Getting Ready for Summer With Little Passports!

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Ready, set, explore!  That’s what we’re planning to do.  Summer is just around the corner and I want to have a variety of resources and activities for my little ones to learn about the world!

***Please note that this post contains affiliate links.  I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.***

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Last year I became an affiliate with Little Passports after trying out their World Edition subscription.  We actually used our monthly kit about Japan to prepare for our trip with the kids to Japan.  It was actually a lot of fun!  But then life happened and we got busy with other stuff.  Now, with summer fast approaching, I’m going to be ordering all 3 kids in full: Early Explorers, World Edition, and USA Edition.

Give the gift of Adventure!

We might not get to each kit while we are still in school, but I hope to save the ones we don’t get to now for the summer time so we can have a country activity to focus on each week!

When Mom Escaped to Vietnam, Part 1

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Some people say that I’ve been traveling with my kids for so long that I don’t know how truly exhausting it is traveling with them compared to traveling without them.  Fair point.  While I do actually enjoy traveling with my children, when I was presented with the opportunity to accompany my husband on his business trip to Vietnam while my children stayed home with my in-laws, I jumped at the chance!  Now, my lovely husband has always made time over the last few years to watch our kids so that I could enjoy a short “girls trip” every now and then, but they were usually to places I was already quite familiar with.  So this was going to be an adventure!

Part of the mission for the trip was to see if Vietnam was some place we felt we could bring the kids back to and at what age would likely be best.  While I was leaving Seattle on a Sunday morning, I wasn’t going to get into Hanoi until 10:00 p.m. local time on Monday night. Which was going to give me 4 full days in Vietnam, before departing to go back home at 11:00 p.m. on a Friday night.  While this might seem too short of a trip to travel so far, flying to Asia from the U.S. has minimum jet lag if you can get a flight that leaves your home in the morning and arrives in Asia at night.  When we fly to Europe, it’s at least 2 days before we time zone adjust.  But in Asia, we land at their night time after being up all day and during most of the 10+ hour flights and are ready to go to bed when we arrive.  Then the next morning we wake up with everyone else and are ready to start the day!

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Breakfast!  Fresh, ripe fruit!

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My husband and I at Lake Hoan Kiem.

On day 1 of my 4 full days that I would be in Vietnam, I got to have breakfast with my husband and only had to dish up a single plate, for myself.  I leisurely looked around at recommendations for sights to see without someone asking me “can we going yet?”  And later, after my husband’s morning meetings, he and I walked at our pleasure and pace through Hanoi without worrying about a kid getting hit by one of the millions of motorcycles whizzing through the streets and sidewalks.  After visiting the famous island shrine in Hoan Kiem Lake, and doing some shopping, we capped off day one with a nice dinner at a traditional Vietnamese restaurant with his co-workers and no one refused to eat their food!

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The island shrine entrance.

On my 2nd day, I had booked a tour to Hoa Lu (an ancient former Capital of Vietnam) and Tam Coc.  Since my husband had warned me that the conference center was a great deal outside of the heart of Hanoi and all the popular sights, I had just planned to spend one day in the city.  On my first morning in Hanoi, while I had been waiting for my husband to get done with his morning meetings, I took to the travel desk at the hotel.  I held my breath and prayed that the tours wouldn’t be too outrageously priced given that I was booking at the hotel.  My first inquiry was about Ha Long Bay, based on basically everyone’s recommendation that I should go there.  The reasonably priced 2 day, 1 night cruise I wanted was book for the Wednesday/Thursday date but was available for Thursday/Friday.  Lucky for me, that option got my back to Hanoi at 4:00 p.m. and our plane didn’t leave until 11:00 p.m.  So I booked it.  That left me with Wednesday still open.  I had seen this rather nice picture of people floating along this river stream that looked like there was rice or plants growing on either side of the passageway, heading towards some beautiful mountains.  I asked about it and made arrangements to take a day trip to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc for Wednesday, the next morning.

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Downtown Hanoi, motorbikes galore!

