Back to Reality

After living the dream through five countries and 165 days abroad, I headed back to the US on Tuesday, May 16. Monday evening was spent with the parents and I reflecting on our journey. While we were in the same cities, our experiences were drastically different. This was due to a combination of how we spent our days and our different interests. For five days a week, I had the kids and integrated them into the children’s culture so I got more of a local feel for things. Whereas the parents spent most of their five days behind a computer in a co-working space and interacting with foreigners. My days off were spent doing adventuresome things and enjoying the night life whereas their interests lie in being foodies. Our motivations for taking this trip were also drastically different. They were tired of trying to “keep up with the Joneses” and being materialistic so they wanted a full break from American society. I, on the other hand, was motivated by an overwhelming desire to travel the world.

Now that I’ve been back for a week, I’ve noticed some things are coming back easily while others are taking a bit more time.

Things that came back easily:

  • driving on the left hand side
  • turning right on red
  • using toilet paper instead of a sprayer
  • drinking tap water and not bottled water
  • American driving laws
  • cooking
  • planning out my summer schedule to maximize my time with family and friends

Things I’m still working on:

  • hitting my turn signal instead of the wipers
  • saying thank you, hello, and goodbye in a language other than English
  • getting my sleep schedule on local time
  • using my phone to call people instead of Skype or Facebook Messenger
  • finding food that I like. My taste buds have changed drastically. I now enjoy spicy foods and foods that have an abundance of flavor. So long bland taste buds.
  • wearing more than the four sets of clothes. Why do I have 60+ t-shirts?!

And now… for the moment you’ve all been waiting for… What are the plans now that I’m back in the US? I will spend my summer back in Denver, living with friends, and nannying for this same family. We will now be on more of a set schedule and I will have weekends off. Since graduating college, I’ve always worked summer weekends and never had the same two days off from my friends. The possibilities are endless! I plan to spend my weekends with lots of hiking and camping in the mountains. I will be done nannying mid-August, spend my last days in Denver with my brother Adam at a Sam Hunt Red Rocks concert, and then head back to Iowa. I’ll take a few weeks to downsize and get things organized. Once that is complete, I will then head out and solo travel the world for an undetermined amount of time! While I will take the summer off from blogging, I will start it back up when my world travels commence.

Per usual, after departing a country, I will leave you with this:

Things I learned in Japan

          Toilet experiences are great here! Heated toilet seat, warm water coming out of the sprayer, option for loud music to play so you can have some privacy

          Tokyo is expensive!

          The fashion here is…. Interesting….

          The proper way to eat ramen is to slurp your noodles so they slide right down your throat. I, however, prefer to chew mine.

          When riding escalators, stand on the left side and walk/pass on the right side

          Smoking is not allowed on the streets, but is allowed in restaurants

          Remove shoes before going inside houses. Some restaurants require this before entering their facility and even some dressing rooms require this before you try their clothes on.

          Cabs have automated back doors which the driver controls

          You can use your commuter train card to pay at grocery stores, convenience stores, and even some taxis

          Yellow cabs cost the same as black cabs, yet drivers must earn the right to drive a black cab

          Parks and playgrounds are dirt-based

          There are 924 train stations in Tokyo. The have got this public transportation system figured out!

          Man purses are EVERYWHERE

          For how technologically advanced Tokyo is, I’m surprised credit cards are only accepted about 40% of the time.

          Japanese read their books backwards from us. The spine of the book is on the right for them. So do they read right to left then?

          Japanese value cleanliness. I never saw a single piece of trash on the streets. This was even more surprising because trash cans were few and far between. I’ve concluded that everyone just packs their trash and disposes of it when they get home. This would also explain why the reason for man purses. They need to have somewhere to store their trash.

          I never ordered from a waitress at a restaurant. It’s been a full two weeks and all my orders have either been submitted through a machine/iPad or directly to the cook/chef.

          People walk so slow here and everyone is on their phones! We have signs for texting and driving. They have signs for texting and walking.

Texting and Walking Sign

Sumo Wrestling and Strep Throat

I retract my statement from last week about there being no grass here. I took the kids to the rooftop of Isetan Department Store as there were some slides and playhouses. The first thing I saw was grass! So they can grow grass on a rooftop which is not natural at all, but not in a regular park? As we got closer, I noticed there were signs indicating to stay off of the grass. And then I saw it… a man cutting the grass… with scissors! Haven’t you ever heard of a mower? Even a trimmer would be quicker than scissors! Either way, this gave me some renewed hope of finding grass in a park. After looking on Google Maps the next day, I found what appeared to be a massive park. This one has got to have grass. When we first got to Yoyogi Park, I only saw trees and some tall grass which was roped off. We’re getting closer!… 15 minutes of walking later, I found an open area of grass! I got both kids off the stroller and just let them run, or should I say frolic, in the grass. I attempted to get Eleanor to roll down the hill. She’s not exactly the most coordinated child so that was quickly dismissed.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Theo must have been a dog in a past life. When he gets mad or frustrated, he plops down on his butt and scoots backwards. At the park, he enjoys putting sticks in his mouth perpendicular to his face. When we’re walking around, he’ll follow my path only if I pat the side of my leg and say, “Come on, Theo!” Otherwise, he’ll just stand and look at me. He enjoys playing fetch with his toys (I’ll throw something, he’ll grab and bring it back to me, and repeat) as well as shaking his head with a mouthful of sock. I can lead him on and around playground equipment by mere pointing and hand signals. You should see the looks some of the parents give me. I promise this isn’t how all American train their kids.

Monday night was spent back in Piss Alley with my foreign friend. We went back to Albatross and discovered it had a second floor! This floor was able to seat four people, but we had to order through a trap door in the floor above the bar. The bartender would then use a pulley system to deliver the drinks up through the trap door. This may be one of my favorite bars! I learned Piss Alley was a black market drinking area during World War 2. It’s the size of a basketball court and the bars can fit 8-12 people. Up until the 1990s, there was no toilet in the area so bar-goers would relieve themselves on the nearby train tracks, hence the name Piss Alley. There has since been a renovation due to a fire and while the buildings still look old and worn down, they did install one public toilet. While the females get one stall with a door, the urinals are lined up against a wall for all the public to view. The more Asian countries I visit, the more I realize men get no privacy when using urinals over here. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen urinals out in the open.

