I’m still blogging

Each place we’ve visited I’d say we average 20% of our time and 70% of our brain power on deciding what to do, figuring out when to do it and then trying to learn the complicated ins and outs of each locations’ unique version of public transportation. We use the other part of our time and a measly 30% of our brain’s energy enjoying said excursions and then trying to remember what normal people cook for dinner. What did we eat at home? Why can I walk an entire grocery store and not have a clue of what to buy? How is it that so many European homes don’t have an oven? 

Munich’s Glockenspiel from the church tower

When you are staying with locals the time figuring everything out is significantly cut down and reallotted to much better pursuits. They have already gone through the growing pains of learning a language and a culture, so we get to just tag along and do the fun things- taking a boat to a monastery that still makes its own beer, finding a pickup soccer game, drinking great wine, reading food labels without multiple translation apps. 

Germany has the S-bahn, the Train, and the trams. They all have wheels and ride on tracks and pretty much go the same places. When you get on a train and someone starts yelling in German that the back half of the train will split away mid trip, your local buddy can grab you and run to the front half of the train and shove you in while other locals shake their heads and complain that there isn’t room. Priceless. Where was that back half going? Some place where your car is not in the parking lot and your house just down the road. A place called Who Knows Where, but with a strong German accent. It makes me wonder how every other town would have felt if we had had some inside help. Likely very different.  Staying with the lovely Ashley and Matthias, who gladly kicked their oldest out of his room to let us spill out onto every corner, was just what we needed at this point in our trip.  An exhale, a breath of fresh air, even a ride to and from the train station. Priceless.

After my last post we were finishing up our coast to coast drive through France, ending in a spot called Aix-en-Provence. Think Napa meets a beautiful language and cheaper wine. With a little bit of Southern Spain thrown in. And fountains. Let’s just say it doesn’t suck. (See top photos). We took advantage of October pricing and stayed at a nice hotel whilst daily making the 15 minute drive into the old part of town. Markets, cafes, wide plazas, and yes, fountains. As much as I enjoyed seeing the interior of France, I think 2 weeks of Aix with concierges chasing me around to offer dinner tips and the perfect rosé would have suited me just fine.  

France and Germany- check. Our final country, Italy, is now in progress as we see glimpses of the light at the end of this silly and winding travel tunnel. We trained through the Alps to arrive in Florence and have been getting slightly lost in the narrow streets since. Which is fine because they are all pretty awesome and you always know there is a river and a Duomo if you need to reorient.  And they all offer gelato if one needs to encourage young legs to keep walking and walking, I swear you will thank us for this some day. Charlie has had a countdown to December 12th pretty much since we stepped foot into Europe, and last week he asked how many hours we had left. We’ll stick with days for now, which is in the mid 20’s. This has been epic in all the ways, but we are all looking forward to some comforts of home… working in the same time zone as others, seeing friends, riding bikes, having an oven and a reasonable amount counter space. And Mexican food. Oh my gosh that’s where the real countdown is- Mexican food. Only 600 hours to go until tacos!

Shut up! I’m trying to find my Zen (6)

I grew up flying stand-by, making a habit of volunteering to get bumped, and having to follow a dress code to get on a plane. My kids have flown Southwest since they were little, throwing on their comfiest pants and running onto the plane during their cattle call of a boarding process. It almost always goes off without a hitch. They get their coke and snack to settle into IPad watching and then get zoomed through the air in a long metal tube with barely a thought to all that happens to make this work for millions of people each day. One time we got stuck in the San Diego airport with thousands of our closest friends because their entire I.T. department went down country-wide. All planes were grounded for a few hours. It was late, we were over tired, and all of us had either work or school in the morning. The boys’ immediate takeaway was that Southwest completely sucks and we should never fly them again. Such fair weather fans! With our culture of instant gratification and the world at our literal fingertips, being waylaid from a plan and being beholden to someone else’s time frame (or striking whims) isn’t a muscle we get to flex much. And I say ‘get’ for my boys but more-so myself. As much as I hate things not going according to plan, there is no room to grow in patience and flexibility and grit without being forced to practice them. Those virtues we extol while actively avoiding the opportunities that develop them within us. Ugh.

