Five Biggest Snafus From Our Summer Travels

IMG_7009As denizens of the internet and connoisseurs of social media, I think we can all agree that the lives we see people living online can differ greatly from the reality on the ground.

Someone asked me when we got home to recount the best moments of the trip and the worst, and while it was easy to rattle off my favorites (though perhaps difficult to narrow them down), it honestly was hard to come up with negative examples. I know it sounds corny to say there were no bad times, because there were certainly moments of frustration, but I was so genuinely happy to be on the adventure that every setback had to be graded on a steep curve.

Still, when people ask about what it’s like to travel, yes they want to hear about the wonderful places you visited and the food you ate, but they also want to hear about the challenges you faced.

So, while in many ways I enjoyed most of the episodes below, they were definitely the memories that stand out the most in terms of adverse situations we found ourselves in.

Honorable mention – the missing luggage: What travel story is complete without some luggage malfunction? When we got to Lisbon at the beginning of June, we arrived without my suitcase for some reason. It had been recommended to me to always bring at least a day’s change of clothes in my backpack for situations like this, and I am glad I did. The suitcase arrived at our AirBNB the next day, so it wasn’t too much of an ordeal, but it’s always a kick in the pants when that happens.

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Thumbs up for not having to wear this outfit the entire trip.

Good enough to be on the list but already laid out in previous posts: Emmett’s bottomless adventures in Trieste and our Uber misunderstanding in Lisbon.

Okay, here we go.

1. Jamie locking himself in the bathroom. At our AirBNB in Lisbon, the doors had old-school locks with skeleton keys, the kind I’d expect to see a medieval dungeon master carrying around perhaps. A few times the boys would be messing around with them and we’d scold them to stop playing with them, but we were never that serious about it.

One night midway through our stay Jamie was in the bathroom and decided to mess with the door, locking himself inside in the process. We tried for 20 minutes to try to walk him through how to unlock it, but the lock required a level of jiggling his 6-year old coordination was not ready for. We tried not to panic, but we were definitely starting to run out of feasible options.

As it happens, some of the windows in the apartment had screens on them, and some didn’t. The bathroom was one of the ones that didn’t, so eventually we decided the best course of action was to have Jamie stand on the side of the bathtub and throw a key three stories down to me. We had no idea if it would work on the other side of the door, but we had to give it a try. Of course if it didn’t work, I guess I’d have tried to throw the key back to him?

Thankfully it did work and we were able to get him out of there without too much harm done, but it was definitely a hairy half-hour or so.

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Jamie, you have to jiggle it!
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The top window is the one Jamie was throwing the key from.

2. Emmett running down the people movers at the Munich airport. Let’s be honest here, people movers are super fun no matter what age you are. I’m almost 40, and every time I get on one, I’m still like “HOLY CRAP LOOK HOW FAST I’M GOING EVEN THOUGH I’M ONLY WALKING!”

Our children naturally feel the same, which is usually very helpful at airports — except at the Munich airport, which has roughly 75 miles of people movers installed between terminals.

We set out from baggage claim to the train station, and Emmett and Jamie started walking ahead, which normally wouldn’t be a cause for concern, but there were so goddamn many of them, and Emmett was so excited, that soon he was several movers ahead of us, to the point where we literally couldn’t see him. He was like a ship that had disappeared over the horizon.

We reached the spot where the train station was, but Emmett wasn’t there (no surprise, he doesn’t read German or any other language at this point), so we dropped all our luggage and I went off to find him. I literally ran (okay, I briskly walked) over another quarter mile of people movers before I finally tracked him down. He was having the time of his life, having discovered a world where the people movers never stop moving people.

Emmett is a speck in the distance.

3. Getting lost in the rain in Ljubljana. We were very fortunate with the weather for most of our time, but one day it was raining pretty hard in Ljubljana, so we decided to make the best of it and head to the other side of town to an indoor trampoline park.

We took the bus everywhere in Lisbon, but Ljubljana is small enough that we walked most places. This would be our maiden voyage on the local bus lines, and we really didn’t have any idea how it worked.

When we got on the bus to head towards the park, the driver was very nice and let us on without paying. I thought he was just being friendly, but it turns out you can’t pay for a bus ride on the bus itself (side note: that’s dumb and I don’t like it), so he was just cutting us some slack.

We thought we were on the right route, but all of a sudden the bus driver got to a stop and told everyone to get off. Turns out we’d reached the end of the line, and best we could tell we were not standing in front of a trampoline park.

So, we set off by foot, in the rain, without umbrellas of course, because we are idiots.

We walked about three miles without finding the place, which is how we ended up watching The Incredibles 2 in Slovenian instead.

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What has four thumbs and didn’t understand a word of this movie? THESE GUYS.

After the movie, we made our way to what we thought was the right bus stop, except this time when we tried to board the driver explained to us that we needed bus cards to ride. We did not have them, nor did we know where to get them, so we wandered around for an hour or so trying to see if various coffee shops and grocery stores sold them, all to no avail.

At one point we saw a taxi and tried to flag them down, but apparently you can’t get a cab in Ljubljana off the street, you have to call ahead and book one. Uber doesn’t exist there yet, if you were also wondering about that option. All of this stuff would have been so nice for us to have known beforehand!

Eventually Hilary found a place that sold bus cards and bought one, and we finally got a bus home, soaked to the bone and pretty roundly defeated. But hey, at least we got popcorn!

4. Jamie takes it to another level. Emmett had by far the more frequent tantrums on our trip, but what Jamie lacked in quantity he more than made up for in quality. One day in Ljubljana we were making our way into the city center and Jamie started fussing about who knows what, and when he wouldn’t stop, we decided that Hilary and Emmett would continue on their way and I would stay back to try to ride out the storm.

He was in rare form that day, interspersing crying and screaming with running away from me when I tried to talk to him to see what was bothering him. At one point I came up towards him, and he started screaming “Stranger! Stranger!”

This…was a new tactic, and to be honest, I had to respect the audacity of the move.

I made it as clear as possible, without engaging in some Homer vs. Bart action, that this was incredibly dangerous, and he was lucky that no one was around to investigate if that was true or not. I like to think I handled it maturely and compassionately, but there was a moment or two where I was ready to rage against the machine.

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Not taken the day of the tantrum, but appropriate.

5. The long way home. Buckle up, here we go.

When I set out to book our travel for the summer, I was determined to keep costs down as much as possible. Partially this is because I am cheap, but also it was because the less money we spent on planes, trains, and automobiles, the more we’d have left to spend on experiences.

