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Still, more than any others, musicians capture the Polish soul.

Chopin's popularity in Poland seems a bit surprising, at least to me. Chopin's father was French. As soon as Chopin became of age, he moved to Paris. He worked and played there, and never returned to Poland. You could be forgiven for assuming that Chopin considered himself French, especially as at the time (mid-1800s) Poland didn't even exist. By the end of 1795 Poland had been partitioned among Germany, Austria, and Russia. Poland only returned to the map some 120 years later, after World War I.

But in spite of Poland losing its statehood—or perhaps because of Poland losing its statehood—and in spite of Chopin writing his best stuff in France, Chopin considered himself Polish. The French and Poles consider him Polish. 

Count on it. Chopin was Polish. 

Vicki and I came to Poland mainly for the history, from medieval castles and moats to cobblestone streets, battlefields, cemeteries, and 20th-century carnage. 

Poland has a major-league city, Krakow, that offers all we sought after. But Krakow was overrun with tourists, especially now, in summer. We dislike tourist hordes, high prices, long lines, crying babies, rip-off taxis, crowded hotels and bars, and the pickpockets who take advantage. 

We found Krakow to be a fine place, especially the castle with its feudal walls and its tiny, gorgeous cathedral. And we never saw a pickpocket or even heard of any pickpockets. But our patience quickly wore out. 

So we went to town B: Przemyśl. Forget about pronouncing it, call it Prez.

We first hit on the town A/town B concept years ago in Austria and Hungary. To appreciate the Hapsburg Empire—Mozart and Franz Joseph—most people go to Vienna. Vicki and I like Vienna. But Vienna gets crowded, expensive, tiring, and overdone. So we chose to spend more time in Budapest. In those days few tourists went to Budapest. We pretty much had the town to ourselves. We got Hayden instead of Mozart. But I think we had more fun with less cost, less hassle, than in Vienna. 

For the same reasons we decided on town B, Prez, instead of Krakow. We spent several days in Prez, the only tourists there, viewing cemeteries, cathedrals, castles, and the town square. I say cathedrals; we saw both a Roman Catholic and a Greek Catholic version. Prez's museum displays a fine collection of sacred icons from churches in the area. 

In town B our huge hotel suite cost half that of a tiny room in town A Krakow. Exchange dealers offered a reasonable spread, while sharp dealers in Krakow hit careless tourists with a 25% to 35% vig. 

Prez is Poland's second-oldest city, after Krakow. In World War I Prez became a major battle ground between Austria and Russia. In the end Prez fell to Russian invaders, with some 100,000 dead in the two armies. 

We saw the bridge the Russians blew up, the military cemeteries, the remains of the forts. There's a castle on the hill, an old town, a Jewish quarter later wiped out by the Nazis, a river through the center.

Our hotel, two blocks from the train station and on the edge of the old town, had a pub in the basement. We repaired daily to the basement pub after long days wandering the streets. Perfect. 

Take my advice: In your travels consider town B, prefer second best. You'll often have a better time. 

Paul Terhorst

 

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"Kathleen, just a quick note to tell you that our family is moving from Heredia, Costa Rica, to Panama in the next 60 to 90 days. The benefits of Panama are just too good, and they fit our lifestyle much better than Costa Rica. We can't wait to get over to the Boquete area! I know you love Panama, too.

"If you ever need anything from me as an expat, speaker, promoter, etc., please just let me know."

--Daniel D., Costa Rica

***
"Kathleen, my wife and I recently received our pensionado visas in Panama. I am impressed with the country and the people. I feel it is the land of opportunity for investment. But here is my one criticism. The country is littered with trash. People throw their trash out of the car windows. I'm not talking about snips of paper. I'm talking about huge bags full of stinky, nasty trash. It's disgusting. I would propose a three-pronged solution.

"Businesses need to step up and take responsibility to clean up a given stretch of roadway, as is done in the United States.

"The government needs to step up and provide adequate receptacles to give the people an opportunity to dispose of waste in an orderly fashion.

