Before we got Can Knot Agree (CKA) in 2021, we did some research into galley options to think about a course of action we wanted to follow once we had our own boat & soon decided that we wanted to go electric & would likely remove the propane. We didn’t get to the point of full removal of all propane items on CKA, but we did manage to become no longer reliant on using any of those items & learned a lot though the process.
For those who don’t know, propane is very popular on sailboats, in part because you don’t need any electricity to run a propane stove. I also have a theory that it has something to do with it being cheaper to throw in a propane stove these days & call it done.
Using propane & doing short sailing trips isn’t too much of an issue, but when you get into longer distanced sailing & travel from place to place, it can get a little tricky. Adapters can differ between islands/ countries & finding places to refill can be an adventure in itself. Even here in Canada it has been a bit tricky for us, requiring a car each time we have had to have our little 5lb bottle refilled, which also helped in our choice to go electric. Yes, we really are looking for an easy ride. 😂
On CKA, we installed 250 Watts of solar panels and 200 Ah of lithium batteries as storage and a 2000W inverter. This allowed us to charge laptops and phones, or run either the toaster oven, kettle or induction cook top at once. We even managed proof of concept with running a Starlink dish & this past season added a little rice cooker, very important for sushi making, as I like to do.
Being able to generate our own power & workout ways to manage our power consumption to make it work, has been a game changer for us & is a big part of why we are now getting ready to set out on the adventures we have planned. Now, armed with some real time experiences & Geoff’s talent to execute the plan, we have been working on ways to get the new boat up & running too.
Working on refitting the boat in Martinique has not been an insignificant task to date though & not just because of distance. There have been some issues in finding ways to get some items over to Martinique, or even a way to get them to several of the islands in the chain, which has been frustrating, but that is life on the islands too, so you just have to work with it. A big component we need, is the lithium batteries. Despite a lot of effort over the last few months, it seems the ones that we need (that fit & have the specs we want), are unable to get to us in that part of the world.
However, it hasn’t all been bad, my trip to Martinique at the end of August, means that we now have most of the 110V kitchen appliances that we want to use on the boat already, including a little oven, induction cooktop & our rice cooker. Not to mention Starlink is sorted as well (we just need to mount it).
Solar panels we are able to source there & will hook up to the current lead battery bank already on the boat, not the most efficient, but it will do for now.
Given issues to secure some things required, like the lithium batteries, our current plan is perhaps take a trip up to the US coast, to acquire & install there, then continue on our way. Not exactly the plan we had in mind originally, but it is a viable solution. Timing of that trip will dependent on a lot of factors though & as we don’t tend to rush, it might be a while.
Something that I am really passionate about, besides finding ways to include some of my warped sense of humour into a conversation, is the environment.
I truly believe that we all have an impact on the world by the decisions we make in life. Every little choice has an effect in some way, maybe it isn’t noticed immediately, but over time it adds up.
When you consider that there are over 8 billion people in the world (According to UN estimates, as of 2023) it’s hard to ignore the reality that there are a lot of people screwing up the planet to varying degrees.
We are not what I consider to be hardcore environmental warriors, but we do try to made informed decisions.
Years ago, I tried to go hardcore and have no plastic at all & it sucked! Not because I didn’t want us to reduce plastic, but I became overwhelmed with all the plastic I was trying to go cold turkey on. Groceries are something we all need to get, and plastic wrapped food is rife. Two weeks in I was on the verge of a breakdown. I discovered my “vague” plan, really was not going to cut it. You can have the most wonderful cloth bags (for produce and groceries in general), but if most of the grocery options in your area do not afford one the ability to buy items without packaging, then you are SOL. Not to mention often buying loose produce is often more expensive. Guess it’s harder to hide those dodgy half rotten oranges or avocados when they’re loose, so you should pay extra for that privilege. 😂
Several years later, we are still improving. I try to buy items with less or no plastic where possible, but we are not perfect, and it is often hard to avoid. I have actually found that being more aware & conscientious about what we procure & bring into our home has helped a lot in our reduction of plastic, we aren’t zero plastic, but we bring in a lot less than we used to. A lot of our travel has helped motivate us as well. Seeing mounds of garbage on the streets or dump truck going past, makes one realise how much a bit here & a bit there, can really add up. A reduction is better than doing nothing at all & does add up.
Getting the rest of the family on board more, helped us a lot with our progress too. As with anything when you work as a more unified group, movement in the direction you desire is easier to achieve. Even letting friends know that we are trying to manage our plastic consumption, has helped us to reduce our plastic waste, and often they too tell us about new things that they have discovered to help in plastic reduction, which further encourages us & I know that us sharing our experiences has helped encourage others too.
