Though the main course was to be all British, we chose to cast aside the plum duff and brandy butter and go French for dessert. My friend baked agalette des rois (King's Cake), and I made the classic French Christmas log, or buche de Noël. La buche comes from a Celtic-pagan celebration when people would search for a large chunk of tree at the winter solstice, which they would burn as a symbol of the rebirth of the sun. The Catholic Church did not eradicate the custom in later years, and a log is still burned in many French homes, particularly in farming communities, from Christmas Eve until New Year's in the hope that it brings good crops and good fortune in the year to come. Nowadays, the log is more commonly represented by the edible buche de Noël, which holds center place on French tables during Christmastime dinners. It's made from a Genoese sponge, which is covered in chocolate buttercream and scratched with a fork to make it look like a log. The more adventurous cooks add little trees and Christmas figures.La galette des rois is a more recent addition to French Christmases, dating back to the 14th century. It's a flaky pastry circle that's filled with almond cream. In times gone by, a dried bean (une fève) was placed inside the cake. The person who got the fève was king for the day. The fève has been replaced by all sorts of figurines from tiny kings to cartoon figures. On Christmas Eve, our kids adopted a French custom and left their shoes by the fireplace for Père Noël to fill with gifts and sweets. But not wanting to totally forego our usual tradition of hanging stockings at the end of their beds, they were allowed to double up. Santa was extra busy that night in our home.I found the fève that year; called Maggy, she's a character from the kids' movie "Mia et le Migou." She's an inch-tall, chicly dressed (of course) grandmother figure. Maggy has joined the eclectic collection of figurines in our annual nativity scene. Lucy Culpepper
"This is Black M. He's a big new French rapper..." "Yes, I love him," Kaitlin says. "Wait, do I turn right or left here?" "You go that way." "Which way?!" "Ah, we should have turned there. That's OK. The GPS is recalculating..." This morning as we returned to the car after meeting with the admissions lady, Jackson noticed the road sign in front of the school where we'd parked: "Did you realize that this was a drop-off-only zone?" he asked Kaitlin as he slid into the front passenger seat. "No, I didn't," Kaitlin replied. "I thought it was a pay zone." "But we didn't pay," Jackson pointed out. "No, we didn't," Kaitlin agreed. "If the gendarmes pull us over," Jackson said, "let's pretend we don't speak French." "Why would the police pull us over?" Kaitlin asked. "I can think of any number of reasons the police might pull us over at this point," I offered from the backseat. Conversation is about French music and French food. We discuss what we've just eaten (crepes and Nutella for breakfast) and what we'd like to eat next (roasted chicken and French green beans). Jackson had his first escargot the other night but refuses the pate. It's autumn, which, around Paris, means gray days, regular drizzle, and chilly to cold temperatures. We're enjoying the contrast to Panama City, wrapping up in scarves and sweaters before setting out each morning and sitting by open fires in our hotel lobbies in the evenings. I can't remember how I made trips like this one years ago, pre-technology, and Kaitlin and Jackson can't process the thought. Kaitlin dropped Jackson and me outside a shop our first afternoon. She planned to circle around and return for us in five minutes. That'd be easier, we all agreed, than finding a place to park. Jackson and I ran into the shop and were back out in fewer than five minutes. No Kaitlin...no Kaitlin...no Kaitlin... We hadn't yet configured our phones for use in France (we need to buy new French SIM cards), so we couldn't call Kaitlin. Instead, we walked two blocks to a cafe where we ordered drinks, logged into the Wi-Fi, and sent a Skype message to Kaitlin...who had likewise stopped at a place with Wi-Fi, received the Skype, and replied to ask: "Where are you?" Jackson WhatsApp'd her a map pinpointing our location in the cafe. "On my way," Kaitlin replied. We've seen two chateaux so far, one near Fontainbleau, the other closer to Paris and the international airport. France is lousy with chateaux, and many try to pay for their keeping by serving the wedding trade. No two are alike. Location makes an important difference, but there are many others. Some chateau, like the one we visited first, are of modest size and stature, meaning a cozy feel. If the management of one of these smaller chateaux is good, the experience of visiting can be charming, comfortable, and memorable. Others, like the one where we're staying tonight, are full-scale businesses set up to process as many weddings as possible. Right now, downstairs, two young Indians are being married. Their wedding parties and guests filled the lobby and surrounding rooms as we and other non-wedding guests were checking in. "This place doesn't seem very private," Jackson observed. On the other hand, the grounds of this chateau rival those at Versailles. We're going to take a tour around them now, before it gets too dark... Kathleen Peddicord
Continue reading: Retirement In Boquete, Panama, Versus Retirement In Santa Fe, Panama
The utilities figure for each of our 21 budgets is straightforward; groceries and entertainment, much less so. If you shop at local markets and stick to a basic, local diet, your monthly groceries bill could be US$150. If you shop at U.S.-like grocery stores (which exist in every place on my list below) and want to eat like you ate back home (prime rib, Entenmann's, and French wine), your monthly food bill could be two, three, or four times US$150. Likewise, entertainment. Our Index budgets include amounts for eating out once a week and going to the movies a couple of times a month, say, or perhaps taking one in-country trip per month to explore your new home. You could, if you wanted and your budget allowed, eat out four nights a week and take international vacations twice a year. On top of the overall cost of living wherever you decide to retire you'll have the cost of housing. I recommend renting first, to give yourself a chance to get to know your new home and determine if it is, in fact, the right place for you. For each of the 21 top retirement havens on our Index list, therefore, we indicate an average cost for renting a one-bedroom, one-bath residence in a neighborhood that would be appealing and appropriate for a retiree. After you've been in residence for a while, you may decide you like the place well enough to commit long term with an investment in a home of your own. Buying a piece of real estate in another country can also offer the potential for return, from capital appreciation over time and from cash flow if you decide to rent the place out when you're not using it yourself. Therefore, for