But don’t get me wrong- I am not so virtuous, I’m mostly annoyed which causes the road between fine and livid to be extremely short. Just ask my family. We left Switzerland after 3 disappointingly rainy days which kept us from enjoying their fantastically high peaks and other worldly views. The were no cathedrals and museums in Interlaken to make up for the time not spent hiking and exploring outside. Silver lining, the kids got caught up in school. With sadness, we caught the train from Interlaken to Paris. We had a connection in Basel. Unbeknownst to us, the Eurail app helps you book tickets, but it doesn’t help you choose your seat. A few stops towards Basel, some kind people notified us that we were in their seats but let us stay. I’m thankful for their flexibility. We ran to our connecting train and found out as we got on, you must have a seat assignment and within 2 stops, every seat would be full. We looked at the boys and just had to roll with it… meaning along with our 4 big suitcases, we rolled them right off the train to figure a new plan. Turns out a French rail strike had just ended so all the trains were super full. No seats for another 6 hours. So now I’ve been to Basel.

We had on our list to train from Paris to Amsterdam for a couple of days. During that week there was a shortage of train parts from the main (only?) provider of train parts needed for that route. Okay, we won’t go. Leaving the Normandy area we noticed long lines at gas stations, many being closed completely. Turns out the 2 weeks we’ve rented a car, the fuel workers have decided to strike. No deliveries are being made so stations just close up when they run out of gas. The few that have remained open have long lines and steep costs. So the math you thought you’d never use when you’re older comes in handy when you want to find out that converting the liters to gallons and Euros to dollars, and how many kilometers until the next station (?), carry the 2… great, gas is about $8/gallon. It’s not that you won’t use the math, it’s more like you just shouldn’t. Better not to know. Our 4 hour transit day turned to 7 (and almost a hotel night) as we searched for gas stations that would be both open AND have gas to sell.

This line for gas goes in front of the grocery store, around the side and then further. We saw it Saturday and got there too late on Sunday when they ran out of regular and only had a few gallons of diesel left. The guy I was begging to let us just get a little said, “You picked a bad time to come to France.”

Today I am practicing my own version of flexibility after calling on my boys to do the same for the last 45+ days. We slept in, watched TV, and now I’m sitting on a couch trying to drown out the din of overly sugared, overly excited children whilst Asher and Charlie bounce their brains out at a trampoline park. They spent yet another day yesterday seeing where a King slept, where a Queen hosted her soirees (Catherine de Medicis), and another garden where you can’t walk on the grass. The boys have given up their sports and friends for this entire semester and have seen more “old things” (their words) than they knew existed. Asking them to do this was a lot and we’re realizing we have to throw in a few bones here and there to make this more palatable for everyone. Our time in the Loire Valley is short as we make our way down south hoping upon hope to catch a little bit of warm weather before it disappears for the season. However, messing up our perfectly laid plans might be what we actually need. We are in the valley of the castles and I’ll have to be satisfied with visiting just one.

And I am- such a beautiful garden. (Viewed from the edge, of course).

Yes is more (5)

You know how when you travel, those days can be a little bit more stressful, you might have a little less patience for strangers, and maybe what could be a gentle correction for your children comes out as a sharp hiss verging on a growl? Me neither. ..

We find ourselves- fortunately and unfortunately- experiencing more “travel days” than normal days and I feel it in our words and tone. As an Enneagram 7 (look it up if you’re unfamiliar!), my default mode is “let’s see it all!” And as much as it benefits my Fitbit step count, it can make one (and said children) feel weary and exhausted. I need all the Fitbit help I can get because a 7 at a hotel buffet also yells, “Let’s eat it all!” I knew we had packed in too many short trips when in discussing a jaunt to Amsterdam, my thought was please don’t make me go! And I want to go to Amsterdam. Part of this travel schedule stems from our inability to secure a long-term Airbnb for France. Since August we have reached out to at least a dozen places (or more). The lovely thing about Airbnb is the freedom to have a home, a kitchen, separate rooms. The downside is having to wait 24-48 hours after each individual request for return communication – and thus far each time the response has been, “Oh sorry, it’s not available for those dates.” The dates that were just free on the calendar. At one moment we actually got a confirmation of a 30 day Paris stay only for the owner to cancel on us later with no explanation. To say that we have felt discouraged is an understatement. With the cost becoming too prohibitive to stay in Paris for a month, we will continue short stays for the next month with just less time in Paris.