Plastic is not just found in food wrapping, it’s also in clothes too. It’s incredibly hard to find clothing without large amounts of polyester in them, if not 100% polyester. I actually don’t buy anything without looking at the label or asking questions now. My need to read food labels all the time due to anaphylactic allergies has proven to be a useful skills in other areas – hurrah!
Of late, I have seen items being branded as being made from “sustainable cotton”, but again contain a good deal of polyester in them. It’s a great idea to recycle it, but with clothing, when you wash anything with plastic in it, it releases micro plastics into the environment. this is actually something that we are trying to avoid, especially with more time on the water. Our choice has been NOT to buy or obtain items of clothing containing plastic where we can.
It isn’t the easiest thing to do though, but worth it I think. Recently, we had to get some new items of clothing that are better suited to warmer climates, both new & 2nd hand. It became a bit of a game for all of us to find clothes that were either 100% natural fibres or at least 98% natural. They do exist, but it was definitely a challenging and eye opening experience for the rest of the family, as to how hard it can be. Buying second hand you also discover how many people cut the tags off too… which really sucks.
Of course you can get into other areas like slave labour etc when buying items & I try to do my due diligence there, but freely admit I have likely slipped up on some purchases, just like I have with plastic packing with other items bought. For us there has been a focus on learning & trying to make more informed decisions going forward, not about berating every failure you have along the way, because if you do that, you will never go forward & that would be really unfortunate.
I really wish that we didn’t live in a world where money meant more than the human and environmental impacts, but that isn’t the reality… yet. I am a hopeful optimistic on that front, especially for my kids.
You don’t need to tread the same path as everyone else around you. Change only happens when we speak up & do things that matter. People DO take notice when enough speak up, which is why you will see little posts that relate to the environment sprinkled within this blog from time to time. I hope that it encourages more to speak up, and think about new ways to help the environment, which will benefit us all.
After much procrastination, and a push from a few people, we finally decided to start a Facebook page to share our adventures via, to compliment Instagram & blog posts here on our website.
Covid, as crappy as it was, really did give us the push that we needed to get on with things & since then we have been working pretty hard to try to get all our ducks in a row to make things happen. Very shortly, we will travel for an extended period of time, whilst continuing to home/ worldschool the kids, create art & work, all at the same time, for no other reason than that we want to.
Those who already know us, know that we like to do a lot of that already, but this time we are actually going to make more of an effort to share more of what we’re up to, and anything else we feel like sharing, with those that are interested.
This doesn’t mean that we are suddenly going to start posting polished posts on any of our social, that just isn’t our style. Rest assured, we will still poke fun at some of the misadventures we have, because life is pretty boring if you can’t have a laugh.
Feel free to like & follow as desired & of course share if you would like to, this isn’t an exclusive club, where only the chosen can enjoy some horrible humour. We like to spread the pain around.
With time & some encouragement, you might even get to experience the writing styles of the rest of the family too, at least that is my hope, for all your sakes.
Note: links to FB & IG show up as underlined text throughout this post for anyone curious. You can also click the icons off to the right of this post which link back to both of our Instagram & Facebook accounts. Whilst you are over that way, if you look just below the icons, you will see that you can also enter your email address & click submit to receive notifications when we post something new too, if you really want to live dangerously.
We have been back for almost 5 months now. Our European trip was amazing & encouraged us to continue with our plan to travel some more. Travelling for the time that we did & the manner in which we did, was a bit of a test as to how to manage travelling longer term with two kids in tow. Both G & I have backpacked for months at a time, but travelling with kids requires a little more thought.
For those who haven’t follow our adventures on IG, we travelled for 5 months across Europe, visiting Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Austria, Denmark, Turkey, and the UK (very little in that list is actually in order). It was an amazing trip, only made possible as we were working & home/ worldschooling the kids at the same time. In terms of accomodation, there were a couple of overnights in a hotel & a couple of short visits with family & friends, but mostly it was Airbnb’s.
We all really liked the pace that working at the same time forced us to adopt, we didn’t rush from place to place & tended not to jump around every week or so, although there were a few short jumps in there. It was far more relaxing for the ability to build a base & get to know the area & that also helped to make the whole experience easier on the kids as well too.
