It has been year in a half since we returned to the United States from our World journey. Honestly, it is hard to believe that we have been in the same country for over a year! I still have a picture in my head of us packing and getting ready for the gap year, ahhhh. It was without a doubt the best year of our life and something that we’ll cherish forever. Upon our return, we first settled down in Highlands Ranch, CO although I would not call this place our home. Colorado was absolutely beautiful, there is so much to do here, especially if you are an outdoor enthusiast. Over the last year we have explored a lot in Colorado, while venturing out to New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota and Idaho too. Our life is much more settled, kids have a routine and structured day but I wouldn’t call our lives any more organized. I must admit, we constantly go back down memory lane and elicit thoughts of our unreal and dreamy year on the road. Sometimes I wonder if we will ever be able to be fully present, completely focusing on a given moment and not looking back on what we have experienced during the gap year.
Several months ago I grabbed coffee with a newly met friend in Colorado. We were talking about our lives and how we ended up in the mountains. I gave her a quick synopsis of our journey and she literally bombarded me with tons of questions about the trip. At the end, she made a statement “wow, it had to be really hard to get back to the real life”. I just looked at her and after a long pause responded “you have no idea”. We planned and executed our year abroad like pros. With very few hiccups, we stayed right on our budget, and we felt good about every decision. We were so good at packing and moving every 5-7 days, we understood each other without saying a word…but…we never prepared for the after party. Of course, we knew we couldn't travel like that forever but we never realized how much effort and stress getting back on our feet would be. Not financially (we set a budget aside for that) but mentally and emotionally. I guess the quote “expect the unexpected” is very true, ha.
I will never forget the day I landed back in the USA. The last part of our trip we spent in Europe with my family and friends. Rick came back a few weeks earlier, while me and the kids just traveled back and forth between Poland and Germany. The night we arrived back I think I cried all night (and trust me, I rarely shed a tear). Everything felt so strange and foreign. I felt so lost, sad and confused. I swear I wish I was more like Leo or Mila…those kids just go with it, they don't overthink anything and fully enjoy every little thing. I was happy to be back but at the same time, I had no freaking idea what was happening to me. I was back in a known place yet I felt like a complete stranger. I didn't have much time to think about my current state because we had to find a place to live. Everything was happening super fast and before we knew it, we were driving to our new house in Colorado. You would think that after sleeping in over 60 different beds in 12 months, laying down in your own would be a glorious moment. That was not the case. I think I finally slept through the whole night after 2 weeks (I literally slept better while having a newborn baby at home) and thats only because I was exhausted of organizing our new place. Moving around the World, I felt so free and liberated. We only took two suitcases with us and we were able to live and visit places that many only dream to see. Once we got back, things felt complicated and complex. It is true in our family when we say things don't make you happy; experiences do.
I remember the morning when Rick went back to work. He got dressed in his suit, we ate breakfast and then he left for the whole day. I looked at my two kids and had no idea what to do next…I know it sounds silly but believe me, during the gap year we literally spent every minute together and each day was so unpredictable. Daily routine was like a foreign language to me. I think I forgot that a usual week consisted of 5 work days and two weekend days. It is amazing because Leo and Mila seemed as we have lived here forever, they had no problems adjusting to our new situation. Rick and I…thats a different story…we could barely survive a day without feeling lost and empty. Believe me, we had no idea how to operate in a normal day to day world.
As they say, time heels everything and fortunately after a while, we saw light at the end of the tunnel. We started to venture out during weekends, explore our surroundings and seek new adventures. We still get overwhelmed by the consumption oriented world, especially when we had to buy everything from kitchen utensils, towels, furniture, cars, pretty much everything you need to exist in the modern world. We tried to keep everything very minimal but suburbia living seems to be everything but minimal…Of course, we still keep looking at our picture and videos from the gap year, but we are also creating new memories. We recently made a pact that we are going to see all the 50 states before we turn 50, haha (we have only 10 states left).
