Tuesday, June 15, 2010

donate to humanitarian relief in southern Kyrgyzstan

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regional office in Tashkent is mobilizing aid to southern Kyrgyzstan. You can donate here.

Voice from inside a blockaded Osh neighborhood

It took many tries to get ahold of my Uzbek friends in Osh this evening, making me worry about their well-being. Finally, I was able to reach them at their home number.

Nargiza (name changed) answered and her voice sounded like a child’s. Unlike last time, when she expressed her excitement to hear from me, she remained somber. “We’re not doing very well,” she said in a low, quiet voice. “We’re all still healthy, but you know, it’s a war zone.”

A few days earlier, she expressed regret that her sons were out guarding the neighborhood and couldn’t talk to me. Tonight, there was no discussion of friendly chats. Her husband and sons were busy sleeping in shifts of 1-2 hours, taking short breaks from a constant guarding of the neighborhood.

“I’m very scared for my children,” she said. “None of us are getting much sleep.”

She said the men in her neighborhood have blockaded it, so the people and the houses have remained safe. But they feel they are in a state of war, and the stress and the lack of the sleep are wearing on them.

“We can still hear shooting,” she said. “We keep hoping that someone from outside will come to provide security, but it hasn’t happened yet. We don’t believe anyone in Kyrgyzstan anymore, so we want someone from the outside to help.”

She says it has been a bit quieter since Monday, though they can still hear shooting. The people within her neighborhood were told not to venture out, so she hadn’t seen the city outside her street for several days. “People have run in different directions,” she said. “The Kyrgyz to their villages and the places they came from, the Uzbeks into Uzbekistan. There might not be many left in Osh.”

They are left with a sense of incomprehension. “We don’t know who killed people or who was killed. The Kyrgyz say it was people specially prepared to do this. I know the Kyrgyz are good and peaceful people. We’ve lived among them and shared space at the market together. Still, there is a war with Kyrgyz and Uzbeks killing each other. They burned Uzbek homes and destroyed their stores.”

“I’d like for my children to be able to leave,” she said. I asked where they could go and she didn’t know. “Uzbekistan isn’t letting anyone else in. They let in 80,000 and said they don’t have any more room. There are a 100,000 people lined up at the border. Those who went first to Uzbekistan were those who had no protection, who had nowhere else to go.” She is in regular contact with relatives in Tashkent, but says they are unable to do anything.

A few days ago, she spoke about how the family had begun the process of remodeling their house to put in an addition for their eldest son. They wanted a space ready for him so that he could marry and bring his future wife into their home. In a matter of a few days, they are willing to give it all up. “A part of me is ready to leave this all behind, to give up our house and everything for our family to be able to leave.”

While the men protect her neighborhood, she and her female neighbors huddle together at home. They have food, water, electricity and telephone service. “I hear talk about humanitarian relief being organized,” she said. “We have plenty of food. No one in our neighborhood will die due to a lack of food. What we need is protection. I’m very, very afraid of something happening.”

Saturday, June 12, 2010

One Family Waits Out the Osh Unrest

I became very worried about reading the news about the last two days of ethnic violence in Osh. I lived with an Uzbek family in Osh for close to a year. The mother traveled to my wedding in the United States, her first time ever on an airplane. She has three sons who are young men and I feared any of them could be at risk. I wondered what it must be like to live in fear in your own house, the place I also used to consider home. The Uzbek neighborhoods, or mahalas, are close knit. But they are also segregated by ethnicity and easily identifiable.

As soon as possible, I called to find out. Nargiza (name changed) said that her husband and her two sons that are in Osh spent all night guarding the street. The men sit together on the street, guarding their neighborhoods. “But they don’t have guns,” she said. “I don’t know how much they can do.”

She wanted her sons to stay home, but “they are grown up now, and don’t listen to me.”

Markets and workplaces have been closed for the past two days. Her youngest son was supposed to take his last exam to graduate high school today, but that didn’t happen. She said some houses were burned in a nearby neighborhood and that she heard gunshots. She heard that many of the nice, large shops that were constructed in recent years, many by Uzbeks, were looted.

“It’s been terrible,” she said. “Two nights and a day of violence.”

Nargiza has a stall at the market, where she sells dishes. Her dishes are in storage at her market stall. I asked if her goods were in damage of being looted. “I don’t know. I didn’t have time to think about that,” she said. “This happened so suddenly. I haven’t been there for the past two days.”

She was hopeful the unrest would blow over within a few days and said the presence of the troops seems to be helping.

I asked what relations at work would be like after this. How would her husband and son return to work, where most of their colleagues would be Kyrgyz? How would they be treated?

“Relations between the Uzbek and the Kyrgyz in the city are fine, very friendly,” she said. “This has been caused by wild people brought in from other places, rural areas in the south. It’s only been a problem since Bakiyev was removed.”

Friday, June 04, 2010

Spain Sierra bike trip - day 5

El Escorial to Soto del Real – an additional 47 kilometers and we are done. The first half had its ups and downs, but wasn’t too bad. And the second half had a welcomingly consistent downward slope.

The sights weren’t quite as interesting as the past days. We went through a couple of non-descript towns, as well as the pleasant, lively town of Berecerril de la Sierra, and the town of Manzanares de Real, which has a large 15th century castle. Unfortunately, the castle was closed today due to a private event, but it’s still striking to see it appear on the horizon, then growing ever larger and more overpowering as we draw nearer. Castles, cobblestone streets, monasteries, churches and ruins of watchtowers, walls and road make clear on a daily basis the presence of human life many centuries ago. It forces me to remember that I’m part of only a small sliver of history, of which only fragments will be remembered, or considered important.

I enjoyed an afternoon drink at a bar on the plaza in Manzanares de Real, listening to the lively Spanish music coming from inside the bar, seeing the local life on the plaza, with multiple storks looking on from their nests on a nearby steeple.

We made use of the excellent public transportation system (a bus and a train) to get ourselves and our luggage from our end point of Soto del Real to the train station in Madrid. From here we’ll depart for Zaragoza.

The standard bike tour includes one more day, biking to Madrid. We cut that short in order to be able to see friends. I think I could have handled one more day. But 4-5 days is probably a good amount for me, unless there were to be rest days provided in between the bike days.

Overall, I enjoyed the tour a lot. I got a lot of exercise, was able to explore several small, out-of-the-way places and was able to take in the places much more vividly by biking through them. Since this is my first bike tour, I have nothing to compare it to. But my impressions were:

Route – very good. Took in a variety of sites. The evening stops were located in interesting places. The least interesting was Soto del Real, but that was a good base and the hotel was super friendly.

