Day 136: Big Things in Tiny Malta

Sometimes the littlest things can have a big impact.

A pawn can force a checkmate, the small keystone keeps the integrity of the bridge, and a small island in the Mediterranean can serve as a tactical and strategic bastion of war for over two millennia.

The tiny island of Malta is such a place. Inhabited as a neolithic site going back 7,000 years, it was eventually used a a stop by the Phoenicians that sailed from Tyre (modern day Lebanon) westward to trading ports in Cadiz and Carthage. Soon after, it became a staging post by which the armies of Hannibal sparred with the Roman empire back and forth through the ages in the time before Christ. The Knights Hospitaller beat back onslaughts from the Ottoman empire and turned the tide of Ottoman rule through their persistent gunnery from the fort ramparts in the 16th century in what was known as the ‘Great Siege of Malta‘. Control of the island was ceded to Napoleon en route to his Egypt campaign, and the island was bombed heavily in World War 2 as the allies and axis powers fought for control of north Africa. George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev would aspire to meet here following the fall of the Berlin wall. In short, this island has hosted some of history’s most historical events.

Showing signs of modernity, Malta has preserved its culture. Multimillion dollar yachts sit nestled in its harbors, protected by the elements from forts Angelo and Elmo. The whole island feels like an entire city was dropped in the coliseum of Rome and expected to function as usual and adapted by weaving roads under ancient arches, building adjacent to giant buttresses and building new buildings atop 50 foot protective city walls.

Because of its kaleidoscope of cultures through the years, Malta has a culture that is emblematic of everywhere. Maltese is the Sicilian infused dialect and French, English and Italian are widely spoken with whispers of Arabic from taxi drivers. Bar room conversations spill out onto the streets at night much like you’ll find in Portugal. Maltese cuisine has adopted the best parts of Europe with pizza and pasta readily available with a cheap wine not too far away.

Tips for Sightseeing in Malta

As we’ve been traveling for over 4 months now, the novelty of ‘making it count‘ is starting to wear off. I’ve read about long term travelers hitting a wall of travel fatigue and wanting to see less and less when they arrive at a destination and instead opt for doing whatever they feel like on any given day. In this sense, we’ve come to live more like locals, often waking up and going for walks around the harbor, scoping out cheap eats and free thrills. Another challenge with sight seeing in Malta is contending with the large number of tourists swarming out of cruise ships and snapping up limited tour times. Our Airbnb apartment in Senglea overlooked the harbor and any given day there would be 3 massive cruise ships moored up outside. (*Side note: On our last day, the ‘Azamara Pursuit’ which we’d board in January for Antarctica docked a stones throw from our flat) Because of this, certain tourist sights can fill up mid-day and if you’re keen on taking a tour, consider buying tickets in advance.

  • Strolling Valletta – This charming finger jutting out into the bay has a lot of sights to keep you busy for a whole day. Start with a visit to the ‘National Museum of Archeology’ and then head to St John’s Cathedral if you need a gilded church ceiling fix. Wind your way around the edge of the peninsula by visiting the ships of the Valletta waterfront, War Rooms and St. Elmo’s fort. Be sure to stop for lunch and craft beer at ’67 Kapitali’ which has fantastic sandwiches made with Maltese bread. We did twice.
  • Vittoriosa – This trip across the bay is definitely worth it. Fort St. Angelo was tremendous and commanded some amazing views of the island and harbor. The interpretive displays of its role over the ages were more than impressive and it gave us the opportunity to walk along multimillion dollar yachts along the wharf and day dream of opulent wealth.
  • Hal Saflini Hypogeum – This 5,000 year old underground burial chamber was only a 30 minute walk from our place and our high hopes of visiting were soon dashed when we learned that tickets were booked months in advance. C’est la vie mon ami. Apparently, you can get last minute tickets through cancellations through Fort St. Elmo in Valletta or the Gozo Museum of Archeology. If you’re near either of those two places, it pays to ask.
  • Transportation – The easiest and cheapest forms of transport we used were Bolts and water taxis. Since Uber is not available in Malta yet, Bolt is the other ride sharing platform we used in eastern Europe which came in handy. Water taxis between points were only 2-3 euros a ride and came every few minutes.

Google Book Creator

Being in Malta gave us time to resume Ava’s studies. We started reading ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe‘, tested out of ‘Decimals’ and ‘Plane Figures’ in math, but the big news was Ava finishing her brochure (one of her writing pieces of the year) on the African safari. We settled on ‘Google Book Creator’ which allows one to publish the book online as a shareable link, download it as an iBook, or share it via social media platforms. This is a lead-in to her larger persuasive writing piece that she has started on “Why Rhinoceros Should be Protected” that we hope to finish in a couple weeks.

On the Job Hunt: GRC Fair

Speaking of being on safari, the GRC fair in Dubai is on the horizon for us and we’ll be showing up there in 11 days on the hunt for teaching positions for next year. Gone are the days where you could show up and get 6 offers with a valid pulse; the deteriorating state of education and slow pace reform is sending more US teachers abroad so it’s imperative to work hard in order to stand out from the pack.

Most international schools have their declaration dates as November 15th or December 1st, so we’re a bit early, but are having some nibbles on our candidacy and have had a handful of Skype interviews thus far. Here are some tips that have helped us with our searches in the past and will be invaluable when the fair starts:

