Holland

So I think I mentioned that we were debating skipping Holland, or just going over for a day mini cruise from England….but boy are we glad that we stuck with the plan and didn’t miss this gem!!!

After ferrying overnight across to France, picking up another rental car, and a five hour drive (we took the “toll free” route, so it was a bit longer than it could have been), we arrived in Ouddorp.  We rented a nice little place inside a kind of vacation community, and it was awesome!  Soooo quiet, close to gorgeous beaches, had a couple of parks for the boys to play in, and very friendly people.  We settled in for the week.  Took a couple of days just chillaxing….went over to the beach for a few hours one day, then another beach area another day.  The boys were happy playing in the surf and sand, but it was a little too chilly for me and Nate to go in 😉  Caught up on journalling, and the boys did some math and school work.  Drove up to Amsterdam for a day, which was cool to see.  The canals and buildings were amazing, and we had some of the best “frites” (fries) ever.  Spent the day just wandering around and seeing some of the cities highlights.  Then headed up to Zaanse Schans, the area that is most famous for it’s windmills.  I think we would have spent a lot more time here if we had have stopped here first, but since it was the end of the day, most of the shops and buildings were closed.  You could still walk around, but it looked like there were some cool shops that would have been fun to check out (the kakao factory 😉 ).  Definitely a must do if you are in the area.  We found that Dutch (or the area we were in anyways), was similar to German.  Our host spoke very little English, and we don’t speak any Dutch, but we managed to have about half hour conversation the day we left.  We could understand a lot of what people were saying (or get the general idea anyways), and I think knowing German helped quite a bit.  Anyways, we had a great week in Ouddorp, and it is another place that has stolen a little piece of our hearts 🙂  Have a great week everyone!   Thanks for checking in.

United Kingdom Revisited Part 2 & 3

The Sights

As you can see, we packed quite a lot into three weeks 😉  We started September with 4 nights just outside Bath.  We drove from Southampton up to the Bath area.  We weren’t planning on stopping at Stonehenge, but after looking at the map, and realizing we were driving right past it, we decided to stop.  Josiah especially got quite a lot out of the visit, and was telling me things that I didn’t even know… he had read it or asked a guide.  Anyways, we then spent a day checking out Bath, which was really quite interesting (we downloaded a free walking tour from the internet, and took our time walking around and learning about this historic town).  We checked out some more Neolithic stones in Avebury, where we were also lucky enough to catch a local cricket game on our way out.  We sat in the sidelines and learned all the rules and how the game works thanks to some friendly locals who were kind enough to explain and answer Jo’s many questions 😉  Then we took some days to just chill; gray and rainy weather helped us not feel so guilty for staying inside and reading/watching movies/catching up on journals, although we did go for a nice walk and the boys played some mini golf in the rain.  From Bath we headed up to Stratford Upon Avon, birthplace and home of William Shakespeare.  We took the long way up, heading over to Cardiff, Wales to surprise Isaac with a visit to the Dr Who Experience.  He LOVES the show, and we lucked out by getting tickets just days before the place closed.  In Stratford, we stayed about a 20 minute walk outside of town.  So we walked into town a couple times, took a drive down to the Cotswolds, and enjoyed the beautiful English country 🙂  Oh yes, we also checked out Kenilworth Castle, which was quite interesting.  I won’t bore you all with the history, but it is quite something to stand on the ruins of an old castle and just imagine what life was like “way back when.”  We saw quite a few castles this month, and each one has been interesting and unique.  Heading back up to Scotland, we again took an unplanned stop when I realized we were driving right by Liverpool.  We decided to stop and check out the Beatles Experience (Isaac is also a big Beatles fan), and some of the Beatles sights in the area.  That is one place I wish we had planned to stop at and spend a bit longer.  Anyways, from there we headed over to Scotland’s east coast; Dundee area.  Again, we just chilled and explored the local area….we took a day and checked out St. Andrews, used the local indoor pool, played at parks, and played some board games in the cottage.  From Dundee, we headed down for three nights in Berwick Upon Tweed, where we enjoyed Eyemouth Harbour, and Alnwick Castle.  Then it was back down to Poole area, where we explored a bit of the Jurassic Coast, and again, just enjoyed the company of friends, and being in England.  We seriously debated staying in the UK for another week, (skipping Holland), because we love England and Scotland, and it really did start to feel like a second home.  (we’ve even started using words like “queue,” “carpark,” and “mind….”  without even realizing we were “speaking British.”

Part 3: the Logistics

For those of you interested in how we did it all….

