It’s a simple question, “How was your trip?” with a not-so-simple answer. It’s the post-travel question that everyone asks, and I find myself doing a quick assessment on every person that asks it, gauging how short of an answer they want, what sort of information they’d find interesting, and how much they already know to begin with. We covered a lot of ground from April through October, staying in some places as little as two days and others as long as two months, from a road trip on the East Coast to Mexico, to several countries in Europe, and even a short trip to Toronto. While ideally I’d write a post on every place we visited, time is short, Paavo demands attention, and I think a quick and dirty summary of our travels is actually a bit more interesting. So here goes:
East Coast Road Trip – April 2016:
Highlights of this part of the trip were seeing so many family and friends in Boston, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Baltimore, and DC. We squeezed a lot in after Matt ran the Boston marathon and had great weather while doing it, and we had so much fun introducing Paavo to so many family and friends.
Lowlights were few, including a good amount of time in a car. It worked at the time because Paavo was still so young that he napped a lot in the car. He hadn’t been a great night sleeper before the trip and certainly wasn’t on this leg of the journey.
Mexico – May and June 2016:
We spent most of our time in Mexico City, with a few shorter trips to Toluca (for a marathon), San Miguel de Allende, Saltillo (for an ultramarathon), Queretaro, and finally Cancun, our launch pad for getting to Europe as cheaply as possible. Mexico City was HUGE, with so many people and so much going on all the time. We liked the bustle of the city, we strategically chose to stay near Chapultepec park for running, and loved the fact that we had about 20 vegan dining options within a mile of us. The people were also great to us, Paavo being the key to people’s hearts, and we relished the opportunity to work on our Spanish.
Things we could do without? Mainly the traffic. It was bad 24/7, and we avoided driving as much as possible, only taking Uber if the distance was more than 2 miles away. The air pollution was also very real and a reason we’d likely not live in Mexico City long term. And while we liked the bustle, the constant noise of city life wore us down after awhile.
Les Houches, France – July and August 2016:
Les Houches is a small town outside of Chamonix in the Chamonix Valley of France, in the French Alps on the border of both Switzerland and Italy. It’s gorgeous beyond words and quite possibly the prettiest place we’ve ever stayed. We lived in a studio apartment in with a view of Mt. Blanc. The running and hiking were great, the air was clean, the views were amazing, and the overall outdoor atmosphere was so refreshing after Mexico City. It was perfect for Matt’s UTMB training. If you ever get the chance to visit this area and the surrounding mountain towns, or the chance to run UTMB, definitely go for it!
After a while the town was a little too small and there weren’t many activities for Paavo, though there aren’t a whole lot for babies at 7 months. We cooked almost every single meal because there weren’t any vegan options in Les Houches, and only a couple in Chamonix, which was a 30 minute bus ride away. We’d absolutely spend time here again, though we’d wait until Paavo is old enough to do more kid activities like rock climbing, and we’d get a bigger place. We’d also rent a car next time, as the feelings of isolation were made even worse by having to walk or bus anywhere and having it take at least an hour to do anything, like get groceries.
Annecy, France – late August/early September 2016:
A short drive away from Chamonix and Geneva is the beautiful town of Annecy, with a crystal clear lake, a running path around the lake, mountains in the background, and enough gelato places that you could be there a week and not repeat any. We liked it because it was a bigger town and felt like more stuff was going on than in Chamonix, and because of the running path along the lake. We spent about a week here and had a rental car, so we had the chance to drive all the way around the lake, which was both fun and beautiful. Highly recommend this spot and we would have loved to stay longer.
Athens, Greece – September 2016:
When we originally planned our trip, we had a two week gap between France and Germany, so we looked at where the cheapest flights were out of Geneva, and Athens was one of those places. The highlight of Athens was the vegan food. We went to a vegan grocery store, Bamboo Vegan, almost every day for sweet and savory freshly-made pastries, and for advice from the shop owner on where to eat. The food and coffee were super tasty and very cheap. And the people were incredibly interested in Paavo; we’ve never met people who loved babies more than the Greeks.
The food was the redeeming quality of Athens, because other aspects of the city were a bit of a downer, including the general dirt and griminess of it, the ever-present graffiti and scent of urine, and the lack of great parks for running. We stayed next to a park that looked promising online, but ended up being stuck with a .8 mile loop in a park full of stray dogs, litter, and lots of sketchiness. While that .8 mile loop was safe and even included a nice playground, straying from the loop felt dangerous and it was a little stressful that entire week of running. And because of the hot and humid climate, cockroaches were very present, including one in our apartment that Matt named Bruce before he killed it. RIP Bruce.