Sumo 14I tried to get a ticket to the May 14 – 28 Sumo tournament here in Tokyo. Apparently it’s been sold out for a few months (it is their national sport after all) so the closest I could get was to watch a practice in a sumo stable. It was awesome and eye-opening! I learned so many things about the sumo sport and lifestyle. You can become a sumo wrestler as early as 15 and most will retire around 35. There are 44 stables throughout the country. The stable I went to housed 25 wrestlers and was one of the biggest in Japan.  Having kids and/or spouses is very uncommon for wrestlers as they live and train at the stables. Sumo wrestlers

Sumo 5

White belts are reserved for high ranking wrestlers

only have Sundays and New Year’s Day off. Tournaments occur every other month so there really is no off-season. Sumo tournaments last for 15 days and wrestlers have only one match per day. A match typically lasts less than a minute. Talk about pressure to perform! Newbie sumo wrestlers will start out only making $600 USD/tournament (tournaments occur every two months). The higher ranking wrestlers will make upwards of $1 million USD/tournament. Division levels are based on number of wins, not weight. If they miss their 10pm curfew, they have to shave their heads and you can’t participate if your hair doesn’t fit into the ponytail/bun. One of the wrestlers didn’t participate in the practice as he had to shave his head 3 months ago and his hair still wasn’t long enough.

 

Sumo 13

Can you tell which wrestlers are new to the scene?

 

Sumo

Bare minimum coverage for these wrestlers

That afternoon, I began to get a sore throat which soon progressed into what felt like strep throat the next two days. I decided to go into the doctor to get checked on Friday. Looks I’ll be using my travel medical insurance after all. The doctor’s office experience was top notch! After filling out only one sheet of information and one signature, I was led back to my room. I opened the door to find the doctor waiting for me! Well this is a pleasant surprise. After looking inside my mouth, he held a device in front of me and said, “No fever”. “You just took my temperature with that thing?” “Yes,” he answered questioningly. “You guys are so advanced!” was my reply. I was then led into a different room to get tested for CRP (still no idea what that is) and strep. Naturally, I walked in and attempted to sit on the bed until I heard a strong, “NO!” I turned around and the lady (nurse, I’m guessing) pointed towards the chair. She preceded to lay the testing materials on the bed. Alright, so apparently beds are for supplies and chairs are for patients. Good to know. After confirming that I had strep throat, I asked the doctor where he recommended I should fill my prescriptions. He looked at my funny and said, “I give you the medicine here.” Five minutes later, I walked out of his office with four sets of pills in plain white paper sacks. This sure looks suspicious. But no pharmacy stop in my future. High five for Japan’s healthcare system/procedure!

 

Mt Fuji 5th Station 2I spent my last day off on a bus tour to Mt. Fuji! Our lunch stop was held at a ninja village so of course, I practiced my ninja star throwing skills. Well this sure brings me back to some nights in Ryan Fick’s garage in Mankato, right Ann?! Unfortunately, it was a very cloudy day so the only pictures that turned out were ones from the 5th Station. The 5th Station is the highest point that vehicles can drive up to. Even then, I had to be patient with my camera as the view would be clear for about one minute and then clouds/fog would roll through for about five minutes. I will definitely be back one day to hike this beautiful mountain.

Ninja Village

Ninja village!

Ninja Village 6

Practicing my ninja star skills

Mt Fuji 5th Station 5

Mt Fuji from the 5th Station

Mt Fuji 5th Station 8

Literally 15 seconds later…

Unique Experiences

This week was pretty mellow with the kids. The days consisted of Eleanor and I coloring, working on letters, and completing a train puzzle while Theo took his morning and afternoon naps. When Theo was awake, we played at parks. I was a bit taken back when the first park we went to had no grass. It was surrounded by trees, but all dirt-based. Maybe it’s because it’s just a small neighborhood park? Yet, they’ve installed a soft cushiony material under the dirt at the base each slide, Fireman’s pole, and stairs. After going to two other parks, both significantly bigger than the first one, I’ve come to the conclusion grass must not grow here. Either that, or they don’t want the upkeep/maintenance of it.

Between Eleanor’s clumsiness and Theo’s interest in tasting dirt while being the drooling king, they are both caked with dirt/mud by the time we leave. I’m all for kids playing outside and getting dirty, but this has reached a whole new level of dirty on a daily basis. Prior to now, we’ve had the kids re-wear their clothes a couple of days before sending them off to the laundry service. Here, however, the clothes last for about 3/4 of a day before going into the dirty clothes pile. Good thing we have a washing machine in our house this time!

Shinjuku Chuo Park

Shinjuku Chuo Park. Plenty of trees. Zero grass.

Over the last week and a half, I’ve noticed Eleanor has been constantly chewing on her fingers (not even biting her nails; literally chewing on her fingers) or licking/biting things (stroller, windows, hand rails, etc.). To (hopefully) nip this in the bud before it becomes a bad habit, I told her she needed to keep her tongue in her mouth and her fingers out of it. Her response? “What if my teeth stick out? Where do they go?” Um… your teeth are nowhere close to sticking out of your mouth, so let’s keep them in. Now, anytime I catch her, I say, “Tongue in!” and she sheepishly replies, “Fingers out”.

MariCar 2The first highlight of my week occurred on Wednesday. I booked a tour/experience with a company called MariCar. For a measly $70, I was able to dress up in a Mario Cart character (Yoshi!!!!) and drive around Tokyo in a go-cart for three hours. Real-life Mario Cart, Tokyo style! Their first rule… No throwing banana peels or leaving oil spills! 🙂   While we weren’t able to go on the highways due to the engine size, we did drive on the regular streets between cars and trucks. I was able to get my go-cart up to 62km/h before the governor kicked in! People came up to wave and take pictures with us at practically every stop light. I feel like a celebrity…and I’m going to soak every ounce of it up! Unique experience number one… check!

MariCar 7My second highlight of the week occurred Friday night. My plan was to grab some drinks in tiny area of town called Golden Gai. There are 288 bars crammed into the space of a soccer field. Each bar can only sit 4-8 people and each floor of the stall is a different bar. When one person wants to leave, it takes coordination on everyone’s part to get them out the door. I had read that Albatross was a good starting point as it welcomed foreigners. Some bars only allow locals and you’ll know right away if you walk into one – the bartender will shake their head and point to the street.

Albatross - Piss Alley

Piss Alley’s Albatross

I found Albatross and after chatting with the entire bar (four other foreigners and two bartenders) over a few drinks, I realized I was in Piss Alley, not Golden Gai. Apparently Albatross has two locations and all of us thought we had made it to Golden Gai. Upon this realization, we all decided to make the 500 meter walk to Golden Gai. We rallied another random foreigner on the walk and the six of us had quite the night together. One of the guys enlisted me as his wingwoman. He had his eyes on a girl and I attempted to start a conversation with her. Turned out, she’s local and doesn’t know a lick of English. The only two words I have learned in Japanese are hello and thank you. Well this isn’t going to work out. I got my phone out and started using Google Translate. I typed in English, the app would show the words back in Japanese, and I handed her my phone. She would do the same in Japanese and hand my her phone. Fast forward an hour later, we’re instant friends even though we can’t communicate in a common language. Technology is a fascinating thing!

