A.

Awesome to Awful: Our First European Vacation (Part 1)

We’re back! Not just from our month long hiatus from the blog, but from our very first European vacation.

Quite honestly, I sighed a sigh of relief as we returned home last night and finally turned the car ignition off after a thirteen hour road trip home. And now we’re one of those families–you know, a family with one of those vacation stories. Everyone has one. What began with wonderful planning (what did people do before the Internet?!), check-lists (we still forgot the coffee), and perfectly packing the car (yeah… like a man), quickly turned in to a drama worthy of a book deal and a movie (still waiting to see if Ashton Kutcher and Reese Witherspoon sign on for the lead roles). Bethany expressed it well: “we need a vacation from our vacation.” So grab your popcorn and find a seat (I like about halfway up, in the middle) because here’s the tale in it’s entirety.

A Beautiful Drive and a Sick Kid

We live in northeast Czech Republic, literally on the border with Poland and not far from neighboring Slovakia (in the upper right corner of Czech). This actually puts us within driving distance of some of those most beautiful cities in the world. Vienna, Prague, Krakow, Budapest, and Berlin are all about 3-5 hours away. If you want to see the beach you gotta work a little harder for it, but you can head south to the countries of Slovenia or Croatia for warm water and hot sun (or, for you romantics, you can get to Venice, Italy in 9 hours flat from our house). We decided we wanted to head south mostly because we had been invited to attend a wedding in Slovenia and since we would already be making the 7 hour drive we thought it would be fun to vacation there. Even Rick Steves (your favorite American travel guy) says, “Slovenia is the least visited and most underrated of Europe’s alpine countries.” So last week on Friday we left at precisely 7:57am and hit the open road for an entire week away. Alright!

Playing With the Kids (7/24/15)

The drive was beautiful. We saw all of Czech Republic, all of Austria, and then well into stunning Slovenia. We had to make planned stops every 2-3 hours to feed Karis, but the kids enjoyed the regular potty breaks and playing at the McDonald’s play places (shown above). The trip was mostly uneventful until about 30 minutes before we crossed the Austria/Slovenia border. Almost out of nowhere Titus said quietly from the back seat, “I am going to throw up.” We were humming along the highway at the speed limit but I took him seriously and pulled to the emergency lane and stopped the car. Bethany jumped out on his side of the car and as she opened his door Titus lost his lunch inside of our van. Had I been a little quicker maybe could have gotten him out in time, but the damage was done.

Bethany proceeded to get him out while a steady stream of traffic was going by us (thankfully, we stopped at a turning part of the highway where traffic was going slower than the average 80mph). I then began unpacking the car on the highway to get to that one bag which had his clothes in it. The kids’ bikes, our backpacks, Pak-N-Play, and my camera bag all had to come out on the side of the road so I could open a suitcase and get Titus a change of clothes. Titus threw up four more times in the next two hours, once more in the car and on the side of the road. We ended up arriving about two hours late to the apartment we rented in Slovenia, but the lady was very kind and gracious with our situation (we rented it through airbnb.com). The place we stayed was really nice and we began running the washing machine as soon as we arrived. Titus didn’t seem to have any more issues and was feeling fine which, of course, we were thankful for. Everyone got a good night’s rest that first night and were excited about what the next day would hold.

A Wedding at a Castle

Without getting into the crazy details, friends from the States have a daughter who married a guy from Slovenia. They held two ceremonies, one in the States a few weeks ago, and one last week in Slovenia which we had the privilege of attending. The morning of the wedding (our second day of vacation) it was raining pretty hard. We had a little twenty minute drive from where we were staying to get to the the family’s house where all the festivities of the wedding would begin. On our drive we went right through a pretty wild storm. By the time we got to the house the storm had cleared and sun was shining!

This wedding was our first since moving to Europe and it was a ton of fun. There are so many cultural things that we enjoyed. For instance, everyone attending the wedding met at the family’s house for a mini pre-reception thing. The family provided snacks and drinks and everyone gathered in the front yard and driveway while a young man played traditional Slovenian songs on his accordion. Some people danced and others just mingled while the bride and groom walked around and greeted them. Then we heard, “OK, we’re leaving!” and they handed us bags of candy. The girl who gave us our bag said, “We are going to caravan to the wedding and while we drive, if you see kids on the side of the road, throw this candy to them!” For our kids, that was a highlight. We saw a lot of kids on the side of the road and our kids would throw the candy and they would pick it up and wave. The long caravan of cars snaked their way through the little town en route to a Slovene castle (honking the entire way) where the wedding would be held. Here’s a short video I got of the front yard before we all drove away together.