Roads: very good. While we did have to spend some time on highways, there was a lot of time on roads with little traffic and good scenery.

Outfitting: The bikes were new. The quality was OK. They had Shimano gears. A little extra outfitting (a mirror, a light, gloves, a bungee or two to make use of the rack, a set of directions for each of us) would have been helpful, as would have a more detailed introduction to bike care.

Instructions: I loved that the tour was self guided. And we did make it from start to end. But the instructions could have used more detail to dummy-proof them. We definitely put on some extra distance and encountered some confusion due to the directions. While the instructions indicated a few highlights of places to visit, some more details about the stops (a map of each evening stop would be great) and the things we passed would have been helpful.

Flexibility: Excellent. Bike Spain was really accommodating in helping to set up a tour that met the particular dates we were available. When we had some problems (Mark not feeling well, a forgotten bag) they were quick to help resolve them.

Hotels: Very good. Our least favorite (in El Escorial) was a hotel the tour company doesn’t usually use. Their standard hotel was booked up. The others were all comfortable, well-located and with friendly, accommodating staff.

I hope there will be another bike tour in my future and I’d definitely look into the offerings of Bike Spain for the next time around. Next time I’ll be looking for some child-friendly accommodations through (child trailer, bike seat, routes I can complete with a 40+ pound kid on board). I’m thinking my next bike trip, especially in a Spanish-speaking country, will be with my son.

Bike circuit completed

I made it! Over 200 kilometers in mountainous territory. I was the only female cyclist I saw until the very end of the trip, when the terrain was easier. I always like accomplishing a goal, so I’m proud of doing it, am appreciative of the chance to both get so much exercise and explore an interesting area.

But right now, on the evening of the day four of biking, I’m exhausted. Utterly exhausted. I’m sitting at a train station waiting for a late train and dreaming of a bed. Mark was having a harder time cycling today than I was, and he got less sleep than I did last night, but has more energy. “It must be the pregnancy,” he said. “Because you got a good night’s rest.” Did I mention I’m two months pregnant? In a great contrast to the eternal nausea I felt during the first trimester with River, this time I barely feel any symptoms at all.

At the end of the ride, I was able to check email and received a note from my dad, who appears to be holding up well while caring for a 2.5 year old. He said that River is going to the pool, the beach or the boat every day, which sounds like a summer camp vacation for him. He also said that they have taught River to say things like “I like hot dish,” and “Ya sure, you betcha,” that I’ll be picking up a real Swede.

I think it’s good for him to be exposed to that aspect of his heritage, so that’s fine with me. But I’m going to have to try to figure out how to say things like “I like hot dish,” in Spanish.

After this bike trip, I’ve decided I want to do another, and I’d love to do it a few years from now with River. If you have any recommendations of good bike tours to do with kids (I’m ideally looking for luggage to be transferred to the lodgings each night, the ability to set our own pace, and a route and a bike that would be appropriate for hauling a youngster) please let me know. I have a preference for Spanish-speaking areas, but would consider any place. Also, I’m terrified of dogs, so places where dogs don’t roam freely and run after cyclists also get bonus points.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Spain Sierra bike trip – day 4

I think the mileage estimate on the instructions for today’s ride from Rascafria to San Lorenzo el Escorial was an underestimate. All I can think about looking back upon the day is up, up, up. Either I’m going to develop newly powerful legs and be able to barrel up hills in the future, or I’m going to turn around screaming any time I see an uphill.

I started off my morning with 17 kilometers of up. Pretty much constant up. Up a mountain. From 1200 meters to over 1800.

I can get myself up a decent hill or two if I know there is a descent or flatness at the top. The pain is temporary and I can push myself to overcome it. But here it was constant, a good 13 or so kilometers of non-stop up. I couldn’t ride up that, so I walked. And walked, and walked. I did well for the first half. I imagined myself taking a morning mountain stroll. I figured it should result in buns of steel. I appreciated the lack of traffic, the shaded walk through a fir forest, and the views of mountain slopes covered by trees.

When Mark passed me in the taxi, they asked if I wanted a ride. “No thanks,” I said. “I’ve only got 5-6 kilometers to go.” I was doing pretty well at that point. But somewhere in the last 5-6 kilometers, my strength was sapped. I was eating every half hour. I had to stop to rest. It ended up taking me three hours to cover the 10 miles. Yikes.

From there, we had a substantial downhill, possibly an equal distance of gliding. Yellow bushes flowered on the mountain slope and the air smelled sweet. Today was a public holiday, Corpus Christi, and the two mountain passes (ski resorts in winter) were packed with daytrippers coming to enjoy a hike.

We rode through a small town, Cercedilla, where wealthy people from Madrid have their second homes. There were some beautiful properties there and the cafes and shops were buzzing. I was tired, but the long downhill had provided some relief and I believed we were close to our destination, El Escorial. So I pushed myself on, wanting Mark to be able to see the famous palace and monastery before it closed at 6.

The directions indicated we had only four kilometers to go, so I was optimistic. But the highway seemed to go on an awfully long way. Long past when I expected we’d be riding through the town, I spied El Escorial from a distance, cathedral spires rising above a town perched upon a hill.

Then, when we got into the town, it was like a cruel joke. The road went up, and up, and up, and up. Straight up. Again, I resorted to walking.

We arrived at our hotel filthy, sweaty and tired, only to be told that we had to carry the bikes up a flight of stairs. Poor Mark.

Eventually, we managed to settle in, shower, find some good food (super huge portions and at least 10 choices for each course of the 17.50 menu at Restaurante Fonda Genera; – only bummer was that only a coffee is included as a drink. If you choose another drink, you are charged for it). We made it to El Escorial (right across the street from our hotel) and found enough energy to stroll the premises and appreciate the structure, the art and history. The library contains the oldest known book, from the 5th or 6th century. Wow.

Part of me is amazed I got here with my own leg power. Another part misses the small village. It’s much more tourist-oriented here, more expensive, less personal. Interactions in the smaller towns felt more intimate and I liked that.

Only one more day left in which the main activity of the day is accomplishing a physical feat. By late tomorrow night, we’ll be in Zaragoza with friends and then they will be in charge of arranging our schedule.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Spain Sierra bike trip – day 3

Today’s ride was a 36 kilometer ride from Buitrago de Lozoya to Rascafria. Due to the directions, which could really use some dummy-proofing, we added another several kilometers on to our journey. But today’s mistake resulted in us riding out to an old stone hermitage in the middle of a field, where cows and horses grazed and a shepherd was the only person around for miles. So while we were bummed about going a few kilometers uphill unnecessarily, at least it was memorable.