We rented a car in Poole and drove for the three weeks.  (Actually Nathan drove, I navigated).  I’m not sure how he did it, but Nathan had no real problems diving on the “other” side of the road for three weeks.  I, on the other hand, couldn’t get my head around sitting on the left side of the car as a passenger, and kept getting into the driver’s side (over here)….oops!  We had nothing booked ahead of time in terms of hotels or Airbnb’s for this month, so we spent a lot of time on the Internet, looking up places within budget and that had good reviews.  We have found that Wifi is a big must, and laundry is a very nice bonus….if we find a place that has a washing machine, we will pick that over one that doesn’t, even if it costs a little bit more, as it saves us having to go to a laundromat.  Websites we use for booking are: Hotels.com, priceline (note prices are in US dollars though), VRBO, and Airbnb.  We have used all of these with no problems.  I also will not rent a place (on Airbnb), that does not have 4-5 star reviews.  Hotels are different…we still read all the reviews, but you can kind of week out the complainers from the facts 🙂  We tried hostels a couple of times, as the UK seems to be more family oriented in this area, and offers family rooms.  (Europe ones seem to charge per person, so it is still cheaper to get a hotel or house vs hostel over there).  We liked the socializing part of hosteling…meeting travellers and chatting about adventures.  It was also nice to have a “bigger” living room (although they were shared with quite a few other people 😉 ) What do we prefer?  Hard to say:  hotels are nice because you don’t have to do anything…garbage, bed, etc.  And we stayed at some that included breakfast, so that is also nice.  But you don’t have a fridge, or anywhere to store perishable food, so it’s hard to get food on the go.  (Cold rainy weather was nice for that; we used the car and our hotel windows as a “fridge” a couple of times.  Airbnb’s are nice because you can spread out a lot more.  You also have the kitchen, laundry, and sometimes a yard.  But you are also living in someone else’s house, so you tend to be a bit more careful about using things, and worried about breaking something.  (We only might have broken one lamp so far, so that’s not too bad).  So really, for us, it’s mostly about good reviews, cleanliness, and good location.  In terms of driving, we have been using google maps, and the waze app.  Both are quite good.  We have had no problems with finding places so far.  If one doesn’t have it, the other one usually does.  They both give you traffic reports, and Waze also gives you the speed limit for where you are.  Nate also used the google maps app for walking around the cities and using transit.  Amazing!  Also, in terms of phones, we both have unlocked cell phones.  I got a plan from Tesco (British grocery store) when we first got here in July, and we topped it up for August and September.  So far it has worked in every country we’ve been in.  Haven’t used the phone/text much, but for data, it has definitely been worth it!  Nate got a card at Asda (UK Walmart), and it worked well while we were in England, but didn’t get the recpetion/data that my phone did after leaving England.  Both were about 20 pounds a month.  One more random thing:  we have an online account with our home library.  This has been awesome for downloading ebooks, as well as audio books to listen to on the drive.  We listened to two books while driving so far, and Isaac has read quite a few on his tablet.  I have downloaded a couple for me, but honestly, have been too tired to read so far 🙂  So those are some of the things that have helped us along the way so far.  If you have any questions or I’ve left something out, feel free to message or comment.  Sorry this has been a longer post, and if you made it all the way through, well done!  haha.  Hope you all are doing well, and as always, thanks for checking in 🙂

 

The UK Revisited: Part One

Hello everyone! There is no easy way to make this a short post, so I have divided it into three parts 🙂  Think of it as a novella.

Part One: The People

Our second trip to the UK was bookended by visiting some pretty great people.  We left France on Aug. 28, taking a ferry from Cherbourg, France to Poole, England.  Nathan and I dropped off the punks and the grandparents, and then dropped off the rental car and walked back to the ferry terminal.  After going through security, and getting our passports stamped, we found out we were in line for the wrong ferry.  Totally my mistake…oops!  I was so focussed on getting onto the boat, that I forgot which port we were going to.  So we walked back out to the waiting area, and waited another two hours until our actual ferry time 🙂  After a four hour ride, we arrived in England to see some very dear faces who had driven to the terminal to pick us up and drive us to our hotel.  Honestly, you have no idea how nice it is to see a familiar/friendly face after tromping around foreign countries for a couple months.  They also drove us to pick up our rental car the next morning….again, sooo nice to have local friends driving us around, and doing the planning for a couple days.  Anyways, long story, but the background to us having friends in Poole is that some 70 years ago, my grandma became pen pals with a girl named Joyce in London.  Grandma’s work sent some letters and presents over to London (which was in the middle of WWII bombings, etc), and Grandma and Joyce became friends first through the letters, and then in real life when they met in England, Canada, and then continued to visit each other over the years.  Joyce and Roy, and their daughters (Tracey and Tina), son in law (Ian), grandson (Matthew and his fiance (Rachel) all took the time to hang out with us for two days while we were in Poole, and we really cannot thank them enough 🙂  We had a great time seeing this gorgeous part of the country, and it was really nice to just spend time with this awesome family.  We got to see Corfe Castle, Swanage, had an excellent lunch in a very cool restaurant, did some paddle boarding, went to the Tank museum, and Jo even got in some fishing.  All topped off with lots of laughter and good food.  After dropping my mom and dad off in Southampton for their return voyage to NYC, Nate, myself and the boys continued on in the UK for another three weeks.  We ended our stay by stopping back in Poole for another visit…so nice, we visited twice 😉  Again, it felt like spending a weekend with family, and we are very grateful for this friendship that began over 70 years ago, and Joyce, Roy, Tracey, Tina, and Ian’s hospitality.  Thank you all for an awesome visit, for spoiling us rotten, and for making us feel like we were home away from home 🙂