Was this a sound strategy? In theory, yes, but in practice, it wasn’t incredibly useful. For one thing, because we bought the cheapest tickets, they didn’t come with free checked luggage. For another, the cheapest routing required us to purchase separate reservations for the final legs, which meant we had to pay for luggage twice to go home once.

The not-so-cheap cheap flights aside, the biggest issue surrounding our journey home was the absurd timing of it all. Leaving from Stockholm* on a 2:30 pm flight, we were due to arrive in Fort Lauderdale at 7:30 pm local time (1:30 am on our body clocks), at which point we’d have to collect our stuff from baggage claim and restart the process from scratch.

One thing Hilary and I agreed on when we started planning for the summer was to have an adventure while still being respectful of each other’s boundaries. This led, in part, to our final itinerary. The cheapest flights home from Ljubljana were through Istanbul, which made Hilary uncomfortable given the unrest there. We talked to several people about their experiences flying through there, which calmed her fears, but by the time that happened the prices had gone up considerably, which is how we ended up flying home via Stockholm. So, if we’re assigning blame here, we have to split it 50/50 between her skittishness and my stinginess.

Our flight to Atlanta was to leave at 10:30, arriving in Atlanta at midnight – 6:00 am on our body clocks. At best, we would arrive at our house at 1 am.

Once there, we still had to factor in whether we could even GET into our house. For you see, when we left for our trip on the final day in May, we neglected to take a house key with us. Or maybe we took one, I can’t recall, but either way, we didn’t have one on us when we left to return to the States.

This in and of itself was not a cause for concern, because we had installed a keyless-entry garage door, which normally would render the need for a key moot.

HOWEVER.

We rented our house for six weeks while we were gone this summer, with our tenants vacating the premises the day before we returned. The day we left, I got an wrap-up email from them giving a few final details about the house – what they accidentally left, the status of anything that broke, and one other small detail, the fact they had locked the door from the kitchen to the garage on their way out. Safety first and all.

Their hearts were in the right place of course, but this now meant our keyless garage entry was useless.

Thankfully, we had planned for such an event. A year ago, Jamie was playing around with the locks in the kitchen (we have really dropped the ball on teaching this kid the dangers of careless lock-handling) before leaving for school one day, and it was only after we left I noticed the keyring I had for the car did not possess a key to the house. One call to a locksmith and a couple hundred dollars later, we realized we needed some backup solutions in the event something like this happened again.

That weekend we went to the local hardware store and had a bunch of keys made, which we then doled out to our closest friends and relatives in Atlanta, just to cover our bases.

Once I realized our situation in Stockholm, I began emailing all of those people to activate the plan, which should have worked flawlessly, IF ANY OF THEM HAD ANY MEMORY WHATSOEVER OF US GIVING THEM A KEY TO OUR FUCKING HOUSE, which naturally, none of them did*.

*Capitalized spelling aside, I’m not really angry with any of them over this. Truth be told, they are all much more responsible people than we are, and if the roles were reversed, there is about a 0.0000000000001% chance we’d have any recollection of a key exchange either. 

This would be an issue, and soon, we’d be on a 10-hour flight overseas with no ability to communicate with the outside world to try to solve this dilemma. Vaguely we remembered we might have also given a key just before we left to our neighbors, but we’d yet to hear from them and for all we knew they might be out of town.

About 20 minutes before we got on our plane, our cousin Susan Sandler* discovered, on a fourth pass through her keys, she DID in fact have a key from us (though she still couldn’t remember us giving it to her, but she had it nonetheless), and so we were saved from whatever fate awaited a family of four arriving at their house at 1 am with two children who had not slept in 24 hours and no way to get inside.

*All praise Susan Sandler, a god amongst mortals.

Crisis averted.

Still, the rest of the obstacles remained in place. Our flight from Stockholm to Fort Lauderdale left two hours late, which already had the boys cranky, and then neither of them slept more than 45 minutes on the 10-hour trip.

We plied them with some authentic American fast food once we got back through security (which actually wasn’t so bad, thank heavens – security that is, not the Fort Lauderdale airpory Steak N’ Shake), and generally speaking managed to keep them from causing too much trouble until our plane to Atlanta was ready to go.

From there, things predictably deteriorated. They each passed out just long enough on the flight to be more irritable without being any more rested, and by the time we got to Atlanta baggage claim they were in full-on meltdown mode.

While I waited for the bags, Hilary desperately tried to soothe them on a nearby bench, but there was literally nothing we could do at that point. They were howling and crying, and while I had incredible sympathy for them, I have to admit, I also found it pretty funny. What else can you do in that situation but laugh?

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Always look on the bright side of life.
Come on, baggage claim!

We got our bags and raced to get a taxi, and the poor bastard who drove us got to listen to the boys scream at the top of their lungs for about 15 minutes before they passed out until we got home, where thanks to our hero Susan S. we immediately went inside and put everyone to bed.

Wheew.

Ironically, the day was a tremendous challenge, yet given the circumstances we faced I feel like it couldn’t have gone much better than it actually did. We learned some valuable lessons for future trips. Always take a key. If you give others a key, make sure it’s a much more memorable experience. And definitely, definitely, never assume the cheapest option is the best one.

After all, money isn’t everything, but avoiding blood-curdling screams in the early-morning hours is.

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Top Ten Moments of the Summer

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Our best statue impression.

Hilary and I decided to make our own separate lists of our 10 most favorite experiences of our trip, then compare and see how they match up.

Here are mine.

Honorable mention: Grona Lund amusement park in Stockholm

This is here in part because it was fun, and we got to go with my parents, but honestly it’s here mostly because it produced this photo, which is arguably my favorite from the trip.

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Look at the terror on that kid’s face. I think it might be because he’s looking at that cracked-out mouse mascot, but I can’t be sure.

Honorable mention: Our first churros

Pastel de Nata is the most famous dessert in Portugal, and we certainly ate our share of those. But the tastiest treat we had the entire summer was the first time we ate churros in Lisbon.

One night, as we were leaving a neighborhood party for the Festa de Santo Antonio, we stumbled upon a small trailer selling them, and so we indulged ourselves. They were piping hot, full of cinnamon and sugar, and so delicious!

We went back to the same place a couple weeks later, but instead of splitting a couple as a family, I ended up eating two all by myself and regretting it the rest of the night. Gluttony is neither an attractive nor productive trait.

10. Taking Emmett to the Lisbon Zoo

Most of the time, we did things as a family, but every now and then we’d split up, usually because one of us was throwing a tantrum (usually the kids – usually).

One day Jamie was acting out, so he and Hilary decided to walk home, while Emmett and I decided to set out for the Zoo.

