This is a blog about the 3 of us... Leslie, Jacob (me) and our son Vaughn (he's 9) taking some time out of our lives to travel.

We've sold our house, taken sabbaticals from work, put our belongings in a 10'x20' storage unit and are flying to Amsterdam next week to start on a fabulous six month journey.

 

Homeward Bound

December 16th - We are sitting in the airport at Zurich headed back to the States on a layover from Tel Aviv. The last flight was four hours and the end of it was so turbulent that I thought I might be sick. It was one of those flights where the passengers clapped when it finally slowed on the runway. Now that we are safe on the ground inside the airport in a little cafe I’m feeling a little bit better.

We are homeward bound after five and a half months on the road traveling through 13 countries on two continents. We are all exhausted and looking forward to being back in the US where we will have the luxuries of the familiar: good friends, our cat Hannah (thanks Tom and Phil for watching her all these months!), a house to call home and little things like food with labels that we can read and street signs that we can understand. It’s safe to say that all three of us have acquired a new appreciation for simple things after being on the road for so long.

Our next flight that will take us to San Francisco leaves in a couple of hours and I’m taking some time to write my final travel blog post. I appreciate all of the feedback that I’ve gotten along the way - this is my first blog ever and at times it’s been hard to keep up!

We’ve all grown a tremendous amount over the course of the trip and have gotten to know each other and appreciate each other in new ways that are different than when we were just living our lives at home in Portland. In deciding to travel, we sold our house and quit our jobs and gave up a lot of security (at least perceived security) in exchange for adventure. At times this has been scary but well worth the experience. Leslie and I have witnessed Vaughn mature, both intellectually and emotionally and have been blessed to be able to spend so much time with him. We are both so proud of him. Everywhere we’ve gone we’ve heard from families that we’ve stayed with what a bright, polite and caring child he is. He’s been one amazingly patient traveling buddy, that’s for sure.

As a parent, I feel really thankful for the opportunity to expose him to so many different ways that people live, rich historic sights and most of all give him the gift of stepping outside of his environment to see that the world is a big, exciting place full of amazing and wonderful people. We’ve been really touched by all of the people that we’ve met along the way that have taken time from their lives during our journey to make us feel at home, cook delicious meals and take us to places that are special to them.

One of the things that I’ve been appreciative for in traveling is that we’ve learned to do with very few belongings and, even though we did collect some things along the way, have been living out of a couple of bags of possessions each. In terms of toys and entertainment, Vaughn has managed extremely well with a set of drawing pencils, books, a coin collection filled with coins from places we visited, a basketball, football, soccer ball, some legos that were a gift from one of his couchsurfing buddies and a handful of other small items. And of course, a laptop and internet connection wherever possible.

We are spending the next ten days in Santa Cruz and San Jose and excited to be together with Leslie’s family for Christmas and meet our newest niece London! She was born just after we left on our trip so she’s almost 6 months old. We’ll be heading back to Portland the last week in December and looking forward to settling in, cooking some home-made meals, spending time with friends and starting the next chapter in our lives.

December 13th - This is the second Petra posting - I didn’t have enough space to post all of the pictures in one post.

The “Monastery” (first photo above) is the tallest monument in Petra (more than 150 feet high). In order to get there you have to walk about 45 minutes down to the base of the mountain and hike up 800 stairs carved into the sandstone rock. It took us about an hour to get up there. All along the way there are Bedouin people selling scarves, silver and other knick-knack souvenirs and offering “special” tea. If you look really closely in the photo you can see my brother and Vaughn and I standing in the doorway. The monument is impressive!

The “Treasury” stands about 125 feet tall. It’s name comes from a local Bedouin legend that the pharaoh hid a treasure in the urn (top center) and you can see bullet holes from the shooting at the urn to try to retrieve the treasure. There was no treasure as the urn was part of the solid rock carving. The carving dates back to 60 BC.

I’ve also marked up a map with our travels through Israel and Jordan (last picture above). We sure have done a lot in the two weeks that we’ve been here. Thanks mom and dad for planning such a special trip!