Highlights of today’s journey were:
• The great pedestrian/bike that goes from the village of Pinilla del Valle, through the villages of Alameda del Valle, Oteruelo del Valle, Los Gritos, and then Rascafria. It’s quiet and peaceful, has quite a bit of shade and is part of a network of hiking and biking paths in the area.

• Being able to turn around and see mountains behind me wherever I was, some of them with a bit of snow remaining near the summit. I know I’ll have to climb one of those mountains tomorrow in order to get out of this valley, but I’m enjoying the view while I’m here.

• The tour inside the El Paular Monastery. Wow. Amazing construction, amazing ornamentation, from 300-700 years ago. The Sheraton hotel next door is part of the original construction and is a fantastically ornate stone structure.

• The appearance of fresh mountain water (the public fountain in Lozoya is water fresh from the mountain, which I used to refill my water bottle) and trees. The appearance of greenery and the sound of running water is a welcome sight after seeing so much dry scrub.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find any remarkable food today. I was told the beef here is amazing. The grilled beef I got yesterday in Buirago de Lozoya was remarkable – tender and flavorful and juicy. But today we didn’t have much luck in our restaurant pickings. Another difficulty is the huge amount of pollen flying through the air. It’s easily visible and the wind occasionally blows it into soft, billowy piles. My eyes are red and bloodshot from constant itching.

My behind is a bit sore from the time in the saddle, but otherwise, I’m doing pretty well, hoping I can make it through tomorrow, which is the toughest day of the tour. Four days is the most I’ve ever cycled in a row. Mark is suffering, but I’m loving it and am already dreaming of what will be my next bike tour.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Spain Sierra bike trip – day 2

Day 1 of the bike trip was good – long and at times tough, but with lots of beautiful scenery to enjoy. I went 57 kilometers, though I think it was more, especially since I got lost the moment I started out. The highlights were:

• The village of Torrelaguna and the most amazing bakery (Panaderia Martin (calle Cardenal Cisneros 11; Tel: 91 843 03 11) we found there. My traveling companion said he didn’t think there was more than one bakery this good in the entire state of Hawaii. It was by far the best I’ve come across in Spain – with healthy options such as whole wheat toast and sandwiches and smoothies, together with the usual sweet goodies.

• The wildflowers – red poppies, white, purple, and yellow flowers dotted the fields everywhere and perfumed the air. Beautiful.

• The views of the el Atazar reservoir, especially up close.

• The quiet country roads, where it was only me, the birds and the wind.

• The cool afternoon breeze and the bright blue sky

• The town of Buitrago de Loyoza with it’s medieval section, thick Moorish stone wall with cool, dark arches, friendly people, and the best menu del dia I’ve had so far in Spain at Asador Restaurante Las Murallas (Plaza de la Constitucion 3; Tel: 91 868 04 84) - a steal at 10 euro.

Least favorite part – the 10 km or so uphill climb out of Torrelaguna in the intense heat. At this time of year, the best times to ride are before 10:30 a.m. and after 6 p.m. It makes for a very split day and is tough to time the rides, especially since we thought we’d take it slow and would have all day to cover the distance. Also, the urbanizaciones, or developments that have sprung up on the outskirts of many of these villages. They look like character-less suburbs.

Overall, I’m loving being on the road, seeing the land up close, and exploring the small towns of this region of Spain.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Spain Sierra bike trip – Day 1

We organized a five-day bike trip with Bike Spain in Madrid. I found the company online and was impressed with their willingness to accommodate our small group of two and our schedule. They modified the schedule and the days so that we could fit in the tour in exactly between our two weekend visits to friends. This is my first ever bike trip that I haven’t organized myself, so I’m excited.

Today is by far the easiest day of the trip, as it involved no required biking. A staff member picked us up from our friends’ house and took us to the village of Soto del Real, about an hour north of Madrid. We got our bikes and equipment, went through the logistics, and were able to settle in to our hotel. We are staying at the Hotel Prado, a basic but clean and pleasant place with very friendly staff.

Soto del Real used to be called Chozas, which means shephard’s huts, because in the 15th and 16th centuries, it was nothing more than a collection of stone huts used by shepherds as they led flocks of merino sheep to and from Segovia. It’s a dry and rocky place, but at 900 meters above sea level, has more trees than Alcala de Henares, including juniper bushes, white maple, oak, pine and cypress.

After lunch (only 9 euros for a menu del dia at the Restaurant Miratoros) and an afternoon nap, I biked through town, then to the Cuenca Alta de Manzanares Regional Park, located on a mountain behind town. I think I saw the descendants of some of those original sheep, wide bodied sheep behind an old stone fence. Wildflowers filled the grasses, emitting a sweet scent. I rode up to the Casa de la Cerca del Cura. I’m not exactly sure what it is – a priest’s house, a monastery, a small church--but it was a stone religious building surrounded by huge boulders upon a promontory overlooking the village and the valley. It was peaceful there, with the only sounds being the wind, the birds and barking dogs. It was a nice place to enjoy the breeze, the sweet air, and the calm.

Meandering around town for some dinner supplies, I came across the fruteria DeMaria (calle real 23; tel: 91 847 86 00) with beautiful cherries, strawberries, apples, peaches, nectarines and apricots – a much appreciated antidote to the heavy, oily we’ve had so far. A nearby shop, Tahona (Virgen del Rosario), emitted a smell so sweet I had to go in. It was a bakery with fresh baked loaves that included some non-white options.

The center of town is small and pleasant, but apart from a few interesting stone buildings, not particularly striking. The residences around the town are quite nice – they look like what I’ve seen of houses in Arizona. Earthly colors in a dry landscape.

None of the towns we’ll be passing through on this bike tour has more than 10,000 inhabitants. I’m looking forward to experiencing some small town life.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Chinchon and Spanish Sunday lunch

Our excursion today was to the village of Chinchon, located just south of Madrid, set in an arid, rocky landscape, covered with olive groves and red poppies. The three-story central plaza, lined by balconies, dates back to the 15th and 16th century. The town itself is even older. Because the plaza is so typical in the traditional sense, it is often used to film movies. It’s home to a wine and anis festival in the spring and a garlic festival in October. On occasion, when bullfights are held, they close off the plaza and use it as a bullfighting ring.