Saturday was spent battling a hangover (the drinks here are very strong, even the beers) and exploring the Asakusa area with the French guy we randomly picked up on the walk from Piss Alley to Golden Gai. We checked out an onsen which is a public bathhouse, complete with nude hot springs. That was an… interesting experience. Males and females are only separated by a wall so while you can’t see the opposite sex, you’re still able to chat with them. The hot springs felt great and were definitely hot. There was one cold pool. I got in it as far as my ankles before deciding it wasn’t for me. The showers were no more than three feet off the ground and you had to sit on a stool in order to be below the nozzle. This part really grossed me out as the stools were reused without any sanitization… after customers sat on them in the buff. Yuck. Yuck. No thank you.

Asakusa 8During our exploration of Asakusa, we stumbled into a shop that allowed you to play with parakeets and look at owls for $8/half hour. We also checked out a game station. Game stations are huge here (both literally and figuratively). The best way to describe a game station is equivalent to sitting in a casino at the slot machines while being at a rock concert. The noise is so loud, it’s deafening. Locals will sit in these multi-level game stations for hours on end, playing video games (think Pac-man as opposed to PlayStation). As I’ve mentioned before, Tokyo is full of unique experiences!

 

 

Game Station

Game station in Shibuya

 

Fifth country in as many months

Per usual, this week was pretty uneventful as we prepared to leave Vietnam and headed to our fifth country in five months. We flew back to HCMC from Hoi An Tuesday evening and flew to Tokyo Saturday afternoon. Hoi An was a very relaxing place. It was great to get away from the hustle and bustle of HCMC. I definitely want to return to Hoi An on my own in the future.

Eleanor 5Eleanor only had one meltdown this week. The reason behind it….? She was looking at these letters and she wanted them to be numbers. Um…. that’s not exactly how it works. Theo face planted at the park on Thursday (total Bambi-style) and has some pretty sweet scratches on his nose and forehead. Nanny of the year award goes to….. !

Today, I went out and explored parts of Tokyo. First impression: Knowing what things are might be a bit difficult as it’s written in Japanese symbols and not English letters. At least in Vietnam, I knew that ga meant chicken, bo meant beef, and ca meant fish. Second impression: Holy cow. There are SO many people here. The foot traffic in Tokyo is like the scooter traffic in Ho Chi Minh City. Granted, I was in the touristy areas of town but still… shoulder to shoulder on every sidewalk. The highlight of my day was eating at Uobei Sushi in Shibuya. I was sat down in a long row of people (15 places per row, 4 rows in the restaurant). I ordered my sushi off an iPad and it came out on a conveyor belt directly from the kitchen! You could order up to

Uobei Sushi 2

The set up at Uobei Sushi

3 plates at a time (each plate had two pieces for 100 yen). After you took your plates off the conveyor belt, you touched a button on the iPad and it zoomed back into the kitchen. The only times I interacted with a member of the staff was when I got seated and when I paid. This type of service keeps getting threatened to happen in America with the increase of minimum wage. I can honestly say, I had a great experience using a computer to order my meal! I was even able to customize it, no problems. Now, I did seek this place out off a recommendation from a fellow traveler so I knew what to expect. However, for dinner tonight, I just walked into a random ramen place (Tokyo is known for ramen) and had a pretty similar experience. I walked in and ordered from a computer. After I inserted my money, it spit out a ticket. The chef motioned for me to sit down on a particular chair (just one row of 15 seats in a bar-like setting). I handed him my ticket, watched him cook my order, and then he handed it to me. Again, very minimal staff to interact with. Maybe this is how all restaurants in Tokyo are? They eliminated the middle man position. While the noodles had great texture, I thought the broth tasted like moldy beef broth. So gross. It’s like I’m eating someone else’s throw up. After discussing this experience with Melissa and Travis later, I was informed it was probably miso-based. Safe to say, I do not like miso.

 

 

Shinjuku

Yep, I’m in Tokyo alright! If only I knew what any of the symbols meant.

 

Here are the things I learned in Vietnam that didn’t make it into a prior blog post….

          Driving is absolutely nuts in Ho Chi Minh City. As with Bali, whoever is the bravest has the right of way. Bali driving was a walk in the park compared to this!

          Pho is delicious. How have I never tried this before?!

          McDonalds has only been in Vietnam for one year

          There are 10 million residents in Ho Chi Minh City. There are 7 million scooters. No wonder traffic is crazy.

          There is no buffer zone between the green walking man and the red walking man on crosswalks. Sometimes, the man is still green after the streetlight turns green. I was caught in this awful “no man land” twice and it was scary.

          Vietnamese is a difficult language to learn.

          Coriander is used in lots of food which totally ruins the taste. Most times I can pick it out, but sometimes there is just too much.

          Hardly any Vietnamese cook at home. Properties with kitchens are expensive so they chose to eat out for their meals. A local meal for one person costs between $.75-$2 USD. Also they pack as many family members into each home as possible and would rather pay for more room space than a kitchen.

          Vietnam had their own baby boom as 17 million babies have been since the war ended. There are now 95 million residents throughout Vietnam.

          You know a restaurant is authentic/local if you have to sit outside on plastic tables and chairs made for preschoolers.

          While standing in line (grocery store check out line, Mcdonalds ordering line, etc.), if you don’t move quick, others will cut in front of you. Gotta be aggressive if you want to get through the line!

          Vermicelli is delicious. How have I never tried this before either?

          Always know how much change you should receive.   I was shorted multiple times and just kept motioning for them to give me more money back until it was the correct amount. The worst one was I gave the cashier 200 VND for a purchase of 107 VND and she only gave me 3 VND back to start with.

– Vietnamese are very resourceful. They can pack an astounding amount onto their scooters. See pictures below.

Resourceful 3       Resourceful   Resourceful 6

New Experiences

This week was filled with new experiences. Some good… one shocking… and one unique.

 

Ky Dong Pool

20cm pool

On Monday, I took the kids to a local swimming pool called Ky Dong Pool. It was perfect for E and T! There were three pools to choose from: 20cm, .5 m, and a lap pool. The 20cm one was shaded, had one slide, and Theo could have some freedom walking, and sometimes falling, around. The water only came up to his knees so even when he fell, his head stayed above water and he could get back onto his feet. Eleanor preferred the .5-meter pool. It had two slides and she could practice swimming while still having the confidence of standing up when needed as the water only came up to her belly button.

