Friday, August 26, 2005

Family resemblence

The time we spent with Yvonne's 95 year old grandmother in Holland was a joy for all of us. With our typically American infatuation with youth and fear of death, we aren't used to seeing old people who age so gracefully. One afternoon she shooed Yvonne out of the house because she had to mow her lawn (using push mower of course)!

Water, windmills and funny shoes

Holland has hands down the best biking on the planet . This was on a path which went right by our house in Nederhorst den Berg, a small village 20 km from Amsterdam. This was the only place I have ever seen streets signs telling you 3 ways to get to the next city: by car, by bike and by boat.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The high point of the trip

For our boys, this was the moment they had been waiting for all trip. Who needs culture when you can bash each other with swords that make cool sound effects?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

On closeness - adults

How do you measure closeness with another person, particularly one you have spent almost 20 years with? More specifically, if you spend a concentrated period of time together with that person, how does it change the relationship?

During the time we have known each other, Yvonne and I have never spent eight weeks in constant company. Nor have we ever had such a steady barrage of mundane but important decisions to make: where do we stay, how long do we stay, what do we eat, how do we keep the children from driving us crazy without driving them crazy instead?

For some of the trip, we had a well-planned itinerary (thanks to Yvonne, our logistics expert). For much of the trip, however, we had no fixed plan. These parts were more challenging than we had expected, because children are less flexible travelers – when they are hungry, they have to eat, and when they have had enough, you have to stop.

So there were many pitched debates, usually made speeding along the highway, often after a less than optimal nights’ sleep, with kids wailing in the background. Tempers flared, voices were raised as far as we thought we could raise them without terrifying the kids, and decisions were reached, often accompanied by gnashing of teeth.

At home, these conflicts occur much less frequently and it is always possible to spend a couple of hours (or days) “cooling off.” On an extended trip, no such escape valve exists. After weeks of making the same kinds of stressful decisions with the same unconstructive interactions, we both started learning more about getting along with each other.

Here is what we learned – depending on how you make decisions, your points of discomfort are very different. Yvonne is a linear, methodical thinker. She wants to gather all the facts to make an optimal decision, and is uncomfortable leaping to a conclusion without thinking it through logically.

On the other hand, I am an intuitive, somewhat scattered thinker. I am perfectly happy making a decision with little (or no) information, and am very uncomfortable trying to explain how I got to that decision (because in fact there is no logical explanation).

Knowing all this doesn’t make the decision-making process much easier, but at least it helps us understand where the conflict comes from. I can predict when and why in the discussion Yvonne will decide I am a schmuck and also the point at which I will turn up the radio and stare fixedly at the road.

Just as pressure makes diamonds, stresses build relationships. To paraphrase Nietzche, “the vacation that does not destroy your marriage will make it stronger.”

Shadows of Eastern Germany

For the last 15 years, West Germans have been paying an additional 8% income tax to help rebuild East Germany. The results are extraordinary – entire cities completely rebuilt, full of tidy houses with spectacular dahlia gardens.

Yet a shadow still remains. Every city still contains a number of completely dilapidated buildings left over from the communist days, and the Island of Rugen is dotted with ruined estates. Many of the interior roads of Rugen are still half cobblestone/half asphalt, from the old days when the government didn’t have enough money to pave the entire road.

Germans everywhere have stories from the days when East Germany was effectively a prison. West Germans sent monthly care packages to their relatives in East Germany containing everything from chocolate to pencils. Visitors leaving East Germany had their cars searched with guard dogs and mirrors. East Germans who were caught trying to escape got six years in prison, if they were lucky enough not to be shot.

Friday, August 05, 2005


It was bound to happen sooner or later, but Travel-cholia has finally set in for all of us. After 8 weeks on the road, we are finally sick of sleeping on strange pillows, conducting cryptic conversations with miniscule vocabularies and longing for soft toilet paper.

The full symptoms include a strong feeling that you have traveled a very long way only to discover that the place you really want to be is back where you started. When we hit Hamburg we spent a full week laying around the house and avoiding doing anything culturally significant whatsoever.

We have each constructed elaborate fantasies involving burning all of our travel clothes. I long to walk into a bakery where I know the name for the kind of bread I want, or to stay someplace where the kitchen has a sharp knife and a heavy skillet.