Returning from our European adventure was quite an emotional experience for me. Traveling throughout Europe for 7 months was a dream come true. We had planned and saved for years and I really wasn’t sure what we were going to do once we got back. We moved back into our old house (literally, it is 106 years old) without much of a plan. Now back to the drawing board to get it going again.
First things first, we needed to get the girls back in school and figure out how we were going to make money again. Our finances had dwindled down from our travels, so we sold a piece of real estate to help get us going again. My husband set out with a new job and I struggled to get my grounding, feeling uninspired and lost. I had dreamed of traveling for so long and now I knew that had come to an end, for now. We promised our kids to stay in one place until they were out of high school, so we were here to stay and had to settle in.
The shift from being constantly on the go and experiencing new things everyday to going back to old routines and familiar places was quite huge. We were excited to see family and friends again and have some downtime. We were also very happy to get back to being with our family pets that we had to leave behind, the girls were happy to play soccer again, and just gearing down with the ease of familiar foods and no language barriers made things simple. My husband was completely burnt out on loading and unloading the car (we only had to pack and unpack 48 times, not sure why he was complaining, ha!) and I was getting tired of always feeling a little lost, so our customary ways are not so bad.
Now, after being back for just a little more than a year, we have jumped back into our always changing, yet everyday life. The girls got right back into school, friends and soccer. They have done great and have had a better understanding and appreciation from having seen so much from traveling. My husband has now started his own business which is getting off to a good start, but of course, has its stresses. I though, am still struggling to get a foothold, but think I have finally found a way. I really enjoyed writing this blog about our travels and have not felt able to write since we have been back. I guess it is just that I haven’t had much to say. It has been really hard to switch back into my old way of living, I have been struggling and stuck, instead of appreciating the fact that I even had this opportunity to travel in the first place and am so lucky in my life. I feel like traveling is such a big part of what makes me happy and now that our incredible journey is over, I just haven’t been able to figure out what to do next. I have a plan now though, and it starts with getting back to what I really enjoy doing; blogging, taking pictures and I have started writing a travel guide for kids. I figure if I cannot travel at the moment, at least I can dream about it. Oh, and I do need to fix up our old house too. So now I am ready to get going again! Okay, here we go. I am really going now. Let’s go. For real this time. That is it, committing now! 1-2-3! Go!!!
Gorgeous, breathtaking, moving and complete awe for this beautiful planet we live on gives you a sense of what we felt as we walked along the coast of Spain’s Costa Brava. We are heading out for another hike today, but wanted to share a few photos of yesterdays tour. Hard to capture it’s true beauty. Reminded me of parts of California’s coastline, which we will be back to soon! Again feeling very lucky!
Today, we enjoyed watching all the fun of Carnival in Spain. Carnival is celebrated all over Europe (and of course, Brazil) where each country puts their own twist to the celebration It is a wonderful celebration of family and community. We saw all ages dancing and singing through the streets, it was great! The different towns compete for the best costumes, dance choreography, and floats. Tough competition this year in Lloret de Mar. We felt very lucky to be part of this great tradition!
When we just really needed some warm weather and sunshine we found it in Mallorca. This incredible island off the coast of Spain, a quick 30 minute flight from Barcelona, is a very special place. It is part of the Balearic Islands which also includes, Ibiza, Menorca and Formentera. It is the home of Rafa Nadal and Carlos Moya, both who have been #1 in men’s tennis. We were so lucky to have warm weather and even a touch of spring. The almond trees were just beginning to bloom and we found fields covered in white and yellow flowers, so nice to see, as it has been a long cold winter. For those of us from Southern California, any winter is a long cold winter, and we have had our share of snow and cold this year traveling through Europe, so this warming trend was very much appreciated.
During the busy summer season, tourists can outnumber the locals 15 to 1. There are lots of German and English visitors, and many have bought second homes on the island. One of the really nice things about us traveling during the winter is that we are in such an off season, that there are no lines and the beaches are almost deserted but it is also a little chilly. It was nice to have the island to ourselves, but many of the restaurants are closed or have shorter hours. We ended up just grabbing some fruit, baguettes and cheeses and headed to the beach, we made the most of it…
We played tennis, went swimming, hiking, enjoyed the beautiful beaches, explored caves, did some wine tasting (Mallorca has several types of grapes only grown on the island) and we had some really nice meals. It was wonderful and we did not feel like leaving but we did.
