No Reservations

For Easter weekend we ventured to The Ukraine, Kiev specifically. Fun facts though, they actually prefer if you just call the country Ukraine and spell it “Kyiv” instead of “Kiev”. It’s really interesting the things you learn spending 24 hours locked in a Ukrainian prison from people like this guy.

Just kidding! These are interesting things we learned while spending eight hours locked in a car with our Ukrainian friend Sasha after finding ourselves temporarily homeless. But let me start at the beginning.

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Standard ‘we’re lost’ expression.

After landing in Kyiv on Friday night, we went straight to our hotel to tuck in for the night. Waking up bright eyed and bushy tailed the next morning, we walked to a grocery market to stock up on road trip essentials (namely buckets of water since we can’t drink from the taps) before going back to the airport to collect our reserved rental car. Upon arrival, we were told they had no car for us. No apology, no nothing. They just somehow didn’t have any left in the entire city so it didn’t matter that our hotel was an hour and a half away and we had no way to get to the Tunnel of Love, our reservation was canceled (by them…in front of our eyes…when we showed up). It went almost exactly like the video below but with a strong Ukranian accents and we didn’t get a car at the end.

Ever the problem solvers, we quickly found a hotel and adjusted our travel schedule. Saturday was now the day for exploring Kyiv and Sunday we’d take a nice 8 hour round-trip drive with our new bestie, Sasha, the chauffeur to the Tunnel of Love. Though admittedly, we did debate using tractors to get there as we both felt inspired having read A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.

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Now, in case your confidence in our planning skills isn’t already flagging, let me share with you that we chose Kyiv thinking that Ukraine and the Greek Orthodox Easter is not on the same day as the Catholic Easter (aka Polish Easter to us). Therefore, we figured many things would be open throughout Ukraine on Polish Easter Sunday and the Monday after. Little did we realize that we’d looked at the two dates, we’d looked at the wrong year. So yes, I can confirm that it was not the same day in 2015 or 2016 or whatever year we looked at but this year it most certainly was the same day. Quite an unfortunate, big coincidence, you might say.

But hey, that’s ok. The Easter festivities afforded us the opportunity to witness some… riveting acrobatic feats performed by children under the age of 11. In one of the main squares of Kyiv, flocks of bundled-up Ukrainians crowded around to watch child after child take the stage. Some girls did gymnastics, one girl dressed like a frog and hopped around for the duration of a song, one boy tried to break the gender barrier and juggle (unsuccessfully). All the while, we spied two girls practicing for a seemingly dangerous tandem routine. The wind chill was comfortably around freezing, but they perched in leotards on a cantankerous folding table trying to practice their stunt, where one girl performed a one-armed handstand while forcing all of her weight on the forehead of the girl below. And of course, when time comes for them to take the stage, they emerge dressed like M&M’s – fortunately their practice paid off and neither got concussions.

The journey to the Tunnel of Love was honestly incredibly beautiful and full of many historic landmarks, which our chauffeur was more than willing to share with us. In Rivne he pointed out the trolleys which were ‘much worse’ than the already ancient ones used in Kyiv. He pointed out a bridge that people like to avoid altogether or drive over incredibly quickly as it’s been structurally unsound for almost a decade. He spoke longingly of “Europe” as some far away land, despite the fact that Ukraine is squarely in Eastern Europe. And he shared with us his opinions on one President Trump.

Despite the rainy day, we had fun walking down the train tracks at the Tunnel of Love and celebrated with a Georgian feast for dinner. And all in all, it was probably best we didn’t have a car as we might have overshot Kyiv on our way back and ended up in Russia.

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Made it to the Tunnel of Love!

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Monkey See, Monkey Do Not Sleep

About a year and a half ago, Ryan and I decided to plan a trip to Thailand, much to my parents’ chagrin. Despite the 13 coups that have taken place there since 1932, we deemed it safe enough (or sunny enough) to be worth any potential risk. In addition to going to Chiang Mai and Bangkok, we naturally planned a good bit of time for the beaches in the south.

One of our bucket list items was to stay in a hut directly on the beach. While we didn’t plan ahead enough to actually book something, we did find this place and took a long tail boat one morning to see if they had room. It was on the quieter side of Koh Phi Phi and just the place to relax and rest up for the hectic streets of Bangkok. We lucked out when we got there and stayed in the last available hut, up on the hillside a bit overlooking the ocean.