We walked down the narrow streets, lined by old white buildings and dark, ancient balconies. We saw a pastry chef working on his creations through a large window. Most bakeries advertised leche frita, or fried milk, a special type of sweet treat. There were several hotels, though being Sunday, most of the shops were closed. Our friend said the main industries are the production of alcohol (anis, wine and lemon liquor) and garlic. Chinchon garlic supplies all of Spain. There is also a lot of unemployment, so villages like Chinchon appreciate the weekend visitors from Madrid.

Just as we reached the bottom of the downhill road and entered the central plaza to admire the view, we saw a police officer, and then a motorcycle. Then another, and another, and another. A whole line of motorcycles filed into the medieval central plaza, one following the next. The sounds of their engines filled the air. I was expecting something along the lines of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Were they going to do wheelies in the plaza, jump off their bikes and do a dance?

They just filled the plaza with their bikes, got off, appeared to enjoy the attention and the photo-taking by the spectators, strolled around a bit and went into the bars lining the plaza, then continued on their way about a half hour later. We sat at an outdoor table, enjoying a drink and the scenery.

We also discovered the ethnological museum, which was open on Sundays and was very well done, though it could have used a tour guide. “This made me somehow nostalgic,” our friend David said, upon seeing the objects he remembered his parents and grandparents using.

As it was our friend’s birthday today, everyone gathered at a restaurant for lunch. They seated us at a long table under the trees and lined up bottles of wine and water. The grandparents ordered a variety of appetizers to share – sausage, croquetas, beans, salads, empanadas. The bread was served warm and was the lightest, airiest, most delicious bread I’ve had so far in Spain. This particular place, Arboleda (Avda. De Aragon 361, 28022 Madrid; Nacional 2 Salida 11, Puente de San Fernando, Tel: 91 747 46 31), is known for pork chuletas, so almost everyone ordered that, though I took sea bass. This was followed by flan with cream or ice cream and tea. A leisurely 3.5 hour meal, during which the family relaxed and chatted, the favorite uncle taught the toddlers to throw food and to throw sand, and no one commented. The birthday girl was regaled with gifts of beautiful clothing, an adult with a recent birthday was given a remote control helicopter, and the children were given gifts just because they are children and the grandparents give them gifts almost daily.

It’s hard work to spend so much time eating, so we came home to rest for the remainder of the evening.

I haven’t been this unstressed for quite a while – no deadlines, not much to think about, not a whole lot of reason to check email or to spend much time online. Life is good in Espana and I’m relearning how to accept and enjoy some down time. In just a little while, we’ll begin a four day bike trip in what will likely be intense heat. Then I’ll be back to trying to achieve a goal – but while enjoying plenty of Spanish-style rest stops.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Alcala de Henares

We spent today touring Alcala de Henares, an attractive town of old buildings, tiny iron patios, centuries-old churches, convents and universities topped by gigantic stork’s nests and the large, majestic bodies of these birds (there are over 100 pairs of them in town).

The main street is the second longest colonnaded main street in Europe. The magisterial church, which require that all priests also be university faculty, is only one of two in Europe (the other is in Scotland). It’s the birthplace of Cervantes and in October, the main street is converted into a medieval market. The roofs are made from red clay tiles, which presents a beautiful sight when viewed from the top of the local tower. And the city is blooming with roses, large, fragrant, of many colors.

We visited the house of Cervantes. My friend said that it isn’t his birthplace exactly. He was born just next door, on the cross street. But the city thought it was better to have his hour on the main tourist route. It was quite a nice patio-style house, located next door to the hospital where his father worked as a doctor and which still operates as a care facility for poor elderly people.

We climbed the 109 steps to the top of the tower, for a great view of the town and an interesting tour, all for one euro. The best part was the museum to the university, which is the main reason Alcala de Henares was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1887. It began construction in 1499 and opened in 1508. Two other universities were already operating in Spain, but this was the first one to be a “university town,” to have students live on campus, and even to live under a set of laws different from those outside the university. There was a jail on campus where students would be punished for infractions such as speaking anything other than Latin, returning after 8 p.m., or bringing a woman on premises.

The university is visited by the King and Queen each year, where they present the Cervantes prize to an author that writes in Spanish. The first woman to ever receive her doctorate was a member of a family close to the king and the king had to order that the university allow her to sit for her exams.

The procedure of taking doctoral exams seemed to instill fear into my husband, who has a Ph.D. The candidate has to study eight years for a licenciado, even more for a doctorate. He would stand at a pulpit with his examiners on benches on the other side of the room and the galleys full of students who would jeer, cheer and mock the candidates. Each professor was allowed to ask one question. The candidate was supposed to both show his knowledge in answering the questions and his strong character in being able to handle the raucous crowd.

If he passed, he was led out a particular victory route, thought an arch of accomplishment and into the town where he’d be greeted by cheering people. They were always happy when someone passed because a new doctor was supposed to throw a party for the townspeople from his own money.

If he failed, he was led back through the door he entered. Real burro’s ears were attached to his ears, he rode a burro and he was walked through town, where he was mocked and spit upon and had waste thrown at him by townspeople unhappy that they weren’t getting a party. Then he returned to the university, where his classmates were to spit upon him in sufficient quantity to turn his shirt from black to white.

While I’m not much of a shopper, I enjoyed doing some shopping here. I loaded up on fantastic children’s books in Spanish at Libreria Diogenes (Calle Ramon y Cajal 1), my friends took me to, El Trastero de Lula, a cute little shop with quality toys, I bought the local specialty, candied almonds, called almendras de Alcala, at one of the oldest confectioners in town, and I enjoyed window shopping in the variety of other stores.

I also enjoyed the breaks, during which we sat outdoors at cafes and drank coffee, tea, beer, water and/or sodas. The food was plentiful, but I’m finding that I need some adjustment to the high fat and carbohydrate content. We started the day with churros (fried, sweet bread) and thick liquid chocolate. Our first drink break came with bread crumbs friend in oil with a bit of sausage. For lunch, we had a huge plate of fried potatoes, fried croquettes, cod fried with egg, and some delicious octopus on top of grilled potato and tomato. That came with a free serving of super greasy fried rice. Italian ice cream was our evening snack. For dinner at 10 p.m., we enjoyed grilled hot dogs, pork and sausage, more French bread, gouda cheese and a salad. The food is so heavy I can see why the afternoon nap is part of the culture. I’m just thankful we walked many miles, which hopefully helped to moderate the effects.