December 13th - We arrived back in Haifa tonight after spending two nights in Petra. We left Petra this morning at 7am and arrived home at around 8pm. We took a couple of taxis, a bus, the train and a plane to get back and it was a long trip. Needless to say, we are all pretty exhausted. I had so many photos from Petra that I needed to split them up into two posts since I can only post up to ten pictures in each post.

The photos in this one show Vaughn helping to make a little sand bottle with an artist on the Israel/Jordan border and some other pictures of the local Bedouin people living in Petra. They use to live in the caved carved into the rock but as of 25 years ago nobody is allowed to sleep in the park.

The one of the little girl was one that my brother took - like many of the children in the canyon, she was (dramatically) selling postcards of Petra as we made our way down to the monument.

We arrived mid-morning and found our hostel which was right in the center of the little town and close to lots of places to eat and a short walk to the entrance to the park. After having some Turkish coffee, hummus and pita at a little restaurant on the corner from our hostel, walked down and purchased a two day passes. The passes cost half as much if you were staying overnight in one of the local hotels so when we showed them our receipt it cost us $80 for two days. Vaughn was free which was a score.

I’d read a bit about Petra prior to our trip there but was totally unprepared for how spectacular it is. Flash floods and rivers have eroded away the massive sandstone rock, leaving a beautiful and natural channel that was once used as a passageway for the Nabataean people to travel through the desert in the 6th century BC.

Carved into miles of sandstone are enormous monuments that are astounding, both for their beauty but also sheer size, some of them as big as 150 feet high. There are two that are particularly jaw dropping: the “Treasury” and the “Monastery” (pictures in the next blog post).

December 10th - we’ve spent the last 3 days in Eilat, a little city in southern Israel on a peninsula on the Red Sea with Jordan to the West and Egypt and Saudi Arabia to the East. My mom, dad, brother, Leslie, Vaughn and I took a bus to get to the train station in Haifa and then a train to Tel Aviv, caught a flight to Eilat and took a taxi to a little apartment that we are staying in.

It’s been so great to spend time with my family - I haven’t seen my brother in eight years and Vaughn has been so excited to finally meet him. He’s been great with Vaughn and it’s really fun to see them have a good time playing together. With all of us living so far apart, our family doesn’t get together very often - the last time was when Leslie and I got married in 1998. We’ve all been enjoying catching up and have a lot to talk about.

We spent the first day at an amazing aquarium that had a glass bottom boat tour of the coral reef and an amazing array of various tanks with some of the most beautiful fish I’ve ever seen. Yesterday we went out into the Red Sea and snorkeled around and checked out the reef along the beach. We picked up a disposable underwater camera from the gift shop and took some fun pics in the sea.

Today we went back and laid around on the beach again; it’s been really hot here and we’ve been trying to soak it all in and appreciate the warmth. Tomorrow early in the morning we are crossing the Israel/Jordan border and heading to Petra for 2 nights before returning to Haifa.

December 5th - Today we took a road trip to the old city of Jerusalem. We left mid morning and all packed into the car for the 3 hour drive from Haifa. My brother got here yesterday - he was in Ireland on business- and it’s been great to see him. We had a nice time catching up on the drive and arrived a few minutes late and had to bolt through the city but managed to catch the tour just after it started.

Vaughn and I went on the tour a couple of years ago when we were here but this is Leslie’s first time. My parents go to Jerusalem quite often and have done the tunnel tour a number of times - my brother has been there five times in the last five months since he’s been living with my parents in Haifa. The tour is fascinating and, while the tunnels are a bit tight at times, the guide took us along the Western Wall and showed us some of the first stones laid for the foundation of Jerusalem - stones that weighed up to 600 tons - approximately the size of 200 elephants. We learned about the history of Jerusalem and saw one of the original aqueducts dating back to King Herod’s time. One of the most interesting parts for me was the area where work on the city was halted when the Roman’s invaded Jerusalem in 63 BC; there are some columns that were being carved and are halfway completed sitting in place as they were 2,000 years ago.

