Tag Archives: family travel
May 25, 2013

Perth — A Vibe and an Attitude that Fits

We wandered into Perth for a couple of days on our way up to Ningaloo reef. We hadn’t loved Adelaide, where we’d spent one night before flying on to Perth. While the surrounding areas – Kangaroo Island, the wine regions, and Hahndorf were wonderful – the city left us cold and ready to move on. Our hostel (the YHA in Adelaide Central), a cool bar table/pit at the pub where we had dinner, and the new airport were our only highlights from the 24 hours, a sure sign a city won’t be on our come-again-soon (or ever) list. By the time we got to Perth, we were jaded, fearing another let-down.

Silly to be so worried.  In its little corner of Western Australia, this smart, can-do city delivers on the charm, adventure and simple pleasures that make Australia one of our favorite destinations.

Melbourne brags about being the best of the best of Australia (which, by the way, it’s not really, in our opinion, but would be pretty darn cool if it quit bragging so much.)  Darwin is the entry point to the Outback – or so it seems – and revels in its too-cool-for-school rough and tumble self sufficiency. Cairns and Queensland have the Great Barrier Reef (enough said).  Sydney has that iconic Opera House, a harbor with ferry tale boats that bob around taking folks to and from work, the globe’s best New Year’s Eve fireworks (above one of the world’s coolest bridges) and world famous surf spots; to paraphrase Bill Bryson, no wonder those folks are so damn happy all the time.

And Western Australia? It sits over there on the other coast, some several thousand miles from the rest of the country, just doing its own thing.  We get it now. Why would they want to share the secret?

We did what we always do in a new place. We walk. We eat. We explore. In those first three or four hours after dropping our bags, we introduce ourselves, get to know each other.

It was the simple stuff that spoke to us.  The artsy, playful street scene in the downtown walking area, for example.  It’s not that we’ve not seen it in other cities – street musicians, playful fountains, acrobats doing various routines for a crowd – but here, it felt normal, like part of the vibe.

Take the random fountain. A young mom embraced it with her two children, allowing her toddler to run, dodge, jump and try to outwit the spurting water that shot up unexpectedly from the sidewalk.  The little girl squealed and giggled, and mom encouraged her, praising her bravery, even joining in and darting between the spurts with her stroller to get in on the action. And when the little girl was finished, drenched and happy, mom popped in the department store and bought dry clothes so her daughter could change before continuing on. Other parents with other strollers followed her lead, and soon the fountain was filled with giggling, happy pre-schoolers.  And the department store readied for the after-party. All this on an otherwise random Wednesday afternoon.

In Kings Park, two women sat with their perfectly outfitted folding table and chairs, their picnic basket, their glasses, their biscuits and their bottle of wine, chatting and nibbling and enjoying the afternoon.  All in the middle of the green lawns between the memorials where people walked and snoozed and caught up on their reading. And somehow, it looked perfectly at home, this tea party setting in the middle of the park. I choose to believe these two kindred souls meet there weekly, and the stories they share are honor-bound to those grounds, never to be spoken of outside that sacred spot.

The café scene is all it’s cracked up to be, with cool, hip spots on every corner, and coffee a religion as though spun off of the grounds shipped over from Seattle. Even public transportation is in on the action:  free buses carve a pattern through the main areas of the city – totally free! – so locals can get to and from without drama. When we hopped on, clueless, the bus driver and several passengers took time to help us map our route, made sure we got off at the right spots, and even made suggestions of things not to miss.

When planning long-term travel, you get it right some of the time, and other times, you realize you fumbled.  Perth is the jumping off point for the vast wilderness wonderland that stretches up the western coast and on to Broome, the Kimberlys and eventually into Darwin.  I routed us through Perth for a quick stop-over before flying up to Exmouth for our Ningaloo Reef and whale shark adventures, not understanding that in this part of the world, getting there really is half the fun.  We’ve already decided, next time through Australia, we’re setting aside a month to drive, explore, meander and get to know the place.

And of course, we’ll start that journey in Perth, where we, too, will dance in the street fountains and share secrets at a tea party right in the middle of the park.

Perth Australia Bus Sign



May 30, 2010

HEADING HOME . . . And Not Wanting it to End.

Munich airport, terminal one.  It’s early, cold, and pouring rain under an overcast and bleary sky.  Somehow fitting, it seems.  After two glorious months galavanting across Europe, we’re headed home.  Dusseldorf.  LA. And finally,  Honolulu.

No one’s saying much.  Rather quiet bunch.  All thinking the same – yet different — thoughts.  For me, it’s a time to reflect, ponder.  What are the “take-aways” from the experience?  After all the trains, cabs, buses, museums, ferries, funiculars, sights and subways,  how’ve we changed?  What goes home with us, becomes part of our fabric?

