Traveling with Grandkids

Going on a trip with grandchildren adds another dimension to slow travel. You want them to enjoy the trip as much as you do, so you have to work to their schedule as much as  possible. That includes taking time out to let them be kids: explore, touch base with their parents and friends at home, and just hang out and talk. After all, half the reason to travel with your grandchildren, assuming you don’t live near them, is to reconnect, strengthen that bond and to find out what their thoughts are.

So, as much as you might be tempted to drag them from cathedral to monument and fill their heads with as much information as possible, we think you and they would be happier if stick to the tenants of slow travel:

  • See a few things well, rather than maximizing how many things you see. That gives everybody a chance to absorb an experience, have your own thoughts about it, rather than being spoon fed – which sounds a lot like the worst parts of school.
  • Take time to get everybody’s input on what they’re interested in. Not everybody will get to do everything they want, but if it’s divided up fairly, then everybody feels like they’re being listened to.
  • When it’s time to eat, try to avoid grabbing a meal on the run. Even if the kids want to eat fast food, you can usually all sit down at the same table and have a conversation.
  • Give everyone time to get a good night’s sleep. Children’s sleep schedules are different than and adult’s, and are constantly changing as they age. As much as possible, let them sleep as much as they need to. While they’re asleep, instead of getting frustrated that time is being wasted, give yourself some quiet time. This is especially frustrating if you’ve got kids of widely differing ages, so you’ve got youngsters up bouncing around early in the morning while teenagers are sleeping in. This might take some imagination to solve, like one grandparent taking the little ones out while the other reads at “home,” or arranging to meet the teenager at a certain time and (close by) place when they wake up.

Above all, patience is key. The main thing is spending quality time with the grandkids, not coming home with a pile of pictures.

Traveling with Grandkids

Europe Summer 2017 – Take aways

The 90 days we spent in Europe this summer was an education beyond what we expected.  Here are our short list of “take aways ” from this summer’s experience.

  •  Norway is in our view the most beautiful country in the world.  We haven’t traveled to all countries obviously, but from the places we have been, Norway wins hands down.  Bergen and Alesund were great bases for seeing the Fjords of Norway, and the train ride from Oslo to Bergen was simply amazing!

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  • The Baltic countries are inspiring: they have endured the most horrifying events over their history, but have emerged as members of the European Union and are thriving! Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – you provided us with a reminder on why travel is important as an education. You are amazing countries with incredible resiliency.  The birds escaping in this photo taken in Riga, Latvia, is to me symbolic of the Baltics escaping their past and moving onward to freedom.
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  •  Copenhagen?  You stole our hearts.  No wonder you are ranked as the “happiest people in the world!  You get it.  Hygge – we are incorporating some of the things I observed in Denmark into my life here in Austin.  Never too old to learn new ways of doing things.

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  • What an amazing way to see the U.S. from a different point of view.  Visiting other countries provides perspective, other viewpoints, and a chance to see how other countries have dealt with the same problems we’re having: some do it better, some worse.  Clay and I both understand that our lives somehow have changed, and for the better I might add.  You truly never see your home country the way others see it, but when got off the plane in NYC, we both looked at America from a slightly different perspective. We love you America – warts and all.  You still will forever be our first and mostly likely last love.

The big trip of 2017 is a wrap, but the education encourages us to go again in 2018, to see what other lessons are are awaiting us.   There is so much to learn.  We can’t wait!

Europe Summer 2017 – Take aways

Home, but Not

We’re back – no problems with the flights: in spite of the remnants of Hurricane Harvey still lingering in the area, the flights were as smooth as they could be. All the bad stuff went to the east of us.

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We’re back in our “temporary” digs, that we’ve been renting from friends of friends for the last two years. It’s been great, but Maggie and I are ready to settle into our own place. We’re going to crank up the home search engine, and find some place that’s easy to take care of, easy to lock up and leave for a while, and easy on the budget, so we can do some more traveling.

Home, but Not

Farewell to Denmark

We head home today – the flight leaves here at 1:00 PM, we arrive in Austin at 9:30 tonight. It looks like most of the remnants of Hurricane Harvey are dumping on Houston, so Austin skies should be clear enough that our flight will be on time. We’re sad to be leaving – there’s still so much to see and do – but will be glad to be home, hang out with friends, and do what we can to help people in Austin dry out.

We’ve learned a lot this trip – a lot of it by not over-scheduling ourselves, but leaving time to hang out and have a conversation with the locals and with other travelers. (Going to places where most people speak English was a big help.) When we took a little time to relax, we could often find somebody else who was in the same mood, ready to share what they’d learned. In Denmark, this is all part of hygge (see the previous post) – but we found like-minded people everywhere we went, whether they had a word for it or not.

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We found places where we could become short term regulars, and by coming back to the same places, we could continue conversations with the long term regulars and learn more about our surroundings. In Copenhagen, our local was the Trykbar, right around the corner from our AirBnB apartment. The staff and other customers were all open and willing to share what they knew, where to go, and what to not miss.

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We’re already looking forward to the next trip – don’t know where or when it will be, but we’ll be sharing the experience, whatever it is.

 

Farewell to Denmark

Hygge (pronounced “HUE-gah”)

Hygge is actually very difficult to explain or define.  It roughly means creating a warm, cozy atmosphere, and the Danes excel at this from what I have observed.  Does it contribute to the report that names the Danish people as the happiest people on our planet?  We’re trying to find that out.