As much as we doubt some decisions in life, one things is for sure, we have never doubted our trip around the world. It was our life long dream and we feel so proud we made it happen. Nothing or no-one will ever take that away from us. Coming back was super challenging but we are adapting. We are still the same Hermans yet something in us changed forever. We are more sure of who we are, and what we want in life. I think we have more patience and understanding, things happen for a reason and there is a reason why we are here today…here meaning Florida! After an adventurous year in a half in the mountains we decided to move back to the good old sunshine state. Colorado was absolutely stunning, we really felt for it and enjoyed it to the fullest. But deep down we knew this was not a forever thing. All along we knew that one day we would be making a return to West Palm, but we didn't think it was going to happen this soon. In short, one thing led to another and as a result we purchased a condo in Florida (originally, it was an investment idea but as of now, it is our permanent residency). There is no doubt that we will be returning back to The West and exploring it more but for now this warm and sunny weather suits our clothes :) My dear friend asked me if this was our forever place…I honestly cannot answer that question. It is a good base for us for now but I have no clue for how long. Once a wanderlust always a wanderlust so maybe another gap year will come our way, stay tuned!
We are back! Sorry that it took us a while but the last few months have been absolutely crazy to say the least. Like hurricane or tornado crazy! Or Leo & Mila crazy!! So, let’s rewind a bit and start from the beginning…
After finishing our amazing, life changing journey around the world, we flew to Poland, where we spent some quality time with my family and friends. We had a lovely Easter (even though it was freezing - yes, we had some snow and were able to even make a snowman,ha!), ate tons of delicious polish food, and just relaxed after an unbelievable year of travel. After few weeks in Poland, we took a train to Hamburg, Germany and invaded my sister’s apartment. Rick flew back to the USA in search of employment, while the kids and I stayed behind for 3 more weeks and continued to travel between Germany and Poland.
The following weeks were truly insane and felt like a wild ride on a rollercoaster. While Leo, Mila and I were indulging in the european food and culture, Rick was already back in Pennsylvania getting ready for job interviews. It didn’t take him long, and he ended up with 2 offers for employment. The options were to return to Florida in Fort Lauderdale or embark on something completely different, and somewhat risky; Denver, Colorado. The kids and I officially ended our travel fun on mothers day, May 13. I will not go on and explain what it felt like to be back in the USA because it was the biggest cultural shock I have yet to experience (even the bed bugs in Thailand were much more easier to deal with). I had one day to unpack and adapt to our new and strange reality. A day later, Rick and I were on a flight to Florida in a search of a home/apartment for our family. After two days, we repeated the same process in Colorado. We always thought that if we came back to USA (we held a slimmer of hope trying to stay in New Zealand or Australia), we would settle down in Florida (and that was our intention). But life, as we know it, is never a straight line and we were given an amazing opportunity in the Rocky Mountains. After a long sleepless night, we chose the mountains over the ocean…
As much as we love Florida and the easy flip flop lifestyle, we could not pass this opportunity in Colorado. Our year around the world has taught us that our time is limited, things can change in a matter of seconds, and the worst thing you can do is to wait for things to happen and be afraid of a change. I won’t lie, starting a new life in a new state, without knowing anyone or anything, and preparing your kids for school, well it is a bit scary…but, when in doubt I always go back and remind myself of my first year in the USA, all alone, without knowing english, no family, friends or any sense of comfort, tearing my ACL during a basketball game…if I could make it through that I could make it through anything - that train of thought is my daily mantra, haha.
Moving to a new state required us to get two new vehicles (I think Rick’s heart stopped when he was signing the checks for the cars), pretty much all new furniture (we still don't have living room pieces but who cares, being a minimalist is our speciality), kitchen supplies, towels, bedding, pretty much everything you need to live and exist…the chunk of money we have spent so far could easily buy us another year or two of world travels…it’s definitely not easy living in the consumption world but we are slowly adapting to the new speed of life. Rick started his job at the beginning of June, while the kids and I have been living with my in laws back in PA. To make things more complicated, we also acquired some personal injuries.