  • Design a Killer CV – Browse through CVs online and find a format that is clean, scannable and a step above the typical Microsoft or Google doc templates. Most recruiters spend only a few seconds to decide whether a CV is a ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ and some basic graphic design skills can give your profile a sparkle that can set you apart from the rest. I used ‘Adobe In-Design’ for ours.
  • Quantify your Accomplishments – In your work experience section, try to be as descriptive as possible. Instead of saying ‘Co-chaired XYZ Committee‘ instead say ‘Improved 30 units of study in our school’s IT innovation curriculum by teaching 10 staff members best practices.‘ This is more exemplary of leadership and shows results.
  • Have Multiple Cover Letters- This might sound like more work (and it is) but if you’re applying for 2-3 different positions, you want different cover letters to reflect your philosophy, experience and passion for each one. My wife and I have our sights on 2 different positions for each of us so we’ll have a dozen copies of each one for handing out in earnest.
  • Shortlist your Top Schools – Of the 76 schools attending the GRC fair, there are 10 schools with valid jobs for both of us, 6 schools that are our top choices and 2 unicorn schools. We’ve applied to all of their positions online and have emailed schools indicating our attendance, positions for which we’re interested and desire to set up an interview.
  • Research Schools– Take some time to research your top schools through their websites for upcoming initiatives, PD and information from their annual report so you know their history and culture of learning. Be sure to highlight how your own experience aligns with these programs and thus how your experience will be an asset to help this school achieve this vision over the next 2 years. Side note: I once sat in on an interview of a notable PhD candidate who was interviewing for a high school science position. When asked what they liked about our school, they said they ‘didn’t really know anything about‘ our school and thought their academic attainment would compensate. We passed on her.
  • Practice your ‘Elevator Pitch’ – You might get lucky in meeting an administrator in a lobby or elevator and have their ear for a minute. In that time, summarize your interest in their school and what job you and your spouse are well suited for. If you have your CV and cover letters on hand, this may lead to an interview.
  • Use your Professional Learning Network. As our digital footprint has grown and we have friends all over the world, we now have friends at many of the schools at which we are applying. When admin are facing a pile of hundreds a resumes, sometimes a kind note from a well respected colleague of a particular candidate can rocket their application to the top of the pile. Facebook has some groups to this effect as well.
  • Get Some Exercise on the Morning of Interviews- I recently had a Skype interview two hours after my morning cardio workout. The physical activity gave a rush of endorphins and I was much happier, focused, and much more well spoken than an interview two weeks ago when I was sick in bed.
  • Line Up Early and Strategize- The conference hall sign ups are a bit like a fire sale and you need to get in line an hour before the doors open. Other candidates will be doing the same and if you’re in line first, you’ll survive the stampede and can get to the tables for signups.
  • Be Open Minded– There may be schools in countries you’ve never considered, but don’t give up on them. We never thought of South Korea as a destination and chalked up our initial interview as mere ‘practice’. However, after meeting the administrators with whom we instantly connected, found the school to be a great fit and Korea having many recreational activities we would come to love.

The job hunt for international teachers is one of the most stressful things we’ve gone through in our lives. In most cases, you have to declare your intent not to return so your own school can change the vacancy from ‘tentative’ to ‘definite’ and the uncertainty of not having a job before leaving your current one can cause even the most seasoned educators to feel creeping self-doubt and insecurity. Have faith in your abilities, don’t settle, and take advantage of opportunities that such conferences can bring.

It’s your teaching career. If you’re not looking out for it, who will?

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Day 131: The Canary Islands- Tenerife

We met our friends ‘The Macs’ at the airport in Tenerife South after a much needed layover in Lisbon. It was great being back in Europe (and one of our favorite cities in the world) and we celebrated by a Mexican food feast in Lisbon with chips and guacamole, burritos and margaritas. We snagged a suite in downtown Lisbon on ‘Hotwire‘ and had a great nights sleep before heading back to the airport for a 9:30 am flight to Tenerife south for a one-week break from schoolwork. Ava complained of an upset stomach while in Lisbon and threw up in the airport bathroom just before boarding our flight. “Wow, I feel so much better.” She said.

The Canary Islands are part of Spain and being off the coast of Morocco and Senegal offer a warm vacation spot for Europeans wanting to escape the cold and not leave the comforts of home. Everyone speaks English, but you can easily find paella, sangria, swimming pools and pugnacious retirees ready to argue the merits of island life and wondering why they didn’t do it sooner. Roads are well marked. Water sports, hiking and theme parks dot and surround the island. However, its popularity as a retirement destination means it’s ‘Spanish-ness’ is not a strong as the culture from the mainland.

It wasn’t until the third day that we we left the comfort and sanctuary of our apartment to explore the island.

Top Things to Do in Tenerife

  • Scuba Dive At the Base of Los Gigantes. Los Gigantes or “The Giants” is a series of cliffs on Tenerife’s southwest coast. Although there is not a lot in the way of coral, if you’re lucky, you’ll find giant stingrays and moray eels hiding in the crevices.
  • Spend a Day at “Playa De Las Teresitas”. This is by far the most beautiful beach we explored while at Tenerife and the light brown sand and shallow water makes it a nice place to take in an afternoon of sun and swimming; especially for little kids.
  • Take a Cable Car up to Mount Teide. We bought tickets for this, but our trip was cancelled at the last moment due to inclement weather. From the base of 2100 meters, it’s a ride up to 3,500 meters and supposedly a fantastic view. Try to buy tickets early for a day when the weather is forecasted to be clear.

Staying in a serviced apartment or timeshare is really the way to go in Tenerife. Having an apartment for our two families meant we could stock up our fridge with food for the kids, do loads of laundry and hang out on the balcony laughing into the night which is the best way to experience the Canary Islands- with good friends.

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Day 124: Morocco Part 3-Marrakesh to Essaouria

Computer hacker Roman Seleznev was already on the run.

As the son of an influential Russian politician, he had committed credit card fraud in 2008 against the Atlanta company ‘RBS Worldplay‘ and was suspected of cybercrimes all over the world. In all, he defrauded over 3,000 financial institutions and was suspected of skimming millions of dollars from over a billion suspected accounts. Powerful people had had enough.

Perhaps it was just coincidence that on April 28th, 2011, Roman walked into the Argana cafe in Marrakesh, Morocco just before noon to have his daily cup of mint tea when suddenly the building blew up. In all, 17 people were killed (14 on site) and although Seleznev suffered a head injury, he escaped death narrowly and continued his trade. A few years later, he was kidnapped from a Maldivian resort by US authorities, charged, prosecuted and now serving at 27 year sentence for his crimes.

Just a few years before that in popular culture, Indiana Jones’ golden idol was hoodwinked by rival archeologist Rene Belloq in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark‘. Indy pleaded to Marcus for funds to help him retrieve it. “There’s only one place he can sell it Marcus. Marrakesh. I need $3,000 and I can get it back.

The reputation and sordid history of Marrakesh goes back much farther than George Lucas films and conspiracy theories. Its fabled square ‘Jemma El Fnaa‘ has been a place of business for over a thousand years and its 17 square kilometer medina and souks have hosted street performers, snake charmers, vendors and public executions going back to medieval times. The vendors are some of the most aggressive and persistent I’ve met in the world, and are equalled only by the Chinese for their bartering and negotiating skills and I mean that as a sincere compliment. Vendors in Marrakesh will pay commissions to street ‘ticks’ that follow you around the souk for hundreds of meters and direct you into shops for a slice of your money. Throw in donkey pulled carts, bicycles, and exhaust touting motorcycles ambling by you, and it’s quite a ride.

