Our journey home started out a little rocky. About an hour before our ride to the airport in Natal (2 1/2 hours away) arrived, Max got a migraine. He went down fast and hard, barely able to get up from the bed, and pretty nauseous. His migraines (which, thankfully, are infrequent) follow a predictable pattern: intense suffering, followed by getting sick, then he sleeps and starts to feel better. So I was finishing packing and getting ready, and hoping the poor child would puke before the car arrived. And the migraine complied. He fortunately had time for a shower and we had time to stop at a pharmacy to pick up some medicine and then he slept most of the way to Natal.
At the airport, there was some sort of glitch and Max could only be checked in to Rio, while the rest of us got our boarding passes through to San Francisco. It didn’t seem like too big of a deal, but I did alert my sister-in-law, Martina, in case we got stuck in Rio and had to go bunk with my nephew Leo for the night. Which almost happened. When we arrived in Rio, someone from Delta was waiting at the gate for us and took us to a desk to try to resolve Max’s check-in issues. Unfortunately, the people ahead of us were dealing with some serious travel complications (one passport name change that was precluding travel, one inexplicably canceled US visa), so we had to wait longer than was comfortable with our tight connection.
Once we all got checked in, we hurried over to Immigration and handed over our passports for one final stamp. Should be easy, Americans going back to America. However, since the boys and I are dual citizens, they needed our Brazilian passports, too. Not a problem, I had them, and they were fully up to date. (Sidebar – when I was 18, I let my Brazilian passport expire while living in Brazil and had to basically bribe my way out of the country. A mistake I will never make again.)
The Immigration agent, a very friendly man, but totally unmoved by our panic that our flight was in the final stages of boarding, explained to me that he simply needed a supervisor to sign off in order to, “liberar os meninos”. I raised an eyebrow, as that means “free the children” in English and I had not previously been under the impression that the Brazilian government might have the ability to keep the boys in the country. But I wasn’t going to argue with the guy, so we waited another excruciating five minutes while he went into a back room with our passports to get the necessary approvals.
Back in possession of our passports (and apparently, of our children), we raced through the serpentine path of the Duty Free store that has somehow become the ubiquitous “Exit Through the Gift Shop” of international airports. Henry’s pack rat backpack had somehow opened up, and he was starting to leave a trail, so another few precious minutes were taken up picking up bits and getting the thing to close again. Max sprinted ahead to the gate in the hopes that the doors hadn’t closed yet.
Luckily, they were waiting for us. But poor Max got flagged for a random security screen, so he and I had to follow an agent to another separate area for them to check us and everything we were carrying. I was starting to wonder if Max was going to make it out of Brazil after all. In the end, we passed the security screening and were the very last people to board the plane, sweaty and very thirsty, just the way one wants to begin a nine hour international flight.
The rest of the trip was less eventful, and we arrived in San Francisco at the tail end of a heat wave, which seemed fitting, as we had flown into a heat wave in Portugal to kick off this grand adventure.
*I added an asterisk because although we are back in the US, we aren’t quite settled yet. We’re traveling to Montana, Washington state, and Michigan this summer, before we finally stop (at least for now).
It was very late when we landed in Recife, and after a long day of travel everyone was ready for bed. So when we got to the weird hotel room with no windows, we were too tired to care. But then, just as we were all getting ready to crash, Kyle discovered he had walked out of the airport with the wrong backpack.
We were up early the next morning, and happily the weird hotel has a pretty passable free breakfast. Kyle had arranged for a taxi ride to João Pessoa so we packed up and headed out. It’s just about two hours between Recife and João Pessoa, and for most of the ride I got an earful from the driver about the corruption that is rife in Brazil, and that led to the rise of Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro is the current president, a Trump-like figure who was elected promising to clean up the corruption and fix the economy. He has, to date, failed to make much progress on either front. But he has managed to unleash a lot of latent homophobia and racism and tried to make guns easier to carry. It was a conversation I would have regularly in Brazil, people so frustrated with corruption that they were willing to overlook, or even embrace, the far right views of Bolsonaro. It was disconcerting.
