Podcast Show Notes: Dutch Secrets To Raising Happy Kids

Podcast Show Notes: Dutch Secrets To Raising Happy Kids

Welcome to the podcast show notes and transcript for Episode 11: Dutch Secrets To Raising Happy Kids. In this episode Rachel Heller and I speak with Rina Mae Acosta (writer at Finding Dutchland and co-author of The Happiest Kids In The World). The Dutch system works to stress the importance of family bonding as a whole and individually between each parent with the children. Even fathers are encouraged by their employers to spend time with their children.  Rina’s examples show why family is important to create happy kids. It’s all about time spent together (not the money spent) which results in a happy childhood. For example, the Dutch are big on camping and caravanning on their holidays. All of us parents want happy kids so I think listening to how the Dutch create happy childhoods will be really beneficial.

The Dutch believe in the importance of family time

The Dutch believe in the importance of family bonding and time together.

Time Stamped Show Notes

1:20 A Happy Childhood is a Well-Kept Dutch Secret

5:34 Encouraging Age-Appropriate Independence in Children

6:41 Employers Recognise Why Family Is Important

8:20 The Importance of Family Bonding on Long Vacations

9:50 Why The Cinque Terre is Great With Kids

13:05 Spend Time With Your Kids in Nature

18:00 The Book Tour For The Happiest Kids In The World

23:18 Happy Kids Have Rest and Regularity


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This is a transcript of 1001 Travel Tales Podcast: Episode 11: Dutch Secrets To Raising Happy Kids  (Transcript). The text has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

A conversation with Shobha George (Just Go Places Blog), Rachel Heller (RachelsRuminations.com) and Rina Mae Acosta (writer at Finding Dutchland and co-author of The Happiest Kids In The World).

How The Dutch Spend Time With Their Families To Create Happy Kids

Added bonus? You don’t need to spend a lot of money to create a happy childhood.

SG: Today we’re here with Rina Mae Acosta who is an American expat living in the Netherlands. She writes at Finding Dutchland about her Dutch reality. She’s also got a new book out called [easyazon_link identifier=”1615193901″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]The Happiest Kids in the World[/easyazon_link] which we would love to hear about because she claims that Dutch kids are the happiest kids in the world, according to a UN survey. Is that it?


SG: UNICEF: I want to hear what makes them so happy. Rachel’s another American living in the Netherlands so you probably have very similar experiences coming from an American background and raising children. Both of you have raised children in the Netherlands.

RH: I’m just at the very tail end of the teenage years.

SG: And Rina you’re at the opposite. You’re at the pre-school years.

RA: I’m at the baby stage. I might even have another one.

SG: Oh, fun, you make cute babies.

RA: Thank you. I’m right in the beginning of it, basically. Early motherhood.

A Happy Childhood is a Well-Kept Dutch Secret

RH: Yeah. You’re just approaching some of these things about raising children in Holland that are very different.

RA: Exactly.

RH: Yeah. It’s very different. It can be quite shocking to Americans, can’t it?

RA: I’m convinced that one of the best-kept secrets is the Netherlands. It’s actually how they got childhood right. I think that’s incredible because a lot of the time especially in our modern culture we forget that children are actually just children but we treat them like miniature adults.

So we have all these expectations of them and often times, not surprisingly, they’re going to fail. I love how the Dutch have a pragmatic view of it. It’s not necessarily that they spoil their children but that they allow their children to be children and create structure. There’s a societal structure that enables them to grow and to learn and to become the adults they do become.

RH: Well that’s interesting because you say it’s allowing them to be children but at the same time it’s allowing them far more independence and decision-making power than children get at home in the States, I think.

RA: That’s true too.

A Pragmatic Approach To Teaching Sexuality

RH: About sexuality when they’re teenagers, for example.

SG: Yeah, I remember, Rachel, being a little shocked that your son has his girlfriend over regularly. They just come on down for breakfast whenever they feel like it.

RH: She doesn’t actually stay over that often but it’s okay for her to go on upstairs in his room. Whereas Americans if the kids’ boyfriend or girlfriend is there, you stay nearby because they’re not allowed to be alone.

SG: And the door stays open.

RH: Yeah. It’s so unpragmatic and also unrealistic. I mean think back to when you were a teenager how much happened anyway that your parents just never knew about, right? It basically sets up a situation where kids have to lie to the parents. Whilst here you know they don’t have to lie.

RA: Actually my child is starting his first year of pre-school. He’s going to get his first lesson in sexuality education which I’m totally excited about. At that age starting at the age of 4, they’re going to start learning about feelings and what is appropriate and what is not an appropriate place to touch. I find that incredibly wonderful because you create a culture where it’s open. It makes the children realize that sex is actually a natural part of life. It creates pride and self-respect rather than creating shame.

SG: I think that’s very interesting because… in the US there is something very similar with little children but it’s geared more towards stranger danger. It’s less emphasis on a positive aspect of what’s appropriate and not appropriate.

RA: The reality is though most of those unfortunate cases aren’t actually strangers but the people that the children are surrounded by.

What I appreciate about the Dutch approach is that it allows children to understand what is right and wrong. It builds the self-confidence to talk to their parents or teachers that something did happen.

RH: Yeah, exactly. As they get older they, of course, get more explicit about what they teach about sexuality and in biology class in the first or second year of secondary school.

When they’re 12 or 13 the teacher uses a model and puts a condom on it in front of the class. I’m trying to not be too explicit about it on the podcast. They use something of the appropriate shape. It’s not a banana, it’s an appropriate shape.

RA: It’s like a dildo right?

RH: I was trying not to say dildo here.

RA: It’s the correct anatomical figure.

RH: It’s standing on a counter. He demonstrates, or she demonstrates, how to put the condom onto it in front of a classroom full of 12, 13 year olds. Of course, I’m sure there’s lots of giggling around it but they learn how to do the thing properly. And they’re taught about all sorts of other issues around sexuality and about saying no, if you want to say no and saying yes if you want to say yes. And how to keep safe and how to protect themselves from pregnancy and STD’s. It’s wonderful.

Encouraging Age-Appropriate Independence in Children

RA: Children are allowed to be children but they’re also encouraged to be independent. They’re definitely not spoiled.

Doing chores is a big thing, like helping around the house. They’re expected to actually clean up after themselves at age appropriate times. You know it sounds all perfect and everything but it’s just a pragmatic way of doing things. If you let children do their chores early on it’s not going to be a big deal when they’re actually old enough to know that they’re supposed to help out around the house.

RH: If you ever come to Holland you’ll see kids at quite a young age on bicycles. They learn to bicycle at about 4 and they’ll bicycle with the parent, of course when they’re that little.

How The Dutch Spend Time With Their Families To Create Happy Kids

A Dutch cargo bike seems like a fun way to spend time with the kids (Photo credit: Rina Mae Acosta)

I know my daughter was going to school on her own at 9 on her bicycle and it wasn’t that nearby either, She was going off on her own and that’s normal there. It’s allowing them to get themselves to school. She took herself to field hockey as well, and that was fine. That independence is important.

SG: The Dutch seem to encourage independence but they also value the family unit where fathers and mothers are encouraged to participate in the family.

RH: Yeah. Oh absolutely.

Employers Recognise Why Family Is Important

RH: It is much more common here than in many other countries to work part-time.  And so mother, even Dads will work part-time. When the kids are younger like your kids age Rina, they might go to a sort of nursery school twice a week. Then on the other days the Mom might watch them for a day or two and the father might watch them for a day or two. And that’s fine and that’s normal.

How The Dutch Spend Time With Their Families To Create Happy Kids

Papa Dag (Papa Day) is built into the work schedule of Dutch dads to emphasise the importance of family bonding (Photo credit: Rina Mae Acosta)

SG: And the father’s employer doesn’t give him grief that he’s not fully committed to the job?

RA: Not at all.

SG: That’s such a refreshing approach.

RA: And mind you, these are professional fathers from all different types of levels. You have basically part-time surgeons, part-time lawyers. A lot of part-time teachers, part-time consultants.

Whatever you want to do you are able to work part-time. And if you’re not able to work part-time you can have this thing called ‘Working from Home’. So technically you’re paid for a full 5 days but one of those 5 days you’re at home. The reality is you’re really taking care of the children. Then you’re making up for the loss time later on at night or when the children are asleep.

RH: Or on the weekends or whatever.

Parents Receive Substantial Vacation Time

SG: Right. How many weeks do you get off for vacation a year? Is it like the Germans where they get like 6 to 8 weeks?

RH: It depends on the company but they basically get about 7 to 8 weeks of vacation.

SG: Wow! Is that in addition to National Public holidays or including?

RA: Excluding National Public holidays.

SG: It’s useful to know that there’s like 7 weeks plus national holidays. In addition to your potentially working from home or being more involved with your child’s life in other ways, you also have a good chunk of time that you can have as family time on vacation.

The Importance of Family Bonding on Long Vacations

RH: [Dutch] people go on vacation with their kids for long periods of time. The most popular places I would say are Spain and France because Dutch people miss the sun. So they get in their cars and they’ll go where they know they’ll get some sun.

SG: Yeah, Rina you go to Italy a lot don’t you?

The Dutch Seek Out Sunshine On Holidays

RA: Yeah, almost every single year. I also want to emphasize that the Dutch do go on holiday. What I love about it and really appreciate this being a young family is that they’ve learned to also go on vacations according to what they can afford.

It doesn’t all have to be luxurious and glamorous. They’re pretty pragmatic about it. They’ll go on camping holidays. If you go around Europe travelling around, chances are if you see someone hauling a trailer, the plates are going to be Dutch.

RH: They set it up with a caravan somewhere in the North of Italy or the South of France or wherever. They’ll stay for weeks on the camp grounds. The kids will run wild and swim in the lake or in the ocean and they have a home base in this caravan. Yeah, and it’s not that expensive.

RA: Exactly. They’re able to still understand that it’s really not how much you spend but the quality of time you spend together as a family. So that’s their real focus when they go away on vacation. And even if you’re like a young family you can’t afford a lot, camping can go a long way. That’s what the children remember the most growing up. What they remember is the time they actually spent with their family doing family things.

SG: Yes exactly. All hotels kind of blend into one, that doesn’t matter so much as the actual experience of doing something.

Why The Cinque Terre is Great With Kids

RA: Yeah. We go every year to Italy because I made a kind of a mistake of going to Cinque Terre the first time around when I first arrived in Europe. Because I made that mistake I always want to go back.

RH: I have never been there.

SG: I’ve been there, yes. I was surprised that you took kids there because it’s quite rocky. As beautiful as it is it is quite rocky. It’s not a place that you can let children run wild because then they’ll just fall off the edge of a cliff, no? Or am I just being an American crazy mother?

Monterosso al Mare is the Best Cinque Terre Village With Kids

RA: Actually, a little of both but I think that’s because there’s 5 villages. That’s why they call it  Cinque Terre. The village that we ended up in and that we go to every single year  is called Monterosso al Mare. I would think it’s actually a beautiful and safe place to bring your children.

It’s actually the biggest one and the hotel we stay in is called Villa Steno. It’s set up on the cliffs. I think what most people don’t realize about the Cinque Terra is that it really still is a village atmosphere. It’s a real village with probably only a population of 1300 locals. They actually recognize who are the foreigners and who are the tourists especially when it comes to children.

Check TripAdvisor Reviews Now!

The Italians absolutely love children. They go crazy over children. So believe it or not whenever a child is there there’s actually eyes on the children. They’re not stalking you as much as they’re very aware of who the children are.

So at all times it kind of feels like the children are still able to run around because the locals know the children, even the tourists’ children. Like my boy they know him. They already know him the second time when we came back.

RH: I haven’t been to Cinque Terra but I’ve been in other parts of Italy and I do remember that. People love seeing children and they’re happy to have children in the restaurant and very tolerant of the noise they make.

Many Factors Make The Cinque Terre Great

SG: What is it about the Cinque Terre that draws you each year?

RA: There’s not just one thing.

It’s also the food. If you love seafood you would really, really love the Cinque Terra especially if you know where to go too. And I love how there’s not that many differences in price point. If you know where to go you can eat really, really well.

Again, what I love about it is the community feeling. we’re there for 2 weeks and we really feel that we’re really part of them. I love that because you often don’t get that anymore a lot when you travel. You more like an outsider, right?

But in Cinque Terre like in Monterosso al Mare you feel like just going back to the same bar for the third night you’ve already become really good friends with these people and then they’ll actually remember you. S o when you come back even 2 or 3 years later they’ll say hi and talk about that time that you spent with each other.

SG: Yeah, that’s a really nice feeling to feel like you belong somewhere.

RA: There are children too in the Cinque Terre. T here’s actually playgrounds scattered all throughout the 5 villages too.

How The Dutch Spend Time With Their Families To Create Happy Kids

A playground in the Cinque Terre, Italy (Photo credit: Rina Mae Acosta)

In terms of beaches, Monterosso al Mare is the only one with a real beach and I would highly recommend. We always stay in the old part, Hotel Villa Steno. We do make the 10 to 15 minute trek all the way to the new part because it’s really nice.  There’s a lot more variety and I like the calmer water.

Spend Time With Your Kids in Nature

SG: I’ve seen pictures of you. You just put the children in backpacks and walk with them. You go hiking a lot.

RA: Yeah. We put the toddlers on the backpacks, like the real good solid ones. And just go on a trail. Bring plenty of water, of course. I would recommned if you really have your heart set on going on a trail with a toddler or a baby to leave at like 8 o’ clock, 7.30 in the morning to beat the crowd and to beat the hot sun. By 10 ‘o’ clock even if you go in May it can get really, really hot.

How The Dutch Spend Time With Their Families To Create Happy Kids

The Dutch believe a happy childhood is about spending time together as a family (Photo credit: Rina Mae Acosta)

RH: Yeah. We used to do that with my son. There’s a big age difference between our kids. Our daughter’s 5 and half years older than our son so she was walking but he was in the backpack.

It takes some strength to be able to carry that backpack, with his little hat on him so he wouldn’t get sunburnt. He fell asleep so you’d get to go wherever it was you wanted to go because he’d be sleeping the whole time. Then he’d wake up as soon as he’d come off your back of course.

Manage Your Expectations When Hiking with Kids

RA: I would only bring the older kids between like 6 to 9 if you trust that they can listen. If you can trust that they can listen then it will be fine and also have realistic expectations too. Like you don’t do an entire trail.

You should get advice from the local villagers about which paths are open because sometimes they’re closed. For the most part it’s a pretty easy trek for 6 to 9 year old kids.

RH: Yeah. Good advice. Our daughter was always fairly compliant. She wouldn’t go running to edges of cliffs or anything that she couldn’t handle. But regular bribes are important.

Where We Admit Flat-Out Bribery Works With Kids

RA: You can bribe them with the goal of getting to a particular restaurant.

SG: If you have foodie children, yes. Ice cream or gelato always works.

RA: Yeah. My 4 year old is almost 5. The food is so good that this is a 4 year old child that asks for homemade squid ink pasta with lobster.

And he’s a normal 4 year old child but the food is that good that they make children fall in love with it too. How many 4 year olds would really know? He calls it black pasta but it’s really the squid ink.

How The Dutch Spend Time With Their Families To Create Happy Kids

Why the Cinque Terre in Italy is great with kids (Photo credit: Rina Mae Acosta)

RH: With my daughter it was often just if it was something that we were walking to that she wanted to see. For example, we were in Germany or when we are in Britain, she was perfectly willing to climb hills, long flights of stairs whatever if there was a castle at the end of it. She loved castles, for example… because princess and castles, you know.

So then you could get any amount of walking out of her if it was on the way to something she wanted to see.

SG: Well I discovered that mine will climb anything just to see the view from the top. Yes, any number of towers that we’ll climb. I’m like it’s the same tower as the one that we just climbed. It’ll be the same view. But no, we got to go see it.

RA: Then you really, really have to take your children to Cinque Terre because there’s a lot of climbing.

SG: Lot of climbing. And then jumping on rocks and clambering over stuff, all of that  is just an adventure in itself.

Take Advantage of the Local Playgrounds

RH: Definitely. If it’s a place with playgrounds, then you know when they’re over excited you can take them to a playground and let the yaya’s out.