Still, there is a certain beauty to the way things are done in this city of pink. One cannot deny that Morocco is a country of traditions that have continued as the rampant globalization and automation has risen up and swallowed up traditional practices around the world. Here, agriculture and transportation is old school. Seamstresses spin thread in long ropes down alleyways. “Tangia” is slowed heated not in kitchens but by the boiler of the community hammam that only locals know about. There are practices that have endured here for thousands of years and this is the way they’ve always been done. So there.

Ava’s Moroccan Scrapbook: Made in ‘Comicbook!’

Despite the market touts, people here are incredibly generous and display a particular joie de vivre to whomever they meet. We met ‘Salah’, a family friend in Marrakesh who invited us three strangers into his house for an evening feast with his mother. While there, he spoke proudly of his job as a teacher and travels in France and Canada, and hoped that his Algerian neighbors would find better times. On another evening in Essaouria, we met ‘Aziza’ a surf shop owner, who after selling Ava a new pair of sandals, proceeded to write our names in Arabic after their French pronunciations. The Arabic lettering of my name is so beautiful, you’d think it was a name of a God, but in French, ‘Gary’ translates to ‘Gare’ which is where people park their car. My name literally translates to ‘garage‘.

If Marrakesh is the city of Pink, Essaouria is the city of white. This small coastal town was our last lengthy stop before a quick stop in Oulidia on the way back to Casablanca and an afternoon flight out to Lisbon. The sea breeze and smaller medina and cheaper food stalls made for a refreshing three night stay after the sweltering heat of the desert. Moreover, the drive here was a breeze compared to the perilous Tizi n’Tichka pass of the Atlas mountains between Ouarzazate and Marrakech, which was so nerve racking that my sphincter muscle has yet to loosen up.

The Job Hunt Begins

Month four for us has ushered in a new challenge for international school teachers: job hunting. Whereas before we’d spend 3-4 hours of time on school work with Ava, it’s now more like 1-2, as we now send CVs and crafted cover letters to prospective schools most mornings and afternoons. The good news is that after teaching internationally for 17 years, we have friends at many of the top tier school institutions around the world who are vouching for us as candidates and much of your success in life is dictated by your personal and professional network. Despite our confidence, we lie awake in bed most nights playing the game of ‘What if?‘.

  • What if one of us gets a job at __________, but the other doesn’t?
  • What if that school isn’t coming to that fair?
  • What if we get offered jobs that pay $88,000 a year, but they’re in Saudi Arabia?

Over the next few weeks, things are bound to get interesting for our family and depending on call backs and the networking conference in Dubai, we could be going anywhere in the world next July. It’s both the most exciting and terrifying feeling for teaching candidates; having the uncertainty build and after weeks of work, finally being given a choice. Smaller schools try to swoop in early grabbing top tier candidates before the larger schools get around to it, leaving teachers asking themselves: “Should we take this, or try to hold out for something better?

Hopefully that choice will be an easy one for us.

Inshallah.

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Day 108: Under the Moroccan Sky

Honey, slow down! You’re scaring me!” Lisa said.

I’m only going 60 km per hour. It’s like 40 miles per hour back home!” I replied.

Yes, but the speed limit is 40 and there are tight turns here. I’m sliding all around my seat and hitting the window!

Exactly! We could drive the speed limit and get there in three hours, or I could drive crazy fast and we could be there in two and a half.

Why are these the only two options? Can’t you slow down? My heart is beating fast and I’m starting to sweat.

I probably should have listened to my mother when she advised me not to drive here. Don’t do it she said. All our friends advised against it she said. And what did I do? I went ahead and did it anyways. I’ve driven in Europe and Africa so I’m an expert I said. By the second day of driving, a speed trap scooped me up for driving 69 in a 60.

You have an infraction.” The policeman said.

What is the fine? Can I just pay it here?” I said not caring if this was an official operation or a palm lining shake down.

Do you have 150 dirahms?” He asked.

No problem.” I said while getting out my wallet and thinking that paying a 15 dollar fine for speeding was a pretty good deal, so I tried a little morning levity:

I’m here in Morocco for three weeks and will probably speed again. Can I pay 1,000 dirahms for the right to drive over the speed limit for the next three weeks? Do you have, like, a speeding pass?

“Sign this recipt and leave please.”

While forking over my 150 dirahms I glanced over and saw Ava and Lisa laughing their asses off and waving through the windows of the car while taking pictures and video which were certain to make their way onto social media. I smirked at the irony and shook my head in disbelief, cursing all the cosmic karma that brought me to that moment on a dusty rural road in the heart of Morocco.

Riad Stays and Medina Mazes

Even though we left east Africa for the north, Morocco feels like a world away and doesn’t look like it even shares the same continent. We had a red-eye through Dubai from Nairobi and touched down the next day at noon where we collapsed in our hotel beds and spent the first day in Casablanca getting over jet lag and exploring streets farther and farther away from our hotel.

The farther from home your travel, the more drastic the change in local customs. The morning muezzins blaring out from the mosque minarets remind you that Islam is the dominant religion here where 99% of the population touches their head to the carpet 5 times per day, inshallah. Alcohol is taboo. Men are discouraged from wearing shorts and women must cover their shoulders. Still, it’s a small price to pay for entrance to the rich medinas and exquisite riads which are older than our home country is new.

In traveler’s circles, I’d first heard whispers of Morocco’s enigmatic riads decades ago. These homes once owned by wealthy merchants were tucked away in old labyrinths of shops called medinas which were the principal areas of commerce going back thousands of years. Riads all have a stylistic central courtyard padded with comfortable seating areas with rooms usually lining the perimeter rising up 3 floors. Having breakfast on the ground floor while gazing up at the ornaments, carved ceilings and doorways is pretty mesmerizing and makes for good mealtime conversation. It’s easy to see how this region inspired Paul Bowles with its artistry and abundant and cheap ‘kif’ which lead to Morocco becoming a must see stop on the hippy trail of the 1970’s. In every town, we invariably rubbed shoulders with an aged, sun-dried hipster who came decades ago and never left.

Medinas sell wares both new and old. Traditional clothes for men such as the full length robe and ‘djellaba’ for women are juxtaposed next to knock off Gucci imposters and sweat whisking Real Madrid jerseys. The difference here is stark with the younger generation vying for cultural assimilation with nouveau brands and the conservative majority on the other side wanting to preserve their traditions and not let all their years of hard work be corrupted by the values of western infidels. Namely, people like us.

