As many of you already know, we'll be moving to Europe very soon! Or not so soon. You see, there's this little virus going around...
Anyway, we interviewed with The Ecole d‘Humanité, a small boarding school in Switzerland at a London job fair in January, and not only did they offer us jobs, they offered to fly our whole family out to check out the place and make sure we liked it. After minutes of hemming and hawing, we decided to take the trip during our Carnavales break. Spoiler alert - we liked it!
We'd be in the Alps for the twins' third birthday and since they only have one of them every four years (Leap Year babies, after all) we decided to do it in style. We planned for several snow days in Switzerland and Austria during the week, which meant that our first stop upon arrival in Munich was a sporting goods store. Snow gear is a bit easier to find in Munich than in Panamanian stores, as you may have assumed.
We got the kiddos geared up, but then had to wait and watch the Carnival/Mardi Gras/Fastnacht parade blocking in our car.
After a well-deserved night's rest, we headed west to Schweiz. Just about when we blinked and missed Liechtenstein, we started to see some white stuff falling from the sky.
By the time we (carefully) pulled up to the school, it was really coming down.
The school looked magical and we kept having to pinch ourselves.
I will say that with the current global lockdown and dangers of crowded urban areas, we're even more excited to be in a tiny town in the Alps for a while. We just have to get there...
On our last day at the school, the Dean of Academics and her family took us out for an afternoon of sledding! The school is at the foot of a ski resort, so we just had to hop on a bus and ride it a couple of stops.
The next day was the twins' official birthday! After a fun Karneval morning meal at the school which involved everyone (except us) dressing up in period clothing, we headed over to Lucerne/Luzern to wander a bit and then took a tour of the nearby Aeschbach Chocolatier. The birthday kiddos decorated their own chocolate bar, while The Eldest, Sarah and I shared one.
For the birthday dinner we drove to the foot of the Austrian Alps because why not?
After finishing up we walked to our car and noticed this:
I guess they like to have ginormous bonfires to celebrate Carnival. At least there's snow all around this one.
For the (day after) birthday celebrations we went up the hill and came back down a few times on "the world's longest alpine roller coaster." But in a ski resort. Wacky, eh?
And that was that. We flew back to the tropics the next day, our school shut down eleven days later, but we have our memories of adventures in the snow intact. Unlike our travel plans for April, our last quarter of the school year, and our chocolate cow.
Highlights of our lives between snowy adventures.
Mere days after school started in January Sarah and I hopped the pond to try to get jobs for next year. (Hint: we did! See our next blog post for the deets!)
A long, chilly weekend in London is always enchanting. Most of our time was spent at the job fair, but we found time to walk across the city, exploring new neighborhoods and old favorite restaurants.
Back in early 2018 The Eldest and I cycled across the continent of North America in a single day (granted, it was the narrowest point in the isthmus of Panama), and I thought it might be a good idea for The Big O to join us for another go before we skipped the country.
I didn't realize it at the time, but these pictures from February were a love letter to the city; my last time seeing its beauty.
School hosted some fun events as well. ISP was the first international school and first school in Latin America to host a downlink with the International Space Station. Our students got to chat with two astronauts, one of whom is a friend of our friend and coworker Dani.
I also hosted our school's Carnival Day where the 9th grade math team has their students design games of chance and everyone plays each others' games. There are many fulfilling aspects of this profession that I've chosen, but teaching underage children how to gamble is definitely high on the list.
And then it was Carnival Break! In the last few days before the world stopped, we had quite an adventure and decided what our lives would be like moving forward. Have I piqued your interest?
Wanna go back in time to before you'd heard of SARS-CoV-2? Or was ten seconds ago that time? Didn't you know that's the official name of this little bugger of a virus?
Anyhoo, we went to California for Christmas last winter. It was fun.
Oh, but wait. I forgot to mention in a previous blog about The Eldest's experience at ISP'S PANAMUN extravaganza. Rather than representing a random country in a random United Nations committee, he stepped up and represented Venezuela in the Security Council, which was debating what to do about Venezuela. So he was popular. And schmancy looking!
