Tag Archives: Traveling

Fly, baby, fly…

Emma with her packs and mini-mandolin.

Emma with her packs and mini-mandolin.

Well, there she is. My nineteen-year-old baby off on a gap year. Okay, so it’s not exactly a year, but close ‘nough. Over the next eight months, she will be living and working in Equador, China, India and South Africa. She’ll have “enrichment” weeks like climbing Machu Picchu, visiting the killing fields in Phnom Penh, riding camels across the dessert, and going “on safari” in Africa. For the majority of her time, though, she will be working with NGOs in each location. She’s not doing this alone, but with a group of other students her age and three adult advisors.

Over the last year, we have talked about this trip to countless people. It’s hard to not have to go into some explanation why you need to buy a particular kind of clothing, shoe, or back-pack-like item. We spent ten minutes at the bank talking to the teller before she counted out the one and five dollar bills she needed. (Equador is the first stop and they use the American dollar as currency.) Emma posted about how inadequate and tiring it can be to talk about something in brief snippets in her first blog post.

When talking about the trip,the responses I get from other parents land pretty squarely in two camps. The first is enthusiastic, and the second is a large-eyed dismay covered quickly with a tentative question about how I feel about it. I know I am generalizing here, but the younger a child the parent has, the less enthusiastic they are. It makes sense. If you have a little baby, you can hardly begin to imagine them at a friend’s house for a sleep over let alone sending them around the world. I know when Emma was little, I used to worry about how she would do overnight, let alone for 8 months.

After reflecting on her preparation for this trip, I realize that a lot of how ‘okay’ I am with this has to do with the fact with how ‘okay’ she is with it. Sure, she was pretty nervous yesterday when we waved her off, but it was clear her excitement outweighed her nervousness. Part of this does have to do with her education and how it trained me to accept her leaving in incremental baby steps.

I’ve written about Waldorf education in the past, and most of you know I have a love-hate relationship with it. Her experience with the various class trips she had is something to LOVE about Waldorf. Starting in third grade, she went on an overnight sleep away experience on a farm. In fourth grade she was gone for two nights for their Potlatch, in fifth grade it was the Olympiad, and so on. In high school, they upped the ante and sent the kids on week long back-packing, hiking, and service trips. Each time, the experience got a more difficult or involved. Her final senior class trip included rebuilding a trail in Oregon. Each trip taught Emma something new about herself and how to cope with being away from home, family, and creature comforts. And, each taught me something new about myself as a parent and how to let go.

Am I worried? Yes and no. I know that Emma has the where-with-all and reserves to handle the home-sickness, lack of technology, and various other social issues that will come up. I am worried about the things I can’t control–the unexpected and random stuff that happens. Weather, earthquakes, crazy people, illness–they exist everywhere. The fact that I won’t be around to help her through anything like that…well, that’s the hard part.

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d’Orsay can you say?

20120708-154542.jpgLast week we had the chance to visit the musée D’Orsay. I’ve been musing on one of our interactions with a French family ever since. A father with three children came up to us because we were obviously visitors and asked if he could speak with us for a minute. His kids appeared to be aged about ten to 17 or so. He asked,”Where are you from?” After we told him he said, “Would you tell my son why you are here? We live in Paris, but he doesn’t have any interest in what is right here.” He turned to his son and said,”See! These people came all the way from Seattle to be here, and you don’t even want to ride the metro a few stops to get here.”

The father was clearly trying to make a point, and I didn’t have enough time to really stop and think through a response that would address the father’s obvious frustration and convey a sense of respect for the teenager. He looked friendly enough but rather embarrassed by a father who is willing to walk up to complete strangers and talk about his lack of interest in his own culture.