Given we were still semi-recovering from our battle with food poisoning, for much of our stay here we continued our 7-11 diet (Lays potato chips, Magnum bars, bottled water, and packaged peanuts). Needless to say, our diets make our parents and our doctors, some one and the same, very proud.

Let me quickly outline for you some of the pros and cons of this diet. Probably the biggest con is the lack of many nutrients our bodies supposedly need to function properly. But really, that’s what vitamin tablets were made for, right? To help pirates overcome scurvy and to help Meagan and Ryan make abysmal health choices and continue on stronger than ever?

The pros of this diet are definitely that it ensures you won’t get food poisoning again as it’s 100% processed and that it’s highly portable – except for the ice cream, you can pretty much take it everywhere. And take it everywhere we did. We took this diet right up to our nice hut where we consumed it while looking around.

We took in the view of the ocean, the divider between the sleeping area and the bathroom that was reminiscent of college bathroom shower curtains, and the foot-tall gap around the top of the bathroom broken up by pieces of bamboo like a jail cell. In our emaciated states, surely we could’ve squeezed through the gap ourselves in a pinch.

As the sun set on our first day in our island paradise, we began to flip through the instruction book provided to us by the ‘resort’ – reading made possible by the nice lights that worked between sundown and sunrise in our primitive bungalow. In this booklet, it emphasized that we should not take any food up to our rooms as it would attract “critters”. Once again, due to our unflappable natures, we continued to refuel our nutrient deficient bodies and settled in for the night. That’s when the noises started. The peaceful chirping of the crickets and the loud, very close shrieking of very wild monkeys. Oh yes, monkeys. When the guidebook said ‘critters’ what they really meant was monkeys. Just let that sink in for a moment. We sure did while we recalled that monkey bites (read: rabies scares) are one of the most common causes of hospital visits in the area.

Now, at this point there was very little we could do as neither of us was willing to leave the relative security of our hut to go throw out the trash. Therefore, we debated the likely size of the monkeys and whether they could slip through the bars in the bathroom (most definitely) before concluding there was really nothing we could do and putting the trash on the opposite side of the room from us in case a monkey did happen to surprise us in the nighttime. Pulling the mosquito net around us, ensuring Ryan was sleeping on the outside of the bed (thanks for taking one for the team), and saying a quick prayer in case these monkeys decided to attack, I took a snooze.

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I woke up a few hours later to Ry sitting up in cold sweats, staring out into the darkness of the room, and listening to monkeys. Apparently he’s not as good a sleeper as I am. He’d gotten up at some point, found a flashlight, and used hangers and shoes to make a barrier at the base of our shower curtain to alert us if a monkey came through the bathroom. Quite the Boy Scout, I know. Really, I have no idea what he planned to do if a monkey came through that shower curtain but he’d built quite the barrier to ensure he’d be awake. We differed in our philosophies on this – I figured that I’d wake up when a monkey was on my bed hugging me, a monkey hug is really just a strangle you haven’t finished yet; he wanted to be awake prior to getting to that point.

As daylight broke, we acknowledged our good fortune and combat readiness in avoiding an imminent battle with the monkeys. But to this day, I still kinda wish they had come in just so I could see Ry fight a monkey nomming on our chip wrappers.

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PS: While proofreading this blog post, Ryan admitted that the monkey times still give him anxiety to this day.

If It’s Not About Elephants…

It’s irrelephant. The primary motivation for us going to Thailand was elephants. I wish we could sound more cultured and say it was for the rich history and temples and stuff but really, I just wanted to touch an elephant. Now, what’s really important to consider before planning a trip to Southeast Asia for the elephants is how you’re going to see the elephants. You should know that almost all elephant tourism is unethical and incredibly harmful to the elephants. So, unless you like to engage in torture regularly, please read articles – like this one – before you choose to ride an elephant.

We planned our entire trip around going to the Elephant Nature Park, a rescue organization outside Chiang Mai where they rescue and rehabilitate elephants. Volunteering there is a great, ethical way to see and touch elephants! The workers were kind enough to let us delay a day after Ryan, and later I, came down with rather severe food poisoning. After I’d hobbled to the pharmacy, sat down on their floor, ordered a ton of medicine using my perfect Thai, bought as much bottled water and bootleg Gatorade powder as I could hold, and slowly hobbled back to our hotel, we felt ready to take on the world the next day when we woke up. And by ready to take on the world I mean eating mostly gas station, pre-packaged food and plain rice for the next 4 days in between PTSD episodes triggered by seeing a cold bathroom floor.

