Category Archives: Family Travel

Ten Lessons for Round-the-World Travel. Arriving in Seoul, South Korea

Our plane arrived at Incheon Airport, Seoul, in June 2019 after a long and uneventful flight from Seattle. This was the first stop on the second round-the-world trip for my wife, son (age 19), daughter (age 14), and me. We learned many things the first time around, and we implemented our lessons during our second time around.

Here are ten lessons:

  1. Arrive during daylight hours, if possible. Check! We arrived at 4:30 PM on a Wednesday afternoon. It feels easier to find your way around an unfamiliar place with light in the sky. Daylight helps you get your bearings and visually scan a place. You can make it in the dark, of course, but arriving with daylight feels better to us.
  2. Have WiFi or mobile phone service so you can connect to maps and webpages. Check! I made sure my mobile phone was unlocked before leaving home.  At Incheon Airport, you can choose from multiple WiFi vendors. After talking with the sales staff, I decided on a unit that would last for the duration of our stay. Staff members helped me set up the mobile WiFi and check it before I left.
  3. Choose accommodations close to public transportation. Check! We rented an Airbnb apartment accessible by AREX Train from Incheon Airport. AREX is a commuter rail line connecting Incheon to Seoul, and it has two types of trains.The AREX Express Train runs from Incheon Station nonstop to Seoul Station in about forty-five minutes. The AREX All-Stop Train stops at eleven stations between Incheon and Seoul Station and takes about an hour. We took the All-Stop Train to Hongik University Station, and the trip was quiet and easy.
  4. Each person is responsible for carrying her or his own luggage. Check! We limit our luggage to one carry-on bag and one backpack. We have chosen the Rick Steves Rolling Backpack because it has wheels to pull behind and, if necessary, straps to carry it on one’s back. It’s lightweight and durable — both important qualities after flying for several hours and trying to find one’s accommodations in a new place!
  5. Find your accommodations as quickly as possible, get water and food, and begin to learn the area. Check! Our Airbnb host provided excellent directions, which we followed to find the apartment about a ten-minute walk from the station. Of course, we made the inevitable wrong turns along the way. But honestly, that’s part of the fun of travelling! After depositing our bags, we used mobile WiFi to find the nearest market.
  6. Drink as much water as possible. Check! We each carry a water bottle while travelling and intentionally drink water throughout the day. During a long flight or a day of exploring, it’s easy to get dehydrated. So, locate good drinking water, and drink up! Our apartment had filtered water, which is a big plus and money saver!
  7. Eat in as much as possible to save money. Check! In most places, you can purchase groceries in local markets or stores and eat at home with substantial savings. We found a small grocery store about a fifteen-minute walk away from our apartment. Going to a local store is part of the fun of travelling for us. Trying to figure out labels in different languages is a challenge. Looking for familiar items is nice (We’ve found taco mix and spaghetti sauce in nearly every place we’ve ever visited on six continents!), but trying something new and specific to the place you’re visiting is a great way to learn about life there.
  8. Add some comfort food or special treat. Check! I look for local desserts in stores. At relatively low cost, you can purchase cookies or snacks unavailable at home. Trying new foods is part of the adventure. Are they always winners? Of course not! But, usually they are very good. If the locals didn’t like them, vendors wouldn’t sell them, right?
  9. To help avoid jet lag, stay awake until bedtime in your new place — and get outside as much as possible. Check! After dinner, we went for a walk around the Hongdae neighborhood of Seoul. Hongdae is home to Honggik University, a leading fine arts college in South Korea. The neighborhood has many shops, street vendors, and young people. It was fun to look around, stroll amidst the vibrant people, and fight the urge to sleep.
  10. Wear ear plugs while sleeping in a new place. Check! Even though we are pretty tired on our first night in a new place, the new noises can keep us from sleeping or wake us earlier than we want the next morning. We take ear plugs to provide much-needed sleep on arrival.

After arriving, finding food and water, and getting a good night’s sleep, we were ready for our adventures in Seoul. More on that in the next blog post!

At Home Traveling — during Coronavirus

As I’m writing this blog post, we are in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. Thankfully, my family and I have been healthy. Friends have been affected, including a friend in another state whose family member died.  I know Coronavirus is fierce and frightening, but in many ways, Covid-19 seems far removed from my family and me.  I’m grateful.

There have been some changes, but nothing too major.
Routines have changed. Our son returned home to complete his first year of college remotely. Our daughter is completing her first year of high school via computer. My wife and I are teaching college courses online and via Zoom. I’m leading church services via Zoom, and although we are not together physically, church members still are connected to one another. 

In the midst of it all, we have been spared the harsh aspects of Coronavirus.  Again, I’m grateful.

