BabyM first experienced swimming at 9 months old in Seattle in August. M and I carried him into the pool and he looked around bewildered. Within a few minutes he got a bit cold so BabyM and I curled up in towels near the pool. That’s when M decided it was time to dive in on the other side of the pool and swam towards us. Screaming and crying insued and would not be calmed until we were safely inside. For two weeks afterwards BabyM hated bath time and anything else involving water. However, he had to endure us picnicking by the pool, and watching his older cousins play in the pool. Finally he stuck his feet in a puddle of water next to the pool and plopped down splashing and giggling.
Don’t take me out of the puddle!
Can we go swimming?
The next time we took him into the pool was at twilight with the pool lights on. He was calm as he took it all in, splashed a bit and decided pools were okay. After that he wanted to be in the pool any time we were close to it!
We attended three baby swimming classes with BabyM while we were in Germany in September. Since BabyM enjoyed swimming so much we were eager to get him back in the water. While I expected any chance to play with him in the pool to be fun, I was surprised at how much I learned in the classes! The basic premise is that you can teach young babies how to float on their backs and how to roll onto their backs if anything should happen. During the lessons the babies are exposed to different water scenarios; getting splashed, floating, rolling onto their backs and even diving. Even more exciting was that after the 45 minute classes, BabyM would sleep for longer stretches at night!
We visited a friend who had a baby pool set up in their backyard and realized we needed to get BabyM a pool of his own. The more time we can splash the better! Of course, that pool is now being used as a toy box in our Airbnb in Lisbon.
Baby pool or toy box?
We tried to take BabyM on a walk along the Pacific Ocean at Redondo beach in February but he complained about the wind so he barely even glimpsed the ocean before we left. A week later we wandered along the beach in La Jolla where it was less windy and he slept most of the way. However, the first time we brought him to the Ocean with the intention of going into the water was in Portugal when he was just under 11 months old.
Running after waves in the sand is exhausting!
As usual, first the beach was terrifying for BabyM. Then he took a nap and had a snack and all of a sudden the sand was interesting enough to distract him from his fears. Before long he was watching a boy about a year older playing with a toy cement truck at the waters edge. Then BabyM found his own feet in the water as the waves crashed onto the beach, and just like that he forgot to be scared.
Six months ago we packed up everything into a rental car with the plan on traveling for an undefined period of time. Now, we are settling into our new, albeit somewhat temporary home, at a wonderful friend’s apartment in Berlin. We cut our trip to Morocco short in order to fly back to Germany so that M could start a brand new job on February 2nd. In our typical style, we flew into an airport near Dusseldorf, rented a car and drove halfway across Germany to M’s parents to pack up some belongings before continuing the rest of the way across Germany to Berlin. M drove, as I don’t drive in snow, nor am I terribly skilled at driving manual transmission vehicles, and I especially don’t do the combination of the two. Don’t believe me? I’m sure my parents would be happy to tell you about that time they thought I should get some experience driving in snow, two hours away from home on a mountain road. I managed to pop not one, but two tires…luckily M grew up driving on snowy country roads and we arrived in Berlin without incident.
So how did we get to this point, where we are making a new start in a new city? The short version is that we haven’t just been traveling these past few months. Instead we have juggled visiting friends and family with applying and interviewing for jobs. M recently received a few offers and has chosen one that he couldn’t possibly be more excited about. Unfortunately we have become used to academic job timelines where interviewing happens months after applying and actually starting jobs takes even longer. As a result we weren’t prepared when he received his contract asking him to start within a week and a half – a full 11 days prior to when we were scheduled to leave Morocco. Through some scrambling we switched around flights and called countless people to help us get organized for our move, proving that these things can be accomplished from anywhere in the world.