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Once we arrived at the elephant sanctuary, we learned about how many of the elephants had been injured (some suffered broken backs or hips from having people ride on them – occasionally the owners had still forced them to work for weeks or months after their injuries; others stepped on landmines) and then got to help with feeding and bathing them in the river.

We prepared food for the old, toothless elephants that can no longer chew solid food so must eat a salivating combo of elephant protein (which I can only assume means ‘made of elephants’), mashed bananas, mashed other fruit, rice (the leftovers of which we likely had served to us at dinner) and tons of other disgusting, mushed up stuff. Take lessons, Gerber. After selecting the ripe (read: ‘brown and likely decaying’) bananas from the banana hut, we got the pleasure of helping to puree all of these fine, organic ingredients by hand in a giant bucket. One guy in our group took over for us, thank God, and absolutely went to town mashing up a giant bowl. He looked like he was in paradise dancing in the bucket using both his hands and his feet like some feral child. When our guide offered for us to try some, our comrade happily reached his already disgusting hand in the giant elephant bowl and took a big serving of Dysentery and I’m sure some familiar food poisoning.

After our full day at the elephant sanctuary, we got to stay in some awesome huts on-site, equipped with everything you’d need – including hot water. Unfortunately, the hot water heater was basically a blowtorch hooked up to a water basin and it only nuked your water in 20 second batches. So it was a fun back and forth of boiling lava hot and freezing cold. We felt about as clean as the elephants did getting out of the river.

The next morning we were awakened to the lovely sound of about 30 elephants trumpeting at each other. Now, the website said ‘the occasional trumpet’ so we expected some noise but nothing like this. Turns out the blind one had gotten scared and all of her friends had circled around (and begun making quite the racket) to protect her from the nonexistant threat – at 5 A.M. Unlike the very real threat we experienced in Ko Phi Phi – more on this next time!

Adventures in Eidsvoll

Flying cheaply definitely has its perks but generally it means you wind up in airports far from a large city at odd hours. When flying to one of greater-Oslo’s 3 airports (3!!), we were lucky enough to find a cheap flight on a real airline at a ‘reasonable time’ (for twenty somethings with low standards). By the Friday we were leaving, we were both considerably tired from a week of work and definitely ready for a weekend away.

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The flight went smoothly, we landed on time, determined we needed to take the national railway into the city center, and took the last train into the city. We should have read better. It was the last train – gold star to us. But it wasn’t into the city center – it was 60 kilometers in the other direction to Eidsvoll. We were disoriented to say the least when we got off at the last stop in Middle of Nowhere, Norway. Fortunately, we’d planned ahead for this trip and invested in an international phone plan. Just kidding, Mom and Dad. We definitely never do that. So, Wi-Fi-less and dependent on the generosity of the train conductor, we evaluated our options (along with a nice, Korean study-abroad student and a Polish guy from Łödż who worked in Oslo – you’d think they would have known better…).

  1. Take the train into the city at 6:30 AM
    • Pros: The train conductor offered us a free ride at 6:30AM
    • Cons: Hypothermia from sitting outside a train station for 5 hours
  2. Take a cab back to the airport and then a bus into the city
    • Pros: No sitting outside
    • Cons: The buses stop running before we’d make it back
  3. Take a cab all the way to the city
    • Pros: Bonding with two strangers for an hour and a half (and the cab driver makes 3); fastest option, no hypothermia
    • Cons: Scandinavia (expensive) + monopoly cab company (expensive) = poor

Given these options, we went with 3 and took a lovely ride through the Norwegian countryside, seeing all the fjords and forests along the way. Not really. It was dark.

The cab driver finally arrived to our destination, which was surprising considering he “rarely gets to visit the city”. After we were let off near central station, Polish guy gave us some moderately racist warnings regarding the neighborhood we’d have to walk through to then reach our AirBnB. No surprise there. A brisk 30-minute walk at something like 2 A.M. and we had arrived at our nice flat, not without greeting our new roomie for the weekend (pictured below).

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Highlights of our visit were the (not actually) graffitied Opera House, giant park with… interesting… statues, and deliciously affordable <$20 burritos. Ryan also spotted upwards of 30 Teslas in 36 hours… did we mention Norway was expensive? Overall, we’re proud to say the rest of the weekend went very smoothly and we navigated back to the airport without a hitch.