RA: I would really encourage, if you really are going to go there, there’s only one hotel we always go back to and that’s the Hotel Villa Steno.

SG: That’s the one you stay at. Because we been to Liguria and we’ve done a day trip to the Cinque Terre. We stayed in Alassio which is amazing for little kids because the water is so flat. There are no waves and it just goes forever.

By the time you realize your child is wondering into the water you have plenty of time to rescue a kid in trouble. It’s beautiful and the whole boardwalk is full of gelaterias and pizzerias. So it’s definitely a good kid place. That’s where we stayed when the twins were about 3 years old. We only did a day trip to the Cinque Terre.

RH: What you just described can also fit the Monterosso al Mare where Villa Steno is at.

[Check out the TripAdvisor Review for Villa Steno here.]

Safe Beaches Encourage Independent Play

SG: Okay. So is it’s a nice calm sheltered area as well.

RH: Yes, it’s flat, well not all of it. But what I like about it is that it kind of teaches the kids grit, right? Resilience and grit in a sense that okay there’s a lot of stairs. G o walk up the stairs.

SG: It’s not the “mommy carry me up the stairs? I’m hot?”

RA: No, no, no.no. You just stare at them and be like “they are stairs. Go get up. We have to go back to the hotel.”

SG: Oh that’s the Dutch Mom speaking. See you’ve learned well.

RA: Yeah. They are, keep in mind the happiest kids in the world. If they’re given the idea that they can do things themselves it’s character building I would argue. We do it in a way that we make them do things when we know that they’re not actually tired.

We’re not going to make a child go, climb up a hundred steps if they’ve been out all day. But if we’re just starting the day and they’ve eaten, they’ve had a good night sleep and they have a hundred stairs to climb, my 4 year old is expected to climb the hundred stairs.

RH: Yeah, that makes sense to me. You want to do age appropriate things. You don’t want to say you’re a 4 year old you’re going to climb this mountain by yourself. It’s age appropriate independence.

How The Dutch Spend Time With Their Families To Create Happy Kids

Spending time together exploring the back streets of an Italian town (Photo credit: Rina Mae Acosta)

The Book Tour For The Happiest Kids In The World

SG: Well you’re going to have quite a different trip coming up though aren’t you Rina? You’re taking your children with you on your book tour of the US. Your husband’s coming with you as well right because it would be quite hard to just have the children on your own.

RA: Yeah, we’re looking forward to I think a 12 to 14 hour flight. We’re taking direct flights to San Francisco and then flying from San Francisco to New York. Then from New York we’re going to visit Philadelphia too and also Washington DC. And then fly back to Amsterdam and then a day later fly to the UK.

SG: Are you bringing the children to the UK too? That’s a lot of traveling for the little ones.

RA: To go to the Swindon Book Fair Festival because I’m speaking there.

RH: It must be really exciting promoting your book like this all over the place?

Long-Haul Flights With Young Children

RA: I think it is. I haven’t been home in 5 years too because I couldn’t handle putting my little boy a 4 year old in an airplane for 12 hours. I couldn’t do that to myself or the passengers.

RH: Don’t expect it to be bad, it isn’t necessarily. I’ve flown with kids enough times in all sorts of places, all sorts of lengths of time. Really give them something to do, a tablet, a phone or the little setback screen. T hen they fall asleep.

SG: Yes. A 4/5 year old will be fine because he’ll have a tablet and then he’ll sleep. The baby might be harder because they don’t have as long an attention span. There’s only so much [easyazon_link identifier=”054584231X” locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Peppa Pig[/easyazon_link] they can watch.

RA: How do you guys handle any major time differences because the 9 hour time difference makes me a bit anxious? Do you guys have any tips for that?

SG: I keep my children up and go straight into the time zone that we land. So if you arrive in the evening then you go to sleep. If you arrive during the day they stay up all day even if they’ve been up for hours. And we go to bed at a regular time. They are such good little flyers now because we’ve done that since they were babies. It really puts them into the right time zone.

RH: That’s more or less what I did as well.

SG: Yeah, it’s harsh but it works. It’ll be tough in the beginning especially like that first day when they’re tired and they want to sleep. Y ou just have to come up with something interesting. Hopefully they’re seeing your family and friends and they’ll just be too excited to sleep. You can keep them going until an appropriate time.

Hotels versus AirBnb

RA: We decided to do hotels because of what you post Shobha about…You posted something before about why you prefer hotels rather than Airbnb

SG: I think it’s easier to keep children occupied in a hotel because there’s bound to be a pool. The quality of the Airbnb you just don’t know until you get there. It may not be as child proof as they think it is.

RH: With older kids Airbnb’s can be great because you can book a whole apartment. It’s got the kitchen and it’s a home. You’re not going to bother other guests unless you let them run around in the hallway. When they’re older past the point where you really need to child proof as much Airbnb is really useful.

SG: How long are you in the US for this book tour?

RA: I will away in total for about 3 weeks with the kids the whole time.

SG: It’s wonderful that your husband can come along as well?

RA: Oh, most definitely. And for the most part I’ll have plenty of extra babysitters to help us.

RH: And the kids will end up spoiled rotten but that’s fine. It’s what you do on holiday.

Taking Your Child To Work

SG: Frankly they’re also working because they have to show how and why they’re the happiest kids in the world. Your children are your product demonstration!

RH: Okay, I’m getting pictures here of you sitting at a table of a book signing in a bookstore with 2 kids with robotic smiles on their faces.

SG: Or you know what children do? They always do the worst things possible when you don’t want them to. I can see them having complete tantrums too. Just because oh, I need you to be happy. Uh uh, today I’m not happy.

RA: I bought both my boys to a book reading in the Hague. My little boy at times had this look “This is too boring Momma.” Then he would just get up right in front of everyone. He’s not shy at all which I totally love. He would come up to the reading stage and sit on my lap and say “can we please finish now?”

SG: Do I look happy Momma? No, I do not.

How The Dutch Spend Time With Their Families To Create Happy Kids

A Dutch television interview promoting the book, The Happiest Kids In The World (Photo credit: Rina Mae Acosta)

RA: Exactly, like I really don’t want to be here anymore. Which is part of what the book’s philosophy was right? And letting children be confident enough to say what’s on their mind, to express how they feel.

The Dutch Attitude Towards Public Tantrums

RH: They can speak their mind and they’re allowed to have an opinion. Absolutely.

SG: It’s not even so much allowed – it’s encouraged to have an opinion.

RH: They’re trying to express their opinion but they’re too young to express it.  They end up melting down and having a tantrum right, in public, in the supermarket. Classic situation but in Holland you’ll actual see the parents just stand there and wait. The kid will be shrieking and everybody else will be looking at them but they’re looking with a sort of an understanding smile. We know what you’re going through.

RA: We have. It’s more about solidarity.

RH: And they’ll wait.

SG: To be fair I did that too because I just felt like there’s nothing you can do that will embarrass me so just get it over with. And when I get older and I’m going to be senile, I’m so going to embarrass you.  You just go on and throw your tantrum in the supermarket but you’re still not getting the candy.

RH: But here you won’t get the nasty look from people like you can’t control your children.

SG: I did get those but I didn’t care.

Happy Kids Have Rest and Regularity

RA: I lessen tantrums because I follow what they call rust en regelmatt, so rest and regularity. Basically the children have a life is so boring that they know exactly what to expect. I think that’s absolutely perfect from the ages of 0 to 6 basically the ages where they can really get into  tantrums. Life is monotonous and boring.

SG: You will be happy. You are so bored you’re happy. You’re mind-numbingly happy.

RA: That’s basically it. They’re so bored, right?  What’s really going on in the modern world is that in little children I’m convinced they actually are really over stimulated. Like the whole world is fascinating enough that if you actually create a calm environment the children are going to have more than enough to be curious about and to discover.

RH: Yeah, it really just means predictability. Kids have a predictable schedule getting up at the same time every day. They go to school or pre-school 2 days a week. The other 3 days a week they know what they’re going to be doing. Dinner’s at the same time every day and so on.

How The Dutch Spend Time With Their Families To Create Happy Kids

Nap time in the fresh open air (Photo credit: Rina Mae Acosta)

SG: Oh, I’m a firm believer in schedules as well. They know what to expect, you know what to expect and they don’t feel so anxious. When you’re little everything is done for you or to you, they must feel so out of control.

Regular Schedules Are An Advantage on Vacations

RH: Which is an advantage of the Dutch child travelling because they’ll take him in their caravan and follow the same schedule as you would do at home.

We didn’t do that and I thought, oh, this is going to throw them off entirely when we go on these vacations. Neither did we do the caravan thing. Also, we did go out and have dinner later than normal and that sort of thing. I think because they were used to sort of real consistency and regularity at home they could deal with that change in schedule for a while on vacation with no problem.

RA: I like how you put it Rachel. Then maybe that’s why they’re able to travel everywhere. Wherever you go chances are you’ll run into a Dutch family.

RH: Everywhere.

RA: We were able to take our children on road trips. We’d drive from our area down to Cinque Terre and make 2 or 3 stops along the way. We rarely had any tantrums.

RH: That’s a long drive, how many days did you take for it?

RA: Well we’d stop in Switzerland and then stop again in Northern Italy. It takes us about 3 whole days.

Where To Find More About Happy Kids The Dutch Way

SG: Thank you very much Rina for speaking to us. You can read more of Rina’s work at FindingDutchland.com and check out her new book as well, The Happiest Kids In The World. It is already out in Europe and the UK and will be out in the US in April, I believe.

RA: April 4th.

SG: Okay, and obviously, the best place to get it is always Amazon and Rina is also on social media and your handles are

RA: @Rinamae for Twitter and then for Instagram it’s FindingDutchland.

SG: Okay, perfect.

RH: You should check her out

SG: Well thank you very much it was wonderful talking to you.

RH: Thanks Rina.

RA: And thank you for having me. You two are incredibly fun to talk to.

SG: We try.

{End of Transcript}

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Podcast Show Notes: The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2

Podcast Show Notes: The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2

Welcome to the podcast show notes and transcript for Episode 10: The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2. In this episode Rachel Heller and I speak with Jeroen van Wieringen, who is with Liberation Route Europe. This foundation promotes greater knowledge of the route the Allied troops took to take back Europe from the Nazis during World War II. Many people know about and visit the D Day beaches in Normandy France. There are, however, many more sites to visit which help tell the story of the slow but inexorable march towards Berlin (and ultimate victory) of the Allied forces.

The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2

The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2

Time Stamped Show Notes

00:36 What is Liberation Route Europe?

2:14 The Path of the Allies in WW2

3:41 Beyond the D Day Beaches

4:34 The Highlights of Liberation Route Europe

6:42 The Battle of Arnhem

8:18 The Route’s Foundation Status

10:17 Visiting the Route with Kids

11:17 Visiting the Route with the Mobility Impaired

11:57 The Liberation Route In Berlin

12:56 The American Friends Fund


Go here to listen to Episode 10 of the 1001 Travel Travels Podcast.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen by clicking on the link below.

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——-> Episode 10 of the 1001 Travel Tips Podcast <——-

It might seem insignificant, but it helps more than you might think.


This is a transcript of 1001 Travel Tales Podcast: Episode 10: The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2. The text has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

A conversation with Shobha George (Just Go Places Blog), Rachel Heller (Rachel’s Ruminations) and Jeroen van Wieringen (Liberation Route Europe).

SG: So today we’re here with Jeoron van Wieringen and he’s with the Liberation Route Europe.

JW: Liberation Route Europe, yes.

SG: And he’s going to talk to us about this organization and what they want to do. Hello, welcome.

JW: Yes, thank you, welcome.

The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2

The Liberation Route Europe traces the path of the Allies during WW2

What is Liberation Route Europe?

RH: Tell us what the Liberation Route is.

JW: Basically it is an international remembrance route that connects the main items along the path of the western allied forces. It’s a route that is based on historical events of the Second World War and it aims to keep the memory alive of the Second World War.

RH: It’s not just a route from one location to another that had something to do with the war. It’s actually the route that the Allied troops took to take Europe back.

JW: Yeah. The original route is based on the Allied advance, the western Allied Forces. Basically starting in the southern part of the UK before crossing the Channel, it continues towards Normandy and the D-Day landings. Then into Belgium, the Netherlands, West Germany.

RH: And it includes Poland as well, doesn’t it?

JW: Yes, it does include Poland although very small parts so far. It’s in the area of Dansk. We have a partner museum out there which is called The Museum of The Second World War.  Earlier this year I think it was in April officially, Italy joined too.  That’s the most recent development.

RH: My history is a little shaky. The Allied moved partly of course back to Germany to push the German troops back to Germany and they did the same toward Italy. Did they split?

JW: No, no.  You had the Sicily landings in 1943 already. They came up from North Africa.  Like I said Italy has recently only joined. Before we start implementing the country into the actual route it will take 1 or 2 years at least.

The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2

A World War 2 commemorative statue (photo credit: Liberation Route Europe)

The Path of the Allies in WW2

SG: So you said this was an international initiative. When did the initiative start?

JW: Officially it was an original initiative of the Province of Gelderland in the Netherlands.

There were 2 trainees working at a war museum. In their final conclusion they said the Netherlands had so much to offer when it comes to the heritage of the Second World War but there’s no connection at all. People go to one place but they are unaware of the fact that there are other places too.

The Director of the Regional Tourist Board in the area said we have to do something with that idea. And they started to place big stones in the landscape with information plaques telling what happened at those places in the Second World War.

So it started to create a kind of connection and he called it The Route of the Liberators. And his idea started to roll out to spread towards other Dutch provinces. A couple of years later then officially it became a European project.

RH: Now when Americans come,  I think that it’s very common to go to Normandy.

SG: A lot of people go to Normandy and don’t go elsewhere.

RH: Yeah and there’s an enormous number of museums in Normandy. We only picked a couple of them fairly randomly when we went there.

SG: They’re really good.

RH: But there are a lot of them that address one little aspect of the Normandy invasion.

JW: That’s right.

RH: Then I would guess that when the Americans stop there they might go to Paris to see Paris. They might go to Brittany to see the pretty coast. They’re not continuing on the route.

Beyond the D Day Beaches

JW: And they should do because…

RH: What should they see?

JW: To give you an example maybe some of the Americans have never heard of the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest. It’s in Germany and took place at the end of 1944 in Germany. Sixty seven thousand people died including 37,000 Americans.

It was an American/German battle that took 3 months. Well, that’s one example why Americans should look beyond Normandy.

RH: Wow, and what would they see if they went there? What is there?

JW: Well in the Hurtgen Forest you still see a lot of traces from the war. Literally some tank traces are still visible in the ground.

JW: There are still some field graves to visit, remains of bunkers and so on.

RH: And these are still preserved so people can visit them.

The Highlights of Liberation Route Europe

RH: I see. Okay, I see. So if an American was coming on just a one week holiday because many Americans only get a week or maybe 2 weeks. They couldn’t do the whole route. It sounds like it’s a big route. What would you say? What are the highlights?

JW: The two highlights are Normandy obviously. The second one I would choose personally for a combination of Bastogne and the Germany Hurtgen Forest. Bastogne was the Battle of the Bulge where the American’s participated too. It’s great scenery over there. There are lots of forests so you can combine heritage with nature. The Hurtgen Forest is similar with a beautiful landscape and beautiful area. The history is really a kind of a black period.

RH: Okay, what is there to see where the Battle of the Bulge happened?

JW: There’s a relatively new build called the Bastogne War Museum. It’s a great museum. It opened its doors 3 years ago and it attracts over 200,000 visitors a year. It tells the complete story of the Battle of the Bulge with all new use of new media types. Its a real modern collection.

The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2

The Bastogne War Museum (photo credit: Liberation Route Europe)

RH: And how does it work with all of these, for example, at Normandy? All of these different little museums that look at very different little pieces of it. Are they part of your initiative?

JW: Yeah, some of them are. For example, the Utah Beach Museum is an American museum that is a partner of the Liberation Route. The Juno Beach Centre focusses more on the Canadian aspect. We have some site museums there. In general, there is one big museum called Memorial de Caen which tells the entire story. That’s the main museum of Normandy and then you have all the site museums each having their own perspective.

JW: One for the Canadians, one for the Americans, the British and so on.