Our friends live in a development about a 20 minute walk from the center of Alcala. What is nice about it is the community aspect. In the mornings, everyone gathers at the churreria for their churros con chocolate. By 10 a.m. my friend says there is a line wrapped around the block. They can walk to the vendors of different foods, to the gym, to their children’s schools, to the park. There is very little need for a car on a typical day.

Both of our friends grew up here and now live just minutes from their family members, who also stayed local. They seem content with their life here. I can see why. This is a nice place, with a very relaxed culture. Though we flew in to Madrid, we are basing ourselves here. So far, I’m not missing the city.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Lessons in hospitality

Mark and I arrived at our friends’ home in Spain. They led us to an open and light-filled loft, half of the square footage of their apartment. I hear birds chirping. We have a private bathroom, a place to relax, a flat screen TV. My friend filled our personal refrigerator with drinks and put some snacks on top of it. In the bathroom, she laid out all kinds of toiletries we could need and said to help ourselves.

I did, in fact, forget my shampoo. It’s great to be able to grab a snack when hungry and not have to ask, or to find a way to go out and buy something. I’m reminded of similar hospitality I’ve been offered in many countries – the kind where the hosts think of what the guests might want or need, and do their best to accommodate.

In the U.S., on the other hand, it seems common to give guests a space, and tell them to make themselves at home. But they are often on their own in terms of feeding themselves and they may even take out the hosts in thanks for the lodging. I understand that people are tired and busy and may not want to put themselves out for guests. But that extra step makes being a guest so much more enjoyable. It makes me want to repay the favor – which makes the experience better for everyone.

We don’t have great accommodations for guests – a fold out sofa in the living room. I do try to have food on hand, I try to make at least one decent meal anytime someone is visiting and I tell people to help themselves to whatever is in the kitchen. But I recognize it’s not all that comfortable to rifle through someone else’s kitchen. I also admit that with the pressures of parenthood and work, I’m often fine with just suggesting we go out to eat.

This reminds me that I should make a bit more effort. I should have toiletries easily available and ready to use. I should have some snacks available in an easy to access place. And I should make an effort to think about what my guests would like to eat or do, and try to make that happen.

Where have you encountered the most welcoming hospitality? How do you welcome guests?


Oh, the relaxed Spain of my youth. It is coming back to me.

“You’ve come to Spain to do sports?” my friend’s mother said to me, referring to the four-day bike trip we’ve planned. “You are supposed to come here to eat and relax.”

I told her my goal was to eat as much good food as I could without gaining weight, and that the biking would allow me to eat more.

“But it’s not a problem if you gain weight,” she said. “Because you’ll return to the U.S., where except for Thanksgiving, there is no good food, and you will lose it.”

I have to agree with her on the food. After a day and a half spent in airplane travel and a stopover at a house where there was almost nothing to eat that was not processed, I’m longing for quality food made from fresh ingredients even more.

We all gathered at a table outside a bar. Our group ranged in age from one month old to grandparents. The bar tables were all full. Plenty of people strolled outside. My friend said there were less people outside than usual, because on Friday evenings people head to the villages.

Eat, drink, relax. Adults entertained the children. No one talked much about work, about obligations, about anything stressful. It was just an acceptance of and enjoyment of the moment. This seems to me like a nice place to live.

The power of a village

I’ve been in Spain less than four hours and already I can see a place that puts “it takes a village into practice.” Our friends live in an apartment complex filled with small tykes. When I asked how it was possible to have so many toddlers in one building, they said it was due to the economic crisis. “There is nothing else to do,” Jose said. Or, as his mother theorized, perhaps it’s due to the storks that are prevalent in this area. One of these massive birds flew by as we sat at a table outside of a bar.

The complex has a locked outdoor patio, with a basketball court, swings and toys. “You can just let your kids run in here. Nothing can happen since it’s enclosed and there are always so many people we know here,” said Lucia. Giant roses – pink, yellow, red and fragrant – grew from small garden patches amidst the toys. “If someone needs to go and do something, someone else will watch their child.” It’s such a simple way to help the neighbors get to know each other, to interact, to help each other out, yet it’s not something I’ve seen in the United States.”

From there, we went to a bar that was literally 10 feet from the front door of the building. Both adults and children congregated there. The kids could run around and play, the adults socialized and drank, everyone enjoyed themselves.

Our hosts quickly assembled a family group. Jose, his parents and his two brothers all live within a couple of buildings of each other. The three generations see each other all the time.

In the fall, 2.5 year old Jose Jr. will start preschool. It’s five days a week, located a five minute walk from home, and can be as long as 8-3. My friend Lucia thinks it will be possible for her to find work that will allow her to pick him up by 3. The cost - $0. Public preschools are free, and education is mandatory from the age of 4.

Community, family, connection, support for parents and for early education for all – those are all values that I cherish. When I see them practiced elsewhere, it makes me sad that some people in my country think making each individual struggle, and the children to pay the price, is necessarily great. They may mock what they call “socialism.” But a little care for all people, and structures that support inter-reliance go a long way in terms of creating happy, secure and protected children – and adults.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I heart MSP

MSP has always been one of my favorite airports. It’s clean, there are some interesting shops, you can find something decent to eat, the employees are friendly and don’t shout at you, there is a fantastic rest/nursery area for mothers and children, and today, I get to listen to live piano music by Aldo while I wait. Free concert of soothing music in airport = awesome.

High tea

This year I decided to take my mom out for high tea for mother’s day. I searched for a tea room in her area and found Ladies Elegant Tea, which seemed to have very good reviews. We were joined by my sister-in-law and her two tweens.

We were the only customers for high tea on a weekday afternoon, but what a pleasant time we had. As a tea aficionado, I’ve tried quite a few tearooms. What was most impressive about this one was the attention to detail. Every cup, plate, saucer, and instrument was a pleasure to look at. One child’s teapot had a china cat atop. All had drip catchers and were placed upon beautiful candles/potholders to keep the tea piping hot throughout the service.

The children appreciated their special brightly colored napkins, and the way pink sprinkles appeared not only on the cupcakes, but on the crustless PB&J sandwiches.

I had a fantastic Island Magic iced tea, with flavors of mango, coconut and passionfruit.

This little gem of a tearoom allowed us to enjoy quality girl time as a family, which is priceless.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Airport without child

Last night I arrived in this airport with a 2.5-year-old child. I can’t say he misbehaved during the 3-hour flight. He did pretty well. But he didn’t sleep and it’s hard to keep a child entertained and seated within about one square foot of space, especially when the guy in front of him threw dirty glances every time he touched the table on the back of his seat. So I certainly had no rest and spent every minute attending to him.

