After an amazing week in Byron Bay, we continued our road trip down Australia’s east coast. We were still a good 10 hours away from Sydney and decided to make a pit stop near Crescent Beach. We rented an old house on AirBnB and made ourselves cozy for the next few days. Our first excursion took us to Smoky Cape - a beautiful hill on the edge of the ocean with an old lighthouse and stunning scenery. We absolutely loved looking at gorgeous beaches that were completely empty. It feels as though we arrived in an undiscovered paradise, a future Byron Bay perhaps. After a short walk around the lighthouse, we drove to Horseshoe Bay in Southwest Rocks. It is a beautiful golden sand beach with stunning turquoise water and a sweet playground at the entrance. Of course Leo and Mila had to release some energy there. We relaxed on the beach for a couple of hours soaking in another slice of Australian paradise. We sunbathed, splashed in the ocean and built sandcastles. It was a perfect place for our family to catch a small break and some quality beach time.
The following morning we walked to a nearby playground so Rick and I could do a workout while the kids played. . .sometimes you have to get creative to get your workouts in with your kids around you all the time! While Mila played at the swing, Leo ran 1 mile around the track!!!! I guess he felt inspired watching Mommy & Daddy sweating their butts off. In the afternoon, Mila and I stayed home and took naps while Rick and Leo drove to Crescent Beach and went snorkeling. It was a mellow day and much needed for everyone.
The next day we were heading to Sydney. Rick decided to get up super early and complete a hike at Hat Head National Park. He left at 4am, driving through some dense fog to get to the coast. Upon arrival, he was greeting with a beautiful sunrise over the Pacific, kangaroos galore, and pure nature. He was home by 8 and we were on the last leg of our east coast road trip.
The trip from Cairns to Sydney is a little over 2,600km or essentially, a drive from Maine to Miami, or Warsaw to Barcelona. We were super excited to finally reach Sydney and spend the rest of 2017 there. In Sydney, we had two different AirBnB rentals, both on opposite sites of the city. We absolutely fell in love with our first flat - just outside Manly Beach. It was a spacious, open apartment, with great views of the bay and a cool vibe. We ordered pizza, a bottle of red wine and enjoyed our first night in Manly.
Our first impression of Sydney - amazing! We absolutely loved the local vibe! This morning we took a 20 minute ferry ride from Manly to Sydney Harbor. The weather was much cooler than the day before - in low 70’s and cloudy - perfect conditions for a stroll around town. As soon as we approached Circular Quay, we were greeted by the Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House - not a bad entrance : ) Both landmarks are beautiful and define the city skyline. We walked around the Opera and headed towards the Botanical Gardens, which led us straight to Business District of Sydney.
Christmas is right around the corner and everything is decorated for the holidays. We walked by the main christmas tree, grabbed a coffee and enjoyed some street music! We later walked to the Queen Victoria Station that was simply stunning - a four floor historic building, full of character and Christmas spirit. We passed many stores, bars, coffee shops and restaurants full of happy people. Right in the middle of the Queen Victoria Station was a gorgeous christmas tree made of 82,000 Swarovski crystals, something out of this world. We took the escalator all the way to the top floor and noticed an interesting gazebo covered with flowers. When we peaked inside was saw…Santa! It was a special set up for holiday pictures with the best man in the world :) Since the line was quite short plus Leo could not miss talking to Santa, we decided to wait and also snap some photos. Apparently we needed a special reservation since sessions with Santa were booked all the way through Christmas, but a lovely lady Elf, who was in charge of the reservations was able to squeeze us in - must be the magic of the holidays, or the fact we opened up our wallet : ) Leo was so happy and excited to see Santa, he could not wait his turn, while Mila could not wait to get out of there, hahaha! As soon as she saw Santa, she started to cry like there was no tomorrow. She was holding on to me so tight, like a koala bear holding onto a eucalyptus tree, hahaha. Poor girl had the worst time of her life, picture below says it alI! I know, I know, we are mean parents, but it will be fun to show these photos to her in few years : ) Her nerves were calmed down by a piece of chocolate, candy always works!
We continued our city exploration and walked through Hyde Park, and finally took a short break in front of St Mary’s Cathedral (which reminds us so much of Norte Dame in Paris, just a different stone). We spent the whole day in the city and felt a real connection. Everyone seemed so happy and laid back, even though it was a work day. I must admit that the neighborhood where we are staying is a key piece to it. Right on the water, with gorgeous views and very attractive people. It really does feel like a different world. We were hanging out on the beach yesterday and I could not get over the number of young families with kids there. It is their summer break so everyone is out enjoying the weather. Next to us were two young moms with little children. While the kids splashed in the water the moms were sipping champagne and having a fabulous time. We spotted a group of dads chatting away and drinking beer while attending to the little once. I am not saying that alcohol is the main reason why we like it here so much but come on, who would not want to come to the beach after full day in the office, socialize in the bathing suit and have a cocktail - sign me up!