As you may have guessed, the wedding location (a literal castle!) was incredible. Apparently this particular castle is one of the few left in Slovenia that wasn’t destroyed. I don’t know all the history, but what I heard from someone was that it was used as a vacation home for royalty. Obviously, any wedding with three little kids in tow is not easy and this one was no exception. We did OK, but it was hot, a little muggy, and our kids were tired by the time we arrived, yet we still had a fun time. The kids loved the castle grounds and we even did a little exploring. We had fun visiting with our friends and of course seeing their daughter get married. Unfortunately we couldn’t make it to the reception (which was held at another location) because we really didn’t think our kids were going to make it. Slovenian receptions will traditionally last until 3 or 4 in the morning so we ended up leaving after the post-ceremony mini reception. Here’s a few photos from the wedding.

Slovenia Castle Wedding (7/25/15)

Slovenia Castle Wedding (7/25/15)

And thanks to Larry for letting us use this last photo of all us!

Slovenia Castle Wedding (7/25/15)

Lake Bled

I will admit that I’m the worst at overusing the word “awesome.” Culturally that’s true as well. As the popular song from the Lego Movie says, “Everything is awesome!” Well, if everything is awesome then really nothing is awesome…except Lake Bled, Slovenia. It is truly awesome. Lake Bled was a forty minute drive from our apartment and we went there the day after the wedding (if you’re keeping score, this is day 3). We actually saw some other Josiah Venture missionaries at the wedding and they helped us put some plans together for Lake Bled. They were kind enough to contact friends that work at the lake and we were able to do a few things there that we wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

We found a parking area on the north end of the lake and ate our home made lunch from the car and watched while people and cars poured in for some fun of their own. So many people from so many different countries were spending the day at the lake. After lunch we headed over to the shore, set up our stuff, and got the kids ready for some water time. The lake was not only amazingly clear, it felt warmer than the outside air. We were worried it was going to rain, but the rain never came. The kids went for a swim while Bethany, Karis, and I played on shore. The wind was a little chilly but since the kids were having so much fun we didn’t mind.

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

After the kids were tired of the water we decided to walk around the lake to where the boats were launching. Our friends told us to a find a young man who would be willing to save us some serious cash and take us to the island in the middle of the lake. The walk proved to be a highlight. We thought it would be hard to get all of us around the lake but the walk is beautiful and right along the edge of the water. In the above photo you can see us walking on the path that they built right on top of the water. It was, you guessed it, awesome.

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

In God’s sovereignty, just as we were approaching the boat area, the young man we were trying to find was rowing a group of people back from the island in the middle of the lake. He said it would be no problem to take us out to the island at no charge! It’s actually kind of pricey, so this was really gracious. We joined another group and headed towards the island (it was our kids’ very first boat trip). As we boarding, Avery freaked and ran away from the boat because she was scared. I got off and grabbed her while the boat waited for us to board. Finally, she settled down and started enjoying it as we were slowly oared away.

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

The island has a little coffee and cake shop, ice cream shop, and even a church. You can literally walk around the entire edge of the island in four minutes. We stayed out there for an hour and Bethany fed Karis in the coffee shop. I bought ice cream for the kids and me and we just enjoyed staring out at the water. Here’s a few photos from out on the island.

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

We spent about an hour on the island before being rowed safely back to land (this time without any protest from Avery as we got on the boat). It was getting late in the day and we were hungry so we decided it was time to leave. Walking back to the car we talked about how much fun it was on the island and the lake and we were still enamored by the surroundings.  Shortly after departing our kids fell asleep in the car and we stopped off at a local burger stand for some dinner before heading back to the apartment for one more night. Our plans for the rest of our vacation included 4 days on the coast of Slovenia. All of us have been wanting to see some kind of coast or beach so that seemed like a safe bet. However, the Lord had other plans and for that part of the story you’re going to have wait for part 2!

N.

Nana’s Birthday

Today is Nana’s birthday! We celebrated with her in Krakow again today and it was a blast. The day started around 10:00, not because people weren’t awake, but because Bethany and I just had a bit of a rough night with Karis. Karis is doing awesome, but she just decided she wanted to be awake from about 3am on. Not too unexpected for a six day old, so no complaints on our end. But when we did make it out of our rented apartment the first thing on the agenda was a carriage ride through Krakow with the whole family! Below is a photo that Nana took of our new family of five while we were riding the carriage through the Old Town. It’s one the second photo ever taken of the five of us!