Just before we left of Los Estados Unidos we partied it up at the ISP Christmas Party. Can you find me in this picture?
After driving through the old neighborhood and climbing a tree in the old park...
...we visited friends in the Bay Area and enjoyed their biome for a bit.
And then we went skiing!
We are, of course, a family with two, competing allegiances. After traipsing around Northern California, it was time to visit my parents in Riverside, first and foremost for the card playing.
Actually, we saw some pretty amazing things done with cards at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. If you get the chance, I highly recommend it, though I gather it can be a tough ticket to get.
My parents continued to let out all the stops with all the culture that Southern California has to offer: a lecture and concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Moonlight Forest at the LA Arboretum, watching the rhinos at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and burritos and sculptures at Tios Tacos in Riverside.
Whew! Lots and lots of stuff. And quite amazing to see the pictures given the current lack of the ability to do pretty much anything pictured above. Except dance in your socks. (If you're careful!)
I'm hoping to catch up soon to the present day. One nice thing is that for the past four months it's just been pictures of stuff we baked and how long our hair has grown. :^)
As I'm chugging along to try to get caught up to the present day, we now find ourselves in late 2019.
Have I mentioned that I love the leaf-cutter ants? (At least more than the leaves do, I'm sure.) Here's a nice shot of them deep in the Panamanian jungle.
And then here's a "few" more of them at the entrance to our school parking lot.
The big event in fall 2019 in the Schnack household was ISP's production of Matilda! It was pretty darn impressive. The Little Lady was one of the "big kids" while the boys each played in the pit orchestra. Wanna see The Little Lady's longest line? Rewind it to the beginning see the entire show. To hear The Eldest just listen closely for the euphonium solos. And The Big O, of course, is second trumpet.
The production was top notch, and the lobby of the theater was filled with silly glossy pics of everyone in the show.
My parents visited me for my birthday! OK, really it was to see the kiddos in Matilda, but it happened to be on my birthday!
I celebrated by growing offensive facial hair, as is my wont most Novembers.
We also visited the local Emberá community and danced a jig.
After our visitors stopped visited the boys and I explored the dusty overgrown stream under the highway over pass next to our house. They took a while to figure out how to scale the cement incline but eventually got it. Good times! Good perspective photographs!
And then they talked me into joining them
And then the kids noticed (or, more accurately, Sarah noticed) the month that comes after November. I bet you can guess the topic of the next blog post!
The title is Sarah's fault.
I mean...Sarah came up with the witty title!!!!!!!!!!!
You see, we lost our Galapagos trip last (school) year, but we won it back this (school) year!
For our November 2019 break, our family flew to Quito, stayed the night in a hotel near the airport, and then hopped over to the Galapagos. Although the islands are on the actual equator (it was the first time the kiddos were in the Southern Hemisphere) it was actually chilly! Upon touching down, the Big O looked out the airplane window and uttered, "I wasn't sure what to expect the Galapagos to look like, but it wasn't this." The area near the airport was scrubby desert, but after a bus to the other side of the small island and a ferry across the strait we climbed into a taxi truck and sped up to the high ground of Isla Santa Cruz. The landscaped quickly changed to a vibrant green and we explored Los Gemelos (the twins), two volcanic calderas.
Next was the nearby El Chato 2 Ranch to check out some underground lava tunnels and the local fauna.
And then "home" to our hotel in the "city." Not a bad first day, eh?
A little town set in the dry and deserty rocks, Puerto Ayora had some interesting nooks and crannies to explore.
We wandered over to the Charles Darwin Research Station in town to get the low-down on the animals of the islands, with a focus on the giant tortoises.
During a mellow afternoon while the rest of the family read in our hotel room I explored the city a bit. The locals seem to really love to build a second or third story on their house, and then not finish it. An ever-evolving house is the way to go it seems.
The next day we hiked across town to the harbor, took a water taxi just to the base of a cliff on the other side, and walked to Las Grietas, a snorkelable cravasse just past "German Beach" and some old salt flats.
