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August 29, 2016

Morning Walk: Rotterdam

After five years of volleyball camps in the Netherlands, I finally made the time to walk around Rotterdam the morning before my flight back to Germany! My teammate, Regi, and I strolled over the bridges, down the alleys, and had the perfect clear and sunny morning in this port city. Enjoy our walk!

BIG shout out to Bagels & Beans which will always be my favorite hot chocolate and bagels place in Holland! They have locations all over the Netherlands and every single one is awesome.

Have you been to Rotterdam? What other areas would you suggest I look into walking around next time?

Packing my SuitcaseMummyTravelswanderful wednesday
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August 23, 2016

How I Travel: How Much Does It Cost?

How do I afford to travel as much as it seems like I do? It's all about my baselines. This post outlines how much I am willing to spend, and, at the end, you can see some of my real trip financial statistics. 

So, how much do I spend on every trip?

In short: not very much.

I have always lived by the principle that my finances determine my travels - and I have applied that to every area of my life, not just traveling.

Yes, this could be a "How I Live" post rather than "How I Travel." Apply it however you like!

It's all about my max limit: what I am willing to spend. If some part of a trip is more expensive than my max, I change something. The change could be the destination, the trip dates, where to sleep, or even not to go at all.

Moreover, there are several areas of our lives where we have cut back extensively and hardly spend anything at all. Since becoming Americans abroad in 2011, we have gone to the movie theater on average once a year, spend no more than $250 per year (that is the combined total for both my husband and me, and includes everything from winter coats and boots to socks and underwear) on clothing, and altogether absorbed our "gift" budget into the travel line. We cut each other's hair for free, we only download free apps, and we haven't had a monthly cell phone bill in five years.

Those have been our choices. But our "chances" have been the fact that we haven't had to pay rent or regular bills since our second year of marriage. We have had such low-paying coaching jobs that our housing and utilities have usually been thrown into the contract to make the agreement more reasonable. Add this to my accidentally amazing habit of treating credit cards like debit cards, and we have never been in debt.

These chances help us a ton!

The biggest dents to our budget? Sushi and sending postcards.

Let's get to it: how much do I spend on my trips?

1. Transport max prices
Transatlantic round-trip flights: 800 USD
Domestic round-trip flights: 200 USD
Trains one-way: 40 USD
Buses one-way: 25 USD 
Car rentals per day: 20 USD

2. Lodging max prices
Hostels shared rooms per night: 30 USD
AirBnB entire homes per night: 60 USD
Hotels per night: 80 USD (probably why we never stay at hotels!)

3. Food max prices
(Here's the thing about food: you're going to eat no matter if you're at your house or out and about. Because we normally end up staying in places with kitchens, we just buy groceries for breakfasts and dinners and eat out at lunch.)
Groceries per week: 50 USD 
Restaurant dinner per person: 30 USD

4. Finding the shortcuts
-Traveling somewhere I can stay for free with friends.
-Being flexible with travel dates at least three days before or after.
-Researching every mode of transportation to decide what is the most cost-effective and time-efficient.
-Exploring the places that are around my home base.
-Saying, "YES," to as many spontaneous invitations as possible!!!

You may have a similar or dissimilar max price list. The most important thing to realize is we almost never max out every budget line of a trip. If the plane tickets are a good deal, then our lodging budget can linger in the max range. In Berlin, my trip was so cheap (see below), I ate like a queen the whole weekend! I knew I could fly to Morocco, Norway, and Sweden in 2015 because I had free places to stay.

My Real Trip Stats from Last Year: Transport & Lodging

Glasgow, Scotland: 44 USD
3 nights for 40 USD (+180 USD AirBnB discount), 4 USD bus from Edinburgh

Wassenaar, Netherlands: 190 USD
6 nights for free, 190 USD flight from Glasgow
(I get paid to go there to work a volleyball camp. Super free.)

Madrid, Spain: 362 USD
7 nights for 242 USD, 120 USD round trip flights

Berlin, Germany: 75 USD
3 nights for 35 USD, 40 USD round trip buses

Milan, Italy: 165 USD
3 nights for 90 USD, 75 USD round trip flights

Vienna, Austria: 40 USD
5 nights for free, 40 USD one-way trains
(Marc had a basketball tournament there, and I met them there then returned home with the team.)

