One of our Foreign Correspondents has returned from her travels! Lency and her family traveled to Denmark this summer. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part one of their adventure.
Our annual trip to Denmark to visit half our family and friends is always a reminder of a different pace of life. We observe and reflect on the more relaxed daily living and high quality of life. People work fewer hours, commute less, have six weeks of holiday. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, there are many reasons they have claimed the top spot in United Nations’ 2012 World Happiness Report.
One of our favorite things about Denmark is the many alternate modes of travel. This is our friends’ Christiania-style bike, where the kids and cargo can all be loaded in the front.
This is how many kids in Copenhagen are transported to school, on errands, or around town, and it’s one way people can manage without a car. Most of our friends went for years without cars, only purchasing them once they had multiple kids and moved out of Copenhagen to the more distant suburbs. Back during the late-1970′s oil crisis, Denmark instituted “car-free Sundays” and there were songs romanticizing biking. Fast forward 25 years and the Danes continue to invest in their bike paths. Along any given road, you are likely to see a parallel bike path, with lots of people using it.
We love the Danish rail system! There is an extensive network of speedy, quiet, and frequent trains that is used by many Danes to get to and from work, home, and errands. It’s an easy, although not cheap, way to get around Copenhagen specifically, Denmark in general, and all of Scandinavia. We are inspired to support our own rail systems at home in hopes that they, too, will someday be as efficient, as clean, as quiet, and as used as the Danish trains.
It’s not just the Danish trains that are so worthy of envy- the Norwegian trains are just as beautiful. This is the train from the Oslo airport into town. Our older daughter loves all forms of public transit (thanks to Papa), so she is very excited each summer to go on as many trains and buses as possible.
Instead of worrying about car parking, apartment buildings in Denmark have to make sure there is enough space for all the bikes! Cyclists enjoy extremely safe and convenient biking conditions in Copenhagen, including bike paths that are separated from the cars and special traffic lights for bikes. On any given day of the week, you will see hoards of cyclists: men in suits, women in high heels, students going to school, adults with kid seats on the back, big and little, male and female, young and old. The mercurial weather doesn’t even stop them- they just tuck their heads down and pedal into the rain, the wind, the sleet, and the snow of short, dark, winter days. I should mention that my my mother-in-law, who raised three kids and lives in the countryside, has never had a driver’s license and biked the 6 miles to and from work almost every day of the year until she retired last year. It truly is the way the Danes get around.
It helps that it’s a very flat country.
Our third Foreign Correspondent has returned from her travels! Mary, her husband, and her two children traveled to Mexico this winter. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part four of their adventure. To learn more about her family’s adventures, check out her The World is a Book blog.
While souvenirs are mostly associated with trinkets, I’d rather like to think of its other Spanish meaning of “recuerdo” – a memory. This is how we want to look at souvenirs – tangible memories of a wonderful family vacation. It was quite appropriate since our family visited predominantly Spanish speaking countries of Mexico, Belize and Honduras. My 9-year old daughter says a souvenir is special because “it helps me remember where I’ve been”.
Mexico was a treasure trove of souvenirs for all of us. We were a little bit more restrained in Belize and Honduras as our time was limited and shopping wasn’t as abundant compared to Mexico. Imagine the excitement with the variety of maracas they could play with and the number of sombreros they could try on.
So, what were the most popular souvenirs for kids when we visited Mexico? The typical maracas, small guitars, marionettes and sombreros were everywhere. But, the one with the most appeal to children, especially boys, were the Lucha Libre masks. These were the colorful masks of animals, heroes or pop culture items that Mexican wrestlers wore.
Souvenirs are not only about the shopping experience but also the cultural association with a place. Over the years, we’ve bought dolls and beanie babies representing each country or city visited. We’ve probably collected enough to assemble our own United Nations parade. My daughter found more dolls from three new countries during this trip, each wearing their traditional native costumes to add to her collection. I’m glad she’s still young enough to enjoy them. It’s a simple connection she has to a country and a culture.
Interacting with the vendors and practicing friendly phrases in the local language is among the joys of shopping in a foreign country for us. Our kids loved saying ‘Hola’, ‘Gracias’ and ‘Adios’. They enjoyed saying the minimal Spanish they knew and the vendors were more than happy responding with big smiles on their faces for attempting to talk in the native tongue. We’ve found through the years that a simple hello and thank you to vendors in their local language goes a long way while traveling.
When the vacation is over and as they go on their daily lives, souvenirs can transport the kids back to that special time and place. Souvenirs can represent the local people they met, the areas they explored and their experiences during the visit.
Our third Foreign Correspondent has returned from her travels! Mary, her husband, and her two children traveled to Central America this winter. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part three of their adventure. To learn more about her family’s adventures, check out her The World is a Book blog.