Our home for the next six weeks was at the Paraiso do Atlantico – a resort-like condominium complex right on the beach in Cabedelo, a little bit north of the city. It was just right for what we needed, lots to do in the complex (gym, pools, beach), and a comfortable apartment with three bedrooms so the kids could have their own spaces. There was even a small food truck courtyard on the corner where we ate at least once a week. I was about to start a small work contract and Kyle was starting to actively look for his next job, so we were planning to spend a little more time on our computers and a little less time exploring.
But before all the sitting and looking at screens, we had some family to see. The day after we arrived, we headed out again to a town in the interior of Paraiba called Bananeiras with my brother Hercilio, sister-in-law Martina, their kids, and their friends. Martina and Hercilio have a weekend home there, and it was magical. The kids swam, hiked, had water balloon fights, got in some serious hammock time, and Henry kayaked and rode a horse. Most importantly, they got to spend some time connecting with their cousins Beatrice, Rafael, and Maria Amelia. We went to Bananeiras a few times during our stay in Brazil, and each time it was full of laughter and activity, not to mention plenty of wine and always a good churrasco!
We were fortunate to spend Mother’s Day with my cousin Ana Paula and her family. Ana Paula is in many ways the center of the family in João Pessoa, she is an incredible hostess who always opens her home and heart to us. Even though it had been five years since we had visited Brazil, the boys vividly remembered playing in their rooftop pool, which Max happily did again.
João Pessoa is in the northeast of Brazil, less than 500 miles from the equator, so it stays hot all year, and the sun pretty consistently rises somewhere between 5:00am and 5:30am all year long. The early sunrise meant early rising (for the adults, anyway), so Kyle and I got a few good morning walks on the beach together before it got too hot.
With the end of the trip looming and lots of mixed feelings about that, the walks were a good opportunity for us to talk about what comes next, and how we want the next few years to look. Having moved the boys around quite a bit over the last few years (Seattle -> Paris -> San Carlos -> 19 countries -> ?), we’re going to do our best to make sure they can stay in one place through high school, so figuring out where that will be feels important.
At the end of May, Lara, Shannon, Caroline, and Morgan arrived. We drove to Olinda to meet them and we all stayed at the Hotel 7 Colinas for a few days. It’s a great hotel right in the middle of the historic town, and with a good restaurant and fun pool, the kids would have been content to just hang out at the hotel. But we dragged them out to walk around Olinda. A little bit jet-lagged, Caroline and Morgan managed to fall asleep riding piggyback, so Shannon and Lara got a bit of a workout since the town is one big hill. Saturday evening, Shannon and Kyle walked across the street to the Boteco Bonfim and had a beer, then suggested we all come to watch Liverpool defeat Tottenham and have dinner, as the restaurant was serving feijoada. We all agreed that it was very good, but not as good as Mavis’s.
Sunday we drove back to João Pessoa, and Lara and Shannon flew to Salvador for a few days while Caroline and Morgan stayed with us. Beach time, pool time, a visit to the mall for toys and kiddie arcade playtime, then ice cream at Gelato & Grano.
We had dinner one night at Villa Gourmet with Ana Paula and family, and my Tia Ana Maria – who I had lived with when I was 17. Her no-nonsense guidance and independent spirit helped me through the challenges of growing up, even after I had gone back to the US. Caroline and Morgan played in the kids area (something like a McDonald’s Playplace) with the Brazilian kids, screaming and laughing. Language barriers are unimportant when you are six.
Our last hurrah in Brazil was another visit to Bananeiras, for an early celebration of São João. Also called Festa Junina, São João is almost as popular as Carnaval in the the Northeast, and Martina was so disappointed that we were going to miss the real thing, that she organized a pre-party for us, with all the trappings of the real thing – forró, costumes, fireworks, games, candy, and good food.
