One to Grow On

December 31, 2010

Kindness of Near Strangers

Filed under: animals, children, Great Britain, New Zealand, travel — midway2go @ 3:17 am

Those of you who have been following this blog since last November (or anyone awake and reading) must have noticed a drastically increased frequency of posts.  I mean,  I posted NOTHING for almost four months and now I’m writing something every couple of days?  Weird, huh?  Well, I’m suddenly in a hurry to get to the main event of our storyline.  In most ways our trip (and this story) starts and ends with Brandon’s leaving for Iraq and Brandon’s returning from Iraq.  Clearly, he’s home, and I’ve got photos, and stories, and I want to see this thing through in the same calendar year that it took place.  By tomorrow.  So, here goes.

When we last saw our heroes (that’s Rory and Nora and I) we were lounging around the home of the Pilbeam’s somewhere outside of Edinburgh.  Our time was short.  We knew Brandon was due home sometime in October, and we meant to be there, household established, waiting for him.  That gave us about three more weeks in Britain, then about three weeks at home, trying to settle in and get a house ready.  Out of our three travelling weeks we wanted to wring all the satisfaction and joy and  adventure and fellowship we could.  We wanted to make them count.  We wanted to spend our time with  friends.   And I absolutely, positively had to sell our car.

The Pilbeam’s pointed us toward the Holy Island of Lindisfarne on our way south to York.  Just like Mont St. Michel in France or Skellig Micheal in Ireland (both of which, due to lack of prior planning, we viewed from afar) Holy Island was a religious community separated from the secular world by thought and deed and the tide.  Now the ruins of an abbey, a National Trust property and some shops lure travellers over a wet road twice a day at low tides.   And, thanks to the Pilbeam’s, we got there just in time to roll in, stroll around, and leave again before the sea reached our rims.  Thanks, Ian!

We had also planned to go by Alnwick Castle, which was used as Hogwarts in some of the Harry Potter movies, but once there I calculated that it would cost us more than $70 to stroll the grounds and try to see exactly where Harry learned to play Quidditch.  Hmmm…  we backtracked to an overview, had a good look, and kept the money.  No regrets there. 

I have to admit, I have long wanted to see York.  The cathedral, the old town, the Viking museum:  I wanted to stay days and days and really take it all in.  We set up the tent by the loveliest little river imaginable a few miles outside town.  The plan was to stroll into town and take a bus back.  Well, we never once left the campsite once we settled in.  Those were our last few days in the Snug Bug, and that had a greater pull than York Minster.  

Here’s where the Near Strangers come in.  Long, long ago, early in the trip, we literally ran into another RTW family in a hostel in Queenstown, NZ.  That family, the Price’s, kept an excellent, timely (hpm-hpm) blog which I read every chance I had (as should you:  www.globalprices.wordpress.com)   After our meeting we stayed loosely in touch, and they invited us to come for a visit if our itineraries allowed.  So, strangers?  Not really.  Friends?  Well, they are now.   Tim and Kirsten and I stayed up late comparing notes and swapping  tales and discovering one freaky coincidence after another.  Ready?  In addition to the biggie ( finding ourselves with our children on the opposite side of the world in the same hostel on the same day at the same minute, obviously!), we both own really old houses on High Streets, we both had (or have, in our case) a cat named Phoebe, and there was one other one I forget.  It was quite late.  Anyway, it was fated.  I love those guys.  

One of the many kindnesses they showed us was helping me to get the car listed on eBay.   Kirsten gaped but held back the tears as the contents of our car were disgorged into her entryway.  She gamely helped me to sort, repack and donate our stuff.  And we are talking PILES of crap.  And Tim did such a top-notch job guiding me through the car listing that it sold in five days for more than I paid for it.   I’m still smiling about that. 

We loaded up (a much reduced load, mind) with a few days to go before we could burst into Lucy and Thomas’s lives again.   We had just enough time to zip down to Cornwall to visit a family we met while camping in New Zealand. 

