Happy New Year and New Blog

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

To all the subscribers who regularly read this blog: Thank you, happy new year, and please visit my new blog!

I launched a new site a few days ago to combine my passions for running and travel. It’s called The Runner’s Trip, and the tagline is Run Long, Travel Far, Discover More. The first post and about page describe its mission. In many ways it’s an outgrowth of this blog and my first running blog. I’m mothballing Away Together and encouraging readers here to subscribe to the new one.

I greatly appreciate all who followed our family travel blog and shared their comments on our posts. I look forward to traveling more with my family and blogging about the destinations on The Runner’s Trip.

Thanks again for taking the time to read this. I hope you find the new blog inspiring, motivating, informative, and entertaining.

A New Season, A New Way

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

This time last year, we were flying from LA to Buenos Aires and pondering the coincidence, which felt more like fate than happenstance, that Morgan and I were starting our adventure abroad 25 years to the day after he first reached over to touch my hand and I leaned in for a kiss. (That was October 5, 1984, the fall semester of his senior and my junior year in high school.)

I’m always doing that: thinking of what we were doing this time last year. I’m also looking ahead and feeling anxious — excited, but nervous — about what we’ll be doing one year from now.

People ask all the time, “How are you doing? All settled back in?” That’s tough to answer. I usually say, “We’re doing well but still transitioning. We’re back home but not exactly settled.”

I wish I could either blog about new destinations or write a nice, tidy epilogue to the story of our trip. But we don’t have any noteworthy travel planned, and the story of what the trip meant and how it changed us is still developing.

So I want to share what we’re up to these days, and then, with some sadness and until further notice, mothball this blog. I hope the day will come when I have reason to give it a makeover and launch an encore edition. (more…)

Yosemite’s Curry Village: Good Times with the Bear Necessities

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Our Curry Village tent cabin

I was carrying my bag into Yosemite’s Curry Village, about to check into a canvas-sided, one-room shack that’s a hybrid of a tent and a cabin, when suddenly I came within an inch of stepping in one of the biggest piles of poop I’ve ever seen.

I know dog doo, cat scat, cow pies, horse manure, deer droppings, feral pig dung and, of course, human feces, and I knew this cake-sized coiled turd was none of the above. Barely disguised with dust, and resting a mere 10 feet or so from our door, it looked frightfully fresh, thick, dark, and flecked with something nutty and grainy — a hapless hiker’s granola bar, perhaps?

“A bear did that!” I said out loud to no one in particular. Then I found Morgan to show him, and we in turn showed it to a man we had just met in the neighboring tent cabin.

“I’m not surprised,” the man said. “You should see the patch job on my cabin,” and he held up his hand and mimed a menacing scratching motion while describing a large ursine claw mark still visible underneath a patch on his unit’s flimsy excuse for a wall.

“Well,” I said to Morgan, “We’re not in The Ahwahnee anymore.” (more…)

One Year Later: The Time-Capsule Travel Letters and the ‘Eat Pray Love’ Backlash

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Midway through our trip, my world-traveling friend Carolyn suggested that each of us write a letter to each other describing our feelings about the travel so far and our hopes for the remainder of the journey. This was in late January, when we had been away for five months and were living outside of Queenstown, New Zealand, for a couple of weeks. She told us to keep the letters secret and not share them until the trip ended.

Morgan, Colly, Kyle and I each sat down and wrote letters reflecting on the experience, showed them to no one else at the time, sealed them up, and then opened and read them out loud over dinner in June on our last night before driving home. Now, the letters sit on my desk as reminders of what the round-the-world trip was all about. Today, for a couple of different reasons, I re-read them to reflect on how the 10-month trip affected us individually and as a family.

One reason is the snarky backlash, prompted by the film release of Eat, Pray, Love, to long-term travel for the sake of change, education and self-reflection. (more…)

83 Places, 5 Continents, 10 Months

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Less than 24 hours after our plane from Heathrow landed in Los Angeles, the four of us walked into a Noah’s Bagels on Sunset Boulevard for an early lunch. Our sense of time and place were thoroughly out of whack from jet lag and from the strangeness of waking up in Southern California, drinking Peet’s Coffee and tuning into the Disney Channel as though we’d never been away.

