Tag Archives: frugal

Familiar ‘French’ Foods

Part of our strategy for frugal or budget travel is cooking for ourselves whenever we have a kitchen in a gite or apartment or house. So we had a bit of a giggle two days ago as we did the big weekly shopping excursion.

We noticed some very familiar name brands from our time living in the USA. The packaging might be familiar, but the language describing the Uncle Ben’s Rice and Old El Paso foods were certainly not in the original English!

Uncle Ben's Rice in a French supermarket


Old El Paso ingredients for making Mexican dinners seen in a French supermarket


©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Ready For The Continent!

It’s official. We’ll be leaving England again during the first week of October and we’re headed back to Europe for the winter. Onward to some new adventures!

Part of our long term planning involved deciding where we thought we’d be spending the most time — in the United Kingdom or in Europe. It was a decision that needed firming up because we had two vehicles — one for driving on each side of the road — and it was silly to keep paying insurance on one of those when we only planned to use it half the time.

Diesel is king in Europe and more cars over there use diesel than petrol. Also, since our travelling strategy for staying out on the road between countries involves carrying more tools and equipment than we originally began with 9 months ago (not to mention clothing for multiple seasons!), we decided that we’d be better off purchasing the newest diesel van that we could so we’d even have the flexibility to carry bicycles if we wanted to.

We have now traded in our UK right-hand-drive Ford Fusion AND our precious little European left-hand-drive Kia Picanto. And here’s what we purchased last week — a four year old diesel van that we can customise to our own purposes. We’ll be able to get well over 50 miles to the gallon instead of the 40 mpg we were getting with ‘Katie Kia’ on those long drives across Germany and France in the spring. That certainly assists with our favourite mode of travel — the frugal or budget style!


Mark checking the front of the new van.


Back of the new diesel van.


I can almost hear some of you saying, “So what’s the big deal? It’s just a basic white van.” Ahhhhh — but the possibilities that it offers are quite wonderful!

We’re headed back to France soon and we’ll be working in Normandy again for several months. So you’ll see stories and pictures from there once I get past the backlog from here in England! I’ve been ‘off the air’ for weeks at a time as we finish the renovation of a house in London prior to moving on.

Keep posted for the adventures ahead!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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How Wonderful and Quirky Is Edinburgh

Look up, look up! Re-tune your eyes so you fill your memory with the many snippets of marvelous things scattered about the city — tiny pieces of poignant sculpture — partial bits of quotes or poems — monumental architecture with almost-hidden carvings — all of it weaving a mysterious cloak that wraps this city up tightly.

Quirky, quietly beautiful, and never failing to amuse with the non-stop parade of ‘interesting’ residents and visitors alike, Edinburgh has so much going for it as a travel destination.

Squeezed between the shopfronts on the Royal Mile is a perfect example — the carving over Paisley Close which commemorates the survival of one young lad who was found amidst the rubble of several collapsed buildings in 1861. “Heave awa’ chaps, I’m no’ dead yet” is inscribed above the arch.

"Heave awa' chaps, I'm no' dead yet" sculpture above Paisley Close arched opening in Edinburgh, Scotland


Under the category of sweetness, where else in the world do you expect to see three charming teenage boys walking across a bridge in the heart of a city, two of them holding hands, and one of them wearing his kilt. It put a smile on the faces of everyone that they passed.

Kilt wearing, hand holding teenagers in Edinburgh, Scotland


Stereotypes exist for a reason, and the sheer determination, outright stubbornness, and frugality of the Scottish nature were all on display in bits and pieces on our travels. Our 2 week visit certainly convinced us that the lovely Scottish friends that we had back in Australia derived their fearless attitude and ferocious tenacity from their ancestry as well as their general personality.

The beauty of Edinburgh manages to mask the occasionally simmering resentment of the governing powers down in London. That historic anger was certainly on display in the National Museum of Scotland where the arresting poster below found quite a few people stopping, nodding their heads up and down in agreement as we watched, and creating a strong impression on me that those decades old resentments are still not forgotten.

