Category Archives: England

So Where Did You Go?

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RTW map latestFinally I was able to create a map version of where we disappeared into during that 9 months or so.

Comparing to our rough initial plan (to use the world ‘rough’ would be an overstatement), this map had a lot more dots on it. Although the basic itinerary (which continents for example) remained the same roughly, the exact countries – and places in each country – had changed and evolved so much throughout the trip.

A few notable changes: we added Patagonia in Argentina/ Bolivia (loved it)/Colombia (thank goodness)/Nicaragua; we didn’t go to Chile/Brazil, and we shortened the time in Costa Rica significantly. At times these changes seemed daunting, and other times they were obvious decision. Initially we thought we would stay in each place for a few weeks, and very quickly we realized it was not realistic nor necessary. I will come to some of these changes with more detail in relevant posts.

It’s once again a powerful proof to that good old saying: change is the only constant.

The tool that I used to created this map was an online tool called ‘travellerspoint’. Although it wasted me a few precious late night hours when I tried to create the map for the first time (it just didn’t want to save. Totally No stress!), I did find some interesting merits. For example, it told me that:

  • We travelled 77,279 kilometres
  • Days travelling: 282 days
  • The total distance travelled is roughly equivalent to circling the earth 1.9 times! (so we’ve got a lot of carbon footprint to be accountable for …).
  • Distance travelled by mode of transport:
    • Boat: 593km
    • Train: 1,117km
    • Bus: 3,064km
    • Car: 4,520km
    • Airplane: 67,731km
  • we have visited in total 17 countries (although 2 should be deducted as they were just transits)
  • It even allowed me to export my trip to an excel format, which was quite handy.

Now I will stop sounding like their sales rep, and return at once to the most burning question.

So where exactly did we go??

Here is a map for visual person like myself.

countries travelled

Here is a list for the more brave-hearted (of the places we either spent at least one night or as major transit stops):

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Tokyo, Japan
Paris, Ile-de-France, France
La Capelle-les-Boulogne, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France
Lyon, Rhone-Alpes, France
Annecy, Rhone-Alpes, France
Hauteluce, Rhone-Alpes, France
Grenoble, Rhone-Alpes, France
Antibes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France
London, United Kingdom
Paris, Ile-de-France, France
Madrid, Community of Madrid, Spain
Buenos Aires, Argentina (here, bookstore)
Montevideo, Montevideo Department, Uruguay
La Barra, Maldonado, Uruguay
Cabo Polonio, Rocha, Uruguay
La Tuna, Canelones, Uruguay
Buenos Aires, Argentina
El Calafate, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina
El Chalten, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina
Salta, Salta Province, Argentina
Tilcara, Jujuy Province, Argentina
Tupiza, Potosi Department, Bolivia
Uyuni, Potosi Department, Bolivia
Nuestra Señora de La Paz, La Paz Department, Bolivia
Copacabana, Copacabana, La Paz Department, Bolivia
Puno, Puno, Peru
Cusco, Peru
Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru
Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes, Cusco, Peru
Cusco, Peru
Lima, Peru
Bogota, Colombia
Cartagena, Bolivar, Colombia
Taganga, Magdalena, Colombia
Barichara, Santander department, Colombia
Villa de Leyva, Boyaca, Colombia
Bogota, Colombia
Quito, Pichincha, Ecuador
Lima, Peru
Miami, Florida, United States
Oviedo, Florida, United States
Miami, Florida, United States
San Jose, Costa Rica
La Fortuna, San Jose, Costa Rica
San Carlos, Rio San Juan, Nicaragua
Granada, Nicaragua
Apoyo Lagoon, Nicaragua
Granada, Nicaragua
Ometepe, Rivas, Nicaragua
San Juan del Sur, Rivas, Nicaragua
San Jose, Costa Rica
Miami, Florida, United States
New York, United States
Newport, Rhode Island, United States
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
New York, United States
Vienna, Virginia, United States
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Fort Collins, Colorado, United States
San Diego, California, United States
Pismo Beach, California, United States
Palo Alto, California, United States
San Francisco, California, United States
Yosemite National Park, Yosemite Village, California, United States
Mammoth, California, United States
Lone Pine, California, United States
Los Angeles, California, United States
Pape’ete, Windward Islands, French Polynesia
Moorea, French Polynesia
Atoll Rangiroa, French Polynesia
Auckland, New Zealand
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
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What I Have Learnt From the RTW With a Toddler

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Ten sleeps in our own beds after we finished our round-the-world trip, I attempted to list some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt over the trip and that are equally important back in ‘real life’.