After Emma and I chimed in with what it was we were enjoying about the d’Orsay in particular, we added what else we had seen and why we had enjoyed it. We mentioned that it is just different, too. Let’s face it, if you put the Space Needle next to the Eiffel Tower for a side by side comparison, the Paris landmark is going to kick Seattle’s ass. Don’t get me wrong, I love Seattle, but it is not Paris. It’s hard to beat the immenseness of the ancient city on any number of levels. Just think of the quick list just about anyone can make about Paris–Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Jardin de Luxembourg, Sacre Coeur, le Louvre. Also, there is l’Orangerie–home to Monet’s famous enormous Water Lillies. Last time I was here with my mom, the Orangerie was closed for renovations, and the time before that I was only 16 and had no clue. Which sort of brings me back to this poor young man who seemed utterly bored and not at all interested in the lesson his father wanted us to teach him. I felt bad for the teen, though. Here he was being displayed in front of complete strangers in his second language. I said something to the effect thaf we don’t always appreciate what is in our own back yard. After all, we were in France not Seattle.

It’s always easier to think of an appropriate response after an interaction, and I would have preferred it if I could have engaged the teen a bit more directly and found some common ground with him rather than ending up being someone jumping on his dad’s bandwagon of cultural pontification. I am guessing that the overall interaction only embarrassed the teen without making much headway with the father’s agenda.

20120708-155606.jpgHowever, this got me to thinking about my own back yard for a bit. I am not particularly home sick because I am still enjoying my trip, but I think it is a valuable exercise to think through the things that I can appreciate about my own place in the world.

I know I just sort of dissed the space Needle, but it is certainly one of the Seattle landmarks that I take visitors to see. We often go to the Locks–especially if the salmon are running. The Zoo, aquarium, the troll, SAM, Boeing, EMP, Seattle Center, and Gasworks Park are all on my offering list. We love Pike Place Market, and we don’t always wait for visitors to get down there. After living in Seattle for almost 23 years, I finally saw the “gum wall.” I don’t think this particularly stinky globular and hideous bit of art is that old, but I hadn’t been in that alley since the days when we went to see a friend who was a regular in Theater Sports. The last time I was there, I was focusing on the disturbed naked man being escorted away by the police. I don’t think I would have even noticed the gum had it been there at the time.

So folks, I would like you to share where you take your visitors–and why if you are so inclined. It’s not necessary to keep it Seattle bound–might as well enjoy the larger discussion of what is not to be missed wherever you live.

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Indecent in Paris

20120702-231620.jpgIt’s sort of strange that a family comprised of all atheists finds its way to places like Notre Dame and the Sacre Coeur Basilica. We made it to Notre Dame the first day we were in Paris. The line to get in extended out across the plaza in front of the cathedral but moved quickly. The signs at the door all said to be quiet, but there was a steady buzz of whispering throughout. The only reason we went was to see the famed Rosetta stained glass. Eli recently read “The King in the Window”–no doubt inspired by Adam Gopnik’s year living in Paris–and there was some glass jumping going on in that. The cathedral is about to celebrate its 850th anniversary and they are renovating and collecting money throughout the cathedral. The experience was anything but peaceful or awe inspiring with the large crowds. I almost feel sorry for anyone who lives in the vicinity and calls the cathedral their home church. It would be impossible to find any sort of contemplative solitude. Maybe they have special hours for local congregants.

On Monday, we headed up to Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur Basillica. The view heading uphill, with the glowing white dome against the clear blue sky, was a classic Paris moment. The climb up the steps was easy enough and the line into the basilica was much shorter than that of Notre Dame. We made it to the front only to be told my daughter was “indecent.” I took a picture of her in her shorts and tank top, you can see it at the upper left of this post. We were told to cover her up as women in shorter skirts than her shorts and sun dresses filed on in. Emma was not quite foaming at the mouth at the injustice of it. Fortunately, she always has a scarf and sweater in her bag so she wrapped the scarf around to make a makeshift skirt and put on her sweater. Her “skirt” barely covered her shorts and her shoulders were now hidden from view. The door monitor was rather subjective in the way she turned people away or let them in. The younger they were, the more likely, it seemed to me, that they were told to cover up. Emma in her “decent” attire is shown below. (if the WP app cooperates)

