It has been a while since we last posted and a lot has happened. Just before the world became all topsy turvy we packed up our lives in Australia and moved to a small village in the Netherlands. It has been a strange time to start a new life in a new country but we have tried to make the best of it. Last weekend, for example, we cycled to Amsterdam to visit our friends Henny and Cor, who live on a houseboat.
Incredibly it has almost been a year since we set out on our bicycle tour around Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. Our kids love reminiscing with this video highlights reel:
1. Your children aren’t wearing any shoes… (Most common in Germany and phrased more as an inquisitive statement).
Yes our children aren’t wearing shoes and that is because they don’t want to and we don’t feel it is an important battle ground to die on. As one of our Spanish friends in Berlin phrased it they are, “salvajes de la carretera” (wild things from the highway). After 2 and a half months of cycling and camping we are all a little rough around the edges and not wearing shoes is just a part of that. I think there are also some sort of cultural differences at play as well which we haven’t quite got to the bottom of.
2. How is it that your daughter is able to miss so much school?
This is a puzzling one for Europeans as they face strict rules in relation to school attendance and large fines if they don’t comply. This is true in Australia also but for some reason going overseas is considered a valid enough excuse to take one’s child out of school for large chunks of time.
We feel that the learnings that both our children have had during our cycle journey have been far more valuable than what can be achieved in a classroom.
3. Did you bring your bicycles with you from Australia or did you hire them here?
While this is a rather boring and inane question it tends to be one of the first things we are asked when people find out we are from Australia.
The answer is yes. We box up the bikes and check them in as luggage on the aeroplane. Most airlines accomodate bicycles as part of ones baggage allowance. I should probably dedicate an entire post to this one day as we have been transporting bikes on planes since 2004 and have a large amount of accumulated knowledge.
Well we aren’t particularly diligent at blogging this trip. We have only posted once so far and we have had 900km worth of experiences to tell! It turns out that cycle touring with two children leaves little time for much else. It is also a telling fact that while we have seen scores of people cycle touring, we haven’t met any other family with small children who are on a long tour…
Happily, despite being all consuming we have been having an enriching time. As each kilometres clicks by we seem to draw closer as a family.
Our cycling has taken us down the length of the Netherlands, through the Ardennes region of Belgium, Luxembourg and we are currently cycling along the Moselle river in Germany. From here we intersect with the Rhine and follow it back into the Netherlands.
- Hugging calves and hippopotami
- The most incredible cave system we have ever seen in the Ardennes, Belgium.
- Walking on the moon at the Euro Space Centre in the middle of a forest!
We suffer more from our imagination than from reality – Seneca
As everyone around me at home in Newcastle could attest, I suffered greatly from this trip.
There were so many unknowns.
Our young kids are growing and developing at such a rapid rate that their needs and desires appear vastly different from one trip to the next. Leaving me with a different set of challenges to problem shoot.
It was only a few weeks before leaving that I managed to quell my fears and embrace the excitement of an awesome opportunity! None of the ‘problems’ had been solved, none of my fears had been eliminated, but I had pre pared as best I could.
The hardest thing to do was to choose a different mindset. I had to believe that it would all work out (one way or another), because otherwise my brain would melt from anxiety. So I did it. I chose wanderlust, enthusiasm, and I harnessed my adventurous spirit.
Of course (predictably) none of my fears were worth worrying about…
- How would Basti (super active 3 year old) go sitting in the bike trailer?…. totally fine
- How would Amaya go on her attached bike?…. also totally fine! Sometimes she pops into the trailer.
- How would she go missing school?… mixed bag, but now that school is back she’s a bit smug about not being stuck in a classroom!
- How would I go towing the trailer?… so far so good… although currently a bit slow due to a wicked cold!
- Etc 😜
Maybe I’ve just been incredibly lucky, but a lesson I have learned time and time again in my life is that when you try something tricky/challenging/seemingly impossible often people appear who help you. This time our friends who live in Amsterdam, Henny and Cor helped us enormously. 😌 We are so completely grateful!
So, this far it’s working out. Amazing! And despite being sick, I’m relaxed and enjoying it.
So here we are again leaving our comfortable, predictable middle class lifestyle and opting for a much more challenging one with many unknowns.
The plan is to fly to Amsterdam and spend 3 months cycling around Northern Europe. We have worked out a vague route but it is more of a sketch than anything.
Sebastian (3) will assume Amaya’s old position and ride in the trailer, while Amaya (6) will ride her own bike with the possibility of attaching it to Mic’s bike when she is tired.
This is the first bicycle tour we have done with two kids so we have absolutely no idea how it will go. We are just looking forward to spending time with our children, sharing new and rich experiences, meeting interesting people and riding our bicycles.
This procession of bikes and music was magical!!!
Backpacking in South America isn’t easy at the best of times. Long bus rides, limited food options, lack of readily available information, logic defying systems and rapid fire Spanish. Add small children to the mix and a whole lot of other issues emerge; can we access food that they like? How do we cope with Jet lag? Will they be safe? Will they get sick? Will we get sick? How will they go on the buses? Can we carry all the stuff including camping gear? Will we get robbed?
These concerns (and more) probably contribute to very few families choosing to backpack South America. In 8 weeks of travelling we didn’t meet any other foreign families with children as young as ours (1 and 4).
So is it all worth it? Worth the difficulties, the expense, the risk, the opportunity costs? What qualifies as “worth it”? Worth it for whom? The adults or the children?
Really, this question is impossible to answer… There have certainly been some intensely stressful moments, but these have been offset by moments of pure joy. Amaya and Sebastian have been exposed to different places, cultures, languages and people. For a time they have become nomads – roaming the lakes and mountains of Patagonia. They are on their way to becoming truly global citizens, with an amplified outlook, comfortable with different viewpoints and ways of life.
And while there were tough moments, there are tough moments at home too. Parenting is challenging! For us it is about choosing to really grasp hold of those magical moments and let them form our narrative of this experience.
If only packing up could be this fast! We certainly got better at it as the trip progressed.