With Christmas only a week away, Leo & Mila are getting into the Holiday spirit. They keep track of the days with their Paw Patrol Advent Calendars, they sent letters to Santa and baked cookies with mommy. Since its mid-summer here, Australians celebrate Christmas much more relaxed, we found most homes lacked any type of christmas decor…however, central Sydney has a Holiday vibe. We found out that each night at St Mary’s Cathedral at 7:30 pm there is a choir singing christmas carols followed by a beautiful light display. We could not miss it, so on Sunday afternoon we took the ferry back to the city. To make it more fun for Leo and Mila, instead of walking to the cathedral, we took the train. Their excitement was out of this world : ) We grabbed comfy seats and impatiently waited for the show. The choir was nice and for one hour kept singing all of the christmas classics. But it was the light show that stole the night. It was beautiful crafted performance - the main and most important message was to enjoy this time, be merry, peaceful and happy, share the love with your friends and family, and simply enjoy the most magical time of the year. Leo and Mila constantly ran around during the choir performance but once the light show started, they were completely captivated by it. It was a lovely evening that without a doubt put us in christmas spirits!
The next day we made a day trip to amazing Bondi Beach! Bondi is on the complete opposite side of Sydney; it took us over an hour and half to get there but it was totally worth it. Another piece of aussie paradise! The beach itself is pretty long and wide, packed with sunbathers, surfers and very, very young, fit and gorgeous people. It was a hot, sunny day, the water had an unbelievable turquoise color, out of this world. First, we walked parts of the famous Bondi to Coggee walk (total walk is about 6 km, we did 3 km). The views were spectacular, stunning water, beautiful cliffs, bays and rock pools. The second part of the day we spent relaxing on the beach, people watching and splashing in the water with Leo and Mila. The local crowd was different than the one at Manly; much younger, singles, and backpackers from all around the world, tons of bars, restaurants, pubs, and boutique shops.
We left our first AIRBnB rental in Manly and moved on to our next place. It was located in the western suburbs of Sydney, about 10 kms from the city center. We had an entire home, as our hosts decided to rent their place out to us as they travel to Tasmania with family. On our way, we stopped at Dural Tree farm to find our perfect Christmas tree. Unlike the Griswald’s, we chose a 6ft tree versus some of the mammoth 15-18 footers they had on the farm. It fit perfectly on the roof of our Toyota Camry and nestled right into the living room of our rental. It was the first time we went to a tree farm to select a tree and we absolutely loved the experience! Once we got home, the kids loved helping out to decorate, we made our own ornaments out of flour, cinnamon, salt and water. It is so much fun to get into the Christmas spirit and watch how your kids embrace the belief.
The next day brought more heat, almost 95 degrees. We had our car for one more day before returning so we decided to head inland and visit Blue Mountains National park. It was a 2 hour road trip from our place. We started with a visit to the 3 Sisters observation point. It wasn’t really a hike, you park your car and walk 10 minutes to the view point. It was packed. Tour buses, cars, and tons of people. The 3 sisters were cool to see but honestly the amount of tourist made it feel like a tourist trap for us. We prefer to hike and get to amazing views instead of fighting the crowds, particularly since it was so hot out. From there, we jumped back into our car and headed to Wentworth falls. We found a spot to throw our blanket down and relax. Its been a bit dry around here so the falls were not that impressive.
Christmas has arrived!!! It was our first Christmas away from family. Normally we either fly to Poland to see my family, or to Pennsylvania to share the most wonderful time of the year with Rick’s side of the family. Leo and Mila were super pumped for Santa and overall, they have had more nice moments than naughty :) It was a bit bittersweet to be away from all of our family but how cool is it we got to spend Xmas in Sydney? We captured every moment and posted a short video of our Christmas story in Sydney and if you have not seen it, here is the link:
A few observation about Sydney: It has been interesting two and a half weeks here…it’s a beautiful city with lots to do, however, when it comes to Christmas, its very different from the northern hemisphere. Since it’s mid-summer and the kids are off from school until early February, many families use this time as vacation and go camping, road tripping, or traveling. We didn’t see very many homes decorated (granted our sample size is 2 communities), and most folks go the route of an artificial tree versus real (based on people we spoke with). Nevertheless, we had an amazing Christmas celebration here and one we will remember for the rest of our lives.