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The actual Basillica is quite different than Notre Dame. The harsher entry requirements and the guy just inside saying “shhhhh” while holding up a finger to his lips as you enter make it crystal clear they want you to be quiet inside. There was a service going on when we visited, so we got to witness real live Parisian Catholics getting up and down on their knees while singing. There was a nice bit of soprano solo by a nun for a while, and we got to experience the acoustics of a single voice in the huge space. They are getting ready to renovate their pipe organ, and I can just imagine how awesome it will sound in there. I have always appreciated liturgical music–especially when they are in Latin and I don’t understand the words.

One of the busiest little chapels had many supplicants, including one who climbed through the barricade to kneel at the base of a statuette, prayer beads in hand. I made a note of the name to look up when we had Internet access again. I couldn’t help but wonder who this “St. Vierge” might be. I can already hear some of my multi-lingual and Catholic friends laughing. Go ahead and laugh, because I know I did a palm to forehead slap once I’d looked up the translation. This was only made a little more hilarious when Bill pointed out the one of the French astrological signs we saw on a table was also Vierge. Go, cognates!

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Roadtrip Essentials: Advice from a Survivor

The Mazda was packed full.

When I was a child, getting into the car every summer is something we just did. With six of us and family across the country, summer vacation was all about visiting family, and not so much about traveling.

In spite of our recent Irish road trip, It’s not something we’ve done much of as a family. Our son doesn’t really like being in a car for long, and our daughter gets car sick if she reads while riding. We managed to get to Montana for our family reunion and back without too much friction, yelling or beatings. Okay, no beatings, though one was threatened. And, if you know me, you might imagine what it would take to get me to even make that kind of threat.

What follows are a few thoughts about getting ready and on the road. This is not comprehensive by any means, but just a few things I think worked for us.

Things to do before you go.

1. Stock up on your family’s favorite snacks and beverages. It’s not that you need a whole lot, but enough to get you through a day or two of grumbling in the car when someone gets gnoshy. Get a few not-too-messy treats for the car and make sure they are easily accessible to someone so that you aren’t stuck with a situation where everyone knows what they want but can’t get to it. Note: If your snacks contain chocolate, you might want to put them in a cooler or cooler bag to keep them from melting. Or, consider taking them inside with you if you will be out of the car in extreme heat. There’s nothing worse than sticking your hand in a bag of melted candy while still in the car. (Okay, I know what you’re thinking about worse things than a hand covered in chocolate, but I’m not covering them in this post.) You might want to add paper towels, plastic trash bags and some handiwipes to your essentials list.

2. Make sure the drivers have their sunglasses.
Summer driving often means long hours in the car heading in the direction of the sun. It doesn’t really matter whether you are heading East or West, at some point the sun is likely to be in your eyes. Avoid the strain and keep safe by having a good pair of sunglasses. I managed to get a pair of new prescription polarized glasses just the week before our most recent trip, and it saved my head.

3. Make a playlist (or two or three) for the car.
Almost everyone has an mp3 device of some sort. Make up several playlists if needed, but put some thought into what you’ll need for the journey. We didn’t do this ahead of time. On the final day of our most recent trip, the husband put together one pretty quickly on my iphone, and it literally saved my sanity and kept our 8YO from inciting me to violence. There’s something about music and singing together in the car that creates a positive atmosphere. We use a tuner connector that plays through the radio. The presence of these devices has most likely killed the need for anyone to ever sing “99 Bottles of Beer On the Wall,” something for which we can all be grateful.

4. Figure out where you are heading, have a paper map or a plan that doesn’t rely on cellular service.
This may sound archaic in the day of GPS and all that, but my brother called me from downtown Seeley asking me where the resort was. His TomTom had told him he had arrived when he was still a couple miles away. Most of America is well serviced by our cellular network, but there are pockets where we had no service whatsoever. Don’t count on technology to be there 100%. And, don’t always count on there being a person around to ask for directions if you get lost.