We had some fun. I enjoyed his excitement at watching the airport activity upon landing, and I was proud of him for drinking 2-3 cups of liquids during the flight and holding it until we reached the bathroom in the airport. But it was tiring and I arrived exhausted.

Now I’ve left him with grandma and grandpa and am off to Europe on my own, where I will meet Mark. Initially, I missed the entertainment value he offered. If nothing else, he always keeps me amused. Then I didn’t know what to do with myself. I soon figured out how to browse the shops, looking for a birthday gift for a friend, then to snag a seat next to a man playing live on a grand piano, and have some quiet writing time with beautiful background music.

Wow, freedom. Free time. Motherhood has taught me to use it well. But sometimes, I want to do nothing more than space out and enjoy the lack of responsibility.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Abuja airport

I had heard so many horror stories about the Abuja airport – stories of shakedowns, intimidations, requests for money, fees for bringing a laptop, problems with taxis – that I got off the plane alone rather frightened at what I’d encounter and how I’d handle it. I was relived to find a smooth and fairly-hassle free experience.

After disembarking, you get your passport stamped. There are carts available at the luggage carousel as well as porters. I was carrying less than $5,000 cash, so customs ended up being easy as well and there is no problem bringing in a personal laptop.

If you have a driver awaiting you, you’ll find him just after customs. If you are going to take a taxi, you have to walk out of the airport and about a block to the right. Make sure to take a green taxi with a number on the side. Reports of robberies come most frequently from what are called “painted” or non-official (green) taxis.

When it’s time to depart, locals told me I could arrive one hour before departure. But expats told me to leave my hotel four hours before departure, which I found was much too early. There are quite a few steps involved in departure, but it’s not so difficult. Unless you expect a lot of traffic enroute to the airport, leaving 2.5-3 hours before your flight should be sufficient. If you have a late night flight and your driver is not from Abuja, keep in mind that he may not be able to return home, since driving at night in some places is discouraged.

The steps in departure are:
1. Change any leftover money. There is a bureau de change next to a shop on the right-hand side of the airport upon entering.
2. Show your passport.
3. Go through the security machine. If you are using a porter, he will take your luggage through the machine, then will expect payment.
4. Just to the right of the security machine exit, people will take a look at your luggage.
5. Over to the left of the ticket counters, you weigh your luggage on a scale and get a slip.
6. Then you can check in and get a boarding pass
7. Finally, go through passport control and up to the waiting lounge.
8. There may be another security machine check before boarding the flight.

It sounds like a lot, but it went pretty quickly.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

To use a credit card or not in Abuja

Everything I read before departure warned people not to use a credit card in Nigeria, due to the risk of fraud. But your only other option is to carry a huge wad of cash, which isn’t much easier. If you bring over $5,000, you have to declare it, which will give you extra hassles at the airport.

When I arrived, I saw credit card machines everywhere from my hotel to the small supermarkets. The Hilton had an entire row of ATMs from different banks.

I spoke with an expat who visits Nigeria frequently and who has paid for her stays at the Sheraton with a credit card without issue. A couple of tips she offered are:

• If using an ATM, aim for Standard Chartered, which are supposed to be safe
• Avoid ATMs that are on the street and unprotected
• Find out your cards anti-fraud policies. Keep an eye on transactions and notify your card if you see anything unusual
• You may want to contact your card ahead of time and let them know to expect a charge/charges from Nigeria. Otherwise, their security flags are likely to rise.
• While using a card to buy things within the country is easy, you may face difficulty in trying to purchase something online and have it shipped to Nigeria.

Taxis in Abuja

In getting around, you have three choices, from most to least expensive.

1. Hire your own driver, who will stay with you. You can ask around for recommendations. Or many of the hotel “car hires” (see below) are available for longer term use.

2. Use your hotel “car-hire.” A “drop off” – meaning a ride to a place in town is usually 1,000, but can go up to 2,000. It costs more if you want the driver to wait. When you are ready to leave, you can call the driver for another “drop off” ride. These are generally nice cars with air conditioning. But not all of the drivers are well off. Some of them rent the car from someone else on a daily basis, so they can make their living off the difference they earn doing “car hire.”

3. Hail a taxi on the street. They are almost everywhere, easy to catch, and cost 1/3 to ½ the price of car hire. But the vehicles can be in varied states of repair and you’ll enjoy the breeze from the open windows. Foreigners I met said they and their acquaintances hadn’t had any problems, as long as they took the green cabs.

As you move around town, you’ll find you like and trust some drivers more than others. Ask for their numbers if they don’t offer them. Most drivers are happy to respond to calls and will do so quickly. It’s always nice to know that a trusted person is available to come pick you up.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

First impressions of Abuja

The 30-kilometer road from the airport to town is beautiful. Paved and smooth, it is lined with trees, the green contrasting with the orange-brown dirt. It is in the process of being widened, to five lines on each side, so a cloud of dust billowed over the road while workers did their jobs.

There isn’t a whole lot to see between the airport and town, but I still got the very clear feeling of being in Africa. The first thing I noticed was the soil. Something about African earth stands out to me. Perhaps because it is more visible than elsewhere, where it might be tarred over or forested. Perhaps because of the hue it takes on. Or perhaps because of the deep, rich scent. But it moves me and makes me happy to be here.

I saw a billboard urging people to Say No to Overloading vehicles. A man walked down the street carrying an old black sewing machine with a hand crank on his head. Muslim mean wore colorful long robes and pants and round, flat embroidered hats. The non-Muslims dressed spiffily, in suits, slacks, skirts and blouses. I saw fruit – mango, papaya and other items I couldn’t identify- sold in buckets at the side of the road. Peddlers offered their wares to backed up traffic.

My driver was listening to Love FM, a nice blend of music, BBC-like local news and commentary. A short sermon by a Reverend talked about fasting during Lent. I was struck by his understanding and inclusiveness. He said the Bible offers no command regarding fasting and it’s an individual choice. One who fasts should not be ostentatious about it, nor should one judge others who make a different decision. He reminded listeners that there are some who can’t get enough to eat on a daily basis and there is no reason for them to fast. It was positive, uplifting and promoted understanding of others – a contrast to the religious discourse I hear on the radio at home.

The city of Abuja seems to be made up of a lot of new buildings, separated by wide, paved roads. It doesn’t appear to be very pedestrian friendly, as the dust pervades even the city center. My driver pointed out the beautiful gold domed mosque, and the Christian church across from it. He said there are more Muslims than Christian in this area. He showed me the various government offices, most of which looked new and modern. My hotel looks out at the federal police headquarters, a massive white structure that looks more like the United Nations than an African government ministry.