SG: And there’s also different graveyards for each of the nationalities.

JW: Yeah, yeah, there’s a German one. You have the American cemeteries out there.

The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2

One of the American cemeteries from World War 2 (photo credit: Liberation Route Europe)

RH: Yeah. I think we visited a British one.

JW: Coming back to your previous question, if Americans visit the Hurtgen Forest. it’s only 20 minutes drive to the Maastricht area. You have the American war cemetery of Margarten. Beautiful place to visit too.

The Battle of Arnhem

RH: Now coming back to home where I live, the Netherlands I had actually never heard of  Arnhem. What was it called?

JW: [easyazon_link identifier=”B0030MTQNW” locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]A Bridge Too Far[/easyazon_link].

RH: Yeah the troopers jumping into Arnhem and the Liberation of Arnhem. That was complete news to me I’d never heard of it before. Maybe that’s showing my ignorance.

JW: You should be ashamed because Arnhem is known by a broad audience via the movie [easyazon_link identifier=”0684803305″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]A Bridge Too Far[/easyazon_link].

RH: Well that will explain it. I haven’t seen that.

JW: There you go. Arnhem in the UK is maybe even more known than in the Netherlands.

RH: And what is there now? I assume that’s on your route.

JW: It’s, well you can visit the Airborne Museum, for example. There’s a British War Cemetery in the area.

At the bridge, there was this operation called Operation Market Garden. The Allied Forces (the Paratroopers) had to take all the main bridges in the provinces  so that the ground troops could go from Belgium to  Germany. The operation did not succeed at Arnhem so the operation failed over there. On that bridge every year there’s now a multimedia spectacle. It’s called The Bridge To Liberation Experience.

The Route’s Foundation Status

RH: Yeah, it sounds that way. You explained that this route was put together. It sort of happened rather than actually planning.

JW: No, there was some planning. Originally it was just happening.

It was our original project but in 2012 the current chairman of the European Parliament a German guy called Martin Schlutz, heard about the Liberation Route. He said well I’m a guy from Germany I’ve seen a lot of trouble. The Second World War is part of me. I think that what you’re doing is great so I want to be your patron. So he became the patron of our foundation. That gave us the opportunity to develop more and more in Europe with him behind us.

RH: So this is a foundation. It’s not a business.

JW: It’s a foundation. It’s a non-profit organization.

RH: And are there for-profit organizations like tour companies that are taking people along the route?

JW: As foundation ourselves, we don’t organize any tours. We talk with tour operators, travel agencies and so on. We say to them if you are willing to sell the story of the Second World War under our conditions then you are able to organize tours.

For example, we have bus company that organises 12 day packages along the Liberation Route. In other countries we work together with travel agencies, tour operators and they develop packages along the route.

SG: So you would have English speaking tour operators as well?

JW: Yeah we do. Actually, we are now working on a set up of a European guide network.

JW: A Liberation Route guide network. Most of them are from the British Guild of Battlefield Guides so they work together with us. Actually all battlefield guides we have must speak English.

RH: Yeah, you would expect as much because many of the tourists would be from England or America in fact.

JW: Yeah, Canada, US, UK.

SG: So it sounds like you have EU funding as well.

JW: Yeah, but only a small part. It’s only for the development of our website and our app.

Visiting the Route with Kids

RH: Now let me run a few hypotheticals by you. If a person was traveling with children which parts of the Liberation Route would you recommend with children?

JW: I would recommend Normandy and the Netherlands.

RH: So what in the Netherlands?

JW: The area of Gelderland is the most developed area.

RH: What’s there?

JW: It’s around Arnhem. You have the museums over there and most of the museums have a special room for children.

SG: Activities to help them understand.

JW: Multi-language, yeah. They were museums that created special booklets for children. And some of them have good lower pictures for the children. And it’s very compact you don’t have to travel long distance to get from one place to another.

RH: Right, so not too much sitting in the car.

Visiting the Route with the Mobility Impaired

RH: Let’s see if person was disabled what would you recommend of the route?

SG: Is there anything that’s not good for the mobility impaired?

JW: Yeah, well the problem is a lot of points of interest are in the landscape. If you go to the Normandy bunkers getting around in a wheelchair will be difficult.  Similarly for the Hurtgen Forest going through the forest could be a problem.

RH: Aah, okay so not Normandy and not the Hurtgen Forest. Where would they be able to go?

JW: Yeah, you can go to Normandy but you cannot…

SG: Some things you can’t do.

JW: I mean you can go to a museum. You can visit cemeteries. There is no problem at all.

The Liberation Route In Berlin

RH: Okay. If you were a foodie like Shobha and didn’t want to do only the Liberation Route which section would you suggest?

SG: My husband loves history, I like food. What would be a good compromise where we have both history and great food?

JW: Berlin. Yeah, we were together there with the Allied Museum for example but also the German-Russian Museum. They tell the Russian story about the war in Berlin.

SG: Where is that, I haven’t seen it?

JW: At Karlshorst. Karlshorst is in Berlin but outside the centre. The Allied Museum is partnering with us. We offer tours through the city of Berlin which leads you along the memorials and all that stuff.

JW: And well if you like food, Berlin is good. There’s something I want to add especially for the American readers because we recently started something.

The American Friends Fund

RH: Okay, he’s handed us a piece of paper called Liberation Route Europe Opens American Friends Fund. Foundation unveils the stories of American soldiers during World War II. Can you explain this?

The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2

Remembering the Americans on Omaha Beach (photo credit: Liberation Route Europe)

JW: We have recently started a campaign in the US for two reasons.

One, to create more awareness in the US for the existence of the Liberation Route and what happened in Europe.

And second one, we want to use the campaign for some extra funding.

We have a special donation page over there and part of the campaign is we are hoping to get some funding because we think it’s really necessary to tell the American story within the Liberation Route.

The important thing is to create more awareness. One of the reasons why we try to reach the American press over there.

SG:  I can see that because Normandy is such a huge part of the trip and that’s what a lot of Americans know. They don’t necessarily know about the parts at the end. Luxembourg, I saw Poland, Netherlands, France.

RH: Yeah, they know about Normandy. Everybody knows about Normandy.

Museums Have Joined Forces to create the Liberation Route Europe

Follow the path of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II

SG: And it kind of stops there. And the next thing you know is Berlin is occupied and that’s it. Everything in the middle is kind of fuzzy.

JW: Yeah, that’s about it, yeah.

RH:  This is an interesting way of opening up the  bridge between one and the other.

RH: I see. Now it says the stories of American soldiers. Are you actually recording stories?

JW: We are focusing to tell personal stories from people. We’re not a historical organization like division this and regiment that. No, it’s the personal stories.

One of our audio spots for example, in the Netherlands tells the story of a girl, 6 year old at that time. She’s walking around outside and she sees the paratroopers coming down. She’s running inside, she tells her mother Mum. Mum, God is throwing people out of heaven. And then her mother says, don’t worry it’s only confetti. Those stories make history more tangible.

SG: It’s a more powerful way to describe things.

JW: Yeah. And also stories of American veterans. Their story will be part of the website, biographies, story…

SG: We saw some of that was already up.

RH: We should name the website here. www.liberationroute.com is the website.

JW:  It’s available in 5 languages. English, of course, but also German, French, Polish, Dutch.

SG: Well that’s wonderful. Thank you so much for speaking to us Jeoron.

RH: Yeah, thank you very much.

JW: You’re welcome.

{End of Transcript}

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Podcast Show Notes: Road Trips Retracing The Laura Ingalls Wilder Books

Podcast Show Notes: Road Trips Retracing The Laura Ingalls Wilder Books

Welcome to the podcast show notes and transcript for Episode 9: Road Trips Retracing The Laura Ingalls Wilder Books. In this episode Rachel Heller and I speak with travel blogger, Debra Thompson, who writes at Just Short of Crazy. A self-confessed Laura-looney, Deb and her friend have done two 1 week roadtrips retracing the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. The Little House on the Prairie books cover a vast swathe of the USA from Minnesota to South Dakota. It’s hard to imagine how families in the 19th century covered this distance in a covered wagon facing un uncertain future and an unfriendly reception. Listen and see if you become a Laura Looney, too!

Road Trips Retracing The Laura Ingalls Wilder Books

Road Trips Retracing The Laura Ingalls Wilder Books

Time Stamped Show Notes

0:55 Retracing the Laura Ingalls Wilder Books

1:45 Pa Was A Rolling Stone

3:16 Staying in a Sod House Hotel

6:37 The Prairie Homestead Museum

8:48 Life In a Covered Wagon

15:54 The Home that Laura Wrote All Her Books

17:56 The Next Literary Road Trip

21:05 Detours Along The Way

24:16 A Laura Ingalls Wilder Roadtrip Book in Process


Go here to listen to Episode 9 of the 1001 Travel Travels Podcast.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen by clicking on the link below.

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——-> Episode 9 of the 1001 Travel Tips Podcast <——-

It might seem insignificant, but it helps more than you might think.


This is a transcript of 1001 Travel Tales Podcast: Episode 9: Roadtrips Retracing The Laura Ingalls Wilder Books. The text has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

A conversation with Shobha George (Just Go Places Blog), Rachel Heller (Rachel’s Ruminations) and Deb Thompson (Just Short of Crazy).

SG: Hello today we are speaking with Deb Thompson who writes at justshortofcrazy.com.  Deb is here to tell us about her 2 road trips that she did following the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books and the Wilder family history. Hi Deb!

DT:  Hi Shobha, Hi Rachel how are you?

RH:  Hi, we’re fine.

DT:  Yes, I am thrilled to be here, I am quite passionate about Laura Ingalls Wilder she was my childhood hero I read her books numerous times.

RH:  So did I.

SG:  So did I.

Road Trips Retracing The Laura Ingalls Wilder Books

DT:  Yeah, as I got older I never knew this as a child. I really didn’t know this until I was, well we won’t mention any ages but much longer than after a child I realized that you could actually visit the places where she lived.  At some point I was like, oh my goodness this is not fiction. This is real life. This really happened. Laura you know really existed.

So when I found out I could visit her locations, that was it. The planning started. A girlfriend who is just as passionate about Laura Ingalls Wilder decided to join me. She and I spent two summers about 10 days each following the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s path which was quite interesting and quite fun. When you road trip in America, there are all kinds of weird things.

SG:  But that’s the fun part isn’t it?

Road Trips Retracing The Laura Ingalls Wilder Books

Road Trips Retracing The Laura Ingalls Wilder Books

Pa Was A Rolling Stone

DT:  That’s the fun part. You know the length it covered and this is what always amazes me.  Pa was probable the original travel writer. He just wasn’t happy being in one spot. He was born in New York. Then he moved out to the mid-west but he was always on the move. They lived in numerous places. There were six spots in the mid-west that they lived. They were quite a ways apart. So when we did our road trips, each one was about 2500 miles each.  From our home, we visited 3 the first summer and 3 the next summer. Both of those trips were about 10 days each.

SG:  The furthest west they went was South Dakota.

SG:  So where did they start on? What was it from where?

DT: So, Pa was born in New York and then he moved west. So the first book that takes place in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series takes place in Pepin Wisconsin which is near, oh gosh.

SG:  Nothing.

DT:  It’s along the Mississippi and it’s in the north part of the state.

RH:  So I know that one of the books was called “[easyazon_link identifier=”0064400026″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Little House on the Prairie[/easyazon_link]” but one of them was “The House in the Woods” which one was this?

DT:  Pepin was “[easyazon_link identifier=”0060581808″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Little House in the Big Woods[/easyazon_link]”. That was the very first story. That was where Laura was a little girl. They were living out far from any civilisation. Besides Pa being quite the traveller, I think he was pretty much a loner.  If there were 10 people within a 10-mile radius he would say that there were too many people nearby. He has to move on.

SG:  No wonder he left New York.

Staying in a Sod House Hotel

DT:  Yeah right!

So on our first journey,  we went from Burr Oak, Iowa. There are no books written about Burr Oak. It’s this tiny little old bar that they lived above. There is a little tiny museum store there. Not much was written about it because it was a really rough time for the family. They had hit some hard times and they had lost a child. So Laura never wrote about Burr Oak. You can still go there and visit and see where they lived for a short time.

From Burr Oak we made our way towards Walnut Grove. One of our favourite things about heading towards Walnut Grove is we had to stay overnight somewhere. We found this Earth Inn in Jackson, Minnesota. We all know from the Laura Ingalls Wilder books that they often lived in like a sod house. Lots of people at that time lived in sod houses.

The Earth Inn in Jackson is the closest you will get to actually experiencing a sod house and staying overnight in it.  It’s kind of built into the side of hill. The roof is all grass. It was awesome.

 Road Trips Retracing The Laura Ingalls Wilder Books

A sod house built into the hillside (Photo credit: Deb Thompson)

SG:  That’s really cool. It’s got the modern amenities, right?

DT:  Yeah, there is electricity and flush toilets or this girl wouldn’t stay.

RH:  Isn’t there one that was sort of a museum? I can’t remember to be honest where it was. It was a long time ago. I think it might have been South Dakota.

SG:  Yes, it is.

RH:  It was a sod house to see how these people who settled there lived.  It didn’t have any modern conveniences.

RH:  You could actually see the old wall paper sort off peeling of the walls.

SG:  Right that’s exactly where I took my kids too as well.

RH:  You have been to that one. I forget what it’s called but the point is, it was dark.

In there, it was dug into the side of a hill. Its roof would be sort of bricks cut out of the earth with a layer of grass on it just cut out of the ground. I’m sure it was insulating and cooling in the heat of summer and all that sort of thin. It was dark.

DT:  They had it well-lit inside so our windows. We did have one wall that had windows that looked out half onto the parking lot, kind of set down into the ground. It was like a sub-basement that goes half into the ground, half above. It was so well lit that it didn’t matter. We just thought it was awesome so we didn’t care. It could have been dark. We were like we are living in a sod house. This is awesome.

SG:  Yes, and you know what they aren’t that many options to do that anymore. This is kind of cool.

DT:  It was really cool. I know that place you are speaking of about where you could see the sod houses. There were signs and we followed them.  When we road trip we get distracted easily which is probably why we go 2500 miles in 10 days.

Let’s follow the trail. Then you going down these dirt roads. Then you are looking around and you are like, do we know where we are at? Thankfully with modern technology you just pull up a map on your phone as long as you have, you know a signal.

We did visit those sod homes that were really cool. It was pretty much the honour system there. You just put some money in the box and go visit the homes.  But I love the mid-west and the whole honour system.

SG:  That sounds different from the one I went to because the one I went to had a gift shop and a person.

The Prairie Homestead Museum

DT:  Okay reminds me of the one at De Smet the actual Laura Ingalls museum.

SG:  It’s called the Prairie Homestead Museum. There is more than one of these if people want to check them out. That’s good to know.

DT:  Yeah, I’ll swing around to that. From Burr Oak and the Earth Inn that we loved, we made our way to Walnut Grove which is where “[easyazon_link identifier=”0064400042″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]On the Banks of Plum Creek[/easyazon_link]” was written.

I think the coolest thing about visiting Walnut Grove is that there was that place called Nellie’s Cafe.

RH:  Nellie was real?

DT: Nellie was a combination of multiple people. That’s my understanding.

SG:  Okay so this is her frenemy.

DT:  This is her frenemy, yes absolutely.

And they have this large museum there you can wander all through and see all kinds of stuff. The best part is you can actually go to Plum Creek. It’s on private property. You just pay like two bucks to the honour box and drive back. You can see the actual dug out home where Laura Ingalls and her family used to live.

SG:  Oh that’s cool.

RH:  It’s still there.

DT:  It’s still there! The actual dugout part is not but you can see the hill. You can play in the creek that Laura and her sister played in. It was a highlight of that trip.

 Road Trips Retracing The Laura Ingalls Wilder Books

Deb Thompson on the banks of Plum Creek (Photo credit: Deb Thompson)

SG:  Really this is a dress up opportunity. Put on a bonnet and have a picnic. You know the children would be looking at me. What are you doing?! But I don’t care.

RH:  And they roll down the hill in the grass.

DT:  We may have.

SG:  I would have rolled down a hill.

DT:  Yeah, we may have put up bonnets and had a picnic. I’m not gonna lie. Yeah it happens.

