Arrival in Heraklion, Crete!

Our Greek travel adventure has begun! After getting settled, we checked out the town square and decided to go for a fish spa. Elise could hardly keep her feet in the tank because the little fishies tickled her so much. The hotel had a handy stack of cards featuring Crete’s most epic beaches. I picked what I thought were the 3 most stunning – Balos, Falassarna and Elafonisi – and got to work planning our beach-hopping itinerary. In the evening, we strolled the harbor and seaside promenade, and had our first Cretan meal. From everything I’ve read, Cretan food is supposed to be the best in all of Greece, and happily, our Greek salad and chicken souvlaki were every bit as fresh and delicious as expected!

Heraklion - tiny tourist - @World Travel Mama

Heraklion fish spa - @World Travel Mama

Heraklion, beach cards - @World Travel Mama

Heraklion harbor at dusk - @World Travel Mama

Heraklion, strolling the seaside promenade - @World Travel Mama

Heraklion, Cretan salad seaside - @World Travel Mama

Heraklion harbor at night - @World Travel Mama

Since Europe is currently our backyard…

Round-the-world flight tickets generally have only 16 legs. While that may get you around the globe, it gets you to relatively few of the world’s 196 countries! So while we are living in Berlin, we are taking every opportunity to travel in our own backyard so that we can save those precious flights for more distant destinations. In Germany, summer vacation is shorter than in the US (only 6 weeks), but in exchange, kids get at least a week off during fall, Christmas, spring, and Easter breaks, which has made it possible, bit by bit, to discover magical places a short bus ride or flight away from us.

There’s no way I can do justice in a single ‘catch up’ post to everything we’ve seen since we moved to Germany in late 2013, but here, at least, are some of the highlights:

We celebrated Christmas 2013 with relatives in lovely Prezelle, a tiny village northwest of Berlin near the Elbe River with only 501 inhabitants. For the first time in her life, Elise experienced the excitement of lighting real candles on a Christmas tree!

The Elbe River - @World Travel Mama

Teeth marks by beavers - @World Travel Mama

Lighting Christmas Tree candles in Prezelle - @World Travel Mama

In January 2014, we visited Prague, where we’d lived for a year when Elise was two. We checked out the Christmas Market and shared a Trdelnik, a cinnamony-sweet, tube-shaped pastry, in Old Town Square, wandered our old neighborhood including the playgrounds of Letna Park, had dinner in Prague Castle, and visited with Elise’s adorable four-year-old buddy Stella.

Old Town Square Prague - @World Travel Mama

Trdelnik Prague - @World Travel Mama

Skalecka Prague - @World Travel Mama

Letna Park Prague - @World Travel Mama

Stella in Prague - @World Travel Mama

Spring 2014, we toured Munich, where I had studied my junior year of college. We strolled through bustling Marienplatz, sampled fresh smoothies and shishkabob at Viktualienmarkt, and wandered nearly all 5km of the dreamy English Garden, where Elise threw blossoms into the creek.

Marienplatz Munich - @World Travel Mama

Viktualienmarkt Munich - @World Travel Mama

dreamy English Garden Munich - @World Travel Mama

tossing stones into the creek English Garden Munich - @World Travel Mama

…and visited cousins in Heidelberg, at Lake Constance, and at Hegelbach Organic Farm…

balloons in Heidelberg - @World Travel Mama

Lake Constance - @World Travel Mama

Hegelbach Organic Farm - @World Travel Mama

adorable cousin in Mechlingen - @World Travel Mama

…and spent time in Milan with my friend, opera singer Renata Vitova, and her son Kuba, Elise’s old pre-school buddy.

Opera singer Milan - @World Travel Mama

In the summer of 2014, Elise’s Gran generously invited us to accompany her on a Scandinavian cruise. Highlights included Oslo’s Vigeland Park with its massive stone statues, the picturesque towns of Tallinn, Stockholm and Helsinki, and the Russian ballet in St. Petersberg.

Vigeland Park Oslo - @World Travel Mama

Tallinn - @World Travel Mama

Elise and her Gran in Helsinki - @World Travel Mama

Lady Hamilton Hotel Stockholm - @World Travel Mama

Russian Ballet - @World Travel Mama

Later that summer, we spent a week with friends at Lake Balaton, Hungary. Elise absolutely loved coming up with ways to jump off the pier, including cannonballs, holding hands with her friend Vica, spinning, on floats, etc. The lake is gloriously undeveloped for great stretches, with reeds lining the shore instead of glaring hotels. Seeing the kids splashing in the clean water as swans swim by evokes a feeling of wholesomeness and timelessness.

leaping off pier into Lake Balaton Hungary - @World Travel Mama

In summer 2015, we explored Paris and Salzburg. Elise was beside herself the day she was to see the Eiffel Tower for the first time, yelping with joy at her first glimpse through the train window, and literally running to the observation point. She also fell in love with macaron, which she shared with her My Little Ponies. Other highlights included the Louvre (though we had hopelessly little time to explore it), the Pompidou Center, an interactive exhibition at Palais du Tokyo, where participants steered boats through ominous dark waters, breakfast every morning at Le Pain Quotidien, dim sum at Galleries LaFayette, and uncannily delicious fries at a cafe near Sacre Coeur.

