It seems as though this is the only thing on anyones mind…I can’t imagine a time in the world’s history when everyone on the planet was having the exact same conversation.
At 53 years old and having never before lived through a war on our own soil, I can only imagine what the war time rations and austerity measures were like to live through. What it may have been like to hide in silence as many jews did in order to save their own lives – it makes these new changes to our own liberties seem insignificant, and yet –
Portugal has declared a state of emergency giving the government far reaching authority to limit mobility or commandeer property. In fact, I read through the measures and the comments from the PM and it seemed as though it was a terribly difficult decision to come to. It is strange having ones movements and freedoms restricted though nobody has any objections to these restrictions. Whatever must be done to save lives – we are willing. But these changes have really gotten me thinking.
In practice, these new measures have had very little relative impact on our current living situation – essentially the way we have been living since we left Stuart, FL 10 months ago. Where this will have the greatest impact will be to our travel plans this summer as we were planning to leave next week in order to give us 3 months outside of the Schengen area before heading into the Baltic. All of the ports are closed and even if we were permitted to exit, we would have no place to go. Without that 3 months in the UK out of the Schengen zone, we will be unable to cruise the Baltic since Portugal is a Schengen country and this is where we have been. I know! I know!, first world problems – and we are so very grateful for so many things. We are all healthy – as is all of our family and friends back home. We have stocked shelves and everything and everyone here in the Algarve seems to be behaving sensibly. But this has gotten me thinking about the changes our friends and family back home are experiencing and it’s interesting to us that they are the exact same changes that we ourselves experienced when we decided to live overseas and travel the world. The big difference is of course, we planned it, we chose it, and we worked toward it. But I can’t help but think that these changes are going to, on balance and with the gift of time, be a time that most people will remember with some fondness.
The first thing we noticed when we left the dock and especially when Jack arrived in the Azores was our own family values. If you aren’t sure about your own family values, this past week is a nice window into it. Not judging anything as good or bad, just observing where you (and your children) are spending your time and energy in this new world will provide tons of feedback.
We have noticed that we watch more movies. We never watched tv at home (or so rarely I can say never) but we also didn’t seem to have the time more than once maybe twice a week for dinner and a movie which is a family favorite activity. We do now. This is probably in the category of not the highest quality time but we usually limit it to an evening activity of a couple of hours and more so now that we aren’t traveling. We don’t watch any movies during the day (unless it is a rainy day and we are desperate but this is really rare). When we are traveling in the summer we don’t have this much time for movies either.
Alec and I had always spent a few moments at the start of the day in quiet prayer/meditation. We like to begin each day with a few moments of focus on the things (big or small) that bring us gratitude that day. Nothing earth shattering – just whatever it is that we are grateful for. We have both become more spiritual I believe since we have left. We have noticed that we prepare more meals on board than we did at home, just as many of our friends are now, with the restaurant closures and children activities cancelled (including school) – and that brings us to homeschooling.
Many of you are already aware of the rocky start our homeschooling efforts began with but we are now in a rhythm and we wouldn’t trade it for anything – I can’t imagine returning to our old school life – but neither would I like to go back to the early days of our working through the bumps. If you are a parent reading this and new to homeschooling – hang in there! I promise it gets better and the rewards for that are so many. Just as a side note – even if all you can manage is Math – try out Kahn Academy. This alone has done wonders to our homeschooling efforts.
We spend more time outside in nature together just observing the natural world in which we live. We spend more time making new friends rather than hanging with the familiar, safe and close friends – although this is not something that the current climate is going to facilitate.
And finally we are reading more. This was something I never made time for at home but now probably 3 or 4 days a week I can get in an hour of Family reading time. Jack even looks forward to it.
I can’t help but think this is a really great time to hit the giant personal reset button in our family lives and see where our time and energies are being spent and just make sure that it is where we want them to be spent.
Alec has gotten Gratitude in tip top shape for our departure – whenever that may occur. Yesterday I broke Jack’s toilet so Alec spent the day with the head apart fixing it. I am so very grateful for my amazing and talented husband who, not only had the spare parts to fix the head, he had the ability to fix it even though he had never had our Vacuflush head apart before. I am so very grateful to our amazing and smart 9 year old son who continues to surprise and delight us daily with his kindness, his humor and his intellect. I am so grateful that in whatever community we find ourselves, there is always at least 1 or 2 individuals or couples who give of their time and talents to make life better for the rest of us. In Maine it was Milt and Judy Baker who organized cocktail parties and rallies to Nova Scotia. And in Lagos, Portugal, the couple who do this is Chip and Sue on Toujour. They organize a weekly walk for dozens of people, planning the route and even the bus transportation. They organize a dinner each week, cocktail parties, holiday events and just basically provide some entertainment and organization to a large group of boats who call this home for several months of the year. This weekly walk has been a source of education and delight as we have enjoyed making friendships and learning about this beautiful Algarve. So though we are limited in our movement and the plans for our future are uncertain, we are so very grateful to so many people and for so many gifts.
I pray that all of you are in good health and good spirits. Take care of each other and take care of yourselves!
Just typing the name of this country reminds me of the contrasts which we experienced in the short 3 days that we were here. Alec and I visited Morocco about 30 years ago – each before we met the other – and so we each arrived with our own pre-set memories of the country and a bit of pre-judgement. In addition, many Americans who watched as planes flown by radical Muslim extremists crashed into the World Trade Towers have a different view of Muslim countries. Many of you already know that Alec and I are both retired airline pilots. At the time of the World Trade Center disaster, Alec was flying for American and I was just beginning my flying career with Gulfstream Airlines while on a leave of absence as a flight attendant for American Airlines. Watching as our colleagues, along with their charges, perished will haunt each of us, and most Americans for the rest of their lives. In addition, my cousin, in New York on a short business trip also perished on that day.
I would love to say that the hours of media coverage after the disaster didn’t do anything at all to impact our view of the world but Im afraid that would be a lie. Whether or not we want to admit it, we viewed Muslims differently after that and it is the media who enjoys profits directly related to the fear that they peddle who capitalized on this. I have had many conversations with scared Americans citing the Christian extremists who have also committed murder in the name of their religion and imploring people to see that the VAST majority of muslim worshippers are loving and kind people simply honoring God through a different tradition but if Im 100% honest, I have to admit that even I watch a praying Muslim in the airport a little bit more carefully.
When we were in London I had the other new experience of discovering that Jack was a bit scared and nervous around Muslim women wearing burka. This completely shocked me as Jack has not heard anything about the trade center disasters nor has he EVER been allowed to watch or be in the room when the news is on because we didn’t want those images to be in his head when Mommy and Daddy went off to work, but really, there was simply no need for him to know anything about it. In fact, even now he is old enough to know and we have just begun to wade into telling him and he said “stop talking, I don’t want to hear this yet.” Well, long story short, the only reason he was scared of Muslim women was because he was not able to see their face. He is also a bit scared of clowns for the same reason. Ok – I get that – in fact, how much of our own discomfort is caused by this same reasoning. How much information do we routinely gain from our surroundings simply by having the freedom to gauge another’s emotional status by looking at their face.
So all of this is to say that when we booked this trip to Tangier we did so admitting that we had a bit of trepidation about the plan and I spent a bit of time coming to grips with my own personal biases.
Well the trip was really wonderful and so many aspects of it were a complete delight. For one thing, the people were lovely and quite possibly the very best part of Morocco.
We spent only 3 nights here but we crammed in as much as we could including taking a 2 hour drive to see Chefchaouen.