The Lisbon Zoo is not like any zoo I’ve ever been to, and by that I mean I’ve only ever been to American zoos, where let’s just say the rules are a little more stringent. At the Lisbon Zoo the animals are much, much closer to you, with way less barriers in between, and while I am not sure if it is technically safer for all parties, it certainly makes for a more intimate experience.

At one point, as we were standing outside the baboon enclosure, a baby baboon literally walked right through the bars and out into the crowd. For a couple minutes, this baby and Emmett just looked at each other and stared. I was in awe, especially when nothing happened. No swarm of Zoo employees, no tranquilizers, nothing. Then, after walking around for a couple minutes, the baby slipped right back into his home without incident.

Plus I watched a chimpanzee drink its own urine like it was out of a goddamn firehose, then laughed hysterically about it, and Emmett asked me what I was laughing at, and I said the chimp drank a Coke and he wasn’t supposed to, which he asked me about the rest of the summer.

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9. Eating at the Open Market in Ljubljana

I love serendipity. When we set out for Ljubljana, several people recommended checking out the open market on Fridays, which we dutifully did the first week we were there. As far as we could tell, it was just the regular old farmer’s market. Kind of underwhelming, if I’m being honest.

The next week though, in an effort to give Hilary some alone time, we agreed that she would go for a walk, and then we’d meet up with her near the market and hike up to Ljubljana Castle.

On our way to meet Hilary, we walked through a part of town near the regular market we had apparently neglected to see the previous week, but which turned out to be the “actual” Open Market – several rows of stalls operated by some of the best restaurants in Ljubljana.

We stuffed our faces that day with pineapple bacon cheeseburgers, mussels in white wine and garlic, and pork from a roasted pig that was splayed out in whole and butchered on the spot. Kind of graphic, but quite tasty I have to say.

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Yummy.

8. Jamie and Emmett reacting to going to school together

Because there are not enough classrooms for Pre-K in Atlanta-area public schools, every spring there is a drawing for which students will get the opportunity to enroll. It’s a true lottery – getting a spot is a savings of at least $10,000. We got incredibly lucky with Jamie, as he was the last name drawn for his Pre-K class.

Emmett wasn’t quite as lucky — he did not make the initial cut — but he did end up 6th on the waiting list. We hoped for the best, but figured we likely wouldn’t hear anything about it until right before school started.

However, on just our fourth day in Lisbon, Hilary got a call from the school telling us enough people had passed on the opportunity to save $10K, and Emmett had a spot if we wanted it. Ummm, yes please.

That was exciting in and of itself, but when I told the boys the news that they’d be going to school together next year, they called a temporary truce to their ongoing battle to see who could annoy the shit out of the other the most to celebrate. It was adorable!

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Watching Jamie walk down the street explaining allllllll the things Emmett needed to know about Pre-K was an excellent dessert as well.

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7. First biergarten experience

I had heard people mention the concept of biergartens before we went to Munich, but I don’t think I actually processed what it truly was. I was picturing something along the lines of a Chick-fil-A or McDonald’s play area. No people, it is not that at all. It was a massive playground with several features, and people would let their children play there with barely a glance in their direction for several hours.

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On our first full day in Munich, we met up with new friends from the Worldschoolers FB group to watch the France-Argentina World Cup game at the Augustiner Keller Biergarten, and I was in heaven. Rows and rows of tables where people could sit and visit, plentiful beer and food, and that wonderful playground, which completely absolved us of any parental responsibilities and allowed us to have an immersive and engaging conversation with our new friends and fellow travelers.

We went to a biergarten each day we were in Munich, perhaps at the expense of seeing more of the city, but I regret nothing.

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6. Meeting up with the Fords

I have mentioned the Worldschoolers FB group numerous times on this blog, and with all the negativity that surrounds social media these days (and for good reason), it’s nice every once in a while to remember that is can also be a force for good.

Our first day in Lisbon, travel weary and very much uncertain of how our trip would play out, we met up with Amy Hoffman Ford and her four children, who were also on a travel adventure. I had connected with Amy through the FB group, and we arranged to meet up at Jardim de Estrela, a lovely park in the middle of the city. She and her family could not have been a better welcoming committee.

Though we only spent a couple hours with them, they made a big impression on us, showing us the power and impact long-term travel can have. All four of Amy’s children seemed wise beyond their years. I had a conversation about their experiences with her third child, a 12-year old, that felt like I was talking to a peer, not a soon-to-be teenager.

I knew after spending time with them we were in for a great summer. Not that I didn’t think that beforehand, but it was tremendous reinforcement.

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5. Date night with the Harris’s

Yes, spending time with our children all summer was amazing, but you know what’s also a lot of fun? Spending time NOT with them*.

*Sorry kids, reading this someday. Daddy loves you very much. 

Celia, our wonderful food tour guide, recommended a babysitting service to us while we were in Lisbon, and we were able to take advantage to meet up with our friends Chris and Iggy, who were in town on holiday from London.

It was a welcome respite, not just because we got to be adults for once, but also because the Harriseseses were so interesting to talk to. They are British and liberal, and we are American and liberal, and we managed to commiserate on the state of our respective countries while somehow still enjoying our evening.

The night ended at a tiny Fado bar, where the Stupid American Tax earned me a CD I neither wanted nor have a way to listen to. It is a testament to my cheapness that I kept the damn thing and brought it home with me. Gotta get my money’s worth somehow.

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4. Checking out the caves and castles in Postojna

When your kids are as young as ours, it’s really a crapshoot how they will respond to any particular outing that doesn’t involve a playground or zoo.

When we took a day trip from Ljubljana to Postojna, home to one of the largest cave systems in the world, I wasn’t sure what their reaction would be.

Happily, they were completely engrossed in it, which allowed me to spend my time being awestruck by the sheer scope of the caves instead of being harried for snacks or Euros or whatever the kids might otherwise spend their time fixating on.

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From the caves we moved on to Predjama Castle, which is built right into a cave on the side of a mountain about 10 km away. I am a total sucker for unique architectural marvels like this — my trip to Petra in Jordan was one of the highlights of my semester abroad in college — and again the boys were enthralled.

After our tours, we headed back to town to try to make the 6:30 bus, only to discover there was no 6:30 bus, and in fact the next bus wasn’t until 8:50.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as we immediately headed back to town and had dinner in the square right as a jazz festival commenced. I even found cinnamon gelato!

With the exception of Paris, and maybe our trip to Obidos in Portugal, we did pretty damn well on our day trips. There were a lot of fun ones, including our trips to Bled, Slovenia, Trieste, Italy, and Sintra, Portugal*.