Waking up that Wednesday morning was a little harder than expected but I made it downstairs to the lobby with plenty of time to spare before the tour bus picked me up from my hotel.  I knew I was their last stop so I was surprised to find only 3 other people inside.  All were older than I and from Australia, though not all traveling together.  The bus was air conditioned, which was nice given the 86 degrees outside and 70% humidity, however the seats benches were not spaced well and my knees would scrunch up against the seat in front of me.  But I made the most of our 2 and a half hour drive by snapping pictures out the window and taking in the countryside and other smaller towns we passed through on the way to Hoa Lu.  We made a stop at a warehouse midway to Hoa Lu so we could use the bathroom, and then they hoped we would shop for the remaining 30 minutes of our bus break.  It was convenient to have all of the different traditional items in one spot, but the prices were 2 to 3 times higher than what I had just seen in Hanoi city center the day before.  I bought nothing but dropped a few dollars into the donation bin for the orphanage.

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Silk weaving art at one of the shopping warehouses along the way to Hao Lu.

Once we got to Hoa Lu, as we  got off the bus we were of course immediately swarmed by people wanting to sell you bottled water or a hat.  We acrossed the street to the sight we had come to see and from there were left in peace to enjoy the two temples that now sit on the sight that was once a great fortress.  They were interesting enough temples to look at in honor of past Emperors of Vietnam, but nothing too spectacular.  I did enjoy hearing more about the history of Vietnam from our guide. It was hard to believe that the sight had once been a great fortress and capital city.  There were no signs of ruins but we were told that all of the stones transferred to Hanoi for the new fortress.

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One of the temples with a shrine to honor the Dinh and Le Dynasties

After about an hour at the temple sights, we got back into the bus and drove to Tam Coc where we were slated for a bike ride through the village and countryside followed by lunch and then a river boat tour.  We arrived in what looked like a storybook Vietnamese village with a man made harbor.  Small mountains sprung up along the outline of the town with a river that flowed around the edge.  We took a nice bike ride outside the village to an area that had some caves.  Several people who seemed to be on a longer tour ventured into the caves, but we were told we only have a few minutes so I didn’t risk going in.  Along the way on our bike ride, we noticed men or women taking pictures of us.  One very boldly insisted that we stop and that three of us ladies pose for a picture.  As it turns out, they follow you out to take pictures on your way to your sight, then they hurry back to the village to get them printed before you return for lunch so that they can sell them to you.  However, unlike cruise ship photos, these didn’t cost you your first born son, I got 5 photos for $1.

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Bike ride through Tam Coc.

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Temple entrance at a cave sight in Tam Coc.

Once back in the village we had a lunch buffet that was included in the price of my tour.  My whole day was only costing me $75.  After lunch, we split in groups of 2 and boarded our 3 person (counting the “driver”) little “bamboo” boats that are nowadays made of metal.  I watched in amazement how the drivers rowed the two oars with their feet as they began to steer us down the river, through a trail of water with river grass floating along side us.  Once again people followed us, this time in their own boats, to take pictures on our journey to the end of the river.  As we moved along the water, I loved seeing some of the different houses perched up along the bank.  Before we got too far away from the village, you could see children coming down to play and cool off in the water.  The river cut beneath several little mountains so we traversed through 3 or 4 cave tunnels in all.  Finally, we came to the end of the road.  A small inlet just on the other side of one of the cave tunnels.  There we would turn around and go back along the same route, BUT, not without first being greeted by several women in boats stocked with snacks and beverages, all beckoning us to buy something for either ourselves, or our boat driver.  Here’s the great dilemma right?  Do you buy or don’t you buy? How much of this money will they actually get to keep? Do you re-enforce this annoying practice of bombarding tourist for a buck?  Or do I accept that this is someone’s livelihood and at the end of the day, is still only setting me back 1/4 of the cost of a Starbucks coffee back home.  Plus, how do you refuse the suggestion that I buy something to drink or eat for my female boat driver who is “working very hard.”  I bought her a bag of chips of her choosing and a cold green tea, all of which cost me around $1.50.  The reality is, everything I was going to do in Vietnam for 4 days was still going to cost less than taking the whole family to Disneyland for a single day!  So if I was going to get something that was already 50-75% less than what I would pay for it in the US, why not?

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Riding along the river at Tam Coc.

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Going under the mountains.

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The mini floating markets selling snacks to tourists.