As we stood ordering bagels, we suddenly remembered we had eaten lunch at the same Noah’s on the day before we flew to Buenos Aires in early October. “I feels like we were just here,” Colly said, and I agreed while my chest hiccuped with anxiety.

It felt as though all those months abroad — which had stretched so elastically and netted so much in a single week, so that on the first of every month I’d express disbelief at how much we had experienced — had snapped back and condensed into a blip to make mental space for the task of reorganizing our lives and getting ready to move back into the house.

Checking out of a hotel in Marlow, England, on our last morning before flying back to California.

I’m feeling profoundly mixed emotions upon our return and need to think more about the transition before trying to write much about it. I got weepy on our last night in Marlow, a lovely town outside of London, as we checked out of a hotel a final time and toasted our trip; then, I got teary with joy as we approached my hometown of Ojai last weekend for a reunion. I also am in the process of thinking through the next phase of this blog, so stay tuned and thanks to all of you who’ve read it regularly!

In the meantime, I’m publishing the following list as proof and as a reminder to myself that we really went to all of these places. We called this our “sleepover list” and had fun updating it as we traveled. Most are linked to previous blog posts if we wrote about that destination. Three places are listed twice since we visited there twice, so the number of places totals 83, but the bottom line is that we moved and unpacked 86 times!

The Sleepover List: August 15, 2009 – June 15, 2010: (more…)

The Cure for the Brighton Hangover

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Colly does the bungee jump trampoline against the backdrop of the Brighton Pier.

Like cotton candy, Brighton is a brightly colored swirl of sweet temptation that’s tantalizing to taste but leaves you sticky and queasy.

We went there for a couple of days for the same reason we make an annual pilgrimage to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk or Santa Monica Pier — because rickety amusement rides on the beach are guaranteed family fun — and we did indeed love to watch the kids on the spinning rides.

On the pier, the world travelers became hurled travelers.

But, good grief, I haven’t seen so many drunk, swearing, sweaty and scantily clad young adults since the time we spent New Year’s Eve on the Las Vegas Strip. (more…)

Rediscovering London and Windsor

Friday, June 4th, 2010

An image of The Long Walk from the early 1900s. (Photo courtesy thamesweb.co.uk)

Back in mid-April of 2007, I woke before sunrise in a hotel in the shadow of Windsor Castle and tiptoed out to run while Morgan and the kids slept. It was the final day of our family’s Spring Break trip to England. Having no clear idea of where I was headed, I found a trail to a wide strip of grass that stretched like a never-ending rectangular green carpet from the castle’s side gate. I had stumbled upon The Long Walk, the name Charles II gave the route in the 1680s.

Parallel rows of symmetrical trees bordered the neatly mowed lawn, and a wide paved path extended straight down its middle for more than two miles. It was the carriage road, where centuries of processions rode and marched up to the gates, and I stood there virtually alone, dazzled by the dreamy view of the pink-tinged sunrise on the colossus castle that belonged in a fairy tale. Then I sprinted that path all the way to the gates, where a little old lady dressed in a proper navy blue uniform, her gray hair in a bun, happened to be stepping out of a guard’s booth.

I stopped to watch as she slowly but surely walked to the center of the gold-tipped gate that towered above her diminutive frame. She reached in her pocket and pulled out an ancient-looking iron ring that dangled a giant skeleton key, and then she used both hands to turn the key in the lock and push back the iron wall, allowing me to imagine what it would be like to enter as a royal guest. Then she stood more upright, her duty for the morning — probably a duty she had performed for decades, following protocol of centuries — complete.

