Tag Archives: travel

Eight Years of Adventure

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As we approach our eighth year anniversary of living in Germany, I can’t help but think of all the traveling we’ve been able to do. Because we thought we would only be here three years (ha) we did as much traveling as possible at first. Once we hit the majority of destinations on our ‘list,’ we could relax a little, and enjoy exploring new places within driving distance.

Keep in mind–a road trip that begins in central Germany can end in half a dozen different countries. Of course, the autobahn helps speed things along, but still–Europe is the perfect place for family road trips.

Occasionally I would find a great deal on airfare, and so we could jet off together as a family. But usually, we drove or took the train (which was preferred). Regardless of how we arrived, exploring Europe has been eye-opening for the entire family. It’s helped shaped our view of the world and has allowed us to fully realize just how small this planet is.

We’ve had our share of trials–motion sickness; spilled drinks; having EVERY restaurant & grocery store CLOSED when we were desperately hungry; getting lost or rather, re-directed; unusual pit-stops; freezing in winter; sweltering in summer; and lodging that ranged from Thrift Shop Chic to Business Class Posh. Yet, we never once lost a wallet or a child, and even the worst times were something we could laugh about later (sometimes, much later).

So, in honor of 8 years of Germany…here are some of my favorite snapshots from our travels.

Enjoy! And Gute Reise!

Holland

Holland

Prague

Prague

Rome

Rome

Tuscany

Tuscany

Paris

Paris

London

London

Austria

Austria

Petra Jordan

Petra, Jordan

Jerusalem

Jerusalem

Germany

Germany

La Shukran: Your Free Pass Through Petra

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William approaches the Khazneh

William approaches the Khazneh

Paris, London, Rome, every city has people willing to sell postcards and keychains to tourists–and I’ve purchased my fair share of trinkets. But what I learned a while ago (the humiliating way) in Bolesławiec, Poland is not every person who approaches you to sell something is merely trying to see where you keep your wallet–in fact, most are simply trying to scrape themselves above the poverty line.

In my research on Petra, there were ‘complaints’ about the Bedouins who seem to run the park. It is debated whether they are, in fact, true Bedouins, or simply locals trying to make a buck. Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me.

On the drive from Aqaba to Wadi Musa, I caught a brief glimpse into the lives of average people–living in dwellings most of us wouldn’t take camping. So, if they set up their stands in Petra, take care of their horses to drive weary tourists to and fro, I’m not going to throw rocks at them–at least they’re working.

The real ‘complaint’ most people have about the Bedouins in Petra is that they are so persistent when it comes to selling their wares, they won’t take “no” for an answer.

Guess what? They DON’T take “No!” for an answer!

If you tell them “no” as they trot their horses alongside you, they will keep asking, in a variety of ways.

Air conditioned ride

Air conditioned ride

They will talk about their “air-conditioned” ride they have for you. Or the Lamborghinis of the desert, as they pat their donkeys. If you smile, then you are guaranteed an escort down the wadi, until the dust makes your eyes water.

You can say “no” until you are practically at the Khazneh, where the guy with the horses turns back, and a guy with a camel will ask if you want a ride.

Our time at Petra, however, was delightful because of two simple, magical words: “La Shukran.”

You may know this phrase as “No thank you.” But in Arabic, it is a magical pass down the wadi, free from bargaining and banter. It worked like a charm on the most grizzled horseman to the smallest child with her postcards (not that we COULD say ‘no’ to the toothless little Bedouin girl, no older than Libby–I only wish now that I’d bought more from her).

Little girl selling postcards

Little girl selling postcards

It is simple; it is polite; and it is the right way to respond in any country.

The fact that we could walk unaccosted through Petra simply by saying “La Shukran” reinforces my notion that in any country you visit, you should at least learn to say the following:

Yes

No

Please

Thank you

Hello

Goodbye

and “Where’s the WC?”

And if you can learn water, wine, coffee and police, you’ll be fine in nearly any situation.