 

So in between visiting this wonderful family, we headed up to Scotland and met up with another wonderful family from home.  Our neighbours/friends Jayne and Sarah are regulars to Scotland, and way back when we started planning this trip, we said “wouldn’t it be fun to meet up in Scotland.”  Well, “wouldn’t it be fun” became a reality when we met Jayne, Sarah, and Jayne’s brother and his famjam in Eyemouth, Scotland.  I think we all kind of pinched ourselves a few times that first night…so awesome to be in Scotland with friends we see almost every day at home!  The boys were super excited to have friends their age to play with, and we were (again), excited to have friends to chat with, hang out with, and “locals” who knew all the cool things in the area to see.  We had the best fish and chips, “multi-award winning” ice cream (that’s for you Jim and Nathan), and took some Quidditch lessons along the way.  Seriously, after being on our own for a week or two, it was sooo good to see familiar faces, and even though it was the first time meeting Jim, Susan, Emily and Sofie, they quickly felt like old friends who we’ve known for longer than a couple days.  We are spoiled, and honestly have the best friends.  Thank you Jayne, Jim, Susan, Sarah, Emily and Sofie for taking time out of your vacation to hang out with us, feeding us, and for showing us around your second home.  It was a quiet car ride home after we said goodbye the second day.  Can’t wait to do it again sometime 😉

And finally; last but not least, we said goodbye to our travelling buddies from the first two months of the trip: Papa Squashie and Grandma Kate.  They were with us from the very beginning, from NYC to UK, to the “Continent,” and back to the UK, where we dropped them off for their return cruise on the Queen Mary.  I really can’t say much except thanks.  Thanks for travelling with us, for keeping the boys, for having patience (sometimes 😉 )haha while we figured out the travelling logistics.  It definitely helped ease us into the year of travel by having family along for the first two months.  So much fun discovering new places with you guys.  We definitely miss the fitbit, and I’m POSITIVE we’ve done over a million steps by now (my dad was our step counter, distance marker, and 360 picture taker; he was hoping to get to a million steps in the two months, but I believe his stats said 980 000 or something like that).  Anyways, we miss you, and it definitely took a few days to remember you weren’t down the hall, or that we didn’t have to go knock on your door and let you know the plans for the day.  It was a blast, and we hope we didn’t wear you out too much from all the walking and backpacking around 😉

 

Two Months

Let’s just pretend that I am up to date, and this is the two month update, written about two weeks ago, instead of the 2.6 month update 😉 hahaha.  Enjoy 🙂

Favourite place visited so far:

  • Jo:  England (with friends in Poole)
  • Isaac: England
  • Nathan: Wagrain, Austria
  • Riann:  Can’t pick…they have all been great!

Things we miss:

  • Jo:  The boat (Queen Mary)
  • Isaac:  Friends and family
  • Nathan:  friends
  • Riann: friends, family, and maybe relaxing on my back deck a little bit 😉

Best food:

  • Jo: Crepes
  • Isaac: Crepes
  • Nathan: Martin’s cooking (in Germany)
  • Riann:  Fresh bread, baguettes, and chocolate…

Best thing about travel:

  • Jo: Meeting up with friends and family
  • Isaac: Meeting up with family, old friends, new friends, and the new places we are going to.
  • Nathan:  exploring and seeing historical sights and learning about new places.
  • Riann:  meeting up with friends along the way, and seeing all these cool new places.

