Friday, May 12, 2017

White Villages of Andalucia

To get to Poland, we decided to leave from Málaga, Spain.  We rented a car and Jason got to drive through his second country.  He was very happy to drive on the right side of the road again.  Poor Spencer though seems to have taken up getting car sick.  Just like in England, he starting throwing up within 30 minutes of getting on the road.  I think it has to do with the roundabouts.  Although he seems fine when he's watching something on his kindle.  I wonder if this is a plot to get more kindle time....Also, note to self, I will need to steal more barf bags from the airplane.  That is when we need to start flying someone other than Ryanair, who is too cheap to provide them or even a magazine holder on the seat to hold them.

From Seville we took a non-direct route to Málaga so we could see some of the white villages of Andalucia.  We first stopped in El Gasto, which is quite a small town.  The people were friendly though, more so than in Seville; I guess it was that small town hospitality.  Driving through tiny streets and looking for parking is quite difficult.  We finally did a big loop and ended up back at the start.  Then we just wandered aimlessly through the streets.  All of the buildings are white, not a single other color.  This makes the colors of the flowers stand out spectacularly.  All of the homes have bright geraniums hanging from pots on the walls.  Huge flower pots with ferns and gigantic succulents line the walkways.  It was beautiful.  It makes me long to live in a warmer climate where I can grow the beautiful plants year around.

After El Gastor, we made our way to Ronda, which is known as the must-see and most popular white village destination.  It showed too.   This was without a doubt the most touristy area we visited in Spain.  Amidst all of the over-priced tourist restaurants, we happened upon a hole-in-the-wall tapas place filled with locals.  We stopped there and tried some delicious tapas.  We loved doing this. You can try so many more foods this way.  All the small plates are between 1-3 euros.

We found the main attraction Puente Nuevo, the new bridge, which is about 300+ years old.  From the top we saw people taking a trail down the hillside to go underneath the bridge.  We had no idea how to get down there, but we managed to wind our way to the trail and started the trek down.  We saw a waterfall and an aquaduct carrying water along the side of the cliffs.  There was a very sketchy staircase and a narrow walkway under the bridge.  It was pretty cool and had some awesome views of the bridge and cliffs.

The town is fairly small, so we were able to do a walking loop around it.  We found a church with beautiful tilework, lots of cobblestone roads and old buildings.

We found one of the old bridges too and walked through a rose garden.  This wore out the kids, so we stopped for gelato before heading out of town for Málaga.  We really enjoyed the large parks in Spain, they have wide spaces for the kids to run around and ride bikes, fountains, arbors and of course more pretty flowers, plants and trees.

In Málaga, we spent our official last day in Spain.  Lucky for me, this was also Mother's Day!  I'm sure there were some wonderful sights in Málaga, but we opted to spend the entire day sitting/playing by the pool and swimming.  It was AMAZING.  We had yummy waffles for breakfast and the most delicous ox tail paella for dinner.  We did take a short walk to the beach to see the Mediterranean Sea. 

Spain, you were enjoyed immensely.  We didn't even begin to scratch the surface.  There is so much more we would love to see.  Jason was doing great with his Spanish, I have no doubt that he would be able to become fairly fluent with more time and practice.  We day-dreamed about coming back just the two of us when we're retired.

Onward to Poland!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Jason: Big Travel thoughts, hopes and fears

Before we begin our epic journey around the world, I wanted to take a moment to capture my thoughts, hopes and fears that I can use to guide the coming year and that I can look back on afterward and see how reality matched my expectations.

I certainly have a lot of fears at this point, so I'll start with those and then maybe can end on a positive note.  One big fear I have is under the general category of, "Oh no, have we made a horrible mistake?"  I just quit my job and rented out our house, so I'm officially unemployed and homeless now.  That in itself is scary enough.  But on top of that, we are leaving behind family and friends and are packing everything we need for a year in bags we can carry and spending a month at a time in completely unfamiliar countries, neighborhoods, etc.  That is uncertainty on top of uncertainty.  Add to that, I keep wondering -- have we saved enough?  Worst-case, we will just cut our trip short, but I really hope it doesn't come to that.