My initial impressions are good – better than I expected actually – and I’m looking forward to seeing and learning more

Arrival in Abuja

I was pretty freaked out by what I’d read and heard about arriving at the airport in Abuja. More than one person reported being “shaken down” at the airport, whatever that means. I read an account in the otherwise helpful book, This House Has Fallen, about having to fight off hordes of people trying to extract money, including a customs agent who demanded $300 to “import” the author’s personal computer. I stepped off the plane feeling like I’d be fresh bait in a pond.

It wasn’t like that at all. The passport line was a little slow, but presented no problems. Everyone was in uniform, from the officials in their khaki uniforms to the luggage carriers in their lavender shirts. Not a single person approached me. I used a free cart, grabbed my bags, sailed through customs (noting a big sign on the door that said Say No to Corruption in Customs) and found my driver outside. There is nothing to be nervous about here.

German efficiency

It’s been a while since I’ve passed through Germany, a place I used to go frequently. I spent last night in Frankfurt and more than anything, I was impressed by the efficiency.

There were no lines at either passport control or luggage pickup and processes moved smoothly. Even at flight check-in, the line moved very quickly, with a screen showing the next available agent and directing the first person in line in that direction. An automated machine gently turned suitcases on their sides before loading them on the conveyor belt, and another machine automatically brought the trays back to the beginning of the security line.

Despite the grey color of the airport and the modern industrial look that was hardly cheery, the efficient manner in which everything operated and the healthy and well-cared for looks of everyone (from the servers to the window washers to the baggage handlers), gave me the impression that Germany is probably a nice place to live.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A glimpse of yesterday's news in Nigeria

One great thing about traveling to Nigeria, compared to other countries I spend time in, is that the local newspapers are in English. So one can see what the local people are thinking about and understand the nuances and details I might miss in another language.

I picked up two papers in Abuja on Saturday, March 20th. Here are some of the notable stories from each:

The Weekly Trust
• Why bombings have returned to the Niger Delta
• Pythons invade two communities
• Several Muslims are missing and feared killed in Jose
• Students protested in Jos because they wanted to be able to lynch a man they thought was carrying explosives into their institute. One student was killed when police broke it up. The man thought to be carrying explosives was only carrying cell phone bags
• 18 die in a traffic accident on the way to a man taking his second wife
• A disabled woman has been living in a cart for the past 10 years
• A former minister of defense explains why he yells at officials in the ministry
• Cerebro-spinal meningitis returns to the north of the country
• A celebration of the ideal mother
• Author profile and book reviews
• Hollywood tidbits
• An opinion piece from Atlanta about Jihad Jane
• A kid’s page with puzzle, birthday greetings and a cookie recipe that uses the U.S. measurement system

The Guardian
• The student shot at the university, as well as other violence in Jos, is front-page news. But there is no mention that the dead student was trying to lynch someone.
• “Gang of Achaba Riders Roast Cab Driver in Kano Metropolis.” When a cab driver damaged the back light on a motorcycle, a group of his friends ganged up on the driver, accused him of being a thief, beat him, then set him on fire on top of his car. Under the car, with a photo of the burned out car, a female doctor writes in how horrified she was to witness that crime and that she did nothing to help. “Innocent people are killed every day, people who wake up in the morning like a majority of us with nothing in mind but how to navigate through the rought terrain of existence, feed their families, send their children to school. Even innocent children are not spared in a land where life has become so cheap. Be it in ethnic clashes, religious clashes, in maternity wards, on the road, in our homes while we sleep evil continues to flourish because good men (and women) do nothing. It is time that we think of our roles in the society and what they can do and how best we can do it.”
• A young couple with premature triplets pleads for financial assistance. They cannot afford what it costs to have them in an incubator.
• A U.S. doctor used paper clips for root canals
• In a part of Indonesia, people snack on soil
• On the cover of the Life & Style section is the former head of Administration of the University of Lagos, dressed in an African print dress, round beads and earrings and a red turban. The headline is: Kofoworola: Cool, Calm and Cute…At 60”
• An article on How to be a Successful Wife and Career Woman emphasizes spending a lot of time to look good and recommends not wasting a lot of time on meals that probably won’t be appreciated
• A woman writes how she used a razor blade to make three marks on his “manhood” while he was sleeping, and since then, he’s been faithful to her
• Two short stories
• Articles on sunglasses, high heels and luxury hotels
• Lots of business, politics and sports

I must admit, reading the newspapers on my airplane ride home made me more anxious and nervous about Nigeria than I was when I was there. Newspapers in the U.S. have that effect as well – a reminder of all the terrible and grotesque that exists, without representing the proportional amount of goodness that takes place.

Nevertheless, I liked how thick the papers were – well over 40 pages – and the mixture of news, analysis, opinion, fashion and society, announcements and even short stories. The tendency for mob violence, especially the horrible recent slaughter of women and children with machetes, scares me. But, like elsewhere, I think the majority of the people are good. Those I came across were friendly, optimistic, hardworking, intelligent and kind.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Easton and the Crayola Factory (and Canal Museum)

Today’s visit was to Easton, Pennsylvania. It’s an intriguing town, with hilly streets, narrow houses and buildings that reflect a rich history. But it’s also clearly down on its luck. It seemed like a good 50% of the storefronts downtown were empty, there were lots of “for sale” sales, and evidence of neglect. The people seemed sad and downtrodden, as though they’d been through a rough time lately. We hadn’t been out of the car for two minutes before a toothless man approached us, asking for change.

In this unlikely place is a fun and unique destination for kids, the Crayola Factory and the attached Canal Museum. Admission includes both attractions. While most seem to go for the Crayola Factory, the Canal Museum is fantastic – very interactive and child oriented. If I had it to do over again, I might have started at the Canal Museum first, then let my son run himself to the point of exhaustion at Crayola. Go on a weekday if you can and try to get there early. When it gets crowded, the need to manage your child among so many others reduces the fun factor.

I can’t say there is a lot to learn at Crayola, certainly not compared to the nearby Davinci. It’s basically a big test center for a wide variety of Crayola products. But it’s bright, friendly and there are lots of artistic opportunities. It was nice for River to be able to run from one project to another and for the parents to not have to clean anything up. I got to see what interested him most (the glow-in-the-dark coloring), which of course led me to the Crayola store to buy him the glow-in-the-dark color pad. At least I knew he’d like it before I bought it.