Our stays in Airbnb’s were great & helped to keep costs down, as opposed to if we had stayed in hotels too. Some of our requirements for Airbnb’s were to have the ability to cook & wash (washing machine), as well as internet access. Internet access was required by us to work & for the kids to do some of their school work. A washing machine was part of what helped us to bring so little. I brought laundry sheets & somehow managed to have enough for the whole trip, which was amazing good fortune. Having kitchens & the ability to cook helped a lot, as I have a long list of allergies, so being able to prepare food, is a necessity wherever we travel.
When we would arrive at our new destination, one of the first things we would do after checking out the facilities where we were staying (and what we had to work with), was to check out the food situation. I would book places that listed grocery stores nearby, as walking was out preferred option to having to potentially take public transport. It was always a bit of an adventure to workout where exactly some of those places were & what they had. We would get food at small grocery stores, fruit & veg markets, bakeries & butchers. I brought some reusable bags with us, both to carry larger amounts of food in & for produce, including a bread bag, which helped a lot.
We really appreciated the places we stayed at that had more than just the bare minimum in terms of kitchen facilities. Having a few spices and oil was always wonderful to have. Our Airbnb’s in Zadar, Athens, (first one) in London & The Cotswolds were so well stocked in terms of dishes & other little comforts that we could cook anything we wanted to, which was a welcome surprise. To be able to bake & cook roast dinners was such a treat. It would be nice if that was more of the norm, but I get the feeling that people sometimes steal things or there is a worry that things will go missing, which results in less being offered, which is a shame.
We tried not to carry a lot, only bringing carry on bags & small backpacks with us, although there were times we had a few extra little bags of food as we moved from place to place & at the end we brought back an extra bag of stuff, including Turkish towels. Transport included some flights, but we also caught trains & used a few hire cars here & there & of course there were Ubers. Ubers are amazing especially when there is a language barrier. Not carrying a lot made our travels in general easier, so I highly recommend trying it sometime, if you haven’t already.
Our travels definitely made us appreciate just how little we needed. We still accumulated some trinkets/ souvenirs along the way, but we were pretty mindful of what we bought & the waste that we created in what we purchased, as well as how it might affect luggage arrangements.
Now to take what we have learned & appreciated from those months & apply it to living on aboard…
If you need to get a tourist visa in your passport on arrival, note that you cannot do so with the border agents, there are little visa booths on either side of the massive passport control areas, so if you arrive at 2am like we did, be prepared that you might have to walk a good 500+m in the opposite direction to get your visa, if you happen to walk to the wrong one. They only accept cash, either in Turkish Lira or Euro, so make sure you have a little cash on hand for your visa if needed (there are ATM’s that you can get to as well if needed, but you will forfeit your space in the queue, if you haven’t sorted that before).
There is wifi available at the airport, but you need to either use one of the little kiosks (everyone mills around screens to register & get a code) or you can find an information booth & ask the person there if they can help you out. You only have access to the free wifi at the airport for about an hour apparently.
There are places to buy sim cards, as you come out of the baggage claim area & are making your way to the exits. Everyone will have left you alone, before this point, after this though, people start to approach you to ask if you want a taxi or whatever. They aren’t overly pushy and will generally ask once & leave you be, but I was definitely hounded a little more than G was, which humoured me (not really at 3am, I was in more of a please leave me alone mood & please, please, please stop asking the same question as I walk past everysinglebooth). I really don’t cope well with red eye flights & definitely appreciate not being approached unless I approach you, when I feel like rubbish.
We read this article about sim cards, before we decided to buy ONE sim card at the airport. As mentioned in the article, they are super expensive there, compared to somewhere in the city, but having one card allowed us to get to our airbnb via an uber & also to find another sim card place closer to where were were staying.
Note: You will still pay more than a local for a sim card, that’s just the way of it, no matter which route you go, but at least outside of the airport the cost is a little easier to bear. We both ended up with Turkcell simcards, but I bought mine from an independant seller. I would suggest listening to your gut in terms of where you buy it from & not pay or leave the place where you buy it from, UNTIL it’s working correctly, which for us was about a 20-30 minute investment. There are lots of tales of tourists getting caught out so just be aware. I personally used google reviews to find the least offensive review & then bought from the shop next door.
Speaking of Google reviews, they will be helpful for some things & not for others. I also used Trip Advisor when I was looking for different places. You will be approached by some places to write reviews, and you will find that some of the reviews you sift through are not the most helpful, but sometimes you get lucky.