*I have no idea how you are supposed to punctuate that sentence. Sorry if I messed it up, I don’t have the energy to google the proper solution.

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3. Splashing in the grass in Lisbon

I wrote about this in a previous post, so I won’t go too far into the details here. I’ll just say that watching the joy on Jamie and Emmett’s faces at something as simple as running through sprinklers for 45 minutes was a wonderful reminder of why we took the trip in the first place.

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2. Watching Croatia’s World Cup win over Russia in Zagreb

Again, this was covered in a previous post. This game had everything I could want in a sports and culture experience – a back and forth contest, incredible tension throughout, with a wonderful result at the end, causing euphoric celebrations by the Croatia fans that left my kids gobsmacked. Anything that leads to a good gobsmacking is A-OK in my book. Plus we got to hang out with Hank. All hail Hank.

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1. The Festa do Sao Joao in Porto

When I think about the happiest single moment I had on the trip, it’s hard to choose anything other than the idiosyncratic hammer-wielding Festa do Sao Joao we took part in in Porto.

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The whole thing was a hoot, but specifically, I remember sitting at a playground on the banks of the Duoro River, relaxing with Hilary and watching the kids run around bopping other children on the head while the sun set radiantly behind them over the city.

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It was a moment of pure bliss, and we sat there and just took it in for probably close to an hour.

The festival concluded with a huge fireworks display at midnight, and while Emmett and Hilary faded and went to bed beforehand, Jamie managed to stay up just long enough to see the spectacle.

Were the kids gigantic assholes the next day? Of course they were. But you have to take the bad with the good, and the good kicked the bad’s ass all over Europe for eight weeks, so who am I to complain?

Friendship Circle

Using the analogy I’ve used all summer long, tonight is the official last night of camp. The shower I took earlier tonight is the last I’ll take before going back to the the slightly unsatisfactory water pressure of my home shower. The next pillow I’ll lay my head on after this will be on my own bed. This is the end of the road.

I am sad, naturally. Good things always come to an end, and no matter how long our trip lasted, this night would still have come. I am trying not to be too upset about it. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the chance to spend this kind of quality time with my wife and my children, especially at their young ages. We had eight uninterrupted weeks together, and nothing can take that away from us.

Still, I do feel some pretty strong pangs of melancholy, and I think it comes from the knowledge that pulling this off again, while certainly doable, likely won’t be as easy.

I can’t remember if I ever gave the full blow-by-blow on how this trip came together, but here is the basic beats of the story.

I fell in love with traveling when I backpacked around Europe with some buddies the summer after college graduation. A few years back, Hilary and I had some conversations about what if we just dropped everything and traveled the world with the kids for a couple years.

I was serious about it, she was less so. It’s not that she didn’t like the idea of it, but that is a pretty significant commitment to doing something without much (if any) certainty to what you come back to, and Hilary is much more conservative on this front than I am. That’s not a knock against her, we’re just different. More people are probably with her on this than with me.

The conversation died down, but the itch was there for me, and it never really left. At some point last fall, I was having drinks with some friends, and my brother-in-law Will made a suggestion that if Hilary wasn’t on board for an extended trip as previously discussed, perhaps something smaller, like a summer, might be more palatable.

The thought started to knock around in my brain. Our 10-year anniversary was coming up in September 2018 – what could be a more fun way to celebrate it? One night we were out for dinner, and I happened to bring it up, and to my surprise, she seemed receptive to the concept, at least in theory.

It was a great time for us to do this, in my opinion. We were both in transitional phases of our careers – Hilary had left her longtime job at Spanx several months earlier and was working as a contractor for a company while she tried to figure out her next career move. As for me, I loved the people I worked with, but with each passing day realized more and more that my talents (such as they are) and position were an awkward fit with my place of employment.

Our long-term futures were up in the air, and while that created angst for both of us, it also opened a window. This was an experience I’d wanted for a long, long time, and if setting myself adrift on a sea of professional uncertainty was the price, I was willing to pay it.

It was all a hypothetical, and though we continued to discuss this scenario, making various lists of sticking points, budgets, potential destinations, and the like, I still wasn’t sure if we’d actually go through with it.

Then, in February, a friend of mine reached out about a potential new opportunity. When I first heard from him, I was immediately pessimistic. The job sounded like a great fit, but I was afraid if I even entertained the notion it would set me on a path away from summer travels. I almost rejected the notion flat out.

Eventually I decided it was worth having an exploratory discussion, and before I knew what hit me I was neck-deep in interviews and pros and cons lists and contemplating a move.

In a vacuum, this job was a no-brainer. But I am a stubborn S.O.B., and an idealistic one at that*, so as excited as I was about it, I couldn’t let go of my dream either.

*When I was in 9th grade, my dad tried to bribe me into taking piano lessons. As I recall it, he offered me 300 dollars to take lessons for a month, and 600 if I took them for six months. I flatly refused. Sure, I didn’t want to do it, but more than that, I had INTEGRITY. I would NOT be bought. Christ, what a little asshole. Take the money, you stupid 9th grader, do you know how many CD’s you could buy from BMG for that amount?

As things progressed and became more serious, I decided to be honest with them (what a concept!) about my state of mind. I gathered my courage and said, straight up, that the position sounded amazing to me, but we had been planning this summer trip, and I wasn’t sure I could (or would) walk away from it. I don’t know if that was the right or wrong thing to do* for my career, but it felt right at the time, so I went with it.

*Honesty in interviews has gotten me in trouble before, but that’s a story for another day.

After a day or two of really, truly, FREAKING THE FUCK OUT, they came back to me and said we could make it work, and all of a sudden, what had been a pipe dream became very much a reality.

Thus began a nonstop whirlwind of destination scouting, budget refinement, to-do lists, all while throwing myself headfirst into the deep end of a new job at a new company. It was probably the most intense three months of my life.

People would ask me if I was excited about the trip, and I would say, truthfully, that I didn’t have time to be excited with all I needed to accomplish before we left, but I knew I would once we got there. That was absolutely true. Once we hit the ground in Lisbon I was able to take a deep breath and start to take it in – this was really happening.

And happen it did, for eight weeks, all leading up to tonight, as I stare out at the Stockholm skyline, which doesn’t get fully dark until after 11 pm by the way, reflecting on the journey and contemplating what it MEANS.

There are definitely things I want to bring home with me. Things I can bring with me, that is — the beer in Germany is long gone.

I was much better about not being on my phone all the time during our travels, which was easy because we were on a very limited data plan, but was important in trying to live in the moment. I’d like to keep that up if I can.