Now, of all the omissions of this blog, and they are legion, I just did a quick search and nowhere have I mentioned these folks.  That is shocking.  Rory really made these friends for us.  We were in the very south of New Zealand, camping on Purakanui Bay at a Department of Conservation site (kind of like a National Park, but no park or facilities).   Rich and Fiona and their girls were on a five or six-week trip over from England, and we all, kids and grown-ups, and Rich, hit it off right away.  Our evening watching sea lions frolic while the kids danced in the sand for joy is one of our highlights of the whole year.  Not only that, but we showed up on their doorstep in April, and they showed us a fine time.  We drove across Cornwall to see the sun set over their favorite beach, and when we go home they opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate.  The best part?  Unbeknowgst to them it was my birthday  

You can see how we headed straight back for a repeat.  In the interim they had had the good sense and amazing fortune to move from town to their favorite beach, so we got to see them in a new setting.  Thanks, Rich and Fiona and Edie and Megan and Ruby.  You guys are super star.

Looks like I have my work cut out for me tomorrow…  stay tuned.

December 9, 2010

Signs of the Times

Filed under: animals, United States — midway2go @ 9:17 pm

Well, all signs point to us living on an Army base.  More to come…

August 5, 2010

Can’t go home again? Well, we tried.

Filed under: animals, children, Germany — midway2go @ 6:29 am

Here’s are the photos.  Words to follow when I can find them!

June 29, 2010

Big Rocks by the Sea

Filed under: animals, children, food, Food Allergies, Italy — midway2go @ 7:05 am

Question:  What’s more fun than beautiful, swimmable sea?

Answer:    Beautiful, swimmable sea plus great climbing rocks!

Last week we floated across the Mediterranean on a ferry from Barcelona to the Italian island of Sardinia. Well, it’s heaven. We’re camping in Palau, on the northeastern corner in a busy part of the island called the Costa Smeralda.  Our campsite is surrounded by huge granite boulders and overlooks a tiny little inlet teeming with sea creatures. Rory spends all his time 30 feet off the ground, scampering around rocks and hiding from the sun and wind in a little cave he found, tucked into the side of a rock wall.   Nora filled up her bucket with sea snails, hermit crabs, and loads of kelp, before commandeering my dish pan and graduating to sea urchins and jellyfish.  She managed to catch five jellyfish before we learned that the gorgeous pink ones give a nasty sting.  She escaped unharmed.  An Italian named Aldo took us under his tutelage, and we learned all about urchins.  We sat there by the edge of the sea and ate the creamy orange eggs straight from the shell.  Then he took Rory out snorkeling to show him where to find them.   No wonder we came, planning to stay a couple of nights, and stayed a week.

April 25, 2010

The Cotwolds and Singapore: Strange Bedfellows

Filed under: animals, children, food, Food Allergies, Great Britain, Singapore, travel — midway2go @ 7:28 am
  
When I imagined, from the relative luxury of my kitchen in Georgia, what this blog would be like I thought I would keep up with it nightly. I would sit down at the end of a full day, the children happily asleep in some other room, and recount tales of great adventure and humorous anecdotes of Rory and Nora on Foreign Land. My stunning and insightful photos would effortlessly fit into the narrative of my tale; indeed, they would be knitted seamelssly together. Well, ha, bloody, ha, as some fictitious Brit would say. I don’t think there has been one time when I’ve sat down and recounted the day afresh. Most nights I’ve collapsed into bed with the kids, falling asleep before they do (well, at least before Rory does). Other nights I’ve bemoaned the lack of internet access, although like now I can write on WordPad and copy and paste to WordPress later, so that’s a weak excuse. Mostly, I think, I just don’t have enough left at the end of a day filled with parenting two kids, planning ahead for travel and coping with the demands of day-to-day life on the move to record the miracles and nightmares as they happen.

 

So, here I sit, in a bed and breakfast in the Cotswolds in England, trying to change all that. I’m in a folding chair, hunched over the keyboard in the dark with the netbook propped on the side of a small dresser to be nearer to the eletrical outlet. Why am I here and not downstairs at the large, well-lit table, now that the kids are asleep? Good question. Be right back.   Okay, here I am. Our B&B, Tall Trees, in Stow-on-the-Wold has turned out to be not only comfortable and convenient but an amazing value. We have the whole upstairs of an annex to ourselves, and, since we’re the only guests, we have full run of the living area, the kitchen, and both patios. Perfect. I love this place. The town, like the whole region, is too cute to be believed. Honey-stoned buildings line each narrow street. Tiny purple flowers cascade out of chinks in drystone fences. Clipped grass, so green you want to nibble it alongside the sheep, fills every hollow. It’s lambing season. Daffodils and hyanciths bloom. Need I say more about the cuteness? It’s almost too much.   