The Grand Bazaar is one of those places that you have to visit, but one needs to appreciate that it’s all very overpriced. Hardly anything is ticket priced, although there is a small section that has “fixed” prices. If you are looking for touristy geared stuff like the evil eyes that they have in the bazaar in excess, you could look at the prices that they have set there, to get a “benchmark” as to what might be more reasonable to pay. Note that prices vary too, I would get vastly different prices quoted to me than G. Pretty much everything is mass produced here, you won’t really find true artisan wares in the Grand Bazaar, which isn’t surprising really, but one cannot help but think how amazing it would be if you could find truely unique items here. The Grand Bazaar is a great place to hang out to get out of the rain, like we did, for a few hours, but we found it more of a once & done thing.
Oh, the security check on the way in, humoured us every time we went through a difference entrance. They don’t seem to serve much purpose, other than to look like there is some security in the Bazaar, even though the alerts were just ignored. Frankly, I felt like the riot police we saw frequently on the streets instilled more of a sense of security than any of the machines around the city did. I was definitely more aware of my surroundings & where everyone was, when I saw groups of riot police about.
We were staying very close to Hagia Sophia & The Blue Mosque so we visited both. Unfortunately, when we visited, both were having renovation works done within. The Blue Mosque had a lot of scaffolding both outside & in, you could wander in, but the scaffolding within it, made it really hard to see & appreciate the details inside that lead to it being called The Blue Mosque. Hagia Sophia we definitely saw more of inside, but the museum part that we were hoping to see more of, was closed due to restoration work as well. As a woman you aren’t allowed to go into some areas that are reserved for men, which greatly vexxed the youngest, but honestly it didn’t really seem like we missed out on much vs what G & L managed to see.
Both mosques offer head coverings/ scarves for women to wear that might have need (for free). I asked at both places (and more than one person, as we were making our way in) & was dismissed as needing one, as I was told that the hat that I was wearing was more than adequate, which confused and humoured me. perhaps it was my short hair too, so I didn’t need to have a scarf, as my hat covered it? There were other women who seemed to do fine with a hoodie over their head too, so it seems that as long as your head is covered & you are respectful, you do not necessarily need a special scarf. I would however make sure to ask if you are unsure, even if you get told once that you are ok, I always checked 2 or 3 times. Both mosques were “free” to go into. There are security checks at both & make sure that you wear socks, as you need to take off your shoes to go inside. I had read that there is a smell of sweat & feet & was not disappointed, but it really wasn’t that bad. It might be a little more intense in warmer weather though.
Basilica Cistern is located to the left of Hagia Sophia (when you are facing the entrance of Hagia Sophia) and across the road. In the summer, you might want to book tickets in advance & there is a QR code posted outside that you can use or you can buy them here, but at the time that were were there (December) it isn’t exactly the high season, so the wait wasn’t too arduous to get in. Once we were past security (more of a formality) we were able to buy tickets immediately, no wait. Note that if you are a foreigner, that kids 6 or above pay the same price as a (foreign) adult, this is the same for most things in Istanbul. I highly recommend a visit to the Basilica Cistern, even in the off season it was very popular. It would be a lovely place to escape to in the warmer weather, and any wet weather, as we did. The lighting changes throughout & there are some lovely art installations that really add to the experience. The kids are huge Mythology fans, so they loved the Medusa columns, as well as a Medusa art installation they had.
Topkapi Palace Museum is a must see as well. I highly recommend a full day to visit. Opening hours vary to what you see online, but getting there earlier in the day to avoid too many of the crowds, especially if you are going to be there in the high season is worthwhile. There are lots of places were you can buy tickets online, but to get the official ones onsite, it isn’t that arduous. When you first enter, you immediately go through a security check (it’s the typical security check you will see here, only there are armed guards at this entrance). Once you are past security, walk up the path a little & off to the right you will find little kiosks that you can buy your entrance tickets for the palace. Again, don’t bother to look for cheaper tickets for kids, that isn’t a thing here. You can only buy up to 4 tickets at a time, so if there are more than 4 of you, you will need to run through another transaction. Your ticket price includes a free audio guide, so once you get to the audio guide kiosk show them your ticket & leave them a piece of ID (any photo ID works), they will give you a card to give back to them to get your ID when you return with the guides, so keep that safe & you are good to go.
There are some places to get food (at a premium) if you have need, but you cannot have food or drink in any of the buildings. The weird thing we noted was the number of signs that say “No Camera’s”, but the staff there just tell you to take pictures, if you are unsure, just ask. No smoking signs seem to be something people ignore too, so don’t be surprised if someone lights up next to a no smoking sign, this is just the way of it. Not saying you should do it, but it happens.
That about sums of some of the highlights for us.