RH:  Now the TV show portrayed them in a wooden house that the father built. But they actually were in a dugout not in a wooden house in Walnut Grove.

DT:  They were in a dugout for a short period. They ended up leaving because the waters rose. Because it was right on a creek, and in the T.V. show they show them in Walnut Grove. Quite honestly, the Wilders spent the majority of their lives in De Smet, South Dakota. That is where 5 of the books take place. The longest being the prairie.

Life In A Covered Wagon

DT:  That’s the prairie so that one has in town. There is some school houses and a museum all related to Laura Ingalls Wilder and their family. There is the house that Pa built for Ma in De Smet. You can tour and go into and see where they lived the rest of their days at.

You can also go out to the homestead which is about a mile outside of town and visit the area where they actually lived for many, many years.  There is a replica of the wooden, very tiny, teeny house that they built and lived in for a long time.

There is also a replica of a sod house out there, a big museum. One of the best parts of the prairie home, you can sleep in a covered wagon in the prairie.

So you can over night at the prairie in a covered wagon. We spent the night there and as luck would have it, a storm blew in. There was thunder and lightning and there was carry on. We are kinda looking at each other like we’re just in this covered wagon.

 Road Trips Retracing The Laura Ingalls Wilder Books

A covered wagon on the plains (Photo credit: Deb Thompson)

SG:  It’s a true experience of how frightening it would have been.

DT:  It was a true experience. Another thing we found really interesting is that the wind always howls across the prairie. It doesn’t stop. There was no break.  We were like wow. We know there was like this prairie madness because there was never a stop to the noise.

I tell you what being out there, before the storm blew in there were so many stars. It was gorgeous but out there you can also drive a covered wagon.  Not only can you sleep in one, you can drive one with the horses.

RH:  They look like they would be tremendously uncomfortable. I mean not just to sleep in but to ride in. They were brave people. They were going out far away from anybody they knew. It’s not like if they ran out of supplies they could just hop around to the corner store or anything. They were completely and utterly on their own.  I mean they might be travelling in a wagon train with a bunch other people that went with them. But as a group they were on their own.

SG:  When I saw one of these covered wagons in Pennsylvania, they are narrow. They really aren’t that big.

DT:  They are not.

SG:  And then you would, they are not, you would fit yourself, your family, your belongings etc. it’s hot, uncomfortable and probably claustrophobic.

DT:  I would think so.

RH:  I don’t think they generally rode in them very much except maybe the oldest and the youngest you know what I mean. I think that they did a lot of walking. The wagons were more for transporting all those stuff, the tools and their supplies. Then they just sleep in it at night.  That’s the understanding I had that a lot of it was walking.

DT:  That’s how I understood it as well. It was a lot of walking.

RH:  Hundreds and hundreds of miles walking.

DT:  Crazy just crazy.

RH:  What do you do if your shoes wear out? It’s not like there is a shoemaker where you could go buy more shoes from.

SG:  Well you just shot an animal and I don’t know, do something with its leather. DIY shoes.

DT:  DIY the original. Well they were very resourceful, right?  They didn’t have a choice. It’s not like today. They didn’t have much to cart or pack up and travel with. They didn’t have many belongings quite honestly back in that time.

RH:  Few items of clothing and that would probably be about it.

SG:  I’ve always thought that it was the, a serious case of wanderlust like in Pa’s case or perhaps that your options were so limited in the east that would make you want to endure this sort of journey.

DT:  Right and endure the weather.

SG:  And then the unknowns because you know it wasn’t exactly friendly territory. There were people out to rob you or kill you or do whatever.

DT:  Yeah it was crazy.

RH:  And bringing children with him doing it. When you think about it from our modern point of view pretty damn irresponsible of him.

DT:  Right they would be tearing them up in today’s day and age, right?

SG:  Those covered wagons did not have seat belts or car seats.

DT:  There was no car seats. How dare you make your child walk? That is so true. It was definitely enlightening to see how people actually lived.  I think until you are really in it, and see how little they had. I mean you think boy I got my comfy bed and all my blankets back at home.

RH:  Heat.

DT:  Heat and water, like running water, like just turn on the faucet.

RH:  No going out to an outhouse in the middle of the night, when it’s cold out.

SG:  Oh yes and there could be animals.

DT:  I’d have been done right then. There is a reason I was born when I was born. There ain’t no way.

RH:  Now you were talking about how you took these two trips.

DT:  There was 3 things on each trip but they did move more than to those. I think it was Walnut Grove that they moved away from and then moved back to.  There were like Pepin, to Walnut Grove, Burr Oak back to Walnut Grove to Smet and then Laura moved on and they had a little trip down to Independence, Kansas in there as well.

SG:  From South Dakota that’s a long way back.

DT:   Right that’s a long way to go. We drove in a car and it took forever. The whole way we were like wow they were in a wagon this whole entire time. This is ridiculous.

That was the second trip we went to. We started in Pepin, Wisconsin which is where that first book took place. Then we made the drive from Pepin down to Independence, Kansas.  We took longer of course because there were things to see along the way but it took really a long time.

RH:  Distractions.

DT:  And then when we got to Independence there wasn’t really any signs pointing us to Laura Ingalls place. We were like missed opportunity Independence, Kansas. You should have signs all over directing us to get to Laura’s place.

After a few wrong turns we finally found our way to her place there.  It’s small but it was kinda cool to look at and see that was. I’m trying to think that was where ‘Little House on the Prairie” took place.

SG:  Okay.

DT:  Again the honour system thing. There was somebody there when we were there but otherwise you just put your money in the little bucket and go onto the property. It’s crazy.  So, there was a house there and some other buildings there. That one had a church you could either walk or drive to. It was quite a ways down. We could see it across the prairie.  So, that was kinda cool.

SG:  Did you walk or drive?

DT:  Drove.

SG:  That’s what I thought. That would be my option.

RH:  Girl the horse and buggy is what you have to do.

 Road Trips Retracing The Laura Ingalls Wilder Books

On a horse and buggy ride (Photo credit: Deb Thompson)

DT:  Totally driving anywhere I can.  So, that was cool a long drive between the two which still today to this day boggles me that they done it in horse and buggy and bad roads. We complain about our roads. They had ruts to be in to get from A to B which is amazing to think about.  Then our last stop on that second trip was in Mansfield, Missouri. Now that is where Laura wrote all her books.

The Home that Laura Wrote All Her Books

SG:  So that was her married home.

DT:  That was her married home. She was married to Alphonso and they had Rose, their daughter. Rose that lived there. Mansfield, Missouri has spent a couple million dollars building a new museum in Mansfield dedicated to Laura Ingalls Wilder.

So, you go to the museum you can watch a movie. You can see all these trinkets from their lives. Then you can go to her house and tour the house.  And I’ll tell you the most significant part of that visit was seeing the actual desk that she wrote all her stories from.  And I looked at my friend and I was like, we are not allowed to cry, we are not allowed to cry.  It was really special experience.

SG:  She was pretty old when she wrote these books though she was much older in life.

DT:  Yes, she was. Rose was an adult when she started writing them. She [Laura] was probably in her 50’s, 60’s. She was recalling all her childhood memories. In some ways the books are probably a little skewed right from history.

RH:  Yeah, a little. She romanticised. Plus her memory was from the point of view of a child.

DT:  Exactly.

SG:  Where everything is fun. It would have been Ma and Pa thinking, oh my goodness what are gonna do to eat? The kids were like fun! Let’s have a picnic.

DT:  Let’s roll down the hill.

SG:  Yayy.

DT:  In the longest winter she really talks about how rough life was. In De Smet there was no food, no fuel for heat and the things they had to do to survive.

SG:  That was my favourite book at the time even though it was pretty chilling.

DT:  It was pretty sad right.

SG:  It was sad. As a child you are thinking oh my goodness what’s gonna happen next? Will they all be okay?  Of course now that you are older, they weren’t gonna kill off a kid in the middle of a book, were they?

DT:  Maybe I don’t know. Don’t give away the ending. Spoiler.

RH:  Okay so I have another question, you know you have taken these 2 sort of epic trips just around that series of books. What are you gonna do next?

The Next Literary Road Trip

DT:  So now Sarah and I have decided that every year needs to have a literary trip.

What will happen we’ll have an annual trip now that’s literary. For my site I’m actually doing a year of literary travel on the site. This year will all be dedicated to literary travel around the United States.  But I think next year we are doing [easyazon_link identifier=”B01N90S5JF” locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Anne of Green Gables[/easyazon_link].

SG:  Oh in Canada.

RH:  Oh up in Prince Edward Island, isn’t it? It’s supposed to be beautiful up there. I haven’t been yet.

DT:  We haven’t been either. Anne Green Gables is another favourite book of Sarah’s. I have to admit that I’m not as familiar with those books but I have a year to get ready.

RH:  Yeah start reading. I was gonna suggest going to Britain.  I went a couple of years ago, to where the Bronte’s sisters grew up. And it’s just the most beautiful little town and you can also walk up into the moors. The valleys are all farmland but there are places that haven’t been farmed. They are much more like the moors would have been in their day when the Bronte sisters lived.  You could just stand up there with the wind blowing in your long skirts you know.

DT:  Yes, it needs to happen. It really needs to happen.

SG:  You know if you and your friend likes dressing up there is a Jane Austin festival every September.

RH:  The town was Hayworth, I just remembered.

SG:  So the Jane Austen Festival is September in Bath  where everybody dresses up and does the Jane Austen thing. I’m going to take my daughter because it’s fun.

RH:  It will be great fun.

SG:  I know exactly. You get to wear a bonnet and sip tea and look for Mr. Darcy.

DT:  I totally need to take my daughter to that. She would love that. She loves Jane Austin. Oh my goodness, oh man there is so many great places right? You just find a favourite book or favourite novel or writer whatever. You can  walk in their footsteps a little bit.

RH:  It’s a special way to do a trip when you build it around a theme rather than just the place. I mean if you just done a trip around Wisconsin and South Dakota and Minnesota it would have been just a trip round Wisconsin, and South Dakota and Minnesota. This gave it a sort of special twist.

DT:  We told everybody as we travelled what we were doing.  People weren’t so surprised.

SG:  Were there other people doing it?

DT:  Yes, there are groups and there are people that make this journey to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder circle.  If you wanna do it all at once you probably need two solid weeks.

I had somebody contact me from England that wanted to bring her daughter over and asked if 4 days was enough. I’m like no, nope, nope, no.

RH:  No way. It would just be too big.

DT:  So if you are flying in it’s probably best to fly in to Minneapolis, Minnesota or you could fly in to Chicago, Illinois and start your journeys there.

RH:  But really 2 weeks would be the way to do it properly. Especially if you are gonna wanna stop and do other things too.

DT:  Right well you are gonna have to have a car.

RH:  Yeah of course.

Detours Along The Way

SG:  What were some of the other cool things you saw on the way in between the wagons and those places? What were on some of these crazy side roads?

DT:  There are always the roadside attractions that we would find like the largest tea cup or the largest coffee pot.

SG:  Somebody built a giant tea cup and left it there?

DT:  Yeah there’s just this giant tea cup.

RH: And they put the sign up that say come see.

DT:  Yeah, come see the world’s largest tea cup.

Of course I have a bend towards the haunted thing so I was always making Sarah stop at things that were known to be haunted. Even if they weren’t open, we’d have to stop so I could wander around the outside.  She’s not a big fan of that but she went along with it because she’s that kind of friend.

She’s a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. There are a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings.

In that region, we stayed at Historic Park Inn, a Frank Lloyd Wright hotel, in Mason City Iowa which was amazing. We went to some buildings that he had built. There is the S.C. Johnson and Wax company in Wisconsin. Their corporate headquarters is all Frank Lloyd Wright built.

Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel

The Frank Lloyd Wright hotel, the Historic Park Inn, in Mason City, Iowa (photo credit: Deb Thompson)

You could take a tour. Well we looked online and there weren’t any tours available. We were sad, Sarah was more sad than I was but we were sad. I was like, you know what, let’s just stop and see. So we walked in and we were like is there  any chance at all that there is room for 2 people on the tour?  She was like funny enough 2 people just cancelled and you can have their spots.

That was our second trip and that set the tone for the entire trip. All these amazing things started happening to us. I can’t remember them all but like tickets will become available when they weren’t any. We would find really cool stuff. We went to the Kansas City Central Library which is an amazing library.

Road Trips Retracing The Laura Ingalls Wilder Books

The Kansas City Library is covered in books inside and outside (Photo credit: Deb Thompson)

RH:  Oh that’s the one with the books on the outside.

DT:  The book signs and the parking garage. It’s so incredible. You go inside and it’s this old bank that they have converted to a library. You have to see it just to believe it.

I always have to check out the children’s section. I’m a big fan of children’s literature. I’m like let’s go check it out.

We started talking to the librarian there. We told her what we were doing. She’s like I have something for you. I’ve been holding it for the right people. You are it.  Give me just a minute.

She went to her office and she came back out. She had this photo book of all these old pictures from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homesteads that somebody ages ago had put together. It’s like this little scrapbook history of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The library was pitching a bunch of stuff and they wanted to throw that book out.

But she kept it because she said she knew some day she would meet someone that that book was meant for. She was like this book is meant for you.

SG: How very fortuitous.

Road Trips Retracing The Laura Ingalls Wilder Books

The Kansas City Library (Photo credit: Deb Thompson)

DT:  Sarah and I we looked at each other and we were like, we’re gonna die on this trip. We’re dead. We are living out our last days because too many good things have been happening to us. Whether it’s gonna be a car accident, we are going down.

SG:  At least you go down happy. Yayy.

DT:  That’s what we said. I’m like this has been a great week so at least we die  after a fabulous adventure. When too many good things happen I start to question them.

SG:  But you are alive and well and all ended happily.

DT:  Yeah, we survived and still here.

A Laura Ingalls Wilder Roadtrip Book in Process

SG:  And you are thinking about writing a book about this eventually, right?

DT:  Yes eventually. In this Fall I hope to sit down and put together the adventures we had. I will highlight the places that people should stop and see along the way to make it a really solid literature and Americana type trip. You got to see the real side of it.

SG:  Sort of a cross between a guide book and a memoir.

DT:  Yes it will. Sarah will I’m sure will help me write it. She is much better with names of stuff.

SG:  That’s what the internet is for.

DT:  I know. I’ll try to break it down so people really can do it in 2 weeks and tell them how to make that happen.

RH:  Thank you.

SG:  Well that sounds fabulous. I’m looking forward to it.

RH:  Yeah, I’ll look forward to that book. It will be fun.

DT:   That was kinda how it went, always happy to answer questions if people have any.

SG:  Yeah, they can email you directly if they want. You’re writing at justshortofcrazy.com. What is your email?

RH:  What does that mean by the way? Just short of crazy.

DT:  Just short or as my kids say just crazy take the short of out. Stop lying to people whatever.

SG:  What is your email?

DT:  My email then is Deb, [email protected]

SG:  Then you are also on the usual social media suspects right.

DT:  All the social media, twitter is probably best. It’s @debthompson and its T-H-O-M-P-S-O-N. Don’t forget the P.

SG:  So thank you very much for speaking to us.

RH:  So check out Deb’s blog. Deb thank you so much for telling us your story.

DT:  You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

RH:  It was a great trip literary trip.

SG:  Yeah, I’d love to do this.

DT:  Yeah, thanks so much ladies! Have a good day.

SG:  Thank you.

{End of Transcript}


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Podcast Show Notes: Choosing a Wild Animal Sanctuary When You Volunteer in Africa

Podcast Show Notes: Choosing a Wild Animal Sanctuary When You Volunteer in Africa

Welcome to the podcast show notes and transcript for Episode 8: Choosing A Wild Animal Sanctuary When You Volunteer in Africa. In this episode Rachel Heller and I speak with travel blogger, Maria Hart, who writes at Travelling With Hart about responsible tourism. Maria tells us of her experience volunteering at N/a’ankuse, a wildlife rescue centre in Namibia. Listen and see if you fall for some of the heartwarming tales of wildlife in this story.

