well, congratulations.  No, seriously.
Photo credit: Matt Pereira

My first blog award was such an important affirmation that somebody was actually reading something I posted. Within a few months, I began to feel like I was part of a community – the blogosphere. Another award or two came in and I soon found myself preoccupied with acknowledgements and questionnaires.

I stopped posting stories like ‘Look, I got an award!’ I am not one to hang certificates or wear lapel pins that announce accomplishments, although I posted the awards on my About page. I also did not know enough bloggers to pass the award forward to ten or fifteen people according to the rules of the awards. It began to feel like I was posting an electronic chain letter. Remember those? Now Facebook does stuff like ‘share this if you love your mother.’  So what, people do not love their mothers if they do not share a link?

most-influential-bloggerNevertheless, I like this award. I like the questions in the ‘Tell us something about yourself’ portion. I like Robin and her blog Witless Dating After Fifty who sent me this award. And I like some deserving writers out there, especially the newbies that are worthy of recognition. If you do not see your name on the list below it may be because I recognized you recently. Or if you just want another cool award, email me and I will add you along with some nice words. You know who you are.

Here is the questionnaire:

If you could create your own planet what would it look like?
I am quite fond of the planet we are on, although I would add more trees and fresh water, and perhaps a few more glaciated peaks with lots of waterfalls – big waterfalls!

If you could visit one nation you have never visited before, what nation would that be?
This is funny since I am embarking on a mission to accomplish exactly this – to visit lots of nations I have never visited. Instead, I will say my favorite nation so far is Chile because right now, if I were asked to choose one place to live it would be Chile. Or maybe Canada. Or Germany. Or Italy? Or…

Have you ever taken a long distance train trip?
Yes – in 1973 my fiancé and I reserved a Pullman sleeper compartment for a 48 hour trip from Chicago to Seattle.

What is something you would collectively change about humanity?
I would make bartering the only standard payment so that people would be rewarded for how hard they work at whatever skill they chose. I think I would also require term limits for every politician and appointee.

Huey LewisWhat is your favorite song?
I occasionally change my favorite song. After my divorce it was The Eagles’ Already Gone. I am in a wonderful relationship now, so my favorite song is Some Kind of Wonderful co-written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and first released in 1961 by The Drifters. I prefer the versions by Huey Lewis and the News and Grand Funk Railroad, which are quite similar. And I love anything a cappella.

Chris Berman, ESPN Commentator Extraordinaire

Chris Berman, ESPN Commentator Extraordinaire

If you could meet one person who is still alive who would you choose to meet?
I would pick someone with whom I could talk sports for hours. That would have to be Chris Berman, one of ESPN’s original announcers. He still does “The Fastest Two Minutes in Football” during the Monday Night Football halftime show, with his iconic saying, ‘He – could – go – all – the – way!’

otterIf you could choose one symbol to represent you, what would that symbol be and why?
I would be represented by an animal – the river otter. They are adorable creatures who know how to play and have fun, have beautiful fur coats, and they are incredible swimmers. Throw in some fresh fish and life is good!

Blogs I wish to acknowledge in alphabetical order:

Aja’s Northwest Life  – Aja’s stories and photos make me to think about my home.

A Lifetime’s Exploration – Sarah Ryan makes me appreciate how much she has traveled at such a young age.

Cô Kerri – Kerri makes me think about her profession as a teacher who chose to teach English in Viet Nam. My mother was a teacher. Enough said.

I’ve Got Some ‘Spaining To Do – Nancy makes me to think about living in different cultural settings.

Gallivance – James and Terri have already won every conceivable award and I hope my blog will one day be as successful. I also mention them because they have been many places I hope to go, and they are damn good writers.

Honk If You’re Vegan – Celeste is a friend and she has influenced how I eat. I cannot imagine a greater influence in one’s life.

Tales From The Motherland – My list of influential bloggers would be incomplete without my friend, Dawn, who reminds me about parenting, the Pacific Northwest and lots of other stuff.

The High Cost of Living in Scotland

Scone Palace near Perth, Scotland

Scone Palace near Perth, Scotland

Back in February I posted a story spelling out our finances for living in a new country every six months. Our plan is still to live on a budget of $1,500/month. That was not a challenge in Panama or Mexico. In Scotland, however, the cost of living is greater and so is the challenge to stay within our budget.

The Tay River and downtown Perth, Scotland

The Tay River and downtown Perth, Scotland

Showing both British Pounds and U.S. dollars, our budget breaks down as follows:

• Rent £495/month – $770/month
• Utilities £60/month (electricity, internet, phone) – $95/month
• Everything else £400/month (food, clothing, entertainment, transportation) – $625/month

We are able to manage within our budget during our six months in Scotland, but it is a tight budget. We do not have much flexibility for extras, especially if anything unexpected should arise like medical expenses. In fact, the cost of living in Perth, Scotland, is close to what it would cost in similar size cities in the United States.

The City of Edinburgh from Edinburgh Castle

The City of Edinburgh from Edinburgh Castle

We will not have much of a budget surplus once we factor in the cost of our next move. Fortunately, our next destination of Spain is not that far to travel compared to our recent transcontinental move. The travel distance from Edinburgh to Madrid is about 1,100 miles, about the same as the distance from Vancouver, Canada, to Los Angeles. And flying is not only the fastest, but also the cheapest means to get to Spain.

Inside St. John's Kirk, the burgh church of Perth

Inside St. John’s Kirk, the burgh church of Perth

Lessons learned on this leg of our journey:
1.  Line up housing in advance. We thought we could find an apartment more easily than we did. Although we do not regret the sightseeing we did, we spent more than we wanted in order to wait to get into the apartment we found.
2.  Confirm broadband internet service in advance. We could not get a contract for internet service without setting up a direct debit account in the UK, something we were unable to do as non-residents. We would have paid the extra expense to have the landlord set this up for us if we had known. The dongles (USB plug-and-play appliances that provide internet access via T-Mobile’s cell phone system) are on a 3G network. That is not broadband, and it will not support Skype.

We have no complaints about Scotland. The water is good, the air is clean, the country is beautiful, and the people here are friendly. Plus, Florence and I are delighted that everyone here speaks English, although they do speak with quite an interesting accent.