As we sailed back, I took just as many pictures as on the way in.  I must have snapped 200 pictures on the river alone.  It was quite beautiful and at the same time, humbling.  When I saw all the children in front of their shack of a home, jumping in the water, splashing and playing and smiling, I immediately wished that my children were there with me.  I wished that they were experiencing the beauty of the natural scenery that surrounded me and I wished that they could see these children, these fiscally poor youth, having the time of their life playing by the river as if they didn’t have a care in the world.  It’s those moments that I want to show my children through travel.  Life is life, and ever so precious and that there is joy to be found in it no matter how much money you have or don’t have.  I definitely want them to come back with me.

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Children at play, cooling off in the river.

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How to dry rice, just spread it out on the ground next to the harbor!

The river boat journey was the last activity of the day.  We boarded the bus, after I purchased a few of my river photos, and headed back to Hanoi.  We made a similar warehouse stop, to a different one of course, on the way back but the 2nd leg of the journey did not sit well with my stomach.  I was not sure if it was the food or the fact that I had just spent 5 hours out in the sun and then an hour staring out a bus window with the scenery flying by that made me dizzy and sick to my stomach.  I soon couldn’t tolerate to look at anything, let alone out the window.  I spent the last hour of the drive with my knees pulled up to my chest and my head between my legs trying with every fiber of my being not to puke on the bus!  It felt like forever before we got back to the hotel and after rushing a thank you and some tips to our guide and driver, I ran to my hotel room and immediately got sick.

Thankfully, the emptying of my stomach helped and I started to recover quickly.  Good thing because that night we were dining again with my husband’s colleagues and we were trying out a French style restaurant at the hotel.  I made it through a glorious meal full of adult conversations with no unwelcomed interruptions and then eagerly collapsed into bed.  The next morning was going to be an early one, I was going to take another bus out to Ha Long Bay for a 2 day, 1 night cruise to one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World!  All by myself!  Stay tuned as that amazing trip deserves a post all of its own!

 

 

When To Take The Short Cut

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One of the harder things to decide while on vacation is when to take the fully scenic route and when to cut corners.  We learned this lesson on our recent road trip where we stopped in Carlsbad, New Mexico.  Our mission, to explorer the Carlsbad Caverns.  There are two ways to get down into the cave.  You can enter the cave through the natural entrance and then walk, with a continuous downward slope, a little over a mile through the cavern to get to the Big Room.  Or, you can take the elevator from the Visitor’s Center directly down into the Big Room.  When I look back on all the times we’ve had to make decisions like these, two waring factors come into play: Pride and Practicality

The natural entrance to the caves of Carlsbad.

The natural entrance to the caves of Carlsbad.

The official website for the Carlsbad Caverns warns that only those who are physically fit should walk through the natural entrance.  They make it sound extremely difficult.  But, after comparing it to the same distance hike we did up a mountain in Austria to get to the world’s largest ice cave, I’d say this one paled in comparison.  (Do however use caution as there are a few steeper spots that are slippery.)

Down, down, down we go into the belly of the cave!

Down, down, down we go into the belly of the cave!

My pride was telling me, “Why not?”   We’d see more of the cave, the kids had done a lot of driving the day before and would be doing more driving that day, so some extra exercise would be good right?  While all of that was true, I didn’t stop to think about what it is we are actually seeing and how passionate I was about the destination.  I was excited to see the natural wonder of the cave, and while there were a few unique formations here and there, in general, the cave started to look pretty much like the same thing over and over as time went on.

Carlsbad Caverns. New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns. New Mexico

By time we got to the Big Room, which mind you is another mile plus route full circle, I was a little “caved-out.”  The Big Room was quite a spectacle, it offered a sample of every type of formation we had seen along the way and was far more fascinating.  You had all that you could have imagined your trip to the caverns to be in one circular trail that didn’t have a continuous downward slope.  Sadly for us, after spending about 90 minutes just getting to the Big Room, the kids were getting hungry and even I was getting a little restless.  We should have just taken the elevator down to the Big Room and then explored more closely the numerous wonders it presented.  That would have been the practical choice.

In the Big Room

In the Big Room, shining a little light in the darkness below.