The Canal Museum does have some good educational elements. Especially the exhibit on the 2nd floor (also a good place to get to early, before a line forms), where each child is given a plastic boat and helped to guide it along a canal and through the locks. The third floor is less hectic than the others and it has several activities that appeal to young children. The opportunity to place panels that guide a boat through a maze is especially fun and thoughtful. This is a smaller, more controlled space, and more relaxing for kids and parents.

For lunch, there is a McDonalds on the premises and a Subway nearby. For more adult food we went to the River Grill, about a block away. They get a lot of Crayola Factory visitors and were very accommodating to kids.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lessons learned from the second day of road trip with toddler

1. Places where kids can run around and touch stuff are priceless.

2. A good nap at the normal time makes things much easier.

3. It’s very easy to fall into an all white-carb all the time diet. Pretzels, pancakes, bread? OK, whatever keeps you happy.

4. My tolerance for Barney music is fairly high (at least compared with my husband’s). But it is not infinite.

5. I have pretty high expectations for a toddler (friends said they didn’t take their toddler out to dinner for four years). Perhaps I should be happy that I can take him out to dinner and not sweat it if he doesn’t behave perfectly.

6. The small moments – jumping together on the bed, singing the ABCs together in the car, exploring a particularly intriguing science exhibit together – are the most special.

The changing definition of what makes a good hotel

I’m sitting on the hard floor of the hotel bathroom waiting for River to take his nap. I’ve been here for well over an hour and it’s just recently become quiet. So I’m hoping he has fallen asleep and will thus be in a good enough mood for us to be able to enjoy dinner with friends tonight. When I was young and poor and adventurous, my idea of a good hotel was someplace really cheap and reasonably safe. If there was free breakfast, that was a bonus. I didn’t care so much about location as I only came to the hotel to crash. I was exploring the rest of the day. When I dated Mark long-distance and we had to meet up in countries located halfway between us, I started to value a little more of the romantic element, as well as privacy. Now, a Jacuzzi was a bonus. Mark wants central location, so I started to get used to being able to walk from the hotel and easily get to all of the local attractions. Now, traveling with a toddler, I’d say location is definitely key. There is a lot more freedom if one is able to walk out the door and see and do things, rather than have to bundle the kid into a car. Now, the big bonus is either an extra room, or a situation in which I can feel safe leaving him alone in the room and hanging out in a pleasant lobby. If neither of those are possible, than a bathroom or a closet sufficiently large enough to put a travel crib in is a bonus. Since I have neither now, the entire room is River’s and I’m relegated to the bathroom floor. Oh well, as long as there is a nap and I have a little bit of quiet time, I guess I’m OK with ceramic tile.

The joy of finding a kid-friendly cafe

We’d had a long napless day. I didn’t get a chance for a real lunch and it was looking like I wouldn’t get dinner either. I didn’t think River would last through a meal.

I went into The Chocolate Café in Lititz. River seemed happy when he came across a selection of life-sized stuffed dogs.

“Are these toys?” I asked an employee, as River pulled them out.

“Yes, and we have some cars and trucks over here,” she said.

She made my day. It was OK for River to play, to roll around on the floor and to be a kid. This meant that we could actually have a meal without the struggle of keeping him in a seat and occupied for an hour.

The waitstaff didn’t seem to mind stepping over stuffed animals, cars or a mobile toddler. The fact that the food was delicious and healthy was a bonus. Thanks to those establishments that make it easier to enjoy a meal and to relax a bit by providing a space for children to be kids.

Science for kids

Today River paid his first visit to a science museum and LOVED it. We went to the DaVinci Science Center in Allentown, PA. We were the first people to arrive when the museum opened at 12, so we initially had the place to ourselves. In the preschool room, River got to put chocolate chunks into pretend cookies and count the pieces. He played with unusual shaped large soft blocks and he got to look at shells under a magnifying glass. He was thrilled to sit on a chair and to experience the backwards motion that happens when two people push their feet against each other. He saw what happens to liquid when it is spun rapidly, he learned how water erodes particles, he watched a ball react to vacuum pressure and he got a close up look at starfish and crabs. He smiled so much in the hour and a half we were there. It was one novel experience after another and he was so enthusiastic he threw a nice tantrum when it was time to leave. This is a great museum in that it’s fairly small, which allows kids to get through the whole place without being overwhelmed, and it really encourages tactile exploration and observation at the child’s pace. The friendly staff posted around the exhibits offer helpful explanations. This is a place I’d like to come back to because I think kids of various ages are able to get different things out of it. For me, it was the highlight of our weekend so far to see my toddler so happy to explore and to learn.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A visit to Lititz

Because I traveled to Lititz with a toddler, my attention span rather resembled that of a two year old. I enjoyed a close up look at many wolves at the Wolf Sanctuary, but unfortunately didn’t get to the hear much of what the tour guide said. I got to shape dough into a pretzel at Julius Sturgis Pretzel Factory, but didn’t get to finish the tour. I was able to stroll briefly through the town, buying chocolate at Wilbur, feeding the ducks at a local pond, and enjoying the great food at The Chocolate Café, but I left a lot unseen and undone.

Lititz is a charming little town with a rich history and a lot of beautiful buildings that bring the sense of history to life. I hope to be able to return here sometime, with more time and a better ability to pay attention. There is a lot to see and explore.

Taking a roadtrip with a toddler

Lessons I’m learning from day one of roadtrip with toddler:

Toddler may well be psyched to see the wolves, but he will not last beyond a small fraction of a one hour tour.

Time outs in the crib work well at home. But I am struggling with how to discipline while on the road. Especially while out in public on the road. Instead, I take in many disapproving looks when my toddler doesn’t listen to me and I spend much of the day chasing him.

Singing songs together in the car on the way to a destination is very special quality time.

If naptime doesn’t happen, you are screwed, no matter what you do.

Have a supply of water, snacks and Hot Wheels on hand, at all times.

Having a second room is a huge bonus. If that’s not available, a B&B with an attractive lobby is a good substitute.

Free homebaked goods, hot beverages and a Jacuzzi can soothe the stresses of the roughest day.

DO NOT OVERPLAN. Lower expectations. Yes, we’ll see wolves. But no, I won’t be able to actually listen to anything the tour guide says. Many people have pressed me to slow down my pace in the past. Perhaps my toddler will finally force me to change.

It’s a lot of work, it’s tough to not have somebody to hand responsibility over for a little while here and there, but I’m grateful for my buddy and glad to be creating memories with him.