Leo, while playing outside with a soccer ball tripped and fell into papa’s landscaping wall. He cried frantically so we took him to a local urgent care (oh yeah, health insurance, it’s nice to meet you, won’t lie but we did not miss you at all). The doctor, after examining Leo concluded that he badly bruised his shoulder and it will take 5-7 days to heal…ok, not a problem, but what do you do when your child still complains about the pain two weeks later??? You go back, and so we did…after obtaining the X-rays it turned out that Leo broke his collar bone…this child was walking, running, biking, swimming with a broken bone for two weeks! All I can say is that he is a one tough cookie, a real trooper. He was so cute, after he saw his X-rays and ran (yeah, he was not supposed to run with a broken bone, but try to explain “no running rule” to a 5 year old, good luck!) through the door and screamed to Annie: “I have bones!”, hahaha, this child is too much :) Luckily, he has been doing amazing and recovering at a speed of light.
My second patient happened to be my husband, who attending the Pittsburgh Penguins playoff hockey game (side note: he did not play the game, he was just watching it) and at one point, a large man felt forward creating a domino effect of people falling eventually onto Rick and as a result, Rick tore his meniscus. Please, somebody tell me how is it possible that we traveled for one year around the world, completed plenty of difficult hikes and nothing ever happened to anyone. And now, we are back in America and already are paying healthcare bills, wth??!! Rick injury happened way before he started to work (and we couldn’t get ACA - so much for affordable care) which meant, we did not have health insurance yet (well, we did have a global insurance but it did not cover the USA). During our short trip to Florida he managed to get a MRI but his surgery took place in Colorado. I came down for a week to help him after his arthroscopic surgery, while Leo and Mila stayed in PA. Rick is also doing great and slowly recovering from his surgery…we will be hitting the hiking paths within the next few weeks.
Fourth of July we spent away from Leo and Mila and we missed them terribly. Since we did not want to spent the whole day sitting in the house, we chose to drive to Colorado Springs (about 45 min south of us) and make it to the top of the Pikes Peak (elevation 14, 115 ). Obviously, we could not do the hike since Rick just had his knee surgery. Pikes Peak is one of few summits where you can actually drive your car all the way to the top, amazing, right?! So that was exactly what we did. I must say that tons of people had the same idea as us for the holiday, so it was a bit crowded on the top, but the views made it up :) Seeing the spectacular scenery from the summit made us super excited and we are so ready to explore the whole state of Colorado with our two rascals!
One the way back we made a quick stop at The Colorado Mountain Brewery and relaxed with a glass of beer - hey, the air is super thin and dry up here so you gotta stay hydrated :) Our final destination was The Garden of the Gods Park. We only stepped into the visitor center and grabbed a map. Since Rick should not be doing any major physical activities for another 3-4 weeks, we decided to hold off and visit this part of the mountains once he is all healthy. We snapped several pictures and boy oh boy, this truly is a little slice of heaven…
Yesterday, July 16th we officially moved to the Colorful Colorado!!! The joy and excitement on Leo and Mila's faces when they saw their own rooms was priceless! After 15 months of sleeping in different beds they can finally have their own cozy space :)We decided to keep Leo and Mila with Rick parents till then because there are several family events that we will be part of. We already registered Leo in school and August 10th, he is starting his kindergarten - I may cry just thinking about it, time please slow down. It has definitely been a very challenging situation for us - we spent a whole year together, every single day, and during the last several weeks, we have been separated but thank goodness, it’s only temporary. So this is a short update on our current state of mind : ) We are planning on continuing the blog and will be posting our adventures in Colorado and the rest of the Wild Wild West!!! So dear friends and family, if you are ever planing a trip to the mountains, we are here for you! Let’s just hope we can cope with the snow and much cooler temps than we are used to (although it’s July and it’s hotter here than in Florida!).
Cheers, to a new life and new adventures!
The weather of Norhtland, New Zealand over the last month has been crazy to say the least. One hour, you have crystal clear blue skies followed by a crazy rain storm then you’ll get a glimpse of an amazing rainbow and even more spectacular sunset. And that’s what we have been experiencing for the last few days, when cyclone Hola made an appearance. Some crazy wind and rain that rivaled any hurricane we experienced living in Florida.