We walked by the Wailing Wall, Dome of the Rock (where Mohamed was believed to ascend to heaven) through the Muslim Quarter and ate lunch at a little restaurant in the Jewish Quarter that had really great hummus and falafel.

On the way back through the city we noticed a little arcade in the Muslim quarter and stopped in to play some games with Vaughn. There was a box soccer table and, in the spirit of a little brotherly competition, I played a few games with Aaron (in which I was embarrassingly and quickly beat). A crowd of kids gathered and soon enough we had some two-on-two games going with the locals.

On the way out of Jerusalem we stopped by and picked up some souvenirs and headed back to Haifa.

December 4th - After leaving the Dead Sea we headed south to the Negev desert and stayed in a little hut overnight on a camel ranch. The ranch has an area where people gather for tea and dinner so we made our way over to the dining area and enjoyed tea from hand picked herbs that grow in the area in the springtime. The hosts were very hospitable and made us a an amazing traditional camel shepherd’s dinner which consisted of a vegan stew, lentils, crunchy fire-cooked bread, cucumber and tomato salad and rice.

This morning we took a one hour camel ride through the desert on a road that was more than 3,000 years old. After an hour with the tour guide, I’m full of camel facts:

  • They can drink up to 45 gallons of water in 10 minutes and store it for up to two weeks in the middle of the summer in hot conditions
  • They have a 3rd eyelid that is transparent that keeps sand out of their eyes
  • They can understand up to 25 verbal commands
  • They live somewhere in the vicinity of 40 years

It’s been fun staying in the desert - since it’s the beginning of December it’s not too hot but it’s a bit too dusty for me.

December 3rd - We arrived in Tel Aviv early in the morning a couple of days ago and my parents picked us up from the airport - it’s so great to see them! It’s been two and a half years since we were here last and it’s good to be back. They’ve spent a lot of time arranging a myriad of exciting things for us to do on the trip: a trip to Jordan (Petra), visiting a camel ranch, the Sea of Galilee and lots of other stuff.

My mom teaches English to a lot of kids here and last night she threw a party so that Vaughn could meet them and it was really fun - a spelling bee, apple bobbing, Jenga, falafels and candy. What kid wouldn’t like all of that? It was really neat to see how much they all enjoyed the spelling bee part - they’ve all worked so hard on their English.

Today we drove a couple of hours from Haifa to the Dead Sea and stopped there before continuing on down to a camel ranch where we are spending the night.

The Dead Sea is about 33% salt and, due to the high saline percentage, you actually float like a cork which makes being in the water is a really strange sensation. As I learned first-hand, it’s important not to get water into your mouth or your eyes - the salt really burns. It’s also the lowest point on earth (on dry land). There isn’t anything living in the sea but interestingly, there are “sink holes” (according to the locals) where people are pulled under and disappear in the sea. There are signs along the highway warning passing traffic not to stop and swim in the water. Freaky.

After swimming in the sea, we stopped at a salad place nearby before continuing down to southern Israel to spend some time on the camel ranch.

November 29th - We’ve spent the last week laying low in a cabin just outside of Salzburg getting ready for our trip to Israel where my parents have a HUGE amount of plans for us. It’s been 2 and a half years since we’ve been there and it should be lots of fun.

Our hosts here are really great - they made us a cake when we arrived and a couple of days ago brought us some traditional Austrian pastries. We are staying in a little apartment with a view of the mountains and a kitchen where we’ve been cooking up some delicious meals. Vaughn has a new found interest in cooking and has been insisting on cooking Leslie and me dinner. He’s quite a little chopper but still needs help figuring out when the pasta is cooked.

The town of Radstadt is small - we walked through it and circled back around behind it in about 1/2 an hour. We were surprised to find a great little Bio store that sells organic groceries and even some tempeh and tofu. There’s a cafe attached and we ate a yummy meal the first day we were here.

We’ve spent some time walking around the trails in the Austrian Alps overlooking the city and tried to make our way up to the mountain to go skiing but unfortunately the lifts were closed due to heavy wind. There isn’t too much snow around which is disappointing. I guess we’ll have to wait until we get back to Portland to spend time in the snow. All-in-all, it’s been a great place to end the European part of our trip - it’s quiet and we’ve had time to regroup and store up energy for the last 2 and a half weeks in Israel and Jordan.