Tim/Tom(as) the Tank Engine in Thailand

We got back from our adventures in Paris last week and as soon as we disembarked from the plane, I began to complain to Ryan about the obvious lack of snow in Warsaw. When we moved, I envisioned mountains of snow and bought clothes accordingly. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. This morning, however, I woke up to heavy snowfall and it continues to accumulate. Complaining seemed to work in my interest. 2017 New Years Resolution: Complain more. (Ry’s complaining face below).

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With the snow back again, we’re reminiscing on warmer weather and Thailand from a year ago. When we first landed in Bangkok, we planned to spend the afternoon sightseeing and then take an overnight train to Chiang Mai where we would spend a few days seeing temples, hiking around, riding motorbikes, and sleeping with elephants. We landed in the early afternoon (I think? There was sun…) and took a harrowing (and cheap) taxi ride to the area surrounding the train station. From there, we popped into one temple before the sweltering heat and our jetlag after traveling for over 24 hours took over (but at least the Chinese had let us shower in their airport). We decided it was time to call it quits and go drink some Thai Iced Teas in a place with wifi so we could let people know we hadn’t been trafficked. You’re welcome, parents. Sometimes we’re responsible grown-ups who check in.

Two teas later, we realized we had the time-change wrong and were an hour later than we thought… Our train was leaving just over 30 minutes (for those interested, Thai Minute to US Minute exchange rate is approximately 1:1). After a quick sprint to our platform we scurried onto our train. Having never been on an overnight train before, muchless one in Southeast Asia, we didn’t really know what to expect. The beds were comfortable enough given my knack for sleeping anywhere though Ry would disagree as to their quality. Admittedly, the bottom bed in the bunk was created by leveling out our two chairs that faced each other, and said chairs had the tendency to violently go from an upright to reclined position in the blink of an eye. What we would both agree on is that the toilets were not up to anyones standards.

A couple hours in, Ryan returns from his first adventure to the ole water closet. With his mouth agape and face turning white, he simply muttered “Don’t go” before I could finish asking how the bathroom was. You see, the toilet was really just a makeshift hole that dropped onto the rickety tracks below, and the floor/walls/ceiling glistened with liquid from God-knows-where. So we both pretty much agreed to avoid that section of the train at all costs. For the next 13 hours.

Settling in, we quickly made friends with the nice backpacker from Chicago named Tim or Tom (we couldn’t agree even after just having met the guy) who was sitting across the aisle from us. Tony kindly offered to share two of his four Chang beers with us and we gladly accepted before he very quietly explained we needed to be covert in our actions as alcohol is no longer allowed thanks to this guy. Oh well, what’s life without a couple risks and a couple beers? Throw in a couple diseases from the bathroom and you’ve got a party.

About 5 minutes in to our beers, his bunkmate apparated by our side. He was a pleasant looking Thai monk who promptly began saying prayers in the bunk above Timon’s head. That pretty much sealed the deal that we’ll all three end up in Hell (which we had a preview of thanks to commode).

This year, count your blessings not your problems and happy 2017!

 

You Don’t Wanna Ride the Bus Like This – Athens, Greece

And we’re back in the USSR… just kidding. We are back to blogging but we’re in Athens, Greece – the birthplace of democracy and sworn enemy of all things Communist and Russian (just like America until a week ago). As with all our travels, we went to Greece because flights were cheap and, after checking into a hotel with a bed little better than most foldout couches and arguably containing bedbugs, we set out for a weekend of adventure. But fo’ real, the mattress felt like it had fallen off a truck on the highway and been run over a few times and this is coming from people with really low standards for travel accommodations.

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First stop, ice cream. Breakfast of champions. We would have opted for something a bit more wholesome but we didn’t know that Athens was in a different timezone and we way overslept. Must have been the luxurious bed we had to rest our heads on. After a quick brekkie, we were on a mission to see some very old stuff. I’d love to tell you that we went straight to the Acropolis but our navigational skills aren’t the best and it took a while of wandering around Greek side streets and winding alleyways to find it. Mostly we just kinda assumed that going up the giant hill would eventually get us there – and it did! – but there was some backsliding occasionally to make it to the top. The view was spectacular and after all that walking, we were both starving. A short 2 hours later, we’d found the best souvlaki ever at a place that’s been in business for the last 65 years and is run by the grandson of the owner, and had plans to chill poolside before going to a fantastic dinner.