When my daughter used “la shukran,” the man was so excited, he began rattling off in Arabic, leaving her somewhat bewildered, and leaving me with a desire to learn more languages.

Luxury and comfort rob you of motivation for many things. It is a lesson I am just beginning to fully understand.

The little Bedouin kids run up and down the wadi, selling postcards and things, and even if you don’t buy from them, they might ask for food, which just breaks my heart.

Maybe you think I am a fool, or that they are deceiving me somehow. But I don’t care. If I am being scammed out of a granola bar and a bottle of water, does it matter? I only wish I would have brought more food with me (and this is yet another debate on trip advisor).

If the food I give the little Bedouin girl is immediately turned over to some Jordanian Fagin, it doesn’t bother me, because the only reason I can see for someone asking for food is because he or she is hungry–and that is one scenario in which I will never say “la!”

A boy plays in the dirt while my camel passes by

A boy plays in the dirt while my camel passes by

Traveling is a privilege, and if my presence in a foreign land can somehow bless other people, then it is my duty to look at others as real, living breathing human beings, upon whom I should view as innocent until proven guilty. Don’t most people have the same wants? Peace, respect, a harmonious family, the ability to feed their children–aren’t these things universal desires? If not, they should be.

When traveling, we should be smart and avoid scams, particularly ones that can lead you down some dangerous roads. I am not ignorant, nor do I romanticize the grim realities of this world. However, not everyone is out to get you.

That is the mindset I took with me into Petra, and that is the reason I could chat with the woman selling the fake Nabatean coins, who admired my family, and watch her beam with pride when she spoke of her six sons and four daughters.This is why my heart broke when the Bedouin girl smaller than Libby sold me a stack of postcards for a dinar. These are real people in circumstances that would bring Westerners to their knees.

On the drive to Wadi Musa, I saw a boy standing on top a tin hut, releasing a bird from his outstretched hands. It rose into the air and flew off, and I wondered how hard his life was, and if this was his only play time of the day. Releasing a bird into the air.

How vastly different this is from my world.

How humbled and spoiled and rich I feel.

Now, the only thing to do about it, is to give generously, to view others with respect, and to find ways that I can be a blessing to others.

There are no adjectives adequate enough to describe our trip to Petra–it opened my eyes and my heart, and went so well, that all I can say is al hamdullilah.

*Thanks to Uncle Ghanim and Aunt Carolyn for the Arabic lessons!

Sweet Sorrow

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I was sad hugging my husband goodbye at the train station that early, dark morning in Germany. It seems like years ago, though it has only been two weeks.

When we jetted away from our good friends after a perfect day in Boston, I heard the words (from more than one Wellman), “I wish we didn’t have to leave already.”

It would become a common refrain.

Pulling away in my rental car, and seeing my grandmother close her front door made me wish for just a little more of that precious commodity we call “time.”

I can hardly stand to recall the tears of my mother as she hugged the kids, not knowing when she will see them again.

And there was the moment frozen in my memory, of my grandparents, standing on their front porch in the fading light, their hands raised at our parting. I couldn’t look very long–not with the tears blurring my vision.

When we originally left the states for Germany, we didn’t know how long our goodbyes would have to last. It ended up being six years–a lifetime in kid years.

There will be more partings before the final week of our trip is over, and I do not look forward to those.

But I have to remember, for every goodbye, there was an equally enthusiastic hello. For every tear drop, there were hours of laughter. For every parting hug, there were multiple good night hugs, good morning hugs, or the very best, hugs for no reason.
I have lingered over coffee, laughed over knitting, and have relished the simple joy of walking next to people who held me as a baby.

There have been a thousand conversations and stories and dreams shared.

There are hopes and wishes and prayers and kisses exchanged, and tender little hands held by ones rough with time and wear.

Whether our goodbyes will echo in our hearts four years or four months, and despite the sorrow we feel at parting, we will hold close the sweetness of being with those we love.