My first observation is about candles.  Candles?  I am not sure why exactly, but almost every restaurant, coffee shop, wine bar– even sports bars have candles burning from opening to closing time.  It created for me a warm feeling that even with the beautiful sunshine outside, coming inside to the glow of candles and fresh flowers created a relaxed, less tense atmosphere.

From reading about Hygge I learned that friends and family play a big part in hygge as well.   Just sitting around a table talking with friends and family about the small and big things going on in their lives generates hygge.  Can’t wait to hygge with family and friends upon our return to the U.S.

Probably the best article I found on Hygge was from the BBC Magazine.  Take a look at this article which I found very helpful for me to better understand what I am experiencing here in Copenhagen.  http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34345791.

The photos below are just random photos taken on this trip that represent Hygge!  Forgive me for keeping this so short, but there are candles to light and Clay is finished with his blog inputs and time to Hygge.

Breakfast                                        Lunch

Even Happy Hour with beer and nachos

Hygge (pronounced “HUE-gah”)

Remembrance and Forgetting

Before they were called the U.S. Virgin Islands, the islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John were Danish colonies. Denmark sold them to the U.S. in 1917, after having had possession of them for over 250 years. During their rule, the Danes, like other Europeans, decimated the populations of the Caribbean islands through war, disease and displacement. The Europeans found tropical paradises and turned them into plantations, churning out sugar cane and other crops on an industrial scale.

Like the other islands in the Caribbean, the Virgin Islands had become a part of the Triangular Trade route, that miserable period of human history when European countries sent trinkets, cloth, guns and alcohol to the west coast of Africa, to be traded for human beings, who were sent to the Caribbean to work as slaves, working in the fields to put sugar on European tables. The same trade route brought African people to the future United States, to raise sugar, cotton and tobacco.

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The Danes were no better and no worse than any other slave masters. The Middle Passage was a crime against humanity, no matter who was in charge. About 120,000 people were brought over in Danish-flagged ships, and that only counts the ones who survived the journey. Once they arrived, the newly enslaved people were treated the same: separation from family and culture, the indignities and confusions of being sold in a market, back-breaking work in abysmal conditions, disease, beatings, every scrap of their humanity ripped away. It’s no wonder their average life span on the plantations was less than 10 years.

Denmark abolished the slave trade in 1792 and emancipated the enslaved people in 1848. They can take some credit for being the first country to abolish kidnapping people to work the plantations, but that’s a small comfort. The final driver for emancipation was a massive revolt on St. Croix. Out of desperation, the Governor General declared all the people emancipated. As in the U.S., emancipation didn’t end the problems, but created a free but desperately poor underclass, a problem that would continue in various forms to the present day.

This year in Copenhagen, Denmark’s Royal Library has an exhibition of the art and photography of the Virgin Islands, starting with the maps and etchings made by the first Europeans. These brought more colonists, who made watercolor paintings of idyllic landscapes, showing beaches covered in white sand, lined by tall mountains. In the 19th century, the first photographs show portraits of smug plantation masters surrounded by potted plants and exhausted servants.

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All of this jarringly displaced by hundreds of black and white photographs, taken when the islands were sold to the U.S. and the first travelers arrived with cameras, few preconceptions, and no need to support the current structure of island society. They took pictures of everything they saw: pretty beach scenes, people living in shacks; white people in clean clothes, black people in rags.

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I’d like to report that the effect was devastating and there was an immediate call for aide to the poverty-stricken people of the new territories, but the fact is that in 1917, there wasn’t a lot of difference between poor blacks in the Virgin Islands and poor blacks in rural parts of the mainland U.S. The fact is that those conditions continued for a depressingly long period of time.

More recently, cheap air fare has helped a rise of tourism that has brought money and some relief to the islands, but no more visibility to the plight of the poor. The imagery from the islands has returned to a high tech version of the idyllic watercolors of the 18th century, only now the beaches are lined with high rise hotels and covered with white people lying in the sun, served by the descendants of the people who were brought there years ago. The conditions of the people have greatly improved, but that brief period of honest imagery isn’t even a memory for most. According to the exhibit, Danish schools teach the stories of the white heroes who freed the slaves, with little mention of what went on before.

That ties in pretty well with the current state of the history discussion going on in the U.S., where our attention is on the images of Confederate generals on pedestals, but we try to cover up the living conditions of real people today. We deny the undercurrent of racism that has always plagued the U.S. – not just in the South, but everywhere; not just in rural conservatives, but people who call themselves urban liberals as well. We all bear a part of this history, and pointing fingers doesn’t even begin to solve problems. We only can only begin by looking at ourselves with honesty, and giving others – all others – the respect they deserve.

Remembrance and Forgetting

Copenhagen – We made it

Flew to Copenhagen from Lithuania early Sunday morning.  (Note to self – don’t ever schedule a 6:30am departure again)   Arrived too early to check into our apartment so we took the short ride into town and stored our luggage at the train station.  Copenhagen (population 600K) is a large city, but very compact so we walked the entire central city to get acquainted with our home for the next 8 days! In our groggy state, we found ourselves unintentionally passing by the train station again and again. We joked that we  were probably being monitored on the security cameras, marked as potential troublemakers.

At 4:00PM sharp we were at the apartment with our luggage, and met the 2 sisters who gave us a map and a great overview of the city.  I fell in love with the dining room immediately!

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After a visit to the grocery store for breakfast supplies and the local wine store, we were ready for the Copenhagen visit to begin.  Sadly, we realized that this was the last 8 days of our European adventure so we decided to focus on the week ahead and not the departure on 8/28.

Copenhagen – We made it