Our next stop during our Australian expedition was Airlie Beach and The Whitsunday Islands. The distance from Cairns to Airlie Beach was about 390 miles and it took us over 8 hours to get there. The ride itself was pretty monotonous, passing mostly sugar fields with the rain forests to our west. Once again you can go 2 hours without seeing a gas station or town. I still can’t get over the fact of how unpopulated Australia is, especially comparing to USA or Europe. At 9 pm we finally made it to our AirBnB rental in Airlie Beach. We were all pretty tired from the drive and had no problems falling asleep.
The following morning we headed to the local tourist office in Airlie where we booked a full day excursion to the Whitsunday Islands. It was a beautiful day, sunny and low 80’s so we walked over to the Esplanade. Queensland and most of Eastern Australia is known to have lagoons or swimming areas near their beaches because of the threat of stingers. This area was devastated by a massive cyclone back in March and the town is still recovering from the damages. The Lagoon was brand new and it was a perfect spot to relax, splash in the water and stretch our bones after a full day of driving.
In the afternoon we drove to Dingo Beach - according to the lady at the tourism office it was nice and secluded beach, worth the 30 minute drive...well, maybe this beach was nice before the cyclone. It was completely abandoned and a little rough. On the bright side, on the way there we stopped at the local mango stand where we bought a whole case (20) of fresh mangos for only $10 - delicious mango smoothies will be our breakfast for the next few days.
The next day was what we came for, the Whitsunday Islands! We booked a full day excursion with an awesome company - Ocean Rafting. At 9 am we were picked up by the company bus and taken to the marina. Along with other 20 people we boarded our boat. . . called Wild Thing and let me tell you, it was the wildest and crazy boat ride in our life! Our two fun and energetic captains - Claudia and Tommy made this day an awesome experience. First, we took a 45 minute ride to ta nearby reef where we all went snorkeling. Leo and Rick jumped in the water first. After 15 minutes, we switched and I had an opportunity to snorkel on my own and guess what, I saw a shark!!! It was not the first time I saw one but this time, I was alone and honestly, I almost pooped my pants hahaha!!! After the snorkel adventure, Wild Thing took us to Hill lookout, a 1.2 km walk with the most amazing views you’ll ever experience in your lifetime. Once we got off the boat, we walked through the softest, purest, most beautiful sand in the world (interesting fact #1, Whitehaven is 99.9% silica sand, known to be the purest in the World). We took the short ascent and once you get to the platform you are greeted with the most breathtaking view ever - the White Heavenly Beach and the rest of the Whitsunday Islands. I believe White Heavenly Beach was named like that for a reason - it is a true paradise, a small piece of heaven! The sand is like white sillk ( interesting fact #2: although the temperature can reach over 100 F there, the sand never gets hot because it is pure white, it reflects the sun). The water had the most amazing blue color. The mix of white sand amongst the tides of blue water made for perfect pictures and a view we’ll always hang on to.
Once we finished this hike, we had a small lunch on the boat and had some time to walk on the softest sand in the world. The last part of this unbelievable day was spent on the White Haven beach. I honestly think this was the most beautiful beach we have ever been too (interesting fact # 3, local lore states NASA bought 2 million tons of Whitehaven Sand from the Australian government to build the Hubble Telescope). The scenery was out of this world. The water was so clear you could see all kinds of fishes swimming around you. Leo has such a blast snorkeling there and trying to catch them :-) Whitehaven beach is an uninhabited island, you can only take days trips or sail, there are no accommodations on the island, which makes it even more prestine. Whitsunday Islands have been named second best beaches in the world - a true paradise! While the islands continue to recover from the major cyclone, you can see the effects of the trees and scrubbery and all but one of the islands (Hamilton island) were completely destroyed and have not reopen yet. Nevertheless, they continue to recover and the beauty of these islands is simply stunning.
The next day we had a loooooooong 13 hours road trip ahead of us...we were driving from Airlie Beach to a town called Mountain Creek - 1200 km, just outside of Brisbane. We left around 5 am and made several stops along the way to grab a bite to eat, stretch our legs and fuel up. For most of this road trip we drove on one line highways and barely passed any towns. The city of Rockhampton was the biggest city where we stopped for a yummy branch. We made it to our AirBnB rental at 6 pm, we were so happy that we made it all in one piece. Mountain Creek was merely a pit stop for us, we only stayed 2 nights and chose to just relax in our beautiful rental. We had a great fenced in back yard where the kids ran around all day. We had a really great encounter…as we were packing our car, a sweet and adorable lady who lived next door started to talk to Rick. Here he found our she was from Poland, hahaha. She insisted we come over to her house for tea and cookies, and of course, we did! Miss Bronia was the cutest grandma in the world. She prepared a small lunch, made us tea, had snacks for the kids and…brandy for momma, hahaha! Since Rick was driving he could not drink but me, come on, I would never turn down a cocktail in such amazing company. We talked, we laughed and got to know each other. Unfortunately, we had to leave and drive to our next destination but Miss Bronia will forever stay in our memory!
