Arrival in Amsterdam

Current status: Daniel and I are sprawled out on the comfy blue couch in the living room of our Airbnb place in Jordaan, Amsterdam. Our lovely rental looks out on the Herengracht Canal and the open bay windows in the living room allow a splendid vantage point for people, bicycle, and canal boat watching. Today there was a crane doing some heavy lifting across our canal and Ava spent a good long time observing – better than TV!

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We arrived in Amsterdam yesterday (March 22nd) morning after a flight, which Daniel¬†says “wasn’t awful,” but I contest that. I’d describe it as taxing¬†at best, punishing¬†at worst.¬†Ava slept off an on throughout the flight, but her awake times were generally punctuated by prolonged screaming fits. As I sat on the plane trying to console an inconsolable, exhausted baby, I realized that this was my personal idea of hell. I pitied Ava for her tiredness, myself for the hopelessness of the situation, and everyone within five rows of our seats for their seriously disturbed peace. I feel like I unlocked some sort of parental badge on that flight and I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more relief than I did after getting off the plane. But, the horror of that flight is neither here nor there, because we arrived in Amsterdam alive and all fully intact. We headed to the baggage claim, picked up our hefty load (traveling light is a thing of the past), hopped on the train and headed into the heart of the city.

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Our Airbnb rental is in Jordaan and it is just about the most charming place I’ve ever seen. Set one floor above street level, it looks out on the canal and, as I mentioned above, offers the most superb people watching from our front window.¬†It is two bedrooms, one for us and one for Ava (although last night we all ended up in the same bed) and throughout is strewn indications¬†of the owners’ interesting life: the woman¬†is the current Dutch Ambassador to Sudan (former ambassador to Sri Lanka and Egypt) and the man sounds to be a physician. There are photos of Sri Lanka, I’m sure taken by them, Tibetan prayer wheels, beaded inlay wooden stools (which look to be tribal¬†pieces from Africa) and numerous works of art throughout.

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After a nap and a shower, we all headed out to explore the city on foot. I immediately fell in love with Amsterdam. Some of the architecture and historic feel, along with the communal European activities like bike riding and outdoor cafe dining, remind me of Paris, but Amsterdam has a special edgy quirk to it that Paris does not. The canal system¬†that Amsterdam is built upon is intricate and a fascinating mode of moving about the city. I feel like every direction I look I am met with some sort of charming urban scene: cruiser bicycles locked along the canal bridges; clay pots of blooming tulips lining the stoops of canal homes; pigeons pecking about at the feet of dozens of people dining at outdoor cafes, sharing cappuccinos and tiny glasses of wine. It is a city packed full of these lovely details. There are, of course, also the telltale signs that we are in Amsterdam: I spotted a few “red light” windows, where prostitutes sit and coyly look at passers by and the wafting smell of marijuana, which can be detected nearly everywhere in this city. I’ve noticed a number of special “coffee shops,” which are practically shrouded in a cloud of weed smoke.

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Last night we cooked at our Airbnb place, which I was thankful for after about 24 hours of airplane food and snacks.¬†Though I had high hopes that Ava would sleep through the night, that wasn’t very realistic. I woke up with a start, wide awake around midnight (thank you, jet lag), and Ava woke up shortly after, crying and wide awake. I attempted to get her back to sleep, but to no avail. So, the three of us all got up and played in the living room from about midnight-2am. Finally at 3am I got her to go back to sleep, albeit on my shoulder, which she never does anymore, but I wasn’t about to disturb her, so she continued to sleep on me for most of the night. This allowed her to get some sleep, but allowed me to get almost none due to fear of disturbing her. When Ava woke for the morning at 6:30, Daniel took her and allowed me another few hours.

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Today we hit the town, not quite first thing in the morning, but as soon as we could muster given the previous night. We walked across town to the Van Gogh Museum, which had been recommended to us by a number of people. It did not disappoint: I was fascinated by the life and works of Van Gogh. He must have been some sort of savant. A few things I learned:

  • Van Gogh only produced art between 1880-1890, and during much of this time produced an average of one painting per day.
  • He was influenced by many artists, but also by the Japanese art and aesthetic, which is evident in some of his works.
  • He suffered from some sort of mental illness, his doctors at the time thought epilepsy with acute mania, and he seems like he was clearly depressed. He cut off part of his ear after a fight with sort-of-friend and fellow painter, Paul Gauguin.

After the museum we headed home for naps all around (do you see a theme here?). Post-nap we picked up mid-afternoon coffees for the adults and banana bread for adults and the baby and walked to Central Station where we picked up tickets for a one-hour canal cruise tour. This is definitely a tourist activity that should not be missed! The perspective allotted by touring the canals by boats is spectacular. The audio guide through the tour was also quite good, pointing out notable buildings and important/historical parts of the city. One part I thought very interesting was the views into the houseboats. There are some 2,500 house boats lining the canals in Amsterdam (no more allowed by the government). The houseboats ranged from luxurious to quite dinky, but all seemed to present a unique way of life on the water. Daniel, Ava and I all enjoyed the cruise. Daniel and I mostly enjoyed the views from the window and Ava mostly enjoyed shredding one of the canal maps found on the floor.