Our travel plans have changed. We had planned to travel this summer, but our trip was cancelled. So, for the first time in a long time, we are home — with no plans to travel.  Sure, we expect to travel again, but we don’t know when or where that will be.

During this extended time at home, I’ve thought a lot about travel:  why I want to travel, why I miss it during staying at home.  Traveling, especially with my family, is one of the deepest joys of my life.  We encounter new things, learn new lessons, rise to new challenges. And, most important of all, we do it together.  Our shared experiences are powerful and transformative. 

During Summer 2019, our family took a second round-the-world trip.  For our first trek around the globe, we spent ten months visiting six continents. The second time around, we only had a summer break before our son left for college. We had six weeks, but we decided to give it another go.

After spending a week in Alaska to celebrate my in-laws’ 55th wedding anniversary, we traveled to Asia to visit friends in South Korea and Myanmar. We next went to Cambodia to experience Angkor Wat before traveling to India. On our return home to Florida, we added a stopover in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

One lesson I learned is this…go anyway.  Our second round-the-world trip wasn’t nearly as big as our first, but we went anyway.  We couldn’t linger in places like we did the first time (spending more than a month in some places), but we still had a great time.  We couldn’t choose low-season or shoulder-season, but we went anyway.  We had to travel during monsoon season in Myanmar and India, but we went anyway.  We couldn’t house-sit like we did the first time, but we went anyway.

Our second round-the-world trip was different, to be sure, but it also was wonderful.  We didn’t stop, fearing that our second trip would be less than our first one.  We went anyway!  I’m glad we did.

I look forward to sharing experiences we had and lessons we learned.

I hope you’ll enjoy!

Cuba

Cuba is so near and yet so far away.  Cuba and the United States are very close to one another, and yet, the two countries have been separated by mutual suspicion and animosity for so many years that Cuba almost seems like a different world.

Our family had the good fortune to travel to Cuba during June and July 2017.  Because we live in Florida, we were able to visit Cuba relatively inexpensively and very easily.  We drove to Tampa, boarded a ship, and the next day, found ourselves in Havana.  Between the time we booked our tickets and left Tampa, the United States President announced his intention to tighten travel restrictions for Americans traveling to Cuba.  Thankfully, our trip happened before restrictions are implemented.

 

Ministry of the Interior Building with Che Guevara’s image and the words, “Ever onward to victory.”

We spent our time in Cuba learning about Cuban history, seeing architecture, and interacting with wonderful Cuban people.  Thanks to Amanda, our incredible guide from Havana Journeys, our trip followed the guidelines for a People-to-People exchange, which currently is a legal way for Americans to travel in Havana.

While, like many Americans, I tend to focus on recent events in Cuban history following the Communist revolution in the twentieth century, Cuba has a long and rich history.  Of course, Cuba was vibrant with indigenous peoples long before Columbus arrived.  Following the arrival of Europeans, Cuba remained an important part of the Caribbean because of its location, size, and natural and human resources.

Plaza de la Revolucion

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like many visitors, we saw the Plaza de la Revolucion, where Fidel Castro made speeches lasting many hours.  We saw Miramar, the area of Havana that wealthy people called home in the early part of the twentieth century.

 

 

We drove around Havana in classic American cars.  Yank Tanks, as they are sometimes called, have been meticulously maintained by Cubans.  We traveled with my parents, and our ride in these cars reminded them of their youth!

 

 

 

 

 

 

When our family travels, we try to go beyond the comfort of the usual tourist spots.  While in Havana, we asked our guide to take us to a place where Cubans enjoy ice cream.  Amanda took us to Coppelia, a wonderful place in Havana, where Cubans line up at different signs advertising the flavors available.  Chocolate seems to be the most popular!  After waiting, they are seated in outdoor pavilions and then enjoy ice cream.  Each scoop costs about the same as ten cents in American currency.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were many highlights of our time in Havana.  One was following in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway.  We visited Hemingway’s room and the roof-top bar of the Hotel Ambos Mundos.  We felt the humid air and could imagine Hemingway sitting over his typewriter.

Hemingway’s View

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another highlight was seeing the world through the lens of Cubans.  While walking through the National Hotel, where Castro directed Cuba’s response to the Cuban Missile Crisis from underground caves, I saw pictures of famous visitors.  Yes, there were American film stars and political leaders such as Jimmy Carter.  But, there were other people Americans tend to view as villains.  There was a large portrait of Hugo Chavez and many pictures of current Russian leaders.  I was able to ask someone about John Kennedy, and not surprisingly, Kennedy is still viewed with suspicion given the Bay of Pigs invasion and missile crisis.

My experience in Cuba was similar to my experience in every other country I have visited.  The vast majority of people are kind, helpful, and open to relationship.  They want to live in a world where people can relate to one another with respect.  Despite differences of history and language, religion and culture, people are people, and we can find things in common to unite us.

