An Interview with Alison walking through Paris

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Vintage Metro Signs

What was your favorite city and why?
This question is so hard and really is affected by so many things. I mean, if you haven’t slept the night before, or Chris and I are arguing, or the kids are in a foul mood, it doesn’t necessarily matter how awesome the place is. And sometimes, if you’re all laughing and giggling and reminiscing, a taxi ride is a blast. But I think I have to say … Egmond aan Zee in the Netherlands and Sarlat in France (although we haven’t been to Italy yet!). I loved our little airbnb in both places and everybody was calm and relaxed. We could walk or ride bikes everywhere and the surroundings were gorgeous, with the sea and tulips and everything quintessentially Dutch in Egmond aan Zee. In Sarlat we lived in the Home of the Philosopher Carpenter from the 15th century, in the middle of the medieval town’s center with its cobblestone streets, whimsical meandering turns, wisteria and ivy climbing the rock walls, and gorgeous truly shuttered windows. I would love to spend a summer in these places with Ella, Kayeden, and my Mom. Just the girls together – maybe after Ella’s senior year?

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
When we discovered that our highly functioning Rajasthani host family took a little bit of opium everyday, and Chhotaram assuredly told us how it helped them be brave and energetic.

Parisian Buildings mimicked throughout the world

What was the best moment of the entire trip?
I have to pick a few.
One moment in the Himalayas, when I felt energetic and healthy and I was surrounded by the snow covered mountains above, raging river below, and crossing into the snow line – it was truly breathtaking.
Another, flying through the crazy streets in Bangkok and thinking, “We’re really doing this…”
Then, the look the taxi driver gave Chris when Chris mused to himself outloud, “Ohhh Delhi….” as we sped through traffic. The kids and I literally laughed until we cried in the back seat, but we were trying to stay quiet.

Riding bikes along the immaculate bike paths in Egmond aan Zee catching glimpses of the fields of tulips in blazing colors.

Strolling the medieval streets of Sarlat in the warm sun of a spring day, followed by a dinner of wine, brie, fresh baguette, and fig jam that I bought from the market. I felt like Belle for a moment.
And lastly, spending time with Shiva Ramesh’s family in Hyderabad and seeing how all the support for World Vision is well placed.

The Big Wheel at Place de la Concorde

What was the scariest moment?
When I didn’t know if Ella was hurt or not after the motorbike accident. I must have screamed if she was okay ten times, before my adrenaline started to wane. It was amazing though, I truly didn’t feel any pain until I knew she was okay. Then, the following five minutes seemed like an eternity, because we weren’t sure the guys knew we had wrecked since they were in front of us and had to wait in all the trauma and stopping cars.

What do you think you might do differently when you go home because of your trip?
I would love to ride a bike everywhere with a little basket on it to pick up anything we need. But, seriously, I do plan on riding everywhere I can. We do this some already, but I want to not be so concerned about the weather being right for it. Also, I’ve asked Chris if he would put up a rotary clothes line for us. Nobody uses dryers like we do, and I feel like it’s the least I can do for the environment, living in the South especially. Having more international students at our home is also important to me, and we may consider turning Walden’s room into an airbnb (just don’t tell him 🙂 and give the proceeds to either sponsor another child or to IJM. I am more convicted that I have to learn at least one other language, but am still not very confident I can pull it off. Supporting Let’s Start Talking and Friendspeak at our church is a bigger priority to me now. I just feel like it is a win-win solution for so many things! That’s all I can think of for now, but they come up daily!

Did you find any sights or activities a bit off the beaten track? Beyond the tourist traps?
I know it was still a tourist destination, but sharing several days with an Indian family from Hyderabad also staying at Chhotaram’s homestay was so enlightening. They could speak excellent English, but shared so much of their own life experience in India with us and suffered through hundreds of questions from me.

The Eiffel Tower

What was your favorite meal?
In Budapest, we just happened upon a restaurant close to our airbnb (that wasn’t close to much) and had one of the best meals I’ve ever head. We started with a caesar salad, which was one of the first salads on the trip. We had great Hungarian red wine, along with an excellent grilled chicken dish with sautéed vegetables and mashed sweet potatoes. We topped it off with heavenly Hungarian chocolate cake. They were so kind to us and were not offended by our English, and it was a reasonable price!

What was the strangest thing you ate?
Tsampa porridge in the Himalayas – it seemed to have the consistency of heated play-doh.

Tuileries Gardens

What was the funniest/strangest/or most insightful thing a local said?
We were expressing some misplaced anger at the airport workers in Hyderabad on entering India at midnight; and Shiva Gee, who we met, put it in perspective. Imagine you are working at midnight and the visitors don’t speak English and you have a mountain of paper work your government makes you fill out on each person; and the first time you decide to just ignore it, they will show up and take your job.
“Nobody wins at war.” Tour guide in Hospital on the Rock in Budapest.