As soon as the cyclone passed through Northland, we all had cabin fever and were ready for some outdoor adventure. We drove to Tauranga Bay and chose to do a 7 km hike along the coast. Boy oh boy, this hike was the most picturesque and beautiful we have ever done. Extremely green hills (due to tons of rain), turquoise water, dramatic cliffs and the freshest air on this planet - that is just a part of our experience. I really cannot put into words what we saw that day…I took million of pictures but once again, they do not do the justice. We all got sunburnt that day since we forgot our lotion, but it doesn't matter. It was a true slice of paradise, another magical surprise of mother nature and this unreal beautiful country. If it was our last hike of this trip, it’ll definitely be one of the most memorable.
One day after dropping the kids off at school, we decided to take a drive back to Matai Bay and enjoy an absolutely beautiful day on the beach. This beach has been our favorite and it made it even special because we were the only people there, so lucky! We simply relaxed and took in the spectacular scenery, for the very last time (tear in my eyes). This place is really magical and we were able to turn our minds off and simple breath the purest air this planet has to offer. Living in the present moment has never been easier…
Our lovely hosts invited us over for a dinner. They are such an amazing people, so generous, friendly and hospitable - we could not thank them enough for everything they have done for us. While Pete was making magic in the kitchen, Cecilia gave us a tour of their beautiful home. Pete built it with two helpers a few years ago and probably, it was the nicest home we have ever been to. Leo and Mila had a ball running around and playing with their two adorable dogs. We shared a heavenly meal, talked, laughed and simply enjoyed each others company. Pete and Cecilia prepared a true feast! Once again we were assured that it’s the people who make this journey unforgettable…and for that, we will be forever grateful :) It’s quite difficult to grasp that our time in New Zealand is coming to an end…11 months have gone way too fast, we have seen and done a lot but still there is a part of us that desires to see more and explore more.
Friday was last day of school for Leo and Mila. They had such an amazing time at the preschool, made so many new friends and bonded with the teachers. We went to pick them up a little earlier than usual and also brought a chocolate cake for the staff. Leo refused to go home in our car and lined up for the bus, haha. The teachers made a lovely card for each of them, where they also wrote special messages. They also received a picture book showing how both Leo and Mila enjoyed the school, played and made projects. Such a wonderful and thoughtful memory for them to have…We are so grateful that the director of the day care allowed them to be a part of their school for one month. We said goodbyes to our friends from the gym, exchanged contact information and I am sure we will keep in touch. In the evening, our host Cecilia came over with a bottle of wine and some souvenirs, how sweet! She and Pete brought for Leo and Mila some toys to play with on the airplane, and Rick and I received a New Zealand stone neckless - beautiful and so thoughtful, we are really going to miss this little community from Hihi. Amazing how one month flew by…I am sure that we will come back here one day for now, we are leaving piece of our heart here…
Saturday morning we cleaned up the place, finished packing, gave one last hug to Pete and Cecilia, and hit the road. The weather was beautiful so we decided to make a stop in Kerikeri and visited a local market. The Old Packhouse Market was so cool. It was a mix between arts pieces, fresh produce, clothes and food. We walked for a bit, grabbed a bite to eat and walked across the street to a chocolate factory, yummy! Kids enjoyed some sweets and the adults sipped on some coffee. From there we drove straight to Auckland where we rented a house for 3 nights. The place was very nice and spacious but we still have not gotten over the fact that we had to leave the gorgeous place in Hihi.
The next few days we spent on organizing our belongings, selling our car and exploring the city. Auckland seems like a really cool place. One third of New Zealand population lives here. We strolled through the central part of the city, enjoyed a delicious lunch and fully embraced our last moments in this magical country.