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Sunday morning, the sun was shining and we thought the best plan we could make was to go to the beach. Greek beaches are supposed to be beautiful, right? So we asked the front desk for directions and set off on the metro towards a bus that was rumored to take you to the beach. The metro we navigated like the public transport experts we are but the bus, a vehicle in about as good shape as Greece’s economy, was another story. This veritable death trap fit you and at least 100 of your closest friends, as long as you didn’t mind getting body slammed by the door every time it opened and closed, like Ryan. Trust me, you don’t wanna ride the bus like this. We both grimaced each time the driver slowed down to pickup more passengers, since nobody was getting off and we were well past critical mass at this point. A quick 40 minutes and 40 bruises for Ryan later, we began to question whether we were going to the right place. Without Wi-Fi, it was difficult to know.

We made the decision to get off the bus when we saw some girls who looked like they were probably Greek and might be dressed for the beach if you kinda squinted your eyes. Turns out they were speaking Portuguese but we didn’t know this until we’d followed them the better part of a mile through a residential neighborhood. But eventually, they did take us to a park beach that looked like a place meth addicts go to relax with their cousins. After more walking, we found a semi-sandy spot next to water and celebrated our success. Though some brave souls ventured into the water, we preferred to take our chances with the needles and tetanus and sat down on the sand, watching a yoga class struggle on their paddleboards in the shallow waters.

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After some 30 minutes of stubbornly pretending we weren’t overly disappointed with the “beach”, we reckoned that we ought to be heading back, considering we had no earthly idea how to actually get back to the hotel. In hindsight, we probably should have looked up the bus stops in the reverse direction as well. Luck was on our side however, and we made our way back to the road where the bus let us off just in the nick of time, leaving us to sprint across the street to catch the bus in the opposite direction (hoping not to wind up like our President). Magically winding up back at the metro station, we became fast friends with a cool American, with whom Ryan chatted about basketball while I feigned interest as best I could.

Back in the city, we made one last pitstop for souvlaki (Savvas) before sprinting to catch the airport bus. Our trips are just never complete without at least one near-miss on public transportation.

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Hypothermia in Whole Foods

While looking after Mattman in D.C., we decided on July 11th we wanted to have an Adventure Day all around the town. After rousing the child from his slumber, we made him some pancakes, slapped some tats on him, and put him in his best attire. Then we headed for the water park. Unfortunately, we arrived during a break so the child had to patiently sit there (while snacking on some Annie’s fruit snacks as per usual; we should probably buy stock in Annie’s at this point) before adventuring into the kiddy park area. Once there, we discovered he was afraid of literally everything. So, naturally, ignoring his cowardice, we doused him with large amounts of water (yay waterboarding!) and introduced him to ‘shrooms. The giant mushroom waterfall, of course. After a solid hour that seemed like an eternity of carrying the child back and forth under the stream of water, we left the waterpark for home to change and continue our adventure.

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On the way into town, we obviously stopped for slurpees as they are free from 7-11 on 7/11. After giving him a cup of icy sugar to quiet him in the backseat, we proceeded to drive to the D.C. Metro to get into town. This time, we didn’t miss the exit so no trip to Baltimore / Philly for us. As we rode the train, which Mattman told us was a train about 40 times, I gave him the rest of my slurpee to pacify him and avoid early-onset diabetes for me. Once again, this parenting thing doesn’t seem so hard. You just feed them tasty treats and they pretty much become putty in your hands. Then, they expend this sugar-induced energy by grasping the sides of their stroller and writhing like Regan in the Exorcist, all while laughing hysterically, on public transportation.

Once we got into D.C., we headed for Turtle Park, a delightful, kid-friendly park in downtown D.C. with great reviews, and – you guessed it – an abundance of turtles. This park looked great on the internet and was even called Friendship Park by some. A real gem of D.C. What better place to go with Mattman, our bestie for lyfe? Little did we know, Ryan mapped it to a different Turtle Park (and really, we shouldn’t be too hard on him because no town should have two parks dedicated entirely to the turtle).

Upon arriving and sauntering past the kindly homeless sleeping, errrr twitching, on the ground on the edge of the park, Mattman whispers from his stroller, “I’m scared,” and we take in the view. A dirt mound the size of a 7-11 with very little except for a couple of Stalinistic, concrete turtle statues. Trying to rally and create an illusion of safety and excitement, we scooped Mattman up and put him on the turtle. He seemed to enjoy this but, as it was approaching dark, we determined it might be best to skip the remainder of our park fun and walk to the National Mall.