 

Tuesday was the day Eleanor decided to test out my disciplinary skills. She started the day out with dropping F bombs. The first time it came out of her mouth, I just ignored it as I wasn’t too confident she had actually said the word. She must be mispronouncing some word. Ten minutes later, in a moment of frustration, she yelled, “It won’t f***ing work!” She definitely just dropped the bomb and in the correct context no less! Ok, how should I handle this? I could say it’s a bad word, but then if she heard it from someone she knew, I don’t want to have to explain why they used it and she can’t. I  can’t ignore this because she’s going to hear this word throughout her life, but how do I teach her she shouldn’t be using it now…? Not to mention, it’s absolutely shocking to hear it come out of a little person’s mouth! Oooo! I got an idea. “Eleanor, that’s a grownup word. Kids are not allowed to use it. Are you a grownup?” “No. I’m a kid!” “Right. If you use that word again, I’m going to put you in timeout.” Fast forward five minutes later…. She dropped another F bomb and I put her into timeout; again, explaining that word is only for grownups and she is a kid so she can’t use it.

Later that afternoon, I told Eleanor we could go to the park once she picked up all her Legos. “I’ll stay with Theo in his bedroom so he doesn’t bother you while you’re picking up.” Five minutes rolled by. Theo and I came out of his bedroom to find Eleanor staring out the window with not a single Lego picked up.  “Eleanor, you need to pick up your Legos so we can go to the park. If you don’t pick up your Legos, we’re not going to the park.” She preceded to pick up some Legos and then started playing with them. After I reminded her twice what she needed to do, I decided to escalate the threat. “Eleanor, if I have to ask you one more time to pick up your Legos (I sound like Barb. This can’t be happening already!), I’m going to take them away and we will not go to the park or do anything fun.” Any guesses on what happened next?! Yep, you got it right…. I put Eleanor in timeout in her room, picked up the Legos, and put them in my apartment. After she came out of timeout, she asked me if I had picked up the Legos. “Yep and I took them away.” “So we can go to the park now?! Wahooooo!” Um, I think you missed an integral part of the situation.

As I mentioned last week, I’m back in the land of cheap massages. Last week I had a foot massage which was glorious. This week I decided to treat myself to a full body massage from the same spa. My options included hot stone, coconut/hot oil, Thai, and aroma. After pointing to the aroma option, I was led upstairs to a room with two other clients partway through their massages. Eh, not the first time I’ve gotten a massage with others in the room. When in Asia…. Then my lady motioned for me to get undressed. Um… there’s no curtains in here. And then she preceded to watch me while I undressed. So much for privacy. After that strange encounter, the massage began. About three minutes in, I felt her climb onto the table and walk on me. Oh no. I know I pointed to the aroma massage, not the Thai one! Next up, she pulled my undies halfway down my cheeks and began to massage from the top of my butt crack to my shoulders. Ok, so maybe Vietnamese consider your back as starting much lower than your waistline. Is that… Do I hear one of the other clients walking towards me? Well, they’re about to get a show. The next, ahem, interesting technique included the lady kneeling on my back with her feet dug into my butt cheeks for leverage. She used her knees to massage the outline of my ribs and ended with her straddling me. She popped back up to a new spot on my back and repeated. Oh ,the good old days back in America of having my own room during a massage with at least three blankets on me while the masseuse stayed on the floor. Needless to say, it was a rather interesting hour. I think I’ll just stick to foot massages for the remainder of my time here.

Last week, Melissa and Travis made some last-minute plans for all of us to fly to Hoi An for four days. One of their friends they met in Chiang Mai has been living in Hoi An for the last two months and had been asked to perform (sing and play guitar) at Soul Kitchen, a beach bar. Friday afternoon we flew up to Da Nang and had a 30 minute taxi ride down to Hoi An. Do you know how short a one hour flight feels when you’ve been doing 5+ hour flights for the last five months?! It was like as soon as we got into the air, we were already landing. Eleanor just couldn’t understand why there weren’t any TVs in the back of the seats on the flight. We stayed at Vina Beach Villas and it was fantastic! There were only six rooms on the property and the staff made it a very accommodating and personal experience… they referred to us by name as soon as we arrived. Each morning we were served breakfast outside overlooking the pool. The staff placed a fresh mango in my room every day. We rented our scooters directly from them and the mini bars were stocked!

 

La Plage

My view at La Plage while the kids played to the side

On Saturday, I took the kids to La Plage which is a restaurant on An Bang beach. This placed was highly recommended from another Worldschooling family as being kid-friendly. There were swings, a hammock, sand toys, and a shower all onsite. The menu prices were reasonable and there were a couple other kids there for Eleanor and Theo to play with. Homerun for La Plage!

 

 

Hoi An

Colors were everywhere in Hoi An

Sunday was spent exploring Hoi An (we stayed on An Bang Beach which is about a 10 minute scooter ride from Hoi An). I thought I had prepared myself to drive in Hoi An after all the Uber trips I had taken in Saigon. I’m surprised to say this, but it was much harder to drive in Hoi An with less traffic because I wasn’t able to watch others and follow the flow of traffic.

Reaching Out Tea House

How I was able to communicate at Reaching Out

Do I yield? Blaze right through? Stop? No, definitely don’t stop. That’s a death sentence. After parking my scooter and getting back on two feet, I wandered around the little town for a few hours. The highlights were eating at Madam Khanh (nicknamed The Banh Mi Queen and for good reason!), having freshly squeezed lime juice at Reaching Out Tea House (tea shop run by local deaf women), and checking out all the tailor shops. Hoi An is THE place to get clothing or shoes custom made. The tailors can replicate anything after just seeing a single picture of an item (suit, boots, dress, skirt, etc.). They also have their own designs that you can choose from, all at a steal of a price.

I’ll end this post with a hilarious conversation Eleanor and I had this week while eating cucumbers.

E: Where do you live?

L: In the next apartment over.

E: Do your kids like cucumbers?

L: I don’t have any kids.

E: You don’t have any kids?

L: Nope. And I don’t have a husband. (For the last month, she has been asking about my husband)

E: (with a terrified look on her face) So you’re all alone?!

It’s not nearly as depressing as you make it sound. One day, you’ll appreciate your own space.

Kids say the darndest things.

Cu Chi Tunnels

This week it became more apparent than ever that the kids are growing up compared to when we started 5 months ago! This week alone, Theo learned how to crawl off the bed (no crib here) and open his bedroom door. He’s starting to understand the meaning of “no”, although I think it’s more my hand gesture rather than the word itself. He happily sits on my lap during car rides (no seat belts over here!) and doesn’t try to squirm out of my hold anymore. Eleanor, on the other hand, started to test out being defiant. One day she refused to pick up her puzzle pieces so I told her if she didn’t pick them up, I was going to take them away. She responded matter-of-factly, “That’s ok. You can throw them in the garbage and we can get new puzzle pieces at the next house.” Side note: We either leave or throw away the few toys when we pack up each house, so in her mind, me threatening to take them away was no different than when we pack up and move to a new place. So much for that threat working.

