Sunday, April 3, 2016

To travel or not to travel (like crazies)

"Que LOQUITOS!" (pronounced: Low-KEE-toes and not Low-Kwee-toes) This, or some variation, is what we hear when we share our TRAVEL plans with family or friends. In Spanish, it means, "You little crazies!" It's a nice way of telling us we're brave, stupid, lucky or irresponsible for traveling the way we do: frequently, boldly and with two little ones. Whether it's a weekend getaway or a month-long stint in Ecuador, we like to go and go often.

The toughest consideration are the kids. Is this good for them? Or are we just fulfilling some egocentric void by doing this? We don't want to be those A-list, A-hole celebrities who give their kids awful names just to make themselves sound cool, like Jason Lee, for example. Pilot Inspektor? Really? I'm sure your kid will have a great time with that one in school. Anyway, we've done some research on this whole traveling with kids deal, but ultimately - like most things in the illogical, unscientific art of parenting - it's a judgment call. It has its pros, and other pros, and some cons.

Apart from giving our kids their rightful inheritance of being trilingual (English, Spanish and Turkish), we also want them to be citizens of the world. Hokey as it may sound, we figure, the more they can interact and experience different people, different cultures and different places, the more prepared they'll be for the ever-shrinking world that awaits them. In some way, it's also a mitigation strategy for those teenage years when they're supposed to hate us. "See all the awesome places we took you!" we'll surely tell 'em. That should help, right? Hopefully, we're right about some of this.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Europe 2015: Let's do this already

Ten years in the making and a year planning is finally here. In less than an hour, our young family of four will board a Turkish Airlines Flight to Brussels, where our two-month, six-country European vacation will begin. When you think about it, you get a small window to pull off a trip like this on your terms. Before kids, you can't afford it. When the kids are too small, what's the point? When kids start school, they're schedules dictate when and for how long you can go. When they graduate high school, two months with mom and dad don't sound too hot - for anyone. Of course, we also wanted to pull this thing off while we're still young-ish. We've had no shortage of signs this year - deaths, illness, really bad crap - to remind us: there are no guarantees. All of this is to say, our time is now. For added encouragement, Deniz and I, way back when we didn't know any better, made a promise to do something like this to celebrate our 10-year anniversary - it'll be 10 years on Sept. 10. Just look at us back then (this was the photo we used on the CD cover of our wedding favor):

So here we are. We're ready to do this. I'm psyched up even as the gentlemen at the terminal bathroom is rinsing and clacking his dentures in the sink next to me, as if to remind me: travel ain't always all that great, kid. "Sure," I think to myself, as I glance in the mirror smiling with my (still) real teeth.

Update 1:
Boarded and seated, we're ready.

Update 2:
Oh, and our primary mode of transportation during this trek: Death Chucks. Because nothing says style and comfort like these bad boys.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Europe 2015 - Belgium: Of Smurfs and rain (and beach)

We eased into it on our first full day in Belgium. Cousin Mario (we'll call him that since my dad's a Mario, I'm Mario... it can get confusing quickly) with Catherine and their two daughters, Laura and Luna, hosted us in their home in Wavre - 30 minutes southeast of Brussels. For lunch, he drove us to nearby Louvain La Neuve - a small college town open only to pedestrian traffic. A banner announcing an upcoming expo immediately educated me on one of Belgium's two great cartoon exports (the other being Hergé's Tintin). They're not the Smurfs. They're Les Schtroumpfs (SH-TROOMPH. See how much easier that rolls off the tongue? Belgian cartoonist Pierre Culliford, better known as Peyo, invented them in the '50s, so we'll go with what he called 'em. Les Schtroumpfs it is!

Cousin Mario then drove us to Wavre's historic city center, where they had filled in the central square with sand for a surreal beach scene at the foot of the 500-year-old St. John the Baptist church. The kids frolicked, and we all soaked in the sun, which I'm told is not a frequent visitor.

Back at their home later, Mario and Catherine opened a bottle of something bubbly to toast our arrival. Ching and thump, our glasses and sippy cups collided.

The next day we soaked in the persistent rain for the full Brussels experience. We fired off a few photos of the kids by the famous Manneken Pis statue and took a soggy family portrait in the impossibly ornate Grand Place.

Of note, the Grand Place's centerpiece, the Town Hall building, is noticeably asymmetrical. The main door, for example, is distinctly off center. Legend has it that the architect jumped to his death from the building when he figured out his miscalculation. Deniz suspects the Guildhouses perpendicular to Town Hall, with bars on the floor levels, may have had something to do with the miscalculation. If so, the moral of the story could be: don't drink and build.

We ended up at the Smur - I mean - Schtroumpfs store. Here's the context. During Passport D.C., when most embassies are open to the public, we visited the Embassy of Belgium, where a humongous Smurf greeted us at the door. Love at first site for Aylin. Turns out, somewhere between growing up and now, Les Schtroumpfs fell out of vogue. We couldn't find a Smurfette anywhere. And finding Smurf-themed birthday stuff for her upcoming birthday? A no go. Ever practical, Aylin turned one of her Smurf slippers, which she received a few years back, into her lovie. Deniz and I are not too self conscious about too many things, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that my daughter hugging and walking around with something that should be on her foot wasn't a little embarrassing. Needless to say, Aylin getting her Smurfette was a relief for all of us. And the wet excursion, totally worth it.