Chefchaouen, – also known as the “Blue City” – has a population of roughly 43,000 people and is set amid the dramatic backdrop of the Rif Mountains of Northwest Morocco. This was truly the most enjoyable stop on the trip and if you find yourself headed this way, I would recommend spending the entire trip here and journey out from here. It is completely unspoiled and remains as I imagine it did 100 years ago. Time has stood still, in the loveliest ways. Not only is the blue so very much more vivid than any picture could possibly portray, but the cobblestoned streets and charming shops filled with handmade rugs, blankets and ceramics are manned by the loveliest and warmest shop keepers. If you have ever been to Morocco or if you know of anyone who has, you no doubt were left with the experience of being absolutely accosted by shopkeepers refusing to take no for an answer but here more than any other place we have been in this country you may do so. Yes, they are more aggressive while making their living than you will find at the local car dealer but still, not nearly as disconcertingly as in the local Medinas in other Moroccan cities we have visited.
One of the most charming things we saw (and enjoyed) was this local “baker” where women of the town bring their breads and cookies and cakes in the morning to be baked. They then give a portion of the baked goods to the keeper of the “oven”. Below are pictures of the “city wood” which feeds the fire of the “city oven”. At night the women return with their tagines – a stew made of meat and vegetables prepared and cooked in a earthenware crockpot to cook the evening meal. How could one possibly pass up the chance to try such delicacies? We didn’t and Im here to tell you that I have never eaten a more delicious cookie than this.
Returning to Tangier we were again faced with the faster paced rhythm of city life and here is one of the many contradictions we observed. Where time has stood still in so many ways, the 21st century has arrived in others. In Tangier as in 2 other ports in Morocco there exists full service marinas and although this is the oldest port in Morocco (created in 1925 though completely updated) it is as “state of the art” as we have ever seen. Housing 1400 moorings in 2 basins there was ample dockage available and I had the distinct impression that a last minute weather stop would not be a problem. There is a ton of construction going on there and we were told that the Med-mooring now in place for most of the marina was soon to be replaced by the “preferred by Western Yachts” pontoon finger piers. Yah – we agree – though we have never “Med-Moored” – we aren’t very excited to do it.
Just across from the marina is the old town and medina. This was absolutely the highlight of Tangier for us. Below are the pictures taken on our shopping expedition to the market. The fruits and veg are so incredibly beautiful and delicious – just as across the Straight of Gibralter. Stuff from the earth just tastes better here and as we walked around we loved the sights and sounds and smells of the city. The spices and herbs were fantastic and I brought a few home with me. Again, walking through the medina I felt as though I had slipped back in time 100 years though just across the street was this 1400 slip modern marina- another contradiction. As we approached the meat section (with nary an ice cube or refrigerant in sight) my stomach began to object and then further on we came to the beginning of the fish – Im out! I had to leave as my stomach continued to churn. Alec and Jack made the trip though and Jack took these photos. I skipped lunch.
So it is my nature to smile and be friendly to everyone and saying no and then no and then no…. well, you get the picture, it was really tough for me to be tough. Also, when we arrived at the ferry terminal we were approached by someone who didn’t speak much English but he asked us if we wanted a taxi. We said “yes” and he gestured, follow me. We did and soon we were being loaded into a taxi. I thought that it was his taxi until he jumped into the front passenger seat. Then, as Alec and I struggled to guess why he was in the taxi with us, he sat in the front chatting with the driver. I thought – well, perhaps he needed a ride to Tangier and was waiting for people going that way. Well, nope I was wrong. Apparently, we now owed him taxi fare back to the ferry terminal and to pay him for escorting us on the last 30 km of a 4000 mile journey. Lesson learned – I suppose I have paid a lot more for lessons in my life but here is the next contradiction. I want to be kind to people and I want to chat and get to know people but how am I to know when a little chit chat now becomes employment? How can I be gracious and still make it clear that we have no room on our boat for your lovely 8X11 carpet?
The primary reasons for taking this trip were to ascertain the likelihood that Gratitude would stay here next winter. We are still working around the Schengen requirement to be out of the Schengen area for 90/180 days and this would be a nice way to arrive in the Med with a clear clock. The original trepidation we felt over the calls to prayer awakening us never happened in fact, those that we were able to hear were actually a lovely reminder to say a little prayer ourselves. And the conversations that this visit in a Muslim country sparked with Jack were really wonderful and in the process we discovered that again, and as usual, we are FAR more alike than not. We too pray 5 times a day – once at each meal and at bedtime and in the morning. We have so many similarities and it was a nice bridge to learn about and be reminded of this simple truth.
One reason we would rather not stay here next year is there is a huge difference between visiting an area for a week and “living” in an area for several months. I can without reservation recommend this marina as a stop on ones way elsewhere – for example going to the Canaries, but for us to get enough time out of the Shengen area to make it worth our while to “live” there – we just don’t want to do it. There was a basic “heaviness” to the city – to its feel. The buildings in the area were basic concrete block construction not charming in the least but with missing windows and mostly fallen into a state of disrepair.
It felt heavy and unkept and we didn’t feel it was safe to be out at night. There were groups of young men standing about and while they may have been perfectly harmless, they felt very “gang” like to me. The medina was wonderful and interesting but I would not prefer to do my weekly shopping here. I honestly don’t think our stomachs have the right combo of bacteria for any of the protein for sure. We have heard great things about the marina in Rabat and there is a fast train from Tangier which will get you there in an hour – something to consider if you are headed that way. For us it is headed in the wrong direction and we would prefer to just hang out in Gibralter, if we can get dockage that is…. More on that in the next post.
I have decided to break up our week long “road trip” into a couple different blog posts and I have done so in the reverse order of how we accomplished it beginning with Morocco rather than the Roman city of Italica. In the next post Ill talk about both of those stops.
As a young child and later adolescent I was not the best student in the world – the reasons for this were many but the result the same. I rallied in my 30’s to go back to University and then I soared but this only provided the basis for my pilot career knowledge – not so much the history that I should have picked up in high school. I have always been aware of the gaping caverns of knowledge missing from my basic intellectual library but traveling around Europe where history is measured in centuries and millennia rather than in our country where history is measured in decades and centuries has certainly shined a bright light on the shortcomings.
Im not sure if my new avocation in learning everything that I can about the world and it’s history is born of an latent desire that I never noticed or my new found delight in sharing all of this knowledge with our son but better late than never I say 🙂 So the learning that I have done in the past 8 months has completely eclipsed the sum total of all of the knowledge of world history leading up to this adventure. This is really exciting because what is travel for if not to open up our minds to history and the world.
Which brings me to our recent “road trip” to Sevilla, Spain, a city absolutely dripping with an incredibly vibrant and rich history spanning millennia. All of this AND it is incredibly well designed and spotless – seriously -spotless.
In 1929 when the city was planning for its Ibero-American Exposition, Anibal Gonzalez Alvarez-Ossorio was tasked with creating many of the spaces and buildings that are now the focal point and “cherry on top” of the city masterpieces. The most significant in my opinion is the Plaza de Espana which, upon entering, literally took my breath away. It was positively stunning and our guide took us there early on a Sunday morning so we essentially had the entire plaza to ourselves. We were rewarded in that we were able to see the magnitude of the space uninterrupted by crowds. The plaza was built facing West in a semi-circle to demonstrate the welcome and open arms to the Americas and the plaza itself pays tribute to all of the provinces of Spain in a combination of the Renaissance, Baroque and the Moorish styles as a nod to the city’s rich history. The city was taken back to Christianity from the Arabs in 1248 after a long and exhaustive war fought and won by King Ferdinand the III. The Arabs had this city for nearly 500 years and the artists and craftsmen of that time have left their mark throughout the city. Most of the development of Sevilla happened after 1929 so the city literally grew up around the beautiful buildings created by Alvarez-Ossorio but the buildings are only a small part of the charm of this city. Alvarez-Ossorio planted 100,000 orange trees in and around Sevilla and they are as plentiful as they are magnificent. We asked our guide why they were all so laden with fruit? surprised as we were that hoarders have’t come along to scoop them up and learned that they are a bit more sour than the typical fruit. We did try one and it was delicious but very sour. They don’t go to waste though – they are collected and shipped to England where they are turned into marmalade. As former residents of the “Sunshine state” which produces most of the country’s orange juice, we can only imagine what the city must smell like in the spring when the orange blossoms are in bloom! Heaven!!!