I’m so grateful for the time we got to spend in Brazil, and I’m hoping it won’t be another five years before we go back. Even though it was more than six weeks, it didn’t feel long enough.
On this trip, we’ve been fortunate to avoid any truly traumatic experiences. But we have had several unpleasant experiences. With travel, and maybe life in general, those challenging experiences can end up becoming some of the most memorable and defining ones. In that spirit, here is a collection of some of our Best Worst Moments so far for this trip…
Day 1: Sleeping in the park | Lisbon, Portugal
Let’s start with a mild one. After flying overnight from Chicago, via Atlanta, we arrived in Lisbon a few hours before our apartment was ready. We were sleepy, jet lagged, confused, hot, and carrying all of our luggage. We found a patch of grass without too many cigarette butts and tried to sleep for a couple hours in the midday heat. It was our first lesson in learning to sleep just about anywhere.
Day 49: Henry’s first blood | Ljubljana, Slovenia
At the Otok športa Koseze playground, the boys found the most dangerous piece of playground equipment available; a spinning wheel meant for who-knows-what kind of exercise. It had a broken handle with an exposed sharp metal edge. The boys wrestled over it until they lost control, resulting in a spinning uppercut to Henry’s chin. He was left with a bloody gash. Very alarming at the time. Now, just a little scar to remember the moment by. (Tania’s note: I was not there to witness the pre-injury antics, but am confident I would have stopped the madness before blood was spilled.)
Day 83: Hidden camel thorns | Etosha, Namibia
After a few hikes in Namibia, I started noticing occasional sharp pains in the bottom of my feet. I couldn’t find anything inside my shoes or outside on the soles of my shoes and I started to think I was having some kind of phantom pains. It took me a while to figure out that these giant camel thorns were lodging themselves deep inside the sole of my shoes, hiding there, and then stabbing me whenever I landed my foot on a rock in just the right way. I pulled out 6-7 of them.
Day 84: Waking up drenched | Okaukuejo, Etosha, Namibia
It was pretty dry while we were in Namibia, but one night it poured heavily for a few hours while we were sleeping in our rooftop tents. I’d left the tent slightly open to let the breeze in before going to sleep, because you can’t really get that wet when you’re sleeping six feet off the ground. Right? Wrong. We woke up at 1am to find our foam sleeping pad was soaking wet. The rain was so heavy that water had pooled on the rain flap until it overflowed – dumping the water into the open corner of our tent. Just to spite me for being too confident. Miserable night, but luckily the next day was hot and the mattress dried out after a few hours in the sun. (Tania’s note: The boys had not been so overconfident so they stayed snug and dry, and had a good laugh at our expense.)
Day 88: Max free climbing giant boulders four hours from a hospital | Hoada Campsite, Namibia
Hoada campground has these crazy boulder piles and the campsites are few and far between. It’s an amazing place. The staff told us to watch out for the baboons, who like to raid the campsites and tear apart the toilets to get to the water. As we were getting settled, I could see them spying down on us from the boulders. A little creepy. The staff also told us not to fall climbing the boulders because the nearest hospital was a four hour drive over a very bumpy road. Max wasn’t concerned about any of that. He disappeared shortly after we unpacked and 15 minutes later was yelling down at us from the top of the boulders. Made me very anxious.
Day 92: Foot swelling to 2x | Spitzkoppe, Namibia
Spitzkoppe, another setting that is stunningly beautiful, yet remote, desolate and very far from a hospital. While exploring the boulders around our campsite, I walked too close to a wasp nest and was stung. I’m not allergic to stings, but this particular African wasp venom didn’t agree with me at all. The swelling was painful and didn’t stop for 72 hours, leaving me with an XXL foot and making it hard to walk. I wouldn’t recommend it.
