Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Namibia was easily Abi's favorite port so far. We arrived in Walvis Bay to the sound of a choir of girls singing. The girls were ages 8-17 and gave an amazing performance of songs in English and Damara, after which they came on ship for a brunch. Abi was delighted to play with them, and begged to go with them when they left. The girls were from inland Namibia, and their trip to greet the ship gave them the occassion to see the ocean for the first time.

Afterward we went up to Swakopmund, a German-style beach town where Abi ran off some energy by playing in the ocean and at a local playground. On Saturday, everything in town closes at 1pm. Apparently, the whole town goes to the beach on Saturday afternoon because the water was filled with children. I have never seen Abi be so adventurous in the ocean. She was running through the water and getting completely soaked with all the other kids. The disparity was noticable. Some children played on skim boards, while others took a giant piece of styrofoam and broke it apart to stuff in their swimsuits as an innovative floatie.

We climbed Dune 7 as a family. It is one of the largest sand dunes in the world. Abi was the first one up - she scaled it like a little monkey, never stopping. We ended up going around sunset, so the sand was cool enough for us to go up barefoot and the view was breathtaking. I was afraid to take the kids on that kind of adventure because I thought Abi might get tired. What I realized was these types of activities are perfect because it gives her a chance to be un-controlled for a little while. When we are walking in a city or on ship, we constantly have to tell Abi to slow down, watch out, be careful, etc. On the dune, she could go to the top however she wanted.

Swakopmund and Walvis Bay were great cities for family travel. A map wasn't essential in either city as they were both of a size and structure where you could find your way to any place by walking and looking for major landmarks. There are tons of outdoor activities that are great for kids, lots of familiar meals, and plenty of opportunities to interact with local kids on the weekend when most businesses are closed.

Luke already has pictures up on Facebook - I'll work on getting them posted here over the next few days.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

And Finally....Morocco!

So, in the right hand sidebar, now you will see pics of Morocco - click and take a look if you like!

Morocco was difficult for us to navigate. We didn't do any trips out of Casablanca except for Rabat. I think in US terms, that might be like visiting Tacoma or some other port city. It isn't like there was anything wrong with Casablanca, but it had an industrial feel since we didn't really get out very far. Morocco is rumored to have a beautiful coast, lush foliage, impressive views from the peaks of the Atlas mountains, and sparse deserts. That's the part we missed, so certainly don't base your decision to visit the country on our experience.

I took a day trip to a Hammam, sort of like a sauna/spa. The hammam experience was excellent! The best part was grommage, or in simple terms, having all of the dead skin loofahed off of you. Sounds gross...sort of is gross if you think about it too much...but my skin felt great and looked amazing afterwards!

We tried to navigate Casablanca on our own without much success. Many of the Petit Taxis tried to negotiate special "tours" with us at ridiculous prices, which is a frustrating experience with the kids. We would get in a taxi, refuse the ridiculous price, get out of the taxi while Abi cried about "Why can't we ride in that red car?", and hail another taxi. We did manage to make it to the Hassan II mosque, second largest mosque in the world and named after the recent monarch of Morocco. It was completed in the 90's, and is an impressive structure. (There are pics in the sidebar!)

Also less successful with children was the bartering at markets. We wanted to get Abi a little princess outfit. Abi picked out some shoes and a little dress thing at the first store and the shop owner wanted 900 dihram (roughly $112 USD) for these two things. At first I thought it was a joke, as I had been caught off guard by some other Moroccan humor. But, when Luke offered 30 dihram (roughly $3 USD), they asked us to leave the store. Then we had to pry the shoes out of Abi's hand and try to explain a new concept called "bartering", which at that moment mostly involved us taking something she wanted away from her, which we had promised we were buying her, while she screamed. After a few more visits we found what we wanted at a price we could work with, but I definately realized that the barterning game is a lot more fun without toddler in tow. We'll have a bit more bartering to do as the trip progresses. Hopefully by the time we reach Shanghai she'll develop a better poker face.

The most amazing experience we had in Morocco, by far, was a dinner with a family. At first we were hesitant to participate because Moroccans don't eat dinner until 8pm, and the meals typically lasted until around 11pm. Typically staying up that late leads to a toddler meltdown. Luckily, our family had a flatscreen TV and tons of kids movies. Lily slept on their bed and Abi went between the TV and the other students that were spoiling her silly. In the meantime I engaged in a real adult conversation with a beautiful Moroccan woman that had lived in Switzerland for eight years. We talked about politics, family life, and motherhood while Luke smoked with the men in another room.