I want to continue to find ways to have extended quality time with my kids. Most of our weekends are spent doing an activity or two and then lounging on the couch or something similar. I feel like I am usually trying to get them focused on something else so I can just have some alone time. I didn’t get much of that on this trip, but I didn’t really miss it either. It was fun exploring, having adventures, and I’d like to keep that up. There are probably dozens of things to do in and around the city that we’ve never looked into, as well as in the larger area around us. Chattanooga, here we come!

I want to relax more. This feels strange to see myself write out in words, because I think of myself, as one of my comedy idols would have said, as a stone-cold chiller.

Europeans, as best I can tell, are much better at relaxing, and culturally, it seems like a much bigger priority to them.

Spending time here this summer reminded me of an essay I came across last year by Umair Haque, about the differences between Europeans and Americans. I found this to be dead-to-rights:

In London, Paris, Berlin, I hop on the train, head to the cafe — it’s the afternoon, and nobody’s gotten to work until 9am, and even then, maybe not until 10 — order a carefully made coffee and a newly baked croissant, do some writing, pick up some fresh groceries, maybe a meal or two, head home — now it’s 6 or 7, and everyone else has already gone home around 5 — and watch something interesting, maybe a documentary by an academic, the BBC’s Blue Planet, or a Swedish crime-noir. I think back on my day and remember the people smiling and laughing at the pubs and cafes.

In New York, Washington, Philadelphia, I do the same thing, but it is not the same experience at all. I take broken down public transport to the cafe — everybody’s been at work since 6 or 7 or 8, so they already look half-dead — order coffee and a croissant, both of which are fairly tasteless, do some writing, pick up some mass-produced groceries, full of toxins and colourings and GMOs, even if they are labelled “organic” and “fresh”, all forbidden in Europe, head home — people are still at work, though it’s 7 or 8 — and watch something bland and forgettable, reality porn, decline porn, police-state TV. I think back on my day and remember how I didn’t see a single genuine smile — only hard, grim faces, set against despair, like imagine living in Soviet Leningrad.

As best I can, I want to bring back some of that European-style enjoyment of the world around me, whether that’s by eating less processed food, gathering with friends for a picnic in the park, or simply walking around more. It may be hard (especially the walking part – damn you Atlanta humidity), but I know I will be better off if I stay true to the spirit behind it.

And now it is late in the evening, and I am reminded of the last nights of summers previous at camp, when it was a badge of honor to stay up as late as possible, trying to squeeze every last drop of fun out of the summer before it was was time to return home.

I would love to do that now, but unlike the summers of my youth, I have to shepherd two children on a 16-hour journey home in the morning.

This was fun. Let’s do it again sometime, yeah?

The Best Travel Adventures Happen When You Least Expect Them

The spirit of adventure was a huge reason we hit the road this summer. Wanting to experience the world, without necessarily having a set plan in mind for how to do it, was a big part of the excitement for me.

Sometimes that adventure would spring from taking a friend’s advice on a place to go, other times it’d come from simply walking around a city and stumbling onto something that piqued our interest. Then of course, there are the adventures that you don’t even know you’re on until they’ve already started…

But let’s take it from the beginning.

There is a thing in many movies where something happens that seems completely innocuous at the time, only to have major implications later on in the story.

This plotting element happened to us yesterday on our trip to Trieste, Italy. As we were packing up for the day, I asked Hilary, offhandedly, if we should pack a change of clothes for the boys. We started out this trip very Boy Scout like, planning for any occasion, but as time has passed we have relaxed this policy, rarely taking anything with us most days outside a bottle of water.

She was ambivalent, and we were trying to get out the door to make our bus on time, so I eschewed the extra packing, figured, “ehhh, we’ll be okay,” and we headed out.

Trieste is an Italian city along the Istrian coast, about an hour-and-a-half bus ride from Ljubljana. Not exactly next door, but with time running out on our family excursion, we figured what the hell, how many times are we going to be 90 minutes away from Italy, so we did it.

We arrived around noon, and after stuffing our faces with pasta and gelato, we headed out to explore the city, which for us at this point features a pretty standard itinerary:

– Find a massive church where Dad can ogle the impressive architecture and artistic elements, and where Emmett can excitedly point to every Jesus he sees (which is a LOT).

– Find a castle, where Jamie and Emmett can find the points where archers could shoot arrows at the bad guys, and they could ask repeatedly why the bad guys wanted to come to the castle and if the bad guys were now dead.

– Find a playground so we could rest for a bit and the boys could be their best selves and remind us why we keep them around.

I am happy to report that, like pretty much every European destination we’ve been to, Trieste had each of these elements. After seeing one church, we went to find the castle, stopping at various playgrounds along the way.

At one such playground, Emmett needed to go potty. As he has become fond of telling us (and I have no idea where he got it from), he needed to go #1 and #2.

Fortunately, there were bathrooms on the park premises.

Unfortunately, these bathrooms were unique to our experience thus far, as there was no toilet to be found. Instead, there was a porcelain slat with a hole at the back, and what appeared to be footboards along the sides. Not knowing exactly how to approach this situation, I did what seemed like the best option – I held him in place while he squatted over the hole (parenting, yay!).

In helping to put him in the best position for #2, I forgot about #1 – and specifically, I forgot that at four years of age, not many kids have the kind of bladder control required to focus on one number at a time.

Thus, as Emmett worked on getting out numero dos, he also sprayed numero uno all over his undies and his shorts.

It was at this moment that I recalled the scene earlier where I’d asked Hilary if I should pack a change of clothes for the boys, and wished desperately for a time machine so I could go back and spend the extra 15 seconds it would have required to do so. If I wished hard enough, would those clothes appear in our backpack*? Sadly, the answer was no.

*Ironically, on the bus ride to Trieste, the boys’ headphones stopped working. However, since I am a total hoarder, it turned out I had two extra pairs of earbuds just chilling in a backpack pocket, so that problem was easily solved. I remarked to Hilary how it’s these 1-in-1000 instances that keeps me from throwing crap away. But I still couldn’t be bothered to pack clothes. Go figure.

Here is a parenting challenge that I hope (I PRAY) is something others can relate to*. What do you do when something affects your child in a way that you know is something you yourself would never do or stand for, but your child is unaffected by?

*Otherwise we are just bad parents.

Emmett, if I didn’t say a word about it, would likely have just put his urine-soaked clothes back on and gone on with his day. That was an option. The other option was…ummm, I honestly didn’t know what other options were on the table at the moment.