Day 94: Dead seal on Max’s shoes | Cape Cross, Namibia
Thousands of seals live at Cape Cross. It was an amazing experience to walk around the area, right among the seals. The down side is that there are dead and decaying seals in the sand and the smell of the place is nearly unbearable. After we left, we had to wash all of our clothes to get the smell out. And yet, some of the smell still remained somewhere in the apartment. It took us a while, but eventually we pinpointed the source: dead seal on the bottom of Max’s boots. So gross. We washed them with a hose, but those boots were never the same after that, in my mind. Luckily he grew out of them within a month.
Day 96: Quad bike crash, fortunately not us | Swakopmund, Namibia
We went quad biking and sandboarding/sledding in the dunes. I was concerned for the kids’ safety, but this is a very popular activity in Swakopund. It’s hard to get objective information about how much risk and danger is involved. As we got started, we saw their WARNING sign which was not reassuring (“…not liable or responsible for any death, injury, accident…”) . That said, we did have a great time on the three hour tour until the very end, when we came upon another group where a woman had just fallen off her quad. She was pale, in shock, not talking, possibly a broken arm. That was a sobering end to the tour and we felt very lucky to walk away unharmed.
Day 132: Flooding | Hoi An, Vietnam
We have a habit of arriving in places just in time for historical floods. We arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam right in the middle of the heaviest rainfall ever recorded there. 25 inches of rain in 24 hours. That’s a lot of rain. For perspective, Seattle averages 38 inches of rain in a year – and that’s spread out over 154 days. So, we didn’t do much for a few days after that. The back yard of the house we rented was a pond for a few weeks, but eventually dried out.
Day 152: The five bridges bicycle tour | Hoi An, Vietnam
It started out innocently enough, a casual bike ride to explore Cam Kim. While there, I did some quick phone mapping and suggested that it would be more adventurous if we tried a different way home instead of back tracking. Three hours later, after biking through a lot of wind and rain, across four more bridges – including one massive bridge with a 1/2 mile uphill climb, lots of stopping to consult the map, and a couple wrong turns, we were back at home in Cam Thanh. I have a fond memory of this one, but I don’t think Henry has come around yet. (Tania’s note: Kyle is the only one who has fond memories of this particular adventure.)
Day 176: Sitting in traffic in Manila | Manila
We spent almost a week in Manila / Quezon City. I think we averaged about 5 mph in traffic. We had a few ~2 hour trips just to get across town within Manila, maybe eight miles. I guess the bright side of this is a renewed appreciation for cities that you can drive across in less than an hour.
Day 178: Flying through the night ~ Manila to Da Nang
We’ve had several late night + early morning flights. But the best worst of them was coming back to Da Nang from Manila. We left Manila after midnight, had a layover in Hanoi where we ended up walking from the international terminal to the domestic terminal to stay awake. Henry slept on the floor while we waited to check in for the last leg to Da Nang at 5am. I like to think that we’ve grown to appreciate the relative convenience of taking short flights during regular waking hours.
Day 216: 24 hours of crazy | Hoi An, Vietnam
In one 24 hour period, we had three best worst moments. Max wrote about this in A crazy day:
1) We took a speed boat ride over the sea to the Cham Islands and back – possibly the most painful transportation I’ve ever experienced. It was a back breaking ride. We bounced and thudded through extremely choppy water, wincing on each landing, and getting soaked in the process.
2) That night, at 1am Max thwarted a burglar who had climbed a ladder to sneak in through a window. The burglar ran out the back door when Max came out of his room to investigate.
3) The next morning, Max fell and cut his forehead open. I took him to the ER to get stitched up. So, we got to sample healthcare in Vietnam and then later UK healthcare when getting the stitches out.
Day 234: Train detour | London to Dublin
We had a rail + sail scheduled for our trip from London to Dublin, but we arrived at Euston station in the morning to find our train canceled. The staff didn’t have much information about when the trains would run again, so they gave us a few options for getting to Dublin from other stations – though not necessarily that day. We decided to wait and luckily the trains started running an hour later. We took a route that zig-zagged through England with two extra transfers and had to compete for spots on the trains with all the other people whose travel plans had been upended. We missed the afternoon ferry to Dublin, but were able to switch our tickets for a different line, which left us with 5 hours to wait for the evening ferry. We walked into Holyhead through the rain with all of our gear and found a pub to hang out in for a couple of hours. In the end, it was all worth it as we had a great stay with our friends in Dublin.