Today we went to Snowshill Manor, the home of a collection of objects of a man named Charled Paget Wade. I say the home of his collection: he never lived in the house. He lived in a small home adjacent to the manorhouse. He bought the manor for his things to live in. He wanted to create a series of rooms in which the 22,000 objects in his collection could settle. He wanted to create another world to delight and enthrall his friends. He began collecting at the age of seven (this makes an enormous impression on Rory, aged eight). His grandmother had this old red Chinese cabinent filled with little knicknacks and treasures. If he was a very good boy the whole week and did as he was told and ate all his porridge he was allowed after church on Sundays to open the cabinent and touch some of the wonders within. From this grew his love of things.    

Charles Wade collected anything form any place and any time, provided it met three criteria: excellence in craftmanship, excellence in color, and outstanding something else (maybe design?). The resulting house was incredible. I had read that the rooms were crammed full with all manner of stuff with no plan or design. Now, to me, that means toasters piled up to the ceiling beside plows and saints reliquaries. Total chaos. But the roms didn’t feel that way at all. Maybe they would to a museum’s curator, but to me they made wonderful sense. All the things that were wheeled or moved or transported were together. All the oldest hand-woven rugs and coats of arms and saints relics hung in a foyer. In another room Chinese snuff jars and Japanese picnic boxes stood around bejeweled dressers from Italy. I thought it was wonderful, even though we had to leave halfway through to get Rory to a toilet and Nora pitched a fit, crashing after eating half of a pink mouse made entirely of sugar, and yelled her way through the amazing gardens.    

For those of you still reading, not just skipping on to the photos (so, my husband and his mother- thank y’all) you may wonder how we got to be here in the Cotswolds from North Carolina? What came before? Ah, well, that may have to wait. I want to go back even further to Singapore, our destination when we left Perth and the clear, logical flow of this blog. We had planned to spend maybe three nights in Singapore, but we stayed eight. Our first three days we spent just getting used to the idea of being in Asia. Our hostel, the Betel Box, was perfect, and Rory and Nora met some of the nicest folks in the world there while I tried to catch up on the Australia blog. Isn’t that funny? A group of (and I am not making this up) students from Uraguay who are doing their undergraduate degrees in Taiwan were there on break from classes, and they played Wii with Rory and Nora for hours. A couple named Rey and Eva from the Philippines showed the two of them incredible kindness. Really, the people we have met on the road have been the best part.    

After three nights we moved on to central Singapore, trading fabulous friends and facilites for location, location, location (and our room was no longer available). At Backpackers Central Hostel we had no windows in our tiny room, but we were just up the street from the Raffles Hotel, home of the Singapore Sling, across the street from a very convienent shopping mall, and walking distance to lots of places, like more shopping malls. It was alarming and oddly seductive. We became regulars at the Starbucks across the street (with the money we were saving in accomadation) and ate so many meals at the yellow plastic tables around the corner that the woman rolled her eyes when she saw us coming.    

I’m just about to it. The thing we had to face at least three times a day was Food. Singapore, mind you, is a city desgined to eat out in. No one cooks. Food is abundant, cheap, and delicious. It is also not dairy nor gluten free. I printed off cards carefully translated into Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai and Vietnamese that explained what we could and could not eat. I would show them to a prospective waiter or waitress. Usually we were asked to leave. This poor woman with the yellow plastic chairs foolishly agreed to take us on like a project, and we haunted her door. Before our time was up in town, though, it was clear we were all reacting to something we’d eaten, but who could ever say what? We’d had yummy vegatables swimming in brown sauces, boiled eggs so runny we had to crack them into a bowl and drink them, and coconut rice with a dried fish head and chili sauce for breakfast. Rory and Nora are still sniggering at the fish ball soup. We spotted in the grocery store a selection of of other balls: pork, beef, or beef tendon. Beef tendon balls? Food there existed in it’s own sphere. We were tourists, wierd Americans whose tastes and fancies could not be reckoned with. Why would they change a perfectly good recipe, made for ages just like that, for us? One time I ordered the vegetarian soup off a lunch menu. It had rice noodles and no soy sauce, so that seemed fine. Well, when it came it was full of rice noodles and tofu, yes, but my vegetarian soup also boasted shrimp, fish and chicken. Eating was definately a challenge. We’d be eating something so yummy and good, Rory would say, “you just know this is going to make us sick.” And it did.    