Given that we will all be living under a smaller roof and will not have our family/friend support network and will not necessarily get a break from each other, I'm worried about whether we will grow closer together or drive each other crazy!  We will definitely need to find ways of getting alone time and time together as a couple away from the kids to stay sane.

I have read stories of other traveling families that have experienced serious health situations on their trip so I'm a bit worried that this might happen to us and end up derailing our trip.  It helps that in one situation, the family managed to adapt to a broken leg and was still able to have an amazing trip, albeit different than they had originally planned.  Knowing that we can be flexible and adaptable is putting my mind at ease, but I do hope it's not something we have to deal with.

We have never homeschooled our kids before.  On top of that, we had nothing but frustrations the one year that we had to try to get our daughter to complete math homework.  I really hope that this is something that will go smoothly and that our kids will not be behind grade-level when they return.

Unfortunately, we are leaving for our trip at a time of geopolitical uncertainty as well.  Trump was just elected and seems bent on enraging our allies and cozying up to our enemies.  I hope that those abroad can see that most Americans are not like Trump and his ilk so we don't have to pretend we're Canadian!  I also hope that our country is not a nuclear wasteland when we return.  That all seems very bleak, but there has been day after day of sobering news about Russian compromise of the US executive as well as scores of trouncing executive orders.  One hope is that there will be a break from the constant stream of bad news.  I will definitely want to stay somewhat aware, especially as it impacts us while we are outside the US border, but can use a break from the daily bombardment.

Aside from all of the fears, I have a lot of hopes for the coming year.  That, of course, is what has driven us for the last 4+ years to do this trip -- what we hope that we will get out of the journey.

My biggest hope is that we will cut out all of the distractions (our things, daily routine, job, standard treadmill of kid sports and activities, etc.) so that we can experience each other and life in its raw form and gain perspective of what is truly important to us.  I've often contemplated questions of how I should be spending my time and I hope that this year gives me some "room to think" and consider what my true passions are.

I have some practical hopes as well.  I hope that I will get better at guitar and chess and that I will get back into art and drawing and music.  I used to draw and paint a lot, but somehow that creative side has gotten lost and overshadowed by my analytical side.  I want to rebalance those aspects of myself.

For my kids, I hope that they will try new things and get exposed to new ways of living they never would have known about.  I hope they try new foods and meet kids around the world that they can communicate with simply through the international language of play.  I hope they will get a better appreciation of the here-and-now and what they have rather than chasing after the next best thing or longing for what they don't have.  I hope they grow closer together and to us.  I hope we get to play more together - what kid wouldn't want to have a year with both parents not working to play more?  I also hope that at a minimum, they will take away amazing memories from this trip and will be subtly changed in positive ways they aren't aware of, yet.

A lot can happen in a year.  I'll do my best to bring about the positive impacts every day.  My final hope is that my fears are not materialized and that we will be far richer in ways I haven't even thought of!

Hasta luego Sevilla

We are winding down our time in Spain. As we prepare to leave our third country, there is a lot to reflect on. Jason and I continue to grow closer as we share thoughts about how travel is affecting our family. Is this what we imagined? Are we making the most of our time with each other? What is working? What can we do better? There have been ups and downs as we adjust to new schedules and work through feelings of homesickness. With less than two months of travel under our belts, we have been humbled, challenged, inspired, but mostly grateful to have this time together and grow as a family. I think we are all looking forward to various points in our travel, but for now I am trying to enjoy all the moments, little and big.

Our last days in Spain have been busy as we try to squeeze in our last few things.

We made it one last time to Feria. We ate some yummy fair food: Chocolate-dipped chocolate filled churro, fresh powdered donuts, cotton candy and of course the traditional Rebujito (a mix of fino or manzanilla sherry and Sprite). People set up various homemade stands to mix and sell them around the fair. We're not sure if it is official for them to be there, but nobody seemed to care.