Day 267: Wrong luggage in Recife | Recife, Brazil
We arrived in Brazil late in the evening after a transatlantic flight from Lisbon. In my haste to get to our hotel and go to sleep, I left the airport with a twin of my suitcase. Same brand + model, but different contents. It was almost midnight by the time we got settled in our hotel and realized what had happened. So, I had to go back to the airport and sort it all out. I encountered some challenges along the way (all the airline employees had gone home for the night + couldn’t find anyone that spoke English), but eventually made the switch. And, thankfully when I connected with the other bag’s owner, he was very understanding.
Now that we’ve covered Best Worst moments, maybe my next post will attempt to cover some Best Best moments.
After much fun and non-stop eating in Greece, we said goodbye to our Seattle friends and flew from Athens to Madrid for a few days. Our Airbnb was a tiny apartment in the Chamberí neighborhood. We were just next to a synagogue, so there was constant police protection, which was a sad reminder of the increasing number of anti-semitic acts across Europe (and the US) in the past few years.
On Saturday, we walked around to get our bearings of the neighborhood and surrounding areas. I bought shoes and belt at Humana. Max got new running shoes at Decathlon and when he put them on the thicker soles made him just slightly taller than me. That’s a trip milestone I won’t forget.
Easter Sunday was quiet, the boys got some Kinder surprise eggs and we made an Easter breakfast (I think?). We walked to the nearby Museo Sorolla, and were surprised to see a line, since it’s not one of the most well known museums in Madrid. Come to find out, it was a free admission day, so it was busier than usual. The museum is located in the former home of the artist Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida so it’s both an exhibition of his paintings and a look into his life and family. I’d definitely recommend it for anyone who has already seen the “big stuff” in Madrid.
Kyle and I went out for tapas one night at Taberna La Mina. It was delicious, and fun to observe the locals of all ages coming in and out for a quick(ish) drink and bite to eat. As this trip has progressed, we’ve gotten more comfortable with leaving the boys to fend for themselves occasionally while we have a date night. There’s so little time that we’re not together – it’s a bit strange to say that Kyle and I need some time together, alone. But we definitely do. And the boys also deserve a break from our constant presence.
Speaking of a break, on Monday I had the selfish pleasure of visiting the Museo Reina Sofia all by myself. To extend the treat, I walked all the way there (which my new-shoes-blistered feet would call a mistake, but I called it marvelous), and then walked through the Plaza Mayor, on my way to meet Kyle and the boys at the Palacio Real. I arrived early and was treated to the weird and wonderful sight of some local dancers filming a K-Pop performance.
After our tour of the Palacio, we cruised through the Plaza Mayor again and stopped at Chocolatería San Ginés for another round of chocolate & churros.
On our last full day in Madrid, we visited Sala Canal Isabel II, a former water tower turned into an exhibition space for photography and multimedia installations. Another very cool spot that wasn’t really on our itinerary, it was just close enough to walk to and free. Then we headed to Parque Santander, where I offered Henry his choice of a movie if he ran all the way around the track which rings the park. He managed it in a much shorter time than I expected, so track may be in his future. Then, the boys and I went to another Chocolatería Valor for milkshakes for them and chocolate & churros for me – is anyone seeing a pattern? I could live on that stuff.
As we prepared to leave Europe again, I was looking forward to seeing family in Brazil, but knowing this next stop would be the last destination on our travels made me a little sad.
I’m still woefully behind on getting trip posts up, so once again I’m going to rely on Kyle’s photos to fill in the blanks, better than any words I would write could.
We were pretty late arriving to our Airbnb in the 18eme arrondissement, not far from the apartment we had lived in almost exactly three years earlier. Our host, Agathe, was waiting in the entry, which was fortunate, because we were about to try to enter the wrong building. The apartment, on the fifth floor, was small but cozy, as was the elevator (Kyle might call the elevator more claustrophobic than cozy).