I guess we could have gone to find a children’s clothing store to buy something for him, but we had no cell service and no real sense of where we were (plus I’m cheap!), so that didn’t feel like a good solution.

Ultimately, we felt too guilty to move on as if nothing happened, so we decided to rinse his clothes out in the sink and let them dry in the sun while we played.

Which left us with a half-naked Emmett and time to kill.

At home, a couple of things would be different. For one, we’d likely be close enough to our house that we could just drive him home and pick up some clothes, problem solved. But aside from that, I am not sure we’d feel comfortable letting him just run free, running free, as it were. Yes he is only four, and I do think most people would probably understand, but given that it might take 45-60 minutes for his clothes to dry, that might be a little excessive on the nudity front for most Americans. I could be wrong about that (and hope I am), but that’s my gut feeling.

Maybe this is emboldened by the fact that we are travelers who will never see any of the people around us ever again, but it feels different in Europe. We’ve seen lots of naked kids running about over the course of the summer, whether at playgrounds or at the pool, and from what I can tell it’s acceptable in polite society. The same goes for breastfeeding, by the way.

So we said screw it, put Emmett’s clothes out on a rail to dry, and let him have at it, and if there was any reaction from the families around us I didn’t see it. For his part, Emmett didn’t seem too put out by the whole affair.

Our trip to Trieste was all of the things we expected – great food, lots of gelato, plenty of historical sites to take in, but our hour-long adventure at the park is the part I’ll cherish remember most.

I guess the lesson we should have learned is we should continue to pack extra clothes for our kids for “just in case” situations.

I say should have learned because we went out to eat lunch today and Emmett did essentially the same thing but on a normal toilet.

I guess it’s like the old saying. Pee all over your clothes once, shame on you. Pee all over your clothes twice…

A City Review I Can Get Behind – Zagreb With Kids

We haven’t done a ton of planning for this trip. On other forays, when its been just myself and Hilary on a short excursion, we’ve tended to do a little more advance prep before descending on a city. Especially before we had kids.

Now that we have the little buggers, advance planning is rarely worth the investment of time. This is true for this summer in particular, as our number one priority is simply to spend time together, but it is also the case in part because day to day (shit, hour to hour) we have no idea how our kids will behave and what kind of activity will be amenable to whatever mood(s) they find themselves in.

And our kids are GOOD. I can’t imagine what its like to have real disciplinary issues with a child.

With our lack of prep work, what typically ends up happening is sometime in the morning I will pull up a seat at the old internets and see what Google has to say about wherever we happen to be that day.

I have to give my fellow travelers credit – there is an article (or twenty) written about just about every city, for every situation, with recommendations on what to do. Traveling to Kuala Lumpur with an orangutan and need to know the best vegan restaurants? Someone has posted “Top Ten Things To Do In Kuala Lumpur With A Vegan Orangutan”, I guarantee it.

These are immensely helpful, at least as starting points. But they often don’t represent the reality of the situations we find ourselves in, and just once I’d like to read what that guiding listicle would have to say. So, I thought I’d give it a shot for Zagreb, where we just finished a three-day stint.

Here are my recommendations of things to know about Zagreb if you are traveling there with kids:

Public spaces to urinate
Does your child have a small bladder coupled with a desire to pee wherever they are standing at any given moment? You are in luck, because Zagreb has plenty of green space and lightly used parking areas that are perfect for dropping trou and letting it fly.

In particular, make sure to check out anywhere within 30 meters of where you are standing when your child starts shrieking how badly they have to go potty even though they went less than five minutes ago.

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Restaurants right next to where you’re standing
In the mood for Asian, or the best slice of pizza in town? More interested in getting authentic cuisine that only locals know about?

Or, are your children hangry and literally the first open restaurant with an available table will do? If so, Zagreb has you covered! There are many businesses that will exchange foodstuffs for currency, which comes in handy if you cannot see straight because of all the whining and complaining going on.

Maybe don’t walk through Old Town though if you are within two hours of needing a meal. The quaint, narrow streets provide lots of terrific visuals and old-world charm, but there aren’t a ton of places to eat.

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Local reactions to tantrums
On your travels, you may try several different tactics to deal with behavioral issues: timeouts, bribery, caving in immediately. One tactic you may also try is to sit on a street corner with your child and just let them scream and cry until they exhaust themselves or lose interest.

Zagreb is a great place for that, as the city has many street corners with ample room for you to sit and make “I literally don’t know what else to do right now” faces at passing pedestrians. Plus, local shopkeepers may bring you candy to shut your child up, and policemen may also come up and enquire if you are the child’s parent.

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Popcorn per square meter
In the popular parts of Zagreb, especially around Ban Jelacic Square, there are vendors selling popcorn approximately every city block. This comes in quite handy if you are in need of a snack or an activity to draw your children’s interest while, say, standing in a crowded space and needing to kill 90 minutes before a soccer game starts.

Be warned though, the vendors are not equipped to produce the quantity of popcorn you will need, no matter what sizes they sell, as children’s mouths are to popcorn as a wood chipper is to a forest.

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Availability of automobiles
If you choose to walk most places because you enjoying exploring your surroundings on foot and are too cheap to pay for other modes of transportation, you may often encounter a barrage of comments and questions addressing the length of time you’ve already been walking and the amount remaining until your destination.

To combat this, you may try playing variations on the popular children’s game “Punchbuggy” to draw attention away from the task at hand. Zagreb is a great city for this, as many of the citizens drive cars and can be found doing so on every street.

While there are only a few actual Beetles to be seen, if you expand the field to any Volkswagen product, taxi, or Smart Car, you can find yourself getting hit on the arm with incredible regularity within the city limits.

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Drinks
If you need one (or several), you can find this in Zagreb too. Thank god.

24 Hours in Zagreb

I realize, in re-reading my post about the 24 hours we spent in Paris, that I gave off a pretty negative review of the experience. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely dislike the place and get angry thinking about how expensive it is, but I did not mean to come off as harshly as I did.

I enjoyed the day we spent there, and given the amount we slept and the ages of our children, we managed to do pretty well overall.

I have taken to remarking to Hilary throughout this trip the word “Grateful!” I use it in a variety of contexts – sometimes I mean it sincerely, as a genuine appreciation of whatever we might be doing at that moment, and sometimes I say it the way George Costanza might say “Serenity Now!” as I deal with some sort of frustrating situation (usually involving the kids or the SAT). The point of saying it, no matter the occasion, is the same – to remind myself that I am incredibly fortunate to be spending the summer on this adventure with my family.