I realized that I had approached our choice of whether or not to walk down or take the elevator down more from a matter of pride than practicality. I thought, “Of course my kids could handle it!  We’re around the world explorers.” And, “I’m physically fit to handle this, I don’t need to take the easy way in.” All of these thoughts floated through my mind.  But what I wasn’t honest about was whether or not I really wanted to see all the cave.  How important was it really to me?  Was that extra 90 minutes really worth giving up time in the main attraction? Or giving up time in the town we were heading to next?  Learning how to weigh priorities on vacation can be a difficult task, especially when you don’t imagine yourself returning to the same destination.  There is always more to see than you have time for on a vacation.  Sometimes you aren’t given the choice of the short vs. long or the easy vs. hard.  But when you are, consider a few of the following questions.

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being a lifelong dream come true), how excited are you to tour this site?  If it isn’t the only thing on your list of things to that day, take the easy/short route if your answer is less than a 7 on the scale of importance.
  2. How different is the scenery throughout the attraction from the beginning of the longest route to the end? I.e. will you see basically the same thing if you just take the short cut?
  3. Is there a price difference between the two? If so, what is the cost/benefit of the choices?
  4. If you don’t see everything this trip, is it worth enough to come back to?
  5. Ask yourself “pride or practicality”?

We all love a good travel adventure story, but ultimately, our desire should be to enjoy our vacation.  If part of your vacation enjoyment is the thrill of pushing yourself to do things you aren’t sure are possible (and I admit that I lean that way when traveling) then great, go for a longer harder option of your trip.  But if the accomplishment at the end is not going to be all that thrilling, then error on the side of practicality.  Especially with young kids, much of what I do with them now isn’t necessarily so that they can remember, learn and retain everything we do, but more so they get constant exposure to travel as a norm.  That makes it much easier and meaningful when they are older to truly experience different environments and not feel uncomfortable or worried about what they might encounter.  So looking back on our cave experience, myself and the kids would have gotten the same benefit out of a short elevator ride down into the Big Room, where we saw the same elements, still experienced walking deep underground and would have had more time at our next destination, which was to be sand sledding at the White Sands National Park.  Lesson learned!

Road Trip Lucky Finds-Dinosaur Footprints!!!

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Road trips are a big part of America’s vacation culture.  I remember many hours spent in the car driving with my family to go camping or visit relatives.  Unfortunately, timelines often get tight so the actual driving part can be very boring for kids and doesn’t allow for many stops or side detours.  So when I started off on our “Great American West Road Trip” I knew I wanted to allow for some unexpected sightseeing in between our different home base destinations.  You never know what you can find, and if you’re willing to stop, some amazing discoveries await you!  We came across one by chance in the northeast corner of New Mexico, in route to Dallas, Texas from Colorado.

Clayton, New Mexico

Clayton, New Mexico

About 5 hours into our drive we were passing through the small New Mexico town of Clayton on highway 87 when I spotted some large dinosaur models on the side of the road in town.  The sign next to the triceratops and brontosaurus said “Clayton Dinosaur Track Way.”  I pulled into a parking lot to turn around and see what those dinosaur tracks were all about.  Next to the dinosaur models was a little tourist information building.  We went inside and inquired about the tracks.  As it turned out, flooding in the area near the lake washed away some ground cover that then revealed approximately 500 dinosaur tracks that had been preserved in the layers of earth below.  The woman in the office said it was 12 miles back west from where we were now, out at Lake Clayton, something we had seen signs for before entering the town.  The 12 miles didn’t seem too far to back track, even on a 35 mile per hour road and we had yet to stop to eat our lunches that I had packed in the cooler.  So off we went.

Dino tracks advertisement in the town.

Dino tracks advertisement in the town.

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We drove the curvy road out to the lake in about 25 minutes from their downtown.  We drove into the park and found the sign directing down a dirt road to the dinosaur tracks.  We also noticed that different sections for camping and boat launching to go out on the lake.  We took the road directing us towards the track, at the end, you could park in a lot, but then had a quarter mile walk, around half of the lake, to the sight where the tracks were located.  We took a couple water bottles with us since the temperature was reaching 100.  The walk provided a few spots of shade along the way in addition to a bench under a tree half way along.  At the end of the quarter mile was a hut, with several informational signs inside about the dinosaur tracks.  It was a nice refuge from the sun and a chance for the kids to sit down one more time before we explored the tracks themselves.