Worst thing about travel:

  • Jo: Away from friends from school
  • Isaac:  Don’t get to stay in one place for too long
  • Nathan:  The constant planning/researching
  • Riann:  Booking and researching where to stay (airbnb, hotels, etc.); and yes, still listening to Nathan’s bathroom noises in the morning.  Hahahah.  Sorry if that’s TMI.

Funniest memory:

  • Jo:  Dad carrying mom on his back because she was afraid to walk past swans
  • Isaac: Playing games and laughing with family
  • Nathan:  Josiah on the high ropes course (he had a little bit of a meltdown up there).
  • Riann:  almost getting on the wrong ferry and going to Portsmouth England, instead of Poole.  Ooopps 🙂

# of Countries: 9

# of boats: 7

# of trains: 26 (one high speed train that went over 330km/hr)

# of buses: 1

# of cars: 3

# of friends that have met us along the way:  15 (including a brand new friend we met during travels).

Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the end of summer/beginning of fall.  We are currently sitting in a ferry terminal waiting to catch the boat back across to France.  We dropped my parents off back on the Queen Mary at the beginning of September, and have stayed in the UK till now. We have had the best visits with friends and family during the past month.  Soooo good to see our “people” along the way.  Anyways, thanks for checking in.  Hope to catch up with pics and write-ups soon!!!

 

 

Some thoughts on travelling so far….

A lot of people have asked what it’s like to travel for so long, with so little (one big backpack each), in different countries, with different languages, and so on.  Right now, I feel that we have barely brushed the surface of places to see and things to do, but I know we are lucky enough to have done and seen a lot more than most people get to in a lifetime.  I can’t believe it’s already been two months since we left home.  (It honestly feels like we just left a couple weeks ago).  I’ve been thinking about that, and here are some of my thoughts at two months in…

From when we first started, to a month ago, and to now, one of the main differences is that I already feel a lot more comfortable and at home “on the road,” than I did even a month ago.  By that I mean that things that were different or that we would take a picture of because they were novel to us don’t really phase us anymore.  I’m having to remember to bring the camera along and make sure we take some pictures each day 🙂  The same thing can be said for when we are driving along and see something “different,” like a castle, or some ruins.  We still LOVE seeing them, but they don’t have that “take a picture, take a picture” effect that they did when we first started.  Now, we just look, take it in, maybe pinch ourselves once in awhile because sometimes we still can’t believe we are actually here, and keep driving.

Along the same lines, going into a grocery store doesn’t take as long as it used to either, because we are not walking up and down the aisles and stopping at each new thing we see that we don’t have at home.  I think that was/is one of the hardest things to get used to….buying enough groceries for the day, and not overdoing it.  At home, we go grocery shopping about once a week; buying groceries for the week, and even then, we have cabinets and a big freezer to store things that we don’t eat right away.  Being on the go means that we only buy as much food as we will eat for that day or the next.  It took a while to get used to this, and there are still days where we have too much leftovers at the end of the day, but I think we are getting the hang of it 😉

We are also pros at packing up our stuff and getting out of a place in about half an hour, as opposed to the two hours it took when we started.  Everything has a place, and we all have exactly what we need now.  (My mom and dad took a big bag of stuff home fore us when they left 10 days ago).  I think we could still get rid of a few items, but it’s nice to have some “comfort” items (blanket from home, sweater, two laptops).  It is not as overwhelming to pack as it was when we started.

All that is not to say that we haven’t had some “hiccups” along the way, but they’ve been manageable.  Like the time Isaac and I got locked in a stairwell in Dublin.  Turns out you don’t need a key to get into the stairwell, but you need a key to get out  of it onto any of the floors, including the first one where the lobby and outside is 😉  Or the time we went through customs and security to get on the ferry back to England, only to realize that we were going through for the wrong ferry and had to leave the waiting area and start over two hours later (my apologies to everyone waiting in line behind us while we sorted it out).  We’ve bought conditioner when we thought it was shampoo, yeast topping when we thought it was margarine, taken wrong turns down “two lane roads” that are really only big enough for one car, gotten out a passport to hand to the cashier when she asked for a “postcode” (that was a funny one!!), and other little, minor mistakes.  But those are the things that you remember and laugh about after, and even during 😉  We are keeping our sense of humour, that’s for sure 😉  There have been days when we miss friends, but then you get a message, an email, a text, and it makes you smile that your friends are still thinking of you and miss you too!

Anyways, stay tuned for everyone else’s thoughts on “two months in.”