I may be aggravated that I told Jamie and Emmett to go to bed 46 times, and yet they STILL WON’T STOP MESSING WITH EACH OTHER, but at least I am pulling out what’s left of my hair while taking in the sights and sounds of a different part of the world instead of being part of the everyday grind of normalcy. Paris may have been a handful, but I was grateful for it.

Which brings us to Zagreb.

As I mentioned before, as our plans began to take shape, the sports fan in me realized I had an incredible opportunity to take in the World Cup alongside different fan-bases who, unlike my sad-sack excuse for a country, would be getting to root for their team in games of import.

I had visions of standing in a town square or plaza with 10,000+ screaming fans, drinking in the ambience as much as the action on the pitch.

If I’m being honest, I never truly accomplished this in Portugal as I had hoped. The first game, against Spain, Hilary took a yoga class and the square in Lisbon was so packed, there was no way for the boys to see the action without me holding them up, and I have neither the upper-body strength nor the stamina to maintain that for more than a couple minutes, let alone an entire soccer game.

We did manage to catch the last ten minutes of that game in the crowd, seeing Ronaldo’s amazing free kick golazo, and so indeed, I was grateful.

Portugal’s second game was an afternoon affair, and while we started out in the square with the multitudes, between heat and hunger we decided to leave at halftime to see it through at a restaurant with a television and some air conditioning.

By their third game against Iran, we didn’t even consider the square. We did end up at a really fun venue called Village Underground near our apartment, and had a really great time, but it still wasn’t the experience that beckoned me in my mind’s eye.

Still, we had Germany. Good ole Germany, known for their precision and indestructibility, they were almost robot-like in their ability to avoid the mistakes and pitfalls that befell other nations at various times in this competition. Munich has amazing public spaces, and I knew we’d see a great game there. Except, as noted before, they shit the bed*.

*Hilary had a great post about how her viewpoint on Germany has changed. Mine has too, but in different ways. I used to root against Germany in sport, for the obvious reasons, until I realized how ridiculous a notion that was.

I had a bit I trotted out when I tried stand-up comedy back in the day, that I found it so amusing that so many Jews would root for Germany to lose in sports, as if them losing 2-0 in soccer would somehow square things. Maybe 6-0, sure, but what are the chances of that?

Now, like a true American, I rooted for Germany solely because it was to my personal benefit for them to advance. I guess that’s what I get for turning my back on my heritage.

There would be no World Cup extravaganzas in Germany. I am happy to report that plenty of people still came out to the biergarten to watch the games, but I’d say the football was of 1/10th the importance to them as the drinking, and I can’t say I blame them – German beer is so goddamn good.

OKAY FINE, BACK TO ZAGREB.

As Germany’s football fortunes faded, Croatia’s rose on the opposite side of the bracket, and with Russia taking out Spain, it dawned on me that not only was Croatia still alive, but they had an excellent chance to advance. As it happens, Croatia was just down the road from our next stop on the summer tour, Ljubljana, Slovenia.

The dream was still alive!

So, only eight freakin’ days after our 24-hour sprint through Paris, we decided to tempt fate again and take a 24-hour trip to Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city.

We swore this time would be different. For one, we continue to learn and adapt how we handle our children in situations likely to produce negative results*. Also, the timing element would be different – we’d be getting there on a relatively normal night’s rest at least.

Still there were many hurdles to overcome – a 2-3 hour bus ride, the prerequisite screen time that ride would incur, and, with an 8 pm start time, a likely late bedtime which would assuredly demand compensation the following day.

*It sometimes feels like we are waging a war with our children for control of any given situation, and they are formidable opponents, Sun Tzu-like in their approach to battle. Sometimes things that seem like wins in the moment become losses at a later point, and the kids are always testing and prodding for weaknesses in our defenses.

We have no choice but to keep fighting, of course. Ours is not to make reply, ours is not to reason why, ours but to do and try – to get them to speak at a reasonable volume when in a restaurant.

But we weren’t fazed. Or really, we were totally fazed, but fuck it we were doing it anyway.

We packed our stuff Friday night so we could get out of the house quickly on Saturday morning – an important piece of starting the day on the right foot given how restless the kids get waiting around in the mornings.

Somebody’s getting a talking-to

Naturally, that ended up mattering exactly fuckall, because the second we got out the door Emmett hit us with his greatest hits:

“I’m hungry!”

(He’d already eaten two apples, a banana, and a bowl of raspberries and blueberries. As a fruit lover myself, I have to say I’m damn impressed. Or I would be, if fruit weren’t so strangely expensive in Ljubljana.)

“It’s too hot!”

(We literally reenacted the “Serpentine!” scene from The In-Laws on our walk to the bus station so as to hit as much shade as we could.)

“I can’t walk!”

(This one is on Hilary – Emmett knows if he complains long enough, she’ll eventually pick him up and carry him. Call it a work in progress.)

We at least factored this into our departure time, so we still made it to the bus station in time to get the preferred bus route we wanted. Or at least, we would have if it had arrived on time, which it didn’t, which meant we spent an extra 45 minutes baking in the sun and listening to Emmett wail. How was Jamie? I dunno. Probably better, but likely that’s just by comparison.

Once we got on the bus things smoothed out thanks to our beloved iPad (shout out to the kids show “The Who Was? Show” on Netflix – highly recommended. Jamie and Emmett have talked nonstop about the Bruce Lee vs. Julius Caesar episode since watching it a few days back), but we knew our debt for that would have to be paid upon disembarking.

Sure enough, Jamie and Emmett took up the refrain the second we left the bus station in Zagreb. Jamie (it only feels fair to point out how aggravating he can be as well, it’s not only Emmett) cannot stand to walk somewhere without knowing exactly how long it will take to get there, which is silly, because no matter the response his answer will be “Awwwwwwww, that’s too long.”

Luckily, our apartment ended up being much closer to the bus station* than I’d thought, and so we were able to set our stuff down and head out into town to explore, to really drink in the sights and sounds of one of the more intriguing and historic cities in Central Europe. Just kidding, our kids were melting down, we went to get food as quickly as possible.

*Fun side note – on google maps the bus station in Zagreb shows up as “Sex shop Challenge Bus Station.” I didn’t find out why, but I’d go back a second time just to investigate, frankly.

We found a brew pub showing the England-Sweden game and settled in for some food and football, and things started to improve immediately, helped out by the appearance of an Australian family at the table next to ours with similarly-aged kids. Afterwards we stumbled upon a park where a German family was kicking around a soccer ball which Jamie and Emmett happily joined in on. I cannot stress enough how wonderful other families with kids have been on this trip, and how they are all fighting the same battles we are.