We’re travelers.  Unique, marching to the beat we’ve found to fit.  I marvel at the confident gait and stride these young vagabonders have cultivated.  Ipods, passports, paperbacks slung over their shoulder, they find their corner of the terminal the way their friends settle into their living room.

For Columbus and me, the business beckons. Payables, receivables, clients, marketing problem-solving.  We’ve been plugged in from afar – technology is an amazing thing – but it’s time to be back “in the office” actually touching it up close and personal.   And it’s summer – paddle season, sleep-away camps, hanging out with friends, summer programs . . . a whole sub culture to potentially get the kids plugged into, bringing order, purpose, and over-scheduling to the time traditionally reserved (at least in my day) for doing nothing at all.   We’ll find our way, I’m sure, but in our own time.  At the moment, all that activity feels like organized chaos (or “cha-chos” as Sacagawea calls it).  We’ll ease back in, one day at a time, until we find our step.  Reconnect with friends.  Weave the fibers of the experiences into our own fabrics.  Unpack.  Pay some bills. Do some writing.  It’s a clean slate, summer, and a chance to fill the palate as we want.  Don’t rush.  Get it right.

Then we’ll be off again to another part of the globe, our little family exploring the planet one place at a time.

May 10, 2010

Finding Our Juju in Italy

It’s probably the gelato.  Or the romantic language.  Or perhaps it’s simply the sheer silliness of the national stubbornness, particularly when it makes the least sense.  Somehow, we believe we might have been Italian in another life.  Never mind the freckles, fair skin and red hair.  It just feels like we belong here.  Not at first, of course.  Home isn’t always home right away.  But it happens.   It’s Italian we keep defaulting to, forgetting it’s not the language of Croatia, or Greece, or Turkey, or that we really don’t know Italian in the first place.NAPLES ITALY

We flex our vagabonding muscles in Italy. It’s where we exhale, eat well, devour gelato, and kick back.  We revel in the confusion.  We laugh at ourselves and the awkwardness of global travel.  We find our spirit, our juju, alive and well and looking for adventure.

When befuddled shipmates almost stumbled onto a train bound to Pisa instead of Rome, Dundee jumped in, gently guiding them to the correct platform.  When a wheelchair-bound passenger had trouble making it across the tracks, it was Sacagawea and Dundee who nudged fellow passengers to help the guy hoist his chair (and himself) into the train as the heavy doors clanked closed.   I watch and learn, sheepishly recalling how many times I’ve stood silent in similar moments.

Making our way from Naples to Pompei by train and bus,  it’s clear we’re being followed.   A heavy-set Hispanic kid — early 20’s in baggy jeans, t-shirt and hip white sneakers, new and expensive — kept a steady pace, far enough back to not engage, but always just there, all the same.  We got off the bus at the wrong stop, so did he.  We crossed the street unnecessarily – and crossed back – so did he. I checked my money belt, confirming it was secure, and pulled the kids a bit closer.

We asked directions, and he stopped, loitering aimlessly until we moved on..  He shuffled when he walked, head down, as though trying to hide, be absorbed by the sidewalk.  His soulful brown eyes darted away, but always kept us in sight.

“Excuse me,” I said, suddenly turning to face him.  He jumped back, surprised.  “Do you know the best way to get to the train station for Pompeii?”

“No,” he replied sheepishly, staring at his shuffling feet.  I let the silence hang, staring at him.   “It’s my first time here and I don’t know how to get there.  I only have a few hours before I have to be back onboard, and want to see it, Pompeii.  I’m following you, hoping you’ll lead the way.”

POMPEII SCAVIAt least I got part of it right.   Hispanic, from Guatemala.   A shy kid, determined to see the world.   We reminded him of his family back home,  he said.  Thought he’d just tag along.  My money belt, quite safe, seemed we’d picked up another kid for the day.  A global “play date” of sorts, a new buddy for Dundee (and the rest of us.)  And together, we found Pompeii.

May 1, 2010


SARANDE ALBANIAChatting with our fellow cruisers back onboard at the end of the day in Sarande, it was hard to believe we’d been in the same spot.  “Poor . . .not much to see . . . horrible roads . . .” were the reports we heard from fellow travelers.  We were confounded.    For us, it was something else entirely.  A new frontier, not yet “discovered” by the hordes of Med visitors, a raw country, finding its way into the 21st century amidst its history of bomb shelters and spectacular scenery.   Having a chance to explore it was one of the highlights of this itinerary — a place where we’re not jaundiced with preconceived notions, stories from other travelers, and endless websites touting various must-do-must-see sites and activities.   Just us, and a country we knew almost nothing about.  Until today.