Nana's Birthday (6/7/15)

As you may have guessed, bringing a six day old on a mini vacation has it’s challenges–the main one being that she has to eat often. This brings challenges to trying to plan the day, so we mostly let Nana and Papa explore on their own today and enjoy the parts of the city that they wanted to see. But that wasn’t before our good man, Rick Steves, led us to a great pizza place via his tour book on Krakow. We had his book out while we grabbed fruit smoothies before lunch and found a place called “Cyklop” which serves incredible, gourmet pizza. The pizzas were being made literally in an oven next to our table and it was a great experience.

Nana's Birthday (6/7/15)

After the kids took naps, I told them we could go to the castle in town. Avery said, “Daddy, can we go to the castle where the princesses live?” to which Titus added quickly, “And the kings!” These kids have seen more castles in a few short years than I’ve seen in my life! As were leaving for the castle (just me, Titus, and Avery–Bethany stayed back to rest with Karis), Papa and Nana were arriving from their excursion and decided to join us. Instead of making the big walk with the kids to the castle, Papa saw a little golf cart service that would drive us up there so we did that. It saved buckets of time and definitely helped our tired legs. We made it to the castle in time to walk around, but were just a little late for tour tickets. Either way it was fun and here’s a few photos.

Nana's Birthday (6/7/15)

Nana's Birthday (6/7/15)

Nana's Birthday (6/7/15)

Nana's Birthday (6/7/15)

We wanted to do something special for Nana, so on our way back from the castle Bethany gave me instructions to pick up some cupcakes from a little shop we had visited before to celebrate Nana’s birthday. I was hoping to keep it a secret, but because Nana and Papa joined us I let them in on it and allowed Nana to pick a few for herself. We got a dozen cupcakes and took them back to the apartment where we all sang “Happy Birthday” to her. It was a great way to end our time in Krakow before packing up and heading home. Here’s just a sampling of some of the flavors we got (in the photo below).

Nana's Birthday (6/7/15)

Since I struggled to get us to Krakow in a timely manner yesterday (e.g. we took the “scenic route”…aka: we took a LONG route), I made sure I thoroughly checked the map before leaving today. Thankfully, the route I chose was the right one and we got home in no time tonight, just around 10pm. We had a bit of a pause at the border because the Czech police were doing mandatory checks, but they checked my passport and documents and let us go. The kids had fallen asleep by the time we got home, so Bethany, Nana, Papa, and I enjoyed another cupcake together! It was a lot of fun celebrating this weekend and letting Papa and Nana see a little more of Europe since they had flown so far. We have another week with them before they head back to the States and we’ve got lots more to see even still!

But as the clock strikes midnight, I think I’ll sign off. We’re heading tomorrow to a government office to start paperwork for Karis’ birth certificate, so please be praying for that. Until then, good night!

K.

Krakow With Family

We took a five day old on a road trip to Krakow, Poland. I know…we’re crazy.

Krakow With Family (6/6/15)

Tomorrow (Sunday) is Nana’s birthday and I guess we were having one of those “when in Europe” moments and decided kind of last minute to get everyone in the car, rent a small apartment in the Old Town and head to Krakow. It was kind of a dream last week but we just didn’t know how Bethany would be feeling and if we could make it work with a newborn. But that’s in the past now because I’m sitting here in Krakow and we’ve made quite the trip today.

Krakow is only about two hours from where we live so it’s completely in driving distance. To my knowledge there aren’t any good trains, so driving makes sense. At least it makes sense until you take the “scenic route” like we did today and added about 45 minutes to our driving time. I would rather not discuss how that happened because 1) I don’t know how it happened and 2) it’s probably still a sore subject in my heart. We did finally make it here and after getting everyone settled in to our little apartment we hit the Old Town!

It was really fun showing Nana and Papa around Krakow and to get to experience it again ourselves. This is my second time here and Bethany’s third, so we’re definitely not pros but it’s a lot easier after you’ve done it once. Europe is just overwhelming in some sense. Everywhere you look it’s old, incredible, and full of history. Today it was really warm here, especially in the town square where you the heat just kind of sat in the middle and baked us, but we made it work by finding shade and eventually grabbing dinner and dessert.

