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…)

Essential Gear For Long-Term Travel

Monday, May 31st, 2010

A year ago, as we packed up our house and got ready to go, I scanned various lists developed by travel experts of essential items to pack, and I invariably ended up more conflicted about what to bring for our round-the-world trip. We made a commitment to travel light — just one easy-to-carry clothing bag each, plus a communal gear bag and as few carry-ons as possible — and yet all these lists were telling us to bring so much stuff.

After 10 months of family travel, I don’t have a comprehensive packing list to share (here’s a good one for starters if that’s what you’re looking for), but I can detail some of the gear and clothing we found indispensable. (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…)

In Rome, the Best Outshines the Rest

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Yesterday in the late afternoon, while I was running laps around the Circus Maximus, I reflected on how the four of us started the day by getting to the Vatican at sunrise and scurrying behind nuns to be among the first in St. Peter’s and gaze uninterrupted at Michaelangelo’s Pieta. I realized that we’ve experienced much of the best — and some of the worst — that Rome has to offer in just three full days.

If you arrive at St. Peter's Square at sunrise, you're rewarded with a view of this ...

... and this.

I know, it’s incredible to be able to say not only that we started the day with the Pieta, but also, “I was running laps around the Circus Maximus.” The circus is a half-mile oval track in a dirt and grassy area where Julius Caesar and subsequent emperors through the 4th century used to come down from their palaces on the adjacent Palatine Hill and join tens of thousands of spectators to watch chariot races. Only a few remnants of the starting gates remain, but it’s easy to imagine the thundering hooves and wheels picking up speed on the straight-aways and the brutish drivers who struggled to keep their balance in the bumpy carts, sometimes crashing and dying on the curves.

That’s one of the best things about being here in Rome: I really can picture the ancient people who no longer seem so ancient and better understand how they went about their lives. (more…)

Halfway There Together: Surprises and Changes So Far

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Morgan's view of the Sydney Opera House during a recent ferry ride.

The Sydney skyline as seen from a ferry.

As you can guess from the photo, we’ve started the five-week Australian leg of our journey! This past week was a blur as I left Morgan and the kids for a short trip back to California. The three of them transitioned from New Zealand to here, and I rejoined them midweek.

I felt the way this guy looks after I crossed the date line twice in a week. Morgan shot this photo while on a trip to the Sydney Zoo with the kids.

I felt the way this guy looks after I crossed the date line twice in a week. Morgan and the kids saw this koala at the Sydney Zoo.

At first I felt as bushed as a koala who looks drunk on eucalyptus midday. (Little-known fact from Friends of the Koalas: “Contrary to popular belief, eucalyptus leaves do not make koalas drunk. Koalas appear drunk or lazy because they have developed a low-energy lifestyle to compensate for their extremely low-energy diet.” What a bummer to discover — I liked the idea that this lovable species had evolved to be fat, lazy and perpetually buzzed.)

In the midst of the past week, each of us took time to mark the halfway point in our journey by doing the following exercise: write a letter to ourselves and the other family members. Reflect on the trip so far, making note of what memories stand out and our feelings about the past six months. Then imagine the second half of the journey (when we’ll go from Australia to Hong Kong, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey) and write down some hopes and expectations for those months. Don’t share the letter with anyone yet; seal it up and set it aside. Then, on the last night before returning home, open and take turns reading them to one another and reflecting further — not only about where we went and what we did, but also why we did it, how it affected us and what we’ll do next.

I have my friend Carolyn to thank (the one who hosted us in Queenstown, who’s an accomplished educator and world traveler) for suggesting this exercise, because it prompted me to think more deeply about how this trip has changed and surprised us. There’s no way I can fit all those ideas into a blog post, but I’d like to share some.

Here, then, are some surprises and revelations¬† in no particular order: (more…)

The Wild, Wild West Coast

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Trails like this (which is the Oparara Valley Track) crisscross the wet and wild West Coast.

Trails like this (which is part of the Oparara Valley Track) crisscross the wet and wild West Coast.