1) It’s possible … unless you’ve decided it’s not.

When we just started to think about the idea of travelling with our two-year-old daughter around the world, including to some of the least developed lands on the planet, we were scared by our thoughts too. Not to mention the effects to the grandparents. Now we’ve completed the trip and are back home sound and safe, I can assure everyone that it’s entirely possible.

280 days. 12 countries. 3 continents. 64 beds. 18 flights, countless buses and boat rides. These are statistics that could look terrifying, especially counting a terrible-two in the picture. But forgetting statistics, it’s as simple as 3 meals a day, a bed (or two) to sleep at night, and a lot of discovery in the between. The world is so much smaller than how it could feel like, although in another way much more grandeur than how it could feel like.

Dream is the most dangerous thing, and also the most magic thing. A few times we met young couples on the road travelling around the world because ‘everyone is telling us to get this done before we settle and have kids’, who then said ‘ok, it’s inspiring to see people are travelling with young children’. I consider this as the best compliment we could get.

2) Limits are there … to be pushed.

Before we started, we had no idea how long a bus ride was too long a bus ride for Nina and for us. The first bus we took lasted two hours and that was some of the longest two hours in my life, with a toddler jumping up and down and all over the place. Then circumstances came when we had to take a 3-hour bus a week later. Surprisingly it got better. Then 4 hours went ok. I thought we hit our limit when we survived a 6-hour journey in a crowded, old, non-air-conditioned school-style bus along one of the most bumpy and the least travelled roads in Bolivian mountains. Surprisingly Nina claimed she wanted more! And she got it. Some time later, we boarded an overnight bus in Colombia. 16 hours. Who would have thought we could go that far, and still be here to write about it!

The reward was some of the most stunning landscape I’ve ever seen in my life, in places I would never have thought to bring a toddler with me to. And also the confidence that the further we push the limit, the bigger the comfort zone becomes.

3) Less is more.

We left home with 2 check-in luggage (one suitcase, one 60L backpack), 2 hand luggage (two day bags), and 1 pram. It was hard to decide what to pack, trust me. At the end I packed 3 t-shirts, 3 long-sleep shirts, 1 jacket, 3 pairs of pants, 1 skirt, 2 pairs of shoes, 1 pair of thong (flip flop for my non-Aussie friends), some underwear and socks. I packed the most versatile, lightest, easiest-to-dry type of clothing that I had.

I survived. Yes of course I could do with a fancier dress for that dinner in the New York restaurant. Yes of course we had some difficulties. But never once the difficulty was related to the lack of possessions we had.

We once took a mini bus in a small border town between Argentina and Bolivia. All our luggage had to go onto the bus roof except the day bags because there was not enough room up there. Inside the bus it was so small and so crowded that my legs didn’t move during the 2 hours trip and I still had to find room for the day bags. Another time, we had to drag all our luggage along a dirt road to catch a border-crossing boat between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, while Nina didn’t want to walk and refused to go into the pram. That road seemed going on infinitely. At times like that, I wished we could bring even less things with us.

It’s hard, I admit, not to be able to possess some of the most insanely beautiful crafts and souvenirs we saw during the trip, esp in South America. Just thinking about their markets made me drool. But we had strict rules of not buying anything unless if one existing thing went. We sticked to it. Come to think of it, we bought perhaps 5 local craft items, and only 1 of them is purely decorative (I negotiated HARD with Nicolas on that one) and all others were useful in daily life.