A photo posted by Shay Thomason (@shaycam) on

We left Nana and Papa after dessert and they went for a carriage ride through Krakow. Our new family of five made our way back to the apartment which was surprisingly cool thanks to the rare air conditioning units this one has. Avery and Karis did alright considering that Karis was just born on Monday! Karis slept a lot and we tried to find places to rest as we walked around and enjoy the town. Tonight I ran to the grocery store to stock up on water and juice as we just felt a little dehydrated with all the heat. We should be set for day two tomorrow and we’re excited to see what else this beautiful city has to offer.

Here’s a couple more photos from this afternoon.

Krakow With Family (6/6/15)

Krakow With Family (6/6/15)

Krakow With Family (6/6/15)

Krakow With Family (6/6/15)

C.

Coins and Cleaning

The Saturday Paper (5/16/15)

I found the kids this morning sitting on the kitchen floor “reading” the newspaper (shown in the photo above). Actually, it’s not a newspaper, but an advertisement for a kids store here in Czech and apparently they found a few things of interest and were spending time talking about what they wanted to buy. I took this photo because in my mind they were just some old couple hanging out on a Saturday morning, drinking coffee, and reading the paper. Every few seconds Avery would say, “Can I get this one?” and point to some Disney princess thing and Titus was finding every Lego item on the page saying that’s what he was going to buy. We’re actually trying to teach them about money and how to save and think about things so we’ve been giving them “jobs” around the house which pays a few Czech crowns. It’s all really fun until they realize they don’t have enough money to buy the things they want and then the tears start flowing. It’s all part of the learning process.

As for the rest of the day we really just spent time cleaning and hanging out as a family. It was nice to get some things back in order and have the kids help clean up and do a little work around the house. We’ve had this annoying baseboard in our living room that kept coming off so I finally got some glue that I’m hoping will keep it on. We made it through all the dishes and I’ve got another load ready to go, and Bethany has been working on cleaning the sheets and getting the kids’ room a little more orderly before Papa and Nana come next Sunday. Speaking of Papa and Nana, we also spent time with them over Skype/FaceTime this evening as they prepare to fly next Saturday for their first trip to our place in Czech. They are mostly coming to help with the new baby, but we’re hoping to get them out to see some of Europe if we can. They are also bringing us some American goodies which will be fun too!

OK, that’s all for today. We’ll see ya tomorrow!

S.

St. Patrick’s Day, Playing Outside, and a Prayer Request

It’s St. Patrick’s Day. I’m sure you saw many people today walking around wearing something green and tonight people around America (not so much Czech) will celebrate by throwing parties and drinking beer (on a related note, I have an entire story about witnessing a drunk driving accident on St. Patrick’s Day that I’ll never forget). It’s sad to me that this is how we (as Americans) celebrate on a day that is supposed to remember a Christian man who loved gospel of Jesus Christ (for more on that, see Kevin DeYoung’s excellent, short post today).

At the Josiah Venture office today there were a few people wearing green, and our Norther Irish friend, Rachael, brought green clover cookies for us to enjoy at our our meeting. They were (magically) delicious–sorry, I couldn’t resist. We had a great meeting a Bible study this morning from Philippians. I’d much rather be spending my St. Patrick’s Day around God’s Word then doing just about anything else!

Playing Outside (3/17/15)

Bethany took the kids to the park this afternoon and they said that had a great time. In fact, when I got home today the kids came running to the garage to tell me all about it. Above is a photo that Bethany got of the flowers near the park (and hey, there’s lots of green!). While they were there they even saw some kids from our church. Titus even found a new friend who was riding a little play motorcycle and Titus was just running around alongside him for a while. It’s been really nice to play outside and enjoy the warmer spring air. Here’s another photo from the park with Avery enjoying the sand.

Playing Outside (3/17/15)

Tomorrow Titus will head off to a longer day of preschool because they are doing a “school swap” thing where they bus the kids to another school in town about 10 minutes away. Normally we pick him up around noon but he’ll be staying until 3pm. I can tell that Bethany was prepping him today because he kept telling me all about what he’ll be doing tomorrow. He loves riding on the bus so I’m sure he’ll enjoy that. Below is a photo of the announcement about it at the school and we normally just use Google to try and translate it all. Thankfully this time around his teacher emailed Bethany directly about the trip and what she should pack for him. As I’ve been writing this, she as hard at work trying to get everything together for Titus’ backpack.

Playing Outside (3/17/15)

Our prayer request is simply that Titus would do well and not be scared. We have been memorizing a verse on fear together and we are continually reminding him of the words. He’ll be going tomorrow and Friday on these little trips so we’re hopeful that it will go well and that he would do alright. Thank you all for praying and for continuing to encourage us!