For me, Albania is one of those places I’ve heard about for years, but never really knew where it was, much less what it was like.  It was a bit embarrassing to realize my images of babushkas and cold climate were trumped by stunning Mediterranean vistas and a warm-but-cautious people.  There are almost as many bunkers as people in Albania, a visible reminder of its paranoid past.  School holidays were set aside so children could help build the bunkers, our driver explained, “to protect us from the enemy.”  It wasn’t lost on me that we were the enemies he’d been warned about.

While most of our fellow travelers opted to stay on the ship, or perhaps venture out on a sanitized bus tour, we opted instead to spend the day with Durim, a local cab driver we found near the port.  His perfectly detailed Mercedes minivan stood in stark contrast to the abandoned construction and work-in-progress that defines Sarande.   He spoke halting English, but bragged that his daughters speak perfect English.  It’s taught in schools now, and children learn it early, then teach their parents, he explained.

From the hillside castle, we enjoyed captivating vistas across farmland and beyond, to the Greek Isles of the Med.  The brilliant blue sky against the sparkling water and lush islands created a computer wallpaper type scene, almost too beautiful to comprehend, particularly enchanting since we were the only people in sight, save the caretaker slowly sweeping the decks.  Then that diesel roar groaned, a caravan of buses careening up the hill, “sticker people” as the kids call them, ready to descend on this quaint little castle.  But wait!  As the hoards descend, Sacagawea and Dundee spot their shipboard buddies, Morgan and Theo (parents in tow) stumbling off the bus.  Their faces tell the story . . . the bus ride is miserable.  Details follow:  the stench of carsick travelers, AC that’s not quite working,  two boys who want to be anywhere but there.  “Join us!” the kids plea, and without hesitation, our friends ditch the bus for Durim’s Mercedes, and our own version of touring.

We hiked through the Butrint ruins, a UNESCO site of dating back to 6th century BC.  Nestled in a wooded forest of sorts, the ruins meet nature’s strength, half covered in vines, trees and overgrowth.  A small museum is tucked in one corner, locked until the caretaker saw us try the door.  He opened just for us, where we saw carefully preserved pottery, urns, and a burial vase with the remains of a newborn.  Our arrival at Butrint was newsworthy in itself, crossing a small river on a single vehicle ferry raft, loosely following an aging track while two boatsmen guide us into place.  For four children (two of whom had just escaped a bus prison), this ferry was something from an Indiana Jones adventure.ALBANIA

Blue Eye (or Syri Kalter as it’s known in Albania) was, without question, the highlight of the day.  A breathtakingly beautiful natural preserve, the area was once reserved for the communist elite of the country — Albania’s Camp David of sorts.  Small cabins and a restaurant remain, evidence of it’s former life.  The starring attraction is the natural spring,  The Blue Eye, a 45-metre deep water spring set amid a forest of hazelnuts, walnuts, cherries, pines and fir trees.  The water in the inner part of the spring appears very dark blue, like the pupil of an eye, while a lighter blue defines an outer ring, the iris, thus creating the eye illusion.  Insanely beautiful, captivating . . . hard to believe its here, tucked away in a small corner of this emerging country.

Back in Sarande and not quite ready to leave this place, we bid farewell to Durim and walk the streets, peeking in on a wedding reception in a waterfront restaurant.  A car suddenly pulled up next to us, honking to get our attention.  Jarred a bit, and almost frightened, I turned quickly and immediately relaxed.  It was Durim, with his family in tow.  He’d gone to find them, to introduce them to us, so his daughters could practice their English.  He came bearing gifts, a bottle of Albanian wine for us to take back onboard.  We’d explored a country forgotten, and in the process, found a friend.  Very cool, indeed.

April 28, 2010



Sacagawea strikes a pose at the Trevi Fountain in 2008.


. . . and again, striking a pose in 2010.

Civitavecchia, Rome’s port, is one of those sprawling port cities that conjure images of seafarers, trade routes, and debauchery.  For most, it’s a place you pass through, headed to the bigger draw.   Memories flooded back of our last visit here, two years ago, when we had lunch under the olive trees in a backyard trattoria near Rome’s catacombs.  To this day,  the best meal we’ve ever had.   That time, we had a driver for the day and stormed Rome with a vengeance.  This time, we’re on a different budget, and a different mission, exploring by foot and by train.  From tourists to travelers perhaps?