On Monday, I took the kids to the highly regarded Snap Café which has a playground/sand pit in the back and picnic tables for parents to eat at and still be able to watch the kids. I thought we’d have a bit more luck playing outside because the playground was shaded. Again, I was wrong. The kids lasted all of 30 minutes in the humidity before they were zapped (daily temps have been in the high 90’s).

Snap Cafe

Snap Cafe

 

The other days with the kids were spent at TiniWorld (the awesome indoor play area), Sky Park (rooftop splash park), and at a new park for us called Tao Danh Park. In keeping with the growing up theme for this week, Theo decided to go head first down slides. Prior to now, I’ve had him crawl up the stairs, then I situate him to go feet first, and give him a little boost because he couldn’t figure out how to maneuver himself. For whatever reason, he decided to crawl up the stairs, crawl right to the slide, and moved himself to go headfirst. He had the biggest smile on his face after he got to the bottom. He then went directly from the 3 foot slide to the 10 foot slide and again, went head first. We’re in trouble now! I think we’ve entered a whole new realm for Theo and there’s no turning back now. Afterwards and for the next few days, I tried to teach him to go feet first both on his stomach and on his butt. While he figured both alternative ways out, it’s very clear he prefers headfirst (got a little thrill-seeker on our hands) and somehow managed to figure out how to use his hands to either slow down or stop himself all together on any point of the slide. While my nerves don’t spike up anymore when he goes headfirst, it totally freaks out other parents. It’s hilarious to watch their reaction because I probably looked the same way the first couple of times.

On Wednesday, I took my highly anticipated half day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels and it lived up to my expectations! The place was sooooo cool! The history behind Cu Chi Tunnels is Cu Chi was a village. To protect themselves from the war, the villagers ended up moving their village underground via tunnels. By the end of the war, they had dug 250km of tunnels which reached Cambodia. The underground tunnels had three layers. The first layer, located three km underground, was for soldiers . The second layer, six km underground, was for the common areas (hospital, kitchen, etc.) The third layer, 10 km down, was where the villagers slept and also included a bomb shelter.

I booked a small group tour so I ended up with 7 other people (2 Americans, 2 Germans, 2 New Zealanders, and 1 Aussie). On the way to the tunnels, we stopped at the Handicapped Handcrafts factory. This factory employs those who have been affected by Agent Orange, whether directly from the war or from birth defects from the generation after. All the crafts were handmade and absolutely stunning. We were able to see the process each craft goes through as well as the finished product. Agent Orange is everywhere here!

As with the War Remnants Museum, Americans were not highly regarded at the tunnels. We started off with a 20 minute documentary on the tunnels and wow, again, they didn’t hold anything back in both the footage that was shown as well as their hatred

Cu Chi Tunnels 7

Clipping Armpit Trap

to America. We were able to see replicas of the hospital, kitchen, and weapons prepping area. In order to protect the secrets of the tunnels, no maps were ever made. The villagers and soldiers had to memorize the layout of the tunnels. I learned that women fought at night so they wore black. Men fought during the day so they wore cameo. They made their sandals out of old tires and manufactured them so you could slip them on either forwards or backwards. This made it difficult for the enemy to track where their footprints because the imprint always looked like they were going into the forest instead of back and forth between the water and the forest. The Viet Cong (Communist supporters in South Vietnam) used schrapnel from American bombs as well as duds and manufactured them into weapons to  later be used in their traps. These people were clever and very resourceful! I wonder what all Americans did. What tricks did we have up our sleeves? 

 

 

Cu Chi Tunnels 14

I tried a typical meal for the Viet Cong – Tapioca with peanuts and tea. Tapioca looked like a potato and didn’t have much flavor.

Towards the end, you were able to pay 500,000 VND ($22 USD) to shoot AK-47s or some other gun commonly used in the war. I chose not to do this as A) I’ve already shot AK-47s and B) I found it extremely disrespectful. However, they know tourists will pay for the experience so they might as well capitalize on it.

 

The best part of the tunnels was when we got to walk/crawl in them.  The first segment was 40 meters and we had a staff member lead us through with a flashlight. There was an exit 20 meters in if you didn’t like it. In order to fit through the tunnel, you had to squat down as low as you could and then walk in that position the whole length. Some of the taller people ended up crawling (These tunnels were made bigger for tourists. The actual tunnels were only half a meter by 60cm).

Cu Chi Tunnels 2

Not much extra room coming out of the tunnel

After the 40 meters, our tour guide said we could go in a 100 meter tunnel. “Yes! That would be so awesome!” One of the New Zealanders and I were the only ones interested in the longer tunnel. Our tour guide led us to the opening and said, “Good luck. We’ll see you at the end. There’s only one way to go and no exits part of the way through. Oh, and you don’t get a leader”. We weren’t sure if he was joking or serious so we got into the tunnel and started making our way. There were dim lights throughout so we could at least see a little bit. About 50 meters in, there are no more lights and as we’re feeling our way around, we noticed there was a drop. After some slight freaking out (pretty sure I said let’s just turn around about five times), I decided to use the flashlight on my phone and we jumped down to the next level as we could see a glimmer of light. We used my flashlight the remainder of the way and successfully made it the full 100 meters! It was so freaking cool but there is no way I could live in underground tunnels.

 

 

Backpackers Street 3

Backpacker district

I ended up making friends with the lone Australian on the trip. She has a super interesting backstory (the highlights are at the age of 21, she took on the role of caregiver to her 17 year old sister’s baby; she has a long-term, live-in boyfriend who doesn’t enjoy traveling so she jetsets off by herself twice a year for a week at a time while her parents watch the kid; she’s hiking Mt. Fuji this July) and we ended up grabbing some drinks that night in the backpackers district. Sunday was spent wandering around the city with her and ended with pedicures and foot massages. I love being back in the land of cheap massages!

 

 

Starlight Bridge

Starlight Bridge (An Sao Bridge)

 

 

Hot and Humid

Let me start off by saying this… it is HOT and HUMID here! I feel like I’m back in an Iowan summer except with about 8.4 million more people crammed into the area. I’m not entirely sure how the locals can stand to wear pants and long sleeves. It took me all of two days of bringing the kids to outdoor parks to realize the heat absolutely zaps them. Eleanor gets borderline lethargic and Theo’s skin turns red. Back to the research board for alternative kid-friendly activities.