Still, we loved Singapore. We’re still talking about our day at the zoo. And, for the record, when I snapped the picture of the baboons in front of Rory they were not doing THAT. I also cannot say enough good things about the weather. I LOVE that climate. My skin, so tempermental and fussy, was creamy and soft and happy. My hair was almost curly (well, that may be a stretch). The back of the hostel, where the toilets cubbies and shower stalls were, were open, walled only to the waist. No glass, no screens. It felt like the rainforest or like camping. We’d stand there at the end of a long day, fresh from a cool shower, and we’d brush our teeth with bottled water, leaning our elbows on the wall and looking out at this huge city, this nation-state given over to high-rises and shopping and lattes. The air would be full even then of the sounds of bugs and birds calling in the heavy wet air, over the sounds of horns and voices shouting down the alley, and I couldn’t what world I was in. First? Third? Who cared? We loved it.   

    

February 13, 2010

New Zealand: 3 weeks of photos

Filed under: animals, children, New Zealand, travel — midway2go @ 11:12 am

I’d given up posting about our last three weeks in New Zealand, but I hated to miss it.  We had a blast.  Christmas with Rachel’s family (board games galore- I love those people), whale watching in Kaikoura with Louisa and Sean, museums and botanical gardens and art galleries and kids playing and camping with Bodie and Dylan and Rachel and New Year’s Day with Michaela and Nils and other people’s tents that made us think of the Quidditch World Cup.   Too much to leave out; too much to write about.  The photo of the plane and the mountains:  that was leaving from Queenstown.   How did we ever go?

Real quick:  I’d love to recommend some other blogs:

Louisa and Sean take the photos I wish I took- dreamy, ethereal, tactile…  plus they say nice things about my kids.      www.louisaandsean.blogspot.com

Our last morning in New Zealand I walked downstairs in the hostel, and there stood a family whose blog I’ve been reading since September.   They had come across ours, too, the world of RTW families being small, and it was a funny and delightful meeting.  They update daily (ah, the luxury of two adults) and are currently in Australia.  www.globalprices.wordpress.com

February 11, 2010

Advance, Australia Fair

Filed under: animals, Australia, children, travel — midway2go @ 10:04 pm

Walking around the giant tingle trees and the karris I had lots of time to think .   Thoughts like, What kind of a name is tingle?  And, How far can I get Nora to hike without a popsicle or chocolate as a bribe?  But then I saw the sign about burls, and that got me thinking along different lines.  So, these trees suffer some kind of trauma, maybe minor like a bug infestation or something more major, like an axe hacking partially through it.  Then, it makes this special coating around the injury, healing itself and making this big knob.  And (this is the really good part), that scar tissue, when see from the inside, is beautiful. 

Maybe people are that way.   Except, hopefully we’re not singled out and hacked down in our prime for our distinctive personalities.

So we kept on going (even without chocolate), and these tingle trees got better and better.  They’re huge.  THey can live 400 years, grow to be almost 300 feet tall and (get this) 85 feet in diameter.  That’s a big tree.  But that’s not the best part.  They have very fragile root systems, which sounds really weak, right?  But it makes them perfectly suited for this little corner of Australia.  They can survive forest fires, pests, and almost anything except humans walking around their roots.  They can be eaten by bugs from the inside out, torched in a bushfire, and as long as there is a continuous living link between root and bark and leaves, they will live on.  Isn’t that incredibly hopeful?  I’ll tell you, to a woman missing her husband and family and friends and wondering if she had the resources to keep nurturing two kids, these trees were a Godsend. 

So these Tingle trees grow only in one swath of land within the Walpole-Nornalup National Park.   In order to make these trees accessible to the public while sparing the root systems (and providing a great tourist attraction in one fell swoop) the park built a tree top walk.  It was stunning.  And nauseating.   THe walkway is like (gulp) a suspension bridge through the tree tops, running from one platform to another over what they call “spans.”  Ugh.  At its highest point it’s 131 feet above the forest floor (that’s high) and the whole thing sways with the wind.  Rory and Nora, charming and inquisitive children that they are, quickly figured out that by working as a team they could rock the “spans” from side to side, enough to make me freeze up and scuttle quickly at the same time.  Cute kids.

Thanks for listening to the Sermon on the Tingles.  I’ll try to finish up with some photos of Walpole’s Australia Day celebration and some beach photos.  Yet another beautiful, dangerous beach.   And that’s Australia as we knew it.