We took the kids to see an old-school circus as well. Admittedly seeing the animals perform was not my favorite part. But the rest of the acts were pretty awesome. We loved seeing the kids' excitement during different shows. Spencer could hardly contain himself during the clown slapstick comedy routine and could not wait to see the motorcycles in the giant spherical cage. Adele was out of her seat during the dancing laser light show. We met another traveling family as we waited for the circus to start. They have an amazing lifestyle of traveling that was very inspiring. We hope to keep in touch with them. They have four children and our kids took to them immediately and enjoyed the circus together like old friends!

We finally visited the Real Alcázar, the royal palace in Seville.

We put it off, because we wanted to tour the royal apartments and they were booked until this week. All of us got on our bikes for the 20-30 minute ride with about an hour to spare until our tour started. Unfortunately our kids are not skilled or comfortable enough on their bikes to navigate the narrow streets filled with cars, motorbikes and pedestrians. We lost time pulling over to walk here and there. And then there was the freakout when Adele lost control going down a short hill towards a busy street. Being the amazing dad that he is, Jason jumped off his bike and jumped in front of her to stop the bike. An hour later we got to the palace at exactly the time of the tour, got in line behind the rest of our group and were told we were too late. We were required to be there 15 minutes prior. Sigh. So we wallowed in our disappointment with chocolate waffles and then toured the rest of the palace. And it was amazing.

Very similar design and architecture to what we saw in Morocco. The gardens were filled with the most gorgeous bouganvilla, fountains, tile work and crumbling frescos. We found a shady spot to sketch in our books and ran through the maze trying to lose each other.

Our last day in Seville, we made it to a local tapas bar that we had eyed many times. It was always filled with locals or closed due to random holiday hours, so we were happy to squeeze it in. We tried some delicious tapas, adding several new foods to the kids' palettes. We have a food post planned, so I'll wait and share the details there.  But I'll leave you with this tasty photo.

After lunch we took our bikes to Parque de Maria Louisa. While it was a last minute idea, it turned out to be a highlight of our visit. All of us enjoyed the freedom of riding around the beautiful park, exploring and playing.

After returning our bikes, we treated the kids to a farewell churros con chocolate. It was amazing and far better than our first. The chocolate was thick and creamy with just the right amount of sweetness. Turns out, that was our dinner. None of us were hungry after filling our bellies with churros.

Then we took the kids for a final play at their favorite playground, affectionately called "the yellow slide park."

Hasta luego Sevilla.

"Big Travel" Inception

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Early Inspiration

Why couldn't we do something like that?
Four and a half years ago, a good friend of mine and his family decided to trade life in the suburbs to spend 2-3 years living and working in England.  Not only was that a shock to find out they were really going to do this, but even the general idea of living somewhere else foreign itself was a completely foreign idea.  I had never considered that as a possibility, especially now that my wife Kerry and I had a 2-year-old daughter.  That sparked many years of turning the idea of some sort of once-in-a-lifetime adventure over in my wife's and my head.  Like a rock in the surf, it started out jagged and dull but through the years, it got honed and refined and polished into something tangible and real.  We started asking ourselves, "If they can do it, couldn't we?"

A little while later, some friends of friends announced that they were going to teach English in China for two years and enroll their two high-school-aged kids in the local school.  My thought was, "What? Someone else is going on a life-altering adventure? People really do this?  It's not just our friends?"

The Weight of Possessions

We watched as our good friends got rid of most of their worldly possessions in preparation for their big move.  It seemed like that would be difficult in itself.  But the more we thought about it, the more we saw how freeing that could be.  Our possessions even might be what hinder us from just leaving tomorrow.  Again, I was thinking more and more about how all of that "stuff" we carry around weighs you down.  You have to store it, maintain it, replace it.  And when it comes time to get rid of it, you have to spend all that time and energy selling it, giving it away, or just throwing it away.  Going on a big adventure then had this additional benefit of getting you free from that excess baggage you hadn't even noticed was there weighing you down.  That would help give perspective of just what we really need and what stuff is really superfluous.  That alone was a reason to do it for me!