Finally it came time to settle in for the main event, the Croatia-Russia World Cup Quarterfinal.

Our view of the game

Hilary is not a fan of large, crowded spaces, so we first went to look for other viewing options that might provide a little bit of something for both of us. Finding none however, and with the game about to start, we agreed to go back to Jelacic Square where the largest crowd was and give it a try.

We found a spot near the back of the crowd, and though we didn’t have a great view of the screen, we did find a bit of serendipity, as the guy standing next to us turned out to be not just an American, not just a Mississippian, but a guy from JACKSON, who had had the same notion and had traveled in from Budapest for the day to watch the game.

You’re the man, Hank.

Hank (of course his name was Hank) proved to be one hell of a guy, as he quickly took to the boys and offered to hold up one of them up while I held the other so that everyone could see.

The game itself was a tense affair. Russia scored first, but then Croatia tied it up before halftime. As the game wore on, Emmett got more and more tired and cranky, and Hilary almost took him home. He decided to tough it out (much to Hilary’s chagrin, I imagine), so of course the game hit the end of regulation still knotted at 1-1. Don’t they know we have bedtimes???

Croatia opened the scoring in extra time, and for a while it seemed like that would be the end of it, but of course Russia scored with only a few minutes left, sending it to a shootout.

It’s funny – were it not for worrying about Emmett (who was eating popcorn off the plaza ground at this point – no biggie) and to a lesser extent Jamie, I’d have been overjoyed at the way the game played out. What could be more thrilling than a shootout victory for the home team?

The shootout was a total rollercoaster of emotions. Croatia blinked first, then took the lead, then gagged it back up, but finally managed to win on the final kick, after which absolute pandemonium broke out.

It was incredible. The boys were in awe, having the time of their lives, giving people high fives and shouting and dancing. It was everything I was looking for, down to a tee. We walked back to our AirBNB as if floating on a cloud while the city celebrated wildly all around us (seriously – there were cars honking their horns nonstop until around 3 am, I would guess).

A great day.

The next morning, we rose and considered our options. After our late night in Porto for the Festa de Sao Joao, the next day was a certified nightmare. We considered briefly whether to stay for another day in Zagreb, but as is often the case on this trip, we have to remind ourselves we can’t do everything, and we decided to go out on a high note and hightail it home.

I am happy we didn’t let the experience of Paris deter us from taking on this adventure, and even though it shared a lot of the same DNA, the payoff was so satisfyingly worth it.

And, if Croatia can manage to beat England in the semifinals on Wednesday, we’ve already greenlit running it back again. Sex shop Challenge Bus Station, here we come!

Danke

 

Time is such a weird phenomenon. Halfway into our four weeks in Lisbon, Micah and I were already sad our time was coming to an end. Lisbon was all we had hoped for in a city for the kids and ourselves. The older I get, the more I think 30 or 40 years is nothing, so two weeks begins to feel like it has already passed because before you know it, it is gone.

As Micah already wrote about, we left Lisbon for Munich via Paris. I had a lot of mixed feelings about Germany. For a long time I had no interest in visiting because, as a Jew, I thought I would struggle with letting the history be part of the fabric but not the whole story.

The first day was a day full of questions going on in my head. Was that a building where Jews lived and were forced out? Did they walk this square or own shops near the Glockenspiel? Did they ever come back after the war and feel comfortable?

The worst seemed to be when we went to a biergarten to watch the World Cup and the sportscaster was yelling in German. I realized in most of America, the only German we hear spoken has been yelled in a WWII documentary or movie. The irony is, Jamie is in a German Immersion program at his elementary school. We love it and he loves it, as any language learned is a bonus, but we also have Jewish friends who felt uncomfortable sending their kids through the program and I totally sympathize with that.

That being said, I had the most amazing time in Munich – once I accepted why I felt conflicted and allowed it the space it deserved while recognizing that the present Germany has a lot to offer. We had four full days in the city and we really didn’t waste a minute, because if there was a minute to spare we were drinking in a biergarten of course!

The first day we met up at the Viktualienmarkt with new friends from the World Schoolers group who had two boys Jamie and Emmett’s age. The open market in Munich is a mix of a typical produce market and a biergarten. It ended up being a daily ritual to go pick out fruit and get a beer. We then moved on to a playground and eventually to the Augustiner Keller Biergarten.

This picture was actually taken at the biergarten at Weinerplatz. But we smiled like this at all biergartens we went to.

This place is the absolute best – not only because it was playing the World Cup but it also had an awesome playground for the kids. Micah is obsessed with why we don’t have biergartens in America*. It quickly became part of our daily routine, to meet up with our new friends and go there.

*Hey, quick Micah editorial here: Seriously, how are biergartens not widely available in the States? It SUCKS being a parent and not having easy places to go to drink socially with friends without having to get a babysitter. A few small places have started to pop up in Atlanta, but nothing on the scale of a place like Augustiner Keller. The kids played at their playground for hours, and we were completely free to drink and engage in adult conversation. It was heaven, and seems like it’d be a financial windfall. I demand answers!

The next morning I went solo to visit Dachau, the first concentration camp established by the Nazis, about 20 minutes outside of Munich. I won’t bore you with the details – if you’ve read enough about WWII the camp is exactly what you can conjure in your mind.

I found being there to be more of a philosophical reckoning. For most of my friends, our grandparents were of this generation. My grandmother fled Poland around WWI and Micah’s grandfathers both served the US in WWII. It’s only 70+ years ago that evil spread and became so commonplace across Europe, with a mixture of fear and propaganda keeping the general population in line.

We say “never again,” but genocide still happens. Dictators still rule. People are still fleeing for a better life. Populaces still vote based on fear or the hope for a better financial future, which often leads to enigmatic leadership.

With that said, a large majority of people are good people. If we will take anything away from this trip, it is how amazing strangers have been to us and our kids. We have met the nicest old people, who have given our kids large chocolate bars for no reason. We have made friends with strangers on trains, families at parks and coffee shop owners. It can be hard to reconcile the seemingly cyclical nature of evil in history with the innate good nature of people. Visiting Dachau was hard, but it felt important to see, reflect and pay respect to all the lives lost.

Outside of that, the last two days in Germany played out much like our first – market, park, biergarten. We couldn’t have been happier. Micah will tell you that ironically, given our history, Germany is the one country that seems to have its stuff together, while the US seems to be in a bit of a free fall. If we were to move abroad, it’d be near the top of his list.

As we left, I realized that paying homage to what was and being grateful for what is makes life not only easier but more enjoyable. It’s something I will try to take with me as we continue our travels and, eventually, come home.