The dinner consisted of a traditional tagine with saffron-scented beef, nuts, apricots, and dates, and a plate of couscous with vegetables and lamb. It was a delicious meal! It's traditional to bring a small gift. I read that the traditional gift was "something sweet from home", so I sacrificed two cans of Dr. Pepper to the cause. The children loved it, and the general consensus by adults was that it was a "woman's drink". Who knows, maybe the next time we go to Morocco I won't have to bring my DP's from home!

Did I really say that? Equator crossing, Family, Making Your Kids Crazy.

Did I really say that?
Before we got on the ship, I lamented about packing up the kitchen. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE to cook, but I was crazy! Every day, for almost a month, I have thought nothing about food or cleaning. Not even for Lily! The kitchen staff on board MV Explorer is AMAZING.

I roll out of bed around 8am, the whole family goes to breakfast and we just choose what we want from a buffet of food. Mardy the waiter comes and brings pureed fruit for Lily to try, and asks what we want to drink. When we are done, we don't even clean the table. We return to the cabin to get ready for "school", and magically the beds have been made, the towels changed, and the toys arranged in cute little entertaining scenes by the cabin steward.

Then, it's like rewind and repeat for lunch and dinner. I thought it might be hard to have so little control over what Lily and Abi eat, but in a lot of ways it is much easier. After all, if the choices available aren't favorites, it isn't like I can be at fault for cooking a bad meal. It is clear, even to the three year old, that there really aren't any other options.

Equator Crossing
We crossed the equator today! Now that we are on top of the equator, the weather is warm, the pool is nice, and the girls are sleeping well after lots of outdoor play.

We have "adopted" a family of three girls on the ship. We'll have to put up a "family portrait" eventually. Our daughter's are enjoying this adoption, as the advantage has been even more people to play with.

Making your kids crazy.
Abi's daycare provider mentioned in passing that kids that have their parents around all the time become neurotic. Not like, just staying at home with your kids makes them crazy. But being in the same room as them all the time, where they never have any imaginary time away from you, makes them, edgy or something. I would like to verify that is true. There are so many ways a child can be injured on the ship, and zero places they can be unsupervised. I have been having her play with students more and more, just so she can escape me for a while. She is more relaxed without the constant hovering. Also crazy, Abi prefers to sleep on the floor at night. We're just letting that go. I don't know why the floor is working so well for her, but hopefully it is just a phase!

Monday, February 9, 2009

100 Things List

Thanks to Tracy from My Money Story for this idea - don't know why it looked like fun, but here goes!

An Interesting List

I found an interesting post this week over at Always the Planner, and decided to borrow the idea. Feel free to do the same! Basically the idea is to go through the list and bold what you've done.

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars

3. Played in a band (Does the Cheiftain marching band count?)
4. Visited Hawaii (Doing it on April 19th.)
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis

10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch (Does cooking qualify?)
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked

23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort -- I knew there was something I forgot to do before we left Pullman!
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon --totally want to do it!
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset

31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo's David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud

54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a lawsuit
98. Owned a cellphone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Read an entire book in one day

Sunday, February 8, 2009

See pictures in sidebar

There are pictures of Spain scrolling through on the sidebar now. If you would like to click on the little thingy-thing, then you can see all of them at once. I'll switch the scroller to Morocco once I actually write about it:)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

More Spain, Around-the-World Book Club, and Sorry no Pictures

Seville, Spain
Well, I am picking up where I left off in the middle of the last post, which means we are still in Spain! In Sevilla, we didn't have time to see much, but we visited the Cathedral of Seville. The Cathedral is still a functioning church, with mass and prayer several times each day. However, it was also an excellent place to get a sense of the history of Seville. It is now the largest gothic cathedral in the world. Orignially, the building was a mosque, one of the last constructed by the Moors occupying Seville from 1181-1198. When the Moors were ousted from power, the mosque was converted to a cathedral. The minaret was converted into a bell tower, and the entire mosque was completely remodeled into a grand cathedral. The cathedral was remodeled several times, so it has Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque features sort of pasted on top of a building that still has a few Moorish features peeking through. It is like a museum of Christian history, with many relics and items of historical importance held in chapels throughout the church. It is also a tomb for Christopher Columbus, among others.

Looking at Seville through a lense of Casablanca, I felt like the two were opposite in many ways. The sites of Seville now represent a Catholic presence, one has to look to see the mark left by the Moors. Life in Casablanca is dominated by Islam, with leftovers from French influence visible if you look closely. Both countries have been formerly occupied, like most of the countries we are visiting on this voyage.