Anyone who reads our blog will know of our affinity for searching out and reporting on various UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This city has topped the list for varied sites in such close proximity with 3 independent sites located in the same square – Plaza del Triunfo – all from different time periods. The Archivo General De Indias, an example of the Spanish Renaissance architecture which houses extremely valuable archival documents according to Wikipedia, is one of the buildings. We were told that housed within are 2000 or more documents and charts from Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World. The building itself is a treasure and unfortunately that was all we were able to appreciate of it on this visit. The other 2 buildings are the Cathedral de Sevilla (also known as St. Mary of the See) and the Alcazar. Our guide stated that this is the largest Cathedral in the world but before I write I like to do some fact checking. In fact, I have found citations in Wikipedia supporting this assertion and also contradicting it calling it the 2nd largest cathedral in the world. The first point of distinction is that of the difference between a Cathedral and a Basilica – the former being a seat of a bishop. In any case, the size which has 5 Nave’s rather than the typical 3 of a Catholic Cathedral is owed to the fact that when the cathedral was taken over from the Arab Muslims, it needed to be rebuilt as a church and it needed to cover all of the previously consecrated space of the Mosque. In addition, the stunning Giralda Bell tower which was formerly the Turet in which the Muslims were called to prayer is 343 feet (104.5 meters). Interesting facts are that the remains of Christopher Columbus are housed here as are the remains of his son. Incidentally, Columbus’ remains have been moved 5 times so what portion of his remains that sits in the tomb is uncertain. This Cathedral is the largest Gothic building in Europe and it houses the largest alter piece in the world which is a complete work of art in itself divided into 4 tiers each depicting a different part of the life of Christ. This building was magnificent and personal favorite of Jack (who is only 9 and had to sit through a 5 hour tour but did so brilliantly as a trade for the 2 days he got to “tour” on a Segway.)
And the 3rd building on the site is the Alcazar, the current residence of the royal family when in Seville (although we have heard they prefer the local hotel) and the residence which has housed royalty since 913 AD. It has been added to over the years particularly a palace and stables. Examples of Renaissance, Gothic, and Moorish architecture abound in the various structures. Changes have been made by every monarch to grace the halls since Ferdinand The III and notable history is the birth of Maria Antoinette of Spain (1729-1785).
Honestly I could bore you for hours with details of the history we learned in the short 4 days enjoying Sevilla, but I digress, THE FOOD!!!
I had one of the most emotionally satisfying meals I have ever eaten. I know you know what Im talking about here. Not to say that it was the taste that was perfection, but the whole of the experience was pure delight. It was a tapas bar just steps from the door to our apartment and we were served beautifully prepared healthy and delicious local food slowly and deliberately and I could have sat in that spot for hours watching the gorgeous Sevilla city go by followed by a perfectly wonderful night spent enjoying a typical Flamenco dance show with an extraordinary guitar player.
The FOO FOO
One of the ways that we try as a family to most enjoy a new city (or food or person) is – to the absolute extent that we are able – totally suspend personal judgement. We task ourselves to walk and observe without making other cultures right or wrong and to catch ourselves if we struggle with this. It is a terrific way to “see” oneself and also to gently remind ourselves of what we are trying to do here. Remaining the objective observer makes new cities fascinating and even more enjoyable. This city challenged me a bit personally in a small way and then in a larger way. First with the city’s love of their hero, Christopher Columbus and then to a greater extent, with the continued “entertainment” of bull fighting.
I can understand that any effort to “judge” someone through the lens of 21st Century eyes is flawed which is why I can look at the appreciation of Christopher Columbus for all that he achieved for Spain and see that he will always be revered and celebrated due to his numerous contributions. I struggle a bit more with the whole bull fighting thing. I totally “get” that it is a matter of heritage and I even support as an “observer” and “guest” from another country that I have no capacity to ever understand it so we will just say that while bull fighting wasn’t happening at the time of our visit, we would not have spent our tourist dollars on this enterprise. Still, there is a farm nearby that had we had more time we would likely have gone to visit just so that we could teach Jack about it. As it was, it didn’t really come up and I didn’t feel the need to teach about this point of Spanish heritage quite yet as I didn’t want my personal “judgement” creeping in. Speaking of judging….
Funny thing – living with one of your greatest teachers and having it be your 9 year old son. As part of my quest for more history I have been reading a lot of historical fiction. A fantastic book I am currently reading is written by Ken Follett and is part of a trilogy. The tome of which I speak is 850 pages and called THE FALL OF GIANTS. It is only the 1st in the trilogy of equally lengthy pieces of literature but it is so captivating, Ill certainly read the other two. But I digress. So 2 other books I have recently read are concerned with WW2 and are non-fiction. Both have left me feeling both bereft for what the Jews have endured and equally shocked at how impotent the German citizens were to stop it. I became aware of my growing prejudice against Germans when my son, eager to learn German, tried to speak it in shops in London. I asked Jack to stop and told him that I was just uncomfortable with him trying to learn a language of a people who had fought against the shop keepers we were standing in front of. Also, while I support him learning it, maybe he didn’t have to actually use it to non-German speaking people. I then bristled when Jack expressed a desire to visit Germany next summer. Hmmm..
Jack knows all of the facts of the second World War largely due to his own interest in the subject and he wanted to go. We have always told Jack that we want him to be a part of the trip – to plan the itinerary and to take an interest in the places we visit. So – here it was – Jack was interested but not in the same places I was interested. Ha – Don’t you love it when that happens? So pressing me one night he asked – “Mom, you said you want to go to Russia right?” Me: Yep – I would love to get to Russia Jack: But Mom, what about the Cold war and how the Communists and the Americans each threatened each other with nuclear war and what about how bitterly the Americans hated the Russians and wasn’t that even MORE recent that WW2? Haven’t we moved passed that? How can you still hold a grudge against the Germans? Hmmmmm funny thing about “judgement”. Even when you declare it a family value is shocks me when I learn how I sit in judgement all the time. And who am I to judge? I have learned (and Im sorry Im going to tip my toe into politics here briefly though I promise I won’t stay) that even when my country acts in a way that opposes my value system I too am impotent to stop it. So there it is – my 9 year old son showed me the ways in which I was silently harboring a grudge and judging a whole country. Well, lesson learned. Germany is on the schedule for next summer and we have had German guests for cocktails and this week having a lovely German woman for dinner. Im learning…. And I have gotten my German travel guide in the mail and it promises to be one of the best stops of the summer. To all Germans reading this – sorry and thanks for being patient. I can only hope that you aren’t the 1/2 dozen or so who are sharing our dock 🙂 As always, Thanks for reading and wishing everyone a very Happy New Year
Today is December 23rd. There is so much going on that it may seem a bit strange – the topic of this blog- but as I have mentioned in the past, the subjects of the blog just seem to come to me and I usually only write when I feel as though there is something to say.
Several years ago while cruising the Bahamas with friends aboard, my friend said to me “Wow, surrounded by such amazing beauty it must be hard to ever feel anything but happiness”. And then, similarly, a couple of days ago, I received a message from a former colleague from work who said “You are, as usual, doing much better than me”. These two statements have been swirling around my brain lately as I have been preparing for a time of year that has, in the past, been fraught with anxiety and very low grade mild depression. I think the depression is a bit of a hangover from years of working on the holidays or even going much further back to my child hood when my mother worked the holidays. My mother worked the ticket counter for Eastern Airlines and often had to work on Christmas (and most other holidays) and then as a flight attendant and then pilot and married to a pilot who had 2 other siblings who were pilots, we often all had to fly on the holidays and we celebrated on a day other than the actual holiday. It was tough – but we always felt gratitude to have jobs that put food on the table and in the case of my husband and I, we loved flying people to their families – it was a privilege. Still, it was hard missing holiday after holiday. It got harder still when we had Jack – that’s when the depression turned to out and out SADNESS at missing school plays, holidays and many other occasions. The anxiety, I believe, stems from the societal pressures that we feel to be having the “perfect Christmas”. There is so much to be joyful for right? So much abundance, the beautiful lights, the Christmas parties – its just all so much – and yet…
So here are my observations 2 days before Christmas of the difference between Christmas celebrated at “home” and Christmas celebrated at home overseas.