Driving in Morocco

Despite the ticket on our second day here, driving really hasn’t been that hard outside the cities. Inside the cities is another story, and just thinking about driving to our next destination makes me sweat to the point where I’ve grown accustomed to having a spare change of clothes ready for our arrival, as my driving outfit will be predictably soaked. Since the riads are in the medinas where cars are not allowed, we have to drive as close as we can, pay for short term parking, shlep our bags to the riad through the maze, and go back to retrieve our car with the help of our host and finally move our car to overnight parking in a process that takes about an hour from start to finish. Add the incessant horns on tight city roads, locals yelling at you to move your car or not knowing where to go can make you rethink your trip to Morocco. “We came here to relax. Didn’t we?

Chefchouen: The Blue City

Chefchouen is known as the ‘city of blue’ and we never got the same answer as to why the locals paint the alleys of their city this particular hue but it’s striking and makes for an instagrammer’s wet dream on par with Santorini in Greece. One story is that the color took hold when Jews holed up here as refuge from Hitler during world war 2. Another is that the color is fabled to deter mosquitos. I asked our riad manager and he said: “I don’t know, that is the only color we’re permitted to use now.

Typical Moroccan cuisine is breakfast followed by a large lunch and a light dinner of mainly pastries. It wasn’t until our 5th day in the country (and second night in Chefchouen) that we had our first proper dinner at a restaurant as a massive lunch at 2 or 3 in the afternoon would usually satisfy our cravings till breakfast at 8am the next day.

Hammaming it Up

After a morning workout on the roof of our riad and lessons on multiplying fractions, typing and work on Ava’s brochure on the game parks of east Africa, I decided to visit the local sauna or ‘hammam’ in town. The last time I visited a hammam was in Istanbul with my father in law, and I was so violently manhandled that I walked out with a pain that reminded me of a Sunday morning after a rough football game the night before against a much superior team.

The bathhouse here caught the last few years of the Byzantine era and smelled of mildew, sweat and 400 years of exfoliated human skin lining the drains. Whereas the public saunas in Korea you go completely naked and soak in pools of different temperatures, the hammams here are more modest, so you go in your bathing suit and are scrubbed by the docent with an exfoliating brush and just sit and sweat afterwards. The ceiling has a few dimly lit holes letting in light from above, but it’s generally a dark, dank, rudimentary place that has that has remarkably withstood the test of time despite rarely innovating its facilities.

So far, we’ve been able to cobble together enough French, Arabic and Spanish as a family to get around, but the farthest reaches of Morocco will test our ingenuity when English speakers dry up. In the meantime, we’ll be taking those turns slower, and having some baksheesh ready for whatever policeman or delicatessen selling pastry shop lies in wait, ready to surprise us at the next turn.

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Day 102: Kenya-Roads Less Travelled

After a month in Tanzania, we left to explore its northern neighbor, Kenya.

We boarded an ‘Impala Shuttle’ at 7:30 and drove 2 hours to the Namanga border crossing north of Arusha. We had filed for e-visas a month before but were assiduously checked by the agents to make sure we had yellow fever vaccinations before entering. The drive from there to Nairobi was another 3 hours and soon after arriving and grabbing an Uber, we were at our friend Kent’s house for two nights of reminiscing of our times in Korea, fast internet and washing a weeks worth of dirty clothes.

Lake Nakuru National Park

We were met by our tour company and guide named ‘Simon’ who drove us 5 hours west to lake Nakuru National Park. The parks in Kenya were more spread out, which meant longer drives with stops in dusty frontier towns for soupçons along the way. Lake Nakuru was by far the most lush park we had ever visited as it bordered a lake which shares its namesake. The highlight of Nakuru was that we finally got to see rhinos, (last of the ‘big 5’), and both white and black ones at that. Black rhinos are critically endangered and their numbers are in the dozens in lake Nakuru. More solitary and skittish than their white sub-species counterparts, we spied one amidst a group of water buffalos down by the water’s edge. We were lucky to get close to a small family of white rhinos and Ava finally saw her spirit animal in the wild for the first time, and planted the seed of her next writing piece; a persuasive essay on rhino preservation.

As we toured the national parks, the parks interpretive areas announced any and everything they were doing to protect its inhabitants and thus, your entrance fee was being well spent. In the case of the more vulnerable and extremely endangered species, displays in multiple parks mentioned that species were going extinct due to ‘conflicts with humans’. The park borders in Kenya were more porous, and because of this animals can enter and exit the park areas with relative ease. Unfortunately, these animals can mix and mingle with local farmers crops and carnivores can take down cows and goats if given the opportunity. In this sense, these endangered animals are seen by locals as ‘pests’ as elephants eat the fruit from their orchards and lions and hyenas eat their livestock. When this happens (as highlighted in the netflix documentary: ‘The Ivory Game‘) local farmers shoot the perpetrating beast outside the park area and claim ‘self defense’ which garners sympathy from local chieftains, tribal elders and government municipalities. With no fear of prosecution, the farmers can then sell the carcass to the highest bidder on the black market. Even though this is not ‘poaching’ per se, it creates an environment that allows the trafficking of endangered animals parts to flourish and incentivizes local farmers to encroach on park lands and bring their herds close to park borders. The payout is more than they make in a year.

Masai Mara National Park

At a rest stop the next day, we met our new safari companions: a solo Italian, a British world traveller and a pair of Germans who were doing east Africa, and we drove southwest to the Masai Mara. By now, we were experts in animal identification and Ava was schooling the adults on how to distinguish a ‘Grant’s Gazelle’ from a ‘Thompson’s Gazelle’ and tell a male giraffe from a female one.

The beauty of Masai Mara national park can’t be put into words, and if there is one park in east Africa you should visit, this is it. Whereas the Serengeti in Tanzania is flat and dry, the ‘Mara’ is fields upon fields of green rolling with plateaus and hills rising up all around you. Glancing in any direction, you’ll see herds of hundreds of wildebeest, groups of elephants and dozens of water buffalo in every direction. The amount and variety of herbivores was off the charts and we saw numerous new species such as Topis, Hartebeest, and huge groups of Elands. This in turn, means the predators are well fed and we saw many of the big cats, kettles of vultures picking apart carcasses, and skeletons everywhere.

By far, the most interesting scene in Masai Mara was the infamous Mara river. The Mara river is one of the river crossings that animals endure as they move from drier pastures in Tanzania to greener ones in Kenya as part of the ‘great migration’. If you’ve ever seen National Geographic documentaries of animals crossing crocodile infested waters, this is the place. When we arrived, there was a herd of 300 wildebeest on the Kenyan side and we drove to the rivers edge hoping for a glimpse of the carnage if the herd made a move. After waiting nearly an hour, we saw only a small group of zebras make the crossing and the crocs were too slow in getting there. Onto live another day.