This is it…I can’t believe I am writing this…After 3 months in New Zealand it is time to say goodbye to this magical country and move on…I really don't know how to explain what we are feeling right now. Happy, sad, excited, scared, grateful, anxious…just to name a few. It’s definitely a bittersweet moment. There is nothing that will ever explain what we have seen and done over the last year. The memories we created will stay with us forever and I only hope that this is just the first chapter of our continued travel adventures. We have encountered so many amazing people, visited the most beautiful spots on this planet and forever grew strong family bond. This world journey changed everything inside of us. We see and value things that were invisible or rather unnoticed before. We contemplated many options for our next stop; Fiji, Hawaii, Japan, Chile, Canada? Ultimately we chose to go back to Europe and see my family. This trip started with family, so its fitting we are going to end it with family and begin planning our next steps. So for the next few weeks we will be in Poland and Germany catching up with our European peeps, yay!
Someone asked us what we have learned during this world adventure. Kinda silly question if you ask me because there is not enough hours in a day for me to explain it all. So let me tell you one thing that comes to my mind instantly - don’t be afraid to live your dreams. What I have learned is the fact that time is passing by way too fast and there is nothing more scary than waiting. During this year long journey, we experienced so many different emotions and there were times when we wanted to go back to our comfortable lifestyle of West Palm Beach, but every time we hit a bit of adversity, we would have the most amazing day or experience right in front of us. Looking back, I think we were out of our minds for thinking that, but luckily we always pulled through and kept going. We gave up pretty much everything we had back home and went after our dream. It was like an opportunity cost (I guess I learnt something in Economics class back in college and was able to apply it to the real life, ha) - sell the car and buy an airplane ticket, solid employment to fund the trip, leave the comforts of life in Florida and explore the beauty of this world; we gave up something in order to gain something else. We had a dream and made it happen. It was not alway cupcakes and rainbows but reading our blog posts I have a tear in my eye and can’t wait to one day do it all over again (I just need to win a powerball!) So have dreams, work hard and smart and make it happen. Never ask why but rather why not and live your life to the fullest (side note: I am reading this to Rick now and we are both crying, hahaha, dorks). We are sitting right now in our Airbnb rental in Auckland, drinking wine and packing our belongings…in the background there is Andrea Bocelli singing “Time to Say Goodbye”…So Goodbye to all of you! Thank you for following us and being part of our world adventure. Hopefully you enjoyed our journey and learned something new about this amazing world, love to all and until next time!
Oh and one more thing. . . the blog will go on, but our focus will change, we look forward to building a network of travel companions and helping people plan their perfect Holiday. More to come so don’t leave us!!!
Rick’s parents have arrived! They arrived here safe and sound after a very long 35 hour journey from Pennsylvania. Leo and Mila were so excited to see them and it has been nice to have family around. My in-laws were pretty tired so after dinner, we all went to bed super early. All of us slept very well and we were ready to show them around. The next day, we drove to Maitai Bay and spent a few hours sunbathing on this piece of paradise. On the way back, we stopped at KariKari Estate winery. This place was spectacular. Located on a hill overlooking mountains and the Pacific ocean, just a pure bliss. We did a quick wine tasting, which was ok, and then grabbed a table, ordered some food and wine and admired this breath taking scenery. Leo and Mila received coloring papers and crayons and were super busy. It was such a lovely afternoon, something that was needed, especially for our guests from America.
The following day Leo and Mile went to school, Rick and I hit the gym, and my in laws went for a walk along our local beaches. That day we all took it easy since Mila and Leo started to come down with something. We have been super lucky because during our 10 months of travel, none of us have gotten sick. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as Leo and Mila join day care they started to get ill. They both had a mild temperatures and passed onto me. The next day, I am not sure why, but we decided to drive 2.5 hours to Waipahu Forest to see the biggest tree in New Zealand - Tane Mahuta. When we got there, we literally took 30 steps and the tree was there…so we took a long car trip to see a giant tree - something that the Grizzwalds would do, haha. The tree was impressive but definitely not worth this long drive. Also, the weather cooled off a bit, it was raining so we could not do too much that day. We stopped at some viewing points but since Leo was still running a fever, we chose to return to the house. He was so tired, it was odd for us because we have not seen him so ill in a very long time. Thank goodness, his conditions improved overnight, and even though we did not send him to school, he finally had no fever, was eating and being a normal crazy Leo. Rick took Mila and his parents to see a Rainbow waterfalls and do a short hike, while Leo and I stayed home and rested.