During our excursion, we visited the country’s only zoo despite our limited time in Belize. The Belize Zoo was established in 1983 as a haven for animals used in a forest documentary. In time, it became a refuge for animals that have been orphaned, rescued, or donated from private owners.
This is unlike any zoo we’ve ever visited. It currently houses over 150 different animals all native to Belize. Animals lived in thick landscapes much like their natural habitat instead of concrete cages. The enclosure fences were shorter. We were able to see most of the animals up close. On some exhibits, we could have reached in and touched them. Of course we were tempted, but didn’t.
The zoo was so large, we had to come back a second day to see the rest of the animals. There were no giraffes or elephants here – much to my kids’ disappointment at first. Instead, we were instead treated to animals we have never heard of or seen before. Ever heard of a tapir (Belize’s national animal that looks like an anteater), a Jabiru stork, a quash (racoon relative) or a motmot (bird)?
We also had the opportunity to visit a monkey exhibit in Roatan, Honduras during this trip. I was particularly nervous of letting my kids step inside but was assured the monkeys were safe. Once inside, the monkeys instantly clamored to find the nearest arm or shoulder to climb on.
These animal encounters were one of the trip highlights for our kids. They were introduced to new animals and learned about the importance of their native habitat. These were memorable experiences that certainly fostered their love and appreciation for animals.
Visit our Studio T blog tomorrow to learn about the family’s experience in Mexican markets.
Our third Foreign Correspondent has returned from her travels! Mary, her husband, and her two children traveled to Central America this winter. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part two of their adventure. To learn more about her family’s adventures, check out her The World is a Book blog.
The giant masks were magnificent and remarkably preserved considering they were built around 500 AD. Some of them still had hints of their original color. The faces were the only three-dimensional areas. There were many symbolic messages on the masks with many different interpretations. We saw the masks up close by climbing the steep staircase. It was worth the climb to the top for some spectacular views of the forest canopy.
In order to keep up our kids’ spirit of exploration, we engaged them in some activities. We asked them to identify items they saw around the masks and what its meaning could be. Travel after all is a learning experience.
My husband and I knew that visiting the ruins would be a challenge to hold our kids’ interest. They kept themselves occupied by looking for animals and exploring hidden corners. Sometimes, kids have more important things to discover.
Visit our Studio T blog tomorrow to learn about the family’s animal encounters in Central America.
Our third Foreign Correspondent has returned from her travels! Mary, her husband, and her two children traveled to Mexico this winter. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is the first part of their adventure. To learn more about her family’s adventures, check out her The World is a Book blog.
Mexico is expecting a record number of tourists in 2012. This is due to the myth of the December 21 apocalypse prophecy based on an ancient Maya calendar. While we’re not one of the doomsday tourists, our family did visit Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and the Maya ruins on a recent trip.
We chose the Kohunlich (pronounced KOE•HOON•LEECH) archaeological zone to explore. It was located near the town of Chetumal, about five hours from Cancun and two hours from Costa Maya.
To get there, we took a long tour bus ride that went through many small towns. Our guide pointed out schools and churches along the way. We also saw kids selling items on the streets. It was a good eye opener for our kids, at ages 6 and 9, to see how kids their age lived in this part of the world even if it was only a glimpse.
When we finally arrived, Kohunlich felt mystical and offered some of the region’s best preserved ruins. It was completely surrounded by a lush, tropical jungle where it was eerily quiet at times. It was remote enough that it wasn’t swarming with tourists. Its name was adapted from the name “Cohoon Ridge” after the abundance of Cohoon palms throughout the area.
The ancient city was full of fascinating religious and residential structures to explore – a sunken palace, an acropolis, a ball court, courtyards, temples and expansive plazas. Archaeologists believed this used to be a regional trading center between 300 – 1200 AD.
Kohunlich was elaborately planned with stuccoed buildings mostly painted in red. It was amazing to see how large they were and the effort it took to build them during their time. Even with trees and plants enveloping crevices of the structures, we could still envision the grandeur.
We also did an interesting exercise with our guide. He asked us to close our eyes and imagine being transported back to when this ancient city was thriving with life and visualize their daily routines. He then played instruments that imitated bird and animal sounds of the jungle. It provided a different perspective to experience the ruins.
While these ruins involved a lot of walking, the plaza was perfect for kids to run around in!
Visit our Studio T blog tomorrow to hear about the family’s adventures in the Temple of Masks.
Our second Foreign Correspondent has returned from her travels! Stacy, her husband, and her two children traveled to Istanbul and Jerusalem this summer. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is the final part 5 of their adventure.
The best part of our trip is being reunited with our family and friends. Of course, my husband was born and raised in Jerusalem, so his ties run deep. And I worked in Gaza and the West Bank and lived Ramallah for several years, so it’s a bit of a coming home for me too.