Champs Ellysees

Where would you revisit? Would you ever move to any of those cities?
I could stay in Chiang Mai if I was doing something helpful and could meet with the Christians there.
I would love to go back and hike every Great Walk in New Zealand.
I’d live anywhere in Eastern and Western Europe that we went. But I am ashamed to admit, it would be hard to invest so many years to learn one of the more obscure languages if I didn’t plan to stay longterm.

Sacre Couer

Tell me about one person you met.
Zack, he was an architect student from North Carolina who was volunteering in India to help build churches, children’s homes, or other social service buildings to gain experience in his field; and because he was a Christian and wanted to help. We met him with a large group of other college age kids from around the world that went camel riding with us. He told me about trying to finish proposals using just the light of his cell phone and living in a poorer area of Delhi and trying to find his way around (his home street had 3 different names; so each time he took a taxi, he had to list them all until he found one they had heard of). In many ways, he was just a breath of fresh air.

The River Seine

What was the hardest or most frustrating part of the trip?
My own inability to overcome very uncomfortable situations to enjoy where we were sometimes. I mean the Himalayas were absolutely breathtaking, but often I was preoccupied with nausea or headaches or fatigue to really enjoy it. The beaches in Thailand were absolutely straight out of a storybook, but sand and saltwater into an open foot wound stings like you can’t imagine! Or even walking around the medieval cities of Eastern Europe, you felt like you might get frostbite, so you don’t always last long. I just wished some days I was maintenance free and could step out of a tent each morning feeling refreshed and ready to enjoy the world, impervious to the elements!

St Michel Fountain

Did anything go wrong that seems funny now?
When we were waiting in the taxi car at a gas station in Cambodia for Chris to grab some water, and the driver got in to move the car away from the gas area. We thought he was leaving and possibly kidnapping us, we freaked!! The driver looked at us like we were crazy. But we had spent the last several hours being hassled by mafia-like Cambodian officials and were at the breaking point and wouldn’t have been surprised by it at that point.

What did you learn about yourself?
I find it harder than I thought I would to stay connected to God when I am not around fellow Christians much. Of course, my little family are all believers, but it’s just not the same, especially for my Core Group and Celebrate Recovery Ladies. I missed them dreadfully, and it was harder to be the Godly woman I wanted to be on my own. It was easier to get down and frustrated without them regularly in my days. If God ever lets me be an international missionary longterm, I realize I will have to have a support group with me.

Driving Around the Arc de Triomphe

Now that you’ve been to these places, what are two other places you’d like to go?
I want to go to the Holy Land along with the Pyramids in Egypt and see some of China’s natural wonders as well as the Great Wall.

How have people responded to your taking the time off from work, etc. to travel? And how about taking time off from formal school for the kids?

Chris usually fields the work questions, but the kids and I handle most of the school ones. Europeans are always a little funny when you mention homeschooling. At first they look utterly shocked, like “do you realize you could be arrested?” And then, I explain. The young ones are totally impressed and intrigued and want to know all about it. So many of them asked had we seen Captain Fantastic (which we still haven’t, but want to). They always tell the kids how lucky they are, and they wish they could have done something similar when they were in school. Older Europeans look totally skeptical and can’t seem to understand the whole concept and keeping asking, “so when do you go back to school?” Then they always seem interested in getting the kids perspective on how we’re all getting along. “We have our good days, and bad days.” India couples we met were actually planning on it and already in a group to find out more and we exchanged information for the future. Thailand and Nepal were up for anything really. We also met some families in New Zealand that were doing it at the church we visited and were very philosophically supportive.

What do you do to keep from getting burned out on the constant travel?
At least once a month you have to slow down for at least 5 days in a row, ideally, with your own space. I like the concept too of Sabbath travel, where every 7th day you do absolutely nothing travel related; but we couldn’t pull that off. You have to constantly check yourself and your FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). You will come back if it’s awesome, so accept you will not see it all this time. But this keeps happening to you when you least expect it. Five months sounds like forever, but it’s nothing when you’re trying to see the world. Also, succumbing to a few netflix binges with the kids helps them a lot. Egmond aan Zee was a perfect example. We had been traveling in Eastern Europe, traveling every 3rd day about, and we were grumpy and snippy and ready to throw each other out a window. When we arrived in Egmond for 3 nights, we were planning to spend one day biking the tulip fields and another in Amsterdam. When we saw how relaxing the place was, we decided quickly to forget our plans and let each other do whatever they wanted. Chris and I still biked because we wanted to, but the kids crashed and played hacky sack basketball and watched Netflix; only venturing out for a quick 10 min ride to some tulips, to see the dunes by the ocean, and to the grocery to help pick out dinner – all within 5 minutes walk! Now that meant that we missed Anne Frank’s House, Keukenoff Gardens, and the canals; but it was well worth it and the kids will be back I think.

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