We did actually plan to see more whilst were in Istanbul (something I didn’t mention that we did a drive-by of part of Theodosian’s walls), but ended up quite sick. In part we think it was due to the mothballs in the place that we were staying in, it was incredibly bad. It seems like it might be a thing though to use mothballs as a way to mask other smells, which was enlightening. We all lost some weight. I went down at least one size, which is why you always bring a belt (it’s not just to add one more piece of clothing on you to have to whip off at the airport line), I learned that from 6 months travel in Asia over a decade ago. 😆
As a last note if you have any dietary restrictions like I do (all dairy, gluten, eggs & peanuts), I would recommend bringing whatever breads, flours or whatever else you might like to have with you. In fact this comes recommended by locals too. Unlike other places, like Poland, who had my bread at the small corner stores, you will not find much here that is gluten, dairy, egg or peanut free at a larger supermarket like shop, let alone corner store, that isn’t plain produce. For me, that meant there weren’t any substitutes available for flours, pasta, cereal, bread, milk, margarine etc. I thought that I would be fine with rice for a week, but for some reason the rice that we got didn’t cook properly no matter what we did, so choking that back was not as pleasant as I imagined. Perhaps you will find nicer rice if you happen to be there though (I might suggest getting a smaller bag than what we did). 🙃
If you are like the rest of my family & don’t have any food restrictions, I hear that the doner kebabs are really tasty, as are some of the breads. The Baklava is a bit sweet though, so only have one, or they might make you feel a little sick. 🙂
I freely admit that sometimes our “research” into places that we want to go & see & how to get there can be a bit half assed at times, but our trip to Neuschwanstein was especially memorable.
We looked into getting a hire car, but it was going to be a min of €250 just to hire a small car for the day, plus petrol etc, so we returned to the idea of catching public transport, neither one of us wanted to join a tour group by bus. Not that we have anything against busses, but tour groups in general are not our thing, they normally require a lot of rushing around to be at certain places at certain times & you feel like you are being herded the whole time. I looked up tickets to get us to Neuschwanstein by train & bus & thought that we were all set, but alas it was not to be.
We left our accomodation just before 6, so that we could catch our train at 6.30am & also pick up a few things to eat for the day. Whilst we were ready to go at the time that our train was expected to depart, it was not. This delay meant that when we reached the next train station, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, to switch over, we ended up arriving 10 minutes later than it’s departure time, so had to wait for an hour for the following train. This slight delay meant that now the journey would be almost 4 hours (with wait times), instead of 2.5 for the train section alone. We looked into a bus briefly, but decided not to, possibly a good thing, given what happened later. We even looked into an Uber, but unsurprisingly there are no Ubers in that area.
The next train departed just after 9am. There was a lovely woman on the train checking tickets who gave us a tip to get off a couple of stations before ours, but then as the train was running late, she came back to tell us to proceed as planned & go to the Musau station in the middle of no-where, as we wouldn’t miss the bus from there. Well, it turns out there are no buses at that time, something we discovered after we had disembarked from the train & walked to the bus station. Another great example of what you read online not matching reality. 🤣 We had a few options either; 1. catch the train back (on it’s way past again) to some other random place, 2. wait at Musau for a few hours for a bus that may or may not come, or 3. walk from there to Neuschwanstein. We decided on the later. I get the feeling not that many people walk from Musau, Austria, to Neuschwanstein though.
The walk wasn’t too bad, about 10km, not as hilly as I expected, but it still took us a couple of hours. We stopped at a supermarket on the way, to grab some food, including some amazing Hazelnut schnapps/ schnaps, which was quite enjoyable. The walk was quiet lovely. Google maps does not recognise the bike tracks & instead instructs you to walk on the road, but it was fairly easy to work out where to go & then we managed to find a lovely walking trail (thanks to a local in one of the villages we walked through). All of us really enjoyed that the walk enabled us to enjoy seeing the Neuschwanstein & Hohenschwangau Castle’s in a different way than you would if you approached it via bus. To have the castles appear as you go down into a valley & then see them peeking out behind some tree’s, was really quite beautiful. It was quite lovely to be able to walk from Austria to Germany to be honest too.
In the end we arrived at Neuschwanstein at 2pm, which meant that we were too late to go to both Neuschwanstein & Hohenschwangau Castle. If we had gotten there earlier it would have been ok, but alas, we did not & that’s just the way of it.
The kids were really excited to see the castle, it was one of a few MUST see’s on this trip, so we were both really happy that they got to see the castle. It’s quite an impressive castle to see in terms of size too. You have to do a tour to go into the castle, to wander the grounds outside the castle wall of either castle is fine without a ticket though.