Vaughn and I also went to a water park (there are a lot of water parks in Europe!) that turned out to be really extensive - a wave pool, sauna rooms, optional mud treatments (we didn’t do these) and 6 or 7 hot tubs all varying degrees. The pools were all saline treated as opposed to chlorine so that was nice.

Tomorrow morning we head out to Munich and then on to Haifa…

November 21st - The past 3 days we’ve spent in Esslingen staying with Leslie’s friend Brian from Gilroy High and his wife Elke. They have been such amazing hosts and have done so much to make us feel at home. We’ve had a lovely time with them and have enjoyed getting to know them.

The first night we arrived they took us on a tour of the Mercedes museum (they both work for Mercedes) which not only had some beautiful old cars but a chronological history walk where black and white photos on the walls around the museum captured significant moments in history, beginning in the late 1800’s through today. Karl Benz’s original “motorwagon” patent application was on display (filed in 1886) next to the original car. Very cool.

After the museum, Brian and Elke took us to a vegan restaurant where we had veggie burgers and huge glasses of German wheat beer which was really good! Usually I’m not much of a beer drinker but I may have actually found a non-bitter beer that I like.

Yesterday we had a crazy day at an indoor play park that had a climbing wall, a climbing obstacle course about 30 feet in the air (no kidding!) and a number of free-fall style slides that were really freaky - you had to climb into a canvas sack to ride them. Just before I went down one of the vertical drop slides the woman working  said, “Don’t sit up - really - and keep your arms crossed in front of you. This is no kiddie slide!”. It was indeed the biggest drop I’ve experienced on a slide. Brian actually did the obstacle course in the sky which, since I’m scared of heights, made me a little ill just watching him.

Brian and Elke also took us on the autobahn which, growing up I’d always heard didn’t have a speed limit. I didn’t think it was true but yep, once you drive into a “no speed limit” area, it’s indicated by a circle with 2 lines across it and you can go as fast as you please.

Today Brian and Elke went to work and Leslie, Vaughn and I walked to the castle behind their house and down a long staircase to downtown Esslingen. The stone castle was built in the 1400’s and overlooks the city. Downtown Esslingen has a little mall where we picked up a sweater for Leslie to wear for a Skype interview she has this week and we had fun shopping in some of the stores.

Tomorrow we head back over to Austria for a week before ending our 5 month trip around Europe and heading to Israel to visit my parents. Brian and Elke, thanks for having us!

November 21st - We decided to stop by the concentration camp at Dachau on the way to Radstadt, Austria. While it wasn’t a decision we took lightly, we thought that it would be a good educational experience for Vaughn and of course, for us as well. Even though Vaughn doesn’t grasp the historical context for the camp, in the next few years in middle school he will be learning about WWII and I think he will have a better understanding of European history after having seen the grounds firsthand.

We spent the first 15 minutes watching a video about the rise of the Nazis and the beginnings of the concentration camps. Dachau was the first and many others were modeled after it. It was so heartbreaking to see the old black and while footage of terribly abused prisoners. We ended up leaving before the movie was finished because it was a bit too graphic for Vaughn. Dachau imprisoned more than 200,000 people from more than 30 countries and more than 30,000 people were killed there. Many of the victims at Dachau were transported by train to the Auschwitz extermination camp where more than 2 million people were killed (some estimates, including the Auschwitz State Museum are as high as 4 million).

I didn’t take any photos of the gruesome images in the museum - I just took some pictures of the grounds. It was a really intense experience to walk through the prisoners’ sleeping quarters and spend time walking in the dirt fields on the premises. We checked out a few audio-tour headphones and heard some of the survivors talking about their experiences while we walked around. We didn’t end up going inside the crematorium.The empty watchtowers and barbed fences sat as they were when the internment camp was active. Outside of the museum, there is a sign that says “Never Again” in five languages - Hebrew, French, English, German and Russian.