Last weekend we took a three hour train ride to the beautiful and romantic city of Bruges! Bruges, also sometimes spelled Brugge, is full of cobblestone pedestrian streets, old brick buildings, picturesque canals and of course amazing chocolate & waffles!
We have experienced a lot since being in Paris! In order to best blog about our time here, we’re going to break it down into several themed posts, such as tourist attractions, life in Paris, people in Paris, our visitors, what we do day to day…etc. I’m going to start off my talking about the parks in Paris!
One of the things we do very often is picnic in a park! Sometimes Ryker and I meet Eric at a park for lunch, and once or twice a week Ryker and I will venture out to a new area of town, bring lunch and enjoy! I pack Ryk some snacks and usually pick up a sandwich from a nearby Boulangerie (on an AMAZING baguette – the bread here is delicious) or a salad and croissant (I should do a whole post one day about the croissants haha). There are so many parks here – some huge and some tiny. Some with play structures, some with ponds and waterfalls. Some in epic building courtyards, and some in quiet relaxing neighborhoods.
I tried to organize these park pictures by Ryker’s age, with the most recent ones being last. It’s crazy to see how’s he changed in the couple months we’ve been here!
We just got back from an AMAZING trip to Greece! It was absolutely beautiful and a perfect, relaxing vacation. We hiked, walked around town exploring the awesome & unique Greek architecture, chilled on our Airbnb porch, ate a lot of tomatoes, cucumbers, and Greek fava, & loaded Ryker up with so much sunscreen haha. Great trip! More details in the captions below!
Definitely a trip to remember! I highly recommend a Santorini vacation! :)
Hello! Eric and I have been terrible about keeping our blog up to date while living abroad in Paris – but now we’re going to try and catch up! Living in Paris has been a really cool experience, and we’ll write a few posts about that soon. For now I’m going to catch you up on a trip Ryker and I took, and then the next post will be about our trip to Greece!!
Last week, while Eric was in Africa, I decided to take a spur of the moment overnight trip with Ryker to the fairy tale picturesque town of Strasbourg, France. This adorable town is right on the boarder of Germany. It actually used to be the capital of Alsace Lorraine, so there’s a huge German influence (yay pretzels!!)
Strasbourg is a two hour train ride from Paris, and Ryker was great on the train ride! He made lots of friends, played with cups – throwing them off his seat over and over, and took a short nap! For the two days we were there, we pretty much just wandered around the town – it’s one of the cutest towns I’ve ever been to!! We stopped in a few cafes, played in a park, and even found a coffee shop that had a bunch of baby toys and books to play with. It was raining most of the time, but that didn’t stop us from adventuring out with our umbrella! Our little Aribnb was cute and quite quirky, the floor was very slanted haha, so all of Ryker’s toys and balls would end up in the same corner of the apartment, but it was great for a night!
I highly recommend a quick visit to this town! Check out the pictures!
Amanda is 26 weeks pregnant with our little Mars and we’re off to Italy to celebrate, relax, and enjoy our peaceful time together while we have it. There isn’t a better place to do that than Italy! The baby weight gained on this trip was the most enjoyed pounds put on due to the delizioso pizza and pasta!
There are a few key differences traveling with a pregnant Amanda compared to earlier adventures: 1) she wants to sleep a lot more including being happy to join me in my constant quest for daily naps! 2) we walk slower and take more breaks which is a good reminder to take in the beauty and not rush from place to place.
Trastevere, Castelgandalfo, and Polambara Sabina
First stop Rome! We stayed in a lively, trendy, local-heavy neighborhood just on the west side of the Tiber River from all the tourist attractions in Rome. This cute little neighborhood was by far our favorite part of Rome. We enjoyed wandering around the winding cobblestone streets finding seemingly hidden cafes, pizzerias, and gelaterias. It was fun and interesting eating meals and walking through streets side-by-side with the local Romans.
I worked in the evenings in Rome to be online from early morning to just after lunch back home. I decided this would be lower stress for me than taking a full two weeks off as I feel like I have a lot to do before the baby comes to be prepared to take a low-stress paternity leave. It was fun to adventure during the day and then come back and work in the evenings in some ways taking a break to go get dinner. It felt like we were living in Europe! We could definitely do this one day with me working an odd but totally doable schedule.
Praiano, Praia, Nocelle, and Positano
The Amalfi coast is one of our favorite places. We came here together our first time traveling together. I met Amanda at the airport in Rome 6 years ago when we just graduated from Cal Poly and embarked on the several hour journey on trains and busses to the Amalfi coast. That trip was special and was really a turning point in our relationship.
This time it has been just as enjoyable!
In the Amalfi Coast we have really unplugged and relaxed for a week. We spent days laying on the beach, wandering around the cute towns, kayaking, swimming and cooking fresh Italian food. We also did a lot of yoga in the mornings – a perfect way to start the day together.