I love Paris, and especially “our” neighborhood, so I could barely wait to get out the next morning and walk around. The boys wanted to revisit their favorite park, Martin Luther King, in the 17th, so we walked there. Along the way there was a lot of exclaiming, “I remember this!”
We were all especially delighted to find that the free sparkling water dispenser was still there.
We were eagerly awaiting the arrival of Anna, Jorge, Santiago, Océane, and Bianca, and tried to get schoolwork and some more trip planning out of the way before they arrived.
An essential stop – the local Amorino. I think Henry knows the flavors by heart.
We visited the Luxembourg Gardens and picnicked along with all the students on their lunch break.
I wanted to stop at Shakespeare and Co., since in all his trips to Paris, Kyle had never been. I’m not entirely sure how he managed to get photos, since it’s expressly forbidden and they’re pretty rigid about that…
We visited Notre Dame, never imagining that the cathedral would suffer a terrible fire just two weeks later.
That night, we met up with the Robert crew for a fun dinner and the next morning headed to the Louvre with them for a few hours.
Afterwards, Anna and I took the kids for burgers (of course) at Big Fernand, while Kyle and Jorge spent a little more time at the Louvre without the clamor of five kids all asking “can we be done now?”. They met up with us after a bit and we all headed to a playground in the Tuileries where the kids managed to break all the rules of safe use of playground equipment. As usual.
Saturday morning, Kyle and I left the kids sleeping and took an early walk through the Montmartre Cemetery.
No walk in Paris is complete without a bakery stop, and we made many during our visit. I think Henry and Max could eat pain au chocolate every day for the rest of their lives and not get tired of it.
We dragged the boys out to the flea market, and had fun wondering “who buys this?” at each little shop.
In the afternoon we headed to Parc de la Villette, another favorite spot that brought exclamations of fond memories from the boys.
On Sunday we met up with our friends again for a visit to the Musée d’Orsay and a walk along the Seine.
The weather was perfect for lots of walking, brisk and bright, but the kids aren’t quite the fans of long walks that I am, so we made good use of the metro and only took one trip in the wrong direction.
Our last night in Paris we had another great dinner with the Roberts, plus their friends Hector & Gilda, and their two boys. We had fun popping in to the local vendors on the Rue Lepic to grab bread, charcuterie, cheese, and some amazing tomatoes to put together a tapas-style meal. Jorge by then had made fast friends with the local wine merchant, so we got to try a number of delicious French varietals, none of which I can remember now.
The next morning, we picked up our rental car and headed southeast to spend a few quiet days in the tiny village of Meuilley.
When we visited Europe during the first few months of this trip, we were all sad that we didn’t make it to Dublin to see our dear friends Jen, Eoghan, Ryan and Zoe. So, it was with great excitement that we planned a long weekend there on our Euro 2.0 swing. In 2016, the boys and I had traveled via the Virgin “rail and sail” from London, and had really enjoyed the trip, so we planned a repeat, to show Kyle how fun it was. It didn’t go quite as planned, and Kyle has included the less-than-fun trip in his Best Worst Moments blog. We did make it to Dublin, about 6 hours behind schedule, and the ever-gracious Jen met us at the port close to midnight.
On Saturday morning, Eoghan was off on an excruciating-sounding endurance race, so the rest of us went for a lovely, leisurely hike in solidarity. We walked a loop up though the Ticknock Forest to the Fairy Castle, passing by coconut-scented gorse and stopping at a babbling brook where the kids scooped handfuls of clear water while I waited for a far darrig to come spirit them all away because clearly we had entered an Irish folktale.
Luckily, we all made it back to the car safely.