Sadly, it is our last day in Salzburg. Our lovely host arranged for us to go out into the forest where we were able to watch a deer feeding. We saw approximately 150 deer. They are fed everyday once food becomes scarce, usually starting around December 1st. The hunters set out food as they are required to help take care of the deer during the winter, seems only fair… We hiked out through the snow to a viewing platform, where you sit quietly, as the deer come down the hillside to feed. Thankfully, we were given blankets to help keep us warm, since the cold took our breath away, we are not quite use to it.
Afterwards, we drove through the lake region, which again took our breath away, it was so beautiful. We then stopped and walked through our last Austrian Christmas Market. It was magical with lights, carolers and all the festivities. We are truly going to miss Austria, we have really loved being here!
When we first decided to embark on our European tour, panic set in about how we were going to educate our daughters. Yes, traveling on its own is an amazing education, but I certainly did not want to mess it up. Their education is incredibly important to us, as is their having a fulfilling and adventure full life, so hopefully we will combine the two. With lots of research and questions asked, we embarked on our homeschooling journey.
I read that it is important to find how your child learns best and then tailor their learning with that in mind. So the very first thing we did was to give them this quick and easy test and have based their lessons from this. My oldest daughter responds well to learning by reading and kinesthetics. My younger daughter is also a kinesthetic learner, as well as auditory. All of their learning types work well with traveling, thankfully. We have lots of time to read, we are on a constant “field trip” and have had the wonderful luxury to have many long conversations that we never really had time for (so sad) in the past with our busy schedules. If you are interested in finding more about the test I gave them, it is called the Vark test.
I have written about homeschooling already on this blog, but it was before we actually tried it. We now have been going for 3 months and seem to be getting into a routine. Our not so typical routine is to sight-see one day and homeschool the next. Sometimes we school for two days in a row, sometimes we are traveling for two days. We may also spend half the day out and about and half the day homeschooling. We homeschool on Saturday or Sunday too, if needed. The girls definitely like staying in their PJ’s or comfy clothes all day, and I like not having to go through that crazy morning routine, rushing to barely get to school on time.
On days where we homeschool our schedule goes something along these lines. After breakfast, we start with some warm up logic puzzles and math word problems. I picked up a few books before we left and one of our teachers gave us a daily math problem booklet. Next, they write in their journals. Usually, there is a lot to write about from their travel adventures. They also have a nature and sketching journal where we have put in leaves and petals that we have found on walks and where they can sketch castles, country flags or anything they want to put in for their memories. We will then do some languages and I have found (through my sister) a podcast called Coffee Break French to be a quick and easy introduction to the beautiful French language. There are many different languages in this series and we will most likely try to learn a little bit for each of the countries we are visiting. To know just your basic hello and thank you is appreciated and really the right thing to do. We just learned some basic Dutch and Flemish greetings. Both girls have really enjoyed learning French and would like to continue with it, when we return back home.
After languages, we usually set into the core curriculum subjects with math, science, social science and language arts. All are done online and with textbooks and workbooks. We are using http://www.time4learning.com as our basic online course and have been supplementing with other online sources such as http://www.khanacademy.com and http://www.brainpop.com. We are reading lots of books and both girls are working on writing a story using a fun online site called http://www.nanowrimo.org. They are having a great writing project for the month of November, check it out. We bought several textbooks and workbooks before we left, as well.
In addition to the core curriculum, we have been doing small reports on each country that we have visited along with art projects relating to artists from each country. This is probably my favorite part! We have studied Monet when we were in France, John Everett Millais and John Constable when we were in England, Johannes Vermeer in the Netherlands and now Jan van Eyck, here in Belgium. You can really experience where each artist was inspired by walking in their footsteps, viewing the landscapes and cities. It really adds to our understanding.
The most challenging part of homeschooling for me has been time, it takes a lot of time to plan lessons. I want to make learning fun for them and we do not have easy access to materials so we have to get creative. It is a good lesson on making do with what we have and it always turns out to be enough. I do get nervous that we are not covering everything as thoroughly as they would be in their public school but it will all work out in the long run, I am sure!