With your ticket purchase (at the bottom of the hill, just follow the signs) you get an audio guide allocated within the cost (that you pick-up within the castle walls) & are assigned a time slot to go through with a bunch of other people, this way they can get a heap of people through at the same time who all speak different languages. You can either catch a horse drawn carriage or bus up to a certain point then walk the rest of the way or just walk up. Walking seems to be faster than bus or carriage, at least in the off season. When you get up towards Neuschwanstein, there is an area with a heap of lockers to put your backpack or any bag that is above a certain size (to be safe we left our backpack in the lockers) it’s a few Euro’s to use the locker, so make sure that you bring a few euro coins to use it. You get your money back when you return to get your belongings, which is nice.
The tour itself is only about 30 minutes or so & you are not allowed to take any pictures or video during your visit. You are basically herded as a group, through a small section of the castle, so don’t expect to see it all, because it isn’t possible, but what you do see is pretty special. I highly recommend being towards the front or middle of the group, because the “guide” who escorts you through & starts the guide at different sections may start it before you have even reached the room that is being talked about. You will only get to see the courtyard before your tour, so make sure that you go in early to have a look around, because you go out an entirely different exit & cannot go back to have more of a look around later. There are free toilets, just inside the castle gates where you show your tickets (or at least they are free in the off season).
There are a number of souvenir shops both at the bottom of the hill (you even have to walk through one, after you get your ticket) & there are a couple at the top that are still open in the offseason like when we were there, so there are lots of options for postcards or other small gifts if you so desire. We ended up buying a book about the castle from the first big one that they herd you through at the end of the tour, to make up for the fact that we couldn’t take any pictures, plus a couple of postcards.
I highly recommend taking a wander around the grounds & out to the lookout whilst you are there, where you can grab this classic scene of the castle.
Just as there are 3 options to get up to the castle, there are the same 3 to get down to the ticket area. If you decide to take bus or horse drawn carriage, down, it’s actually cheaper than the trip up. The timing of said rides didn’t follow any regular schedule when we were there, so if you are trying to catch other transport as we were, I highly recommend not relying on it. We unfortunately waited for the bus for over half an hour (it was supposed to run every 20) and then had to RUN down the hill, just missing our bus into town to catch our train. 😆
A lovely guy who worked at one of the hotels there, helped us out though & called a taxi for us, so that we could make our train. Our adventure didn’t finish there though, apparently there is a Füssen in Germany & another in Austria & the ticket I booked was from Ulrichsbrücke- Füssen, so after a taxi ride that cost a little more than the ticket back, we ended up back at Musau train station, as our taxi driver couldn’t find the right way to approach Ulrichsbrücke- Füssen station. Both of the trains back ran on time, which was a nice change & meant that after a quick stop on the way back to grab a few things to eat, we got back our accommodation & in bed around 10pm. A very long day, but glad that we still managed to get to Neuschwanstein.
Perhaps, if we go back that way, we will stay nearby for a couple of days to allow for our long transportation times? 😝
Whilst there is some juggling with working, travelling, and worldschooling the kids at the same time, and general day to day living that comes with this life, it has been such an amazing experience so far. We have always had trouble staying still for any length of time & having to sit still with covid was hard (first world problems). I am so glad that we can release some the FOMO that had been building up over that time.
Even though we are only a month and a half in, we are already thinking about how to make this lifestyle more of a longterm experience. This style of living doesn’t suit everyone & I am sure that when we head back home I will enjoy some down time too, but for now, we are having a lovely time.
Do what you want to, opportunities in life come & go. What we do in life might not suit everyone, but it does us. Enjoy life, don’t endure it!
So, after much debate we decided to take the kids to visit Auschwitz – Birkenau. I have been preparing them in earnest for a few weeks, for the likelihood that we would take the kids to see the camps, but even as we got to the ticket window, we knew that there was a chance that we were going to back out, after all, the content is pretty heavy. The youngest is 9, whilst the oldest is 11. They have very different personalties, we thought that the oldest, who reads a lot of literature well above his suggested age group & is very logical, was likely to manage it not too badly. Whilst the youngest is an empath & feels she needs to right all the wrongs somehow. It is actually suggested that those 14 years of age or older go to Auschwitz – Birkenau, but we were clearly not the only ones with kids under that age.