We spent time discussing how to be the best parents we can be and establishing and writing down family values to help steer our decision making around our family. I think we’re going to get these written down and hung on the wall in our home so you won’t have to guess what they are for too long!
We decided the Amalfi Coast is our second favorite vacation spot besides Thailand! We also found maybe our second favorite AirBNB ever in the spot we stayed in Praiano called Casa Dionisia. It had a cozy bedroom, easy-to-use kitchen, breathtaking private patio, and fun outdoor shower. Plus, our hostess Melinda brought us fresh fruit and eggs from her garden that were all delicious!
We spent three days in Praiano and loved how quiet it is sitting between the increasingly touristy Amalfi and Positano. Positano has about 4000 locals and grows to 50,000 in the peak summer months!
After Praiano, we ventured to small town of Noccelle that sits in the very quiet hills above Positano. It was a fun location! You can only get to town by walking. To get up to our place you take a very local bus from Positano to the last stop and then walk about 5 minutes down a bunch of stairs. To get into Positano and the beaches it is an absurd probably 1000 stairs down to the coastline. It takes about 40 minutes and Amanda braves through all the steps with a smile even carrying little Mars along the way! (we could take the bus down if we wanted but that’s no fun)
Positano is a very cute little town. It is certainly picturesque. It is also full of tourists and is expensive. We found our favorite little areas that are more off-the-beaten-path. The farther, smaller Fernillo Beach is awesome. Better than the more popular main beach in every way: prettier, calmer, cheaper, more rocks to climb on and jump off, caves to explore, less boats, etc.
From Fernillo beach we kayaked out around the corner to the west exploring caves, a castle on the cliffside and lots of very pretty rock formations. It was a fun adventure!
Our AirBNB in Noccelle may be haunted and has very uncomfortable beds, rocks for pillows, and a fan in the bathroom that howls like a pack of wolves for minutes even after you’ve turned it off. We wouldn’t recommend it. Makes for a story though! However, it’s nice to wake up with the sound and smell of nature and an amazing view.
What a great trip! You can see a bunch more of the photos from our trip to Italy on our new SmugMug account here.
Between mid July and Christmas this year I spent almost three months in Muhanga, Rwanda on three separate trips of 3-4 weeks. The overarching goal for my time in Muhanga has been to start our first Zipline Distribution Center (or in internally lingo, our first “Nest”).
Its been hard being away from Amanda and the rest of my friends and family this much. Traveling about half the time away from home is certainly not sustainable for either Amanda or I. She has been incredibly supportive (as always) throughout the challenges and we have made sacrifices as a family to help achieve Zipline’s goals. Thankfully, we know even more that we have a solid support network we couldn’t be more grateful for.
Even though I only took one day off to do something fun in my 11 weeks in Rwanda, I feel like I understand the country and culture fairly well mainly thanks to the 18 Rwandese staff we have hired full time so far and hundreds of part-time contractors. I not only worked closely with this team, I lived with 7 of them in our first company house in Rwanda.
The Legacy of the Genocide
Rwanda is a peaceful and accepting country as the horrors of racism and violence are still fresh in everyone’s mind.
Rwandans are hard, tough people. The two locals I became closest with and also the only people I spoke in detail about the genocide about, Abdoul and Placide, both lost their entire families in the genocide. Abdoul was 3 years old and was left for dead when his older sisters and parents were slain in their home. He has a scar on his head from a machete mark left before his uncle found him in their home as the only survivor and then raised him as his own son from then on.
Current Political Situation
President Paul Kagame is a benevolent dictator. He got “elected” by 98% in the last election and recently changed the constitution to remove the term cap for presidents so he could continue to run for president. Two concerns I heard repeatedly from our local team behind closed doors:
1) There is no freedom of speech, you can’t say negative things about the government or else bad things happen. This didn’t explicitly bother everyone on our team, many just stated this like a fact without opinion: “we don’t have the right to express our opinion about the government”
2) The government has their hand in many “private” businesses. For example, the government will see someone starting to become successful in an industry, then they will approach them and make an “investment” to buy a bug part of the company. Now the government will use regulation and pressure to close down any competition to make sure this business is very successful.
There is a big economic divide. If you just spent time in the capital of Kigali you would think the country was doing quite well. It’s clean, most people seem to have jobs and are busy during the day. However, out in the more remote areas many people aren’t wearing shoes, stand around all day without any work and have small gardens or goats to feed their hungry family and survive. Rwanda is one of the natural resource poorest countries in Africa. There isn’t much money or many jobs to go around.
I didn’t get any negative attention being a Muzungu (what they call non-black foreigners) in Rwanda. In some cases it was because they saw me as a potential walking wallet, but in the majority of cases locals were just happy to see a Muzungu.
Another Rwandan I got to know well is the head of Rwanda’s Air Traffic Control, Kizito. He told me every time he sees white people in Rwanda it makes him proud of the progress his country is making.