We arrived at our next destination, a little beach town called Pottsville. Our AirBnB rental had a perfect location, only 1 block from the beach. It felt so amazing to be able to get up in the morning, walk barefoot to the beach, go for a run and swim in the very cold ocean. We could hear the Pacific waves crashing in from our patio. We decided to really slow it down this week, the Aussie culture is wearing off on us and we have no problem with that : ) We literally just walked across the street to the beach each day. We managed to visit a waterfall called Minyon Falls, located only 35 minutes drive from our house. It was quite beautiful scenery : ) In the afternoon, we drove to Brunswick Beach and relaxed. Leo met this adorable little girl and they instantly clicked. They played together all afternoon, ran around the beach, splashed in the water and chased each other like crazy. Poor Mila had a tough time because we forgot her swimsuit and she ended up wearing Leo’s beach guard, and let me tell you, she was not happy about it! I must admit that Byron Bay area is very unique and interesting. People seem so free and happy here, they all have a huge respect and love for the land. It’s kinda a stress free community, everyone minds their own business and simply enjoy life and I kinda like it, a lot!
So we lived in Florida for 8 years and I have never surfed - embarrassing! I paddle boarded a lot but never gave surfing a chance. So when I was signed up for a half day surf course in Byron Bay, I was all in. After breakfast we all drove to Byron Beach - stunning place. Rick and the kids stayed there for the rest of the day while I walked over to Stoked Surf School and registered for the half day course. Along with me there were 7 other people so quite a small group. We took a 20 minutes bus ride to a secluded Sharpes Beach where we were given a short surfing lesson on the beach and then it was show time. Our instructor explained to us all the necessary details on how to catch a wave and ride it, looked pretty easy but the reality was a bit different. At the beginning, I had problems with timing the wave but once I figured it out I was seriously stoked! It was so much fun! I really can’t believe that I have never tried it before. I fell off the boat numerous times but also rode the waves like there was no tomorrow. It was such an adrenaline rush and I absolutely loved every second of it. My legs are bruised up and I am super sore, but I could not be more proud of myself. I found a new hobby and cannot wait to try it again!
Well, my new hobby beat me up a bit…I woke up super sore and my legs looked as if I fell off a bike.haha! I am a mess! Nevertheless, I am still living the moments of riding the waves…Today, we decided to drive back to Byron Bay. We headed to the famous Byron Bay Lighthouse, which was build in 1901. This lighthouse is one of the top ten most photographed places in all of Australia and I must say, it’s stunning. The Historic lighthouse surrounded by spectacular greenery and insanely turquoise waters full of dolphins. We took a walk towards the most Easterly Point of Australia, called Cape Byron and as we walked down the steps we spotted many dolphins swimming and jumping in the water. It was such a gorgeous view, another pinch me moment during our world journey. At the end of the pathway, we found a sweet secluded beach called Little Wategos Beach. We set down our blanket under a tree and enjoyed breathtaking views. Leo immediately ran into the water and loved being knocked down by the waves. At one point as I was watching him, I noticed a surfer and, what I thought was a shark! I wanted to scream at him but after a while I realized it was a dolphin :) I was lucky enough to capture one of them jumping right out of the water - simply amazing. It was close to 3pm and Mila started to get tired so we decided to head back to town. We really wanted to visit a local market and a place called The Farm but as soon as we climbed back to the lighthouse, it started to rain. In that case, we decided to drive home and left our Byron Bay adventures a bit unsatisfied… we really wanted to do more. I guess we will have to come back here one day!
The motto of Byron Bay says - “cheer up, slow down, chill out”. It’s a gentle reminder to enjoy life’s little moments to the fullest. You could say that the concept of time stopped here many years ago. It is paradise. People are super relaxed, happy, barefoot and free. Everyone carries a surf board, not rushing anywhere, because honestly, there is no need to be rushed. There are no high-rises or corporate buildings. It seems as most people work at the local boutique shops, bars and restaurants. There are many street musicians and hand made arts and crafts displays. It’s a true hippie town with a free spirit and flower power. Everyone looks so happy and worry free, no one cares what you look like or what you wear - no judgement whatsoever. Honestly, this place had the most beautiful people on our entire journey, everyone was in great shape and their smiles are contagious. It was a good reminder for us too. We’ve started to get caught up in thinking too much about the future, where we want to live and what we want to do that we started to take our eye off of staying in the moment. . .enjoying and living every day to its fullest. Tomorrow we are leaving this slice of heaven and heading 5 hours south to Crescent Beach. We are still about 10 hours away from Sydney and slowly, we will make our way down there. For now, we say adios and thank you to Byron Bay - a picture perfect town with the best vibe in the world : )
It’s hard to believe we’ve eclipsed the half way point of our trip. Over a span of 7 months, we’ve visited 10 Countries, driven 12,000 miles, hiked over 150 miles, and swam in the Atlantic, Indian, Southern, and Pacific Oceans. We’ve seen some of the most scenic landscape this World has to offer. We’ve met a ton of amazing people, who have become a part of our lives, and shown us what life is like in their community and their Country.