January 12, 2010

Cairns: Rhymes with Fans

Filed under: animals, Australia, children, food, Planes, travel — midway2go @ 6:28 am

The flight to Cairns from Sydney was bigger than I thought, in almost every way.  For starters, it was around three hours.  We were shown a feature length film and were served a meal.  We apparently left culture in exchange for something like wildness.  And, to top it off, we changed time zones.  All this, flying from a city on the southeast coast to a city on the northeast coast.  Same side of the country.  This is a big country.  Huge.   Getting off the plane we walked down wide metal stairs.  I love that.  I wish I were wearing big white sunglasses and had a bouffant.  What a great way to enter this tropical land.  We’re spending a few nights in Cairns at a hostel.  The hostel is in a renovated heritage hotel, with wide wooden floorboards and a deep second-story veranda that runs along the front and the side.  The paths around the grounds are verdant and rich.   The kitchen, where we spend a disproportionate part of the day, is open and the tiny swimming pool is at the end of the tables.   When I was in Sydney, calling around about rooms and prices, I finally thought to ask about air conditioning.  Keep in mind, the highs are in the low nineties and the lows are in the mid seventies.  The humidity is always around 75% if it’s not actively raining, which it is five or six times a day.  This is Savannah in July.  So, I asked if AC was available.  He assured me that it was, but cost $1 an hour.  “Ohterwise,” he said, “people would just want to run it all the time.”  Yes, imagine that. 

 In our hostel AC is free.  Of course, the remote to turn it on is only available to be checked out from 6pm until 9am… 

  

The view from my poolside chair

our dining room

 I was reading Bill Bryson’s book about Australia my last week in New Zealand.  I do love his writing, but he does get carried away.  He’s particularly concerned about all the different stuff in Australia that can sting, burn, eat, or find some other way to kill you.  About Queensland, the Australian state we’re in now, he was warned that the residents are “madder than cut snakes.”  Well, I don’t know about that, but I glanced through the weekend paper over coffee, and the following three stories caught my eye: 1.  A local family pulled a snake out of a hole in their backyard that measured over 4.2 meters.  Check my math, but I think that’s longer than 15 feet, and, I don’t have the paper in front of me, but I think it was a python.  And,  while the family is glad to have removed that hazard, they are concerned because it layed eggs and soon they’ll have to round up the offspring. 

 2. Cane toads, a classic case of an introduced species run amok, are invading neighborhoods to the extent that the columnist I was reading couldn’t go outside at night without stepping on them.  Now, this isn’t a small critter.  They are toxic at every stage of life, from toadpole to adult, and have no natural predators. They poison household pets merely by passing through their water bowls.  And their size?  They are about 10 inches long and weigh almost nine pounds.  That’s a lot of poisonous toad.  

3.    Three local men have been bitten in separate instances by flying foxes, a large bat.  Two became ill (seriously ill?  Is there any other kind?) by a virus carried by the bats.  I thought, hmmmm, then walked up the block to discover that the rustling Rory and Nora and I heard was made by the wings of the flying foxes roosting in the trees above us.  How did I figure that out?  A little sign stating that if you came across a solitary young please not to touch it but to notify someone immediately.   Oh, it’s child-rearing time for these charming creatures.  At dusk we see their dark outlines swooping around, their long fingers in their wings made visible by the illuminated sky.   Their wingspan must be 18-24 inches.  Beautiful, but I sure would love to know how those three guys got those bites. 

So, Bill Bryson, if you’re reading this, sorry for doubting.  I’m a true believer now, boy.   

flying foxes at rest

Pelicans and Spoonbills

Rory reading to Nora in his bunk

Waiting for the airport shuttle, they find "play" all around them.

 Despite the tacky tourist shops and the ugly concrete buildings, I love this place.  And we haven’t even done the good stuff, yet.  I love the weather, I love swimming with the kids after breakfast, then before lunch, then after dinner.  I love the ceiling fans.  I love that in a thrift shop today I could not find one dress with anything like a sleeve.  This is a town deeply committed to the tank top as a way of life.  I love that, too.

Can you spot Darth Vader’s Sunday Best?

Filed under: animals, Australia, children, food, travel — midway2go @ 3:28 am

Ibis on the playground with Nora playing
Here they are, in all their confused, jumbled splendor, some photos from Sydney.

The horn is really a tooth!  It’s from the male narwahl, probably the source of the unicorn legend.

Rory and Nora in front of the new, improved EndeavorThis 18 inch lizard, a gecko, was just hanging out by a bench. Yikes.

Mini-Swordfish, anyone? Only $14.95 a kilo?
Yummy Food Lady

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