Monday, March 25, 2013

The people you meet

Traveling is about many things. Experiencing the country you are visiting, exploring the sights and culture, and sampling local cuisine. And it is also very much about the people you meet along the way. Whether locals or fellow travelers, they very much help to shape your experience. Here are some of the people we met along the way and how they are very much a part of our memories.

Steve and Lily. What can I say? We met them early on in our trip in Chiang Mai. We were fast friends with these belated honeymooers and enjoyed hanging out in the evenings after Simon was asleep. Lily was high energy and very outgoing, and Steve was all about the subtle wit. We also went to the very memorable Ying Pi lantern festival together. We only wished they could have traveled with us longer!

Don't they just look like fun?
In Chiang Mai we met up with an entire group of traveling families, many of whom have already been on the road for years! It was fascinating to see how and why other families travel the globe. We were even able to meet up with the Lybbert family again more than a month later in Vietnam. We also virtually connected with loads of traveling families through a Families on the Move Facebook page that was incredibly helpful and supportive. Inspirational!
Thanksgiving in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

An ordinary boat ride to check out the Pak Ou caves two hours upstream from Luang Prabang in Laos turned into a very memorable journey with a very friendly family from NYC. The parents were visiting their son and girlfriend who were traveling more extensively around SE Asia. Simon drew pictures and sang songs with the mom on they way there, and pretend fished with the son and girlfriend on the way home. It was just a few hours, but it was memorable. (Plus, we kind of got a break!) We talked about raising families, traveling, raising families and traveling (which they did extensively). I don't know their names and will probably never see them again, but they have a permanent place in our vault of memories.

Boat ride along the mighty Mekong.

Three days on a boat with just 17 people, you are bound to make some new friends. Simon was happy that there were two other young boys on board. A family from Seattle, Washington, they pulled their kids from school a few weeks every year to travel and see the world. Their dad, an app developer, created this very cool app for kids learning to tell time, with lots of different languages.

Cruising Halong Bay

We found Christmas spirit after spending some time with the fabulous Felix, a young German boy who spoke English and knew his Christmas carols in English! He could also carry a tune, so he really helped bring the Christmas spirit to Vietnam, where it was hard to remember that Christmas was just around the corner.

At Paradise Cave, Phong Nha National Park, Vietnam.

Mike was a really special find. A true local who showed us the ins and outs of not just Georgetown, but the entire island of Penang in Malaysia. We saw, tasted, and experienced this scrumptious island much differently thanks to his kindness.

Penang, Malaysia

When traveling with kids, it's great to meet other families traveling with kids of at least somewhat similar ages. We hit jackpot on Koh Lanta in Thailand when we landed at a budget resort with 3 other families with small kids. Two of the families were from Amsterdam, which was an added bonus as we could pepper them with questions regarding our upcoming move AND we now have someone to grab a beer with when we get there!

Little ones occupied during our seafood BBQ.
We enjoyed a night of grilling fresh seafood picked up at the local market and watching the sunset from the each in front our temporary home. When we parted ways Simon begged to go with them (I thought it sounded great - we could just meet in Amsterdam in a month), but was comforted knowing that this goodbye was not forever! In fact, we met Sabine, Sander, and Malin again just a week later on Koh Mook. I look forward to hanging out with Sabine in Amsterdam and she has promised to show me her favorite yoga studio - in English nonetheless!
(Update: As I am posting this weeks after our return to Europe, Simon and I are already regulars at Sabine's twice-weekly play group and we are planning a spring "garage sale" of sorts for kids stuff in the spring! Life has a funny way of just working out...)

And we were so fortunate to hijack the Danielsen's family vacation and spend a very memorable week with them in Khao Sok National Park and at the jungle island of Koh Ra. Simon was is absolutely enamored with Hannah and Rebecca, and we hope that our paths cross again some time soon.

These are just some of the wonderful people we met along the way who helped make our journey extra special. Hope to see you all again some time soon, somewhere in this crazy world!


Friday, March 15, 2013

Our First Week

When Monday morning rolled around, I was not very happy about it. The weather here had turned really cold, after reaching record highs the week before. Snow was swirling in the air, my husband was going back to work, and I had a 3 year old and a 25 sq. meter apartment all to myself. Hmpf!

I knew that I could not be stuck inside all day with Simon. We would both go crazy. So we got out every day this week and explored the city, toddler-style.

I remembered a friend of mine in Düsseldorf recommended Tunfun, an old metro stop that has been converted into a giant underground playground.

It's a massive place, with a different areas designated for different areas. But on a weekday during the school year, the 0-4 had their run of the place and it was great! Lots of climbing, bouncing, sliding, etc. Plus a little cafe with food and drinks, and free wifi!

You may remember me gushing about a Dutch family we met in Thailand. Turns out that Sabine runs Ren je Rot, a play group twice a week in her neighborhood, Bos en Lommer. Toys, mats, and trampolines are spread throughout the gym of the recreation center and kids have 1.5 hours to run wild. Outside is a huge playground with a petting zoo!! HUGE rabbits and goats. So cool! And I met some other mamas as well.

Making bubbles.
The NEMO Science Center was next. I bought a museum card for less than 50 Euros, which gets me unlimited entry into 40 museums in Amsterdam. Deal!
Purifying water!
Located in the newly developed Oosterdok area, NEMO is an impressive modern building shaped like a ship, with cars whizzing through the IJ tunnel below. Inside is a hands on, kid friendly museum where you can explore everything from bubbles to DNA to water purification. Simon loved running around and pressing and cranking and touching anything he could get his hands on. At noon they had a little "chain reaction" demonstration that involved lots of crashing and swinging objects. Simon loved this as well.
I highly recommend this museum for kids of all ages!

