An added bonus of the Languedoc region is that it's just three hours' drive to my joint-favorite European city, Barcelona! Lief Simon: Medellin and Buenos Aires I prefer cities over more rural areas. Two of the best cities in Latin America to spend time in, whether it's full- or part-time living, are Medellin, Colombia, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. In Medellin, the weather is pleasant year-round—though some would argue that it isn't "spring-like" weather as it's generally referenced to be. Temperatures regularly break 80 degrees. Having grown up in Arizona, that's like winter weather for me. In other words, it's all relative. It's pleasant enough to walk around Medellin, which is important to me, though I wouldn't call this a walking city. Medellin has First World infrastructure and amenities (also important to me), and museums, festivals, gardens, and parks all add to the variety of activities available in this city of about 3.5 million people. And, to make the point, despite its history, Medellin is fairly calm these days unless you wander into the gang neighborhoods. Bigger and livelier is Buenos Aires, which also has four seasons. I like change and contrast, so I like this part of the world a lot. Argentina rides an economic roller coaster that cycles harder and faster than economic cycles in any other country I could name, thanks to general and gross mismanagement by the government. Argentina is right now close to another breaking point. I'm watching for the coming next crisis, which will be another good time to be considering an investment here. From a lifestyle point of view, Buenos Aries offers all the activities that Medellin does and more. It's a city of about 15 million people (around one-third of the total population of the country). It has a tremendous variety and diversity of restaurants, shopping, museums, and parks and does qualify as a walking city—though it's too big to walk across in one go. For me, Buenos Aries' core neighborhoods of Recoleta and Retiro offer an ideal way of life. Just be prepared for big ups and downs and lots of drama. For me that's all a big part of the charm of this place. Kathleen Peddicord P.S. The countdown is on. You have three days remaining to register for this year's Retire Overseas Conference in Nashville next month taking advantage of the Early Bird Discount. More details here.
Asia Correspondents Wendy and David Justice: Hanoi, Vietnam Of all the places we could pick from in our travels, Hanoi, Vietnam, is the city we have chosen to call home. The city is an energetic and chaotic jumble of ancient neighborhoods, tranquil parks and lakes, modern high-rises, and centuries-old pagodas. It is also home to one of the most healthy and varied cuisines in the world. In more than two years of living in Hanoi, we are still discovering delicious and exotic new foods. Even more important to us are the people. They are curious, polite, friendly, and generous to a fault. They really want to get to know you and to make friends. Friendships we've formed here have lasted many years. There are always other foreigners to socialize with if we want, and there is always something to do. And the cost of living is so affordable. Here in Hanoi—anywhere in Vietnam, for that matter—we don't have to worry about money. We know that Hanoi isn't the right place for everyone, but we can easily imagine living here for many more years. If we ever had to leave Vietnam, we would probably head over to Pai, Thailand. Its funky, mountain-town ambiance reminds us of the small towns we knew in the Colorado Rockies. If we developed ongoing health problems or became too elderly and frail to tolerate the stimulation of Hanoi, we would strongly consider moving to Hua Hin, Thailand. Asia Correspondents Vicki and Paul Terhorst: Lviv, Ukraine Vicki and I are perpetual travelers, which means we wander around the world without a fixed home base. By default, therefore, wherever we are at the moment becomes our favorite place. Otherwise, why would we be here? I'm writing this in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which makes Chiang Mai a favorite place. Recently, we chose to spend time in Lviv, Ukraine, because of its combination of European culture (historic buildings and churches, art museums, opera and ballet, convenient public transportation, cafe society, hearty food, robust wine) and low prices. Lviv also makes a useful base for exploration to the rest of Eastern Europe, with six international borders within 200 kilometers or so. Just jump on a train or bus and you can get to Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, or Belarus. The rest of Europe lies just a bit farther along. Ukraine's pro-Russia rebel insurgency remains far to the east of Lviv, more than 800 miles away. Your biggest day-to-day problem in Lviv will be the language. Ukraine uses a different alphabet, making it hard even to guess at street names or menu offerings. Along with Lviv and Chiang Mai, I'd choose Paris as our third favorite place. Having three favorite places makes it easy to avoid running into trouble with 90-day visa rules in any one of them. Asia Correspondent Robert Carry: Cambodia Cambodia might seem an unusual number-one pick, but it has some serious strikes in its favor. First up is cost of living. Put simply, this is the cheapest place I've ever been to. You can get a great apartment in a city center location for less than US$400 a month. A Cambodian-style meal in a local eatery will run you less than a dollar and some of my favorite watering holes charge 75 cents a beer (and as little as 25 cents during happy hour). Everything here is just unfathomably inexpensive. Then there's convenience. You can turn up at the airport unannounced and get a one-year visa, renewable at the end of the 12 months, on arrival. It's almost too easy. Plus, the U.S. dollar is the main currency here, English is widely spoken, and there's a sizable expat community in place. However, Cambodia's real draw is its people. After decades of war and continuing poverty, the Khmers have somehow managed to keep their smiles. They're warm, welcoming, and infectiously optimistic. Cambodia's enchanting culture and Buddhist ethos underpins its peoples' relaxed, live-and-let-live way of life. When I retire, Cambodia is where you'll find me. Tomorrow, top picks from key correspondents in Europe and the Americas... Kathleen Peddicord Editor's Note: Want to learn more about what Live and Invest Overseas correspondents really think about living and retiring overseas? Join us for three days of live discussions next month when we'll be convening with dozens of our normally far-flung experts and expat friends for this year's Retire Overseas Conference taking place in Nashville Aug. 29–31. You have four days remaining to register for what will be the biggest retire-overseas event of the year taking advantage of the Early Bird Discount. This discount, which can save you up to US$300 off the cost of registration, expires this Thursday, July 31, at midnight. Complete details of the event are here, and you can register online here.