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There were stairs that led down to the level of ground from the hut to where the tracks were.  A boardwalk encircled the most numerous and obvious collection of tracks to help preserve the find.  It was quite amazing to see just how many footprints there were.  That just like different types of animals today, they wandered around, intermixing and passing by different breads.  This was the first time that I had ever seen an actual dinosaur footprint!  I had scene a cast of one before in a museum, but never out in the natural environment where the dinosaur physically stepped and left it’s mark.  I have to admit, I think I was a little more blown away than the kids.  Nonetheless, they still asked some questions and thought it was “neat.”

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We slowly made our way back to the car, taking a pause again in all the shaded spots and being fascinated by the bugs that looked like a cross between a cricket and a butterfly.  At the car we unpacked our lunches from the cooler and set up acceptable eating stations at their seats so that we could get back on the road.  Our total detour time was 90 minutes.  Which put us about 30 minutes over the total of 2 hours that I had factored in for us to use as stopping time between southern Colorado and Dallas (we had stopped for an hour at a Wal-Mart that morning to stock up on water and food for the day).  But in the end, I marveled at the fact that we just stood next to the footprints of dinosaurs!  Something I will never forget and I hope my children will grow to appreciate.

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12,000 Steps in Kyoto-Japan Day 7

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It’s one of the most famous shrines in Japan, and for anyone who has seen the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha,” it’s a must see on their list when visiting Japan.  I’m speaking of course of the Fushimi Inari Shrine and its trails to the top of the sacred Mt. Inari.  Commonly referred to as the “Thousand Gate Shrine,” it literally has thousands of torii gates that visitors walk through up and down its numerous paths.  Next to the Golden Pavilion, it is arguably the most popular physical attraction in Kyoto for photography.

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Waking up on that Sunday morning, we had to check out of our hotel.  Our first full week in Japan was officially over.  We heard that there was a concierge luggage transportation service that would take our bags from our hotel (the Westin Miyako) to Kyoto’s central train station where the hotel had a special holding location for guests.  The downside was that you had to collect your luggage by 6:00 p.m. that same day or they’d be kept overnight.  While I would have preferred more time, I knew that getting the bags much later than 6:00 p.m. would just mean we’d show up at our next hotel in Nagoya really late, which could be a dangerous situation with a 2 year old tantrum.  Once we got the bags squared away, we hopped on the shuttle to the train station to get our connecting train out to Inari.

Map of the shrine area up the mountain,

Map of the shrine area up the mountain,

The commute time to Inari from central Kyoto was not that long, about 10-15 minutes by train.  Once you cross the tracks and start the walk through the street towards the shrine, you are immediately surrounded by cute shops and street food vendors selling Japanese souvenirs and sweet and savory treats.  It’s a little bit kitschy but fun.  The crowds seemed a bit light for a Sunday but still very busy.  I attributed the manageability of crowds to the fact that we were visiting during the rainy month, though we only had very brief and sparse sprinkles that day.  There were some wide and manageable stairs to get up to some of the religious buildings and the main shrine but were manageable with a stroller. While walking around with the kids, we drew a lot of attention since I chose to put them in their number shirts.  A group of Japanese students even asked to take their picture with us!

Walking from the train station to the main shrines and temple. Inari.

Walking from the train station to the main shrines and temple. Inari.

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Be cautious when photographing around this part and look for any “no photography” signs as there are certain areas closest to the temple where photography is prohibited out of respect for the sacredness of the area and ceremonies preformed.  Once we walked around the main buildings we started towards the path up the mountain.  My husband really wanted to go all the way to the top.  But first, he just wanted the “Memoirs of a Geisha” running through the torii gates shot!  We came to the two paths where naturally most people were walking up on the right and people were coming down on the left.  The start to the top of the mountain essentially began here and the right side of the tunnel had the constant stream of tourist starting their assent.  To get a good picture, try stepping up into the left side path that has a much slower stream of people coming down so you can get a better chance at a picture with just your party.