Now that we came back to the comfort of home in Sydney, we started to unpack all our worldly possessions. I realized that half of my wardrobe could be gone, without me even realizing they were not there anymore. Books that I won’t read again could go too. Before we left we always complained we didn’t have enough storage space, but now we got rid of a cabinet altogether, and there were still empty space inside some cabinets. Dare I say that at least half of the possession in an average household was untouched in the last year, or more. Look around, I know most of you will nod.

The less we had, the less we needed to worry about maintaining them, finding space to display them, and storing them. And the more time and energy we could put into things that really matters. Quality of life is not, and should never be, proportional to the amount of possession we have. That’s an important lesson I learnt.

4) Seeing is believing.

The normal reaction to ‘we went to Colombia’ was that ‘are you crazy’ look. I would have had the same look before I knew better. Isn’t it all about drug dealing, gun shots, and kidnapping? I can now say confidently that Colombia was as safe as, if not safer than, any other South America countries. We met some of the most generous people there. I felt in love with a small colonial town called Barichara. It’s a country of rich cultures and wonderful landscapes. Happily for the country – sadly for our bank account – it’s one of the most economically developed and expensive countries to travel in the region. I was grateful that we met people who introduced the country to us, and I was glad that we decided it’s worthwhile to do some research and made the move (we changed our tickets). It turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.

Sometimes we allowed the little (and often biased) information from the news and lack of knowing take over our imagination. Sometimes, we allowed other’s opinion become our decision. Fortunately, the reality is often different. Do the research, and go find out by yourself.

5) Things always work out in the end.

One of our biggest concerns before we left was whether our house could be rented out while we were away. We were told once and again that 9 months was a weird period to rent, and the market didn’t respond well to a furnished house in our neighbourhood. When we had our farewell party just two days before we left, the house remained on the market. Christmas was approaching and no one was renting during holiday, according to our agent. We prepared ourselves for the worst, even though we felt we did all that we could. Then it all just happened. We were able to hand the keys over to the first group of tenants before we drove off to the airport 2 days later. The house was rented out during the whole duration of our trip and vacated just 10 days before we returned. It worked out in the end.

Travel burn-out hit me, hard, at an unexpected time in an unexpected place. 5 months into our travel, while staying in a lovely hostel with a lush tropical garden and a swimming pool with a pool bar in a resort town of Costa Rica, I felt tired and restless. In a place where most people considered heaven on earth, I dreaded the idea of having to decide, yet one more time, where to go next, which place to stay, which restaurant to go, and which site to visit. The only thing I desired at that particular moment was to getting on with my day without having to make decisions. So we just stayed put for a few extra days. I rested, and my brain too. Then I was ready to go again, with the reignited curiosity and enthusiasm, but a more peaceful mind.

Things always work out in the end, with due efforts. Have faith in it. It’s something that I learnt over and over again, and learnt to remind myself over and over again, especially when going got tough.

[D119] How Has Nina Been Coping

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Almost 120 days after we officially started our round-the-world trip, 5 countries stamped in the passport and 21 different beds later, I came to the conclusion that kids are just unpredictable creatures – at least Nina is!

Uyuni 01

What I thought would be the most difficult to cope – changing beds so often in new room/country/temperature – Nina had absolutely no issue with except the very first few days in France (largely due to the time zone changes between Australia and France I suspect). She has so far slept on 21 different beds – sometimes with her own bed, sometimes in a cot, sometimes on a mattress on the floor, occasionally sharing a bed with us. Regardless the bedding arrangement, as soon as the light was out in the room and door was closed, she promptly falls onto her bed and is ready for her night. I cannot be thankful enough for this priceless gift that Nina is granting us!

But then, sometimes, in the most unexpected moment, Nina would become the most horrible creature on the entire planet. Some days, nothing but taking off her pyjama, changing her nappy and putting her day clothes on would take more than an hour, with screaming and physical wrestling. At days like this, by the time we were ready for breakfast, I was exhausted, and seriously asked Nicolas why we were doing this to ourselves.

Nina, as all other children I guess, had a natural talent in keeping herself entertained with the most unexpected objects. While we walked on the most mundane street in BsAs, she could spend incredible amount of time joyously walking on and off the steps in front of apartment buildings. Lately she is in love with wooden sticks mostly branches fallen off the tress. She would laugh with excitement when we found one for her, and even more so if we found two at once! Many times we couldn’t keep the sticks with us (well, for a 6-hour bus journey for example), she would constantly ask where her sticks, and we had to promise her once and again that we would get her new sticks when we arrive.