"Finally, the government needs to begin a massive campaign to change the people's habits. Penalties would be appropriate.

"Panama will never look like a first-rate country until it cleans itself up.

"Perhaps, with your influence and readership, you could be the one who gets this going. If you do, someday they will name streets and towns after you."

--Richard D., Panama Continue reading:

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For lunch at the fair, Jose and I shared a ham leg, called a "jarret" in French, in my experience available only at the fair. The jarret came with cheese potatoes, and we ordered a half-bottle of French Shiraz to add to the festivity.

Both before and after lunch we tasted cheese, pâté, chocolate, wine, cognac, sausage, salami, pastries, and nuts, all at nearby vendors.

The day after the fair, for our final days, Vicki and I traveled to the French countryside. We stayed with French friends who speak only French. But if you lack French friends and speak little French, head out on your own. Choose a town on one of the high-speed train lines heading out of Paris. Or rent a car and hit the road. So many towns and villages around France charm visitors with medieval churches, Saturday markets, narrow streets with stone houses, and cafes and bakeries with friendly locals.

I'd choose someplace in nearby Normandy, but you can hardly go wrong no matter which direction you head out of Paris.

In between the Wine Salon and the Paris Fair we went to museums and churches around Paris; Paris has over a hundred museums. I mention this as an aside, because in my experience most people quickly tire of museums and churches. I speak from personal experience. When we lived in Paris full-time I noticed most people running around the Louvre trying to find the Mona Lisa. What a waste of time. So I came up with a quick tour for friends that included the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, and Medieval Louvre, all in just a half-hour. I guided friends via back passageways and hidden elevators to get around in record time.

My idea was that afterwards our visitors could visit other parts of the Louvre, whatever interested them. But in every case these visitors decided to leave with me. Been there, seen the big guys, no need to add Rembrandt or Delacroix, Gericault or Corot.

If you're like most people who hate museums, stick to the wine salons, fairs, countryside, markets, walks along the canals, and sculptures in the Tuileries. Window shop. Enjoy the cafes and restaurants, try the pâtés, foie gras, and duck confit. Picnic on stinky cheese, fresh baguettes, and champagne and chocolate.

One final note. The euro seems overvalued, no one knows why. Many observers predict the euro will weaken. Perhaps you should postpone your Paris trip until the fall, when you might enjoy fewer tourists and a better exchange rate.

Paul Terhorst

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May 5, 2014
TODAY

We arrived home last night after a week in the States to a near-deserted airport and empty city streets. Panama was busy electing herself a new president.

The verdict came down as we were driving from the airport to downtown. Juan Carlos Varela will sit in this country's hot seat for the next five years.

Coincidentally, President-elect Varela lives in the same apartment building we do. As we approached, we saw two-dozen vehicles waiting outside and the newly elected president-to-be walking out of the lobby. Varela was whisked off to give his acceptance speech across town.

What does Varela mean for Panama? More to the point, what does Varela mean for the retiree, expat, and investor in Panama? Our Panama City-based editorial team will have a complete Election Report for subscribers of our Panama Letter next issue.

MAILBAG

"Kathleen, I am a big fan of you, Lief, and your publications. You call it pretty well straight on. However, once in a while you goof. Your article mentioning snakes in Panama contained some errors. The coral snake is considered the deadliest in this hemisphere because of the toxicity of its venom. However, it does not have fangs and needs access to a part of your body that is small enough to fit into its small mouth (fingertip, ear lobe, etc.). It is also not uncommon in the United States.

"The fer-de-lance is often considered as the second most deadly snake in the hemisphere. Common in Central America, it is similar to the U.S. rattlesnake as a pit viper. Its venom is also similar to the rattlesnake, but it injects a great deal more with each strike than the rattlesnake. Its temperament is similar to that of the water moccasin in the United States—nasty, mean, and aggressive if it gets mad at you, which is usually. It is also very fast.

"All that said, with reasonable care and knowledge in the bush, none of this should be a real problem. Just make sure that your machete is as sharp and ready as your eyes! And, by all means, enjoy all the riches that the bush has to offer."