How to choose a wild animal sanctuary when volunteering in Africa

How to choose a wild animal sanctuary when volunteering in Africa

Time Stamped Show Notes

0:42 Choose a Wild Animal Sanctuary

2:56 The N/a’n kuse Research Center

4:35 New Skills Learned: Animal Caterer

5:53 The Care and Feeding of Baboons

7:06 Learning About Baboon Society

12:36 The School of Peculiar Animals

14:32 Volunteer in Africa


Go here to listen to Episode 8 of the 1001 Travel Travels Podcast.

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——-> Episode 8 of the 1001 Travel Tips Podcast <——-

It might seem insignificant, but it helps more than you might think.

How to choose a wild animal sanctuary when volunteering in Africa

How to choose a wildlife sanctuary when volunteering in Africa


This is a transcript of 1001 Travel Tales Podcast: Episode 8: Choosing A Wild Animal Sanctuary When You Volunteer in Africa. The text has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

A conversation with Shobha George (Just Go Places Blog), Rachel Heller (Rachel’s Ruminations) and Maria Hart (Travelling With Hart).

RH: Hello, we’re speaking with Maria Hart today from Travellingwithhart.com, that’s Hart as in H-A-R-T. Not like the organ in one’s chest. Welcome, Maria.

MH: Thank you. Hello. I’m happy to be able to interview for your podcast, it’s going to be amazing.

Choosing A Wild Animal Sanctuary

SG: Wonderful, well you were just mentioning that you’ve just been to Namibia. It’s one of the countries I’ve always wanted to go to. It seems so exotic. Tell us how you went and what you did there.

MH: Okay, I’ve been wanting to go to Africa to do something with animals with conservation because that’s the heart of my blog.

SG: Your Travellingwithhart heart.

MH: Travellingwithhart heart, that’s the one.

I’ve looked into some other ones. You’ve got to be so careful in Africa that you don’t do something that’s unethical. I was challenged by someone because I was going to go on the a lion adventure.

I was challenged by a safari guy who’d been a safari guy in Africa for 20 years. He says, you do not want to do that because that is unethical because of this, this, this and this. He says if you’re touching the animals, if they’re being interacting with humans they cannot be released back into the wild. That is unethical.

But I say yes, but I’ve looked into it. It’s got this certification and this accolade and this. He says, so what. And he challenged me.

I thought okay, he feels very passionate about this. I need to look into it further because this is important and I did. I found out he was exactly right. So I searched further for an ethical organization that I could do the same thing.

So I found a conservation righted project that I could feel very good about. It was working with cheetahs. Basically it’s almost like a SPCA for wild animals. So animals that are orphaned or injured or have been taken as pets and people realize, jeez! I can’t have a cheetah as a pet. These people take them in and they have a veterinarian. They’ll heal them and they’ll raise them up. They now have everything from oryx. They’ve got hartebeests. They’ve got a whole bunch of Baboons because they kill Baboons down there.

SG: Why?

MH: They’re considered a pest. So then they’ll shoot a baboon. See, oh gee! You just shot somebody’s mother with a baby clinging. Then they’ll bring the baboon baby in and say, here.

So then they raise this Baboon baby up. Then they keep them in 2 groups. A family group so it’s more natural for them.

They also have cheetahs there and they keep them as wild as possible. There is one Lion. They had two. One died, unfortunately. And they got wild dogs.

How to choose a wild animal sanctuary when volunteering in Africa

Namibia has the most remaining wild cheetah in the world.

The N/a’n kuse Research Center

SG: It seems quite a big conservation center.

MH: It is. It’s huge. They have research…

SG: What was the name, did you mention it?

MH: It’s N/a’an ku se, which means God Protects Us in the ancient San. They work with the local community as well which is also a part of responsible tourism. So they help these people who are typically underemployed. You’ve got the community involvement, wildlife conservation and then they release as many as possible back into the wild.

RH: Now how is this different from the one that you were originally going to do? I don’t understand what the difference is between the two.

MH: Because at the other one without getting too specific so people identify it, you would be interacting directly with lion cubs. These cubs if you’re going to be interacting with them and walking with them and petting them and all that sort of thing, they’re not going to be as wild as they need to be.

Raised by their mothers, they are taught to hunt by their mothers. They are off in and put in protected areas. But to date in 15 years, I don’t think they’ve even released one.

They might have started but that’s a long time before they release whereas the one that I chose if they’re injured they’ll release them as soon as they can. If not they put them in a huge enclosure which is as natural as possible. They just go live their lives in there if they’ve been too humanly habituated.

They can’t go back out into the wild because then they’re a danger to themselves and to others. They’ll go to humans for food and humans will say aah! Here’s a big cat coming to get me. I’m going to shoot it.

New Skills Learned: Animal Caterer

RH: So what was your job there?

MH: I went as a volunteer to just help with whatever the farm needed, basically.

And I spent some time at the farm, some time on the research projects. So at the farm what you would do is you had to work so one day might be you’re preparing the food which means there’s a huge table in the middle of the room and you have all this porridge lie stuff and you mix it with yesterday’s leftovers for lunch.

SG: This is for humans to eat?

MH: This is what we’ve eaten, nothing gets wasted there. It’s very, very eco-friendly the whole place.

You mix it with your hands and then you make it into balls for the Baboons and you just make up the different animals, different foods based on the requirements. You make up the little bottles for the baby Baboons. It’s just like you know.

And then you can feed them as well, you can go and do things like as glamorous as digging weeds, spreading sand in a coral because that needs to be done. You do that but then you’re rewarded with days where they take you to say, feed the carnivores. And you get these big hunks of meat which you know I’m a vegetarian so this is you know, what it’s like.

SG: Fairly gross.

MH: It’s fairly gross but they can eat it, that’s their thing it’s not my thing.

SG: That’s what animals are supposed to do is eat in the wild, yeah.

MH: It is, yeah. So you just throw it over the fence and that’s obviously probably more work for them to take us out and do that but it’s kind of our reward for doing the weeds and all that sort of thing. You throw it over everybody loves that seeing the big cats jump for their hunk of meat. You go on Baboon walks, for example, and…

The Care and Feeding of Baboons

SG: You walk with the Baboon or…

MH: You do. There was once when I was walking out to the water hole. Now you’ve got the baby Baboons. There’s a different stage process. The real young babies still need to sleep with a mother at night or father.

How to choose a wild animal sanctuary when volunteering in Africa

Baboon mother and child spending some quality time together.

So you take them to bed. You can take some, whoever the new ones are and the warmth and comfort of sleeping with somebody at night. You have to put a little diaper on them, put a hole for the tail. Give them their bottle…

RH: Hole for the tail.

MH: Yeah. Give them a little bath unless you want to sleep with a dirty baboon which is your choice. Then in the morning they go back with their groups. There’s one there who’s brain damaged. Shrinky is her name and she’s special.

SG: What happened?

MH: They don’t know but when they found her she was brain damaged. She’s come a long way now she can eat for herself, she can walk.

SG: Special Ed. Baboon.

MH: She is…

RH: But she won’t be released to the wild.

MH: No, not a hope. But she’s good because there’s one little baby baboon who is my baby. I want to go back and see my baby, Alwin.

RH: He’s probably full grown by now, right?

Learning About Baboon Society

MH: No, he’s probably only… 5 months, something like that. And he’s picked on by the other baboons, in fact, I protected him from them.

SG: Why? Bullies.

RH: Wait, wait, wait. The one who’s brain damaged was picked on?

SG: No, another one.

RH: The other one.

MH: But the one who’s brain damaged she will cuddle him at night so he has that

RH: So she’s taking on that cuddle function for the younger ones. Oh, that’s sweet.

MH: So she comes in very handy.

SG: Why are they bullying him?

MH: Because in baboon society it’s all about status. They’ll challenge you. They’ll bite you without breaking the skin so that they can test your status. That’s how they test your status. If you react that means you’re lower status than them. So they bite you. You have to pretend that nothing’s happened.

SG: Stare them down.

MH: No.. not even that. It’s like, lalala. Did I notice them? That must have been a fly. Completely ignore them or else you’re lower status.

Completely ignore and you build yourself up. If they have a baby because there’s one little baboon she’ll try and steal the baby because that gives her status.

SG: It’s very complicated in this society.

MH: It is but it’s cool. So you go on these walks with the Baboons because inside their enclosures they get bored. They have the younger ones in a little daycare center, if you will. Then the older Baboons. Now I think it’s twice a day they let them all out and it’s completely open. If they want to run away they can go but they don’t want to. They stick in a group. You’re part of the Baboon troupe. They walk towards say, the waterhole, if you’re going that way. So you walk in the hot African sun. The little ones, they’ll try and catch a ride with you because they don’t want to walk that far.

SG: Oh, sweet. So they’re hanging on to your back or something.

MH: No, they run beside you. They put their little arms up and you just grab them and you swing em’ up. There was once I had two bigger ones around my waist, grabbing on and two sitting on my shoulder.

SG: So you’re a Baboon taxi.

MH: Yeah. I then one put his hand over my eyes. I couldn’t see a bloody thing and of course, I had no hands left to move it. So I like just move his hand or foot or whatever that is over my eyes. But it’s amazing because they go and they go up to these trees, these camelthorn trees are hideous, horrible trees with 2 inch thorns.

RH: I remember those, yeah, yeah, yeah. They had those in East Africa too.

MH: And they go climb. They’ll climb on these trees. So they go in their water hole. They have fun and do things, groom each other. Then they’ll come to you and they’ll sit on you. They’ll climb up your shirt.

How to choose a wild animal sanctuary when volunteering in Africa

Cuddles at the watering hole. (Photo credit: Maria Hart)

RH: Only now they’re wet because they’ve been in the water.

MH: Some of them, yes.

One of them, it was her time of the month. They don’t use feminine products. So she’s sitting on my knee and everybody’s like gross. It’s like whatever. It’s natural. I go to the water hole, I wash it off.

Then Shrinky, the brain dead one,  tries to jump up on me and be a real Baboon, give me a fat lip. Like bless her she missed. She tried. She tried to be a real Baboon. She tried so hard. So adorable. That’s it.

And they run around. Unfortunately, one thing is you can’t have anything, buttons, zippers, they’re smart. These guys are smart. Buttons, zippers, and hair, okay. You can’t…

RH: I should interrupt long enough to say that if you haven’t visited her blog you haven’t seen her picture. She’s got long blond hair.

SG: What did you do with that?

MH: Which is a great rope for a Baboon.

SG: Did that hurt?

MH: Oh yes! I would just walk around grabbing the top of my head, the crown of my head and pushing down on my hair so that they didn’t rip out more chunks.

They got quite a few. They play rough with each other so they play rough with you. They don’t mean it. It’s just that they play rough. They’re baboons. They’re not British school children.

SG: And you can’t put them on the naughty step.

MH: You cannot. They’ll laugh at you and go climb the tree. So that was fun and then you’d take them back and they all come back and go to their own closures.

SG: So you’re saying, just back to that poor little one that was being bullied, he was being bullied because he reacted when they were picking on him? So he was a lower status?

MH: I guess in those societies they have a status thing. I don’t know how they determine that within themselves but they do.

RH: It’s a pecking order.

SG: It’s a pecking order and he’s got put at the bottom for whatever reason.

MH: Because he’s the smallest. He’s just too old to be the one that goes to sleep with the people. He’s graduated from that and now he’s in with the 1 to 2 year olds, for example.

SG: Okay. And he’s the smallest of that bunch. The runt of the litter sort of thing.

MH: Yeah. So sometimes he gets picked on. He’s run to me, wraps his arms around me and of course, I’ll protect him. I have gotten a big bite from another one who’s trying to get to him because they were being so mean. They were pulling his hair and biting him and everything.  It’s like, oh no you won’t. They can turn on you. You have to be careful but you have to stay calm.

SG: They’re wild animals.

MH: They’re wild animals even though they’ve been mostly hand raised. But that being said I know this is not necessarily pc but I also walked into a classroom and the children were climbing on the furniture. The children were pushing each other too so that I would pick them up. The children were biting and hitting each other.

SG: Well Rachel originally you’re a teacher.

MH: So, have you seen this?

RH: Okay, this happens, human children, yes. We can use our words to train them out of it which probably wouldn’t work with the baboon.

MH: Well, to some extent. To discipline them you’re not rough with them. Y ou just say no and you put them down. They don’t like that. Their ears go back. They’ll look at you like how dare you say no to me, like a spoilt child maybe.

SG: Or 2 year old.

MH: Yeah, oh yes. Just like 2 year olds. It’s not just about the baboons, although I miss my little Baboon baby. I want to go back and see him. I bottle feed a Hartebeest I remember.

SG: A Hartebeest?

RH: A kind of Antelope.

SG: Okay. So how big were they then?

MH: Well this was a baby, only about 5 months but it was the size of maybe a pony. A small pony but not as stocky. You know more gazelle like.

The School of Peculiar Animals

MH: Sure. There was an oryx with a wonky horn.

SG: Was he born that way?

MH: Yeah, yeah. So he would have trouble in the wild. He wouldn’t be able to defend himself very well. Unless he used it to his advantage maybe it could work for him. Oh, what else did they have? Of course, they had the cheetahs.

SG: I don’t know why I think of [easyazon_link identifier=”B0049J0CTM” locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Finding Nemo[/easyazon_link] and his little wonky fin.

MH: It sort of is.

SG: It this was a Disney story, he would be the hero in the Disney story.

MH: Yeah, he could be. So could my little…

RH: It’s a misfits orphanage, you know.

MH: Yeah. It is. They’ve got little Meerkats in there. And I pet a porcupine. I didn’t think you could pet a porcupine.

RH: You can. If you go in the direction of the spines you won’t get hurt.

MH: Yes and I had a little friend who was a porcupine. His name is Taz. Taz would come to me and I would stroke under his little chin. He loved it, behind his little ears, yeah.

Then Gomez is the vulture. Now Gomez can be an asshole, okay. So Gomez…

He’d come over on the fence near the porcupines and hang out overlooking them. Now that’s gonna freak out anybody. You got a vulture looking down on you going, yeah…

RH: Just waiting.

MH: Exactly! So poor little Taz. He saw Gomez and he put out his spines. It’s like okay, crap. Then he tries to run behind my legs. It’s like oh, that hurts. So I jump up on the ladder.  I’m like I’m sorry Taz, I’d love to be there for you but… I can’t cuddle you right now. He didn’t understand but that was nice.

SG: Gomez, the vulture wouldn’t hurt the porcupine, would he? But I guess if it was in a natural setting he could.

MH: Well only if he’s dead. Or close to.

SG: Oh, they don’t kill. They feast on dead carrion, got it.

MH: I was sharing the duties with feeding Gomez.

SG: Okay, so the little porcupine was not in any danger. But he felt it. He felt he was.

MH: Yeah.

RH: He was doing what came naturally which was putting up those spines

SG: Yes and just hide behind the human.

Volunteer in Africa

RH: Okay, maybe not that part. But wait a minute, you’re in this place. First of all how did you contact his place, how did you end up there?

MH: I searched online and I found what I thought was ethical and I went through a tour agency.

RH: Okay, so you had decided to go to Namibia and you wanted to do…some sort of volunteer work with animals.

MH: Yes,

MH: So I found there’s a few.

RH: Because you were painting this as you were sort of let loose in this place and just sort of wandered from animal to animal. Taking care of them like you felt like.it.

MH: No, no, no, no. Heavens, no.

RH: There were other volunteers there?

MH: There was actually. It’s getting to be too much now. There’s a lot of young people who go there. Because it’s getting quite well known, quite popular now. So when I was there it wasn’t too bad. When the school’s out, it’s going to be overwhelmingly busy. Probably too busy, I’m afraid to say. But in low season it would be amazing.

You’re on a schedule. So one day in a group, your group  and you do maintenance or you do something like that. Next day you’re on animal feed. Next day maybe you’re on carnivore feed. Next day you’re on free animal time or that sort of thing.

SG: So where did the other visitors come from, the other people who are volunteering?

MH: There’s a lot of Danish and Germans. And Norwegians. You definitely heard those accents a lot.

SG: So everyone spoke in English.

MH: No, the Danish tend to stay in their groups and they speak in Danish. Norwegian would speak Norwegian some of them could speak English as well.

SG: So Maria, did you have a friend?

MH: My friend were the baboons?

SG: Who spoke to you?