Part of my preparation for the kids, involved readings of a few books, that I felt were reasonably age appropriate; Maus I & Maus II by Art Spiegelman, both of his parents who went to Auschwitz. These books in particular raised a lot of questions. The use of imagery to tell the story seemed to resonate well. The images could be seen as being graphic, like the piles of dead mice which were understood to be people. The use of different animals to represent the different groups of people that were important to the story, was something that the kids appreciated. Nice to see my uni studies coming in handy years later with my own kids. 🙂 The Book Thief by Markus Zusak this one was difficult for the youngest to read, but the oldest once he got into the weird narrative style, seemed to enjoy it. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr, this one, the youngest read with ease & really enjoyed as the narrative was smooth & easy to understand.
I had thought of having them read the Diary of Anne Frank/ Diary of a Young Girl for a while, but it is suggested to read it at a slightly older age, given some of the topics discussed (including sexuality & I didn’t quite get to reading it all again to reacquaint myself with her diary). I feel that the oldest might be ok to read it, but the youngest, I will likely have read the graphic novel first, something that will make some cringe, as it is encouraged to read the book in full first before reading the graphic novel, but I am not much of one for rules.
Some info about the museum:
The museum grounds are open from 7.30am & up until 10am you can get tickets without a guide & do a self guided tour, which is what we were thinking of doing. There is a guidebook that you can buy from the bookstores (there are at least 3 bookstores that we saw, where you can purchase it from in various languages). It is the suggested resource to use for a self guided tour OR in our case I picked up a copy to refer back to for the kids school work.
If you join a tour, which you have to do if you get tickets from 10am onwards (the tour is 3 hours long) & have kids under 14 years of age with you, do not get a headset to easily hear the guide as they take you around Auschwitz. The Birkenau camp is without a headset, so everyone is milling around to hear everything. The kids mostly stayed at the front of the group in Auschwitz, so that they could hear what the guide was saying & for us that was fine.
We had spent some time discussing what we might see at the camps before we came. The kids remembered a lot from our discussions and also referred to what they knew from Maus (mostly), when were were there. Both G & I commented on how we appreciated the tour style, which is one of presenting facts. It is important to remember that this is a memorial & there is a level of respect you are expected to show as a visitor, not just in behaviour but attire too. As we were bringing the kids, we did our best to prepare them & made it very clear what the expectations were whilst we were there.
At the end I thanked our guide for the style of the tour & for not minding us having the kids there. He commented that it is recommended not to have kids under 14 there, but he appreciated that they were attentive (even if they couldn’t quite hear all the time) & that he really appreciated their good behaviour throughout the tour. Apparently, many bring their kids here without preparing them at all & kids misbehaving in any way here, is not tolerated well, at all. I strongly suggest if you are a parent reading this to do your research & make time to properly prepare your kids.
Whilst we were all hit by the enormity of the camps, especially Birkenau, it was a little different to the visits that G & I have made to The Killing Fields in Cambodia & the Hiroshima museum in Japan, which I would definitely not take the kids to, until they are much older. I can totally understand the idea of not encouraging kids under the age of 14 to attend, as a general rule. The age that the kids are does mean that they are not fully able to understand the enormity of it all. As adults we can process that a little more though.
The displays were tastefully done. There were a few pictures that showed some of those who arrived & who very shortly after were sent to the gas chambers. In fact most were sent to the gas chambers. Birkenau was basically built to facilitate their death camp needs where they could gas 2000 people at once, in just one of the chambers alone. They had several there.
There were some displays in Auschwitz of some of the personal items that people brought with them that were found when the camps were liberated, with the few that remained. Suitcases with names on them, because those sent to the gas chambers were lied to, and told they needed to leave their things for a little bit, so they labelled them to make it easier for them to find them when they returned. The displays of cooking & eating utensils, shoes, glasses & many braces, crutches & other prothesis on display, as well as some of the hair that they would cut off the women & use to weave into material. Many of the items deemed to be of value (and there was a lot, as many thought that they would be living in the camps, so brought their prized possessions) were taken from them on arrival (they were told to leave them on the ramps & they would be able to retrieve their items later).
Part of the tour of Auschwitz involved walking through one of the gas chambers there, as just before the Birkenau camp was liberated, they exploded the larger gas chambers in an effort to try to hide the enormity of what they were doing. The one we walked through in Auschwitz had been repurposed into storage, which is why it was not destroyed. However, they did still use other gas chambers at Birkenau right up to the time that the camp was liberated.
For more information about Auschwitz, I highly recommend visiting the museum website, which we personally found highly informative & helped us in our decision to visit & pay our respects.