But back to our lovely time in Scotland and Copenhagen! We’ve found that a bus or walking tour to begin our time somewhere gives us some solid history and context, and then we choose places to return to spend more time. I love old architecture/buildings and picturing life back at the time of their construction, so walking this ancient city had me all sorts of wistful. But my highlight in Edinburgh was hiking. We’ve been in busy cities for the last month and it was both a welcome challenge and respite for my body to walk through the striking beauty of the Scottish lowlands. How great to get a couple of miles in and then be rewarded with good food and wine surrounded by the history and charm of a 600 yr old pub. Um, whaaaat?!? I’ve been exploring all the soups because it just feels right, and no better way than with a glass of wine and a thick piece of sourdough. Just enough fuel to help me heave the smooth heavy Skittles (bowling) balls down the alley. Necessity is the mother of invention and I see why our modern day bowling balls have 3 finger holes.

Copenhagen has its iconic colorful waterfront buildings and ubiquitous bikes, but a significant part of us choosing to visit was after watching a docu-series called Abstract. A few episodes in they profiled a young Danish architect name Bjarke Ingels. It’s worth a watch (all 8 episodes, in fact). I was so impressed with his creativity and ability to think beyond the status quo that I just wanted to see some of it myself.

And that’s what we did! We took the bus out to the Mountain House, an apartment building not built in a typical cube like manner with a parking garage next door. Instead, he created tiers of dwellings from north to south so every resident has a south facing door and garden. He put the parking garage underneath, but increasing in floors from south to north. On the other side of town he spruced up a trash incineration plant (because why not) by encasing it in a year round ski slope. We took the elevator maybe 20 stories high to check it out and then went sledding at the bottom. And these people really are so green that the only emissions at the top end up being mostly steam, so no harm and spending the day there. His philosophy for his design group is “Yes is more.” It was fun to see his creations in person and I envy anyone who ends up at the Danish School of Architecture.

We are heading to Switzerland, where it looks like we will be met with beautiful Mountaintops hiding behind stubborn rain clouds. Crossing my fingers they peak out for at least a moment.

I’ll end with a story from our guided tour through the streets of Edinburgh. You’ve heard of how folks emptied their chamber pots in the Middle Ages? Everything was just tossed out into the street from their windows above. Hence the filth and rapid spread of disease, etc etc. They would yell, “Gardy Loo!” to alert passersby of the impending toss. A curfew was imposed at some point so that everyone would go home and the emptying of chamber pots would stop by 10pm to allow for some coordinated cleanup. This meant that all the patrons of the local pubs would be wandering home at curfew, just about the time the last calls of “Gardy Loo!” could be heard. If people were in harms way upon hearing the warning they would shout back, “Hold your hand!” and swiftly pass by. But if you were exceedingly drunk, you might not react quickly enough. Instead you might look up and around to see where the noise was coming from… and… well… this is where we get the term “shit-faced.” Hazaa!

Toings and Froings (4)

We returned to London where you can already buy Queen memorabilia from any street vendor. One local news anchor actually used the phrase “toings and froings’ during a segment and I’m glad it is now in my lexicon. With the most notable sites closed to honour a week of mourning (In the UK I will make full use of the extra ‘U’), we still found ways to spend money. Tower of London, which boasts some towers dating back to the 1200s, and then the London Dungeon- think if one of those scary Halloween experiences also gave you a bit of history. Part ride, part show, part gross. One thing that wasn’t cancelled was Hamilton showing at the Victoria Palace Theatre. Ross and I saw it in 2018 and immediately fell in love with all things Lin Manuel Miranda. I was so happy the boys enjoyed it and loved being able to watch it with them. And I was wondering the entire time how the audience would receive a musical about this part of their history, but there were no audible ‘boos’ so I think it went over really well.