MH: Yeah, well

SG: Thanks Maria for speaking to us about your adventures in Namibia. That sounds absolutely fascinating. If you’d like to hear more about Maria’s eco adventures you can check out her blog Travellingwithhart.com. And traveling is spelt the British way, t-r-a-v-e-l-l-i-n-g. Double L there and Hart is her last name H-a-r-t. Thanks very much and we’ll see you next week for another podcast.

{End of Transcript}

How to choose a wildlife animal sanctuary when you decide to go volunteering in Africa? Check out this post where Maria tells us of her experience volunteering at N/a’ankuse, a wildlife rescue centre in Namibia. Plus, find out what to look for when you have to decide where to go. Responsible volunteering in Africa is important! #africa #volunteer #volunteering #volunteeringprogram #wildlife #namibia

How to choose a wildlife animal sanctuary when you decide to go volunteering in Africa?

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Podcast Show Notes: All You Need To Know About Cargo Ship Travel

Podcast Show Notes: All You Need To Know About Cargo Ship Travel

Welcome to the podcast show notes and transcript for Episode 7: All You Need To Know About Cargo Ship Travel. In this episode Rachel Heller and I speak with travel blogger and travel guide book author, Rebecca Hall, who writes at Life Beyond Borders Blog. She has spent many years living in Greece and written a fictionalised account of life in a small Greek town. In addition, she has done several trips as a passenger on a container ship. If you are happy in your own company for an extended period of time, cargo ship travel may offer an affordable way to travel the world. Listen and decide for yourself.

All You Need To Know About Cargo Ship Travel

All you need to know about passenger travel on a cargo ship

Time Stamped Show Notes

0:33 Stepping Out Of Your Comfort Zone

3:44 Feeling More Greek Than British

6:47 The Tip on Tipping

9:04 One Hand Gesture You Should Never Make

11:00 Girl Gone Greek

13:35 Cargo Ship Travel

15:15 Life As A Container Ship Passenger

17:26 Pirates Aaaargh!

18:26 Karaoke Nights

20:03 Amenities On Board

23:47 Tips for First Time Cargo Travel Passengers


Go here to listen to Episode 7 of the 1001 Travel Travels Podcast.

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——-> Episode 7 of the 1001 Travel Tips Podcast <——-

It might seem insignificant, but it helps more than you might think.

All You Need To Know About Cargo Ship Travel

Tips on travelling as a passenger on a cargo ship.


This is a transcript of 1001 Travel Tales Podcast: Episode 7: All You Need To Know About Cargo Ship Travel. The text has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

A conversation with Shobha George (Just Go Places Blog), Rachel Heller (Rachel’s Ruminations) and Rebecca Hall (Life Beyond Borders Blog).

Rachel:  We are talking today with Rebecca Hall of Lifebeyondbordersblog.com and welcome Rebecca.

Rebecca:  Thank you for having me.

Stepping Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Shobha:  So Rebecca has a cool bio where she gets to live in Greece half of the year. She also spends part of her time in her native UK and then travels around different islands in Greece. It seems somewhat ideal.  How did you get involved in that?

Rebecca:  Okay so basically to put the record straight, I spend part of the year in Greece, part of the year in the UK and the rest of the time travelling for writing for my travel blog. Whether that’s within Greece or within my own country of the UK or within Europe or occasionally worldwide that’s what I get to do.

I have many different hats. I started off as a teacher in Greece, teaching English as a foreign language. I taught that since 2008.  I originally was just gonna stay for a year. I taught in a small village in the middle of nowhere in the mainland and I started to really like it.

I was just gonna spend a year and go maybe further afield like Vietnam or Cambodia. But I started to like Greece so I thought I would try a second year in Athens. I did that and then Greece was starting to get into my blood. I started to think I’m  feeling more Greek from British so then I stayed a third year teaching in Athens. Like I said just got sucked in within a positive way.

After about my 6th year of teaching within that period of time, I had started writing a blog because I was fed up sending my dad emails just letting him know how I was because he wasn’t on Facebook. I was just telling him about the culture in Greece and the places I travelled to that weren’t very well known tourist places. Then about 2012 I started to get some emails particularly from the American market because Greece was hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons. They were saying is it safe for me to come on holiday? I was thinking why am I getting these emails? What are they being fed internationally by the media?

Then I started to realize that it’s not just my dad that’s reading my blog. I changed the name, changed the domain and I made it into a much more professional look. So this is what you have –  lifebeyondbordersblog.com. Since then it’s really taken off organically on its’ own I have people still emailing me, predominantly my readership from the States because I do write about alternative things to see in Greece.

I do go abroad for the travel guide book company Rough Guides which is my other hat I wear.  I’m a travel guide book writer. For example the [easyazon_link identifier=”0241253918″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Rough Guides Portugal[/easyazon_link] I updated this year. I went to very, very unknown places in Portugal, Porto in the North, the Minho region which is in the far north and the Douro Valley which is probably better known.

Predominantly my writing on my site is about places to see within a country. But places you might not have heard of and places that you might not think to go and visit. I  also let people know and to take you out of your comfort zone. It’s okay to visit a country on your own. It’s okay you don’t have to just go on a cruise and feel like you need to be led around and have your hand held. It’s great for some people but maybe just try and come out of your comfort zone a little bit more. That’s me in a nutshell really.

Feeling More Greek Than British

Rachel:  You know I’m not gonna let you off the hook on something you said before about how you feel more Greek than British. I wonder about that as an ex-pat myself. What do you mean by more Greek than British?

All You Need To Know About Cargo Ship Travel

Greek island life (Photo credit: Rebecca Hall)

Rebecca:  First of all weather. I feel weather really affects how people live their lives, how people feel psychologically as well. It affects how you feel on a day to day basis. You getting up when it’s constantly raining or you getting up when the weather is so miserable. When it’s dark, this really affects your psyche. It affects how you live your life.

Therefore a lot of the culture in the UK is to have an indoor culture. The British people whilst they are very efficient and very kind, I find it as a culture compared to Greece very difficult to make friends in the UK. It’s quite closed. It takes a longer time, for example, doesn’t mean that they aren’t friendly.

Also the culture in the UK is more of an alcohol culture. It’s centred around the pub.  I’ve never been one whose really been into that even when I was a teenager. That was always a little bit difficult for me because people always tend to give you a bit of hard time.  What do you mean you don’t want a drink? What do you mean you only want one glass of wine? You go to the Mediterranean culture, particular Greece.

They are quite happy at 11 o’clock at night for you to be sitting there drinking coffee. They are not going to look at you and give you a hard time that you want [only] 1 glass of wine. That’s fine.  In fact, you drink wine or you drink beer and you automatically have mezze. Mezze are little bits of food or just nuts or crisps there for you to eat. They never serve alcohol on its’ own.

That is not the mentality on a Wednesday [in the UK].  You make a plan to go out at the weekend to get drunk. Now I’m not saying everybody does that but it is more prevalent I think in Northern cultures and I find in the UK.

It was the southern culture of also being inclusive. When you go out sometimes, you find whole families going to the village square. In different pockets or different neighbourhoods in Athens, in the squares there, you have mothers, fathers, kids as young as 4 running around at midnight.

Shobha:  That’s one of the things as a family traveller that I really appreciate about the Mediterranean culture. We’ll just take our children with us and sometimes they slept in the stroller. Now you know they can hang out but since no one is getting completely hammered or being ridiculous it felt safe. It felt fine.

Rebecca:  Exactly.

Shobha:  Other people had their children too. There was just a general good time.

Rebecca:  There is not that differentiation. They don’t say young people have to go to this club. Older people go to that park. Everybody is there together and everybody is mixing well. Like I said you get 4 year olds till midnight, 1 o’clock in the morning and people are not criticized for that.

Shobha:  And at the same time you are not getting the waiter at the restaurant angry at you because your kids are running around.

Rebecca:  You can go for one coffee also in a coffee shop. You can sit there for 3 hours and just order one coffee. You are not being looked at to that you either go or order one more coffee. The waiters just love the kids there too.

The Tip on Tipping

Shobha:  In the US a lot of that is related to the tip culture. You just sitting there wasting their time. Then they are not going to get much of a tip after your one coffee three hours later.

Rebecca:  In fact in Greece if you start trying to tip, some people get offended by tipping sometimes. (I mean the people receiving the tip.) Sometimes they look at you and think who the hell do you think we are? We are giving you the service because this is our job to give you this service. This is our pleasure to give you this service. Even if they are not receiving a high wage.

I get American friends who I have made who come to Greece and they say how much do I tip and I say you don’t have to. It really blows their mind.

For me it’s really difficult when I visit the States.  I love the States. I’ve been to Seattle and I absolutely love the West Coast. It was very difficult for me having to work out at the end of the night. This service I’m receiving is really only because this person thinks they are gonna get a good tip at the end of it. I would much rather have a genuine quality service than thinking okay I’m gonna serve this person well because I need the money.  That to me is a really sad, sad thing.

I also want to say about how much weather makes a difference to people’s psyche. When you have sunshine, you might be going through a difficult time, let’s face it like the Greeks are.  It’s not something you can avoid speaking about because they are. However, it doesn’t stop them being human. There is something about people when they have money and the more money you have to me it’s strange, the less human people seem to be.  Human in the sense the less giving.

For example, my next door neighbours when I do visit Greece and spend time there. They don’t have a lot of money. They have had their pensions cut. Yet she is always cooking meals for me, always coming around with food.  There is a Greek expression that literally translates as “you are in your head”. So she thinks because I’m a writer, I’m in my head and I might forget to look after myself. Therefore she’s going to look after me. I made the mistake once (very British of me) of offering to pay her after she had done this the 5th time. She honestly looked like I had slapped her in the face.

One Hand Gesture You Should Never Make

Rachel:  This was one of the things we were going to ask you. There is one of your culture faux pas. Do you have another one?

Rebecca:  Yes in Greece, I was teaching numbers to the children. So try and imagine this. With my palm facing out I’m counting 1, 2, 3, 4. When I get to the number 5 I’m leaving my palm counting out and I’m gently pushing my hand.  So number 1 push, number 2 push, number 3 push then I get to 5 and push it. All the Greek children ahhhh Miss … stop. I’m saying what’s wrong?  It’s a very, very bad expression in Greece. You are basically saying that you are rubbing something very nasty in somebody’s face.

Rachel:  Your open hand facing outwards and thrusting it forwards? In Greece, don’t do that.

Rebecca:  Yes that’s right never ever do that. In fact one of my Rough Guide colleagues, he lived in Greece for a while. He speaks fluent Greek. He was travelling and he was hitch hiking. This is back in the 90’s. You can still hitch hike in Greece quite safely actually.

Anyway, he is hitch hiking and this van didn’t stop. So he just turned around and automatically just as the van drove did this palm out expression. The man must have seen him in the rear mirror, stopped, jumped out and doshed him one on the face.

My friend started yabbering in Greek at him. What the hell did you do that for? Complete Greek about turn, so typically Greek and so funny.  The Greek man says, oh you speak Greek. Oh I’m very sorry and pulled him back up, dusted him down and said I’m ever so sorry. Where would you like to go, come on, sit in the van, come to my house.

The longer I’ve been in Greece and the longer I stay in Greece and the longer I experience Greeks, it just doesn’t surprise me.

Shobha:  How long have you been in Greece?

Rebecca:  6 years teaching and and now 8 years but on and off teaching and as a travel writer.

All You Need To Know About Cargo Ship Travel

Sunset at the container ship port in Piraeus Greece (Photo credit: Rebecca Hall)

Girl Gone Greek

Rachel:  Okay now you also have written a book? It’s called [easyazon_link identifier=”1512251887″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Girl Gone Greek[/easyazon_link]. Tell us how that happened.

Rebecca:  Back in 2010, I was writing my blog. I thought that I want to try and chronicle my experiences.

The actual impetus for writing that book was because I was fed up with what I was reading about Greece in the international headlines. I thought, I am no political writer, I can’t write for the New York Times, I can’t write for the Seattle Post, Washington Post, Guardian, Telegraph.  I’m not an economist. I’m not that type of writer but I do have a love for Greece.

I do have different experiences of the culture. I want to reach an audience and show them what the real Greece is like.  I like to think that I have a sense of humour. I basically sat down and wrote a semi-autobiographical, fictionalised account of my time in Greece. I thought this would probable reach a wider audience because it’s more high brow people that read the newspapers. This is going to reach a whole spectrum of people and it did.

I wrote about this character’s experiences of teaching in school, living in the street village where nobody spoke English and talking about her experiences there. I wrote about the people she met, about how they talk to her, how they accepted her, how some people were a bit wary of her. Basically trying to show the people buying my book that you know Greece is not what you are reading in the headlines. This is what you will see if you go to a remote area of Greece.

So, it’s not just about it aesthetic beauty. It’s also the beauty of the people and the beauty of the culture. I try to do it in a subtle way through writing about honest experiences. It seems to have worked so far, 2015 in June it was published.

Rachel:  Wow, are you writing another?

Rebecca:  I had a message to put across. I had so much energy invested in that book.  I kinda drained myself  now. A lot of people have written to me on Amazon reviews and sent me personal emails. They have said to me are you writing another one?  When is the next one coming out? I’m starting to feel the pressure now.

I don’t think this is the time for me to be writing a second one if I am going to be writing one just for the sake of pleasing people and getting a second one out. I need to write where I’ve got a passion for it. I might be a one book wonder, I don’t know there might be a second one but I’m not gonna push myself for it.  It has to be quality over quantity, I don’t wanna be a sausage machine.

Cargo Ship Travel

Shobha:  On your blog you wright about interesting places to go that are off the beaten path, would you like to share a couple of your favourite ones with us?

Rebecca:  Oh my favourite one, and followers of my blog would know this, this is random and you will probably sit back and look a bit surprised at me –  my container ship trip from Athens to Hong Kong. I was a passenger on board a container ship.

Rachel:  I read that series, it’s really interesting.

Shobha:  It would be the sailors who work on the ship and containers.

Rebecca:  You have about 6 passengers’ cabins but they are not even considered passenger cabins. They are cabins that are not being used by senior members of the crew. They no longer have persons as pursers on board these ships so these cabins are empty for example.

I travelled from Athens to Hong Kong by container ship.  Now I knew about this because my dad used to be at sea for the Merchant Navy. I do have to stress that it’s not Royal Navy. It’s Merchant Navy container ships.  My dad was at sea in 1950’s. He told me even back then they were taking passengers.  He said they used to take nuns who were travelling between the African coast.

He knows I like alternative methods of travel. He said why don’t you try if you want to do a trip, look into that.  He’s old now so his expression was use the internet thingy that you are always using.

I said okay dad. I looked up on the internet. In fact I Googled it and I found an agent based in London and Toronto. They do book it. They are a specialists in it. They book all sorts of trips worldwide. They do cruises. They they do alternative maybe like ice breaker trips in the Arctic. They also do container ships.

Life As A Container Ship Passenger

Shobha:  So on a container ship yeah, what was the accommodation like? Was it basic and then you eat with the staff?

All You Need To Know About Cargo Ship Travel

The rear of the ship being loaded. (Photo credit: Rebecca Hall)

Rebecca:  Basically I was one of the member of crew. So I had one of the more senior cabins. It was about 35 sq metres [115 square feet]/

Rachel:  That’s big for a cabin. You wouldn’t get that big on a cruise ship.

Rebecca:  Exactly and this is again me dispelling more myths. It’s actually 4 huge port holes, big double bed and a small lounge with TV which obviously didn’t work. I don’t know why the TV was in there, maybe in port it works.

Yes, okay en suite bathroom and basically yes, 3 meals a day. I would dine with the senior crew. It was so funny, whenever I came into dine with the Captain, the Chief Officer, the Chief Engineer and the second Engineer, if they were already sitting down and eating they would all stop eating and stand up.  On my ship the Captain was Swiss, the Chief Officer was Polish, the Chief Engineer was German and the Second Engineer was Polish.

In fact by about the 3rd day I said guys you don’t have to keep doing this. I’m on this trip for 27 days with you, I think you can’t do this every time for 3 meals a day please.  And they said okay you’re becoming one of us now. We’re accepting you a bit more as kind of one of one of us so that’s fine.

Shobha:  And then were there other passengers?

Rebecca:  On that particular trip I was actually the only one.