Luckily we didn’t have to scramble for a place to live as we moved into one of M’s friends apartments. However, the friend was out of town during our first week, which made settling in a rather humorous affair. We were fairly convinced this friend only had two bowls, as we couldn’t find more anywhere in the kitchen. Well, we were wrong and found a few giant stacks of bowls hidden under a bunch of candles… It took me an entire 5 minutes to figure out how to use the strangest contraption of a can opener that I have ever seen (and considering I have no problem opening cans with a pocketknife that is saying something…). It also took me a rather long time to figure out how to turn on the microwave. For the record, you don’t. You simply turn and keep turning the switch as it adds time to the clock and once you stop turning it eventually starts all on its own. In addition, I have learned how to open the front door to the building. This involves me body checking it with all my weight and force and having the heavy piece of crap very slowly inch open under all of my pressure. Home sweet home… it may take us a while to fully settle in.
The infamous door…
While we are in Berlin, I have started an intensive language course to finally learn German. While I have been making some progress through the use of Duolingo and talking with M, I hope that this will help me advance much more quickly. I took a similar type of course six years ago when I moved to France without speaking any French. I’m already in better shape than during that adventure in language learning, as I can already order beer in German. I proved it at an “American” bar where we were able to watch the Super Bowl. The bar was filled with Germans wearing random NFL sports attire. I’m not sure they understood that the Dolphins, the Eagles, the Packers and the Jets (to name a few) were not, in fact, part of the very disappointing game.
As for the blog, we plan to continue to post our travel stories from the past six months as well as write new stories about our travels throughout Europe. Hopefully I can convince M to post something about the ups and downs of his job search in the near future. I’ve decided to take a break from the Picture of the Day series as I’ve been spending a significant amount of time studying German and adjusting to our new surroundings. After six months of culture shocks, you would think that adjusting would be easy…
Day 193: Statue of Friedrich Jahn in the Volkspark Hasenheide.
Day 194: Shoes left behind at a bus stop in Berlin.
Day 195: The Quadria on top of the Brandenburger Tor.
Day 196: Frankfurter Tor with the Alexanderplatz TV tower in the background.
Day 197: Sun setting behind the alps.
Day 198: People slack lining at the Flugfeld Tempelhof.
Day 199: Ampelmänchen!
Day 200: Water pump in the streets of Tempelhof, Berlin.
Day 186: S-Bahn tracks in Berlin.
Day 187: Platz der Luftbrücke.
Day 188: Grifi near Treptower Park.
Day 189: St. Marienkirche, Alexanderplatz.
Day 190: Office buildings near Potsdamer Platz.
Day 191: Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche
Day 192: Gasometer Schöneberg
Day 179: Kite surfer off the coast of Essaouira, Morocco.
Day 180: Donkey and new buildings between Essaouira and Marrakech, Morocco.
Day 181: Storks on the roof of the royal palace in Marrakech, Morocco.
Day 182: Sheep! (In Germany….)
Day 183: Snowy first night in Berlin.
Day 184: Holocaust memorial in Berlin.
Day 185: On the way to watch the Superbowl in an American sports bar in Berlin.
Day 172: Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakesh in the evening.
Day 173: View from the old city of Ait Benhaddou near Quarzazate.
Day 174: Inside a Berber tent in the Sahara desert.
Day 175: The Sahara desert near Merzouga.
Day 176: Sunset at the Essaouira harbor.
Day 177: Soccer players and wind turbines at the coast near Essaouira.
Day 178: Camels at the beach near Essaouira.
Day 165: Dracula’s castle!
Day 166: Parliament building in Bucharest.
Day 167: Palatul de Justitie at night from the hostel balcony.
Day 168: Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral in Bucharest.
Day 169: Cologne Cathedral.
Day 170: Wandering along the Rhein in Cologne.
Day 171: Side street in the old part of Marrakech.
Day 158: Amsterdam light festival 2015.
Day 159: Early travel days are sometimes worth it…
Day 160: Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
Day 161: Feeding the ducks in the small unfrozen part of the pond.
Day 162: Sunsetting over Sibiu, Romania.
Day 163: Steam Engine Museum in Sibiu, Romania.
Day 164: Rainy walking street at night in Brasov, Romania.
“You kiss me?” I looked around the festival we were walking through only to have my eyes land on a group of monks. To my astonishment one of them said, again, “you kiss me?” I started laughing as his buddies kept him walking past us.