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Cruising around lake Naivasha.

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Hells Gate National Park

After a boat tour around lake Naivasha to see the waterfowl we went to Hells Gate national park to see the volcanic monuments. Unfortunately, our trip to Hells Gate was interrupted by local protesters who set up a barricade across the road of burning tires to protest the poor road conditions and encourage the government to build better infrastructure. With rocks being thrown and police called in with tear gas, we holed up in a local restaurant to let the situation de-escalate. After a few hours and no signs of abating we drove to Amboseli National park, just near the Tanzanian border.

Amboseli National Park

The beauty of Amboseli is that mount Kilimanjaro sits just over the border to the south in Tanzania, making for stunning backdrop. Although it didn’t have the big cats that Masai Mara had, we had many unique moments such as close encounters with a young zebra calf and the closest viewing of warthogs and ostriches we’ve had in our 5 weeks in Kenya and Tanzania. I taught Ava about the rock cycle and after a few hours she could identify basalt, granite, obsidian and knew the conditions that caused each to form.

Morning game drive in Amboseli with Kilimanjaro in the distance.

A friend of mine once told me that you ‘leave a little bit of your heart in Africa‘. Being back here after my first trip 14 years ago, I’m still astounded by the simplicity and complexity of such a vast, beautiful and apparent ecosystem and felt so grateful that our daughter could see it for herself. Our last afternoon in the park, I sketched the sunset with Kilimanjaro in the distance and wondered for which animals will this sunset be their last. Tomorrow, old age or predation will cause their sun to set permanently and return their body to the earth in the ongoing circle of life.

We humans are not much different. We’re all just a phone call, diagnosis, accident, break-up or tragedy away from a life altering event that reminds us that life is fragile, time is precious and we’re all just travelers passing through time whose choices are half chance. One day, you’re plugging along as usual and the next day your life is forever different as a member of your herd dies in front of you and you can do nothing to stop it. Somedays you’re the lion, somedays you’re the gazelle. Somedays you beat your chest proudly like the mountain gorilla, and other days you recoil in unimaginable grief at the loss of your child.

That evening, we had a glorious drunk and talked as a big group into the night on our last night together. Kennith, a Costa Rican and I wrestled a dead tree to the fire pit and got a fire going on our first try while Hanna, the Brit, got some marshmallows at the rest stop and Ava schooled the adults in the fine art of marshmallow roasting. The whisky came out and a portable JBL speaker took turns filling the air with our music playlists. People that woke up to complain about the noise soon joined the party and the young bucks stayed up till 3:00 am putting constellations to bed and tracing new ones that crept up east from the horizon.

Earlier that day, I caught Lisa crying.

What’s wrong?” I asked.

I will miss this place so much. I hope that Ava brings her children here someday and sees the same things as we are seeing now.

By now, Ava took notice and asked the both of us: “Why did you want to bring me here?

Thinking that Tanne asked the same thing of Denys over a hundred years ago, I chose my words carefully:

Well kiddo, we wanted to bring you to east Africa to see it, before…..

Before what?” She asked.

Before it’s gone

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Day 70: Tanzania Part 1- Dar Es Salaam

Arriving at Julius Nyerere International airport at 2:00 in the morning announced we had made it to the great continent.

Whereas in Europe where you can time your watch by the train schedule, the pace at which how and when things get done in Africa changes largely by the ebb and tide of people’s moods and the time of day. We waited nearly an hour and half to get our visas which were plagued first by the visa official not giving us a receipt for which to pay, than getting sent back to him and then paying, but then us getting harangued for not paying the right amount then the chief coming to chew everyone out in Swahili and everyone pointing their fingers at one another. TIA. This is Africa.

On one of our the last nights in Africa a few years ago, I was tasked with a job that bordered on human trafficking. A girl had drank too much on a cruise in Zambia and we had to get her back over the border to Victoria falls in Zimbabwe where we were staying.

This is never going to work Ed.” I told my friend as we hoisted her up slinging an arm over each of our shoulders.

Well, we have to G, we don’t have anyplace to stay here.” He said.

Ed, we’re taking her across an international border crossing and she’s passed out. Practically comatose. Any sensible border agent would not condone taking someone against their will across the border. “

It will be fine. Don’t worry

We carried our friend Celine with all three of our passports in hand to the border crossing at 1:00 am. I thought the honest approach would be best:

Good evening officers, our friend has had too much to drink and we’re just trying to get her home. We have her passport.

They looked at her, then each other, then me, smiled and waved us though. “Eet hoppens all de time.” They replied as we shuffled past. That was the end of it. TIA.

Getting a Feel of Dar

The smells of Africa remind me of Southeast Asia. It’s perpetually hot, yet a cooling rain is not far off, or has left its mark as damp ground from the night before. You catch aromas of leaves being burned somewhere nearby and delicious curries float in on the breeze. Dar es Salaam is the largest trading port in east Africa and has been that way for centuries so it had shades from south and south east Asia from all the movement over the ages. Curries are a common fare.

The thing that surprised me the most upon arrival were all the Maasai men walking around town. I expected them to be endemic to northern Tanzania, but I learned that many of them percolated down in the south of the country looking for better opportunities while still holding on to their cultural identity. The first veneer is the traditional robe or ‘shukas’ whose color can mean many different things. Red is the most typical color in the pattern which symbolizes blood, courage and strength but hues of orange (hospitality) and green (land and nourishment) are also popular. Every man also carries a knife called a ‘Seme’ which is smaller than a machete but used for everyday tasks such as clearing brush and whatever challenges life throw their way.

A Maasai man. Men wearing traditional Masai dress are found all over Tanzania.

After the airport coteries had their way with us, we arrived at the house of our friends Tina and Bill at 5:00 in the morning just before they had to go to work. After catching up and a few hours sleep we started to explore.

Sunset over the Indian Ocean

Mixing with the Glitterati

We went for sundowners at the ‘Yacht Club‘ which was perched atop a cliff and spilled down to a beautiful beach with dhows and catamarans for rent for members. The Yacht Club was like a country club or golf membership that allowed adults to talk over cocktails and not worry how long their kids were gone or where they were. Our friends were in the last steps of securing their membership by way of sponsorships and signatures from dignitaries within the club who had titles such as ‘Commodore’, ‘Vice President’ and ‘The Grand Poo-bah’.