 

Normandy, France

The history buff in me is still marvelling at all the things we saw while we were in Normandy.  The area played a pivotal part in turning the outcome of WWII in favour of the allied countries, and is home to the beaches where the Canadians, Americans, and British landed on what is known as “D Day.”  (There is a lot more to see here than just WWII sites, but we chose to focus on that for this visit).  Having our own vehicle sure made it easy to see a lot of the beaches, war memorials, and towns that were the first to be liberated from German occupation.  We stayed in Caen, which was also a pretty central spot in terms of doing half  day trips, and also a cool town to check out on it’s own…we especially enjoyed the castle, which included ruins from when William the Conqueror lived there.

Throw in a couple of hours at the beach each day, and it was quite the visit.  Despite the bloodshed and fighting that happened here, it is a really beautiful area, and we had a couple of days where we spent the afternoon at the beach.  Soooo pretty!  And Canadian, American and British flags everywhere!  It was weird seeing the Canadian flag here at first, but also made us proud to be here.

The boys especially learned a lot in this area; Josiah turned to me one night before bed and said “Mom, I just keep remembering the words to a song we sang for Remembrance Day at school.”

 

As always, thanks so much for checking in.  We still mis everyone, but social media, emails, texts, comments, phone calls all are helping to make the distance a little smaller 😉 It really doesn’t feel like two months have gone by already!

Germany/Switzerland

I think I said it with the Berlin post, but Germany felt a lot like coming home.  For those of you who don’t know, I did a three month exchange to Germany when I was 16 years old.  I had taken one semester of German in high school, and headed over to Bonndorf, Germany, where I lived with the Hollbachs from March to June.  I went to high school with Nadine (my exchange partner), and basically lived an everyday life as part of their family.  So it was with great anticipation that we met up with Nadine and her husband in Zurich, Switzerland.  Nadine had visited us in Ontario a couple years ago, but it was my first time visiting Germany (and Switzerland) in over 20 years.  And what a visit it was.  Nadine and her husband Martin were the hostesses with the mostesses, and toured us around their hometown of Zurich before treating us to the best meal we have had since we arrived.  A 10 course BBQ on their terrace, with Nadine’s parents joining us for the meal.  Such a fun evening of catching up, sharing stories, laughs, and just enjoying each others company.  We had a great time in Zurich, which only continued as we drove over to the Bonndorf area (where I lived for three months when I was 16), and hung out with Ralf, Siggy, Martin and Nadine.  What a great week of catching up, hanging out, and exploring the area that is the Black Forest in Germany.  Siggy hosted us for “Kaffee” (SOOOOO delicious, and something I’ve missed…coffee and some type of dessert once you get home from work and before supper), and then took us on a walk around the town.  Surprising how much I remembered from when I lived there.  Honestly, it was so nice to see familiar faces, and to be able to visit, catch up, and just relax in a place that is very dear to my heart.  We did spend a couple of the days doing “touristy” things like hiking, boat tours, water park, and shopping for cuckoo clocks and Christmas ornaments, but the highlight was visiting with old friends and enjoying the company of good friends despite the language barrier.  I don’t know how bad it was, but some German managed to make it’s way back into my brain, and we had a good conversation with German/English/charades.    Seems to be the norm for us lately 😉   And Josiah really had fun learning about woodworking from Ralf….he could not stop talking about Ralf….  😉 And so to Nadine, Martin, Ralf and Siggy, we say “Vielen Danke, and Auf Wiedersehen.”  Thank you so much for your generosity, and for being welcome faces along this journey.  We had a great time with  you all!

 

Austria

Wagrain Austria—what a beautiful, relaxing place.  About 45 minutes south of Salzburg, it is nestled among the Austrian alps, and about as quaint a place as you can find.  It is a ski resort in winter, and in summer, a hiker’s/paraglider’s/bicyclist’s haven.  We spent 5 days here, and most of them were spent hiking, swimming (we had a free pass to the water world a 5 minute walk away), and reading on the balcony.  We also took a day trip into Salzburg and met up with Katharina, who showed us around for the day.  We met Katharina on the Jacobite train in Scotland, and she offered to show us around Salzburg….she was very patient and generous with us, and we really appreciated the time she took to plan the day, and the thought she put into it.  Such an awesome part of travelling….meeting people and making friends all over the place 🙂  Anyways, the hills are definitely still alive in Austria…we saw some of the “Sound of Music” filming locations, but were amused to find out that most of the locals had never seen it.  We ate a lot of pretzels and chocolate.  Yum!  But we walked it off on the 16km hike from Jagersee up to Tappenkarsee and back down again.  It took us about 5 hours to do the whole circuit, and I’m glad it was one of the cooler days we had, as it was quite the workout going uphill!  The boys loved being outside and especially loved the water world.  Needless to say, Austria was one of our highlights!   Have a good night everyone….I think it’s past time for me to go 😉  Later…