When we visit now, because they are older, our kids can play with their new cousins (more and more every year) and our friends’ kids. It’s fun to watch their friendships deepen each year. It’s also a great opportunity for them to work on their Arabic.
There is so much joy as we travel and spend time with our family. But there are difficulties. I would be remiss to not mention them too. One of the more difficult aspects of our trip is now that our son is seven, he is aware of the situation around us. He can’t help but notice the deteriorating political conditions and occupation surrounding him. It’s difficult to explain to him why we are pulled to the side at the airport for exhaustive questioning, why soldiers took his cousins – the bride and groom in full wedding attire – to a police station on the way to their own wedding, why there is a 25 foot high wall separating long standing Palestinian neighborhoods in half and long detours to get to a checkpoint to wait in line to be allowed to cross through. And then he asks why we can cross through the wall but so many of our friends and family cannot (we can because of our US passports but some of our friends and family cannot because they hold West Bank IDs which does not allow crossing from one side of the wall to the other). It’s difficult for an adult to comprehend this, but it is impossible for the children.
One evening, we were driving, and we heard the adhan, or Muslim call to prayer, over a loudspeaker. It’s beautiful and haunting at the same time. Our son asked about it, and I explained that many people say a prayer when they hear this call each day. He asked what they pray for. I sat kind of bewildered, trying to think of something to say and, before I had a chance, he answered his own question, “Maybe they’re praying for freedom and justice and friendship.” I think he’s exactly right.
It’s interesting and sad (and inevitable) to see the time your child first becomes aware that not everyone lives a carefree life. This is true for many, many people wherever you live, of course. But for him to not just see but to also feel such glaring disparity and question it at such a young age makes me sad for him because a piece of his innocence is lost, but proud too because he is an aware and sensitive and thinking person.
Our hope for tomorrow is a more just and livable life for the entire region. It will take leadership and bold steps and pragmatism which has been sorely lacking for decades. In the meantime, we will savor our lasting memories of the good times had, the love of our family, and the eager anticipation of next summer’s adventures.
Our Foreign Correspondent program is ongoing. If you’re interested in sharing your family’s international adventures with us you can find out more here.
Our second Foreign Correspondent has returned from her travels! Stacy, her husband, and her two children traveled to Istanbul and Jerusalem this summer. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part 4 of their adventure.
To say that we ate well while vacationing this summer would be a gross understatement. What can I say? The food was amazing. My husband waits all year in great anticipation to return home and eat his mother’s cooking.
My husband’s top three Palestinian meals are:
- Maklouba – “upside down” rice with veggies (cauliflower, carrots or, my personal favorite, EGGPLANT) and chicken or meat. After a number of steps (!), the ingredients are cooked in one pot, allowed to cool, then flipped over onto a serving platter and garnished with toasted pine nuts. Served with plain yogurt on top.
- 2. Waraq Dawali – stuffed grape leaves. This meal is a true labor of love. It’s not that it’s particularly complicated, but it is incredibly time consuming to make. Small bits of lamb meat and rice are placed on a grape leaf, rolled up tightly and then cooked in tomato juice stovetop. We prefer to eat this only in Jerusalem with either my husband’s mom or one of his aunts preparing it because, for some reason, the grape leaves just never seem to taste quite as delicious at a restaurant here.
- Mujaderra – rice, lentils, caramelized onions, cumin, and cinnamon. This is a very, very popular vegetarian dish. It’s more often made in the chilly winter months, but my husband and the kids can eat this for breakfast, lunch or dinner twelve months a year. They absolutely love it.
We had a number of incredible meals throughout our trip – In Istanbul, lamb and tomatoes served over taboon-baked bread and yogurt and a sandwich/wrap called doner (usually lamb or chicken cooked on a vertical spit and sliced off to order). In Jerusalem, we enjoyed going out for meshawwi, or barbeque. Favorites are ground meat mixed with onions and parsley skewered , cubed chicken marinated in lemon, olive oil and garlic and then skewered, lamb chops, and fresh tomatoes, onions, and peppers. One night, we sat under a Bedouin tent in a lovely garden, sipping tea, eating a wonderful barbeque meal with my husband’s parents, two of his brothers and their families, and our kids. The kids ran around and we just ate and ate. It was such a perfect night.
Our second Foreign Correspondent has returned from her travels! Stacy, her husband, and her two children traveled to Istanbul and Jerusalem this summer. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part 3 of their adventure.
After a quick flight, we arrived in Jerusalem to reunite with my husband’s family and friends. We had some excitement in that within the first three hours of arrival, we ended up in the ER. Our daughter was beyond overexcited and while playing broke her wrist. She had a cast on for the first eight days of the Jerusalem leg of the trip.