And it’s raining again, by raining I mean pouring! Now we know why New Zealand is so lush and green, it had rained a lot over the last 2 weeks. So today, we have hung out in the house, did another puzzle, drank wine and chit chatted. On Sunday, we drove to KeriKeri and despise the nasty weather, we walked around the Farmer’s Market. It’s funny because one of the market stall owners said he could tell we were visitors because as soon as it started to rain hard, we all were hiding underneath the roof, haha. The locals just keep strolling barefoot without being bothered by the rain. On the way back home we made a stop at Cottle Hill Winery and just sipped on some wine - I guess wine is a cure for everything :)
Monday, the clouds parted and we welcomed back the sun, yay! In the morning, we dropped the kids off at the school and took my in laws to Tapou Bay beach. We have not been there yet and it turned out to be a beautiful spot. The water had a gorgeous color and the green hills only added more magic to this spectacular scenery. We all got sunburnt, surprise surprise! In the afternoon, we visited a local butcher and stocked up on some local meats...we definitely had a feast that night, yum yum!
Life has definitely slowed down for us. We really feel as if we lived permanently in New Zealand…kids go to school, we go to the gym, and just fully embrace the local culture. We run into the same people and feel as a part of this wonderful community. The owners of our rental are wonderful too. They keep bringing us fresh grapes, figs and other goodies. The other day Pete - our host gifted us a huge freshly caught red snapper that we grilled for dinner. Most of the evenings we have a chance to witness beautiful sunsets while sipping on wine, not a bad life at all. Even though Northland is a bit isolated, you get a real sense of community here. Its the people who rely on each other that makes the World go round. This slower pace of our journey was just what the doctor ordered.
We also made another drive to the Cape Reinga to see the lighthouse. And guess what, it rained the entire drive! Surprisingly, once we made it to the cape there was literally a small piece of blue skies and this mystical blue & gray color over the open waters. We walked down to the lighthouse and admired the stunning views. I think we made it just in time because as soon as we were leaving it started to rain. We’ve mentioned how windy the New Zealand roads are and they finally got the best of Mila. On the way back she vomited...poor girl : ( Don't worry , as soon as she took a bath she was back to being a crazy and wild bambino :-)
The last day of my in laws visit we booked a half day cruise along the northern islands. That morning Rick woke up super sick and was not able to join us, bummer. We left mid morning and drove to a small port town called Paihia (about 1 hour drive from Hihi). Paihia is a super cute and charming little town on the water, full of boutique shops, restaurants and little cafes. We walked around for a bit, got a bite to eat and at 1:15 boarded our boat. The weather improved significantly and most importantly, it was not raining. We cruised along the islands and finally got off at the Robertson Island. Mila was deep asleep and Leo did not want to leave the boat, so I decided to stay with them while my in laws were able to explore the island for a bit. As they were about to come back on the cruise ship, it started to rain again and needless to say, they got a little wet :) The final attraction of this expedition was seeing the world famous “Hole in the Rock”. At first, the captain was not sure if we would be able to make it there, since the water was too choppy. Luckily, by mid afternoon the conditions improved and we were able to make it all the way there. It was definitely the highlight of this adventure. The rock literally had a hole that looks like a secret passage to another world. It was a fun and intense day, a perfect way to end a visit with my in laws.
It’s hard to believe that their stay came to en end…they were here for 10 days and it literally flew by! Leo and Mila were so happy to see them and spend some precious time together. That day they did not want to go to school but rather drive to the airport with Annie and Papa (instead of the trip to the airport, they were picked up by school bus…Mila was not too happy about that). We are so thankful that that they were able to make it here and see it. It was a long journey for them (about 35 hours) but it was a time well spent. We have only 10 days left in this wonderful country and will live it to the fullest. Not sure what’s next but we wont worry about it yet : )
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