Gosia and I have always shared a curiosity to learn about different cultures, wanting to understand what a day in the life may look like for a villager of France, a Swiss farmer, an Italian wine maker or Malaysian city-dweller. One of the things we’ve taken a keen awareness is Education and how these Countries choose to educate their children. With our son Leo ready to start Kindergarten next year, we wanted to learn what the education systems around the World look like. Here’s what we’ve learned about Education around the World.
In France, we were hosted by an English middle school teacher who kindly invited over for dinner. We chatted about the French education system and how she applies it to her kids. One of the first things that stood out to us is the fact that she creates her own lesson plans. There’s obviously guidelines set forth by the system, but she gets to determine how she wants to educate her class. In her case, it is lots of books, chosen by her for her classroom, with group discussion, monthly testing, and a final at the end of the semester. For example, she picks a book for the students to read. They take it home as part of their assignment and follow up with lively classroom discussion. Outside of reading, most of the work is completed in the classroom. She teaches 7th & 8th graders. One of the best stories she shared applies to her own son. At 12 years old, she sent him on a foreign exchange program to Canada to learn about French Canadian culture. Pretty cool experience for a 12 year old!!
Germany is where my nieces live. They are currently in 5th & 4th grade. During their elementary education, they never had homework. The after class work would always be completed during a mandatory study hall, in the presence of their teachers. The teachers offer the necessary assistance to help the students complete the required work. After school, from 3pm-5pm, the kids would enroll in extra curricular activities, such as music, gymnastics, karate, voice, sports or arts & crafts. These programs are sponsored by the school and normally would come with some type of performance at the end of each semester. Parents pick up their kids at 5, with no stress of worrying about what homework needs to be completed or running them off to another activity. This changes at the 5th grade level, where now, my oldest niece, who is enrolled in the USA equivalent of a gifted program, is learning Mandarin Chinese, English, and Spanish. English is conducted 5 days a week. During parent/teacher conferences, attendance is mandatory and 100% of the parents are present. Those conferences are also attended in the presence of the child where they not only discuss progress against lesson plans but social skills as well. In my niece’s case, they discussed how to be more confident in the classroom. The teachers also encourage to the parents no homework for the kids 2 hours prior to bedtime. The brain, like other muscles, needs rest and they believe kids need downtime or playtime at home too.
While we didn’t talk to an educator in Switzerland, we did have a picnic with a great group of families at one of Switzerland’s famous playgrounds. The Swiss incorporate health & wellness into their education. Recess & physical education are requirements at an early age, and Swiss kids utilize their natural landscape to learn basic outdoor skills (kids know how to build a fire at an early age), regardless of the elements. They don’t cancel school with the first snow fall or sub freezing temperatures, rather they use these elements to take the kids outside and play. Swiss schools are very disciplined, there’s no make up tests or tardiness, you are expected to be in school, except for cases of extreme sickness. The Swiss start field trips for kids at 2nd grade. Parents will drop their kids off on Monday morning, and pick them up Friday afternoon from a school designed field trip.
In Bali, we were hosted by another educator who taught at a private English speaking school in Kuta. The school is mostly expats. Bali has a growing expat population due to the quality of life and low cost of living, particularly from other Asian & European counties. Kids attend school 6 days a week instead of 5, private schools in Bali have much higher standards than their public counterparts, and due to the traffic issues on the island, school starts at 6:30am and ends at 1:30pm.
We are currently in Australia where I feel like the class room is conducted outside. Literally, everywhere we go, we have run into a class of students, both young & old. In Adelaide, October was “Try a different hike month”. We crossed paths with 3 different class rooms of elementary kids on our hike to Mt. Lofty. Along the Great Ocean Road, we ran into a 1st grade classroom who was on a field trip at Tower Hill reserve. It was there they were learning about Emus, Snakes, and bird life. At the Victoria Market in Melbourne, a group of high school students were on a scavenger hunt. They were in German class, looking for specific items at the market, listed in German. At the end, they would get a lesson from the butcher, or cheese maker on the dynamics of making cheese or the process of a perfect cut of beef.