Today we decided to educate ourselves by heading to the Openbare Bibliotheek (aka - the library). The lower level is a huge children's library, with cozy places to sit and curl up with a book - or a pile of books. They have a good selection of English and other foreign language books, and once we have an address Simon gets a free membership and will have access to books, games, and movies.

(Oops - no pics.)

After our reading marathon we headed to the trendy de Pijp neighborhood to wander (more like hustle, it was cold) through the daily (except Sundays) Albert Cuyp Markt. We had a scrumptious lunch at Bazar, a locally famous middle eastern restaurant. When Simon finished, he started shaking his booty to the music. Oh, the joy!

Back to the Ren je Rot playgroup in Bos en Lommer. After dragging Simon away from the goats and the playground, we headed to the English Bookshop, to - you guessed it - buy a book! It's a charming bookstore on one of the canals in the Jordaan neighborhood. Although it seems that nearly everything about Amsterdam is charming. We bought Simon a new water bottle, stopped for lunch in a small cafe, and headed home through the blustering snow. I thought we had strategically avoided winter. Touche, Mother Nature.

Bear came along!
The enormous rabbits!
And now it's Friday afternoon, and I am here to say that we survived. It feels good to have explored the city a bit and have met some new people. This back to working life business is definitely an adjustment, though. Simon has been unusually ornery this week, which has been an added challenge. But still - we've had a lot of fun!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


The day after we arrived home was Simon's 3rd birthday. Lucky for us we got to experience the Bryden family tradition of cake for breakfast on your birthday!

Lucky for this Mama Simon does not know exactly what a birthday is or what to expect. So with the exception of the cake and a gift from the Bryden's, the day passed like any other. We decided to wait until Pappa got back and we had time to get to the store to buy him a gift to really celebrate.

Helping to bake his own cake!

Fast forward one week and there was more cake and more presents! (I made this cake from scratch and it was my first real domestic duty in months!) Simon had been asking for a blue scooter for months. Despite the fact that he does not know what a birthday is, he had seemed quite content the whole trip when I told him he could have a scooter for his birthday. Simon blue scooter, for birthday! He said this nearly every day, and now the day had finally come!

Turns out he is not interested in opening presents, so Ella happily helped. He got his blue scooter and we were able to go out and give it a test ride that afternoon. Hopefully this will help us move around our new home in Amsterdam a bit better.

Simon turning 3 feels monumental somehow, just like every birthday feels for a Mama, I guess. But still, it surprises me every time how much I love his birthday. Not the presents or celebrations so much, just thinking about the day that this special guy showed up.

His birthday marks so much for me. We moved to Germany shortly after he was born and I haven't worked since. Those were both big changes and 2 (3 if we count Simon) of the best decisions I have ever made. I do miss working and often wish I had a little more balance, but staying home has been a gift I probably would not have given myself had we stayed in the states, and I have loved every (ok - most) minutes of it. And Europe? As I sit here on my first afternoon is my new city of Amsterdam, I am not sure I am ever leaving!


Friday, March 1, 2013

We're back! How the heck did this happen?

Even as we sat in the jungle on Koh Ra, knowing it was our last night, I couldn't really wrap my head around the idea that it was over and that we were going home. Maybe I was numb, in denial. It just didn't seem possible that we could be so quickly transported away from this place that had been so full of rich and memorable experiences, that was so separate for our other life back in Europe.

The Last Breakfast.
Last trip to the beach.
Bye-bye Koh Ra!
At the airport, starting to feel real.
Boom! We're back! Just like that. (Except Papa, we left him in Bangkok.)

A midnight flight was our friend, as Simon fell asleep immediately (as did his Mama) and slept the whole flight to Dubai. A nap on the next flight along with Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc. and I have to say it was a very easy (if not long - 28 hours door to door) travel day with a toddler.

We were greeted by the familiar face of my friend Maha. Then we had to brave the cold streets to get to Barbara's house, where we were staying for the first few days. Not surprisingly, we were ill-prepared for the cold and poor Simon was nearly I tears. "Cold, Mama." So, I carried Simon and all of our backpacks the few blocks to Barbara's house, being careful not to make eye contact with my old German ladies who would surely give me an earful regarding my clearly lacking parenting skills. I didn't need them to tell me - I was we'll aware.

It's strange how quickly life was normal again. The dreary gray sky hadn't changed much since we left its back in November. But it was great to see all of our friends, and Simon was stoked to see so many toys! No culture shock for this kid. And, magically, no jet lag either! It's just a 6 hour difference and going west is always easier, but I had not expected to get off so easily!

Also, note how Simon's hair and suddenly grew 3 inches. His tight curls of SE Asia are gone, replaced by a messy mop of blond waves.

We have spent the week catching up with friends and visiting some of our favorite Ddorf places (Spielschiff and a Midi). It's a hello and goodbye all at once, something I am not sure is even registering with me. It's Friday and we will move to Amsterdam on Monday. Whoa!

Happy to have milchschaum again!
Happy to have milchschaum again!
How was it? Of course everyone asks that. Great! Fantastic! Amazing! So much fun! I don't know really know how to respond. It's too big of a question with too big of an answer. We had fun, saw so much, created so many great memories and did it all together as a family. I know that this experience will stay with us forever, but I know that I am not done processing it. Just being back here and returning to a different way of life will allow me to continue to reflect on our experiences.

But the adventures continue. Watch out, Amsterdam, the Oppenwigs are on their way!