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After arriving, we showed Mattman the Capital, said a quick hello to Douglas Stamper, and decided to head towards Founding Farmers, a tried and true favorite for us. By the time we arrived, after I taught Mattman to scoot the entire way down the National Mall (life skills training) it was approaching 8:30. Unfortunately, as it was a Saturday night and we hadn’t made a reservation, they told us it would be at least an hour wait. With a complainy toddler and a hungry Ry, we determined this was not a viable option. While Ry frantically researched places to go, I introduced Mattman to the wonders of the fountain next to the restaurant. Being the controlling parents that Brother Bear and Caitlin are, they had never let the child actually touch the fountain. That’s obviously something Auntie Meggie taught him about.

After about 2 minutes of play time, the child was beyond soaked and the only logical solution was to suggest he pants off dance off while he changed out of his clothes. Into what you ask? Well unfortunately we didn’t have the foresight to bring a spare change of clothes so, much to the chagrin of onlookers, Mattman danced to take off his pants and then I put the child into his stroller and tuck tucked his blueket around him to keep him nice and cozy. When you’re a child you not only get the luxury of being pushed everywhere (adult stroller invention coming soon) but you also get to wear next to nothing and it’s totally acceptable.

Deciding that Annie’s would suffice for now, we walked a mile to the Lincoln Monument where introduced a star-struck Mattman to the best president ever. As we sat there, Mattman kept shouting ‘Stars! Stars!’ and counting them ‘1, 2, 4!’ Yes child, stars are a thing, your parents just never let you stay out to see them. Once again, expanding his horizons. Deciding that yes, it was in fact time for dinner, we took the child to Whole Foods (ya know, healthy, well-balanced diet) and purchased go-go and other delicious foods.

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Afterwards, I had to go change his diaper so I took him to the bathroom. Now, the child still didn’t have any dry clothes so, by the time we made it past all the frozen goods and into the highly air conditioned bathroom, the early stages of hypothermia were setting in. Unfortunately, someone took the stall with the changing table so we had to wait while the child’s lower lip began to quiver and his teeth began chattering (sorry Mattman if you’re reading this in 10 years when you’re actually literate). After finally getting into the stall to change him and returning him to the safety of his stroller / blueket, he warmed up and we decided that Adventure Day sadly should come to a close.

Arriving home a bit after midnight, the child slept until after 8 the next morning, once again proving children will pretty much do whatever you want as long as you keep them in a state of perpetual disorientation and sleep deprivation, occasionally forcing sweet foods upon them at odd hours.

Moral of this story: Never believe people when they say the North doesn’t have A/C and never use the stall with the changing table unless you have a child.

Dirty Gdansk-ing

My parents gave me a tent from REI as a Christmas present last year and, besides spending a night camping in Ry’s apartment while eating a pizza and watching TV from it, I haven’t gotten to use it yet. So, when we had a bye week from traveling, we naturally decided we should travel to test it out in the great outdoors. After purchasing tickets to Gdansk so we could  experience the Polish beaches, we decided to check the weather. 100% chance of rain Saturday; 90% chance of rain Sunday. Perfect. Might as well test the tent under optimal conditions.

To get to Gdansk, we decided to forgo the $30 train tickets on the Pendolino and take a PolskiBus instead for $15. Naturally, we knew this also would give us a better opportunity to experience the real Polish travel experience with 60 of our closest Polish friends (or complete strangers). The bus journey was actually much smoother than we expected but, about halfway through, our driver just stopped the bus, got off, walked through a dirt parking lot, and disappeared into an unmarked building. About 10 minutes later, he returned from completing the drug deal and we were back on our way to the tri-city area. Come to think of it, I’m not positive it was the same man.

Arriving in the drizzle, we quickly checked into our campsite and searched for the perfect place to set up our tent in pitch black. We did not find it. What we did find was a slightly hilly patch of dirt speckled with pine cones and rocks. After clearing away the debris, we skillfully pitched our tent and climbed in – comforter, pillows, blankets, and all. We were really roughing it. About 5 minutes after getting in, it started to pour. This continued for the next 8 hours. Fortunately, we determined we didn’t have a lemon tent (despite the color) and didn’t spend the night bailing water.