excited to see the Eiffel Tower for the first time - @World Travel Mama

Elise at the Eiffel Tower - @World Travel Mama

Macaron and My Little Ponies - @World Travel Mama

The Louvre pyramid - @World Travel Mama

Palais de Tokyo - @World Travel Mama

cafe near Sacre Coeur - @World Travel Mama

Sacre Coere - @World Travel Mama

Salzburg highlights included Gran’s christening of Elise at a fountain in Mirabellgarten, meeting old family friend, Norica (the person who inspired Elise’s middle name), and dashing barefoot through fountains.

christening in Salzburg - @World Travel Mama

Norica, Gran and Elise in Salzburg - @World Travel Mama

fountains Salzburg - @World Travel Mama

In 2016, we celebrated New Year’s in Budapest, and visited the town of Martonvasar, where Beethoven composed “For Elise” (the inspiration for Elise’s first name). In Martonvasari Park, classical concerts are held summer evenings on a magical little island in a lake that’s a stone’s throw from Beethoven’s villa.

Budapest Castle - @World Travel Mama

Beethoven Für Elise statue Martonvasar, Hungary - @World Travel Mama

Martonvasari Park - @World Travel Mama

In the spring of 2015, we traveled to the Czech Republic, where I did a couture wedding shoot in Prague, picked out beads with Elise in Jablonec nad Nissou, and went skiing with her in Vrchlabi where we stayed at the cheerful, family-friendly, and sparklingly clean Pension Andel, which is only one kilometer from the slopes.

couture bridal shoot Prague - @World Travel Mama

Bead buying in Jablonec nad Nisou - @World Travel Mama

Skiing in Vrchlabi - @World Travel Mama

Pension Andel, Vrchlabi, Czech Republic - @World Travel Mama

Over Easter 2016, we visited Barcelona and the Portuguese islands of Madeira. I adored the winding alleyways of the Gothic Quarter, where we stayed, as well as Park Güell, high above the city. For her part, Elise loved the playground next to the amazingly imaginative Sagrada Familia more so than the temple itself, lol.

playground with view of Sagrada Familia, Barcelona - @World Travel Mama

Park Güell Barcelona - @World Travel Mama

In Madeira, we thoroughly enjoyed a toboggan ride down the hill (screaming the whole while!), as well as a jeep safari through picture- perfect valleys and mountains and along dramatic coastlines, and the 9km sandy beach of neighboring Porto Santo island.

Madeira toboggan - WorldTravelMama

jeep safari Madeira - @World Travel Mama

mountains of Madeira - @World Travel Mama

picturesque valley Madeira - @World Travel Mama

Levadas above the rooftops of Madeira - @World Travel Mama

dramatic seaside clifs, Madeira - @World Travel Mama

9km beach Porto Santo - @World Travel Mama

Aftwards, we traveled by ship with Elise’s Gran to Malaga, Cartegena, and Rome. We saw amazing fortresses and ancient ruins, as well as inspired artwork at the Picasso Museum, but, more than anything, Elise loved the gelato in Rome where they drizzled a bit of vanilla sauce into the cone, added 2 scoops, and topped it off with whipped cream.

Malaga fortress - @World Travel Mama

Gran and Elise - @World Travel Mama

Cartagena - @World Travel Mama

Rome - @World Travel Mama

Gelato in Rome - @World Travel Mama

It is a priviledge to be able to travel this much. We are grateful especially to Elise’s Gran, who’s invited us along on two cruises. We also live very modestly in Berlin, trading certain comforts for more travel time.

Bucket list

Oh, what joy it is figuring out which countries to visit on a round-the-world trip! This list will surely change over time, given additional research, world events, and budget planning, but here’s an intial stab:

SOUTH AMERICA: Argentina, Chile, Ecuador (the 3 countries Elise’s Dad lived in when he was a child), as well as Brazil, in honor of Elise’s half-sisters’ heritage

AFRICA: Namibia to photograph the Skeleton Coast, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania/Zanzibar, Madagascar

MIDDLE EAST: Israel, Oman

CENTRAL ASIA REPUBLICS: Uzbeckistan

ASIA: Japan (where I lived for 3 years after college), China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka (perhaps instead of India, which I’ve visited twice already)

SOUTH PACIFIC: Australia, New Zealand for epic treks, Fiji for blissful tropical relaxation…and…the island nation of Yap, which I’m obligated to visit because I swore as a teenager I’d go wherever my finger landed on the globe. Lol, when else but during a world trip will I be able to meet this obligation?

That’s 19 countries – already 3 more than what a round-the-world ticket covers, so I will have to put a lot of thought into making adjustments to this list over time.

We’ve launched!

World Travel Mama giving her Mini-me a kiss

Dear World, It’s official! Today we’re launching our World Travel Mama blog to chronicle our one-year, round-the-world travel adventure.  The trip has been a forceful idea in my mind for years, and now that it’s less than 365 days away (eeek! yay!!!!), the planning starts in earnest. This means researching flight tickets, health and safety issues, homeschooling requirements, financing options, and, most fun of all, best countries to visit. Stayed tuned for posts on these and many other travel-related topics.