On Monday, I took the kids to the nearby park. I’m honestly not sure what it’s called because it’s not even listed as green space on Google Maps, yet it takes up about 5 city blocks long and one city block wide. Maybe it’s a new addition? It’s a decent sized playground with a lot of different equipment. Eleanor was attempting the 5 foot high rock wall while I was pushing Theo on a ground level swinging cart. I saw Eleanor get stuck near the top and start to get agitated. I’m curious to see how she’ll figure her way out of this. She could easily reverse her route. Just look down at the hand holds. Maybe she’ll just jump off? Or she could “TWEET!!!!” My thoughts were interrupted by a uniform-clad dude angrily pointing at Eleanor, glaring at me, and blowing his whistle. Oh! Maybe it’s a playground monitor? I guess it doesn’t hurt to have an extra sets of eyes. I  left Theo to play on his own, walked over to Eleanor, and talked/pointed her through how to get back down. When Eleanor was about halfway down the wall, I hear “TWEEET!!” again. I turn around and the same guy is now angrily pointing at Theo. Now what did I do wrong? The cart is on the ground which Theo can easily climb in and out of. We are the ONLY people at the park. Maybe I’m supposed to keep both kids with me at all times? That’s impossible. I wasn’t entirely sure what to do after that so I packed the kids up and walked back home.

On Tuesday, I took the kids to Van Thanh Park located in District 2. Ah yes, the neighborhoods are labeled in districts. We live in District 1 and I’ve seen the districts go as high as 10 so far. It’s like the Hunger Games! Although without the whole tributes killing each other part. The play area was unique as it was situated under a shelter and had fans on the ceiling to help keep it somewhat cooler. There were about 25 kids roaming about this area so Eleanor loved getting to interact with other children. They had everything from a trampoline to a toddler ball pit to a mini tree house and sand pit. The drawback to this place was it cost 50,000 vnd per child (equivalent to a whopping $2) and is only open on weekends and holidays (it was Hung Kings’ Festival holiday that day).Van Thanh Park   Van Thanh Park 2

I went to the War Remnants Museum on Wednesday. And wow, that was eye-opening! I should preface this by saying either we didn’t learn about the Vietnam War in high school history or I wasn’t paying attention. The latter option is probably correct as history was my least favorite subject. Either way, this museum was my first exposure to the Vietnam War and they did not hold back on their thoughts/feelings towards Americans nor the gruesome pictures they shared. War Remnants MuseumWe were labeled murderous and they were quick to point out how much money, equipment, troops, etc. we sent to the Vietnam War compared to how much we sent to WW2 and the Korean War. They said we fabricated the Gulf of Tonkin incident which I later learned was the final straw that motivated us to send American troops over. Anytime it talked about the Saigon government/troops, the museum referred to them as the ‘Puppet Troops’… as in the South was only operating because of American influence. I’m pretty sure they had brains of their own. The South had a prison where they tortured the inmates (captured Northern supporters). They showed pictures of nails beaten into inmates’ heads, ripped out finger/toe nails, etc. Probably the most disturbing picture I saw in the whole museum was a solider carrying half a corpse after a bombing. They really aren’t holding anything back here! Floor 2 was entirely dedicated to information on Agent Orange which I learned is a chemical that was sprayed over densely populated forest during the war. Further research showed that it caused birth defects and is still causing them 3 generations later. And yes, they showed pictures of stillborn babies effected by Agent Orange, preserved in jars as proof. I spent three and a half hours here as there was so much information to process. Afterwards, I went home and did my own research on the war. There are definitely two sides to every story. What stuck out the most to me is the information on the use of Agent Orange is pretty skimmed over by American websites and not really given second thought while Vietnamese websites (and the museum) see it as a major repercussion and lasting effect of the war. This whole History subject isn’t too shabby! What a way to learn about the Vietnam War!

War Remnants Museum 7

These are some disturbing torture techniques

War Remnants Museum 6

 

War Remnants Museum 2

Check out the last paragraph on why we lost the war according to Vietnam

On Thursday, I took the kids to… um… what did I do with the kids that day? I always take them somewhere to get out of the house. Seriously, what did I do that day?! Anyways, on to Friday… I took the kids to TiniWorld which is this amazing indoor play center inside Saigon Center Mall. While it cost 150,000 Vietnamese Dong for the three of us (equivalent to $6.60) which is expensive by Vietnamese standards, it was worth every bit. This place was massive. It had a special room for three and unders, snack bar, toddler-only ball pit, Wii, Xbox, big block area, board games, books, Lego room, princess/dress up area, train area, sandpit, ball pit and tunnels area for the 4 and overs, Hot Wheels with tracks, arcade area, restrooms, and for an additional amount, a craft area. The place was filled with English speaking kids which again, Eleanor loved. You could easily spend a whole day here, but we went home after two hours so Theo could take his nap. This was easily the best indoor play area we’ve been to during this adventure.

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Saturday was spent taking the kids to SkyPark which is located on the roof of SC VivoCity Mall in District 7. I didn’t have high hopes for this place as it took me until page 3 of my Google Search to come across it and the article was written back in 2013. Eleanor asked where we were going and all I could say was, “We’re going to check out a new place, but I honestly don’t know what all they have to offer for kids.” What a relief it was to get to the roof and find this place still existed and was AWESOME!

SkyPark at SC VivoCity 2

SkyPark at SC VivoCity

It was a rooftop splash park complete with bucket dumps, sprayers, in-ground trampoline, two climbing structures, and fountains!!!! I hadn’t had any luck in finding splash parks in the other Asian countries we had been in so I just assumed they hadn’t been infiltrated to Asian lifestyle yet. Eleanor had a blast running around with other kids and Theo loved the fountains. He walked through them over and over again for an hour and a half straight. It was free, had showers and restrooms nearby, and was shaded. I felt like I stumbled upon a hidden gem with the lack of information on this place and I’m really surprised there aren’t more articles written or recommendations about SkyPark.

 

Today was spent checking things off my to do/see list all around Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon. I started out at Reunification Palace which was housed the President of South Vietnam during the war. Think of it as our Confederate White House. The greater significance behind this building is it marked the end of the war when a North Vietnamese tank crashed through its gates. I then went to Saigon Central Post Office (inside had some beautiful architecture), Tao Dinh (pink Catholic Church), and scouted out some local swimming pools to take the kids to this week.

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Adios Australia, Hello Vietnam!

Our week in Sydney has come to an end and while I’m glad we visited, it’s not some place I would stay long term. Seven days was the perfect amount of time and there was only one thing remaining on my list that I wasn’t able to check off –  kayak the harbor.