While Traveling:

The view of the hotel from our 6th story room.

1. Break up your trip as much as you can.
The destination is important, but don’t let that rule you so much you forget to enjoy the journey. I mean this literally and not as some trite life metaphor. This can take many forms and be customized for your particular family situation. For us, it means stopping frequently at rest stops that have enough room to toss a frisbee for a while. We get out, stretch our legs, use the toilets, and move around a bit. We were blessed with being on I-90 where there are regular rest stops along the way that are, more or less, dependable. Some are even staffed with people selling coffee, lemonade and cookies for one service organization or another. If you’re traveling along some of America’s more scenic routes, stop and look at those historical markers and roadside oddities. Visit that castle made of bottle caps or places that tout marvels of the universe. It breaks up the boredom.

We also like to stop in hotels with swimming pools. I love to swim, so this is as much about my own sanity as it is anyone else’s. I also discovered that doing a cartwheel under water in just the right way can also crack my back perfectly—the persistent pain between my shoulders from the first day of driving completely disappeared until we were just a few hours from home.

2. Use SLEEP to your advantage.

If you have little kids who can sleep while in the car, drive…just drive while you can and go as safely as you can without getting caught speeding or doing anything insane. This advice also works for some teens. Get up early. EARLY, like 4:00-5:00 early and put the teens in the car. The natural tendency for them is to just sleep through the morning while you drive. (This is from my brother who was traveling with four, yes, FOUR, teenage girls.) This didn’t really work for us as my son can’t sleep while upright unless we are five minutes from home. When be was younger we did have some success working around his sleep times.

3. Try not to sweat the small stuff and ignore your backseat drivers as much as possible.

I find this particularly hard, but it really is best to just let that camper trailer think be can pass the big rig if he pulls in front of you. It’s not really that long before he’ll pull back in front of the 18 wheeler and you can speed ahead. I hate being behind big vehicles. I like being able to see as far ahead as possible, so I am almost always trying to get ahead of them. The thing about summer is the roads are filled with truckers and campers. My hubby was constantly making motions to indicate what he would be doing differently. I think I only snapped at him a few times, and I never once pulled over, tossed the keys at him and told him to drive instead.

4. Use google and tripadvisor to find yummy hole in the wall eateries.
We had one fast food stop–at a Wendy’s because we needed the toilet and they have really good iced tea. The rest of our dining options were found through a quick Internet search, and we found some good places to eat. Sure, you might know what to expect at a McDonald’s, but…you know what to expect at a McDonald’s. I realize this advice relies on you having a phone or something that can connect to the web while in the car, but, it is possible to plan out stops way ahead and do some research before you go. Unfortunately, the Internet is cluttered with old information, so you might consider calling a restaurant before spending a lot of time driving around a town. When we got into Ritzville, we realized that our chosen place was closed and opted for the less than superb restaurant that was open instead. In Spokane, the Greek restaurant that promised awesome gyros was closed with no explanation.

5. Try to maintain a sense of humor.

When our son asked, for the 80 gagillionth time, “When will we get there?” The hubby said something like,”You’ve asked that a thousand times…” Our son replied,”But, that’s what kids my age are supposed to do.”
What else could we do but laugh?

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Camden Market

20110702-060103.jpgI’d heard of Camden Market, but never come before. When I was here as a student, we had zone 1 tube passes, and the market is in zone 2. Also, I didn’t really have much money or free time to spend, and I tended toward spending time in the theaters when I was free. (I saw at least 35 shows during my three month stint, all at a reasonable student price.)

We got into London from our driving trip around 2:00, checked into our hotel and dropped off the car about twenty feet from a tube station. We headed straight for the market with legendary food stalls and vendors of all kinds. For my Seattle friends, you can take Folk Life and Pike Place Market mix them up triple them in size, add in some goth influence, cut back on the live entertainment and make it more international and British at the same time to get a good picture. As they say a picture is worth a thousand words…so here are a few thousand words in graphics.