Im still worried about having the perfect Christmas for my son – whatever that is. So worried was I that 10 months ago (3 months before we ever left) I began scooping up presents and loading them aboard with certain fear that I would never find anything to give him that he would like as well. I must say, wrapping the presents which were loaded so many months ago was terrific – talk about having your shopping done early! But what I realized is that the frenetic activity of the before Christmas lists and the frenetic activity in general of our life back home – totally unassociated with moving ones family overseas- is gone – vanished. Granted for a working family there is never enough time in the day to get everything done in a normal month and juxtaposed with our life now where we are not working – there is a total difference in that thing alone. Still – there is a complete difference to the pace that we enjoy our life – holidays included.
2) 2 days before Christmas on any given year would have been spent checking my lists and re-organizing the to-do’s. Probably by Thanksgiving or very nearly after it, our Christmas cards would have been dutifully addressed and mailed. By now I would be frantically trying to find a left over card to send to someone whom I forgot and whose secretary probably addressed our card which just arrived. I would be trying desperately to find a gift for someone forgotten and there would be a few gifts under the tree – just in case. I would be shopping for Christmas dinner and running a thousand different errands – very few of which ultimately adding in any significant way to the enjoyment of the holiday for me or my family. Today Im writing the blog with the Christmas cards undone. I will, after the first of the year write an email Christmas card to friends and family to update them on our life but I will not be addressing Christmas cards or worrying about the cards unsent. I have already done the shopping for our Christmas feast which was done primarily at the farmers market on Saturday. I bought our amazing bread from Virginia the bread lady. I bought the various fruits and veg from other vendors. I bought the Filet and Pork Roast before we left Stuart from our favorite butcher and it has been coming up to temperature for a day in the fridge already. Job done! Jack and I have had not just one but 2 rounds of Christmas cookie making. Realizing that we were dangerously close to running out before Santa’s visit, we actually went through the whole production FOR THE SECOND TIME yesterday. Now this is something that adds to our enjoyment of the holiday – making Christmas cookies with my son. The tree is decorated – leisurely and with no schedule, we did it when it felt right as were the stockings hung. Christmas is arriving on our schedule, not the retailers’ schedule. We have never traveled if we were fortunate enough to be home on the holidays. This remains unchanged. Santa will be arriving here – and this year, we have been blessed to have friends planning to visit us. Elizabeth and her new beau are coming (some of you will remember her as one of the friends who made the crossing from Bermuda – Azores). We have made friends here in Lagos and there will be 5 children and 9 adults at our Christmas table seriously adding to our enjoyment of the holiday.
So – back to the statement, “Wow, surrounded by such amazing beauty it must be hard to ever feel anything but happiness” and the other statement “You are, as usual, doing better than me”.
The thing about cruising and traveling in general is that no matter where you go, there you are. If you are sad around the holidays or a person suffering from anxiety, there is little chance that a change of zip code is going to alter that in any significant way, but that said, living the life you were born to live – now that WILL change your life. Surrounding oneself with beauty will not create joy. But living with purpose and listening to that quiet voice inside that tells us when to go left and when to go right – that WILL create the opportunity for purpose and joy. At breakfast 2 days ago we were doing very much what we always do. Celebrating Saturday and the weekend with breakfast off the boat. Nothing special – something we do nearly every Saturday and something we did even at home. Yet, for some reason I can’t explain I was so overcome with Gratitude that tears of joy came to my eyes and I just wanted to hug my husband and son for all of the love I felt. So much for the low grade depression of my past haunting me. Two days before Christmas I have not felt any of the traditional anxiety that has plagued me this time of year. The low grade depression that haunted me from Thanksgiving – New years has taken a sabbatical this year. I did feel it around Thanksgiving but a return home from Porto and back to our life and routine had put all of this right again.
The question is – do I think that Im doing better than my colleague from work who said Im doing better than he is – absolutely not! If he or anyone else is living their life the way they are meant to than of course, that is the life they were meant to live. This life isn’t for everyone – not even close. But if you are waiting to live the life that is waiting for you – get busy!
Lagos, Portugal – The Travel
There is very little that I can say that I haven’t already said about Lagos. We love it! It is a terrific place to spend the winter and hit the reset button preparing for another big summer of cruising. It is an ideal place for visitors to come – the cost of living is low but the quality of life is incredibly high. There are various road trips to entice every possible traveler. There are mountains to climb, wineries to tour, cities to explore, food to relish and beaches to comb. The train is behind the marina, the bus station in front. One can make it anywhere from here on public transportation. There are restaurants from the cheap but deliciously local to the expensive and rated. The town has artisans and crafts as well as shops and a cinema. In fact today we are headed to see the new Star Wars movie. I have found the most wonderful massage therapist and we have taken the bus to no less than 10 other cities. If you haven’t been to the Algarve, add it to the bucket list because it is fantastic. The locals are friendly and communication is much easier than it should be – (most of the Portuguese people here speak English).
We have found a fantastic zip lining – obstacle course which we have visited 4 times already. Whenever we go, we end up sore for a couple of days. The obstacles (or games as they are called) are challenging and the rewards (zip lines) are many! We can’t get enough. Jack is like a monkey on this and we all enjoy it.
We also enjoyed a terrific holiday performance opening the Christmas season with Santa remaining behind in the booth for generous hours all through the holiday season. Jack has made several friends here and he is pictured below welcoming Santa with many of them.
The social aspect of this community is high. We have had several cocktail/dinner parties and our Christmas table was full with 9 adults and 5 children. Who would have thought?
We went for a week holiday by train to visit our niece and her boyfriend and his family. Porto this time of year was very rainy – in fact, I believe much of Portugal in the winter is rainy. It is probably what produces such amazing Port wine in the fall. But it didn’t make for the best holiday – what can I say. Still, the town was very interesting – great restaurants, tapas etc.. We toured a winery but we didn’t go to the valley – unfortunately it just didn’t work out with our schedule – if you are planning a visit – book this in advance. We did take a couple of tours of the city and we visited some cathedrals. All in all, it was an enjoyable trip but we definitely prefer the Algarve, at least this time of year. Most days, even if chilly, are sunny and gorgeous and there is less big city and more ocean – beach – just more our style and preference. Still to go is Lisbon. My sister and her husband are visiting in March so we will make it a point to visit either after they arrive or before they depart the Lisbon airport. Also on the list is the Our Lady of Fatima which is considered a consecrated spot where verified reports of the virgin Mary has appeared. This is high on my sister’s list so we will visit there when she is here.
Sometime in January we plan to rent a car or take the bus around the Southern points of Spain including Malaga, Seville, Cartagena, and wherever else the mood strikes. Ill include more on that later.
Gratitude and Maintenance
Alec has been busy doing off season maintenance and true to form, every small job becomes a larger job so it is good that he is taking care of this several months ahead of our planned departure date of April 1. Some of this maintenance includes all engine oil and filters for the main and wing engine and both generators. The raw water pump which was leaking got changed on the No 1 generator. The impeller was changed on the No 2 generator, and the impeller was changed on the wing engine. Air filters on both generators and the main engine were cleaned. Valve adjustments on both generators (1 done/1 to go) Remove, clean and re-install both exhaust elbows on 2 generators. James Knight from Yacht Tech is planning a visit in January and will deal with a minor stabilizer issue and he will bring with him replacement spares for the ozone generator for our black water tank. We have only had it about 18 months but apparently despite the high cost of the unit – that is the life expectancy. I would love to report that there is something better out there but if there is, we haven’t found it and black water odor is frankly a challenge on any vehicle – ocean or land going – with a movable toilet be it a boat or a mobile home – it is what it is. So cost be damned – we want it fixed. There are head additives that work – we like a digester product – but the ozone generator is fantastic in terms of effectively eliminating odors.