We also ran into a kindergarten classroom at Kingslake National Park, outside of Melbourne. We had a lengthy talk with a passionate teacher. They take their kids to Kingslake once a week, regardless of the weather. Today, it was in the 50s and raining. The kids were having a blast. What stuck out to us though, was how 2 teachers watch over 20 students out in the wild? They set up triangle flags at 3 corners of the picnic grounds. Why 3 corners? The 4th is imaginary. While in school, the teachers set up these flags on the school grounds during recess time. They watch over the kids, teaching them to stay within the play area, while leaving one corner open. Once the teachers feel as though the kids understand the concept of staying within their boundaries, they take them to Kings Lake and set up the same concept. Halfway through their semester, the teacher told us no kid has broken away from the imaginary boundary. What a brilliant way to teach discipline!
While hanging out on a beach on the Gold Coast, there was a group of preschoolers with 2 teaches taking a nature walk along the preserve at the beach. When Leo saw this, he decided to join in. The teachers had no problem with him joining along. They brought with them stencils and paper to draw what they saw. Leo had a blast! While we’ve yet to learn about the dynamics of what occurs inside an Aussie classroom, it seems like their education happens outside of it and creatively rules the day.
My mother was an educator for 35 years, teaching Music to Elementary kids. She routinely put on some of the most spectacular Christmas & Spring musical programs. They would pack the gymnasium to watch 7-8 year olds put on magical performances. She taught her kids to be creative, use their imagination, and appreciate the wonders of Music. When she retired 5 years ago, the school did not hire a new music teacher but rather combine music with the arts. Today, those gyms where performances took place are used to test those same 7-8 year olds. My cousin is a High School English teacher whom is one of the best & brightest in her profession. She has a passion and energy for her kids like no other. She’s lost her ability to be creative in her classroom as all they do is prepare for tests, tests, and more standardized tests.
The purpose of this article is not to point out if one system is better than the other. It is to show you the different ways developed Countries educate their kids. Is a test the right way to demonstrate knowledge? Particularly for a 6, 7, 8, 9 or even 10 year old? Gosia and I recently read an article in The Palm Beach Post (link — Why Good Teachers Quit) asking why good teachers are leaving the profession? Are we giving too much power to the administrators and not letting our best & brightest teachers create their own lesson plans?
Some of the most engaged teams I’ve led in the business world were those that had a stake in their own performance. One that wasn’t dictated from the top down but rather a shared commitment to exceed performance objectives with a game plan designed by the employee and manager on how goals would be met. Allowing manager & employee to write the game plan, signed off by senior management is one of the most effective ways to employee success and the success of the overall organization. It builds trust and engagement within the organization.
The same philosophy holds true for teachers and students. Allowing teachers to design their classrooms around what is best for their students, with the support of administration is a proven way to educate our kids. Leading a high powered classroom with engaged teachers, motivated students, and supportive parents works. As you can see from around the World, teachers are given a bit of autonomy on what is best for their class. I’m sure it is signed off by the Principal or some administrator but they lead the engagement of their classroom, not a standardized test.
All kids learn and grow differently. I’ve had great teachers (and parents) who inspired & motivated me to be successful. I had teachers who let me fail and allowed me to learn from my mistakes. I also had teachers who went through the motions. I remember Biology class in the woods, blowing up things in Chemistry, reading “The Great Gatsby” in English, applying math class at the grocery store and of course running mischief in Woodshop. I don’t remember a single question on my SAT nor how I applied it to the real world. All classrooms are different. The most engaged kids are those that are allowed to be creative, that fall and get back up, and those teachers that have a stake in their well being.
Can traveling around the world be exhausting? We have an answer for you. . .yes, yes and yes! Our departure out of Hobart to Cairns was a nightmare. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 6 am from Hobart to Melbourne, where we had a short layover and then a final flight to Cairns & the Great Barrier Reef. We were up at 3am, out the door at 4, returned the rental car and headed to check in. When we went to check in, the ticket agent informed us that our flight to Melbourne was canceled (bummer # 1) and they rebooked us on a different flight going to Brisbane…6 hours later!!! (huge bummer # 2). At first I thought it was all a joke, after all, I was running on only 3 hours of sleep but when I finally looked up at the information board I saw CANCELED. I looked and Rick and said, “How are we going to survive 6 hours at the airport with two little kids at 5 am!” And here, once again, I was taught to never underestimate your kids. They were amazing, children born to travel. They never cried, threw a tantrum or misbehaved. They kept themselves entertained by climbing on the suitcases, chasing each other, watching cartoons and shopping at the local cafe. Although it was a long 6 hours for Rick & I, Leo & Mila were really good. Sometimes kids just have that 6th sense when things aren’t going right they turn on their best behavior.