On Christmas morning, from beaches, piers, and coves around the country, people of all ages gather to immerse themselves in waters of around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (maximum).
"Swim" is a bit of a misnomer. There is no particular distance that you need to cover, nor any agreed-upon duration you must stay in the water. You simply join the crowd of people running toward and then into the water (cheered on by well-wrapped-up spectators), screaming as their bodies hit the ice-cold sea. A quick splash of the arms and legs, then back in to shore to dry off, wrap up, and enjoy a hot drink or a shot of whiskey.
Wetsuits have appeared on the scene in recent years, mostly among the kids, but it remains an unspoken rule among the hardy adults taking part: Traditional bathing suits only.
Our four Christmases in Paris were all about the lights. Each year, starting in November, Boulevard St. Germain, just a few blocks from our apartment in this city, is strung with tiny white lights. The trees and the building facades are covered with them. Each morning and again each evening as I'd walk Jackson, aged 4 through 8 at the time, to and from school, we'd linger at the intersection of rue du Bac and Boulevard St. Germain as long as possible, looking up and down, up and down, slowly, working to fix that magical view in our memories. "It's a fairy land," 4-year-old Jack declared it one morning. I see it still.
Twinkling lights and decorated shop windows. This time of year, storefronts throughout Paris are draped with pine garland, and displays feature green trees flocked with white and trimmed with red and gold baubles. No one does shop windows like the French do shop windows, and no others compare with the shop windows of central Paris at Christmastime.
My fondest memory of Christmas in Panama, where we've been living for the past five years, is of our son's annual Christmas pageant.
Jackson, now 14, attends Panama City's French school, l'Ecole Paul Gauguin. Four years ago, this meant he went to school with about 75 other children. Today, Jack is part of a student body that numbers more than 600. I was surprised when we arrived to discover that Panama's French school had 75 students, many, also surprising to me, Panamanian. Why would a Panamanian family, living in Panama City, choose to send their children to a French-language, French-curriculum school? I still don't know the answer to that question, but today dozens more Panamanian families are opting for this approach to educating their kids.
Of course, all the students at Paul Gauguin aren't Panamanian. Jack is one of the few Americans. In addition, there are kids from families that call themselves Spanish, Mexican, Colombian, Irish, English, German, Chinese, Japanese, Canadian, and, yes, French. The parents of these wandering youngsters are in Panama as entrepreneurs, like Lief and me, or because the international companies they work for have placed them here. And, again, their numbers have increased eight-fold while we've been part of the charming community they create.
L'Ecole Paul Gauguin is growing, and Jackson is growing with it.
Jack came to me this week to tell me he needs a red Santa hat and a green polo shirt. Would I please find these things for him at the mall this weekend?
"Ah, for your Christmas pageant?" I asked, excitedly. "Great. When is it? Dad and I always really enjoy the show."
"Parents of the older kids don't really come to it, Mom," Jackson responded. "Only the parents of the little kids come to watch. I just need you to get me the hat and the shirt."
Our first year in Panama, Paul Gauguin's Christmas pageant took place in the 300-year-old Teatro Anita Villalaz in the center of Casco Viejo's Plaza de Francia. Even back then, when the student body was much smaller than it is today, it made for as eclectic a collection of small children as you might ever find. Jackson introduced us to his friends from all over the world, some have names I couldn't pronounce even after Jackson repeated them for me three or four times. Finally, embarrassed for me, he gave up, suggesting that, if I have something to say to a particular child, he'd be happy to relay the message for me.
Some of these children, then and now, have lived in three or four other countries already, though they've only barely begun their little lives. Most speak Spanish and French; others also speak English, Italian, German, Japanese, Chinese... They switch among languages effortlessly and manage to communicate among themselves cheerfully and with far less misunderstanding than you might expect.