For the remainder of the weekend we explored Gdansk in all its glory. We saw the Żuraw (The Crane), a structure built in the mid-1400s, walked down Ulica Długa (Long Street) and just generally clowned around town. For Sunday, we decided to take it easy and stumbled upon a strawberry festival. Given my keen taste for berries, we naturally decided to check it out. We were a bit dismayed by the fact that this festival did not, in fact, have any berries but didn’t let this stop us from enjoying our time exploring it. After the ‘festival’ we hung out in a park and after lying down for about 30 minutes, we decided to go grab an ice cream.

Halfway through the line for our cones, I discovered we were crawling with ants. Needless to say, I didn’t panic because spineless Europeans don’t even have real biting ants., like all things, is worse than America and doesn’t even have real biting ants. Though annoying (especially since they inhabited the lion’s mane that is my hair for the next 6 hours) we removed them from us like the ameliorated chimpanzees that humans are and continued on our way. Outside the shop, we spied a fellow lover of ice cream, who decided “to hell with variety” and was attacking a giant cone with 5, identically-flavored scoops. You go, Glen Cocoa.

Since the weather hadn’t exactly cooperated all weekend, we fervently pounced on the first signs of a clear day on Sunday. Fortunately, our campsite was very close to Stogi Beach, which was actually surprisingly nice (no offense, Poland). While it didn’t rain, per say, it also wasn’t exactly Thailand. Amongst a crowd of locals, who were dressed in jeans and sweaters, we tried to muster up the courage to take a dip in the Baltic, just to say we had done it. This courage quickly abated as soon as our toes touched the water. We chose to fight another day and retreated back to our campsite dry, but with our tails between our legs. Judgemental Polish eyes followed us every step. Oh well, we’ll be on a sunny Caribbean beach in a week, anyway.

 

 

Mattman’s Big Adventure

Exactly one year ago to the day, my brother-in-law, aka Brother Bear, decided to plan a nice getaway for my sister and himself. Knowing they’d need a babysitter for my nephew, and knowing we are the King and Queen of Responsibility, they asked Uncle Ryan and Auntie Meggie to look after little Mattman. Despite our busy lives and high demand for our babysitting skillz, we prioritized the nephew and said yes.

Prior to leaving, Caitlin was sure to clarify all the usual stuff about doctors, foods, and bedtime rituals. After asking if I had any questions, I inquired if the child was allowed to go to New York City. She said no. She did not, however, say we could not take him to, say, Baltimore and Philadelphia. And everyone knows that a no is basically a yes. So, when we missed the exit for the train into D.C. and saw signs for Baltimore, we took it as an omen to fill up on gas and start our journey. After all, things have really been looking up for Baltimore.

Given that we had planned none of this, Ryan was calmly multi-tasking researching all the sights we should be going to while navigating, while I calmly drove through heavy traffic while the child calmly sat quietly in the back seat. Due to both our penchant for food and the increasingly stressed-out toddler we had on our hands, we found ourselves at Lexington Market. Sadly, Mattman began complaining about ‘foot hurts’ so, to placate him, we did what any good babysitters would do: bought him ice cream and fed him some watermelon (the latter of which he then, rather unfortunately, dropped on the sizzling pavement. This caused many tears). After the market, we found an awesome water feature downtown that Mattman could walk around on and went down to the Inner Harbor (not the docks where the Sobotkas work).

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Back in the car, Mattman again wailed ‘foot hurts, foot hurts’. Ryan, seemingly coming to his rescue, reached back to take off the child’s shoes and gave him some fruit snacks, since Mattman was undoubtedly still upset from losing his juicy watermelon. The combined solaces of removal of painful footwear and replacement of lost watermelon appeared to soothe the child. Now at this point in time, we were at a bit of a crossroads. You see, although we were some 2 hours from home, the day was still young! Rather than call it a day, we set our sights on our next destination: Philadelphia. Along the way, we were sure to stop at all the sweet landmarks. In case you were wondering, there aren’t really any between Baltimore and Philadelphia, so we settled for a rest stop in Nowhere, Delaware where we stocked up on coffee for the adults and tasty treats for the child. A hop, skip, and a jump later, we found ourselves in downtown Philly.