Dear Friends

Just before leaving Cuba, we had the wonderful pleasure of visiting with Rev. Santiago Conrado Delgado Castillo and his family.  Santiago is Secretario Ejecutivo of the Fraternidad de Iglesia Bautista de Cuba (the Fraternity of Baptist Churches of Cuba).  We shared coffee and conversation, and we discussed our hopes for a world of freedom.

I am grateful we were able to see Cuba and interact with many wonderful people.  If you have an opportunity to visit Cuba, do it!

Joyeux Noël de Genève

Joyeux Noël de Genève– Merry Christmas from Geneva. 

Our family’s Christmas Eve in Geneva, Switzerland, began with a trip to the top of Europe where we visited Chamonix to see Mont Blanc. 

From the town of Chamonix, we rode the Aiguille du Midi cable car up the mountain for a view of Mont Blanc. The ride is pricey, but the views of the Alps are beautiful and worth the splurge.  The crowd on Christmas Eve was small and wait times short.  Our time at the top was breathtaking. In fact, there is an exhibit on the physiological effects of high altitude, which is worth exploring. 


Our next stop was La Calèche restaurant in Chamonix for fondue. The waitstaff was warm and helpful, and they graciously spoke to us in English even as we ordered in French. The cheese was fantastic, and dessert was a great surprise. We enjoyed profiteroles, which had delicious vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and hot chocolate sauce.  We will try to recreate them when we return home. 


We returned to Geneva as the sun set, just in time for an organ concert and Service of Lessons and Carols at St. Pierre Cathedral. 


The cathedral is the place where Protestant Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) preached during the sixteenth century. Worshippers filled the nave for the multilingual service. 


We returned home to share a Bûche de Nöel and wish one another Joyeux Noël, Merry Christmas. 


It was a special day and a celebration of Christmas that we will cherish for years to come. 

Joyeux Noël de Genève — Merry Christmas from Geneva. 

Thanksgiving for Connections

A year ago, our family was in the midst of a round-the-world adventure that took us to six continents. We experienced wonderful places along the way and, most of all, developed relationships with cherished friends across the globe.  Now, we have returned home to the United States, and we are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving.  As we give thanks this year, we think of the beloved friends we made and the connections we continue to feel to these people and places. 

During the past several days, events have occurred in two countries to which we feel especially connected: France and Myanmar. 

  
In France, terrorists attacked people gathered in Paris to enjoy sporting, dining, and cultural events. We felt connected immediately because we remembered walking Parisian streets to our apartment. We thought of the cafe on the corner and the people we saw gathered there sharing coffee, wine, and conversation. 

  
We were in Paris during the Charlie Hebdo shootings, and seeing the recent scenes on television reminded us of the heavy police presence in January. And our thoughts went to our friends in France, Heather and Vic. Although St. Pois, their village in Normandy, is far removed from Paris and St. Denis, we wonder how shaken they are by the attacks and reverberations across the country. 

  
On a brighter note, we have felt intensely connected to Myanmar following the historic elections that saw Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy win a sweeping victory. We have thought of our dear friends with whom we have shared laughs and tears. We have thought of hugs and hopes shared in their homes.  And we have rejoiced to receive reports from them during the past few days. 

A friend from Myanmar shared these words:

Breaking News: “The Winner is…. NLD!!!”

Just now at noon, according to UEC’s announcement of the winning seats in both lower and upper house, NLD has won 348 seats, far more that it needs to form a new government 329. Incredible! Surely, it will be more when the counting is over, hopefully, in a few days’ time. It’s so exciting! Please continue to keep an eye on our country and make sure that you and your respective democratic governments would continue to support us as we have to build Myanmar’s future toward restoration, reconciliation and democracy without any violence. We do hope, pray and work so that genuine peace and justice would prevail, human rights and human dignity would be honored and flourish, prosperity would come to exist and all kinds of fear would disappear when the new and clean government and good governance started to take place.

  
Travel has connected my family and me to people and places far away from our home. Despite the miles, on this Thanksgiving, I give thanks for deep connections that remain.  And although we are apart, somehow we are very much related. 

I am thankful, indeed. 

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther

In 1483, Martin Luther was born on this day, November 10, in the town of Eisleben.  He is well known for posting his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg in 1517 and sparking the Protestant Reformation.  He was a leader both revered and reviled, and in his wake the trajectory of history was altered in ways that still resonate nearly 500 years later. 

  
Many times, I have joined with other Protestant Christians to sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” as we have celebrated Reformation Sunday.  On such occasions, it is easy to forget that, in addition to his leadership in the Reformation, Luther also was deeply human and filled with fears, joys, and frustrations. 

I resonate most with Luther as the person who mixed hope with struggle, challenge with delight. 