I distinctly remember lingering at that moment to take in all the details because I felt certain it was a magical, once-in-a-lifetime run never to be repeated. I had a sense then that I wouldn’t, couldn’t return to that spot, and I thus experienced the bittersweet feeling of anticipatory nostalgia — of paradoxically missing something at the same moment it happens, which enhances the experience with appreciation yet also siphons off the fulfillment with a sense of loss.

So why am I recounting this now? Because the other day I returned there for another sprint and experienced the joy of rediscovering a place. (more…)

Zermorgan’s Zermatt

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Sunrise on the Matterhorn

I’m sitting on my balcony of the Hotel Perren in Zermatt, Switzerland, listening to the church bells ringing out the day as the sun sets over the sheer 5000-foot cliffs to my right, which look like a crashing wave of rock and green pastureland clinging to roiling waters. Sarah and the kids are relaxing in the room after a great day of hiking, running and sightseeing.  In front of me, the sun surrounds the jutting peak of the Matterhorn in a soft yellow glow. The lucid sky, without a cloud in sight, provides the perfect blue background for the rough, snow-covered and angular structure of the Matterhorn itself. The sunlight falls down over the valley mountaintops to my left, as the sun secrets itself from view behind the peaks but still illuminates the town of Zermatt below.

As I sit here, Kyle comes up behind me and puts an iPod earbud in my ear and starts to play one of my favorite songs ever: Beautiful Day by U2.  I ask him what made him come and play this song for me, and he says, “It reminds me of today.”  I almost get teary.

Words cannot describe — at least mine can’t — how much I have enjoyed being in this part of Switzerland. We almost did not get to experience this sublime place for a couple of different reasons that show how travel can create some of the best experiences out of the most unpredictable ones. (more…)

The Swiss Cascade and Castle That Inspired Poets (and Us)

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Lauterbrunnen

Over the past few days, we’ve glimpsed Switzerland at its prettiest and most poetic (which is such a relief after the stormy sky and mercurial moods detailed in the previous post).

Standing under Staubbach Falls.

The drive from Lucerne to Interlaken revealed alpine beauty that rivals even the Colorado Rockies and New Zealand’s Southern Alps. We checked into a cozy family room in a friendly little hotel, aptly named Hotel Splendid, and immediately headed out to explore before rain returned.

I’ve never seen as many waterfalls as we saw on the drive to Lauterbrunnen, a small town seven miles up the valley from the better-known Interlaken. “Lauter brunnen” means “many fountains” or “loud wells,” and there are 72 of them in and around town.  The waterfalls stream over sharp cliffs colored with alternating shades of dark and light gray, and then they’re swallowed by swaths of forests where the lighter green of new growth contrasts with the darker evergreens.

We stood in a meadow under Lauterbrunnen’s beloved Staubbach Falls, all of us feeling warmed by the sun and awed by the stream of mist floating down in the wind. I thought the moment couldn’t get any better, but then it did, because we saw a little plaque that indicated we once again were following in Goethe’s footsteps. He visited this spot in 1779 and was inspired to write the poem Spirit Song Over the Waters, which we read and discussed right there at the base of the falls until Kyle ran off to chase some sheep. (The next day Kyle wrote in his journal about the beauty of the waterfalls and concluded, “But most of all I love the mountains. They give me ideas for my mind.” I agree!) (more…)

Some Days Are Like That, Even In Switzerland

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Our view of Lugano, Switzerland, from the hills of Campione.

“This is one of those days,” I said on our first full day in Switzerland as rain fell in sheets outside the window, obscuring the Alps.

We were sitting cross-legged on a hotel room floor and eating lentils out of a can for lunch while making innumerable Skype calls to apartment managers, hotels and the One World airlines ticket desk. While the kids gloomily plugged away at their math lessons, Morgan and I busied ourselves with research to redo our itinerary to avert freak Swiss snowstorms and British Airways strikes. When I needed a break, I washed clothes in the sink (“No laundromats in Switzerland,” the hotel clerk informed us, “everyone have their own washer”) and blew them dry since it was so cold they wouldn’t dry on their own. (more…)