Right now the plan is to depart Lagos (weather permitting) April 1 and head as far North to Guernsey and the Channel Islands for fuel and a visit. Many of you will remember that we visited Jersey on the way south so this will be a nice opportunity to spend time in Guernsey. Departing Guernsey, we will have roughly 2.5 months to remain outside of the Schengen area. Last year we had planned to visit some of the East coast of Ireland and up to Scotland but missed it due to planning and weather constraints. This year we hope to see all of the East of Ireland and part of Scotland before while required to remain clear of The Schengen area. Below is a photo of our rough goal for the coming cruising season. It is aggressive! We know that. But remember it is just a goal and a living breathing plan which will change according to weather, time and preference along the way.
Im not the most savvy blogger out there but you get the picture. The thin line is the trip out and the thicker line is the trip back. The blue dot is where we are currently.
Rough timetables are to leave Portugal April 1 and arrive in Norway after visiting Ireland and Scotland by June 15. We hope to be in Germany by July 5 and then spending only 5 days each in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland. We hope to be able to spend most of September cruising the amazing Swedish Archipelago. Brief stops in Amsterdam, and Belgium and it will be a photo finish getting back to the Channel Islands – it rather reminds me of the child’s game of tag and getting to “base” before being tagged “out” (of the Schengen area). Neither of us will be surprised if something- or rather several somethings don’t get done but its just a starting point. We have 7 months planned for this –
Regarding visitors: Get your requests in early! We have the wish list filling up for the summer destinations which will definitely add another dimension of challenge to the schedule but we are firm believers that it will be exactly as it is supposed to be!
Wishing Everyone of you a very joyful and blessed New Year.
Those were the words tumbling out of my mouth on Wednesday morning as I attempted to cram a day of homeschooling into a short 1 hour available before we were to go walking with the Lagos Strollers. 2 short days later, I received an email from a friend preparing herself and her boat to make the crossing to Europe in May. The two experiences happening within 48 hours of each other got me thinking of the transient nature of our emotions and how often we are (or can be) lead to drastic measures by the feelings that threaten to overwhelm us.
Going back to the Algebra lesson on Wednesday – as a teacher and a mom I made several mistakes but it wasn’t the single event which caused the insane reaction from me but rather the culmination of days of frustrations building up to it. Failing to maintain a mindfulness practice, coupled with Alec and I failing to maintain the standards of discipline for our family is really what went sideways here. Alec and I have been secretly feeling the slightest tinges of guilt over taking Jack away from his friends and all that he is familiar with at home and dragging him on our dream with us. These feelings became exacerbated by the arrival of Halloween and the uncertainty that we would make it on time to celebrate with other kids and then arriving with little time to spare to integrate us into the new community we are calling home for the next 6 months. Even still, we both feel strongly that this is a better life for him (and absolutely for us). Still, parents just feel guilt. Moms in particular – just feel guilt. And sometimes we act out of those feelings rather than from the place of love and peace and center that we should act from often without even realizing it. Only after Alec and I having a serious heart to heart over what was going on were we both able to discern where we went wrong. Chief among them, our failure to acknowledge those feelings to each other when we felt them and working through them consciously before sub-consciously allowing us to loosen our standards or change our discipline which only resulted in things escalating to the point that a dropped pencil caused the cascade of events which lead to our undoing on Wednesday. Truly at the end of the proverbial rope, I decided that I had tried as hard as I could to homeschool – I give up! Its time to send him to school. Im pretty disappointed in myself that I wasn’t able to walk away from the volatile situation I had put us into and Im also disappointed that I wasn’t able to see how far we have come and how hard Jack has worked – how hard all of us have worked – for the privilege of living this life around the world. But I just was too close to the situation.
Few people are as fortunate as I am to have an Alec by their side as they sort through life’s challenges but mercifully, God has seen fit to give me this husband of mine who can, in every situation, remain calm, centered and provide the voice of reason necessary to get distance. Distance is exactly what was needed. So we went on the 13 Kilometer hike. A hike that I can hardly remember for the prayers, breathing and deep sadness that I felt on that day. I had felt like a complete and total failure. I had failed my son – the greatest job I have ever had – by not being able to homeschool as I had hoped I could. I had given up. I – never – give up! But I had given up! I just didn’t think I could do it one more single day. Knowing as I do that no matter how grim the circumstances, praying, breathing and remaining open to God’s path ALWAYS makes the path clear, I put one foot in front of the other and continued along the 13 K journey. So part of the guilt of what I was feeling was that until we arrived in Lagos, Jack hasn’t really had too many opportunities at friendship. He has made 2 wonderful friends since arriving here but my guilt was over this issue primarily so when we walked past the school and all of the children were outside playing and laughing, I would have thought that the answer most certainly MUST be a return to the school yard for Jack and the end of my homeschooling woes but NO – the weirdest thing happened. I felt crushing -CRUSHING sadness looking at all of the children playing. This was ABSOLUTELY NOT the right path for us. Alec insisted that he and Jack had come up with a plan – I was to take a week off. No school for Mom. And Jack had it all sorted and under control. He had solved the problem and he was taking action.
The same day as the crushing disappointment in the Algebra school work, I received an email from a friend at home (THANK YOU MIKE STETSON!!!!). He had seen a report about the Khan Academy. I took a look at it and even though I was removed from school duty for the week I did some research. Turns out I had looked at this about a year ago but for whatever reason, we went in a different direction with Math. Also, I met a new friend in the marina who has homeschooled her 8 year old from day 1. She had a ton of resources that she shared with me and provided a much needed voice of reason while our 2 children took their Portuguese lesson together. I gave Alec and Jack the computer and the Khan Academy webpage all set up for his work. HE LOVED IT!!! This completely takes us out of the teaching loop on Math. We can simply oversee his work but he can click on a video to explain any concept he is unclear on or to explain any question he doesn’t understand. He can learn from award winning TEACHERS!!! Not retired pilots who, but for their love of their son, would NEVER be teaching anything to anyone!!!! So, funny how information comes to you at precisely the right moment that you most desperately need it right?! Thank you God!!!
Which brings me to the email that I received this morning from our friend at home. She is exactly where we were last year in terms of preparing to leave. All of the questions, all of the minutia, all of the uncertainty and the restlessness of our year of preparation came flooding back. I gave Alec the email to read since I knew my explaining it would fail miserably in doing it justice and suddenly after this incredibly challenging week of uncertainty and insecurity we were full of so much gratitude for how far we have traveled on this road together as a family, as a couple and as individuals.
Sometimes we all just need to take a broader look at our lives and get out of the myopia of the moment to see the greater accomplishments.
SO I DON’T QUIT!!!!!
No I don’t quit! We are continuing to home school and we are doing so with a renewed commitment and a few more resources at our finger tips. And we are looking both back and forward at the lessons learned behind us and the dreams, and challenges yet before us.
The Trip South from Jersey to Vigo, SP
We waited and we waited and were finally rewarded with a lovely opportunity to leave Jersey, the Channel Islands and while we thought we would likely have to tuck in on the South side of the Bay of Biscay, we were able to continue South to near Vigo, Spain.