The Eldest challenged his siblings to bury him and see how long it would take for him to break free.
Which of course meant that when he returned the favor to the Big O it was a challenge accepted.
The next morning we took a stomach-churning boat ride to Isla Isabela. The kiddos were lucky enough not to lose their breakfast on the way; the adultos, not so much.
The Galapagos is famous for its wildlife, the easiest to spot being the marine iguana, with sea lions being a close second. I thought the iguanas were ubiquitous on Isla Santa Cruz, but that was nothing compared to Isabela. They're everywhere, usually lazing around near the water. And, like the sea lions, they don't move when you get close.
On Isabela we went on a great walking and snorkeling trip which included Los Túneles and other nearby spots. We were lucky enough to see just about all the charismatic megafauna we were hoping for: tons of sea turtles, various kinds of sharks, a school of rays, a seahorse, as well as blue footed boobies. As we were heading home in the boat we saw a huge (10 foot wingspan?) manta ray wave its "wing" at us! A couple of days later we swam over sleeping sharks and spotted a lone Galapagos penguin.
The wildlife was astounding, but we also enjoyed having a bit of a lazy week on the equator.
Did I mention that flamingos just casually hang out in the lagoon near our hotel?
As the rest of the family rested, The Eldest and I rented bikes and cycled up to an old wall built by prisoners when the island was a penal colony. We almost hit a tortoise or two (we should ride slower) and saw some awesome views.
All in all, a trip of a lifetime. If you get the chance, I highly recommend checking out this corner of the world.
As I'm sure you remember, the last blog got us just a little closer the present day; here in the interwebs we're now entering late July 2019. My goal over our Spring Break (2020, by the way) in which I'm forced to stay in my house under quarantine (this is really me writing to myself 30 years from now, everyone reading this now knows what's going on) is to actually catch up to today. We'll see how well I do.
Anyway, in the Panamalarkey blog-o-verse we had just finished touring "the Continent" and were speeding back to England to meet the Creaseys, Sarah's folks, and our niece Emily. We started in Cornwall at St. Michael's Mount.
The Big O likes to continue his own personal tradition of looking like he's smelling bad fish whenever a group shot is taken. But when he's successfully conquered a wooden pedestal? He's free as a bird!
We stayed in a huge home in Newquay, and our first morning there I was able to sneak out at dawn and explore the cute little town.
Cornwall, the most tropical part of England, is "famously" it's surfing capital, and Newquay in particular brought uncle Andy back to his former glory days on his board. We tried (in vain?) to relive those days, in between building epic sand castles and exploring the local caves.
After the requisite stop at an old pile of rocks...
...we set sail for the island of Brownsea island, the birthplace of the Scouts. The only decent picture I took there was of a flower.
Luckily Sarah and her mom each got some good shots.
And so our extended family time was coming to a close. We said goodbye to the Creaseys and Grandma and Grandpa and Emily and headed to a hotel near Heathrow. But not to fly out just yet. We set the kids up with food and drove to Norfolk for a wedding (where we had far too much fun to take any photos, which is a massive loss for the world because it was GORGEOUS...) before Sarah skipped back to Panama.
The kiddos and I, on the other hand, had more to do. I dropped off the boys at Wells Cathedral School summer music camp and had a nice wander around Bristol with the Little Lady before dropping her off at Camp Wilderness the next morning.
And my solo adventure started. My plan was to rent a Brompton folding bicycle and cycle around Bristol and over to Bath, then train to Cambridge (via London) and explore a bit before training down to London, renting a car, picking up the kids from their respective camps, and fly home. What could go wrong?
And Bristol itself gave me plenty to look at while taking those needed breaks.
It's a sixteen mile ride from Bristol to Bath on a nice converted train route, a distance that wouldn't have been too rough when I was cycling more. But that day it was definitely rough.
Then it was off to Cambridge, though my change in London including riding across town. (Don't worry, Mom, it was mostly on separated bike lines.)
And then Cambridge, which really is out in the country. After a well-earned sleep I took an early morning ride down the river Cam to the oddly-named Waterbeach for breakie.