--George F., United States Continue reading:

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I see one big exception to this phenomenon: the United States.

Vicki and I are visiting family in the United States as I write this, and we're enjoying ourselves immensely. Yet I think the United States looks better from the outside. To an outsider, especially an outsider in Latin America, the United States excites, innovates, moves markets, values morality, and invents iPhones.

From the inside, though, the United States lives worse that it looks. I could go into detail about what I dislike, but why bother? You don’t want to read about my complaints.

The world mostly loves an idealized USA and looks on the country as a model. Foreigners pour money into this country, and many want to live here.

Vicki and I recently got to know a 22-year-old woman in China. She studied tourism in college, speaks English, and wants to work in a five-star hotel. She's likely to achieve her modest career goals. But what she most wants to do, the thing that most fascinates her, is to visit Los Angeles.

I asked why.

"The USA has everything, so up-to-date, so exciting and wonderful. The best."

So what makes the United States so appealing to Third World foreigners? I call it a bias toward change.

Many Americans remain inculcated with the pioneer spirit. Americans tend to choose the new and exciting rather than clinging to the old. Americans, perhaps more than any others, move forward, get things done, and focus on a better tomorrow.

Look at the way Intel thinks, for example. Suppose Intel builds a new, faster chip that sells for half the price of the old one. In much of the world chip developers would withhold the new, fast chip from the market. They'd desperately try to move out the old chips first. Perhaps they'd even deny a new chip was coming out. Not Intel. Intel simply throws the old chips away. Intel wants their customers to think about tomorrow. And if the customers are to think about tomorrow, Intel must do the same.

Take a more prosaic example: calendars. In the United States, calendars and datebooks for the following year come out around September. Peak sales probably occur in December. By the following March, those calendars sell for pennies, as retailers hope to get at least something out of the inventory.

Not so in the rest of the world. In the rest of the world March calendar prices never drop more than a small amount. Many calendars get thrown away simply because retailers refuse to cut prices. Rather than lose money on a sale, they prefer no sale at all.

Perhaps the country most opposite the United States would be Japan. The Japanese never move forward rapidly, never leave the past, never write off losses. The Japanese economy tanked in 1989. Banks found themselves with billions of worthless loans on their books…and nearly 25 years later those loans remain on the books. Japanese bankers never took their losses, never moved forward, never made the tough decisions.

Partly as a result, Japan never came out of its 1989 hole.

Okay, so I'm an American. I think the United States looks pretty good, especially from outside. So why, then, do I choose to live overseas? And more to the point, why should any American choose to live overseas?

Answer: personal preference.

Vicki and I enjoy visiting the United States. Our mothers live there. I tell jokes in English, love a barbecued pork rib, and read The New York Times. I root for Stanford football, like to see American tennis players win at Roland Garros, and hope to see the United States win a soccer World Cup.

Still, we choose to live overseas. And that's the point. When we move abroad, we express our pioneer spirit. We take that spirit with us.

Vicki and I first moved abroad in 1981. We learned quickly that, when visiting friends and family back in the United States, we needed to focus on ideas and events that interest Americans. Our expat life means little to our friends back in the States. Only other expats and other perpetual travelers care about our expat lifestyle. Back in the States, our American friends prefer to relate to new technology, new cars, new wines, new restaurants…new-new-new. We're the only expats they know, and we must be pretty weird because, you know, we're expats.

Best to avoid talking about it.

The United States looks pretty good from afar. Foreigners tend to overlook fiscal cliffs, lawsuits, over-the-top medical costs, the nanny state, and sequesters that can grind Americans down.

Meantime, we American expats continue to value our childhood roots, education, family, and apple pie, even if we choose to live elsewhere. We alter our viewpoint of who and what we are by immersing ourselves in new cultures, new languages, and new experiences. We choose to be pioneers who venture into the unknown.

Recognizing that our new life remains largely a mystery to those who choose to stay put.

Paul Terhorst

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Kathleen Peddicord

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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