Reda, the Lebanese falafel god makes the tastiest falafel wrap ever. I had to chat him up big time to reveal his secret spice blend. I’m going to have to mess with it a bit because he didn’t give me any ratios.

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The stores along the street have phenomenal decorations.

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Tons of food choices….and interesting seats

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Pedicure, anyone? The fish nibble at your skin to remove dead skin. (and no, we didn’t do this.)

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This guy cut the fresh coconut open for us and splashed his face in the process. He launched into a little spiel about the benefits of coconut water on your skin.

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My 8 year old decided chicken kebab looked good for dinner.

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The down-side to returning as the market closes–sardine time. (Tip: waiting through another train or two during a backup clears up most jams.)

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And my 16 YO is looking a bit annoyed that I’m taking yet another picture in public.

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At The Talbot

The Talbot Hotel in Stourbridge is old. It was first built in the 1600’s and expanded, remodeled and updated constantly since. The room we are in is known as “the family room” because it has a double bed and two twin beds–an ideal set up for people traveling with two kids who don’t want to stay in the same bed. This is a configuration I don’t see a lot of in American hotels but would be an instant hit.

The Talbot was originally a town house boasting “ten hearths” at the time of the hearth tax–I could google that for you, but I am doing this from my iPhone, and you probably have a keyboard. It reminds me a lot of the White Swan in Stratford-Upon-Avon we stayed in on our last trip to England. Like the Swan, the Talbot has interesting layers with connecting doors at odd angles. The thick dark beams contrast with the white plaster walls. The floors are no longer level, and furniture and windows tilt at odd angles.

There is nearly a foot difference in the floor of our room from corner to corner. I put a round tube on the small dresser and it rolled off as the right side of the dresser tilts up about eight inches higher than the left. Photos cannot capture the Escher-like feeling.

The quaintness of the place outweighs the small inconveniences of the architectural oddities. I like staying at places with character over sterile chains, and this place certainly has plenty of charm. (The free wi-fi is pretty nice, too.)

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Veg in Ireland

Maybe it was the clearly labeled gluten- free oatmeal on the shelf as we walked into The Phoenix B&B near Castlemaine, or perhaps it was the delicious savory smell of veggies simmering in garlic, or it could have been the Lazure-like paint on the walls that made this place feel like home away from home, but it was clear from the moment we arrived that we would have no problem finding healthy eating options for all our various diets.

My husband and son are committed omnivores, my daughter is happiest wheat and dairy free, I prefer a low-fat high fiber vegan diet, and our adopted-for-the-week teen is a dedicated vegan. Let’s just say I have felt as though I have given a number of the waitresses a thorough interview about the detailed contents of their menu options.

The Phoenix Restaurant bills itself as a seafood and vegetarian restaurant with accommodations. When booking their rooms for three nights, I looked at the menu, saw three obviously vegan options and knew we’d have three nights at least of easy eating. We weren’t disappointed. And it was easy because they knew veg-speak. The question “Is it vegan?” didn’t need any explanation. (The flyer for a Camphill festival made it abundantly clear there was a Waldorf connection–as If the food and decor weren’t enough.)

I’ve opted to be vegan-leaning without too many worries about eating vegetarian instead or even meat–I am on vacation after all. I have to admit the warm chicken and chorizo salad I shared with my daughter the other night was delicious. There have been eggs at breakfast, but I’ve passed up the sausage and ham options.

We’ve found an organic or “whole foods” type store in several places to ask where we can find a soy latte, and the tourist offices are very helpful in pointing out places that are most likely to have veg options. The hostess here in Killybegs happened to have soy milk in her fridge. We found hummus and pita at the local market, and there’s always fruit available.

The photo below is my delicious potato with beans and veggies with salad at the Stonechat in Killarney.

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