I knew very little about the West Coast region of the South Island before we spent a week here, except for its reputation as rainy, buggy and rural. The average rainfall is 2575 mm (8.4 feet), and a sign at Abel Tasman National Park said, “You think the sand flies are bad here? Wait ’til you get to the West Coast!”

“At least you’ll miss the crowds over there,” a tour-guide type mentioned in a look-on-the-bright-side tone.

We detoured to the West Coast to participate in a low-profile trail running event (which I’ll write about next time), and we’re so glad we did. We have been blown away by the West Coast’s landscape — and not just ’cause it’s windy. This swath of New Zealand is gorgeous, authentic, unspoiled … and, yes, wet. (more…)

Christmas in a Manger at Nelson, New Zealand

Friday, December 25th, 2009

The view of Nelson from Harris Hill.

The view of Nelson from Harris Hill (click to enlarge).

Sarah writes: We just wrapped up our most unusual and special Christmas ever, which we celebrated at a rental cottage in Nelson, New Zealand. Ending the year here and being on this journey together is the ultimate “gift that keeps on giving.” Since my 8-year-old son Kyle spent part of his homeschooling week writing about this place, and Morgan took terrific photos, I decided to hand this blog post over to them. I hope you enjoy Kyle’s very own blog post and movie!

Mom and me homeschooling on our deck.

Mom and me homeschooling on our deck.

Right now I’m at Harris Hill. It is in Nelson, N.Z., which is at the top part of the South Island. It is at a farm with animals like a hairy pig, goats, sheep, calves/cows/bulls, dogs, ponies, horses, llamas and chickens. It has a view of the blue bay, and since we’re near the ocean, it’s windy! The wind makes the grass look like waves. (more…)

Santiago’s Surprises

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

We gave the kids an art lesson in Santiago's sculpture garden, one of several well-kept parks in Chile's capital city.

We gave the kids an art lesson in Santiago's sculpture garden, one of several well-kept parks in Chile's capital city.

On Day 2 of our short visit to Santiago, Chile, Morgan and I talked about how stupid we felt for having lumped Chile with Argentina and assuming they’d be the same. Our knowledge of Chile was based on college courses in the late 1980s that revealed the brutality of General Pinochet and the CIA’s role in the coup that put him in power from 1973 to 1990. With our minds stuck on “Third World” stereotypes of Latin American dictatorships and human rights abuses, we expected Santiago to be like Buenos Aires, but not necessarily as nice. Clearly, we hadn’t paid attention to news from Chile for the past twenty years. (more…)

When It Rains…

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Morgan and I spent a lot of time last week doing travel research and making reservations while the stormy weather kept us mostly inside.

Morgan and I spent a lot of time last week doing travel research and making reservations while the stormy weather kept us mostly inside.

Before Morgan and I left in mid-August, we talked a lot about how there will be times when traveling gets tough, when we feel fatigued and worried about the myriad consequences of uprooting for a year, and when we second-guess our choices. We knew we’d feel homesick not just for home per se, but for friends and familiar routines, and we might feel pangs of regret. That’s why we added the “no regrets” phrase to our tagline — not because we’re blithely traipsing off in the world with nothing weighing us down but our backpacks, but rather because we knew from the start that doubt might haunt us, just as first-time home buyers flirt with buyers’ remorse when the repairs pile up and bills come due. “No regrets” is shorthand for “no turning back, so let’s make this work, and in the long run we’ll look back and be so glad we did it.” Or in Spanish, vale la pena. It’s what we say to each other and to ourselves to bolster confidence and commitment, because what we’re doing takes an occasional pep talk.

Last week was one of those weeks. (more…)

“Home”schooling So Far

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Friday marked the end of Week 8 in the kids’ schooling, so this weekend I need to type up a progress report to each of their teachers, which we’re expected to do every two weeks. It’s an exercise that makes me reflect on how Colly and Kyle are doing, how Morgan and I are doing as parents/teachers, and whether this whole “roadschooling” experiment is working as well as it could. (more…)