Dinner was Ethiopian which is a one of our favorites. Eating the most succulent fish and red lentil curries without utensils is truly one of the joys of African cuisine. Tomorrow we’d head to the ferry port to take us to Zanzibar with bellies full of curry and wanting nothing more than to pass on our love of the continent to our little girl whose voyage is just beginning.

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Day 50: Sampling Intercourse in Vienna

Are you ready for intercourse?” The waitress asked me.

Beg your pardon?” I kindly asked back.

Intercourse. Is your family ready for intercourse?

I’m sorry, we didn’t think this restaurant was that kind of place.” I said while protectively eyeing my wife and daughter and shooting glimpses towards the bushes to see if I was on candid camera.

Intercourse.” She said. “The space between dishes so you can sit, talk, drink and digest.”

Oh yes! Intercourse. Of course.” I replied. “Yes, our family will have intercourse now.” That’s Vienna for you.

That’s the fun thing about traveling, you never know which funny custom or lost in translation moment you’ll find yourself in. Many brazen thrill seekers actually search out these perilous moments and some are psychotic enough to voluntarily be chased by bulls in Pamplona, swim naked in the freezing waters of northern Russia, or fight with live fireworks in Chios, Greece. Some of these traditions are engrained in religious or holiday events; such as whipping women with willow branches on eastern Sunday in the Czech Republic, or the fact that Santa comes to visit families on Christmas not with reindeers, but 6-8 black men in the Netherlands. No shit.

Some seem like they were born out of a bet instigated by heavy drinking. How else can you explain that men in Gloucester, England race down the hill to catch rolling cheeses before their peers or that Finland has an annual ‘wife carrying championship’. “Well Sven.” I imagined one Finn saying to another years ago, “You carried you wife faster than me THIS time, but I will train and beat you next year. Now let’s go soak in the sauna, my back is killing me.” Just like that- a cultural tradition is born. All because Sven’s competitor needed a rematch.

Landing in Vienna

We arrived in Vienna early in the afternoon. We checked into the Hilton Danube which was a real treat as we’ve been staying in a string of Airbnbs which, over time, can be a little lonely. At the Hilton Danube, we mixed and mingled with other guests which we haven’t done in a while. Our first afternoon, Lisa chatted up a couple of women who were taking a 10 day trip across eastern Europe. The next morning by the pool I met a woman whose family was following F1 (formula one) races across Europe. The concept of ‘time‘ came up a lot as we shared our stories with one another. “How do you have the time to do such a trip?” we’re commonly asked.

“In your final moments, you realize that ‘time’ is more valuable than money”

In the end, it’s time that kills us. On our deathbeds, we realize, ‘Our time has come‘ or ‘We’re out of time‘ or ‘My time is up.” I wish, I wish, I wish. I wish I had more time to do this, or that, and now, that time is no more and it has simply run out. I think most people, when looking back on their lives, in those final moments realize that ‘time’ is more valuable than money. You can’t take money with you, and it’s impossible to enjoy without time. More time. I wish. If only. For some, ‘If only‘ becomes a state of mind that keeps them from transforming and moving forward and firmly rooted in who they were, and never who they could be. Poor bastards.

There’s a certain air about rich people at a high class resort. A sort of pomp around which their lives revolve around, and it becomes clear which way the wind blows for them even after a short conversation. However, after I let the cat out of the bag on our world tour, I’m often awed at how lecherously the richest of people can cotton to the dreams of a middle class family of teachers to whom time is no subject. “I wish I had time to do that.” They often say ruefully, realizing the true currency of the world.

Highlights of Vienna

  • Cafe Central: This institution has been serving the likes of Leon Trotsky and Sigmund Freud and sponsoring their conversations since 1876. Looking up at the intricately painted vaulted ceilings one can’t help but wonder what conversations shook out of this place and onto paper as text and arguments in politics which have influenced millions. The apple strudel is to die for.
Deserts at ‘Cafe Central’
  • Belvedere Museum: The gardens alone make it worth the trip alone, but works by Rodin, Van Gogh and Gustav Klimt make it special. See Klimt’s ‘The Kiss‘ but don’t neglect the ‘Self Portrait‘ by Maria Lassnig, and ‘Ball Head‘ by Mara Mattischka in the lower Belvedere for some serious existential introspection.
  • St. Stephen’s Basilica: If you’ve been through eastern Europe, it’s easy to get a little ‘churched out’. Of course every city has an old town, central square and a church spire towering over the surrounding buildings to signify who runs the show. Still, St. Stephen’s Basilica interior and facade is magnificent and only rivaled by ‘La Sagrada Familia‘ in Barcelona, and ‘Westminster Abbey‘ in London. Although you’re more assured to find more tourists here than genuflected devotees, make sure to leave a monetary donation to help your chances of getting into heaven.
  • Walking Streets: Add ‘Graben’ and ‘Karntner‘ streets to your walking path you’ll have no shortage of eye candy for your city stroll. Pop into bars to witness the two national pastimes, (drinking and smoking) and watch the world go by.
Hilton Hotels

Ava’s Narrative Fiction Story Finishes with ‘Pro Writing Aid’

After weeks of tinkering and feedback, Ava finally finished her narrative essay which she started in Riga which seems like years ago. She’ll turn the final draft into a digital story with visual and sound effects while we’re in Budapest but I was happy she finished it so we could move on to other things.

Editing a document with ‘Pro Writing Aid’

We used ‘Pro writing aid‘ to smooth out grammar and spelling issues and ‘pro writing aid’ does this well. After uploading your document the program looks for grammar, style and spelling issues with suggestions. It made revising a snap. “It’s a lot like grammarly” Ava said.

Over dinner one evening, after enjoying burrata cheese and an artichoke salad I told the waiter:

We’ll have intercourse now.”

Excuse me?” the waiter said.

Intercourse. Uh, you know, the space between meals.

Oh yes. Not many tourists are familiar with that term. It’s an old time expression.

Those are our favorite kind. Do you have any more you can teach us?

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Day 48: The Czech Republic

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Day 48: The Czech Republic

By the time we arrived in the gothic capital of Prague, it was late and the sun was going down over the Jiraskuv bridge. Bridges cross the Vltava river every few hundred meters or so, but the crown jewel is Charles Bridge which is shut off from cars and open only to pedestrians and statues that adorn the ramparts.

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Fun day exploring #Prague castle and Charles Bridge.

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Prague is one of the historic ‘old towns’ in Europe, and life comes alive here at night. The brew pubs (some of the best in the world) fill up with patrons and spill out onto the street when stools are scarce. Parks fill up with groups huddled onto park benches and get louder into the night like in Lisbon. Sadly, the days of Prague being a ‘cheap’ destination are gone, but it’s still better than most of the big cities Westward. There are more tourists in Prague than any other city we have visited thus far.