One of our favorite things to do in Jerusalem is to visit the Old City. This is the walled in city within a much larger city. I don’t think I can describe how special, how spectacular the Old City is. The view is breathtaking from nearly every corner of the city. It’s home to many very holy places for Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and people from all over the world travel here to pray, tour, and experience. It’s divided into four uneven quarters – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian. Tens of thousands of people live, work, go to school, and play inside the walls of Jerusalem and, for the most part, things are fairly separate in that the Armenians live in the Armenian Quarter, the Christian Palestinians live in the Christian Quarter, etc. One can travel freely (for the most part) between the quarters, but there is a demarcation which is always interesting to observe from a tourist’s perspective.
Over the years, my husband and I have traveled up and down the winding alleys of each quarter – together and separately – my husband first as a child and me initially as a college student. Since the kids were born, however, our plans have been, shall we say, less ambitious. We want to show them the Old City, have them love the Old City and, eventually, be able to wander throughout the Old City. But for this trip, we kept it short and simple and entered through Bab al-Khalil (Jaffa Gate) and walked through just a few alleyways for some conversing, shopping, snacking, and observing.
We bought some beautiful traditional Palestinian pottery pieces for our house and some gifts for friends and family. We’ve been collecting it for years. The pottery is made and hand painted in the West Bank town of Hebron. The colors are bright, the patterns are cheerful, and it makes a lovely table setting.
We also stopped by a terrific place where we bought a side table years and years ago. The little shop sells furniture, chess tables, dressers, mirrors, chairs – all beautifully handcrafted in Syria from walnut with mother of pearl inlay. Our son sat right down and started playing with the chess boards. We picked up some pieces for him, and I have my eye on a stunning table/chess board that we will need to save for many, many years before we’re ready to bring that piece home with us.
Our second Foreign Correspondent has returned from her travels! Stacy, her husband, and her two children traveled to Istanbul and Jerusalem this summer. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part 2 of their adventure.
We set an ambitious itinerary for the last full day in Istanbul before traveling to Jerusalem. It included the Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, and the Grand Bazaar.
We started at the Topkapi Palace and, I’ll be honest, I could have stayed there all day long but the kids burned out after the third hour. Basically, the Ottomans ruled the entire Empire from here for hundreds and hundreds of years. It was their cultural and political center – there’s a library, the treasury, a concubines courtyard, a kitchen that fed thousands of janissaries and soldiers, mosques, reading rooms just to name a few of the highlights in the sprawling compound. All of this plus incredibly ornate and intricate architecture and sweeping views of the water that can be seen from throughout the walled compound.
Unfortunately for us, the lines to enter the Hagia Sophia were just too long. We kept moving a short distance to the Basilica Cistern. Other than knowing that it is the largest of several hundred underground water systems in Istanbul, we had little idea what to expect. As it turns out, the kids loved it. First off, it’s dark, lit by candles and about 20 degrees cooler than above ground. It was built in the 6th century during the Byzantine Empire to supply water to the palace complex nearby. In fact, the water level is not very deep these days, but it is deep enough to house many fish which swim around and add to the atmosphere and the kids’ happiness.
We continued on to the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) which is truly a magnificent sight to behold – up close and throughout the city. We sat inside the courtyard and took in the beautiful prayer tiles written in Arabic calligraphy, the stained glass, minarets. Another cool and really helpful thing we noticed were tons of high school aged kids in blue shirts with something like, “can I help you?”, written on them. We saw them all over the tourist spots and eventually, I asked them what’s up. As it turns out, they are volunteers for the Istanbul municipality, tasked with helping tourists maneuver the city’s intricacies while receiving school credit and practicing their English. Such a clever idea, and they really were very helpful.
Our second Foreign Correspondent is here! Stacy, her husband, and her two children traveled to Istanbul and Jerusalem this summer. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is the first part of their adventure.
We were thrilled to be heading to Istanbul for a few days before our (nearly) annual voyage to see my husband’s family in Jerusalem.
Istanbul is an absolutely stunning city. Its history is rich – it’s been the capital of one empire after another for 1600 years – Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman. The first thing we noticed in Istanbul was that there is literally water everywhere you look. The original parts of the city are on a peninsula surrounded by the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus Sea and its arm called the Golden Horn. The Bosphorus splits Istanbul between two continents, Europe and Asia. We stayed on the more historic European side, but our views were mainly of the very lovely and green Asian side of the city.
We had a picture perfect day to take a cruise on the Bosphorus. The stand outs for me were the fortresses scattered on the European and Asian shorelines. It was interesting to think of the role the Bosphorus has played throughout history, including World Wars I and II, and then see the fortresses the different empires built at one point or another in a effort to protect their interests and sovereignty. One impressive structure, the Rumeli Hisari or European Fortress, was built in the mid-1400s in just 4 months and stands to this day as a museum.
The architecture along the Bosphorus stood out as well. The homes and palaces lining the waterway are a mixture of old seaside mansions and modern residences or second homes. Some are made of marble and some wood.