Ljubljana, Slovenia: 99 USD
3 nights for 39 USD, 60 USD for combination of round trip trains and buses

Prague, Czech Republic: 85 USD
2 nights for 40 USD, 45 USD for round trip buses

Paris, France: 75 USD
25 nights for free (I have lots of friends!!), 75 USD round trip flights

Algarve, Portugal: 550 USD
13 nights for 400 USD, 150 USD round trip flights

Florence, Italy: 75 USD
2 nights for free, 75 USD round trip flights

One year of amazing adventures in several countries (thank you, Europe!) for approximately 1760 USD. Even with the largest costs of our two major trips to Spain and Portugal, I floated around the continent for less cost than most people will spend on their two week European tour.

For seventy-two nights away from home, the average nightly cost was only 12.31 USD - nowhere near my max limit. I averaged 114 USD on round trip airfare and 38 USD when I took trains or buses.

I don't start the year with these crazy ideas about how to go to as many places as possible. I know when my free weekends are in advance, and I do some cursory research to see if any place is affordable at the right time. If it's not, I don't go!

Where will I go this year?

Probably Spain and Portugal. Gotta get to Paris and the French volleyball tournament in Annecy in the spring. Would love to go to Denmark and Sweden next summer. After those general ideas, it'll be whatever places and prices match up the best, IF they do at all.

The best thing about being an expat is that even if we wouldn't get to fly anywhere this year, we live in Europe. And that means everyday feels like an adventure - for free!

MummyTravelswanderful wednesday
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August 16, 2016

Chicago Snapshots

The last three summers, I have spent extra time trying to be creative with my time in the USA. If I'm going to fly halfway around the world once a year, may as well edge in some bonus adventures, right? The other plus is that these extended layovers really help me with my jet lag because my time zone has to adjust to wherever I happen to be.

2014: Philadelphia Layover
2015: East Coast to Wisconsin to Idaho to California
2016: Chicago Snapshots (with inspiration from my French friend's trip!)

[For all of the random things we end up doing in the USA, you can check out our #SwagVilUSA hashtag.]

My main ticket was a round trip from Munich to Chicago. I used frequent flyer miles to get my tickets in and out of California. This meant I had total freedom as to when I could land in Chicago before my red-eye flight back to Europe.

When I have freedom, I usually choose to make the most of it. I found a flight that red-eyed out of San Francisco into Austin for a next-day arrival into Chicago at 9:00AM. My Aunt Denise amazingly agreed to drive from where she lives in Wisconsin for three hours into the city to hang out with me, and we were off!

I had three goals for the day: the Bean, Lake Michigan, and deep dish pizza. Not lofty, by any means, but enough for a solid first impression and no possibility of getting overwhelmed!

Chicago was exceptionally beautiful, especially with the super blue sky, lake breeze, and perfect temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit. I hope I get to return to Chicago someday and really dig deeper into the city and the pizza.

Have you been to Chicago? What should I make sure to do next time? Have you tried scheduling crazy long layovers for fun?

MummyTravelswanderful wednesday
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August 10, 2016

9 Works of Art that Move Me

This is a collection of the art that has moved me from the moment I saw it and continues to teach me things about myself and the world. 

I am not an art aficionado (I majored in physical education - the art of sport?). I only started appreciating some art while living in Paris. At the beginning, I only went to museums because I was supposed to, then, I realized, there were certain styles and artists that I was attracted to more than others.

This is not a post about the history of the art itself. I will include the title of the piece, the artist, and where it can be found. 

This is about how these works of art move me.

(Ranked from least to most amazing...but they're all super amazing!)

9. Neptune's Horses by Walter Crane, 1892

Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany

Crane's "horse waves" made me see both horses and the ocean in a totally new way. Waves really do rise up with their crest and stampede toward the shoreline. I find the beauty of this painting is in the power and strength it conveys. The one time I've ever been surfing confirms that the ocean does surge with the might of several horses.