We have two carry-on sized suitcases that have become our traveling desks. They are filled with text books, workbooks, regular paperback books, journals, files, writing and art materials along with paper. They are heavy but it is working for us so far. We also have our technological devices…Kindles, an iPad and two laptop computers, one of which lost it’s power cord (it started to smoke) so we need to fix that issue… Having all the correct power adapters are important but it really has been as simple as logging into wifi and we are off. Amazing technology!
Overall, I am happy with our homeschooling thus far. I think we are becoming better at it as we go through it. It is still a little odd for the girls to have their parents teach them though, and it is much easier for them to take advantage of us, I readily admit. We have had to lay down some rules and remind them how lucky we are. All in all though, I can honestly say that we are learning so many new things on a daily basis. I feel so inspired and alive. I see all of us growing closer to each other and connecting like never before. With their education, we are so involved that we can really fine tune areas that are needed and explore areas that they are really interested in. It is pretty great! I have never experienced anything like it.
There is something for everyone at the Tower of London. History, drama, trickery, weapons, torture, death, royalty and lots and lots of diamonds. Since we did not arrive until the afternoon we ran out of time to see the “rack” which my husband was tortured by missing (pun intended, sorry…).
We took the walking tour with a Beefeater, who is also known as, the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary (what a name…I would go with Beefeater too!). He showed us around the incredible grounds of the Tower and then we headed inside to see the Crown Jewels. There are over 11 tons of gold and some of the largest diamonds in the world, absolutely stunning! We viewed Queen Elizabeth II’s crown, which she will wear for the State Opening of Parliament in early November.
On our way out, my husband and daughter met the first female Beefeater and then a gentleman who worked at the Tower and he gave my daughters a special pin from a recent opening of an exhibition at the Tower. The same pins had been given to some of the members of the Royal Family when they attended the opening. We felt very lucky! He then brought us up to a private area in the Middle Tower, which is where his office was located. We were able to climb to the top of the Tower and had an amazing view of Tower Bridge. He told us about meeting some of the Royal Family and his experience as an expert on Admiral Lord Nelson, the infamous royal naval hero. It was quite an exciting afternoon! One we will always remember!
Our experience of eating in France has been no less than a delectable celebration of food. Every meal we have had here has been incredible. Food is very regional and being in Normandy, we have certainly enjoyed our fair share of Camembert cheese. One of the most delicious meals we enjoyed was a stew with chicken, potatoes, carrots, broccoli and mushrooms all sitting in melted Camembert cheese. I am afraid to know how many calories.
Baguettes have quickly become part of our daily ritual. We watched families buy 5 or more baguettes in the markets and at first we thought they were crazy, and now we completely understand how you must eat a baguette with pretty much everything. Cheese, of course, but with soups and for sandwiches, also. It is a staple for us now!
We have become friends with the waiter at the local Creperie. Since we are eating with kids, we have to make sure there is something for everyone on the menu, and this place has it all. Galettes are savory crepes and you can have them several ways. Ham and cheese being the most common but the choices go way beyond my French translation. Our girls had the most amazing pizza served on a puff pastry instead of pizza dough, it was out of this world. My husband and I shared a puff pastry filled with goat cheese and tomatoes and I about died, yes from my arteries being clogged and also the euphoric sensation of every bite, it was truly that good!
The fun doesn’t stop there though because for dessert it is time for the sweet crepes, which you can have with a multitude of toppings, plain sugar to caramel to Nutella and bananas. From there you can add ice cream or even have it flambéed, quite lovely indeed.
We have been to several of the weekly farmer’s markets. You can find one any day of the week. Fresh cheeses, dairy, meats, produce, pastries, bread and local ciders are just some of the treats you may come across. It is great to watch the locals collect their delicious ingredients to take home. Many of the vendors have beautiful displays showcasing their goods. It is a busy place with so many interesting things to experience. I am really looking forward to checking in on some of the markets in Paris, when we return to France in November. That should be another unforgettable time. I better get in some exercise before then…
Honfleur is not to be missed on a trip through Normandy. Claude Monet spent a lot of time here painting it’s harbor and streets. It is easy to see why, Honfleur is breathtaking! I am so thankful to have visited, especially as we head to Giverny, Monet’s home, tomorrow. Traveling, ahhhhh! Good stuff!