Luther’s decision to enter the monastery was made in fear. Caught in a severe thunderstorm, Luther called to St. Anne for help and promised to become a monk if he survived. True to his word, born of fear, Luther entered the monastery in Erfurt in 1505.  Many of Luther’s days were consumed with fearful self flagellation and longing for salvation.  
  
Beyond his fears, however, Luther also knew joy. Perhaps his source of greatest joy was his family. He married Katharina von Bora, a former nun, and together they had six children.  By all accounts, they had a loving and happy marriage.  Though finances often were tight, Luther said, “My Katie is in all things so obliging and pleasing to me that I would not exchange my poverty for the riches of Croesus.”

As a husband and father, I share Luther’s delight in his spouse and children. A few years ago, our family visited Luther’s home. I could picture him sitting around the table filling the room with music and talk. 

  
While I love Luther the happy husband and doting father, I also am honest to say that I can relate to Luther at his points of frustration. 

Just a few days before his death in February 1546, Luther traveled from Wittenberg to his hometown, Eisleben, to mediate a dispute. While in Eisleben, Luther preached his final sermon. 

  
It is estimated that Luther preached 7,000 sermons during his lifetime, but for what became his last sermon, only five people were present.  Luther was mightily frustrated.  He wrote to a friend despairing that he had been part of a failed Reformation.  In the bitter winter of February 1546, the great preacher preached in a nearly empty church building. 

Just a few days later, Luther went to bed with chest pains.  He prayed the  prayer found in Psalm 31:5, “Into your hand, I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me O Lord, faithful God.”  

In the hours after midnight, Luther’s pain increased, and the hour of his death was near. He was asked, “Reverend father, are you ready to die trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and to confess the doctrine you have taught in His name?”

“Yes,” he replied. 

Best Chinese Food Ever!

A few years ago, a teenager from our town traveled with her orchestra to China.  Upon her return, I asked about her favorite memories.  A big smile came across her face, and she said, “The food!”  She quickly added, “I love our local Chinese restaurant, but the food in China was so much better.”

While traveling in China with my family, I enjoyed lots of delicious food.  And with each great meal, I thought of that young lady.  I agree with her; the food in China is delicious!

We had a number of delicious and memorable culinary experiences in China.  While in Beijing, we stayed in an AirBnB apartment owned by an American family and run by Holly, a wonderful Chinese woman.

My wife, Lisa, with our Beijing host, Holly

My wife, Lisa, with our Beijing host, Holly

We told Holly how much we love dumplings, and she agreed to teach us how to make them.  She started with a trip to a local market, which I never could have found on my own.  Walking from our apartment, we ventured off the main road and turned into a small side street that became a walking path.  Eventually, we entered a nondescript building that held a bustling market filled with local produce and baked goods.

Then, we returned to our apartment where Holly led a cooking class for our family.  She taught us to make the filling, which included pork, cabbage, carrots, onions, spices, vinegar, and soy sauce stir fried in the wok.

 

Hollys Wok - Edited

Then, she taught us how to mix flour and water with chopsticks until the dough was firm and ready to knead.  Holly pinched off small bits, rolled them out, filled them, and cooked them in a pot of boiling water.

Rachel with Holly (2)

Then, we joined other Chinese friends from the neighborhood around the kitchen table eating lots of dumplings.  Delicious and memorable!

Noodle TeacherWe received another cooking lesson while in Beijing.  We went to Mama’s Lunch for a dumpling and noodle lesson.  Our gracious host and excellent teacher, Joyce, greeted us with tea and snacks before beginning the class.  We made regular dumplings as well as green dumplings with spinach water and orange dumplings from pumpkin water.  In addition to the traditional filling of pork and spices, Joyce taught us how to make a filling of scrambled eggs with chives.

 

 

We then shared a feast of boiled and fried dumplings.  Delicious!

Eating Noodles

In addition to our cooking classes, we enjoyed wonderful meals in two restaurants.  In Beijing, we shared a ten-course dinner at Black Sesame Kitchen that included five flavored eggplant, shredded lettuce stem, and black sesame ice for dessert!  The restaurant is located in a hutong, a traditional neighborhood with narrow alleys and courtyard residences.  The meal was pretty expensive, but it was a great treat for our family.

Menu Beijing

Finally, in Shanghai, we had a great meal of Xiaolongbao, soup dumplings cooked in steamer baskets.  We ate at Din Tai Fung, a restaurant chain with several stores around Shanghai and other cities around the world.  All dumplings have a thin skin and sixteen delicate folds, and they are filled with various broths.  We especially loved the pork dumplings and the crab dumplings.

Shanghai Dumplings

I still love Chinese food at home, but I have to agree with the young lady from our town.  These meals in Beijing and Shanghai were the Best Chinese Food Ever!

Group Dinner Plate