Go up the path on the right, but first duck into the left hand path of the downward travelers to get a less crowded picture.

Go up the path on the right, but first duck into the left hand path of the downward travelers to get a less crowded picture.

There were a couple times in between each stretch of the gated paths where you had to make a choice of direction, I found it slightly confusing to follow to get to the top, despite there being some maps.  It doesn’t always play out the same way on the path as it does on the map.  But we made our way up and up.  We didn’t make it far before we decided to stash the stroller on the side of one of the rest areas since we were met with many stairs for the foreseeable future.  We figured that it wouldn’t get stolen, but there wasn’t much choice.  For the first hour of our time there, it was beautiful and fascinating to see so many of the torii gates and the landscape of the mountain.  Half way up we got a beautiful view of all of Kyoto below.  The kids and I were very tired at this point.  We had been climbing stairs for about an hour.  I wanted to turn around and since I had already gotten so many wonderful photos, I felt I was good.  But, we promised my husband we’d make it to the top. The only thing that kept me going was that the ½ way up view was so gorgeous I kept imagining how much better the view would be once we got to the top.

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We found several Japanese tourist who wore traditional kimonos and shoes to make the pilgrimage to the top.

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The half way point view of greater Kyoto.

The boys were being troupers but even their patience was running thin.  My 2 year old was the hardest as I didn’t have the Ergo with me so we went back and forth with her walking, them me carrying her, then my husband. We had to bribe them with Oreos that I purchased at one of the stands.  Finally, after two hours from our arrival at the shrine, we reached the top.  I was SO relieved because about 5 minutes before we got to the top, my 5 year old announce that he had to go to the bathroom, and not the stand and pee on a tree kind!

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Bribing the kids with Oreos at each rest station to keep going up the mountain.

Up we go!

Up we go!

As I looked up from catching my breath from the last set of stairs, my heart sank.  We were completely surrounded by trees and in the middle of the path was this two tiered, stone landing area with a bunch of little stone shrines all around it and a gated one in the middle.  I read a sign that said “Top of the mountain.”  I looked around waiting for the amazing view, searching with my eyes for something exciting, some other little path that I had missed that would lead us to the site that would make 12,000 steps worth it.  Nothing.  Nothing but the increased pleads of my son for a bathroom.  I tried to distract him while my husband took a quick look around at the thing he was so committed to seeing, then he took my son back down the trail to look for a bathroom.  There were little restaurants, little souvenir stands and resting landings ever so often on the way up and we hoped that the last one we saw before the top would have a bathroom.  While they started down, I took my turn to look around.  It took all of 5 minutes before I saw all that I wanted to see and I started back down with my 7 year old and 2 year old.

The top of the mountain and no view of the surrounding area below!

The top of the mountain and no view of the surrounding area below!

Seeing all that there was to see of the shrine at the top of Mt. Inari.

Seeing all that there was to see of the shrine at the top of Mt. Inari.

When we reached the first landing station on the way down we looked around to see if it had the bathrooms.  Seeing none, we asked a man there and he said “no, the next, just 5 minutes walk.”  So, on we went until we came to the next stop.  Seeing nothing again, we asked. “Not here, just 5 minutes that way” as he continued to point down the stairs.  We went some more and finally by the 3rd landing we saw the bathrooms, but not my husband and son.  Continuing on the trail we finally caught up with them and we all lamented at how disappointing the top of the mountain was and how many times we had to walk “just 5 minutes” to get to the bathroom.  When we reached the base of the main shrine and temple, my husband looked at his Fitbit and said we had climbed 12,000 stairs!

Running down is fun!

Running down is fun!

We finished up the trip with some food from the street venders and a little souvenir shopping on the way back to the train.  Since we didn’t get back to the Inari station till close to 3:00 p.m. we knew we didn’t have much time before we had to pick up the luggage from the central station.  After some debate, we decided to try to go walk around the Imperial Palace grounds.  We found a wonderful playground that was a nice treat for the kids before we had to call it a day and get back on the train.  We were Nagoya bound, about an hour and a half on the bullet train from Kyoto, and there we would spend the next 5 nights of our journey in Japan.

Fresh orange juice straight from the

Fresh orange juice straight from the “tap.”