National Gallery of Art & Edinburgh Castle Atop The Hill


Margaret Thatcher 'Oil Vampire' poster

But under the category of just-plain-quirky, how about the whiskey store right next door to the health food store? Or the wine shop that is an ‘homage’ to the old sci-fi film, Planet Of The Apes? Click to enlarge them and have a giggle!

Odd choice of shops to be side-by-side

A quirky homage to Cornelius from Planet Of The Apes


Calligraphy on wall of National Museum of Scotland: Declaration of Arbroath - 1320 AD

My most recent visit was my 4th time in Edinburgh and I have still barely scratched the surface of what there is to see and do. Trust me, I’ll be going back!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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All rights reserved.


Frugal Travel in Expensive Melbourne – Part 3

What to do — what to see. You have arrived in one of the most vibrant cities in the world, so how can you make the best decisions about where to spend your energy and your dollars?

First, wrap your head around the idea that you are going to nibble at the edges of a very LARGE cake full of delights. That will give you some perspective as you begin to realize that you will be coming back to Melbourne again and again before you can begin to say that you ‘know’ the place.

Consider planning your to-do list by going to either of these websites for information prior to your arrival. The first one is the That’s Melbourne site where you can click on the various categories in the left-side column to find out what art, music, festival, sports, or other events in your own particular areas of interest are available during your visit. The second site to check is the What’s On Melbourne Guide which lets you search by DATE or by TOPIC.

You can learn a lot about a city and its ‘vibe’ by people-watching and often this proves to be a highly amusing free activity.

Lunch hour tap dancer on Bourke Street, Melbourne, Australia

Lunch hour tap dancer, Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne, Australia

A few days ago as I walked down Bourke Street, I saw a young red-haired man with a backpack and a bright yellow milk crate suddenly stop and plonk a portable tape player down on the pavement. Next a flowerpot appeared. Finally, he carefully placed a square of timber halfway between the tram stop and the steps in front of the GPO building. Without saying a word, he began to tap dance vigorously (and well!) for the lunchtime crowd that was milling around, his flowerpot began to fill with coins, and the silent tap dancer smiled sweetly at everyone. It was a tiny bit of magic on a cold and gloomy day.

Having walked a mere few metres further down the street, I began to chuckle quietly when I saw a faux-concrete mime who had removed his hat, thus revealing part of his un-made-up face and hair beneath. As he stood next to his upturned hat, his hand resting on his cart full of props, he dropped all pretense being in character as he made a phone call. As surreptitiously as I could, I raised my camera and began to take pictures of this unguarded and funny moment.

Mime Making Phone Call

If fine arts and culture are as much ‘your thing’ as they are mine, you will be happy to read that Melbourne is quite blessed to have three art museums that charge absolutely NO admission price. The only exception to that statement is for those blockbuster travelling exhibits from overseas that arrive once a year or so.

The permanent collection at the beautifully proportioned bluestone building housing the NGV International – National Gallery of Victoria on St. Kilda Road is quite comprehensive and covers several floors of exhibits that range from the ancient through to the contemporary. You can easily allow yourself a half of a day or more to see it all. And as an added bonus, there are wonderful cafes on both the ground floor and the first floor that serve quite good food. Seating areas are tucked around on every level and are much appreciated by those who wish to enjoy the various galleries at a more leisurely pace. The large gift shop on the ground floor, just before you exit next to the wall of water, is a joy for art lovers, book lovers, or anyone who appreciates finely crafted jewelry, stationary, art objects, and educational toys.

Another entirely free (except for those previously mentioned special exhibitions) museum is the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square (corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Street). This smaller museum is dedicated to Australian art. Although it is part of the National Gallery of Victoria, it is housed up the street from the main NGV in a light, airy, and very contemporary glass and steel building set amidst the ultra-modern Federation Square complex.

Finally, there is the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art — ACCA (111 Sturt Street in the Southbank area) and it too is completely free of entry charges. The stated goal of this particular institution is as follows. “It is the only major public art gallery in Australia focused on commissioning rather than collecting.” For that reason, there is a non-stop stream of cutting edge exhibitions to entice those interested in contemporary art.