And now, we rest and pray that Ava sleeps through the night. Tomorrow is a big day, indeed! It is Ava’s first birthday. We plan on celebrating in high style with banana nutella crepes (made by Daniel) for breakfast and visits to the NEMO Science Museum in the morning and the zoo in the afternoon.

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The Waiting Land: A Spell in Nepal

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My collection of books set in various parts of Asia is now spilling from one to two shelves on our book case. Asia, especially South Asia, is an area of the world that¬†continues to fascinate me. Learning about the¬†history, religions, rituals, ethnic groups, food and language has held my attention for years now. I recently added The Waiting Land: A Spell in Nepal by Dervla Murphy to my collection. I had never heard of Dervla Murphy before I bought this book, but after some research and talking to a friend who has spent extensive time in Nepal, I’ve come to realize she is quite prolific and one of the great adventurers of our time.

The Waiting Land is published as a set of chronologically dated journal entries by Murphy during her time in the mid 60’s in Nepal.¬†She was in Nepal not too long after the country opened up its borders to foreigners, so she was allotted an entirely different view and experience of Nepal that I had after the country had gone through decades of pressure to modernize and Westernize. This book is a true joy to read. Dervla Murphy has a quick wit, and I laughed out loud numerous times in this book. I appreciated her honest observations about the destitute poverty¬†she saw, as I feel like some foreigners (probably myself included) have the tendency to romanticize poverty and focus on the people’s happiness at living “the simple life.”

The purpose of her trip to Nepal is to work at the Tibetan refugee camps outside of Pokhara. This was when the camps truly were camps, tents included, because the Tibetans had only recently fled from Tibet due to Chinese persecution. When I was there in the mid to late 2000’s, the Tibetan “camp” was still there, but the tents were long gone, and it had become more of a permanent settlement with concrete homes and lengths of prayer flags everywhere.

A few choice quotes:

“It would be futile to try to describe this region, for in exclusively mountainous countries every beauty is too extreme to be conveyed by any words that I might choose. None of the books or photographs studied before leaving home had even slightly prepared me for such majesty. Truly this is something that does have to be seen to be believed, and that once seen must be continually yearned for when left behind, becoming as incurable a fever of the spirit as malaria is of the body.” p. 91

 

“A seven months’ visit is too brief for the development of a real understanding of any country as alien and complex as Nepal; but it is quite long enough for the visitor to come to love what has been experienced of both the virtues and faults of this improbable little Kingdom. I am often asked, ‘Did you like Nepal?’ – to which I usually reply, ‘Yes’ and leave it at that. But no one merely ‘likes’ Nepal; Nepal weaves a net out of splendour and pettiness, squalor and colour, wisdom and innocence, tranquillity and gaiety, complacence and discontent, indolence and energy, generosity and cunning, freedom and bondage – and in this bewildering mesh foreign hearts are trapped, often to their own dismay.” p. 212

Summit Meadow Cabins

Spent the weekend in this lovely A-frame cabin on Mt. Hood. On our past trips the entire landscape has been covered with snow. This winter has been unseasonably warm and there was not a flake of snow in sight. The rained nearly the entire weekend, but we still managed to get out for a soggy hike around the perimeter of Trillium Lake. It was relaxing and restful, the perfect getaway before finals week.

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Life Updates: March 2015

It has been nearly a year since I wrote on my blog! The last post, from July 2014, was from our trip to Iceland. For the months since then, I’ve sometimes thought about updating my blog, but for several reasons decided to take a break from writing. I love having my blog, and I’ve been keeping it up pretty consistently (mostly for travels, at least) since 2007. But, after Ava was born I needed a little break for several reasons.

IMG_9429First, I lost some of my previous drive to document everything in my life. I’ve always been a meticulous Documenter of Things, whether that be through journals (I have journals of mine dating back to elementary school), photographs or my blog. I documented the first few months of Ava’s life, but I realized that there was something magical in being a new parent that just can not be documented. Blogs and photos and stories just don’t do it justice. So, I decided to take a break from my blog and simply enjoy the simple pleasures¬†and joys of being a parent to Ava, without feeling the need to document everything. Another thing about my blog: I have previously documented “big things,” like international travel and exciting events in my life. With Ava now in our lives, I feel like every day is a “big thing” with much excitement, laughs and contentment. If I continued to document all the “big things” in my life, I feel like I would need to blog every day, to i memorialize¬†life with Ava. But, as I mentioned above, it feels like meticulously documenting life with Ava is futile, because a blog or a photo could never capture the true feeling and true joy of being a mother and being with my family. Also, I’m a little apprehensive to share too much of Ava’s life and photos with the Internet.

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Another reason I haven’t been blogging is that I’ve been in nursing school! I started in September 2014 and am nearly done with my second term of five total. Needless to say, being a full-time mom, full-time student and having a full-time family leaves me with little leisure time, and the leisure time that I do have I prefer to enjoy with Ava and Daniel. Nursing school is going well, and I am very glad I decided to go to nursing school instead of PA school. It is just the right amount of challenge, but still leaves me ample time for family. I was nervous before nursing school that I would miss out on significant parts of Ava’s¬†first few years, but that is definitely not the case.