And then it was exploring the town. While beautiful, I found it to be quite closed off, even for the English. Everything was behind closed gates and doors. I toured one of the colleges, but there wasn't much available to see. Fun and all, but not as welcoming as Berkeley, Cambridge, MA, or even good old Westwood.
Off to the big city.
I first hit the Tate, which always impresses.
My niece and nephew asked about my folding bike so I made a quick video showing how it works.
Cycling around London was, truthfully, way more awesome than I thought it would be. And I thought it'd be pretty cool.
After a ride along the Thames to Hammersmith for a nice Persian meal it was time to say goodbye to my noble steed.
Sleep, rent a car, enjoy rural England on the way to pick up the daughter, hike the Cheddar Gorge (yes, it's a real thing!), sleep, watch the boys perform some awesome music, drop off car, fly home.
I found this Little Lady in the forest.
Our drive back to the hotel was filled with stories of her "best designed" animal trap and how she was the first in her group to eat the salmon eye. You go girl!
The next day was...the Cheddar Gorge!
It sounds like a joke, but it's GORGE-OUS! GET IT??????
The Wells Cathedral School summer music camp does not mess around, nor does the performance at the end. The highlights featuring Schnacks included a haunting rendition of the main theme of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly as well as an energetic version of The Incredibles.
The boys certainly deserved a triumphant pic in front of their residence hall before hitting the road.
On our way back to the airport we experienced what I had been dreading as a driver in rural England: the classic "but the supposedly-two-way road isn't wide enough for the both of us" issue. Or, in this case, the seven of us cars by the time it all got sorted (as the Brits would say). It was quite an ordeal involving exacting measurements and precise driving. And giggling.
And then it was over. Our whirlwind summer in Europe had finally come to an end. In front of us was our last (spoiler alert!) year in Panama and all that would entail.
Thanks for vicariously coming along.
When Sarah and I lived in Britain way back when the Verve blaired on repeat in every store, the locals referred to mainland Europe as "the continent." At least I thought they did, but when we mentioned to our professor that we were heading to the continent for spring break and he retorted that if we were referring to the continent of Europe we were already there.
Anyway...flash forward to this past summer, and we, again, were in Britain and traveling over to "the continent." Below are the deets...
That means details! See! I'm down with the cool slang! From like 1997!
After finishing up our brain-exploding professional learning in Croydon, we hightailed it over to Germany to check out the baroque audaciousness of Bavaria.
I know what you're thinking. "Do your kids think that some random German with a camera off to the side is their father that they're trying to smile for his picture? Oh, and that church isn't that audaciously baroque." And you're right. Except for the German father thing. But wait until you see the inside. I mean of the church. Not the German not-my-kids'-father guy.
Yeah, right? Now you're thinking, "whoa! It took me way too long to even notice the huge crucifix on the wall. But where are the gilded skeletons threatening cherubs with scissors?"
Yup, Munich has it all, if by all we mean ostentatious curly columns, great berries, a permanent surfable wave in a local park, and Pride Day celebrating civic buildings.
After a mellow 36 hours in Munich, we started the rest of our trip on a somber note in Dachau. The kids had learned about concentration camps at school and in family conversations, but being there in person made all of that theoretical knowledge feel very immediate and concrete, even for the adults. It is a topic that we've brought up several times since, and we're so grateful to have had the opportunity to visit this site.
Our next stop felt like the Disney version of Germany. We made it to Rothenburg ob der Tauber in time to catch the über popular night watchman tour.
Rothenburg is, of course, the quintessential storybook medieval German town, and consequently demands that it be documented pictorially. Brace yourselves.
Our next stop was Rick Steves' favorite castle in all of Germany: the Burg Eltz. The hike from the parking was long but relaxing and perfect for a selfie.
Then off to stay in way-too-cute Chochem on the Moselle river.
We made a last-minute decision to try a hike in the "Little Switzerland" section of Luxembourg on our way to Reims, France. We're glad we did! It was an awesome place to wander.