This three-part article on frugal travel in Melbourne has barely scratched the surface of your options for places to stay, places to eat, sights to see, or walks to enjoy. My intention was to allow the reader to fine-tune their trip according to their interests and needs. I also hoped to let you understand that absorbing the media’s ongoing statement that Melbourne is one of the world’s most expensive cities comes at a cost. It closes people’s minds to the alternatives to big-price-ticket travel — alternatives called frugal travel, budget travel, manageable travel that keep those dollars in your pocket to spend as you choose, not as you must if you are booked into 5 star hotels and are only eating at 5 star restaurants. Frugal travel makes the world a better place for all of us because it gives us freedom and choice.

Frugal Travel in Expensive Melbourne – Part 2

Now that we have the where-to-sleep question handled, let’s move on to how to get around Melbourne quickly and easily without hailing a taxi and paying heart-stopping fares for that ‘privilege.’ The cost of parking in Melbourne can also be prohibitively high, so it’s best to avoid driving your rental car or personal car in the city and being forced to pay $10 or more per hour in parking fees.

Visitor Information Booth on Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne, Australia

Start your trip off right by getting a good map of the inner city since most of the sights and museums are within that area. Consider printing out a map of the CBD prior to arrival and an easy to read version is found online at the only Melbourne website. The map is downloadable in pdf and prints out beautifully.

For a comprehensive range of tourism maps and brochures, the two easiest to find Visitor Information Centres are (1) located inside their own building on Federation Square – corner of Swanston St. & Flinders St. – and (2) in a booth right on the main shopping street, the Bourke Street Mall.

Yellow Yarra Tram on Bourke Street, Melbourne, Australia

For the ultimate in ease and convenience, the extensive tram network in Melbourne is hard to beat. The trams themselves range in ‘vintage’ and size from the lovely and modern ones such as the yellow tram pictured to the right to the last of the old “Red Rattlers” which run on the City Circle route around the fringes of the CBD (Central Business District).

City Circle Tram in Melbourne, Australia

You will need to purchase a METCARD to use any of the trams other than the City Circle which is seen on the left. That one tram route is completely free and is offered as a tourism incentive. For that reason, it is always quite crowded — so just be aware of that.

For all other trams, you will need a valid ticket and signs for the METCARD are found everywhere from the trains stations to the local convenience stores such as 7-11. Although they can be purchased at the coin-operated machines on some of the trams, it is always safer to have a METCARD in hand before you board.

There are quite a variety of fares depending on the time of day that you travel, your age, and several other classifications. The full range of fares are listed online at Metlink’s METCARD page.

An easy to read map of the tram network can be found online at Metlink Melbourne

Now let’s discuss what to eat while you are in the city. Even if you have chosen a budget friendly option like the Cube Serviced Apartment that was mentioned in yesterday’s post, no one arrives in Melbourne with the idea of eating all of their meals in their apartment-hotel, so finding reasonably priced food choices for lunches is the next challenge.

Yes, fast food is available everywhere in Melbourne, but it is almost never a healthy option. For a mere few dollars more you can eat at places like Basic Bites at 26-28 Hardware Lane between Bourke Street and Little Bourke Street. The “Crazed Hen” salad that I had there was actually the most enjoyable lunch that I ate on this trip. And there was so much premium quality chicken breast squeezed into that bowl with all of the salad greens that I couldn’t finish it! Cafe lunches in Melbourne can cost as much as dinners in some other Australian cities, so this small but lovely little cafe is a perfect example of finding good value for money when you do choose to eat out.

Basic Bites cafe on Hardware Lane, Melbourne, Australia

Other budget options for healthy eating include the large Riverside Food Court at Southgate where you can eat inside on gloomy days or outside facing the river and the Melbourne skyline on pleasant days.

If a delicious and filling curry at a rock-bottom price and served with a smile is what you are craving, then head up Bourke Street past the retail district to Funky Curry at 164 Bourke Street. The decor is basic and plastic — but oh — the food. I have eaten there many times and never, ever been disappointed by any of the options which can be fine-tuned to your own idea of how-hot-is-enough.

In our next segment we will look at the visual delights of Melbourne and sources for finding out prior to arrival what’s happening in the arts and entertainment world, sports, special events, and more.

***NOTE*** The author received no compensation during the research for this article from any of the sources which are cited.