With so many things being closed we life-hacked our way into St. John’s Cathedral by attending a traditional Anglican church service. The boys were agape when they looked through the morning bulletin- we counted 20 pages of reading, response, sermon, prayers, etc. I really enjoyed it and have been a little surprised at how I’m a little more emotional about the Queen’s passing than what seems reasonable for a visiting American. The small choir would elicit tears even on normal days with their beautiful harmonies, but singing Kyrie eleison (greek: Lord, Have Mercy) 3 days after the Queen’s death did me in.

Classic in boy style, they left saying how much better our church is compared to St John’s; donuts, bouncy castles, ping pong… the only thing better about St. John’s Cathedral is that it “looks better.” Kyrie eleison.

Wednesday we trained out to Chelsea and chanted along with a crowd of thousands for the boys all-time favorite soccer team. A picture of our 4 American passports would not do and Ross had to physically print out, sign, and send a form that assured the Chelsea Football Club that when we attend their match we WON’T wear any of Salzburg’s colors and we WON’T cheer or celebrate anything about the opposing team either. They are not messing around. A dream come true for the boys to see a match live and even have their favorite player, Christian Pulisic, a part of the fray. If they had played him more the result would have been a win instead of a tie, says an American about the only American on the team.

After chatting it up with some locals, I have come to agree that we can return to London and see the main sites at any normal time, but being a part of this moment is really once in a lifetime experience. With that spirit we made our way to the center of the city to join the throngs watching the processional of the Queen’s coffin across town.

We happened to end up on a side street but with a view, and then it turned out to be the main route for all VIP attendees to drive to the Abbey… i.e. Princess Kate and Duchess Meghan- it was quick but I saw them both flash by in their separate cars! I am officially now into all things royal, as any good meddling American should be. (Ross, not so much) The boys still don’t get the significance and it’s hard to relate it to anything they are familiar with. Walking a couple miles and waiting a few hours was about all they could do before melting into nothingness, so the 13 hour 3 mile queue (again, fully embracing my current locale) to see Her Majesty lie-in-state was off the table.

Speaking of 13 hours, I only wish I could have spent that much time at the Harry Potter Studios (Our 4 hours just scratched the surface!). First, if you’re not a fan of the books, stop reading now. Second, shame on you. They had all the sets, props and Butterbeer you would ever want to experience. Hard to describe being in the places you’ve seen in the movies, seeing the actual costumes, the thousands of newspapers and potion bottles the art department created, the myriad of jokes and toys in the windows of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes storefront, the 1940’s National Rail Line train painted red with a perfect version of the station built around it… I have a whole new appreciation for these movies and movie making in general, and I sound like the biggest nerd of nerddom that ever nerded. But I digress. I liked it.

We cross our fingers and attempt laundry again, then say goodbye to England and head to Scotland Monday via train. Lots of travel coming up and oh my goodness, we haven’t even been gone 3 weeks and it feels like we’ve been living out of suitcases for 3 months. When you joke in response to the question of how you are that you’re ‘living the dream,’ that’s actually what we’re doing. Definitely doesn’t always go right or even well (damn toddler socks) but it’s not lost on me that we are truly living out a dream. Kyrie eleison!

A-list, we’ve got you

If you are concerned about making Southwest A-list, here is a suggestion: travel abroad and literally spend all your money within a week. This is a proven method and I’m actually wondering why Visa hasn’t called to check in and see if I’m OK. The last post ended with us fetching our things from our original Airbnb and sitting down to make a new plan. We were supposed to settle there for 25 days and take a couple of short trips. Instead we have no home base and are just schlepping our giant suitcases around each place we go. It’s not ideal but does help us avoid paying 2 places at once. See how money-conscious I am, Visa?