The strangest thing in Prague are the ‘minimarts’ and christ almighty are there a lot of them. Here, the minimarts sell three things: brass knuckles, absinthe and hemp products, and they’re almost exclusively run by Vietnamese people hailing from Hanoi. Our Airbnb was in little Asia so we had a number of Korean and Vietnamese run food marts that we could engage and reminisce about our time in the ‘old country’. The Koreans were more than affable and the conversations went like this:

You lived in Korea! Where?” Asked the shop owners.

Pangyo. Just south of Seoul. We lived there for 4 years.”

I never meet non-Korean Koreans here in Prague. I can give you a discount if you’d like.” which we were typically greeted with at check out. After a few phrases in Korean dialect, we knew we made a friend for life. The Vietnamese, not so much:

Are you from Hanoi?” I asked in Viet at the checkout counter.

Yes.” They’d usually reply.

I used to live in Saigon. For 9 years.

Um, ok. Would you like a bag?

Trying to wrap my head around the disparity of kinship of my Asian brothers, I can only assume that Czechs are preparing to defend themselves against the onslaught of the zombie apocalypse and are hoping the minimarts will be their essential survival supply bastions. I mean, really. What other scenarios in life would implore you to buy brass knuckles and a bong at the same time? And who the hell drinks absinthe?

Screencast for Avigail’s Story: Second Draft

We’ve been using the writers workshop model with ipsative feedback to guide Ava through her narrative writing piece. Back in Riga, she started a draft of a girl that was separated from her parents during WW2, inspired by our visit to the Jewish Ghetto. Ava had some good ideas, but she didn’t transition well from topic to topic so I used screencasts to give her reviewable feedback using ‘Screencastify’.

Screencasts are just video recordings (typically with voiceovers) that people use for instructional or informational purposes. I’ve also had students use screencasts using quicktime for movies and digital stories, but I learned a handy way of using the ‘Screencastify’ chrome add on to give video feedback which saves time writing comments in the margins digitally, or by hand. Here’s how it works:

Install the ‘Screencastify‘ app on your chrome browser. From here, you activate the desktop or screen recorder and can choose to embed the webcam of yourself talking. (If I was better looking, I would. But as I’m bald and bearded, I look like a penis with a face and kindly opt out) Here’s the cool thing- after you finish the recording, you upload it to youtube (one of the options that ‘Screencastify’ offers) and upload it as an ‘unlisted’ video and add the link as a direct comment.

Adding a direct comment with an unlisted video for the student.

Unlisted videos can only be seen by those with the link, so in my youtube dashboard, I can see how many times Ava has looked at my screencast and I don’t have to repeat myself over and over. There is nothing more deflating for teachers than spending countless hours on giving student feedback and then not having the student read or act on it.

The unlisted screencast shows 2 views.
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South to Cesky Krumlov

After three days in Prague, we took a bus down to Cesky Krumlov, a small UNESCO town near the Austrian German border. The whole town looked like it was born out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale- meandering cobble stone streets lined with old pensions and restaurants adorning the city.

The next morning, I went on an early morning walk and got some nice drone footage before the tourist buses came at 10ish. By then, the city was flooded with German, American, Korean and Chinese tourists walking around with their selfie sticks permanently jutted out in front them, eager to document every second of their visit.

For some reason people, people in Cesky Krumlov (when seeing me coming down the street or alleyway) gave me a wider berth than usual time and time again. I guess they do have reason to be suspicious. I’m six foot six, two hundred and sixty pounds, bald, bearded, tattooed and when I’m wearing sunglasses and pursed lips I look like I could kill an entire family. If I’m ever arrested and put in a police line up, I’m sure I’d be singled out from my looks alone and would simply put up my hands up to save time. I’d announce: “It was me. I did it. Let’s move on shall we?

Nevertheless, we had a full day of fun. In the morning after Ava’s school work, we visited the castle and nearby gardens followed by lunch at Krcma Satlava. Satlava is an institution in Cesky and after eating here, you’ll find out why. They have a massive grill and slow roast tenderloin, chicken, potato pancakes and pork roast served up with sauerkraut and potatoes so succulent, you’ll start eyeing long term rentals when you stagger out. The local beer is a nice chaser to the horseradish and mustard garnished morsels and for entertainment you can enjoy watching the other patrons recording their dishes on video. It’s a slice of heaven for the senile.

After a post lunch gastronomic siesta, we went river rafting. We found a company that allowed us to take a raft with no supervision or helmets out on the river for 2 hours for only forty-five dollars. To be out in nature was curative after the crazy hedonism of city hopping for the last month. We spent most of our time swimming, laughing or laying back on the raft looking up at the sky and wondering why life can’t always follow a pace like this.

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Day 43: Poland Part 3-Just One More Step…

I’m having a Samwise Gamgee moment.

Samwise was Frodo’s companion during the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy who accompanied him to Mordor to cast the ring into Mount Doom. In the first movie: ‘Fellowship of the Ring‘ the two leave the safety of the Shire and there is the moment wherein Sam realizes that if he takes just ‘one more step‘ he’ll be farther than he ever has from his home.

Today was that day for us. As our fellow schoolteachers announce their trips home by way of parabolic arcs via facebook updates, we are boarding a bus for Prague from Wroclaw and continuing on. Today marks the longest stretch that we’ve ever traveled in our lives.

I thought that we’d be worn out by now. By the end of the summer, we’re usually ready to go back to work, see old friends, swap stories and get back into our routines but for us, the trip has still only really begun. We are nearing the end of our two month swath through eastern Europe (our first region) which will culminate in Budapest for 2 weeks with our good friends the Macs. I’ve been surprised at how good we feel and don’t seemed to be plagued by exhaustion.

Accredited Online TEFL

The Golden Age of Travel is Now

Ian Harvey recently wrote that the so called ‘Golden Age’ of travel (specifically air travel) is over. He referred to the time when legroom was spacious and passengers were given cocktails before take off and dressed their best before boarding a flight. Adjusted for inflation, even short hop tickets were over a thousand dollars, but the lap of luxury made it worthwhile. Sadly, he says, those ‘good times’ are over.