Talking about long distance bus trips … I was very concerned with having to going through this with Nina, as well as the well-being of other passengers. Nina was all over the place on a 2-hour bus journey in Uruguay already, and I thought that was the sky limit. Then Nina surprised us again and again – she was ok with a 3-hour one, then a 4-hour one. The record so far was a 6-hour extremely bumpy bus ride in a Bolivian version of tourist bus (reading: no air condition, no reclinable chairs, etv) – she not only endured it but seemed actually having enjoyed it.

One of the most challenging aspect of travelling with such a young child – as far as I am concerned – is the fact that you are stuck with each other 24*7. She needs other kids to play with. I need ‘me time’ for my own sanity from time to time. But the fact is that we are constantly on the move, and it’s not realistic to get reliable babysitters in a country where you don’t even speak their language properly, so there is just no escape. After a full-on day, there is still research to be done for the next destination, hotel to be booked, bus ticket to be bought, luggage to be packed, diary to be written, emails to be replied. Sometimes, it just feels overwhelming. And why the update of this blog has been slow (I’m trying my best still!).

But then it’s all made up by the fact that we get to discover the world together. And I as a parent get to witness how she’s learning, changing, building up her language, while getting to know the world with her parents. It’s a privilege that I cherish.

 

P.S: to follow our RTW experience: Trilingual Family blog, or join Trilingual Family facebook group

D36 – 43, London

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D36, Jan 21, London.

When the day started sunny, it’s time to leave. We flew to London (Gatwick) from Nice airport with British Airways. It’s amazingly cheap flight, about euro180 for all three of us (we took one person with luggage and 2 others with hand luggage only, with saved 20 per person). It’s the same price as easyjet as easyjet charged additional for all check in luggage as well as food. Sometimes it’s worth shopping around although I tended not to do enough of it.

The first 30min was flying over the Alps with snow capped mountains. Very pretty. Nina sat on her own for landing.

London was sunny but chilly, and big. We took one train, one tube and one bus to get to Nicolas’ brother O’s place.  We went to a nearby playground to play, yes, in the cold, and quickly retreated to a tea house for afternoon tea. After all we were in London, the home of English tea.

What strikes me most was the colours of the doors of the semi houses in the neighbourhood. Rather homogeneous house, dashing variety of door colours!

Olivier family house was being renovated with taste and style. Like it.

Then the family all came back home one after another. A typical weekday evening for a household with 2 school kids I guess, dinner, shower, homework, a bit of tv, chat, and bed. Ah home.

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D37, Jan 22, London

Nina woke up before 6am screaming. Was she having a bad dream or just het nappy was overflowing? We wouldn’t know. But we changed her and for the first time took her to our bed to finish off the sleep. It wasn’t too bad. At least we now knew that we could share a bed when it came to it. Well, the priority in such a trip was really all about these mundane things: sleeping, bedding, eating. Plus a bit of other things such as sightseeing and experiencing.

We set off at 10 for our big day. It stopped raining, even sunshine once in a while, but freezing cold. Took bus 94 to Queensway stop, to Princess Diana’s park, aka, Peter Pan themed playground. Big, pirate ship, tepees etc, squirrels, quite cute. Nina couldn’t care less about all these themed things though. For her it’s a giant [playground with squirrels to chase after, and that was good enough. Then we had to walk through the vast royal park and Hyde park to find a lunch place as she started to make the ‘I’m hungry’ noise . We ended up in the cafe of Natural History Museum. A huge salad for £6 was more than reasonable.

The museum itself was gigantic, filled with fascinating stuff: stones, dinosaurs, whales, simulation of wind and current etc. Dinosaurs were one of the highlights – all these casts, reconstruction, models were vividly presented in front of us. I particularly – Nina too – liked the elevated walk to see these giants from their height. The building itself was highly elaborated already – I later learnt that the building was actually purposefully designed and constructed for being a museum. All these for free (well donation recommended). That’s really what showed the glory of a country.