Highway Hazards of Road Tripping

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It’s always in the back of your mind, car accidents.  Whether you are driving in your own town or out on the open road, there is always a risk when it comes to driving.  But with 80 mile an hour speed limits on remote interstates and 75 mph speed limits on desert county roads, a drive across the wild west requires some extra caution while traveling with children.

On the portion of our drive from Salt Lake City, Utah to Denver, Colorado, we were brought to a complete stop on I-80, about an hour outside of the city limits of Salt Lake. Just about 20 minutes before we had come to a complete stop, we had seen two police cars and an ambulance with their lights on, moving ahead of traffic.  We knew something was ahead, but I was a bit confused as to why their speed was so moderate.  Well, when the rest of traffic is already traveling at 80 miles per hour, I guess if you are “slowly” moving ahead of them you’re still probably going 90, which would seem racing on a normal city highway of a usual 60 mph.  I had no idea however that we would be soon be at a compete stop for over half an hour.

As we came to a stand still, it took about 5 minutes of not moving before we saw people getting out of their vehicles.  I shut mine off and rolled down the windows and sat for awhile.  My husband got out as people from the car behind us started to gather around the asphalt chatting between our vehicles.  They told him that a neighboring trucker got word over his radio that there was an accident involving a motorcyclist.  A helicopter was going to be airlifting him out and it was presumed that he was already dead.  The sad moment set it.  Yet, we were still stuck there for some unknown amount of time.

I got out of the car too, but my daughter stayed in the car, occupied by an iPad.  After chatting with our parked neighbors, my 2 year old got restless and realized that everyone else was outside of the car.  I figured it would be a nice opportunity for her to get out and stretch her legs.  We kept her close, letting her walk back and forth between my husband and I.  Then I saw something that I didn’t expect while we were all parked out on the highway.  A motorcycle was coming towards us from the back of the pack, splitting the lane.  Granted, he was going slow, as he must have seen that there were people along the road, but my daughter was so small!  I immediately grabbed her and moved behind our vehicle until he passed. We moved towards the outside of the lane, against the large grass divide that separated the east and west bound highway, hoping to avoid more.  But just a few more minutes later, another motorcycle was approaching from this outside shoulder too!  It was clear that there would be no place for her to stand safely out of the car.  It was just another reminder that you can NEVER let your guard down when out or ON the open road.

People gather out of their cars, on  the road, as we wait for an accident about a mile ahead to be cleared.

People gather out of their cars, on the road, as we wait for an accident about a mile ahead to be cleared.

With the the threat of more unexpected motorcycles moving through our stand still traffic, I put my daughter back in side the car and just let her walk around inside the vehicle (a benefit of a Yukon XL!)  After sitting on the highway for roughly 35-40 minutes, people began getting back into their vehicles and we knew it was time to start moving.  It took another 30 minutes of crawling through the traffic to move back out to “normal” speed.  But the image of the motorcycle helmet laying on the side of the road, and bits of broken pieces of the motorcycle scattered along the shoulder would serve as a continued reminder for the rest of our trip how much care needs to be given to road safety.  Staying in the right hand lane and letting aggressive drivers and excessive speeders pass you is not only a good idea, but a law in many states with high speed limits.

We hope everyone has a safe rest of the summer, whether in the air or on the road!

What to Expect When Expecting in Germany

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I was honored to be a guest blogger on such a wonderful site for expat information. Check out my post “What to Expect When Expecting in Germany” on http://www.expatpartnersurvival.com. Then see what some of the other guest blogs had to say, as well as Clara’s own abundant wisdom on being an expat partner!

Even though I have finally arrived in our new home in South Africa, I am still all over the place with work and blogging. It will be a few days  weeks yet before I can catch up properly so I am very grateful for this late entry to my Summer of Guesting posts. Today’s blog comes from Heather, who writes about her experience of childbirth in Germany. Posts like this are useful not just for expats in that part of the world, but for anyone considering giving birth abroad and wants to know what sort of things they need to consider before deciding where to have their baby. Over to you, Heather:

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When I followed my husband’s career to Germany with my two small children, I thought my family was complete. So when I found out I was pregnant half way into our third year living overseas, I was…

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