We arrived at our AirBnB in Reims a bit after sunset. From our apartment we could spy the (bigger-than-Paris' Norte Dame) Reims Cathedral. We toured it the following morning before heading into the City of Lights.
Our few nights in Paris were as amazing as we'd hoped. Our home exchange was a house converted from a storefront and basement; it was as weird as it sounds, but centrally located (and you can't beat the price!). We loved the Paris by Mouth Food Tour we did as a couple back in 2014, so we splurged and signed up the whole family this time.
Afterwards the rest of the family was too focused on digesting fancy head cheese to join me in my wander of late afternoon Paris.
And if the food tour wasn't opulent enough (though it was), the next day we enjoyed the granddaddy of European opulence, Versailles.
"That's all nice and well, little bro, but let me show you how it's done."
"That's all nice and well, eldest son, but let me show you how it's done."
And lastly, after a long day of experiencing French aristocracy and a nice Tunisian dinner, we had to hit the other biggie at dusk.
By the time we actually reached it (it's really big! It's still 9.4 kilometers away in the picture above! Though that's only about a half mile) and figured out the options for going up it was pretty late. The boys were obsessed with taking the stairs the whole way, while the ladies were, uh, not. Due to unforeseen obstacles and long lines this resulted in them not actually being able to go to the top while us menfolk were the last group to make it on foot.
A late night was made later by the fact that, even though it was midnight, the streets were awash with Algerian fans gloating over their win of the Africa Cup in soccer. The local Metro stops were mostly closed and it took a while to figure out how to get to our temporary home. But we made it!
After too-few hours of sleep, we were ready to hop on a train under the Channel to meet up with Sarah's family back in Jolly Old England for the last of our summer adventures!
Well, it's time for my semi-regular self-flagellation where I apologize for being behind in the ol' blogging. But I've been busy. Honest!
We got back from an awesome summer break (which I've only just begun to document here...), lived life for a few months, and now we're ending another fantabulous vacay. But this isn't about that getaway. It's about the last few months. And it's a quickie.
Let's see...what's in the ol' picture bin...here we are before the annual approximately-3k run at school.
Here are a few mediocre pics of the kiddos enjoying running up and down the berm by our house. The actual reason to include them here is so they look at them in 10-20 years and one of them says, "Oh yeah, I remember that place" and tries to explain it to the other two who can't recall it at all.
Artsyness time! Here's me documenting some local shopping at a crazy tangle of strip malls called Los Pueblos. Fun fact: the parking lot is the only way to get from one busy street to another so it's always extra trafficky; there are actual bus lines that drive the route.
And just in case you don't already follow me on twitter, here's a pic of a scarab beetle that greeted me on my way to class one day.
A couple weeks ago Sarah and I had the opportunity to attend a charity dinner at the top of the No-Longer-Trump Tower of Panama.
Our favorite branch on our favorite jungle hike. And the twins' favorite backyard pastime.
And then one of our friends published a novel and we went to the launch party!
Finally, a pic of The Eldest and yours truly taking a break from some cycling to pose in front of the Costa Del Este skyline (which is different than the skyline earlier in the blog, FYI. Another FYI: Costa Del Este means Coast Of The East, but it also means Coast Of The This, which we all think is funny.)
Those of you following along at home may have noticed that I never finished blogging about our amazing summer. Time kind of flew and now it's been an uncomfortably long time, and I know you like to be uncomfortable, so here's another installment.
The whole reason (well, a good portion of the reason) why we were spending our summer in Pretty Darn Good Britain (it was Great before Brexit) was so Sarah and I could take some professional development classes in London. Well, Croydon, actually, a distinction which no Brit would confuse. But before starting our classes we did bum around The City (and the other neighborhoods as well!) a bit.
First things first, we had to check in and drop off our bags. Our hotel was pretty old, but not run down at all.
Oh, we didn't mention? Yeah, we stayed at The Tower. We know people who know people.
One of the nice things about staying at The Tower (other than the amazing experience, the central location, the freakin' history, and the views) was that we could run down and be at the beginning of the line when all the exhibits opened. A four minute jog through the velvet ropes wasn't a bad price to see the crown jewels.