In St. Peters Square, we joined the throngs for the weekly papal address.  A sunny spring morning, the sun glistening off the imposing architecture, designed by Bernini to intimidate.  It still works, hundreds of years later.   It was one of those moments – and as a homeschool traveling parent skipping the traditional route for a road less traveled, I live for these moments — when it all comes together.  Like a gentle tap on the shoulder, “oh yeah, this is why we’re doing this.” This choice, this lifestyle, it’s working.

Rome inspires.  It’s just one of those cities.  We love the chaos, the sprawl, the old amidst the new, tourists, travelers, and locals all jostling for space.  Wandering the Vatican with Agnes, our RomeWalks guide for the morning, we learned of Papal intrigue and holy discord, along with a good dose of history, art appreciation and local culture.   Sacagawea hung right with her, particularly amused by the story of Michelangelo’s debate with the church to  “clothe or not to clothe” the minor players in the magnificent mural of the Sistine Chapel.  Seems that one of the Pope’s advisors held a strong anti-nudity view, and lobbied the Pope mercilessly, much to Michelangelo’s irritation.  (Remember, he didn’t really want to do this job in the first place.)  The master prevailed, of course, and to forever remind the Pope’s advisor of his failing, painted him into the crowd being tossed to the jaws of hell – naked, of course – with a serpent wrapped around him, jaws aimed towards a particularly delicate region.  (Ouch.  Moral of the story:  Don’t argue with the master.)

As the day drew to a close, we found our way to the Trevi Fountain, a personal tradition of coin tossing and gelato.  Sacagawea and Dundee were determined, and took off to find that favorite photo spot, and that gelato joint.  They remembered is perfectly and led the way.   We tossed our coins and jockeyed for position to snap the family photo – same spot, two years later.  A new family tradition, it seems.  And one that’s likely to be honored again and again.

January 18, 2010

Making Connections . . . and Making It Matter

Some days, magic just happens, and I’m reminded why we’ve embarked on our 21st century roadschool adventure.  Today was one of those days.

It’s Martin Luther King Day, and I knew we wanted to make it matter, but in a hands-on-real-life-to-me kind of way, not the worksheets and I Have a Dream posters they’ve come home with in years past.  And as I suspected, they’d paid attention in school, so knew the basics cold and could recite them perfectly.  But there’s so much more to the story . . . Like, why did it matter?  When in the context of history did Dr. King march?  And what does “march” mean, anyway?    Why did he do it . . .why did he need to do it?  What was the world like then, and how have things changed…or have they?

We tackled it all, starting with a brief review the timeline of historical events…the Civil War, then WW II, then the Civil Rights Movement.  They immediately remembered Dorie Miller, who they came to know in our WW II work, the black man who saved so many, including his commanding officer, during the attack, but was passed over for recognition because of his color.  We talked about hatred, and drew the connections between the Klan and the Holocaust, another dark period in history that they came to know so well during our WW II study and our subsequent visit to the Holocaust Museum in DC.  We then watched Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech on YouTube, and talked about standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial — as we just did on our last adventure — and picturing the crowds outstretched before him.  We watched Walter Chronkite announce his tragic assignation, and talked about the media’s role in reporting these historic moments, then looked at pictures of the Lorraine Motel, in Memphis, just minutes from my hometown and family members they know and love.  When we saw Jesse Jackson standing with Dr. King, we talked about his role in black history, and pulled up segments from election night 2008 in Chicago, when Obama was elected and all America — and the world — watched his speech from Grant Park, a spot we’d just seen when we visited Chicago a couple of short months ago.  We watched Jesse Jackson weep as Obama spoke of change, and looked back at the young pictures of Jackson standing with King.  They drew the connections of hatred, and discussed the similarities between the Klan, the Nazis, and today’s terrorists.

We watched videos of Congressman John Lewis, talking about the role of young Americans to question their nation, their leaders, and their future, when they believe wrongs are being done.  I watched them closely as they listened to Congressman Lewis remind them that it’s young people — folks just like them — who actually force change in this country,and in the world.  They heard him, and were empowered.

Then we spent the afternoon watching the movie, Remember the Titans.  A family favorite, this time we watched it with a different eye.  We heard the reference to Dr. King, and talked about it.  We considered what it was like for a black coach to move into a white neighborhood, and talked about what motivated the owner of the diner to refuse service.  And mostly, we talked about the transformation of the story’s main characters as they — just as Dr. King discussed — discovered the content of the character, not the color of their skin, of their fellow team mates. And we noted that, just as Congressman Lewis had said, it was the young people of the community — not the adults — who forced the change that brought unity and quelled the hatred.

We brought history to life today, in our own little corner of the world, and we connected it to the places we’ve been, the stories we know, and our own life experiences.  We explored social justice, global connections, and our place as community stewards.  It was a good day.  Somehow, I think Dr. King would’ve approved.