Passed by Victoria and Albert Museum, a glance over the hall, interesting exhibition of design I suppose. An extremely good looking neighborhood I have to say – one of the most expensive ones I suppose as well. Where the French school is.

Harrods. Yes good looking tea and chocolate room, but apart from that, really just another luxury shopping mall. Not my cup of tea.

Then our mission to come back home. 3 metro lines, long flights of stairs with no lift, bus, walk… It took us about 1h30 to get back home. Do I want to live again in a big city like London?

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D38, Jan 23, London

By the time we waited for rain to stop to leave home and got off the London bridge stop, we found ourselves right in front of Bourough market. What a treat!! A beautifully curated upscale market, yet remained authentic market feel: lots of producers, small stands, takeaway, eat while walking, etc. Lots of French products we noticed. Had a confit de canard sandwich, freshly made pasta with ingredients coming from Italy as they proudly claimed, and omelet (the least successful among all).

Then walked down along the Thames. Southward cathedral that Nina loved to run wild. Luckily it’s weekday hence not much people around.

Shakespeare Globe that was rebuilt on the same site as where Shakespeare once played, an open air theatre still. I wish I could visit by taking a tour next time, or even better watch a play. Nina needed to be more tamed for doing all these with us 🙂

New Tate. Indeed a bit disappointing as there was not much that really strike me – I had a much more favorable memory from last time’s visit (10 yrs ago almost!) . But the visitors who were drawing on the tablet board next to the cafe was doing some fascinating work. The view onto London from the cafe was fabulous too.

Walked through the millennium bridge to the other side, past by St Paul’s, took our train home.

Nina started to love bath in the big bath tube, twice a day these days!

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D39, Jan 24, London

For a change I went along with S, my sister in law, to her yoga class. Flow yoga …dynamic to say the least. A real sport. I expected some muscle reactions. The class was organized with some mothers of the French school, so it’s a French speaking yoga class, in London. Life could be funny. I’m glad I got to peek into a bit of local (albeit expat) life here in London.

After lunch, I proposed to bring Nina out while Nicolas stayed home to rest, because he looked exhausted. We went to British museum. Well it’s nowhere near as interesting as Natural History Museum as far as Nina was concerned, because everything was inside a box or a case, there was nothing to touch. So I became her only source of entertainment… hide and seek, chasing … She felt asleep finally to leave me watch the tea ceremony demonstration in Japan area (one has to be patient to get his tea to drink), and the fascinating Mesopotamia area (mental note, have to visit Iran and around one day). Their so-called level access lift was a funny little device that you had to keep pressing the button to move up or down (normally often just one meter high).

The metro system in London is among the oldest (if not THE oldest) in the world. Hence, no lift in most stations. Well, I used my sheer muscle power to carry the pram (which is called buggies or push chair here). Up and down the stairs. Most of time there was someone coming forward to help nicely but not always.

The weather kept surprising me, no rain, even sunny from time to time.

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D40, Jan 25, London. 

It’s Saturday, the B. family were all free today, and we were going to eat Chinese! A quite fusion one called Yauatcha唐茶苑. Some really good dim sum. They also had a quite impressive collection of desserts, such as macaroni, a concept non-Chinese but with Chinese flavor such as red bean, peanut, five spice flavor. They had an enormous red horse at shop front and many tiny red horses in every corner of the restaurant. It’s for the upcoming Chinese New Year. Nina absolutely loved every fish in the fish tank. She is a real Chinese. E started to claim that he’s 12.5% Aussie and 12.5% Chinese because of his cousin.

Passed by several really cool shops, such as B1866 for the accessories of bikes, and a chocolaterie called Said (with really good hot chocolate according to Z a connoisseur of chocolate, and tiny cup/spoon etc made from chocolate).  This was one upside of living in a metropolitan city, with all cool varieties.

China town was fully decorated to the Chinese new year, red lanterns, horses. You name it.

Covent garden: without all these crowds it must be a lovely place. Apple had a prime place and building for displaying their gadgets.