At this moment, I’m sitting at an outdoor table in Little Compton, a small village outside the likes of Bourton-on-the-water, Morton-in-Marsh, and Stow-on-the-Wold. I don’t know what a wold is. The grass is green and the property is full of roses, vines and fruiting trees. There are a few chickens in the pen, and Hector the dog has helped us with our Chewie-missing ache by providing wags and chases. This area is known as the Cotswolds, and it is how you picture medieval English countryside life- straight out of a movie set. As we explored the stone villages, one establishment had its founding year on the sign and THERE WERE ONLY 3 NUMBERS. The little pub and Inn was erected in 947. The store next to it was founded in 1578 and probably thought its neighbor was ancient. I literally could stay here for the rest of the trip.

It took a few close calls and now he’s a pro

Getting here was a test of nerves (and our actual marriage) as we took a train to Oxford and rented a car. A manual with the stick shift on the left, the steering wheel on the right, the driving on the left and a wife yelling “hug tight!”, “swing wide!” and “just pull over!” And the cherry on top was heavy rain. Ross did great- we hit a few curbs but zero oncoming cars.

Ross and the boys do most of their work in the evenings although I do have a slurry of emails about late assignments for each boy. And both are failing PE. Apparently I’ve taken my school management role as seriously as they have taken to writing paragraphs about badminton. Dang it. I have like 2 jobs; managing school and reading a good book. I’ll get on that. (Side note, I’m reading Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Set in 1100’s Old England about peasants, monks, earls and the building of a cathedral. It sure goes well with this little table and afternoon tea).

We spent the afternoon trolling around the medieval Christ church and current home of the University of Oxford. I did feel smarter after leaving the premises (though full disclosure because it only feels fair, I tried to spell the above word as premesis and only spell check saved me). A few locations for Harry Potter filming and the inspiration for the great dining hall- a dining hall still used every day to feed students and staff. It felt like an honor to be here and walk where some pretty incredible minds have and still study. And I figure this might be my only opportunity seeing as how the boys are failing online PE and all.

And major update: Queen Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, Monarch of 70 years, has just died… what a time to be here. The bells of the Tom Tower in Christ Church Oxford rang continuously for an hour. Who knows what it will be like in London when we return, but it feels so foreign to already address the country’s head as King Charles III. Operation London Bridge has commenced starting with D-Day and the 10 days to follow. God save the King.

Thus it begins

Saying goodbye was hard! People asked if was excited, nervous, anxious, sad… and the answer was a resounding yes. All of the above. Whatever feeling you can think of, the answer is yes. Did I cry a little bit during yoga? Yes. Did I almost hit my kid after he hurt his brother? Yes. And that was before 10am. Did I nearly suggest we bail on the whole thing? Almost. But I remembered there are strangers in my home that have signed a lease letting them stay there even when said Landlord gets cold feet. My cup has been full to the brim and each little drop of feelings spilled me right over. As we boarded our flight and settled in, Ross and I looked at each other from across the aisle and both just filled with tears. We are so fortunate to be embarking on this journey, but we’ve sacrificed a lot to get here. And this also might be the first time we’ve actually really looked at each other in weeks. Also an unfortunate sacrifice.

Our late afternoon flight dropped us into Iceland a little after 6am, though our bodies were thinking it was midnight. Never have I been resting in the wee hours of the morning and thought, lets get up and go to the pool! But we willed our bodies to rally and headed to the Blue Lagoon. Picture mixing blue gatorade with milk, boiling it, and then multiplying by 40 million gallons. Charge an exorbitant entrance fee and you have your latest tourist attraction. It actually was pretty amazing to be driving through wind-torn volcanic landscape and then stumble upon the milky blue rivers feeding the larger wading pools below.

Iceland is like a far-off ancient planet. Asgaard via the Bifrost. Norse mythology rules here with Thor, Odin and Loki making their way onto T-shirts and street names. Though the actual street names are more like Odinsveljagatur. I felt like Seri might resign after using her navigation services for those few days. For better or for worse we had 3 days in Iceland hoping to accomplish some of the highlights. And for worse, the forecast was 100% rain and wind for the exact 3 days we were there. Ross and I were pretty heartbroken but in classic kid way, the boys were only interested in one thing listed on the travel sites: putt putt. We braved the weather for a few stops and then had to call it. When rain goes sideways, the jacket can only do so much. And the end of the rain joke on us was our sunny morning drive to the airport.