We also went and checked out the Duke of York's 18th Century Band play at the Royal Military Chapel with its super old apse and super not-old post-war rest-of-the-church.
On the way home The Eldest almost ran over a swan.
Then we got to check out a West End production of Matilda! (To get ready for all three kiddos to perform in ISP's upcoming fall production of Matilda. Which happened a month ago because I'm writing this in December.)
Next stop: Ninfield, Sussex, to shack up with the Creaseys!
We then headed down to beautiful Croydon for a home exchange and our educational professional development, ostensibly the reason we were in this continent in the first place. Our home for the next two weeks was just around the corner from the cutest medieval church and cemetery.
We were all dressed up to check out some modernly-staged Shakespeare at the ol' Globe Thee-a-ta. But first a tour of HMS Belfast, a WWII battleship.
Here are the kids on the Prime Meridian.
And here's me, well, here.
Where, exactly? Croydon. While not the most hip-happening spot on the planet, it kind of grew on me. Here's the view from the top of the (yes, double-decker) bus on my way to professional developmentland.
It was actually a nice little corner of the world. (A stunning sunset helped convert me.)
We found some weird stuff in Greater London.
And we did, I have to admit, learn a thing or two.
So now that we've settled into the beginning of the school year I feel ready (guilty) enough to revisit our summer pics and tales. And to celebrate the twins joining middle school, I've included some off-color humor/humour below.
We crisscrossed the isle of Great Britain in multiple directions, took a few classes, and hopped over to "the continent" for a week, but I'm getting ahead of myself. First we had to escape Bonnie Scotland which we did via the beautiful and wonderfully efficient (at least from an American's perspective) British Rail.
First stop: the medieval walled city of Old York. (The locals still seem to call it just "York," but you and I know that without the clarifying adjective it might be confused with its namesake across the pond.)
The wall at times seemed impregnable (the two gaping holes in it illustrated above notwithstanding) but the Schnackitos managed to penetrate its defenses.
The view from "the best walk in Britain" wasn't too bad either.
After our jaunt we dropped off The Eldest (he was feeling under the weather) at our Airbnb on a canal in a former sugar factory...
...the rest of us headed for Evensong at the York Minster (that big cathedral-looking cathedral a few pictures ago). The music and gothic-ness were indeed astounding.
Day 2 included a visit to the Jorvik Viking Centre which has some serious shit*!
* or faeces, if you will.
Sarah and I have fond memories of visiting York when we were young and carefree; it was great showing our kiddos the gorgeous abbey ruins, narrow twisting streets, and weird retro sweets of this wonderful town.
Speaking of fond memories, on our way south we stopped for a few days in the "Paris of the West Midlands": Birmingham! (And you always thought the "Paris of the West Midlands" was Wolverhampton!)
Those of you who know the intimate details of our courting history are well aware that Brum is where the missus and I fell madly in love with one another. And those of you who know your British architectural and industrial history know that it was ugly even before it was decimated by the Luftwafe and "redeveloped" in the harsh style of the 1960s (though some in the city are fighting to save their brutalist past). We thought it time to show the kiddos the ol' U. of Birmingham campus (where the magic happened!) and a British city without hordes of tourists.
But first we went to Cadbury World in the planned suburb of Bournville to ride a psychedelic chocolate-themed kids' ride.
I often enjoy heading out for an early morning jog when on vacay, thus scratching my exploration itch whilst allowing the rest of my family a lazy morning. Birmingham's city centre was mind-blowingly different since we lived there in 1996-97, mostly in a good way (prioritizing pedestrians over cars, wacky curvy modern architecture), but I admit it was tough to get my bearings.
Then it was off to Warwick castle.
The Eldest was super excited when he saw the huge trebuchet on the other side of the river since he had built one for science class a few months back. But by the time we walked down to it we learned that island it was resting on was closed. Luckily we were able to convince some employee to convince the "trebuchet master" to show it to us on a private tour!
Enough of this small town stuff. Next stop: the Big Smoke.