We had a 4 day 3 night passage and while I think we could have continued, our trusty weather routers at Commanders suggested we should tuck in for the passage of a front. Never one to push things – we did as advised. We were there only for 2 nights and 1 full day before continuing on. While in Biona we had an enormously fun day of playing on the playground, walking about town and, …… trying to find food. Note to earlier diners and families out there, if you like to dine before 9 pm, this is not the city for you. Some restaurants don’t open for dinner until 1100 PM!!!!! Those of you who know us can see the problem here. We are typically IN BED by 8:30 so eating at 9:00 is not an option – we would rather starve! We went back to Gratitude for a reasonably timed meal and saved our meal out for lunch the following day. We all ordered from the menu at a darling little restaurant but none of us really knew what we were going to be served. Pleasantly surprised, we all had a nice meal and a happy memory buoyed with hopes for our new home the next country South, Portugal.
Two days after our arrival we departed on the advice of Commanders Weather. We had our doubts, watching the wind all around us but they haven’t let us down yet so we just crossed fingers that the wind would die down and we wouldn’t encounter anything too severe once we were out of the protection of the coast. With our trusty stabilizers working like never before and winds topping at force 8/9 we made our way South.
What made the ride more uncomfortable was that the period between the waves (which were only 6-8 feet) was short at only about 5 seconds. Jack and I (and even Alec) took the Stergeron and thankfully we all did fine. Amazing – Jack didn’t even think there was anything at all going on outside our boat. Alec and I just had fingers crossed it would improve with time and about 24 hours later, we were in lovely conditions for the remainder of the trip. Following the Spain and Portugal coastlines was fantastic. I never knew how mountainous the coast line was and it was a stunning adventure all the way to our new winter home.
Arriving in Lagos, Portugal
We couldn’t have been more excited to see the town which we had heard so very much about. Lining the Avenida were cute little tents and markets and the weather was gorgeous.
We have been in Lagos, Portugal (The Algarve) for 2 weeks and in that time we have joined the walking group that meets on Wednesdays, takes a bus to some distant city and walks for 12-15 Kilometers. Each week the walk is different and each week the participants change. At anytime there are between 20-50 walkers though I believe we three are going to be regulars. We all love it and the homeschooling problems notwithstanding, Jack (we all) learn a lot on these adventures.
Just last week some participants shared with Jack some berries that the locals convert to moonshine, they showed Jack which tree produces cork – a huge export here and the material from which most of the local artisanal crafts are made. They taught us that the cork trees are protected but that the cork must be harvested to keep the tree healthy. It is those harvests which produce all of the corks and bags and crafts we see in town. Jack learned about a poisonous caterpillar and then did follow up research on it afterward and taught us all about it. Julie shared with Jack while following horse tracks that the front hooves are actually larger than the back hooves and then they talked about how to shoe a horse. So it turns out that we really have found our new little village and this new little village is helping us parent and teach as well.
We met another family, Cress, Gary and Charlotte. Charlotte is 8 years old and takes Portuguese lessons on Thursday with Jack. We met Max’s family who are living aboard their sail boat and Jack and Max have become fast friends and even have a sleep over planned for tonight. Charlotte’s mom, Cress is the angel who kept me from losing my mind earlier this week and we have found fast friends in all of them.
We have found an absolutely amazing farmers market. This is the market to end all markets! Last week we ambled over at 11:00 – way too late – It was (in Irish vernacular) JAMMERS! But this week I made it over closer to 0800 and enjoyed a busy but still manageable shopping experience. There were bread makers who had just ground the wheat and millet yesterday. Their are fruits and veg and pastry and sauces and every imaginable legume, olive, etc… This is RIGHT across the street from where we are docked.
Other highlights of our locale are the grocery stores, the adorable town area where performers entertain nightly, the bus station across the street, thousands of restaurants (all you can eat sushi last night for 12E) and the train station a short walk away. We are taking the train to see our niece Maura later this month (the weekend after Thanksgiving) and we have taken the bus a few times already.
Above are the pictures from Halloween. As you can see we worried for naught! Jack made his costume – the drummer from KISS. His face is an exact copy if you google Cat Man you will see the effort I put into his makeup! HAHAHAHA. We made cookies and we made cupcakes. Alec and Jack carved the pumpkin and we got a bunch of kids together to watch a bubble entertainer from our dock – Thanks Edge and Rebecca! You guys are great!!! Several restaurants and boats participated in the largely American tradition of Trick or Treat and a great time was had by all!
And finally Jack has been getting time on his beloved Shark Bite (Jack’s little boat). Below are a few shots but the big highlights are that this week he was able to start the engine from cold all by himself and he is nearly ready for his first solo! What is much more awesome though is the difference between last year and this year in terms of his desire and ability. HE WANTS to learn how to run his own boat and he is nearly ready! Dad (and Mom) couldn’t be any more proudD
We spent 2 weeks in Jersey and we had a wonderful time. The biggest litmus for us in any location are the people and this stop didn’t disappoint. The folks who call Jersey home are as nice as anywhere we have been and it is no wonder why. The homes are so adorable, think English Country right next to a French Chateau, the beaches are stunning and the island is dripping with history. And imagine all of that with the best food the two regions can produce 🙂 Beautiful french pasty/ croissant for breakfast and fish and chips for lunch and afternoon cream tea. Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, is the loveliest combination of England and France, with friendly locals everywhere we went. We even had an offer (which we accepted) to take us up to the Air Traffic Control Tower. It is obvious why Alec and I loved it but even Jack, who professes no interest in his parents’ vocation, was thrilled. Below is a picture taken with our new friend Karl Thomas. Thanks Karl for a super fun day.
Some offices have a better view than others!
After the tour we took the bus to the North side of the island and enjoyed a climb on the rocks and Jack made a couple of friends: First a guy who hunts for treasure with his metal detector and on 2 different visits to this beach he shared his treasure with Jack. Also we had a fun chat with some Geologists who are doing research on how to promote Jersey as an eco-destination for tourism. Up until now, the chief island economy was based on Banking and Insurance. Now with the tighter regulations, off shore banking may need to be replaced by tourism. It scares me just a bit to think that a return visit in 10 years may yield a completely different experience. Still, there was so much to occupy us for the 2 weeks we were here any tourist would be happy.
As we have been told we MUST visit St. Malo, France, by several people, we decided to hop on the ferry and take the 1 hour ferry trip down to St. Malo, France. A completely walled city and a wonderful tourist stop, we would have loved to spend more time there but we will look forward to another visit and perhaps we can bring Gratitude next time. We had inquired about dockage but they were full this time around.
Today is October 20th marking the just over 5 month point since we left so I thought it would be great to do a little re-cap of our time and also to share with some of the people coming next year some of the surprises that we hadn’t anticipated before setting out on this grand adventure.
Last year as we were scrambling to get Jack to Trick or Treat back home with friends the time really got short while awaiting the right weather to get home. We did eventually get enough of a weather window (or more accurately a combination of a couple windows) to get home and it was a total photo finish getting Jack into costume and out to collect candy. I fear a year later we are in the same proverbial boat. We had planned to already be in Lagos, Portugal – essentially we had hoped to be there October 1 but then we changed the reservation for October 15 due to inclement weather for the passage. Still not good enough – and now I feel like we will be lucky to get to Lagos by November 1. The stress associated with trying to avoid disappointing ones child really makes what we are doing tough. Alec even more than me has been feeling the pressure to get going but when the weather isn’t cooperating, there is nothing to be done. Thats when I recite my mantra “Our job is not to protect our child from disappointment but rather to help hm to learn how to handle it”. Easier said than done. The good news – we have several costumes that I put on board just in case and Jack has some ideas for making his own so that part is handled but now we just need to get to a community that celebrates this holiday. Currently on a 3 day passage from Jersey to La Coruna Spain, if the weather continues to cooperate, we will keep going. Perfect world we would be able to get all the way down to Lagos, Portugal, a 5 day passage.