Pub dinner with boys while 2 girls of the family went to ballet at royal opera house. Tonight turned out to be Scottish Burns Night – haggis, whiskey, poetry. Burns was a poet. Bought the very delicious pamelo. It brought back the memory of my childhood – a winter fruit, a treat normally happening around new year.

D41, Jan 26. London

Today was Australian Day. It looked another sunny day in Sydney. It’s my first Australian day as an Aussie.

We were to meet my old friend In. and her hubby E. and son A. at Natural History Museum at 2:30pm. At 1:30 we finished lunch nearby and were horrified by the length of the queue (feels like back in China), hence went to V&A next door which had no queue. It turned out I had already waited for more than 30min in the queue and were still 10 more minutes to go. We finally settled at the cafe in V&A, thanks to Nicolas who found a table among an overcrowded cafe. I have to say the cafe was extremely well decorated with the real art works and sculptures dotted around under a Victorian dome style roof. Last time when l met In it was in Shanghai, more than at least 6yrs ago. We first met in Alliance Francaise in Shanghai over our weekend French class, then a few years later bumped each other in the bathroom of ESC Grenoble in France, and since loosely kept contact through facebook. She stayed in Europe (France then England) while I moved back to Shanghai then to Sydney. Things had changed for both of us, but there was something magic about meeting old friends, as if time flew by in speed and years of life was condensed into a pot of tea.

I found Nina now was a bit more comfortable with strangers. Perhaps it was the constant change during the trip that helped her to get used to the idea of new faces and new things? She even signaled to hold A’s hands (yet been refused :)).

When we returned to the NHM to see the dinosaur, there was still a long line in front of the dinosaur section. Weekend was not a time to visit these popular places.

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D42, Jan 27, London

We woke up to an almost blue sky! Wondered off to St James’ Park as suggested by my friend Z.Y. Indeed an oasis in the middle of the city. Massive, lots of birds and animals including squirrels and pelicans. Views onto London eye. Then we saw the horse polices blocking off the road, and heard the  music. Nina wanted to see 马 /horse. I told her it’s .警察阿姨, then the whole day she was just practicing 马,阿姨. It’s in fact the guardians who were going to the relay/change ceremony (is it how you say it?), that passed right in front of our eyes.  But when we got closer to the Buckingham Palace I was shocked by the amount of people waiting to watch the ceremony. The polices were nice enough though to allow the kids and prams to come forward to see the passing parade a bit more closely.

A few days ago, Nina saw me walk into the room and said 妈妈来了. That was the first sentence she said which that actually made sense. She hasn’t since reproduced it but I’m quite happy with her progress despite the fact that she still didn’t say much to the date. She most certainly understood what she was hearing and trying to reproduce.

After having a quick lunch at pret-a-manger (many French influence in the London culinary scene), we headed out to Science Museum. Through back streets at my request. We passed by a neighborhood full of embassies.

Science museum. Nina slept 1h30 through the visit. I learnt that mini motor was revolutionary in the industry (so powerful yet taking so little space), what astronauts eat (those going to mars for a project of 3 yes will have to learn how to grow  certain things themselves), 3-wheeled cars etc. E. joined us after his school. He had his first pearl tae (called bubble tea here in England) in life and apparently loved it (got his second one then). Came back hoe with a big chocolate cake.

Likely the last dinner cooked by someone else in the months to come.

Ping pong match before dinner on the dinner table.

Nina loved taking bath in this house. I probably had already mentioned it.

D43, Jan 28, london-Paris.

After a short visit to Ravenscourt park, time to leave. Taxi came to took us to st Pancras station to take Eurostar. Immense station. In an old building, renovated. Eat. Passed the custom. Just 2 hrs of train, seeming longer as Nina was nonstop till the last 30min (of course!). Taxi through Paris to arrive chez nous ( j c & Ch’s home which they kindly allowed us to stay as they were away). It’s 1hr ahead here than London. Figured out all the switches, made the beds. I felt asleep in the couch while watching Star War.

P.S: to follow our RTW experience: Trilingual Family blog, or join Trilingual Family facebook group.