That was not the end of our travel catastrophe. We later learned that once we got to Brisbane, we had to exit security, grab our luggage and once again, go back to the ticket agent and get our tickets to Cairns!! All of this had to be done in one hour!!! At this point, it was Rick & I’s turn to throw a tantrum! Why on Earth could they not check us all the way through to Cairns? According to the airline (whom we won’t mention), when they issued our new tickets, it was on 2 different airlines so we had to go to the agent in Brisbane to get our final tickets. At this point, Rick called the airline and complained. After an hour on the phone, they provided us $160 worth of food voucher (sounds like a lot but not really in Aussie airports - we spent every nickel) and $100 credit towards another flight.
At 6 pm, after 14 hours of airport wonders, we finally made it to Cairns. If felt like we were in 7th heaven when we walked out of the airport and were hit with super warm and humid air - kind of like landing in Florida and immediately our homesickness went away.
Our AirBnB rental was wonderful, a spacious two bedroom unit with a pool. And that’s exactly where we spent the following day, relaxing by the pool, doing laundry, shopping and getting ready for another set of adventures in tropical Queensland.
Cairns is a really cool city with a typical beach city feel. It has a vibe of what “old” Florida may have looked like 30 years ago. Plenty of cozy cafes and restaurants, tons of backpackers and travelers from all around the world, a great boardwalk and esplanade with a huge pool, and of course tons of boats at the marina to get you out to the 8th Wonder of the World - the Great Barrier Reef!!! We visited a local tourist office where we learned more about the area and different attractions. Since it’s box jellyfish season (November- April), you are not allowed to swim in the ocean unless it’s in an enclosed area or you are wearing a full protective suit. We drove to two of the local beaches - Palm Cove and Trinity Beach. Both were very nice, super long and narrow, surrounded by the mountains and the rain forest. At Palm Cove, the lifeguards put up a sign about a salt water crocodile who was recently spotted in the water and they advised not to swim there. We may be risk takers but no way were we messing with crocs, no swimming for us around here! We also spent some time at the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon located right on the shore. Kids absolutely loved this place, they were able to freely swim, play in the sand and keep busy while Rick and I relaxed on a blanket. Its Thanksgiving Day back in the States but its tough for us to get into it since we’re away from family. We could not get turkey here so we chose to grill fresh snapper, brown rice and an apple,cranberry and butternut squash bake.
While the States celebrated Black Friday with some shopping, we spent the day on the Great Barrier Reef!!! The Great Barrier Reef is a 2600 km ecosystem that consists of thousands of reefs, hundreds of different islands and the most species in the World. We decided to visit one of the Frankland Islands - Isle of Normanby. The main reason why we chose this place is because this island is completely uninhabited and untouched. We were picked up by bus at 7 am and it took us about one hour ride to the river, where we jumped on the boat. From there, it took us about 45 minutes to get to the island. Along with us, there were probably about 20 other people, so a pretty small group. As we exited the rain forest and river, we were greeted by the Coral Sea and just absolutely beautiful scenery. The water had a beautiful turquoise color and you see patches of coral. As soon as we docked the boat we jumped onto the soft yellow sand. We were the only people on this island, quite special if you ask me. Our tour leader explained the schedule for the day and shortly after, Leo and I started to put our wet suits on to go snorkeling, while Rick and Mila build castles in the sand. I could not wait to dive into the gorgeous water and see what's underneath it. We saw plenty of colorful fishes, different colors of the coral and a turtle! It's was a perfect day for snorkeling but sadly I must admit that a big amount of the coral has been destroyed due to bleaching. We were told that most of the coral contains algae, it is a mutualistic relationship, one can’t live without the other ( kinda like true love). The coral provides the algae with the protected environment and compounds their need for photosynthesis. If the water temperatures rises, the algae disappears and as a result, it kills coral aka bleaching process ( please note that I am not an expert on this topic and are trying to repeat why I learned today). Nevertheless, it was an unforgettable experience to be able to snorkel in the largest living reef on the earth. Leo was so happy each time he saw a fish and a turtle. He is such a nature lover and you can see the passion in his eyes, even through his little googles :-) Once we finished the snorkeling tour, it was Rick's turn. Mila, Leo and I jumped into a submarine boat, where we were watching the Reef while Rick went with the rest of the group to see a different part of the reef. The visibility from the bottomless boat was not that great, although we saw 3 turtles, parrot fish, starfish, blue and yellow coral and tons of clams. After that, we all headed to a picnic area where we had lunch ( it was included in the price of the trip and they did a great job feeding us). The next hour we spent relaxing on the beach, paddle boarding, and playing in the sand with our rascals. We could not get over the color of the water and tranquility of this island - a true paradise. It was definitely one of the main highlights during our world tour and something to mark off our bucket list. It was the perfect Black Friday purchase!