8. The Age of Maturity by Camille Claudel, 1902

Musée Rodin, Paris, France

Claudel's tragic sculpture always challenges me to make better decisions. Poor judgment, even in small instances, can gather momentum and lead us down a path where only tragedy awaits us. It also shows me that while romance and passion are important, commitment and loyalty are the ultimate winners in life.

7. Anna Pavlova by John Lavery, 1911

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

I go through museums at a very high speed and am done with most in under two hours. That's why if a piece of art really stops me in my tracks and holds my attention for more than a few minutes, I know I have to figure out why it is important to me. I love the colors in this painting, but the freedom is what really captured me. There's a lightness and happiness to this dancer and I try to feel like I'm skipping in my own beautiful ballerina shoes every time I leave the house.

6. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, 1665

Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands

The Girl with a Pearl promises a way better staring contest than the Mona Lisa. It's darkness and light, it's poor and rich, and it's young and old - all at the same time. The contrasts in Vermeer's painting are what grabbed me, and I can't help but wonder if the girl is looking back to her youth or forward to her future. Even with the contrasts, there is a genuine softness, and I believe it's the peace every single one of us can find in a true pause.

5. Noah's Ark by Aurelio Luini, 1500s

Chiesa di San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore, Milan, Italy

I always find Bible story depictions thoroughly fascinating. Out of a huge and gorgeously painted church, Luini's fresco of an ark that included the unicorns was my favorite. It is easy to put God and the Bible in a box of predictable and contemporary descriptions, but who's to say there weren't any unicorns on the ark? None of us were there! God may not be our version of a genie or wizard, but there's no reason to exclude Him from wonderful ideas.

4. Winged Victory of Samothrace

Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

I love the mystery and motion of Winged Victory. It shows me that civilization has always been roaring with pride in its accomplishments, but none of us can survive humanity. Only the remnants still exist and serve as our attempt to explain those before us. I think about what things in our society that might last two thousand years from now and how the humans who find it will process our current existence. It is wise for us to understand our own insignificance because that is what teaches us to be humble and generous with our fellow man.

3. Les Bourgeois de Calais by Auguste Rodin, 1884-1889

Musée Rodin, Paris, France, and other locations throughout Paris and Calais

Credit: Wikimedia Commons
This is the finest and most intense portrayal of leadership and its many faces. These six men volunteered to die for their city, but they all walk to their death differently. This large sculpture always forces me to ask myself if I would be willing to die for those that I lead, and which of the characters would I be? Would I be the brave or the proud one? The terrified or the sad one? Coming to terms with death is no small task, but death is why our precious lives hold so much value.

2. Wendel Hotel Ballroom by Josep Maria Sert i Badia, 1925

Musée Carnavalet, Paris, France

Credit: Soundlandscapes' Blog
Every time I have stepped into this room inside the Carnavalet, I have to sit and stare. All four walls show humanity in a variety of states, and I have always understood this room as the different ways man tries to reach their version of heaven or happiness. Some seek it through riches, some through work, some through wisdom, but all fall short when relying on their own strength. I am reminded of our human frailty and that faith cannot be bound to human definitions. It is impossible to take a complete picture of this room, but I promise you will want to sit on those benches for a long time the day you walk into it!

1. The Promenade by Marc Chagall, 1917-1918

Albertina, Vienna, Austria 
(normally in The Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia)

All I could think was, "I hope he keeps you grounded and I hope she makes you fly!" This is the most beautiful and joyous depiction of a relationship I have ever seen, and I love it so much that it is the photo on the lock screen of my phone (replacing the Anna Pavlova painting, in fact). I have never liked Cubism, yet this painting is one of my all-time favorites, and it has made my life happier and better everyday.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to live in Europe and for the chance to experience these masterful works of art and incredible museums in my own backyard. I may not be a typical museum junkie, but I deeply appreciate all of the cultural lessons I have now learned because of European history and art. I hope this little tour of inspirational art gives you fresh insight and motivation!

Have you been to these museums and seen any of these pieces? 
What is your favorite work of art and why?

wanderful wednesday
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