Not this Monk…
We had been in Myanmar for less than three hours and already my time in this country had surprised me and made me giggle on numerous occasions. Shortly after walking out of the airport we found ourselves in a taxi on the way into the city. The driver sat on the right side of the car, and M noted out loud that they were also driving on the right side of the road. Shortly later we realized that there were cars with the steering wheel on the right, but also several with the steering wheel on the left! As it turns out, they used to drive on the left hand side of the road, but recently this had changed, and of course the cars hadn’t quite caught up with the change!
Look closely, the steering wheel is on different sides of the cars!
As it turns out, the timing of our trip into Myanmar was impeccable. We arrived on the evening prior to the second largest festivities of the year and it turned out that there was a large festival going on within walking distance of the hostel. We quickly set out to find dinner and to tour the festivities. In many ways the “market” resembled fairgrounds with a small Ferris wheel and assorted games with food and drinks everywhere.
Ferris wheel in the middle of the festival.
While walking through the crowds of people I was surprised to notice that the monks were wearing maroon colored robes as opposed to the orange robes we had seen in all of the other Southeast Asian countries. We saw groups of monks playing carnival games; kicking balls towards goals, throwing rings onto cans of beers and generally participating like everyone else around us. And food! Of course, there was food everywhere we looked! We watched as several people juiced sugar cane by pushing the sugar cane through these machines so quickly that I was shocked they didn’t accidentally push their own hands through the press.
We wandered through the chaotic and overflowing streets and into the crowded pagoda, people-watching and trying to take in everything that surrounded us.
Inside the pagoda.
Outside the pagoda.
Prior to arriving in Myanmar, I’d read a bit about the country. I’d read that I should expect that life didn’t work in quite the same, predictable way as it did back home. Even while reading about backwards-moving clocks and beetle-nut-destroyed-teeth, I didn’t expect the embodiment of these passages to leave the impact on me that they did.
Monks at a money exchange…
To be clear, my amazement, surprise and confusion didn’t just revolve around monks. However, most of the impressions that stuck with me are difficult to put into words. We saw people sleeping in eccentric places such as the luggage compartments of buses or relaxing on plastic road dividers.
People sleeping in luggage compartments of buses.
Chatting on the phone.
We saw recycling being sorted, in the middle of a busy street.
We saw mothers taking care of their children, just as they would anywhere else.
We saw live chickens carried home on the train.
Live chicken, looking around!
And that was just in Yangon! By the time we got to Inle Lake a couple days later we were already overwhelmed with impressions! We had no idea what we were in for, during that particular festival…
Filling up the boat tank from a bucket.
Rowing boats with their legs.
Besides floating floats, we saw floating gardens in Inle Lake, exemplifying the original version of the recently-trendy aquaponics movement.
During our bus ride through the hills of Myanmar from Inle to Bagan we saw our bus being manually cooled down.
Cooling down the bus…
We saw pagoda after pagoda and then some more pagodas, especially in Bagan.
Monks on Pagodas.
Countryside filled with pagodas.
While these are just snapshots of our time in the country, my mind is equally filled with our direct interactions with the locals. We had countless people take our picture and ask us to pose with them in pictures. That picture of the monk and I? A picture at his request! I couldn’t tell you which one of us was more giggly and happy about it! Children would run up to me and grab my hand. We had monks encircle us on their mission to interact with foreigners and practice English. These are the moments that I love about traveling. The all-consuming nature of this constant state of confusion, surprise and wonder as we look around a country filled with the everything you would expect, but in a distinctly unfamiliar way. And yet, even in a place where nothing is “normal,” there are people. And people are always people, often curious, and mostly friendly. Exactly like the little boy in a group of kids in the bed of a pick-up truck who yelled out “Hello! What is your name?” before continuing on and telling us his name before we could even reply. When we did respond, he grinned widely, his friends giggling by his side as the truck drove away and out of sight.
Day 151: Germany has a lot of churches…
Day 152: Light show at the Edersee dam.
Day 153: Shooting off the first fire works… …slightly early.
Day 154: Fire works turning the sky over the fire station bright red.
Day 155: Wind turbines on the way to the Netherlands.
Day 156: Reflections in the Ghent channels at night.
Day 175: The Atomium against the evening sky.