Jen had emailed a few days before we arrived offering up whatever domestic opportunities I had been missing while on the road – full use of their beautiful, fully stocked kitchen, a washer and dryer, etc. What I didn’t anticipate was that she would engineer a flat tire for me to help change as we were picking Eoghan up from his race. I’ll fully admit that Eoghan did most of the heavy lifting (after running and biking some ridiculous number of kilometers up hill and down dale), but I got my hands dirty, at least.
Saturday night, the boys all went to see Captain Marvel while Jen, Zoe, and I settled in with a cozy fire, good conversation, and some reruns of the Great British Bake Off. It was my favorite kind of evening.
We recently watched and loved Sing Street, so on Sunday morning Jen was kind enough to take us to Dillon’s Park where we could get a good view of Dalkey Island, a key location in the film.
Then we headed over to watch the second half of Ryan’s rugby match. It was a brisk, windy spring morning, and I hopped around trying to stay warm, wishing for a hot coffee, while adolescent boys of all shapes and sizes ran around comfortably in shorts and rugby shirts. We got a primer on the rules of rugby and Ryan’s team emerged victorious. I think, however, that after seeing some of the more emphatic tackles, Max and Henry will probably not be taking up the sport.
In the afternoon, our friends Greg and Caroline came to the house for lunch. Greg and I worked together in San Francisco in the early 2000s and his open heart and Irish humor tended to be a highlight of my days. We met his wife, Caroline, when we visited in 2016, and liked her instantly. She matches him in wit and kindness, and exceeds him in beauty (sorry, Greg). It was a great afternoon of laughter, reminiscence, and delicious food.
Speaking of delicious food, I can’t really put into words just how much delicious food we ate over the course of the weekend. I’m not sure if Eoghan and Jen were worried we had been malnourished on our travels or if they were just being their regular generous selves, but we ate our weights, at least. Even Ryan got into the act, making pancakes (that the boys devoured) for breakfast the first morning.
Monday was a bit of a logistics and organization day for us. We took (probably too much) advantage of Jen’s generosity, and left her with a box worth of stuff that we had been carting around but not using, to be shipped back to the states.
Needless to say, we loved our time in Dublin and it was only the anticipation of meeting up with even more friends in Paris that kept the boys from abandoning ship and just staying in Dublin. We left Monday afternoon with full hearts, full bellies, and slightly lighter backpacks.
The Clash’s cri de coeur from 1979 seems to be newly relevant in these strange days of “will they or won’t they” Brexit chaos. No one seems to know what’s really going on, not even the folks doing the thing. There seems to be a massively consequential vote in Parliament daily, and yet nothing is resolved.
In the meantime, we’ve been having a great time in London. It took a few days to adjust to the time change, but we’re no longer waking up at 4am or falling asleep at 7pm. It’s colder than I’d like, but Henry is ecstatic about that, and cheerfully refuses to wear his sweatshirt even when I can SEE the goosebumps on his arms.
We hit the ground running, visiting the British Museum the morning after we arrived.
We then visited the Warner Brothers Harry Potter studios that afternoon. The boys enjoyed it just as much as the first time we went, in 2016, and after three years of waiting, were blissfully happy to get to the butterbeer.
Max had his stitches removed a couple of days after we arrived, at the Junction Health Centre here in Battersea. It’s an NHS walk-in clinic, so available to all, and free. We waited just a short time, the facilities were modern, and the NP who removed the stitches was fantastic. We could do healthcare like this, America.
So many of the museums here are free, and we’ve taken advantage of that to sample a number of them. Victoria and Albert, the Science Museum, and The Natural History Museum. We paid to visit the Churchill War Rooms, and it was entirely worth it. Over the last few years, I’ve read a number of books* that take place in London during WWII, and the war rooms really brought depth to some of the stories.
A personal highlight was finding the home where my great-grandfather George Pitter was born in 1871. He left England in 1903 for North America, traveling west across Canada with his family. By the time my grandfather, Earl Clifford Pitter, was born in 1919, the family was in Victoria, B.C. and would sail for Oakland, California when he was just one year old.