Rachel:  What did you do with your time?

Rebecca:  People think, oh my God because you don’t have internet. There is some connection for emails but not internet because it’s extortionately expensive at sea.  Download a load of books from Kindle before you go. If you go to a Port and manage to get internet access when you go into town, just get [easyazon_link identifier=”B00OQVZDJM” locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Kindle[/easyazon_link] books. That’s why I have a Kindle, it’s great for travelling.  At that time when I went on the voyage I was still writing my book so I had the perfect time to actually try and edit it and finish it.

Shobha George:  You know that just sounds idyllic in some ways. Almost a month without real contact and people pestering you. You can’t waste your time on the internet. You have to get down and do some work, and you have time to think and reflect and edit.

Pirates Aaaargh!

Rebecca:  You have to be comfortable with your own company as well.  Going up onto the bridge was one of the nicest experiences.  Going up to the bridge as you go through the Suez Canal coming out to the Red Sea was  probably the scariest incident we had. It wasn’t even an incidence, it was just normal part of the trip. For 10 days after we exited the Red Sea, we came into the Arabian Gulf. We had to have Security Guards on board for 10 days because we were around the Arabian Gulf area.

All You Need To Know About Cargo Ship Travel

Passing through the Suez Canal on a Cargo Ship (Photo credit: Rebecca Hall)

Shobha:  Yes that was the Somalian pirate area.

Rebecca:  Yes, so we had 1 gentleman from South Africa and 2 from the UK. I’m not allowed to name names. Let’s just call them Huey, Dewey and Louie. I used to call them that on the ship. I knew them and they just laughed.

I say I’m gonna refer to you as those three very, very, very well trained individuals. Very well integrated into the ship’s life, you wouldn’t even know they were there. Basically the ship slows down and you have a small speed boat. Huey, Dewey and Louie come on. Then they exit when they needed to exit.

Karaoke Nights

Rachel:  Yes, yes now I understand that you were writing and you were reading and that was enough. Were there any facilities? Is there a lounge chair you can lay on outside? I would wanna be able to at least get some outdoor air.

Rebecca:  Well you have a lounge chair you could take onto your area where you are based on the ship. It wasn’t like a balcony but I had like an area where I could put my lounge chair and sit outside.

I like people and I like finding out people’s stories. They’re never all on duty at the same time, I appreciate that they gotta rest.

I just wanted to get to know the crew. The rest of the crew were Filipino and they were really quite shy at first. Once they got used to me, they called me their sister in the end. I was invited into their mess areas, because they are called mess areas.  They would have karaoke almost every night, Filipinos love karaoke I think.

Shobha:  Did you join in?

Rebecca:  Yes, they got me joining in.

Shobha:  Tell us your favourite song then.

Rebecca:  Oh no they chose it for me I think it was Bonnie Tyler, what did she sing? Total eclipse of something.

Shobha:  You had to belt out [easyazon_link identifier=”B00137YG2W” locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Total Eclipse of the Heart[/easyazon_link]?

Rebecca:  They were insisting that. They were all [easyazon_link identifier=”B004A2V3K0″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Bon Jovi[/easyazon_link], [easyazon_link identifier=”B0172AL1XK” locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Def Leppard[/easyazon_link] kind of fans but they wanted me doing Bonnie Tyler.  Then there was someone that played the guitar. The Captain was exceedingly good. He arranged a bar-b-que one night.

You know I think who has the hardest job on a ship is the cook. I think he has to cater 3 meals a day. The first up in the morning, the last in bed at nights and you can’t be sick.

Amenities On Board

Shobha:  How was the food?

Rebecca:   Fantastic. We would have say sometimes calamari. Oh we had pork roast. We had beef roast. We had lots of different rice salads for our barbecue.

Yeah the food is much better than a lot of people think and like the average food that you would get on a cruise ship. I think  if you don’t want the entertainment of sitting down and watching dancers, I would choose a container ship to be honest.

And also, they have swimming pool on board. It’s not a huge swimming pool. It’s like an exercise pool. It depends on the ship whether it’s outside or indoors. Mine was indoors. Because I’m very mindful of the crew and I was the only female on board, I used to wait for a time when it was empty. Then I would go on board and just swim.

Rachel:  Is it fresh water?

Rebecca:  Tap water and it’s only filled up when you are at sea.

Shobha:  I don’t know anyone else who has ever been on a container ship.

Rebecca:  NPR [National Public Radio in the USA] when they interviewed me said the same. hat’s why they wanted they interview.

Yeah, I would recommend you should look into doing this kind of a tour.

Rachel:  It sounds very tempting to me.

Shobha:   I have never been on a regular cruise just precisely because I hate people trying to force me to be happy. Not that I am a grumpy kind of person but I wouldn’t like endless buffets and being happy and cheery and enjoying entertainment.

Rebecca:  And you do have to sit with a stranger for dinner.

Rachel:  Here is what worries me about a regular cruise and about the one you are describing. The regular cruise, yeah you are gonna end up perhaps with people you don’t want at the same table with you.

They might be people you don’t like. But the same thing could happen in one of these ships, couldn’t it? I mean any number of things could happen. I mean there are persons that you just don’t click with.

Rebecca:  That’s where the sociology of the whole aspect comes in. It’s very interesting. My father taught me a lesson. He says from a passenger aspect I don’t think it affects you too much because you know you are getting off.

Also it’s all new, brand new and interesting for you. It’s very rare that might find someone you don’t like.

I think that applies more to these people who work in this industry all they time. My dad said to me, you know what Rebecca, I learn very quickly when you are on one of these ships you can’t not get on with people.  You could be on for a hundred days with these people. He said it teaches you to get on with people – not from a passenger aspect but from a working aspect.

So it teaches you a lot about yourself.

Shobha:  My son had recently had a boy’s scout event and he met an Admiral. The Admiral had this really fun fact that apparently 90% of the world’s trade is done by sea. So there’s is a lot of these container ships with empty rooms.

Rebecca:  That’s a lot of these ships out there. In terms of also crew and cargo, there are a lot of people who have done this and this is their career. They learn to get along with each other. From a sociological aspect it’s very interesting.

Rachel:  So if somebody had outrageous behaviour of some sort, it would have been toned down, if they were a person who works on a ship anyway.

Rebecca:  Well I guess, I think you have to be a certain type of person. You can’t work in that kind of environment and not know how to get on with people really.

Shobha:  So have you done one of these container ship cruises again?

Rebecca:  I did on in 2010 across to the Caribbean and back again. Then this one was in 2013 the latest one that I was just talking to you about.

Shobha:  To Hong Kong.

Rebecca: Yes, and then I flew back from Hong Kong to the UK. I would choose to do it again but I wouldn’t do that route. Maybe I would fly this time to Hong Kong and then go down to Australia.

All You Need To Know About Cargo Ship Travel

Sunset in Valencia port (Photo credit: Rebecca Hall)

Tips for First Time Cargo Travel Passengers

Shobha:  For a newbie trying it for the first time do you have any tips? how to pick the right cargo cruise?

Rebecca:  I would think don’t do so many days off, in one go and see what route you want to do because you gotta understand with these ships it’s not necessarily about the destination it’s the journey.

Rachel:  No I didn’t get that, not do so many days in one go do you mean one go where you are not stopping at a port or do you mean one go in terms of don’t take such a long voyage.

Rebecca:  The whole voyage for me it would be the latter from what you just described because the whole voyage for me was 37 days.

For a newbie they might find that very, very difficult there are much shorter ones you can do which you can talk to the agent about.  I am very good with my own company. I’m happy to do that and I had specific things to do. There are some people where it would just drive them nuts. If there is a container ship that stops in port and can collect you and then drop you off at the next one that’s great.

There are some container ships that don’t actually dock in a port.  For example in a place called Turbo, T-U-R-B-O which is based in Colombia, it’s too dangerous for the ships to actually dock by the harbour. They are actually still at sea and it’s pontoons that come back and forth. If you wanted to exit the ship or join the ship in Turbo you couldn’t.

So there are specific places that you can’t join and can’t disembark. But there are others so you have to like look at your route.

Rachel:  And when they stop at ports you can get off and go explore a bit.

Rebecca:  Well this what’s even better about a container ship I think than a cruise because I believe on cruises, they only have a certain amount of time don’t they?

Rachel:  It’s usually a day. Usually they arrive in the morning and they leave in the evening.

Rebecca:  Some cruise I think even have less like 2 or 3 hours, like some of the Mediterranean cruises.

Shobha:  It would never be crowded too at the same spot at the same time like a huge [cruise] ship with 3000 people in the local town at the same day at the same time.

All You Need To Know About Cargo Ship Travel

Rejoining the cargo ship at Genoa port (Photo credit: Rebecca Hall)

Rebecca:  Well on a container ship usually about 12 hours. It depends on how much cargo they’ve got to off load and on load. It depends on their schedule and how behind they might be.

For example I was hoping to have an afternoon and evening and then leave in the morning from Barcelona. However, because we were behind we didn’t get into Barcelona until the evening.  They worked like mad so we could leave in the morning. I didn’t even have time to go shop. But it meant that in Valencia I had a lot more time.

You have to be flexible because they are not there primarily to cater to your needs. You need to remember that though. That’s why when I joined I kept a very back seat and let them approach me.

And it’s nice for them to have someone new on board because they must see the same people all the time. In fact when I left the Polish Chief Officer said to me I want to thank you for being on board . I’m not saying this to be creepy he said, even if it’s the Captain’s wife or the Chief Officer’s girlfriend. He said basically a female presence changes the dynamics on a ship. He said it changes it for the better. He said we become better men by having a female on board.

And honestly, I was near to tears I had to hide my face because I was gonna blow. I had spent so long of these people they had become like family 27 crew, 37 days.

Shobha:  That is fascinating something I’ve actually never considered but that sounds so cool.

Rebecca:  I want to thank you for following my site because it means at least I’ve got one regular reader, so that’s really.

Rachel:  Why don’t you go and look at these blogs I’ll read the address again it’s lifebeyondboardersblog.com and it’s all one word connected together thank you very much for a speaking to us.

Rebecca:  Thank you for having me.

{End of Transcript}

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Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

Welcome to the podcast show notes and transcript for Episode 6: Travel Tips from 27+ Trips To France. In this episode Rachel Heller and I speak with Francophile travel blogger, Janice Chung, who writes an everything-related-to-France Travel Blog at France Travel Tips. Janice loves France so much that she has made 27+ trips to France (with no signs of stopping anytime soon). So you figure this lady knows what she’s talking about – including tips on must see France, where to take the best French immersion course and the best active holidays in France such as cycling and running. Janice’s love for France is contagious.  Listen and see if you catch the Francophile bug, too!

Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France by a Francophile

Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France by a Francophile

Time Stamped Show Notes

00:42 27+ Trips To France

1:56 Janice’s Must See France

  • 2:00 I love Paris In The Springtime (… and Summer, Fall and Winter)
  • 3:22 Provence Makes Three In This Love Affair
  • 6:37 Cycling in France (With Pitstops at Wineries)

8:35 Why French Women Don’t Get Fat

12:22 Tips on French Faux Pas To Avoid

16:27 Running Marathons in France

21:23 Staying in a Hotel versus Renting an Apartment

23:21 French Immersion Courses


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Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

A Francophile tells us travel tips from her 27+ trips To France

Heading to France for the first time? Take a look at these travel tips from 27+ trips to France: you’ll find lots of France travel tips & tricks that will help you have a great trip. Includes where to go in France, France must sees and practical tips. #france #traveltips #traveling #podcast

Heading to France for the first time? Take a look at these travel tips from 27+ trips
to France: you’ll find lots of France travel tips & tricks that will help you have a
great trip. Includes where to go in France, France must sees and practical tips.
#france #traveltips #traveling #podcast


This is a transcript of 1001 Travel Tales Podcast: Episode 6: Travel Tips from 27+ Trips To France (Transcript). The text has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

A conversation with Shobha George (Just Go Places Blog), Rachel Heller (Rachel’s Ruminations) and Janice Chung (France Travel Tips)

RH: We’d like to welcome today Janice Chung of Francetraveltips.com. We asked Janice to come and talk to us because of her particular obsession with France. She doesn’t just keep a blog about France but she has visited a lot. Tell us about that Janice, how many times have…

27 Trips To France And Counting

JC: Yeah one of my best friends actually coined the term, it’s a made up term is called Frenchcentric and this is even before I had done a ton of trips. So I just completed my 27th trip to France.

JC: I went with one of my friends who’s been 10 times. It was quite the journey because I think we covered too much ground. Just after Christmas, we visited Paris, took the train down to Bordeaux and saw the brand new museum La Cite du Vin which is the Wine Museum. We headed to Toulouse and Cotes de Ciel and then onwards to Marseille. So one of the things when I travel to France I like to see new places and or I like to see places that I’ve written about that I’m dying still to see. To everyone’s surprise, you know there’s so many places in France I still haven’t seen. Well it’s so big and so different all around.

RH: Now you have established that you’ve seen a lot of France but not all of it. I assume the goal is to see everything?

JC: Yeah, I mean I guess the time will come when I’ve run out or I don’t have the ability to travel physically anymore.

Janice’s Must See France

RH: Of all the places you actually visited what would you say are your must-sees?

I love Paris In The Springtime (… and Summer, Fall and Winter)

JC: Well definitely Paris. I love Paris. There’s something about it. There’s so much to see. First of all, I know it like the back of my hand so I don’t need to use a map. I mean I do for little things but for the major things I don’t.

Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

A view of Paris with the Eiffel Tower and La Defense in the distance.

SG: Do you always stay in the same area? Is there a particular neighborhood you love?

JC: The Left Bank in the 5th, 6th, or 7th arrondissements so that’s on the South side of the Seine. And I really like it because it’s so accessible. Not just walking somewhere but there seem to be Metro stops or Metro connections that are most accessible.

On our last trip with this friend of mine, we stayed near the Eiffel Tower. Great hotel but I probably wouldn’t stay there again because I found that we were traveling much further distances on the Metro than usual to get to places. Nothing wrong with where we stayed very safe and everything. Certainly close to the Eiffel Tower which was great because the Christmas markets were going on.

Don’t like the Right Bank as much because there didn’t seem to be as many restaurants that were in my price range which is like not cheap but medium. Because the Right Bank has the Champs Elysees part of it. So you’re talking about a more expensive area.

RH: 12 Euros glass of wine I remember the last time I was there.

Provence Makes Three In This Love Affair

JC: Exactly. So after Paris my heart is in Provence. My very first trip when I was 19 I went with one of my sisters and my parents and we did Paris. We took the train down to Provence to visit friends of ours that had a house. I fell in love with that area. In particular, the hilltop towns like Gordes, Menerbes, Roussillon that kind of thing.

RH: What is it about them that’s so special?

JC: First of all, smaller towns. There’s something I don’t know. I don’t even want to say friendlier because I do find Paris to be friendly maybe because I can speak enough French to get by. It’s a slower pace, it’s not go, go, go. I can actually relax.

SG: I find the light in the South of France amazing. And it’s quite gentle and it falls and  kind of bathes everything in a happy glow.

RH: Well, Van Gogh certainly loved it down there.

SG: True, that’s a good point.

Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

Abbey of Senanque in Provence with lavender fields.

JC: I think another thing is the wine. I love Chateauneuf du Pape. We were staying in Gordes which is not too far from Chateauneuf du Pape. As a 19 year old who did not like wine at that time, that’s when I started… Boy, that’s a high bar.

SG: I know, you started with Chateauneuf du Pape?

JC: We were drinking it like water because it was so cheap. So it’s my favorite wine now.

RH: France was the first place I ever drank wine out of a box.

The people that I lived with everyday at lunch had a whole meal – you know several courses which I cooked. They had a box of Cotes du Rhone they would always want to open. We would have Cotes du Rhone. That was where I learned to drink wine. It was having wine everyday at lunch and everyday at dinner. It was just part of the routine which you think would be bad but it wasn’t.

JC: No, because you’re right. The first time I rented a house in Provence we bought a big thing of wine and the quality is really good. It’s like at most restaurants their house wines in restaurants anywhere in France are quite good.

RH: Yeah it was like a milk carton. Like one of those long-life milk cartons but it had a little faucet of sorts on the bottom.