IMG_9019But, lately I’ve been feeling the urge to do some writing again and resurrect my blog. I’ll most likely keep up my blog more for major travels and trips, as a resource to share photos with friends and family,¬†but I’m not sure I’ll ever be as active on my blog as I once was.

Traveling With a Baby Tips

We are currently on our way back home after a two week stint in Iceland with Ava. It has been an awesome, fun-filled two weeks and during this time we’ve been working on collecting our thoughts and tips to remember for future trips with baby. Here are my top tips:

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#1) Be Prepared

This seems pretty obvious. Of course you should be prepared. But really, think through every possible disaster situation that could happen and pack accordingly. For us on this trip, this mostly meant enough diapers and wipes, but it also meant multiple extra changes of clothes for blow-outs, which did happen.

#2) Work in shifts and as a team 

There were several situations on this trip that it worked best for Daniel and I to take shifts with Bobo so the other could do an activity. The first time we tried this out was at the Blue Lagoon. Daniel took Ava and I took a dip, then I took her while he got his soak on. We also did this for museum trips, as well as some times during the day when I needed to get studying done, or he needed to get work done.

In addition to this I think the “work as a team” piece is really important. Traveling with a little baby is not all rainbows and unicorns. Since you are not at home you also do not have your comforts at home and this can induce stress. Your significant other is the easy scapegoat for stressful situations, but stressful situations are so much easier to deal with as a united front.

#3) Humor 

This is a top priority for sure. As I just mentioned, traveling with a baby can really rev up stressful situations at times. For example, huge blowouts, crying fits on the airplane, crying fits in the car… it is much easier to deal with these situations if you can laugh at them.

#4) Don’t schedule too much¬†

The one really important thing to keep Ava sane and happy was to make sure she got enough naps, especially with the crazy time zone changes. We usually did about one big thing per day, which sometimes felt like really taking it easy compared to our previous mode of travel where we would have packed it in. But, it was really nice to take a little slower pace and appreciate the little things which we may not have noticed before.

It was especially nice that we didn’t have too much planned on the first couple of days, since it took a little while for Ava to get used to the time zone change.

#5) Don’t pack light¬†

This seems counterintuitive, but packing light is not a good idea. We packed tons of clothes for Ava, but we were already in dire need of laundry after a week. I also thought I packed enough diapers and wipes, but I definitely did not. We also brought the car seat and her portable crib. It seemed a good idea to not bring the portable crib because it is heavy, but it was SO worth it to bring it. She sleeps much better in her own bed, and so do I.

#6) Spring for the Lounge 

We were flying Delta for this whole trip and have had killer layovers at JFK both ways. Eight hours to kill with a baby OMGOMG!!!! We have paid for the Delta Sky Lounge both times, which is $30 a person. It is SOOOO worth it. It is a quiet place where you can spread out. Ava can play on a blanket on the floor. I can nurse her without a zillion people around. The bathrooms are clean and nice and comfortable. Water, snacks, coffee, etc are included. Totally worth it. It is air conditioned. There are even showers (which we didn’t use)! Totally, totally worth it to be comfortable with baby.

Observation: 

*Most people love babies. I had the fear of God in my before our flights that she would cry the whole time. She was fine and most people around us on the plane thought Ava was so cute and asked how old she was, etc… This was pretty much true of the whole trip – most people just wanted to look at her and smile, instead of give us dirty looks. That being said, so far (knock on wood) she has been really great on planes and hasn’t given people much reason to give her dirty looks.

*Caffeine is your best friend. If you can travel with a 3-month-old baby without caffeine, more power to you.

*The Ergo carrier is your other best friend. Like BFFs forever.

*One thing I noticed is that traveling with a baby, or even just having a baby changes my outlook a lot. Pre-Ava, if I would have gotten a horrible night’s sleep and known I had a full day activity planned ahead, I would have been in a crabby mood. Getting a bad night’s sleep has happened to me multiple times on this trip. I wake up and say, “Damn”, then I smile because I have my Bobo. I also think, for the sake of Ava and of Daniel,¬†it is necessary that I am high energy and at least convincing myself that I can take on whatever obstacle comes at me. You don’t really get to have off, crabby days with a baby, and that is actually kind of a cool thing.

Iceland Circus Tent Tour

On a walk with Ava yesterday around Isafjordur and I saw a little tent in an open field, so had to check it out. Turns out the traveling circus is in town, so I went and enquired within about shows. There were three show options, first for the very young (“and young at heart”), second was a longer show for anyone, and third was a more risque burlesque-style show for 18 and older. When the Icelandic traveling circus is in town, how can you not go? We picked the first choice of show, which we went to this afternoon.

It is no Cirque de Soleil, but it was a fun show, nonetheless! The entire thing was presented in Icelandic, so we had no idea what they were saying, but many of the acts needed no translation and were still funny. There were only about 50 other people at the show, and I don’t think any other foreigners. It was well worth the ticket price just to see the amazed look on Ava’s face as she watched the acts.