The Around-the-World Book Club
The last time I traveled with Semester at Sea I was a student. I miss that aspect of the journey because when you arrive in a country with a sense of its history and political ideology, you look with more critical eyes. When people say things, you can hear underneath their words if you know what some of the current events are. Alas, "Global Studies" is not at an ideal time for the fam, so I'm starting a book club. I'm the only member right now. The library on board has a great collection of books focused on the countries we are visiting (except Namibia - where are you books on Namibia?). On the sidebar, you will see a list of my bookclub books. I'll let you know how they turn out. So far, I am about halfway through a book called "Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail". It's an Oprah book, so definately an easy read. It follows the life of Malika Oufkir and her family, who were exiled after her father attempted to overthrow King Hassan II in Morocco. The book definately takes on a different texture after having visited some of the palaces she refers to in the book, and having sampled the culture she refers to fleetingly in her writing. Anyway, if you are a fan of international reads, this might provide you with a few to add to the list.

Where are the pictures?
No, our camera hasn't been stolen. Yes, Luke, per usual, has been serving as the amazing photo-documentarian for the journey. I blame slow internet. Luke added a lot of photos to facebook - friend him if you want to see some great pictures right away. Otherwise, I hope to go retroactively through the blog and add pictures today...maybe...depending on naptimes.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


So it has been a while – here we are in Morocco and you have heard nothing of Spain! We learned a lot in Spain about traveling as a family, and traveling with kids, not to mention everything we learned about the Andalucian region of Spain as well. So, here goes the general:

1) Traveling with kids is hard, because when someone says something like “The Cathedral is 20 minutes away by foot”, you should really interpret it as “the Cathedral is an hour away if you add in the time your children will spend slowing your walk to a complete halt.” However, traveling with kids is also easy because I found myself content to spend an hour in a Plaza watching Abi chase birds with other children.

2) I am a jerk when I travel. I like to be in control of life. Travel is like a sick game where someone tricks me into thinking there are like 500 things I can be in control of (what we do, where we eat, do we take nap or not?), and then puts into motion 500 more things I have no control of (like whether kids can eat the food on the menu, how far it really is between “A” and “B”, and whether or not the streets are labeled), and then sits back and watches the madness ensue. I think I will retroactively add this to the “new year’s resolution”. I need to chill out.

3) Andalucia is a most beautiful part of the world. Spanish is a romance language, which always sounded like an odd way to describe a language when I thought of it in a Puritan sense. Is “rojo” really a more romantic word than “red”? Seeing language alive in Cadiz made me think of the word romance though. It seemed like the people in Cadiz were so in love with living life each day. I swear one out of three shops was dedicated to birth, confirmation, children’s clothing, weddings, lingerie or family photography. The remaining stores were for chocolate, wine, flowers and cheese. People engaged in conversation over tapas looked intensely at each other as they talked about whatever for hours. Everywhere we went people doted on our children, proclaiming their beauty, potential, intelligence and general perfection. Mind you, Spain isn’t a country where we stood out from the population. It was anyone’s guess whether the conversation would begin in Spanish, English or French. But most ended with a grandma smothering children in kisses, or running away with the baby to show a friend how cute babies are.

4) Also big in Cadiz: Little dogs. Like, little Paris Hilton dogs. Everywhere. In purses. In sweaters. Riding on bicycles with their owner. I have no explanation for this phenomenon, but it was cute.

And the specific:

On our first day in Cadiz, we went out for a night of Tapas at Cumbres Mayores, and Baladro. Tapas was a culture, so we were a bit intimidated when we first stepped up to the counter and asked for a menu. I think we expected to sit down and enjoy a meal, but it became apparent that we should stand at the bar. It made me wonder if that was part of the secret of Spain. This is a total sidetrack, but Cadiz is all about pork and cheese. Every “local specialty” listed on a menu is some mixture of bread, bacon, ham, and cheese. And then there is the sausage, which comes in hundreds of varieties and might be a part of any meal. Cadiz culture is about waking up late and staying up all night. Yet, the people are pretty moderately sized. So, I see this “stand up while you eat” culture, and I pondered for a second whether there would be room for more bacon in my life if we ate standing up at a counter while drinking and stretching every meal into a two hour affair. If this diet craze ever sweeps through the USA, I am so on board!
We had fresh salmon in a mustard sauce, meatballs in salsa, Manchego cheese, and something else delightful at Cumbres Mayores. All this was complemented by red wine, beer, and finished off with the local Manzanilla – something reminiscent of a dessert wine in texture, but with a biting, oakey flavor.

Baladro offered a “posh” environment with modern furniture and moody lighting. We did dessert with the local specialty, Sangria. We chose a chocolate brownie with heavenly chocolate and orange ice cream for dessert.

Appreciated at both places was the lack of bass-ey background music. Both restaurants were places to gather, eat, and talk with people you know.

Later, we took a train to Sevilla with some friends on the ship. Their teenage children kept Abi occupied for the 2 hour train ride from Cadiz to Sevilla. We only had a few hours in Sevilla, so we went to see the cathedral.