My favorite outpost here is Graiguenamanagh, the "village of the monks," on the River Barrow. While "Graig" has all the appearances of a sleepy Irish village, the river is a hub of activity. Visitors here don't come for the nightlife. They come to swim, jump from the diving boards, kayak, barge, fish, and eat some of the tastiest home baking from local tearooms and cafes. Last week, I spotted the perfect retreat here currently on the market for 75,000 euros. I'll be reporting in full on this special area for Overseas Retirement Letter readers later this year. Lynn Mulvihill P.S. Ireland is one of the 21 countries we'll be featuring during this year's Retire Overseas Conference taking place in Nashville next month (Aug. 29–31). You have 48 hours remaining to register for this, the biggest and most important retire-overseas event of the year, taking advantage of the Early Bird Discount. The current US$300 Early Bird Discount expires Thursday at midnight. Sign up now here.
1. The Wexford Strawberry You can pick up strawberries in any part of Ireland, but those that hail from Country Wexford are the sweetest and most revered berries of the lot. Wexford, the most southeastern county in Ireland, enjoys the best sunshine hours, as well as the best soil conditions (high in potassium, low in calcium and nitrogen) for strawberry growth. Wexford farmers pop up stalls (usually manned by students on summer break) along the main routes around the country, setting out each morning with punnets of fresh berries. Traveling as far as 100 miles from home, it's the first appearance of their vans that signals the arrival of the Irish summer. You can't move far around the country without seeing a roadside sign for "Wexford Strawberries and New Potatoes," flagging the presence of a trailer-load of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, potatoes—and, often, jam and fresh juice produced by the farm. But the strawberry is the main attraction. A good-sized punnet averages 4 euros (US$5.50). The berries are just as delicious served on their own as they are with fresh cream or ice cream. 2. Traditional Fish And Chips After a long day at the beach, there's nothing like unwrapping layers of paper and opening a white cardboard box to reveal an oversized golden, deep-fried, battered cod, lying on a bed of thick-cut chips. You may not be aware that you're hungry. But, if you're within walking distance of a good fish and chip shop, the vinegar-soaked brown-paper bags will quickly alert your senses. Far from skinny American fries, the Irish "chipper" dishes out rough, chunky potato chips, drenched in vinegar with a fair lobbing of salt. (Most chippers will ask for permission before adding these condiments, but be sure to intervene early if you prefer to abstain from either. If you prefer just a little seasoning, it's probably best to politely ask if you may add your own.) Lennox's in Cork claims to be the best chippie in Ireland. Popular options around Dublin include Leo Burdock's at Christchurch and Beshoff's in Howth. In the coastal town of Tramore, County Waterford (my closest beach), it's hard to beat Dooley's fish and chip shops (with branches just off the main promenade and in the center of town). A box of fresh cod and chips from Dooley's costs 9 euros (US$12.20) and is worth every cent. 3. The 99 Ice-Cream Cone The national favorite cool-me-down on a hot summer day is the "99"—layers of soft, whipped vanilla ice cream, served in a wafer cone, with a chocolate flake bar protruding from its side. Shops selling these delicious, creamy cones often have a large model ice cream on display outside or some sign to indicate a whipped ice-cream machine onsite. Meanwhile, ice-cream trucks drive around neighborhoods, blasting out their musical call to dessert. To be honest, I prefer to skip the chocolate flake and enjoy a plain cone. But, by all means, give both a try... Above all, don't get ripped off. I've heard of people paying a ludicrous 3.50 euros (US$4.80) for a 99 near Dublin Zoo. Elsewhere, 1.60–1.80 euros is more typical. Certainly, you shouldn't pay more than 2 euros (US$2.70) for this creamy refreshment. Lynn Mulvihill