“Auschwitz stands as a tragic reminder of the terrible potential man has for violence and inhumanity.” ~ Billy Graham
It didn’t take long for us to settle in, I figured it would be about a week or so & I was pretty much right. This doesn’t mean that we don’t still stick out, but I am ok with sticking out, I am not one of those people that seems to blend in much, in life & not knowing very much Polish does mean that you can’t blend in long here.
Knowing how & where to get food is a big thing, especially as we like to cook a lot, rather than eat out all the time.
We still go to various different shops to get things that work for us, mostly me, as the rest of the family can eat anything, but I worked out pretty fast that I can buy my bread at any of the local Žabko corner shops & not at the local Biedronka. The Schar bread here is nicer than the Schar bread that we get in Canada too, something that I remember from when I was last in Germany in 2019 too. Don’t get me wrong the Schar bread in Canada is still better than any other option I have found so far, but North American bread is so plain
Fresh produce is easily procured at most shops, but there is way more variety at Biedronka or another decently sized shop or at the plethora of fruit & veggie markets that pop up almost as often as the Žabko’s. There are plastic bags that you can use to bag your produce, but you can also bring your own reusable bags (which they also sell at grocery stores) or just not bag your produce. I do highly recommend not forgetting to bring your bags if you wish to buy the unwashed potatoes on special though, they create such a mess & even if you avoid direct eye contact, body language says it’s not something that they generally like people to do (the cashier today, cleaned the counter at least 6 times as she did my groceries).😕
Fresh baked goods are everywhere bakeries, corner stores/ Žabko’s, and grocery stores. Some items are pre-bagged, most others you pick out yourself & pop into wax coated or 100% paper bags. The kids love it & say that it tastes much better than anything they have ever had (except for Upper Canada Village bread). It probably has to do with the fact that even though Canada has less additives in their food than the USA, Europe has even less.
Cereal isn’t generally in a plastic bag inside a box, they just bag it & call it done. Unlike cereal in North America which is made by Kelloggs predominantly, over here it’s made by Nestle. I know that Nestle is a bit of a nasty company, but their cereal certainly isn’t as nasty as the stuff they call cereal in North America. Corn flakes are actually nice, which is a shocking reality. The GF ones are available most places too, even corner stores.
I really like the fact that food is generally in smaller more manageable sizes. Here in the city, everyone walks everywhere (or bikes, there are bike lanes on the sidewalks), parking isn’t easy either if you do have a car, so you walk to the grocery store etc & clearly having large items doesn’t work for that reality.
There is a simplicity to this life that is quite enjoyable.
Since G had his trip to Wrocław last September, we have been looking forward to seeing the Dwarfs of Wrocław, which are also called Gnomes by some, so excuse me if I confuse you by calling them both Dwarfs & Gnomes, as they are called both by people here (more often gnomes to be fair).
Wrocław is pronounced vrohtz-wahv (or in my poor phonetic spelling, which captures the way that I pronounce it, which is probably wrong to be fair, rawtz-love).
The dwarfs are more than just cute, they are a symbol of the anti-Soviet resistance movement (Orange Alternative) that helped to topple the Soviet regime in the 80’s. At that time they painted dwarves on walls. The brass statues started popping up in the early 2000’s & are created by an artist called Tomasz Moczek who is on facebook & has a website too. Each dwarf captures a part of the history & life in Wrocław, as well as commemorating the Revolution of the Dwarves.
There are over 1000 of the little dwarfs around the city & whilst there are maps that you can pay for, they only capture a few. They have cute little maps for kids, where they can collect stamps too from a few places, which is pretty fun. However if you are a little hardcore like us, the best way to find them is via an app, called Wrocław Dwarfs that you can download. I was told that it was only in Polish & that I would need to translate, but when I started using it, it was all in English, so I assume it is in both Polish & English.
I have been using our time out in hunt of the gnomes/ dwarfs not only to improve the kids observation skills, but also navigation & they are a cute way of teaching them the history of the area as well.
You should note that not all the dwarfs can be seen by the public easily, with some located inside or even at the tops of some buildings. Some of those areas you need to pay to gain access to & others you would need special permission to see (so you have little to nil chance of seeing, except in pictures).
The picture above is one of the many dwarf’s we found yesterday. He wasoutside one of the many Zabka’s around Market Square & is simply titled Solidariusz Walczący, which is part of the Fighting Solidarity series of Dwarfs. This one is depicted secretly broadcasting radio messages, there’s also a plaque nearby that mentions that he is there to commemorate the opposition broadcasters.
I love these little guys & have quite the collection of images already, so if you want to see more, feel free to follow our IG for more pics of these little guys & keep track of the rest of our travel adventures.