You haven’t met Kevin and Stone yet… emotional support bison slash trusty travel companions making their way into many a photo op this fall

What’s the most important thing, Bowdeys?


No! It’s that we’re flexible. Oh London, I have high hopes for you still. Instead of 2 trains and 3 buses we splurged on the airport Uber to our Airbnb. It never feels great to show up to your new home with someone getting arrested out front! Our sweet Uber driver surveyed the area, smiled and reminded us to lock our doors and windows. Hazaa. The furnishings and space were fine, but the chemical smell had me running to open doors and windows- only to find out that it was about to get worse with the neighbors constructing a new deck and at that moment painting epoxy over its entirety. Remember rubber cement from elementary school? It was like cracking open 20 jars and sticking my nose into each one. We ate dinner in the far bedroom for a little reprieve and by 8pm were on hotels.com to make a new plan.

And so I now write to you in the middle of said plan. Which is a hotel for the next couple days and then TBD. We spent a fun and informative day on the hop on hop off bus tour of the city which will help us hone in on the places to explore further. Did you know Romans built the first settlement here in 47 AD? Or that a Russian Oligarch merged 2 very fancy apartments in a rich neighborhood near Hyde Park and it sold for $150 million? I’m full of random facts now. The hope is a Chelsea match, a show, and a tour of the countryside, oh and maybe a new plan for where to live for the next 3 weeks. Also that. Sweet Jesus, mercy, also that.

Hello World!

Hello World!

No really- Hello World, here we come!

A quick intro to this- I’m sitting on a nice patio that I don’t own and my kids are doing screens in the middle of the day in a camper that I also don’t own. Thanks to our friends Caleb and Katie, we have a quick place to be squatters while we span the gap of renting our house out to strangers and leaving on a 3+ month tour of Europe. Ten days of local suitcase living and the current takeaway is that I’ve never properly taught my kids how to do dishes by hand.

I spy with my little eye 2 small heads crushing any sort of screen time record.

As we pass the apex of 2022 and start the slide towards fall, we can all share in the collective tumult and adjustment of riding through this pandemic. (I think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel but historically the light keeps turning out to be a new variant to contend with, which pushes the tunnel and my patience just a bit further). Everybody’s experience has been as unique as they are- financially, emotionally, geographically, even physically. As a family we took more walks, howled at the neighbors every night at 8pm, tried baking (overrated) and watched every Marvel movie in chronological order. If you’re wondering, the first one is Captain America.  We are now watching the Simpsons from the very beginning – season 7 and only like 560 episodes to go… When school was moved online, I thought the world was crumbling in on my kids (and mostly me). What I did not anticipate was that the introduction to online school was not world-crushing, but in actuality, world opening.  I watched them lounge in their PJs and work their way through the required tasks. We would pack up the computers and bike to the coffee shop and all work together. I deep down enjoyed it and for the first time I thought- We could do this anywhere.

Fast forward a bit and ‘doing this anywhere’ is now our plan.  I acknowledge the privilege of having typical learners. They need very little from me academically- and even today my 12 year old asked me what a ‘clause’ is, and I couldn’t give a definition (a part of a sentence? Which part? The uh…middle part?). We sit in the perfect window of having 2 kids who are old enough to read and manage a computer but who are young enough to not be ruled by high school sports and college entrance requirements. Conclusion- let’s get outta here.

You will work very hard preparing for a garage sale and then people will haggle the boots from $2 down to $1

This moment on the nice patio listening to Joni Mitchell is the result of 1000 choices we made over the last year- figuring out the school leave of absence, purging toys and games, redoing bathroom tile, donating enough from all our closets to clothe a little village and even having a garage sale (this last one should fall on your ‘don’t do it’ list. Work a couple extra hours at your job and just give it all away). So no beautiful photos yet, just the few I snapped in this in between time.

So as you get to the end of this (Hi mom and dad) I apologize for tricking you into reading a travel blog about a family who has only gone a mile from home. Conclusion- Every epic tale needs a backstory and I guess it can only get better from here…