Last year we visited 20 cities in 20 weeks. This time around it is closer to 10 cities in 20 weeks. I don’t think changing any thing would have resulted in a better trip but I do think we have to manage our own expectations a little more carefully next year in the Baltic. For one thing, the weather has been so unpredictable with very brief high pressure systems sandwiched in between a non-stop procession of low pressures coming off the Atlantic and then parking themselves until the next low has a chance to come in behind it. Weird. We have had several people tell us that this is the goofiest weather they have ever had but still, we have to just make sure we are prepared for extended stays waiting for the nicer passage conditions. Of course, one solution would be to stop making reservations dependent on long passages and rather slowly but surely move to the next cruising location. But our loose plan for next summer is the Baltic. To eliminate this long passage we could have just stayed up North and slowly meandered toward the Baltic all winter long but that would likely necessitate having to spend the entire winter in colder climates with hard grey overcast sky. We know other cruisers who do this and have no issues but self knowledge is a really good thing and neither Alec nor I have the disposition to wallow in those conditions for months on end. We live in Florida for a reason. That said, we have opted to make the 900 mile migration to warm weather and we will have to make the similar migration North at the first opportunity in spring.
Speaking of weather conditions, we have gotten into some gnarly seas and currently we are in the Bay of Biscay getting a reasonable good ride with seas of 6-8 from the stern quarter but starting out yesterday we had 6-8 ft seas on the nose for 14 hours. This time I didn’t even try to delude myself that I didn’t need the motion sickness meds. I started out with the patch and Jack got that other medication that we got in the Azores and we are both handling the conditions beautifully. On our previous passage from London – Jersey I thought the conditions looked great on paper so I took nothing. I was MISERABLE for the entire passage as getting the meds in after the fact make their efficacy marginal. With Jack we don’t take any chances – he gets 1/2 a pill every time and he hasn’t gotten sick at all this season since joining us in the Azores – THANK GOD! It was a good thing I got the patch on though because I have needed to feel good on this passage- both of our cats (Pratt and Whitney) got sick and for the first time ever even urinated on our bunk. Yuck! So that resulted in a lot of off watch time for both of us doing laundry – something that I don’t enjoy doing when Im sea sick. Note to self – medicate early and often. Normally someone preferring to suffer than medicate, Never again – Im just taking the meds.
When we remember where we have been in the last 5 months we can’t believe it! We have enjoyed 5 countries going to several museums and castles learning history spanning 2 millennium. We have all learned alongside each other and worked together as a team we three. We feel closer to each other and more connected to our world than ever before. We feel like our world view has expanded exponentially with the passage of lat/long lines remembering things that seemed important a year ago and re-considering them in our current world view we can see how this expanded world view has opened our eyes and our spirits to the things in life that really matter.
So, some of the surprises and differences since we left include:
Netflix! Yes we have it and also Amazon Prime for media content. I didn’t think we would ever have enough good internet over here to stream but in most of the marinas it has worked. Some better than other – but so far I think we are way ahead in the entertainment category. This is really good as the past 2 weeks has included more rain than we have experienced in the previous 12 months before we left Florida. Also, since we are pretty aggressive in terms of cramming all of the sights in – we all need the occasional down time to re-charge.
Staying connected with family and friends has been made easier by social media and a great phone plan from T-Mobile. I never thought that we would be this connected when we left. First, I didn’t know that we could get international texting and internet for the bargain that we are getting it from T-Mobile. So anytime anyone wants to connect with us, its as easy as a text and subsequent time to make the phone call when we have internet. If anything is important and requires a voice call and we don’t have internet, we simply make the call – I think it is like 25 cents a minute? or free over the internet. Easy peasy!! And social media – Facebook and Instagram have made it so much easier to check in and follow along with family and friends. I was originally reluctant to post on FB much of what we doing as I didn’t want it to look like we were bragging. But with TONS of encouragement from loved ones, we have discovered that people don’t view it as bragging but rather like to see where we are and what we are doing – so buoyed by that encouragement, we have been sharing more about our adventures and thus feeling more connected to our lives in Florida.
Visitors: What a treat it has been to have such a nice stream of visitors. I think social media is helping in this regard as well. Friends can see where we are and where we are headed and make a plan for a visit. When Janie came to town we had a conversation about this. I shared with her that I think we see more friends and family while traveling this way than we do at home – just take her visits – last year she visited us in Martha’s Vineyard and this year she met us in the Azores and again in Ireland. She asked me if it bothered me that we see people when we travel but not when we are home. I told her emphatically NO! I was thrilled to have visitors. I have always believed that this huge gift of this life is absolutely meant to be shared. Janie had a theory that when we lived 2 hours from each other we could keep putting off getting together until next month – then next month – then next month… but with our distance, it requires more planning and intention. The result is more frequent visits and a MUCH HIGHER QUALITY interaction as we all have clear schedules and intentional time to be together.
Food – this is under the caption of different – not better or worse. For one thing – we have aisle upon aisle in our grocery stores for packaged chips and snacks. Not so here. There are only a few types of crackers here. Not necessarily a bad thing but we do kind of miss our wheat thins 🙂 and Jack is missing his Aunt Jemima pancake syrup. The fruits and veg taste better – much better than our fruits and veg back home. It is as if the food is rushed at home or chemically altered to either expedite harvest or prolong shelf life. Prolonged shelf life is non-existent here so far in our travels. All of the food, even the prepared foods (by the way amazing Indian food prepared and sold in grocery stores) has very short expiration dates – usually just 2 days in the future. Many foods are far less expensive here – olive oil, vinegars, sea salt flakes are up to 1/5 the cost in the US. While we may be missing crackers, Im perfectly happy to substitute the fantastic breads lovingly prepared by bakers over here but again, don’t expect it to last more than a couple of days. For this reason we go grocery shopping much more frequently but the foods that we are eating are unquestionably higher quality. We heard that paper products are harder to find and they are more expensive than at home. Also single use plastic are rare and you are expected to bring your own bags/containers when going to the market. Again, I am very happy to do that as we have made it a family commitment to significantly reduce our dependance on single use plastic.
Speaking of expenses – this was a huge unknown before we left and I must say, I was worried that we were going to be hemorrhaging cash as never before but surprisingly across the board we are spending less here than we did at home (the exception is fuel; though the per gallon cost is less we are moving around more.) We have heard rumors that this trend should continue at least UNTIL we get into the Med. The cost of dockage is less than we spent in the US across the board. As this was an expense we we incurring regardless of location, this expense is way down over last year. Food costs are down and incidental spending is much less here. Eating out is probably a wash – spending as much here as at home but probably a bit less as I cook more meals aboard than we eat out. This is usually just a convenience thing – many restaurants open later than we prefer to eat and that trend will continue certainly as we travel down the Continent. We spend more on sightseeing trips – this is a place we don’t even make an attempt to curb – what are we doing here if not exploring and seeing the sites. But taken as a whole, we are spending less. Transportation expenses are way down as we take public transportation everywhere. We rented a car once in the Azores and once in Ireland but all other travel in 5 months has been on public transport.
5) Forming new friendships: Every marina that we have found ourselves in has born new friendships. We have enjoyed drinks or dinner with other boating people and we have found to a one, they are kind, interesting and big picture thinkers. Living this life certainly causes a shift in perspective and a renewed focus on the big stuff that matters instead of the minutiae that threatened to dominate our life back home.
6) Homeschooling- which had pretty rocky beginnings – has blossomed into a routine for each of us and Jack is making strides in his work. Nothing is perfect or without challenges and there are days that he is more focused than others (true of us all no?) but I think we will be ok for at least the next few years. Speaking of the next few years..
We have been so reluctant to put a time limit on what we are doing because we just don’t know what we don’t know. This has caused a bit of consternation with friends and family who don’t understand how we can really have no idea how long we will continue. But 5 months in we can make better guesses about the future than we could have 5 months ago and from this perspective, I would love to be able to continue enjoying this beautiful planet until Jack is in high school (5-6 years) but only time will tell. I had feared that by the 6 month mark we would be considering going home but NONE of us is even a little bit wanting to go back. Even Jack is really on board with this. He misses his friends but we all do. On balance the benefits of this have, thus far, totally out weighed the costs and we are all thriving. That said, we decided to rent out our home in Florida. Originally we thought we would keep it empty for the first year in case things didn’t go as planned but after the past 5 months, none of us are even remotely considering heading back so it makes so much more sense to rent it out – at least seasonally.