each of the 21 destinations on our Retire Overseas Index list, we also figured an average cost per square meter for the purchase of property. This is the best way to consider this. In fact, breaking down a location's property market to an average cost per square meter for a particular kind of property is the only reliable way to compare that location's property market with the property market anywhere else, the only apples-to-apples strategy. In Nashville this week for our annual Retire Overseas Conference, we'll be sharing the results of this year's Retire Overseas Index, including the monthly budgets, the rental costs, and the average per-square-meter cost to purchase real estate for all 21 destinations featured...and a few others, to boot. Here's a sneak preview for some of the destinations being featured... In the Americas: Ambergris Caye, Belize Monthly budget: US$2,055 Rent per month: US$1,000 Purchase per square meter to purchase: US$2,000 City Beaches, Panama Monthly budget: US$2,440 Rent per month: US$1,200 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,900 Cuenca, Ecuador Monthly budget: US$1,010 Rent per month: US$300 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,100 Granada, Nicaragua Monthly budget: US$1,040 Rent per month: US$500 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,500 Medellin, Colombia Monthly budget: US$1,530 Rent per month: US$650 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,050 Puerto Vallarta, Mexico Monthly budget: US$1,910 Rent per month: US$850 Price per square meter to purchase: US$2,490 In Europe: Algarve, Portugal Monthly budget: US$1,500 Rent per month: US$615 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,960 Barcelona, Spain Monthly budget: US$1,725 Rent per month: US$1,085 Price per square meter to purchase: US$5,500 Pau, France Monthly budget: US$1,930 Rent per month: US$1,285 Price per square meter to purchase: US$2,300 In Asia: Chiang Mai, Thailand Monthly budget: US$920 Rent per month: US$400 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,100 (note that foreign ownership of real estate is restricted in Thailand) Dumaguete, Philippines Monthly budget: US$910 Rent per month: US$350 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,200 Nha Trang, Vietnam Monthly budget: US$660 Rent per month: US$300 Price per square meter to purchase: Foreigners can't own property Kathleen Peddicord P.S. What brings us to Nashville this week? Our annual Retire Overseas Conference! For years, friends have encouraged me to visit Music City. Finally, I was able to engineer a good reason. We arrived yesterday, and I can tell you that my friends' reports did not embellish or overstate. This is a fun town. Live music everywhere. It's not too late to make plans to join us here for what is going to be the biggest retire-overseas event of the year, this Friday through Sunday at the Lowes Vanderbilt Hotel. In addition to the three-day Retire Overseas Conference Aug. 29–31, we're also hosting a first-ever Retire Overseas Expo the day before (Thursday, Aug. 28), from noon until 7 p.m. This half-day special event is open to the public, an ideal way to dip a toe in the retire-overseas waters, and, best of all, absolutely free for Live and Invest Overseas readers. Regular admission is US$25. However, simply confirm at the door on the day that you're a Live and Invest Overseas reader, and you'll be granted full access at no cost. One way or another, therefore, I say: Get thee to Nashville. Dozens of correspondents and expats from around the world will be convening here today through Thursday so they can be on stage with us throughout the weekend to help showcase the world's top retirement havens for the nearly 300 registered attendees. Come on down and join the fun. Details of the Retire Overseas Expo taking place Thursday, Aug. 28, are here. Details of the Retire Overseas Conference taking place Friday, Aug. 29, through Sunday, Aug. 31, are here. See you soon.
Layer on top of this what Pau itself has to offer—the scenery, the climate, and the proximity to beaches and mountains—and you understand the appeal for the other group of non-locals that has established itself here. Brits and other North Europeans have been seeking out this part of France for retirement for many years. This is a really friendly bunch of people with a wide range of backgrounds and interests always ready to welcome newcomers. However, the British connection to this region is much longer term than the current-day community of British retirees. During the Napoleonic wars, the British military hero the Duke of Wellington and his army passed through Béarn, winning an important battle at Orthez and setting up a garrison in Pau. Like today's retirees, Wellington and his men were well received in the area and many soldiers from Wellington's campaign set up home in the Béarn when they retired. These British retirees built holiday villas in and around Pau, which they rented out when they were not in residence. Pau became the "in" place of the 1900s, during the Belle Époque, building a reputation as the "hub of the sporting world." English, Russian, American, and South American visitors spent their winters in Pau playing and practicing golf (Pau golf course, built in 1856, is the oldest on the European mainland), polo, tennis, royal tennis, hunting, salmon fishing, mountaineering, and ballooning...all of which continue to be enjoyed by retirees in the region today. Barcelona, Spain The expat community in Barcelona is huge and thriving. Most every nationality in the world is represented there. As in Pau, there is a mix of working expats, either employed by multinationals like HP, self-employed (running laptop-based or tourism-focused businesses), or running local businesses (everything from bars to playgroups and real estate companies), and retirees. As a result, Barcelona offers the most enlivening, stimulating scene you can imagine. A good way to connect with the English-speaking community in Barcelona is through the Metropolitan Magazine (print and online), which lists places and events where expats are likely to meet. In addition to their big and growing expat communities, Pau, France, and Barcelona, Spain, have something else in common. These are two of the most affordable places to enjoy a rich and full Continental lifestyle. A couple of retirees could live well in either of these cities on a budget of US$2,000 per month, including rent. Resident producer Joey Bonura worked with Euro-Editor Lucy Culpepper to create a little video showcasing some of the best of Barcelona. Take a look. Kathleen Peddicord P.S. France and Spain are two more of the 21 countries we'll be focused on during this year's Retire Overseas Conference in Nashville. Details are here. Kathleen Peddicord
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Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.
Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.
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