My days with the kids were spent playing at the nearby park or at home coloring/sidewalk chalk/working on letters. Our rental didn’t have any toys so Eleanor got pretty creative one day and decided to “decorate” the stairs with kitchen utensils. There was a path leading from the bottom of the stairs up to the parents’ bedroom complete with spatulas, toothpicks shoved into the carpet to stand upright, spoons, and a cheese grater. Decorating?! This is more the makings of a boobie trap! My evenings consumed of having drinks at Jimmy Blanco (same bar from Sunday) and learning about the interesting life of the Chilean bartender. He and his wife moved to Sydney from Chile six years ago to learn English; they arrived not knowing a lick of the language.

I spent Wednesday beach hopping along the Coastal Walk which is a 6km Oceanside/cliff top trail from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach. There was a different beach about every kilometer. My favorite was Tanarama Beach as it was one of the smaller ones (aka not insanely crowded like Bondi and Coogee) and it had rock pools!

Bondi Beach

The famous Bondi Beach

Tamarama Beach

My favorite – Tanarama Beach

 

 

Sydney Coastal Walk

View from the Coastal Walk

On Saturday, we flew to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and wow, what a day that was. For as big and internationally recognized as Sydney is, their airport was awful. Everything from the traffic flow patterns (who has a one lane road to access an airport?!) to crosswalks (who gives cars the right of way over pedestrians at an airport) to filling out your Australian customs form at the baggage check counter (something you could have people easily do while they’re waiting in line) was just poorly designed. The 8 hour nonstop flight was pretty uneventful. Thank God the kids travel really well.

 

We landed in Vietnam around 3:30pm, but we didn’t leave the airport until over 4 hours later…. First, we had to sit on the plane for over an hour as they couldn’t open the doors because it was raining too hard. We’re back in Asia…  I thought they didn’t care about safety here. Then we had to pay for our Visa but they didn’t take credit cards and yet their ATM machines were located outside of visa, immigration, and customs areas. An immigration officer had to escort Melissa to the ATM, yet they wouldn’t just take the cash from her after she withdrew it. Instead, after she got back, we had to wait for the cashier to call our names, after 40 some other people who were also in the same boat. After that fiasco, came the immigration line. While they had 10-15 lines open, each line still had 10+ people waiting.

So finally, after 4 hours, we exited the airport and hailed a taxi. Turns out, they drive on the right hand side of the road here and the steering wheel is on the left hand side of the car. Wooow, this is weird. They’re driving on the wrong side of the road! Wait… no… this is normal! Oh, I’m so screwed when I get back to the US.

Speaking of which, our epic journey will officially be coming to an end mid-May. We will spend 4 weeks in Ho Chi Minh City, two and a half weeks in Tokyo, and then return to home soil.  My brain has been going a thousand miles an hour on what to do next since finding out on Friday. Back to reality…. maybe… Stay tuned for my next life chapter upon my return.

Today was spent getting to know the area we’re staying in (District 1 for anyone who’s familiar with HCMC) and laying in bed. After the LONG day yesterday, I felt I needed one day to really do absolutely nothing. And let me tell you, it was glorious!

Per usual, when leaving a country, I will leave you with this:

Things I learned in Australia

          Nobody runs red lights. Or even yellow lights. If a light turns yellow, Aussie driver would rather slam on their brakes than go through the light.

          All stores close by 7pm

          They take pride in their green space. Lawns, parks, landscaping, you name it

          Chips means French fries. Crisps means potato chips.

          Aussies have somehow found a way to make their food burst with flavor. Especially fruit flavored items.

          Even though they drive on the left-hand side of the road, there is no such thing as left turn on red.

          When a store posts their closing hours as 7pm, it means all the employees will be leaving by 7pm so you’d better be out of their store by 6pm.

          Alcohol, especially wine, is super cheap in liquor stores. However, it will cost you an arm and a leg to buy drinks at a bar.

          Jack Daniels and Coke comes pre-mixed in cans and they’ve surprisingly nailed the Jack to Coke ratio. They also sell Jim Bean with cola and Wild Turkey with cola in cans.

          Australians get fined $200 Australians Dollars if they don’t vote in their prime minister election (4 year terms).

          There are no term limits on the Prime Minister

          There are public filtered water fountains everywhere!

          It is illegal to jaywalk. Police departments actually assign officers to patrol this on a daily basis.

Farewell Melbourne

The parents took a mini vacation to Cairns to scuba dive The Great Barrier Reef this week which left me to tend to the kids 24/7 in Melbourne Monday-Thursday. Monday-Wednesday were easy peasy! Both kids went to bed between 8:30-9:30pm and didn’t wake up until 8:30 or 9am. There weren’t any meltdowns and they were happy as can be. Who says the life of a parent is hard? Keep the kids to a schedule and boom, the days are easy. I think I mentally over prepared for this. And then I ate those words bitterly starting at 1am Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Theo woke up and was inconsolable from 1-2:30am. He cried when I held him. He cried when I put him down. He cried when I sang to him. He cried when I rocked him. He cried when I gave him a bottle. He cried when I changed his diaper. He cried when I turned the lights on. He cried when I turned the lights off. After trying everything I could think of, I placed him back in his crib to cry it out. Do you know what listening to a screaming child for essentially an hour and a half straight in the middle of the night does to your mental sanity?! This is like listening to The Song That Never Ends. It’s repetitive and annoying and makes me feel like a crazy person. I think my ears are now bleeding from listening to Theo. I was more than ready to head back to my quiet apartment when the parents came home at 5:30pm. I kind of feel guilty for being so short and grouchy with the kids today. Maybe they didn’t notice…?

On Friday I was able to meet up with a girl I met in Bali who lives in Melbourne. We saw Beauty and the Beast (amazing!!!), polished off a few bottles of wine (so cheap, yet so delicious), and discussed Australian culture/fun facts (Teachers in Australia start out making around $55,000 a year, and will make just shy of $100,000 towards the end of their career).

On Saturday, we said goodbye to Melbourne and flew to Sydney. That night I grabbed a few drinks at a bar just up the street from where we’re staying. After chatting with a fellow customer, I said, “My name is Laura by the way. What’s your name?” He replied, “I’m Aaron.” Without any hesitation, I asked, “And how old are you, Aaron?” in the small child voice. Oh no! Did I really just ask him that?! This is an adult you’re talking to, Laura, not a small child!!! Take it back… take it back!!! After apologizing and explaining that I’ve been around children for too long this week, we preceded back into our conversation of sports and Sydney while I used my adult voice again.

 

Sydney Opera House 4

View of Opera House from Pylon Lookout

I spent today exploring downtown Sydney and checked off the major touristy items: Sydney Harbor, Opera House, Sydney Harbor Bridge, Pylon Lookout, Botanical Gardens, Darling Harbor, and Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair. I finished the night off with gelato from N2 Extreme Gelato in Newton. They used liquid nitrogen to make their gelato and have very unique flavors (Mashed Potatoes, Hot Chocolate, Prawn and Chips, etc.). Mine even came with a syringe filled with fudge!