I’ve had the chance to catch up with friends here, too. Serendipitously, my former colleague Catharine was in London for a conference and we met for a delicious lunch at Padella, before I rejoined Kyle and the boys at the Sky Garden.
On St. Patrick’s Day, we shared a Guinness and an enormous Sunday roast at The Prince Albert pub with my college friend Tricia, who lives the expat life here with her husband and two adorable children. After lunch, we wandered through Battersea Park while experiencing what felt like all four seasons in a brief hour. Sun, rain, wind, and then sun again. It can be hard to keep up.
We also took a day trip to Oxford, where we had lunch with Ellie, who took the boys on many an adventure in Paris when we stayed there in 2016. The boys loved seeing her again, and talked her ear off. I think she appreciated the break from studying.
After lunch we walked around town, marveling at the history. The university lists 1231 as the year of its founding, but it has been a place of learning since 1096, or earlier.
Kyle here. We’ve spent over two months in Hoi An now. After covering 13 countries in the first four months of our trip, we’ve really enjoyed the switch to slow travel and the relaxed pace of life here. And we’ve met some great friends here, both locals and other traveling families. Here are some photos and details to give you a sense of what our daily life is like here.
We found a place in Cam Thanh on the edge of town so that we could have more space and some distance from the heavier traffic and flow of tourists in the Ancient Town. But, we’re still within a short bike ride of the market, restaurants and anything else we need.
An Bang Beach:
An Bang beach is about a 15-20 minute bike ride for us and a great place to spend afternoons and to meet up with friends. The beach side restaurants offer recliners with umbrellas and tables for food + drinks.
Ba Le Market:
The nearest large scale supermarkets are in Da Nang (40 min drive), so we spend a lot of time at the market, the bakery and the mini-marts near the market. It took a couple weeks to figure out where to get everything, how much to pay, when things were open/closed. But, we quickly established a routine around shopping. Eating out or getting delivery is very affordable here also, with lots of great options.
The main draw for tourists in Hoi An is “Ancient Town”. Aside from the 16th century historical landmarks, there are countless restaurants, boats offering rides, lanterns and lights of all kinds, vendors selling clothes and souvenirs, and more.
The Rice Paddies:
The growth of tourism into a significant source of income here is relatively recent, coming in the past 20 years. Traditionally, rice farming has been an important source of food and income for locals and rice paddies still surround Hoi An on all sides. One of the highlights of being here is cycling on paths through the fields every day.
There are small cemeteries all over Hoi An, squeezed onto islands in and around the rice paddies. We follow the bike paths through these spots and often see people here honoring their family members.
Since we’ve been in Vietnam, we’ve had a break from the intensive planning that is a big part of this trip, but with just a few weeks left before we take off again, Kyle and I have both started to spend our time in front of a screen, calculating the cost-benefit of taking that cheaper flight which takes 33 hours, or the more expensive one, which takes 17, but means we’re eating nothing but bread and Laughing Cow cheese for the entire time we’re in Paris. And we’re getting emails reminding us that our tax forms are ready, which fills me with dread, exactly the same response I have every year.
World travel is intense and exciting, to a point. But long-term travel serves also to remind you that the simple responsibilities of daily life are pretty much unavoidable. We might spend the morning exploring a new city, beach-hopping to find our favorite waves, or climbing to the top of a mountain in the Dolomites, but at the end of the day, someone has to wash the clothes. And shop for groceries.
And cook, and watch our finances (carefully!), and make sure the boys do their math (reluctantly!).
No matter where we are in the world, a stubborn baby tooth might need to be extracted (at the shockingly low price of $4) and teeth will need to be cleaned ($8).
Tween feet will just keep growing, and shoes will need to be procured. A bike chain will break and need to be replaced or else one of us has a large kid on our pannier rack.
And these days that is all happening in a language I don’t understand, and often involves haggling over the price when I don’t even know what the right price should be.
I can feel the side-eye now, and I promise, I am not complaining. Just reflecting, and avoiding looking at those tax forms…