The following day we chose to drive inland and explore the rainforest. There are a number of waterfalls in Queensland, Australia so we wanted to seek then out. The first one, called Barron Falls, was located only 30 minutes away from our house, right in the middle of the rain forest. We took a short 1 km walk to the viewing point. Northern Queensland is coming out of their dry season so the intensity of the falls was not that great, but it did leave a lot to the imagination to see water gushing down this huge cliff. Next, we took a one hour car ride to the Millaa Millaa Falls - as Leo said, falls made just for Mila! This waterfall was great as it had a huge grassy area to set a blanket down plus a pool under the falls to swim. We took a few dips in the super cold and refreshing water, and relaxed to the sound of this spectacular falls. Leo and Mila kept running around, sliding down the muddy hill (we had to pitch Mila’s bathing suit since it looked like she pooped everywhere) and splashing in the water. At one point Leo told me he saw turtles and fishes, and was feeding them with bread. At first I did not believe him, where in the world was he seeing turtles in this murky water…well, he called me over and proved me wrong. Down stream there were a dozen little turtles and fishes, and yes, he was throwing them his sandwich, hahaha! After a few hours at Millaa Milllaa Falls, we decided to move on and explore more. On our way there Mila fell asleep in the car and at this point, we decided to head back home. We did visit two other waterfall spots but only Rick jumped out of the car and snapped a few pictures. That evening our host was having a birthday party for his wife and politely invited us over. We did not plan to go, but once we got back home, Leo wanted to go to the pool so Rick took him. They came back few minutes later and said that there was a polish girl and she would like to talk to me - so here I was in a pool party in Cairns, hanging out with a super nice polish girl and her mom, sharing a drink and a good laugh. It is a small World after all!
The next morning we took a 45 minute drive to a coastal town up north called Port Douglas. The ride there was another one of our scenic drives, hugging the tropical Pacific Coast amongst the rainforests. We also passed an area full of kangaroos, so cute. Port Douglas is a very chilled and relaxed town, full of coffee shops, bars, restaurants and a wonderful Sunday market. We walked around the market, bought some fresh mango juice, ice cream and other yummy goodies. I love watching Leo becoming independent - his new things is shopping, haha. He feels so proud of himself when he gets some money from daddy and buys something on his own, I guess he is slowly growing up : ) The market ends with a small playground and a gorgeous view, a huge grass area with palm trees and a stunning view of the coast with mountains in the backdrop! Gorgeous!!! The rest of the day we spent at Four Mile Beach sunbathing and relaxing. Once again, you have to swim in the stinger nets due to the risk of box jellyfish. I must admit that the sun here is much stronger than in Florida - we are constantly reapplying sunscreen but somehow we still manage to get sunburnt : (
Our last day we really wanted to get back on the water and explore more of The Great Barrier Reef, and thats exactly what we did. We booked a full day trip with Reef Magic Cruise - this excursion allowed us to fully explore the amazing coral reef. The boat ride to took us to the outer Reef and took us a good 1.5 hour to get there. Its a good 60-70kms off shore. Once we got there, the boat drops you off at a barge and you get to snorkel or scum dive for 5 hours. Rick has been itching to scuba dive so he went out on 2 dives. He said it was on of the best experiences he’s ever had. Just tons of marine life and color below the water’s surface. What was special is he was the only diver accompanied by 2 instructors so he essentially had his own private tour of the Reef! Beau at Ambeau Sport and Caitlin at SeayStudio gave him an experience he’ll never forget. While Rick was exploring the ocean life, Leo, Mila and I hopped onto a bottomless boat where we were able to see some of the most amazing species living in the reef. Parrot fish, butterfly fish, beautiful coral, sharks, turtles and things that just blow my mind. Leo and Mila were so excited each time they spotted Dory or Nemo, it was so cute! Once Rick got back to the barge, Leo and I went snorkeling and without a doubt, it was the best snorkeling experience ever. The coral had amazing colors and shapes, colorful fishes swam everywhere, I really felt like a part of the movie “Nemo”. Since there were tons of jelly fish, we all had to wear wet suits. It was almost noon and we all started to get hungry. The Reef Magic Crew set up a buffet style lunch and we all shared some delicious shrimp, salads and meats. After lunch I went snorkeling one more time, while Rick and kids watched a fish feeding activity. Rick had one more certified dive to finish, so this time, I took Leo and Mila back onto the boat. It was definitely an intense day with the kids and the ride out there was a bit rough (seas were 3-5) but it was something we will never forget. The Great Barrier Reef is truly a wonder of the World and you really have to see it to believe it?! It was another “pinch me moment” that makes you really appreciate things. It also puts into perspective how sensitive our environment is and our duty to allow generations to come to enjoy this magical World.
On the boat ride back to the land we all fell asleep. We all were exhausted and super tired yet felt super accomplished and amazing. It was almost a feeling that you get after winning a very tough basketball game, kinda priceless! As Leo would say, “winner winner, chicken dinner!”