Since we had come so far (but not as far as NYC!), we couldn’t help but take Mattman to all the sights. He was still complaining about ‘foot hurts’ so at this point I again took off his shoes, put him in the stroller, and off we went to see the likes of Independence Hall and Ben Franklin’s gravesite. We also took time to snap the happy photo seen below of him in front of the Liberty Bell just so Mom and Dad wouldn’t feel like they missed out on his big adventure. After that, it was time for a Philly cheese steak (thus fulfilling one of Ryan’s bucket list items) and a quick drive around the Rocky steps while listening to the Rocky theme song in our heads before heading back to D.C.

Arriving back home around 12:30AM, I have to say we did an exceptional job of wearing Mattman out. People say it’s hard to get kids to sleep and they get moody and all that, but what we’ve found is that if you keep them in a perpetual state of confusion and tiredness, they pretty much fall asleep whenever and wherever you’d like. You can read more about our parenting philosophies in our upcoming book Parenting Advice from Non-Parents.

Overall, I’d have to say Mattman’s favorite part of the entire adventure was the truck stop in Nowhere, Delaware. Not much to see beyond a bunch of Asian tourists and a giant parking lot, but now he can say he’s been to Delaware. Twice. You can thank us for expanding your child’s horizons later, Caitlin and Bro Bear.

Mattman Asian Bank

Little Asian tourist

P.S. Two days later, while preparing for another adventure – this time in D.C. – and packing a diaper bag for Mattman with some Annie’s fruit snacks, he pointed to them, said ‘foot hurts’ and then happily proceeded to eat them. So yes, apparently in Mattman speak ‘foot hurts’ = ‘fruit snacks’. Learn to speak English, ya Jabroni.

L’Eggo (My Eggo) to Brussels

Lazy weekends are the best. This past weekend was incredibly laid back and, now that it’s raining and I’m sitting in a coffee shop with a cup of tea, I think it’s a good time to write about another chill weekend we had a few weeks ago in Brussels.

Brussels was actually the first place we bought tickets for when we moved over here because the tickets were just always cheap (this was pre-world events; now they are a bit cheaper). So, when we saw prices ‘rising’ to $35 round trip, we decided to pull the trigger and book. Four short months later and we were on our way.

Upon arriving in Brussels, being funneled through a non-functional metal detector (safety first), and stepping outside, we looked around to see about 500 people milling about, looking lost, and more or less causing chaos. It was around midnight and neither of us could really handle the slew of people knocking over barricades, stepping out in front of buses, or generally getting all up in our space. So, we hopped on the nearest bus and were on our way into the city. After walking from the bus stop at the train station to the AirBnB we stayed at, we were both worn out. Almost worn out enough to not let the incessant beeping of the smoke detector bother us. Fortunately, a couple hours and a few Xanex later (just kidding, we wouldn’t know how to get a Polish prescription for that even if we wanted to), and we were out. The next day, we let our kind hosts know that we had issues with the beeping and they assured us they would fix it later that day. And you know what? They did! We came back and the smoke detector was no longer affixed to the 12 foot ceiling. Problem solved. Safety not so much. In all likelihood, they just bashed it off the ceiling with a long broom like we were tempted to do at 3 A.M…

Either way, we left for the breakfast of champions – waffles covered in chocolate, vanilla ice cream, and cherries. After eating this giant meal in about 4 minutes, we were ready to continue on our way.

Unfortunately, our waitress expected us to be a bit more ‘European’ than that so we sat there complaining to each other about her tardiness in delivering the check for the next 20 minutes while receiving somewhat hostile looks from the men next to us who were enjoying their own exceptionally slow meal. And don’t get me wrong, we weren’t complaining because we didn’t have a wonderful time there or because we were generally unhappy; our complaints stemmed from the fact that we had a limited number of hours in Brussels and a lengthy list of Belgian delicacies to consume. No time could be wasted.

AintNobodyGotTime

After we paid and aged roughly 3 years, we wandered to Manneken Pis, bought a million books from Waterstones, and took a stroll around the town square. Deeming ourselves hungry again, we went to find fries. Then chocolate. Then beer. Our afternoon was spent at Delirium (4000 beers!) before going out for some excellent Italian food. When in Brussels, right?

The next morning we rose not so early, were obviously ready to eat again, and decided to go to a lovely French cafe down the road. Unfortunately, their English was a little lacking. Not to worry though, our months in Poland and frequent cafe hopping had prepared us for this and we ordered like champions. The small amount of bread, delayed coffee for a quickly wilting Ry, and small cup of juice might signify otherwise but we’d like to believe we’ve improved over the months. After breakfast, we head to the airport and were back on our way to Poland, very full and very happy.