Italian Style

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When a new road is planned in Italy, engineers carefully extract spaghetti from a boiling pot, and fling the pasta at a map. Wherever the noodles stick is where new roads are built. While I cannot be certain of this method of road planning, driving for a week in Italy appears to validate my hypothesis. The Etruscan coast is rugged, and the lush hills of Toscana unflinchingly reject unsightly straight lines. It’s all part of the charm of Italy.

The Italians I met, when not navigating the tangled mass of roads, were friendly, relaxed, and talkative. They seemed to savor each small moment of life. And the Italian runners are fearless. I saw them everywhere: dodging busses on city streets, ignoring traffic through ancient towns, in teams with matching soccer jerseys, old couples, young couples, solitary women at night, solitary men in the morning, some with bright clothing, and others apparently trying to blend in. The baby strollers were reserved for late afternoon, when every mama and papa and grandparent met to stroll the beachfront, and let the bambinos play in the sand.

The most beautiful running trail I’ve ever seen stretched for one mile to the next town—I wish it had been longer. I could have run along the Mediterranean coast forever (at least for 26.2 miles).  

Because it was a short run, I set the pace one notch down from full-throttle. And I flew. I felt swift and light; and the run seemed effortless. I passed another jogger (a man), and was sad when I made it to the next town. I turned around and flew back along the path, listening to the sea gently lapping at the shore. I ran full-speed up a flight of wide steps, startling a deliver man, and stood at the bluff overlooking the ocean. It was the best run of my life; and I’m still trying to let the feeling of it seep into my soul.

That was the only run I did on the entire trip. As on most vacations, we were busy from morning until night. However, climbing the 463 steps of the Duomo in Florence has got to count for something. Then there were three hours of hiking through the Etruscan Archeological park at Populonia. But the best workout arose from sheer desperation.

If you are doing your wash at Camp Darby after 19:00, note that the commissary, the PX, the shoppette, the hotel reception desk, the bowling alley (it was Tuesday), and the Bistro will be closed. Furthermore, the vending machines on post enjoy taking your money, but they refuse to serve food after 7 pm. While we waited for our laundry, I watched the kids play at the park, and wondered how they could be so happy when they’d not had a bite to eat in over eight hours.

I had two options: I could go to the bar (the only establishment open), or I could test the physiological benefits of play. Instead of doing tequila shots (just to get the lime and salt, mind you), I opted to join the kids in a game of freeze tag. It was an hour of fun, joy, and tremendous physical exertion.

We made up a story to go along with our hunger. The children were starving orphans. I was the angel sent to guide them to the man who would save them. Once he adopted them, I would turn into a beautiful woman, we would get married, and the man, having washed all our laundry, would feed us dinner.

This story managed to detach the kids from the physical sensation of hunger. Instead of the hunger inciting whininess and bad behavior, it was just a part of the meta-narrative. My six year-old now claims that one of her favorite parts of the trip was being a starving orphan.

I am certain the ability to detach myself from physical discomfort will be of  great value in the marathon.

Whether I am navigating hairpin turns, or pumping my last coin into a dormant vending machine, I can endure these things with grace and a positive spirit. Moreover, in true Italian style, I can appreciate every tattered scrap of goodness that waves itself in front of me.

 These are things that will help me through the marathon.

 Stats:

Overall feeling: flabby due to a week of authentic Italian gluten-free pizza and pasta, steak, gelatto, and Chianti. But I think by the end of the week I’ll be back up to speed.

Miles: 2 last week in Italy; in Germany, 6 Sunday, 5 Tuesday.

Weather: sunny and in the 50s here in Germany. Italy, perfecto (60s & 70s), some clouds, but plenty of sun.

Terrain: back to avoiding tractors along the rolling hills of Franconia

Wildlife: my deer welcomed me home on Sunday. There are also a lot of rabbits & tractors. I’ve not seen a single person on the roads. Maybe they’re afraid of the volcanic ash?