Bucharest, Romania – September 2016:
A cheap flight from Athens to Bucharest and another cheap one from Bucharest to Berlin were the reasons we chose this city, and because it was completely new and different for us. We were pleasantly surprised with how much we liked Bucharest. It was clean, pretty, had nice parks for running, and felt like a big city without being overwhelming. There weren’t tons of vegan options but since we’d just come from Athens, we were ok with cooking at home for the week.
While we couldn’t see living long-term in Bucharest, it was worth the visit and we got lucky staying near a few nice parks for both running and for playgrounds, as Paavo was in heaven with the amount of kids and playground options. We also got lucky because a cousin of mine has friends that live there and they too had a young baby, so we spent lots of time with them, hanging out at local parks.
Berlin, Germany – September 2016:
When people ask us where our favorite place was, it was Berlin. It was the one place we could see living long-term because it hit all the high notes. Tons of vegan options, both restaurants and in grocery stores, with fantastic labeling, tons of parks and playgrounds for both running and for kids, great public transportation, and generally a clean, safe, pretty city. We loved it and would definitely go back there to live long term.
While in Berlin we mainly did the things local people did, like buy fresh bread and coffee from the bakery every morning, we took Paavo to different playgrounds each day, we ran along the bike paths and in the parks in the city, and I went to a couple Mommy & Me type classes at a local clothing store. I’m sure this kind of travel isn’t for everyone, but Berlin certainly fit us and our style of travel. Plus we got to watch the Berlin marathon and see the world record nearly broken by one of our favorite runners, Kenenisa Bekele from Ethiopia.
Croatia – September 2016:
We rented a 9 passenger van with 3 other friends in Croatia and visited several spots in the country, visiting Zagreb, Sveti Juraj, Senj and Rijeka. We also visited the Plitvicka Jezera national park, with pristinely blue water and jaw-dropping waterfalls. It was an incredibly beautiful country, with so much to see, both inland and on the coast. And the bigger cities had really great grocery stores with lots of vegan options, though we payed a premium for it.
We probably didn’t do Croatia enough justice because we had less than a week to explore it, but at least we got a taste of the country. Best of all were the cheap, double espressos that we drank every morning in the small coastal town of Sveti Juraj. While I don’t think we’d make a special trip back to Croatia, if we were nearby, we’d certainly explore more of it.
Paris, France – October 2016:
Who doesn’t love Paris? We had just four days here and while we didn’t explore as much as we would have liked to because having an infant is a little limiting, we still saw a lot on foot either with Paavo in the carrier or out on our runs. We had perfect weather while in Paris, sunny and 70 degrees, the falafel sandwiches right outside our door were some of the best we tasted, and it was fascinating to simply walk around the city.
The bustle of the city could get to be too much if we stayed there for long, but a week or less of jam-packed activity while eating yummy vegan food along the way still worked well for us. We spent this time with the same friends that were with us in Croatia, so that also made for a fun time.
Iceland – October 2016:
Iceland Air has a deal where you can take a layover in Iceland up to a week and not pay any extra airfare. We aim to take direct flights whenever possible, so this fit us perfectly. We flew from Paris to Iceland, stayed for two days, and then flew Iceland to Toronto. It made the time change easier and made for less time in airports and airplanes with an infant who just wants to crawl, explore, and put everything in his mouth.
In short, Iceland was beautiful. It was also desolate, quiet, and incredibly different from any place we’ve ever been. When we arrived it was cold, rainy, and windy, and we hopped in a rental car and drove 4 hours along the coast, seeing things along the way. Iceland is a tough country for kids because it involves a lot of driving and sight seeing, two things that aren’t always kid-friendly. But we could see going back and exploring more once Paavo is old enough to hike and do more outdoor activities.
Toronto – October 2016:
The best flight deal back from Europe took us to Toronto, which is about a 5 hour drive from Findlay, Ohio, where Matt’s parent live, so we made a weekend out of our stay in Toronto with them, from Friday-Sunday, then drove back to Findlay on Sunday. This allowed us to get off the plane in Toronto and have two days to stretch our legs with Paavo, Nana and Grandpa before driving back to Ohio. Best of all we met up with a friend from the PCT back in 2007, No Car, who now has two children as well. The best part of this weekend was Paavo spending time with his grandparents and the relief of getting back to North America and the States.
While our trip had a beginning and an end, in terms of when we left Seattle, when we left the States, and when we returned, we’re still in travel mode. We plan on staying in the States for the next few months, mainly basing our travel on where the races are for both of us and for Matt’s clients, and based on visiting family and friends along the way. Since Paavo is changing so much day by day, week by week, we’re constantly trying to find activities that are fun and educational wherever we go. There are ups and downs with traveling with a baby (a whole different blog post), but so far it’s been fun enough to keep it going. Thank you to all the family and friends who visited us along the way and to those who followed our travels. We still have lots of stuff to share about our travels and it’s just a matter of finding the time between Paavo’s naps to do so. Until then, thanks for reading and for sharing in our adventures!