 

My first impression of Sydney: there are so many people here! I was packed on like sardines while using public transportation. Just when I thought, we couldn’t fit any more people on, 10 more squeezed in.  We’ll only be in Sydney for a week so I plan to make the most of my free time here.

Sydney Opera House 3

Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge

 

Barb’s Australian Adventure

Australians love their El Caminos. Upon Barb’s arrival, I bet her that we’d see at least 70 El Caminos during her week here. She gladly accepted the bet. You just wait!!!! I stopped counting after reaching 88 on day 7 of Barb’s Australian Adventure. While the El Caminos here are much more stylish than back in the States, they are still hideous and I can’t figure out why they are such a hot item here.

 

Easey's

Easey’s

On Monday, we took the kids to St. Kilda Beach which was awesome. The waves were coming into the shore gently and the water was shallow so Eleanor was able to walk pretty far into Port Phillip Bay without it reaching past her knees. That night, Barb and I ate dinner at Easey’s. Located in Collingswood, the restaurant is situated in three old tram cars on top of a roof that overlooks downtown Melbourne. This gives a whole new meaning to rooftop bar/restaurant! Very unique place. Easey’s even had Coors on tap so they got some bonus points in my book.

 

On Tuesday, Barb and I took the kids to Werribee Open Range Zoo where we took a 40 minute safari ride to see rhinos, giraffes, Texas longhorns, zebras, and more. Werribee Open Range Zoo 2

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa fail

After the safari ride, we walked through one of the open range exhibits where we were able to see four kangaroos! These ended up being the only ‘roos we’d see here in southern Australia. That night, we ate at a Mexican restaurant. I’d been craving chips and salsa since I left the States in December. I didn’t see it offered on the menu so I asked the waitress if I could order chips and salsa. She looked at us apprehensively and said, “Yeah, I think we can make that for you.” Fifteen minutes later, she delivers French fries and salsa to our table. Stupid British influence! I didn’t even think twice about Aussies calling French fries “chips”, potato chips “crisps”, and tortilla chips “corn chips”. Absolute fail for my chips and salsa craving. While French fires with salsa wasn’t absolutely terrible, I definitely don’t plan to order them anytime soon.

 

 

Peninsula Hot Springs 2

Barrel bath

Barb and I had a big day on Wednesday. We started it off by driving down to Mornington Peninsula’s Hot Springs. There were 22 different hot pools on the grounds, plus three cold plunge pools, one relaxation room, and one sauna. While we spent three hours here, you easily could have spent an entire day here. They even had chairs on multiple docks overlooking a pond which would have been awesome to read a book and relax there. The hot springs pools ranged from hand baths, to foot baths, to massaging  showers and everything else in between. After every 4-5 hot pools, there was a cold plunge pool and yes, it was extremely cold. I feel like I’m back in college taking ice baths after practice. Absolutely miserable.

 

After the Peninsula Hot Springs, I talked Barb into trying to drive our rental car. When turning out of the parking lot, she immediately turned onto the right hand side of the road. You’re not in America anymore, Barb! Her fun lasted all of 3 minutes before I took over the reins. Adam, is this what you felt like in Germany during my drive on the Autobahn?! Next up was visiting wine country. I’d be interested to know how many wineries per acre there are in this area because we passed one after another after another during this drive. After indulging in tastings and one glass of wine, we headed to our final destination of Phillip Island to watch the nightly Penguin Parade. The Fairy Penguins (tiny little creatures) wait until after sunset to come in from a day of finding food in the ocean before waddling up the beach to their homes (either man-made boxes or burrowing in the sand). It was pretty cool to see them wait on the water’s edge until they had a group of 10-20 and then waddle up the sandy hill. Upon returning back to my apartment, Barb notified me she needed to do some laundry that night. “Now, don’t judge me, but I’ll be wearing these same clothes again this week.” Um, I’ve been wearing the same four outfits for the last four months straight. Judgement free zone here.

Red Hill Estate Winery 5

Red Hill Estate Winery

Red Hill Estate Winery 3

Enjoying the view with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon

 

Eleanor thoroughly enjoyed Barb’s company this past week. Anytime Barb left the room or was out of her sight she asked, “Where’s your friend at?” or “where did he go?” (She’s still learning her pronouns.) On the way to the park Thursday, Eleanor piped up from the backseat, “Is your friend grey?” Barb responded, “Me? I have grey hair.” In true fashion of a child’s innocence and honesty, Eleanor quipped back “Your body is grey too!”. Just stick a dagger through Barb’s heart, why don’t ya?! For the first time in my life, I am tan and Barb is rather white. I’m not sure how I kept our vehicle on the road because I was laughing so hard I had tears coming out of my eyes. And believe me, Barb did not let me live down that comment of Eleanor’s for the rest of the week.

Kennett River Koala GOR 2

Koala sighting in Kennett River

Barb and I spent Friday and Saturday on the Great Ocean Road. It was breathtakingly beautiful!!! I’ve never been on California’s Highway 1, but I’m guessing it’s similar.  The entire stretch is 243km (151 miles) and we covered 198km. While we were able to see one koala in the Werribee Open Range Zoo earlier in the week, it was stunning to see koalas out in the wild along our route. The first night we stayed in Apollo Bay in an AirBNB. It was the most unique AirBNB I’ve ever come across…. a Native American tee-pee situated in a campground right on the Great Ocean Road!!! While it amplified the sound of the wind coming off the ocean, it was surprisingly warm and comfortable inside throughout the night. My first favorite part of this trip was the 60km stretch between Lorne and Apollo Bay of hairpin turns right next to the ocean with no guard rails. I felt like I was a professional driver! Barb may have thought differently as she kept grabbing her door and muttering, “Oh geez!” about every 5 minutes. We should have rented a scooter for this drive instead of a car. Weeeee!!!!!” My second favorite part of the trip was at Castle Cove Lookout when we decided to  forgo a 1 hour rainforest hike and instead hike down to the secluded beach. While there were some surfers farther out in the water and a drone flying overhead, we had the beach to ourselves!

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Barb is now somewhere over the Pacific Ocean heading back to reality while I’m enjoying a lazy Sunday, thinking how fortunate I am to be on this adventure. I truly understand the “everything happens for a reason” saying. From moving to Denver to work for Kick It 3v3 to the 88 nationwide job applications I  was denied before getting hired at South Suburban to the torn ACL which amped up my babysitting gigs to the Germany trip which sparked an overwhelming desire to travel extensively to sitting in rush hour traffic and being an hour late to babysit Eleanor and Theo that fateful November night all led to this point. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity and am truly living life to the fullest right now.