RH: And you perch it on the edge of the counter and pour from that. First trip there was when you were 19. Is that what made you such a Francophile or that happened gradually later?

SG: When did you learn to speak French?

JC: Oh yeah. In Canada in Toronto we start learning in grade 4 so when you’re 9 years old.  So I took it through high school. In university actually I didn’t take French. It was after that I’d take it as continuing education. Then I’ve done a few immersion courses in France for weeks at a time.

SG: Getting back to Rachel’s question so you were pretty fluent already.

JC: So what happened was it wasn’t that first trip. I was 10 years old and there was a movie and it was called [easyazon_link identifier=”B000AP04MO” locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Two For The Road[/easyazon_link] with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. And it’s about a couple who are traveling from England to the South of France and that’s when I fell in love with France.

[easyazon_image align=”none” height=”500″ identifier=”B000I9YXKG” locale=”US” src=”https://www.justgoplacesblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/513ho5Cw4iL.jpg” tag=”jg20-20″ width=”386″]

RH: Wow, before you even got there.

JC: Yeah. I remember going through travel brochures thinking I got to go to France. I need to see these places.

RH: In fact, your must see list. We’ve got Paris, we’ve got Provence.

Cycling in France (With Pitstops at Wineries)

JC: The Loire Valley is known as the Valley of Kings so we have a lot of Chateaus from the, 17th century and probably even before 15th [century]. There’s Chateau du Chenonceau which you see usually in photos, travel mags that kind of thing.

RH: That’s the one that’s built our over the river, right?

JC: That’s right the River Cher.

RH: It’s funny that you mention the Loire because that was what made me fall in love with France. I went when I was 11 with my family. It was my parent’s first trip ever overseas and I don’t know how many of those castles we visited but I just couldn’t get enough of it. I just loved it.

Amazing, they’re just beautiful and each one is so different from the one before and they’re also from different periods. Like Blois is older – it’s from the middle ages at least parts of it. I was 11 and I just loved them and always will.

JC: And unfortunately I have not done a bicycle trip in that area but for listeners, that’s certainly one of the most popular areas to do a bike trip because it’s all flat.

I’ve done 2 bike tours, 3, I’ve lost track. My very first one was the Dordogne and Bordeaux and parts of it were very hilly but you compensate that with stopping at wineries. Having a little wine and you have a van that takes your luggage,

SG: I really do hope the wineries are at the top of the hill because then you can just skate on down.

JC: It was tough and you know sometimes when you’re taking a bike tour if it’s a summer in France it can be extraordinarily hot. That trip was wonderful.

I hadn’t been to the Bordeaux area the Medoc and it was a lot of fun. Then I did another one with a friend in Burgundy and that was also hilly at times. Going to wineries and you know fortunately you wear off all the great food that you’re eating. You’re biking for a big chunk of the day.

Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

Chateau de Rully with vineyards in Burgundy.

Why French Women Don’t Get Fat

RH: This is the other thing about France is the food. Which is so extraordinary I mean even just any hole in the wall place will just have amazing food. And just a loaf of bread for breakfast is so much better than bread pretty much anywhere else.

JC: Yeah, rumor has it that the bread or the flour that they’re using is so different from the flour that they use in North America or I’ll just say Canada. Like people who say I can’t eat bread in Canada, they go crazy when they’re in France

SG: It’s like why aren’t French women bigger because I would be ODing on the butter, the cheese, and the bread.

JC: Mireille Giuliano wrote the book [easyazon_link identifier=”0375710515″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]French Women Don’t Get Fat[/easyazon_link]and they don’t snack, they eat smaller portions. There is the question of the wine paradox you know the red wine or actually, it could be white wine too.

[easyazon_image align=”none” height=”500″ identifier=”0375710515″ locale=”US” src=”https://www.justgoplacesblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/51ITGr6aPKL.jpg” tag=”jg20-20″ width=”325″]

SG: What’s the red wine paradox, I don’t know it?

Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

If the red wine paradox lets me drink more red wine, I’m all for it.

JC: But it’s very healthy for you drinking wine.

I think that it’s just that they eat high quality, small portions. In North America, we do the reverse we eat high quantities, low quality.

SG: And then when you go elsewhere it’s hard to switch the quantity out. In France I would eat large quantities of really good food.

RH: Exactly, when I lived there as an au pair I was in college. I was taking a term off college and working as an au pair. And that’s where I learned how to cook actually. I didn’t know how and they taught me.

Which was nice but yeah, the portions were just tiny and we had biftek – steak essentially. It was tiny. One serving was less than a playing card size and very thin as well. It was really small. But the meal that I would make for them at lunch would have several courses. There’d be a soup and there’d be the steak bleu I never could make it blue enough. Bleu means really rare. No matter how quickly I cooked it they would say no it’s not bleu enough. It was amazing.

JC: Yeah the French really love their rare.

RH: And there would be a vegetable course or salad course and there’d be a dessert. I mean there’d be 4 or 5 courses at lunch everyday. That sounds like a lot of food but for each course, the portions were tiny. So yeah, they just don’t overeat.

JC: I think the other thing too is they walk everywhere. That’s why you’ll see even in hotels (or especially in hotels) stairs. You won’t find elevators.

I remember reading some reviews on travel websites and people are complaining and there was no elevator. Yeah, I can imagine it would be hard if you’re carrying this gigantic suitcase up 6 flights of stairs. I don’t carry a gigantic suitcase over.

Anyway, I really like the culture and how they live. They really like at lunchtime you were talking about all the courses. They really do spend at least an hour eating lunch, You don’t walk down the street eating your burger.

RH: Yeah, the people I was working for, the father would come home at lunch time everyday, I’d prepare a meal for him. The mother was bedridden which is why they hired me. So she taught me how to cook without getting off the sofa you see. So it was great for all of us. But we would sit down and have a proper meal at lunch everyday. It was a social occasion and it included wine. Then he went back to work.

JC: What I’ve read to is that Sunday lunches where families would get together are really, really important. I don’t know if that still a tradition in France where Sunday family meals happen.

Tips on French Faux Pas To Avoid

RH: Yeah, I don’t know either. It’s been a long time since that au pair experience. That was back in the 80’s. But let me ask you another question? Have you ever sort of committed a faux pas in France that you’d like to tell us about?

JC: Okay, I haven’t done it maybe because I’ve been over so many times. I’ve read so many books for example. If there’s any book written about someone’s experience in France I’ve read it. One of the most common mistakes tourists make when they’re in France, if you enter a store or an establishment hotel or whatever the first thing you should do is say bonjour. You don’t go “where can I find the tea or the scarves?”. You say bonjour madamebonjour monsieur. It’s just a way that the French behave. If you don’t do that you’re frowned upon and you could be treated differently.

SG: It’s very polite. Good manners.

JC: It is and they’re very big on rules and procedures. That’s why there’s often this criticism about the bureaucracy in France. If a person, for example, wants to move to France the red tape that they have to go through is extraordinary.

RH: Well I think these things are true in most places.

JC: Yeah. So I think that would be one of the biggest things is to say bonjour, mercy. You know when you’re traveling to France, particularly if it’s your first time, learn a few phrases. It’s like going anywhere. I went to Bhutan back in October and it’s a difficult language but I learned one phrase and every time I went to say it to a Bhutanese person they’d giggle. I think they were giggling because well she’s trying.

SG: Yes. What was your one phrase thank you or hello?

JC: It was hello.

RH: You know the stereotype especially about Paris is that people are so rude. What’s your take on that?

JC: They’re not. You know maybe I’m the exception because I speak French.

I’ve only had one bad incident and what happened was a bought a sweater at a very well-known clothing store and I realized no, it  was either a bigger size or a different color that I wanted. So the next day I went back and the woman said you’ve worn it. It’s all wrinkled. I said I haven’t worn it. So I decided to argue with her and she backed down.

And that’s very common from what I’ve heard. You will be argued but, if you stand up for yourself, they’ll back down. And it was fine. But I don’t find the French rude if you make the effort to speak French and you follow the customs.

RH: And that’s absolutely the key because I’ve had people say oh but people were rude to me there. I said did you speak French did you at least say bonjour? No, they didn’t they started right in in English. As soon as you say bonjour what I found is that I’d go ahead and say a whole sentence in French. I used to actually speak French and hearing my accent they’d switch to English with me. Then it was no problem at all.

JC: I think the worst thing anyone can do is to say parlez vous Anglais? No, no, don’t say do you speak English as the first thing that comes out of your mouth. I agree with you, first thing bonjour. The other thing I’ve heard about Paris (and I agree with this is) if you want to learn French don’t stay in Paris. The reason is they get such an influx of tourists speaking English that you’ll inevitably meet people who speak English. You won’t learn your French.

SG: Just about everybody I’ve met in Paris has spoken English well. Better than my French whereas outside of Paris you definitely could speak French more.

JC: And it’s more fun! What you’re really, really trying to speak the language and using sign language and making mistakes. And one thing the French love to do is (and I don’t mind this at al)l is they will correct you if you say something wrong. I don’t mind it.

Running Marathons in France

SG: So when’s your next trip to France planned?

JC: May and I’m having a great dilemma.

SG: Why’s that?

JC: So the dilemma is I have been to Mont Saint Michel with just the cathedral on the island. There’s water that separates it from the land and then when the tide goes out you can actually walk across. I’m doing a half-marathon race there. And then I thought well I’ll tour around Brittany. I haven’t been West of Mont Saint Michel to Dinan to all those places. I’m torn to go back to the South of France.

Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

The famous Mont St Michel monastery in Normandy.

RH: But back up and tell us about this marathon? I’m picturing Mont Saint Michel here, right. You know then you go across the causeway and you sort of wind your way up on the Island up to the church at the top. Does the marathon go up that or do you start at the top and then go down?

JC: No, this is a half-marathon so it’s 21.1km. It starts East of Mont Saint Michel in a town called Avranches. And you start there and you run towards the Mont Saint Michel. I assume it ends right in front. My guess is it just stops in front. As for the marathon, I can’t remember what the route is. I think they start at Mont Saint Michel and they do a loop. They go West and then they come back.  Training isn’t so good lately but anyways we’ll see.

SG: Are you a marathon runner as well?

JC: I used to be. I’ve done the Paris Marathon. I’ve done a whole bunch of half marathons.

I’ve also done the Marathon du Medoc which I have to tell you about. This is a marathon that is a big party. You don’t go for your best time. This one is 42.2 km and there are 22 water stations so basically every 2km. And at the water stations there’s water, there’s raisins, there’s cookies, granola you name it and there’s also wine. So…

RH: I love it.

JC: This is what I did. I would stop I’d have a little sip of wine, I’d eat something and drink some water and then I’d run on to the next water station. And I think I did that for 21 of the 22 water stations. One water station was so packed with people that I thought I’m not waiting.

There was grilled beef, there were oysters, there was ice cream, like little ice cream bars on a stick. There were cookies, there were chips and then there was the typical stuff that you find at water stations besides water. Sugar cubes, I know it sounds weird they don’t do it in Canada.

RH: So basically you run a marathon and by the end of it you’re drunk and you’ve gained weight.

JC: You don’t gain weight actually because you run. I think I burned 2800 calories maybe more. You don’t get drunk because everybody wants to cross the finish line so you just have a sip. Because you’re mixing it with water and food you just don’t.

When you cross the finish line you’re handed a medal, a knapsack, a wooden box containing a bottle of Bordeaux wine and a cup on a string that goes around your neck. So you can go to the beer and wine tent where there’s more free beer and wine and food.

RH: So you get drunk after.

JC: Yes. Remember I said Marathon du Medoc? People dress up in costumes so the theme when I did it which was 2013 was science fiction. So there were people dressed in different costumes.

Then there were these, there must have been 8 guys dressed as Flash Gordon. So they were wearing the red suit with the big Z or the lightning flash. I said can I have my picture taken with you? Not only did they say yes, they picked me up. It’s probably one of my favorite photos.

Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

Janice Chung with the Flash Gordons at the Marathon du Medoc (Photo credit: Janice Chung)

And that was at the oyster line after we had eaten oysters. It sells out very quickly and it’s usually the first, second weekend in September.

RH: That’s a great tip. Talk about off the beaten path. They do things with style.

JC: They do. It’s not just a race. It’s a whole event and that’s why it’s so much fun. Yeah, there are people who love marathons but actually I met 3 people from England and it’s very easy, right. You just hop on the Eurostar and you take a train down to Bordeaux. Actually, the race took place in Pauillac  which is just outside of Bordeaux. Lots of foreigners run because it’s a very famous race.

Staying in a Hotel versus Renting an Apartment

RH: Tell us about you particularly as a traveler. When you first arrive in a place what’s the first thing you do?

JC: So often I will rent an apartment for a week or a house or whatever I probably would go grocery shopping. I know that sounds so boring but going to a French grocery store is amazing, I love it.

It’s so different from in Canada or I would say anywhere in North America. For example, if you want yoghurt, good luck. I remember bumping into some Canadians in the grocery store. I was just staring at the yogurt because there were so many different types. Even the wine. Their grocery stores will sell wine and the quantity, quality but especially the price. You can get an amazing bottle of wine for like 3 Euros which is like $5 Canadian.

So I have great fun in the grocery store and of course, I’ll stock up, load my refrigerator. By the way, it’s a very, very small refrigerator so you can’t buy too much. You just won’t find enormous fridges in French apartments.

RH: So you rent an apartment when you’re there. You don’t stay in a hotel.

JC: A mix or I will get an apartment that has a kitchenette if I can. But I still do eat out, I just won’t eat out as frequently as you know one would. But you know I do like to try out some local places that might be recommended.

So after I do that then I just start wandering. I love to walk and wander around often I will rent a car. The one time I didn’t was when I went to Montpelier. I took a one week course and stayed there because everything is in the town. Then I flew back to Paris and stayed there a week.

Podcast Show Notes: Travel Tips From 27+ Trips To France

The pretty city of Rouen.

French Immersion Courses

SG: If you’re interested in doing an immersion course in France to improve your French what’s the best one that you’ve been to?

JC: Best experience I’ve ever had and I been twice and I would go back again is called Ecole des Trois PontsSchool of the 3 points literally. It’s in Roanne which is west of Lyon.

It’s a total immersion so you stay on the compound which has rooms with private bathrooms. I really can’t remember it’s not a lot of rooms. I would say maybe 8 to 10. You have breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. You have classes in the morning and perhaps in the afternoon depending what package you take.

The first time I look it I had classes in the morning and then I think 2 evenings and breakfast, lunch, dinner.  It was just a week. And you’re speaking French all the time and so that’s what made it so special. You know really a positive experience where I got a lot out of it.

The other thing was it’s student learning. They basically cater to your needs. Yes, they have a plan of how they’re going to teach you. If you start talking about food they might go in that direction. So it’s really good. It’s not so structured that you know oh, I’ve got to follow exactly what they’re doing.

RH: Is this one-on-one lessons or in small groups?

JC: No small groups. So at one time I think there were 4 of us in the class and then the second time there were 4 again. So the second time I did it, I had classes in the morning and then cooking in the afternoon.

It was unreal but all the cooking instruction was in French. Oh my Lord! And that’s a whole different vocabulary. These were not you know just one course. It was like French cooking, of course.

RH: Funny how we keep circling back to food.

JC: Exactly. And I’ve stayed in touch now with the couple and this other lady who I met back in 2011. It was fabulous. I can’t say it enough about this school because I really, really did improve my French and learn. I mean to the point where you’re making jokes in class.

That’s how the comfort level improved. And they do evaluate you. It’s not like it’s just a free for all. They show you how you’ve progressed and that’s what you want. You want to see that there’s been some improvement.

RH: Why don’t you live there if you’re so crazy…

JC: Well my father’s 91 almost 92. It’s more kind of like I want to be close to home. So that’s why. But yeah my heart is in France.

RH: I think we’re going to wrap this up then. I’d like to thank you, Janice Chung for talking to us. It’s been really fun talking to you.

JC: And thank you to both of you for having me on. I get so excited talking about France.

RH: Tell that. But Janice writes for France Travel Tips that’s one word Francetraveltips.com. So you should go and check out her site.

SG: Thanks very much bye bye.

JC: Thank you so much. Thank you. Bye.

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