Intersection With Our Life Philosophy

These events seemed to underscore some life philosophy that my wife and I had discussed over our years together.  Let me take you on a little detour to understand this piece because it will help you better see how we ended up making the decision to travel around the world.  When we decided to have kids, we were aware of the need to maintain balance between several "pillars" of life:
  1. Yourself as an individual
  2. Our marital relationship
  3. Our kids
We had put the priorities of each of these in that general order.  The idea is, you can't be a good partner until your own needs are met, and you'll be a more effective parent if your marital house is strong and in order.  We strive throughout our marriage to balance those out to keep one from overshadowing and smothering the others.

In Search of Adventure

One of the things we have struggled to balance was being aware of our own needs as individuals and making time for them so we don't look back later and regret losing ourselves in the daily routine.  We are amazingly fortunate that Kerry is able to stay at home with the kids as that time and attention helps us both be better parents and maintain closer connections with the kids.  Childhood goes by so fast - being able to spend time with them is something you never get a second chance to do.  But the downside of that can be isolation, routine, and lack of adventure (even those more mundane daily adventures of massive Reply-All email storms or weekly lunches with coworkers)

Even for myself, the treadmill of the daily commute to work, coming home to see my family, eat, watch TV, etc. was also getting a bit dull.  I've tried to schedule time for myself in there to break things up, but you still get in a meta-routine that you can't really break out of easily.  I was also philosophizing about what is it that I am working so hard for?  That is, what are the things that give some sort of meaning or purpose or drive to ensure I'm getting full enjoyment out of life?

Kerry and I realized that we both could use a shake-up from the "daily grind" to get some perspective on what is most important in life.  We needed to do something big and bold.  We needed adventure.

Why Wait?

“Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.”
Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek
Have you ever heard other people and parents say things like, "When the kids are out of the house..." or "When I retire..."?  We had noticed many people saying those things, and arranging their lives around that general plan.  It was as if everyone was content with biding their time doing things they would rather not be doing, and longing for that distant day when they can actually do what they'd really want to do.  We thought, "What if you don't make it that far?"  You may work your whole life for that distant time and have it all nullified by some accident or health issues.  But even if you do make it to that distant time, we also thought, "By the time you're that old, will you really be healthy and physically able to enjoy those things you'd rather be doing as fully?"

The implications of this are profound for how we might structure our life:  How can we weave into our lives some sort of "mini-retirements" right now so we can reap the benefits of our hard work while we can?

Why World Travel?

The idea began with some questions: "What does adventure look like?"  "How big of an adventure is big enough?"  "How can we incorporate adventure into our daily lives?"

We had thrown around some possibilities for what we could do to shake up the routine.  We could move to Northern California where Kerry lived before coming to Seattle.  We could move across the country.  We could live somewhere else in the world - even for a short period of time.

Or, what if we did what a lot of people (including us) say they would do if they won the lottery or retired - travel!  See the world!

We had considered taking our travel trailer and doing an epic road trip around the USA.  There's so much to see and experience in our own country.  But that is pretty accessible - we could do that over time almost any time.  But what would shake things up and get us out of our comfort zone more than seeing the world?  And when else would we possibly have another opportunity to do something big and bold if we didn't do that now?  World travel seemed like that big, bold adventure to kick off a lifetime of "mini retirements".

Positive Benefits

We looked at stories of other families who have traveled for tips and inspiration.  Their experiences revealed other positive benefits for their family that we wanted out of our adventure (spending time with the kids that you would otherwise miss out on, getting out of your comfort zone, being adventurous, showing your kids how others live, getting a broader perspective, overcoming adversities, simplifying life, chance to get closer as a family, etc.)

All of these together have cemented our resolve that this is the right thing for us as a family and the right thing to do right now.  There are a lot of sacrifices we've made over the past 4 years, and will have to make while we are traveling.  But the hope is that a year is really just a blink of an eye in the context of life and that the richness of our experience during this time will change us for the better in ways that we can't begin to even predict right now.

So, we've gotten rid of a *ton* of our possessions and packed the rest until we return.  With just two bags each, we're ready to finally, after all this planning, find out what the world has in store for us!