And, if values, properties, and locations are as they've been represented, we may also consider buying one of this city's waterfront apartments ourselves. For us, this is as much a personal decision as an investment, given our honeymoon connection and our instinctive appreciation for Istanbul's history, geographic location, and Continental-chic lifestyle.We've learned through long experience that buys that meet both personal and investment criteria are the most successful long-term...one reason Istanbul is at the top of our list currently.From Istanbul we plan a quick stopover in Macedonia. This is a tiny country at a dramatic turning point in its history. We like little countries working hard to make a place for themselves on the world stage, so we're going to take a look at what Macedonia is up to.Later in July we'll be in Nicaragua (to vet current property offerings and to finalize plans for the Live and Invest in Nicaragua Adventure we've added to this year's events calendar) and in the Cayman Islands (to vet new banking, tax, and structures resources).The first two weeks of August we'll be in Belize with our kids. Our agenda for this leg is kayaking, canoeing, hiking, river-tubing, horseback riding, and spelunking. We hope to be as unplugged as is possible for a family to be these days. Two weeks without X-Box, Netflix, Skype, or Facebook sounds like just what the doctor ordered to this mom.We'll finish the summer in Nashville, where Lief and I will be co-hosting our Fourth Annual Retire Overseas Conference Aug. 29–31. We're two months out from the event and have more than 200 attendees registered. They and we will be joined by more than four-dozen speakers, correspondents, expats, and friends from around the world for three days of discussion and discovery. I'm very much looking forward to it. Never been to Music City before.I'm also looking forward to the eight weeks between then and now. I won't be MIA the whole time, but Lief and I are hoping to be offline for a couple of extended periods. Specifically, the coming two weeks in Istanbul and the first two weeks of August in Cayo, Belize.Don't get too excited. You're not off the hook entirely. I've enlisted reinforcements.Starting tomorrow and continuing through mid-July, you'll hear each day not from me but longtime friend and fellow editor Lynn Mulvihill...whose efforts will be supported by correspondents Paul Terhorst, Wendy Justice, Lee Harrison, Rob Cary, Jocelyn Carnegie, Lucy Culpepper, and others who've offered to help hold down the fort while Lief and I try to be disconnected.We will be in touch from the road in Istanbul and Macedonia from time to time. Look for us back in your inbox reliably again the week of July 14.Meantime, enjoy your summer...and, if you haven't yet, make your plans now to join us in Nashville. This is going to be the biggest and most important retire overseas event of the year and a whole lot of fun, to boot. Hope to see you there.Kathleen Peddicord
Dating from the 1800s, early celebrants would have hunted a real wren, killed it, and tied it to a holly branch or pole to parade around town. From door to door these "wran boys" went, wren on display, begging for money to bury the "evil bird." The funds were then used to hold a dance for the whole town.
Why the lack of mercy to one of the most innocent birds? Stories from Irish folklore fail to present the wren in a good light. The most popular tale (that's believed to have started the tradition) goes back to Cromwell's invasion of Ireland. On one occasion, as Irish troops prepared to advance on Cromwell's sleeping soldiers, a wren perched on one of the soldier's drums made a noise that woke the sentries just in time to save their camp.Today, no birds are harmed in the celebration of The Wran. A fading tradition, "wran boys" gather in only a handful of places around the country. But, for the town of Dingle, County Kerry, Dec. 26 is a major date on the social calendar.Starting Christmas Eve, and often right up to noon on the big day, men gather in local pubs to hand-weave their traditional straw costumes ("rigs") in a process that takes hours. Come Wren's Day, thousands of spectators line the streets of Dingle to watch this spectacle of men, dressed in rigs and brightly colored costumes, take over the town. Starting at noon and going on until the early hours of the following day, The Wran is a blaze of color and a lot of noise, thanks not only to the accompanying musicians' fife and drums, but to the collection boxes the wran boys shake. Rather than paying for a dance for the whole town, today's funds go to local charities. Be warned. Innocent by-standers will often get swept into the parade or chased down side-streets. "It's like Ireland's version of Carnival," my friend Alison, a Kerry native, recently explained. As a child, Alison made the trip to Dingle every year with her family. She recalls being both terrified of the revelers and in awe of their beautiful costumes. Efforts have been made in recent years to revive this dying tradition. For the last 20 years, Sandymount in Dublin has been running a big Wren's Day fundraising event. And, as part of its September harvest festival, the town of Listowel, County Kerry, hosts an Annual All-Ireland Wren Boy Competition. But for a true sense of the spirit of The Wran, follow the crowds to Dingle.
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.
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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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