That first year, on stage in the grand old theater on the Plaza Francia, the young but worldly bunch from l'Ecole Paul Gauguin, Jackson among them, performed Christmas songs in Spanish, French, and English, including some we recognized and many we didn't.
"Children in Palestine and children in Israel, children from the Americas and also from China, this day, let us think only of Christmas," began one song in French.
At Jackson's birthday party last month, I had a chance to speak with some of his classmates' moms. Some have husbands working with the UN and other international organizations who have been posted in Panama for a year or two. Others are here for work related to various of this country's many infrastructure projects. They and their children have migrated to Panama from Mexico City or Caracas, Buenos Aires or Santiago, Paris or Madrid...
Lief and I worry sometimes about the life Jackson is living. Born in Ireland, he's since lived (and gone to school) in Paris...and now Panama City. He's an American by birth though his only experiences of the United States are his annual visits to see his grandmother and cousins in Baltimore. If you were to ask him, Jack would tell you that he's Irish, with the second passport to prove it. I wouldn't call him American or Irish or French either, though the parents of his friends are shocked always to discover that Jackson's parents are American, not French. "But Jackson is French, is he not?" they ask us, trying to make sense of Jack's perfect Parisian French in the context of our American English.
"No, he's American, like us," I explain, not sure how else to describe him.
Jackson is a little guy without a country but embracing the world. And, at the French school in Panama City, he's found about 600 other little guys and girls just like him who, one evening each year, join together to fill the tropical night with the sound of Christmas songs from around the world.
We'll spend Christmas Day this year with my family in Baltimore, my home town. I appreciate the chance to return to the place from which I launched my adventures overseas some 16 years ago at this time of year, the season for remembering and for taking stock. Where will 2014 lead us? I can't wait to find out.
On behalf of the entire far-flung staff of Live and Invest Overseas, please accept our warm and heartfelt wishes for a Merry Christmas, wherever you find yourself enjoying it this year, and our sincere hope that 2014 is the year your far-flung dreams of adventure overseas begin to come true.
All the best from our family to yours. We so appreciate your coming along with us for this ride.
But this was Christmas. Vicki and I had moved to Paris several months before and rented an apartment in Montmartre. We'd managed to back into Christmas with nothing planned, and that was fine with us. We like doing things together, just the two of us, on Christmas and other holidays, too. With nothing planned we decided to do what everyone in Paris does when they have nothing planned--walk around the neighborhood. We forget now whether this was Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but it hardly matters. When we went downstairs and out onto the street we found to our surprise that all of Paris had been taken over by...oysters. Across the street from our apartment, where transvestites usually solicited on the sidewalk, a vendor sat behind a folding table covered with oysters. In the Place des Abbesses just up the hill, instead of boys playing soccer, we ran into pick-up trucks filled with oysters. We hadn't heard anything about oysters and Paris and Christmas, but those oysters looked good to us. We bought a couple dozen and took them home. We had only a tiny refrigerator in our tiny apartment, no place for oysters. And we worried about the smell. Voila. We put the oysters outside on the window sill. We thought this a terribly clever idea, as I recall, but later discovered the French do the same thing, routinely, every Christmas. That afternoon we went to the Eiffel Tower and climbed up. The Eiffel Tower stays open every day of the year, and we figured few tourists would choose to gather there on Christmas. Sure enough the place was practically deserted. We had a lovely view of Paris on a crisp December day. Finally we returned home, opened a bottle of champagne, and ate oysters. A new tradition was born. We were French, if only a little bit, and only for Christmas. We later discovered that Paris's best bar, the Red Baron (Baron Rouge in French), offers up oysters every Saturday and Sunday morning during winter. On Friday evenings a guy from Bordeaux loads his pick-up with oysters from his farm. He then makes the long drive to Paris and serves up his oysters on the sidewalk outside the Red Baron, bright and early Saturday morning. He then returns to Bordeaux on Saturday night, reloads, and shows up again on Sunday. If you're in Paris this winter, be sure to check out the Red Baron some weekend. You'll find it just off the Place d'Aligre in the 12th. Let me know if the oyster guy still works there. One final point about oysters: My favorite French king, Henri IV, loved the things. Every day during the winter oyster season he had three dozen oysters brought to him on a wagon from Brittany. Henri IV deserves fame for signing the Edict of Nantes, guaranteeing religious freedom. But he's also famous for his love of life and life of love. Over the years many people have put Henri IV's love life and his love of oysters together. So that was Christmas in Paris: Eiffel Tower, oysters, a nod to Henri IV and the Baron Rouge, and champagne. Perfect. Paul Terhorst
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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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