I disagree. Travel now is easier than it’s ever been- in my lifetime at least. I remember hauling huge backpacks around Southeast Asia, staggering into towns with a lonely planet guidebook in hand, lucky to find a youth hostel that had a bed for us. Most places had phone numbers, but we had no way to call them. Other places (if any) had websites as the internet was in its infancy. Fast forward to now and the interconnectivity of the world has made travel planning a snap. It’s sobering to realize how ‘easy’ we have it with:

  • Numerous websites (Hotels.com, Booking.com) that not only book accommodation for you but compare prices and give you member rewards such as free nights and free cancellation.
  • Google maps and Skyscanner which compare airline ticket prices and apps like ‘Hopper’ that monitor prices changes. Those with ‘the Force’ wield VPNs like Jedis and know to buy mid week and 4 months out. Budget airlines jockey for our dollars making low cost trips cheaper than buses or trains.
  • Credit cards that reward points just through purchasing everyday items and can be applied to free tickets or class upgrades.
  • Mapping tools such as Apple and Google maps which can save landmarks, restaurants, and estimate walking and driving distances. They can even tell you which busses and trains to take to your location. 
  • Apps like trip advisor that crowdsource customer reviews to get an unbiased recommendation on a museum, eatery or bar so you don’t waste your ‘meal out’ of the day. 
  • Transportation apps for the electronic scooter revolution or ride sharing apps like Lyft and Uber to save you from getting price gouged by unscrupulous taxi drivers. 

20 years ago, these applications started debuting on the market. Now, they’re mainstream. The dizzying pace of innovation has inadvertently created a game of ‘catch up’ as we try to adapt to the ever changing world around us. It’s certainly made travel easier.

As we amble into the Czech Republic, here is a highlights video from Poland over the last two weeks. In the meantime, we’ll be keeping our eyes out for app ideas to help assuage the grief and time suck of not having everything instantly.

The American dream lives on.

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Day 34: Poland Part 1-Eastern Delights

The day we arrived in Warsaw, one of the biggest music legends in the world was playing at the PGE Narodowy coliseum.

I would not have normally gone to see Jon Bon Jovi, but with standing arena tickets costing only $40, we had to do it. Bon Jovi dominated the romantic rock genre since he started in 1983 and has been riding it strong ever since, without too many trips to rehab or scandals as rock stars are known for. As many archetypes of the classic rock heyday age into playing casinos or second tier rock concerts, Bon Jovi has been playing to sold out arenas (like they did a few nights ago) by starting with songs off their new album ‘This House is Not for Sale‘ and then launching in their classics causing such a rise from the audience that menopausal women started ovulating.

I remember in the 5th grade when, while in gym class, Rusty Henderson pulled out a cassette tape of Bon Jovi’s ‘Slippery When Wet‘ and we gazed, sitting transfixed on the album cover while thinking we were looking at soft porn for the first time in our lives. Since then, rocking out to ‘You Give Love a Bad Name‘ and ‘Living on a Prayer‘ has been a rite of passage for people around the world. Even though Jon can’t hit the high notes of 30 years ago, his band carried the harmonies, giving him time for the requisite hip shakes, which every time, released more eggs from menopausal moms.

Exploring Warsaw

Since we went to bed at 2:00 am after the concert, we had a bit of a sleep-in before exploring Warsaw. Poland’s capital city blends history with modernity. Unlike the medieval towns that we passed through in the baltic countries, Warsaw has embraced new construction and high rise development without the cumbersome resolutions of being a UNESCO heritage site.

The Old Town

The old town has had quite the renaissance since the war. We saw black and white pictures of the city in 1945 and most of it was destroyed with the bombings with nothing more than a few empty shells of buildings and piles of rubble. Since then, they’ve rebuilt buildings to a new shade of the former grandeur.

The Uprising Museum

One night, we watched ‘The Zookeepers Wife’ which chronicled the story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski who sheltered 300 jews in their zoo right under the watchful eyes of the nazis. Ava is not typically into dramas, but the story mesmerized her and helped her finish the first draft of her narrative essay on ‘survival’. The Warsaw uprising was a last ditch effort of citizens in Warsaw to rebuff the nazi occupation by launching a guerrilla offensive to liberate the city. The old Warsaw Ghetto has been destroyed and only a few dilapidated brick walls remain with a memorial to its sad history.

The museum is a testament to this event. The interior is made to resemble a city overrun with strife. It’s dimly lit. Flood lights passing overhead. Exhibits look like fortifications with propaganda posters and war memorabilia.

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The Nicholas Copernicus Museum

When I heard about the Nicolas Copernicus museum, I immediately started front loading content about the Polish astronomer so Ava would be familiar with his work. Copernicus wrote his seminal work on the revolution of earth around the sun just months before his death which would be instrumental to Galileo years later that was begrudgingly accepted by the public (and eventually the church) who denounced them as heretical. We used ‘Quizlet‘ to introduce new terminology (See below) and Insert Learning to turn web pages into lessons.

Quizlet allows teacher to use flashcards or build their own to build vocabulary.
A lesson with ‘Insert Learning’. Dashboard on the right can highlight words, or insert discussions or questions for students.

Ironically, the Nicholas Copernius Museum was less about the man and his life and more about hands on experiments and activities that children can do for hours, which, for the children, is awesome. As a former teacher who has taken hundreds of students to museums, this might just be the most interactive museum in the world. We had to drag our child away.

Onto Gdansk

On Tuesday, we took at 3 hour train ride to Gdansk on the northeast coast. We met our Airbnb host, Pawel, who introduced us to local lingo by berating my English and my inability to correctly identify our meeting place.

I’ve had hundreds of other guests and you’re the first not to come to the building!” Pawel said.

You see that?” I said pointing. “That is a building, so is that, and that. Building can mean many things and is very vague.” I replied.

Yes, but we call where we live a building.

How am I supposed to know what locals call a building? The train station is also a building, which I associate with the impersonal description of not being a ‘home’ and where I thought you said you would meet us.

Fearing I might tarnish his 5 star average review rating, he let it go and walked us up to our spacious one bedroom that had a big enough living room, 2 TVs and a washing machine of which we were in desperate need.

Gdansk is beyond charming. Old cobblestone streets and brew pubs make it cozy, intimate and fun. Street musicians playing classical to jazz to swing hang out in the tunnels, utilizing the acoustics for more ‘pop’. The colorful building facades stand up like Crayola crayons and the quay is the heart and soul of town inviting river cruises, boat rentals and rubber-neckers to watch it all go by.

Since we got Ava’s Bon Jovi concert t-shirt washed (which she wore every day we were in Warsaw) it’s bound to make an appearance for our train trip tomorrow back down to Krakow. By the way, ‘Ovulating Menopausal Women‘ would be a great name for a rock band.

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