Jack just celebrated his 9th birthday in July and may I just say, we have found the absolute sweet spot for his age and our life aboard Gratitude. 2 years ago keeping Jack safe in a constantly changing and dynamic environment was tough and stressful. Last year on the Nova Scotia trip we noted a big improvement and this year it is better still. His situational awareness is far better than before and he is still more concerned with us than his friends. I think just waiting a couple more years and this would be a totally different situation. Conversely 2 years ago we wouldn’t have enjoyed this nearly as much and I don’t think Jack would have remembered it as well. Jacks capacity for learning about the places we are visiting is perfect also. He has abundant natural curiosity and he is smart – he enjoys solving things in his own mind and he is taking it all in. He is being forced to expand his pallet and also tolerance of others in his big world and while he gets burned out going to museum after museum (Alec does too) he is getting so much out of it. He is taking a more active role aboard even sitting very brief watches and line handling at the destination. He totally gets geographically where we are at all times and he has an understanding of where we are headed next. So in this respect we are far better off than I even dared hope before we left.
As I sit here writing this blog surrounded on all sides by glorious beautiful sea and not a spit of land in site. We are in the Bay of Biscay hoping to continue past La Coruna Spain if the weather holds out on down to Portugal. We are availing ourselves of a weather router to help us hit the calm spots between 2 areas of low pressure and as I haven’t a hint of sea sickness, Im looking out to the horizon truly in my happy place. There is nothing in the world like traveling on ones own island from one new place and another without once leaving the comforts of home.
By the numbers
We have put 706 hours of running on our glorious Detroit Diesel engine since we left Stuart.
Thus far we have just passed the 10K miles mark since we bought Gratitude 19 months ago.
We have put feet on 5 countries in 5 months.
Jack has, in Math, completed 2 metric books, 2 Geometry books, 1 and 1/2 books in Algebra. We have read books on Lewis and Clark and Daniel Boone and we are reading Children’s Homer also. We have studied Archimedes and several of his discoveries and contributions. We just began a study of Animals who fly in Science and next week we will learn about Bats, the only mammals who fly. Following that we will study Bernoulli and his contributions to flight and the Wright Brothers and their work. Unfortunately our Portuguese lessons crashed and burned in London. We just had too much to see and discover so we cut back on all non-essential studies in favor of the museums and attractions that London had to offer. The good news is that Portuguese lessons are taught 1/week at the marina in Lagos where we will be staying and we will absolutely try to pick it back up.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned to see where we end up on this passage!
The weather did allow us to continue the trip South and we made it to Baiona, Spain. The very Southern part of Atlantic Spain.
Since our last post we had a few more highlights in London which included a trip to the Warners Brothers Studio where all of the Harry Potter movies were filmed. If you love Harry Potter – and even if you don’t – it is a must see destination for any movie lover’s itinerary. A short hour long train from London – the set is full off costumes, a complete backlot with absolutely everything that you would have seen in any of the 8 films taped here. In addition to the memorabilia, there was a very complete staff ready and willing to share tons of info with visitors including the “how” the incredible series was made.
Jack is headed to Hogwarts!
While awaiting the weather to leave London, we made use of our remaining time by taking a trip to the Lego store to exchange a birthday gift Jack has received and no trip to London is complete without a trip to the largest wall of chocolate at the M & M store. Additional museums visited were the Guildhall Museum where the Magna Carta is displayed. A very cool discovery made while undergoing renovations to expand the museum was this Roman Amphitheater pictured below. Immediately upon it’s discovery, all construction came to a halt and archeologists were involved in the excavation. Following the discovery, new plans for the renovation included making the Amphitheater a part of the newly renovated Guildhall Museum.
One of the boating nuances different from home is the incredible tidal ranges here. As mentioned in my earlier post, London deals with this by “locking” into the marina. Pictured below you can see us Locking out of St. Katharine’s dock.
But another way to handle the 30-40 foot tides are the sills pictured below in Jersey. As you can see one photo shows the meters above the sill and the other photo shows “0” above the sill. On that shot you can actually make out the sill. The sill holds all of the water in the marina in which Gratitude is moored. On the next photo you can see the neighboring marina where no such sill exists. Twice per day all of these boats are literally high and dry as pictured. Its really an ingenious way of managing such huge tidal variations and something that requires more than a little planning. Before leaving London, we knew we could only leave when the lock opened (a range of 3 hours at high tide). Upon arrival into Jersey, we knew we could only arrive when there was high tide also with a minimum of 2.3 meters above the sill. Transiting the English Channel we knew that an adverse current could take our trip from 34 hours to roughly 54 hours! Thats an enormous penalty for choosing poorly. Additionally, the current that passes adjacent to Alderney (one of the Channel islands and where we would have to transit in order to get to Jersey) is best to traverse on a slack tide as an opposing current/wind would create hazardous seas. So as you can see, there is more than a little planning that goes into a passage. Initially we planned it as 3 separate trips in order to work out the timing. As luck would have it we were able to make the passage non-stop which is always our preference but as we made the turn South the seas did pick up and the final 12 hours was very uncomfortable. Thank God Jack slept through the whole thing but it was very difficult for me to keep my eyes open as sea sickness hits me like a ton of bricks with fatigue being the most notable of my symptoms. We made it to Jersey though and it is here we sit while awaiting the next weather opportunity for travel.
So here we enjoying Jersey – Before I get to some of the highlights of our week here I would like to give a little shout out to Denis – a blog reader – who suggested this stop. While we were planning a visit to the Channel Islands for fuel, we thought that Guernsey was the place to go. While Guernsey may be the stop headed back North, for this trip Jersey was a much better idea. Guernsey has already pulled up the pontoons that connect the visitor pontoon docks from the city. We certainly could have put the dinghy in the water to travel back and forth to town but the weather has not been ideal and doing that sometimes 2 times a day would have been a pain. Additionally, while I can’t speak yet about Gurnsey, Jersey is fantastic! It is the largest of the Channel Islands and dripping with History! This week has been so full learning so much about this island’s cool past.
We spent the better part of a day crawling all over the Elizabeth Castle, a tidal island built in the 1500’s. Because it is tidal we were able to walk to the castle but needed to take a boat/bus back. We got the side benefit of a little science lesson on the ocean floor walk to the castle. More examples of this amazing tide are below – Jack is pretending to hold his breath and swimming on land well below the high water mark on the rocks to his right. We also enjoyed an island tour, and a trip to the Jersey War Tunnels. Purported to be a hospital but more likely an underground fortification for the German V2 bomb, this series of tunnels underground were built by Eastern European slaves and local workers during the 2nd World War during German occupation of this island. In fact, the island has paid tribute to that time in her history through so many tourist stops including the Tapestry below commemorated by the artistic and beautiful needlework of women who made panels depicting many facets of life under occupation. This can be found at the Maritime Museum. Here only a week, we have many spots left to explore on this next week coming up and with a wonderful bus system we should be able to see it all.
As the weather is showing NO SIGNs of abating, we may be here awhile. There is a saying in aviation that I’d rather be on the ground wishing I was in the air than in the air wishing I was on the ground. Same goes here. We would much rather stay safely tied to the dock patiently waiting for better weather than to head out in seas that may make for a miserable trip. We are considering a ferry trip to St. Malo, France, a short 1 hour 20 minute trip away. St. Malo has been recommended by so many people, I hate to miss an opportunity to get over there if only by ferry. We had considered heading over yesterday but there was no dockage available. Still hoping to make it to Portugal by the end of the month. All indications are that once we are South of the Bay of Biscay our weather picture will improve significantly.