I went on a lot of jogs through the rural village near the Nest in the outskirts of Muhanga. Three cute little kids about 2-4 years old lived a block or so down the road I lived on. Every time I went on a jog they would see me coming, run out onto the road with a huge smile and arms wide open and give me a hug – both on my way out and my way back. Honestly, this was probably my favorite part apart being Rwanda :)
A handful of other times on those runs, kids would just start running with me. Typically just a small group, but one time I ran by a school at recess when there were about 40 kids playing touch rugby. When I ran by the game stopped and I had a 40 kid support group on my run for probably two blocks before they turned back to school.
My Three Trips
Each trip had a different specific goal for me and really were very different experiences.
Trip 1 | Setting up infrastructure
The goal here was to go from empty leveled gravel pad and 17 crates going through customs to a fully setup Nest including:
– Getting a road from the main road to our gravel pad big trucks could drive on to deliver our equipment
– Weather protection: Big circus type tent we brought and three modified shipping containers we sourced from Kenya
– Getting water, internet, power on site
– Power system setup with generator and UPS (uninterruptible power supply) so we can operate without grid power
– Lightning protection towers, grounding rods, and copper cabling
– Two recovery systems to catch the planes out of the air
– Beacon tower and electronics setup to communicate with planes
– All the ground support equipment we use with planes including storage racks, preflight check stands, etc
Also, getting our living conditions livable. We arrived to a house with beds but no blankets, no internet, no backup power so power was on about 1/2 the time, no hot water and water only available about 1/3 of the time as there is one tank for the village that fills at night and when it runs dry for the day it’s dry.
Trip 2 | Getting to first delivery
My second trip was spent getting us to and through our first couple dozen flights. For me, this was primarily:
1) Driving our relationship with the RCAA (Rwanda Civial Aviation Authority, like our FAA) to jump through the right hoops to have them let us start flying first within line of sight and then beyond line of sight.
2) Debugging issues with our newly setup ground equipment and reassembled planes getting everything working smoothly for first flights
3) Surveying the area around the Nest, the transit routes to our first two hospitals, and surveying obstacles at the hospitals after talking with the doctors about where they wanted the blood to land
This trip was the hardest on me personally. I was stretched very thin, didn’t sleep, eat or exercise properly, spent a lot of time dealing with regulators which I don’t like doing, and the rest of our US team was pretty burned out so morale was poor. When I left I felt the most emotionally and physically drained I ever have. I’ll never forget how it felt to have Amanda waiting for me at the arrivals gate at SFO though :)
Trip 3 | Getting the Nest operational without US-based engineers
My third and hopefully last trip for a while was mainly spent training and figuring out how to handle unique operational cases around blood ordering, handling, and delivery. We have a lot of experience flying planes, but very little experience handling customer service, time-critical orders, and blood.
I led training for our COO (Will, head of operations) and second in command in the operations team (Nick) to be “Nest leads” to know how to run a nest basically. I led training for one Rwandan (Abdoul) and one US based technician (Jon) to be “Technical leads” for the nest. That basically means they need to know how to fix most things when they break and communicate well with our CA engineering team when it’s a new technical problem that requires support.
Our 4 person flight operations team had already been heavily trained by mainly the team in Rwanda before me, but we definitely spent a lot of time finishing training for them to know how to make the planes fly safely.
Teamwork and my last day
Most of the work I mention above I led but had the incredible support of not only the US and Rwandan team in country but also a team of engineers back in California that I woke up frequently during the middle of the night for help.
On my last day we fulfilled an order to Kabgayi hospital of three units of children’s red blood cells. That made the struggle and sacrifice worth while.
In celebration of our one year anniversary we took an adventure into the desolate northern Californian coast. We were not disappointed!
After attending a fun wedding continued north further up the 101 than we remember ever being, into the land of meth heads, marijuana, bad food, and natural beauty. The people and culture were quite weird but the coast was amazing.
We adventured for three days and two nights from Shelter Cove up to The Big Flat along the lost coast and then back. There was lots of wildlife including seals, tons of deer, water snakes, a rattle snake, numerous blue belly lizards, whales (alive and dead), seagulls, crows (that stole some of our trail mix), squirrels, and cute dogs wearing shoes.
The entire hike was along the beach which was covered in jet black sand and rocks. Along most of the journey the beach was sandwiched between waves and a cliff with lots of trees over head. There were sections that required timing the tides or else they became impassable.
One of our favorite parts were the creeks that jetted out into the beach about every mile. They made for a great source of fresh water, nature, and entertainment. Rock hopping up the creeks quickly led to rain forest like gulleys. Buck Creek was the perfect place for us to wait out high tide by ourselves with a hammock by the creek.
One thing that really stood out is how unpopulated the trail was. We regularly wouldn’t see anyone for 5 or so hours in the middle of the day.
This was the perfect way to celebrate our first year of marriage! Just the two of us in the middle of nowhere for a few days with freeze dried food and a water pump.
It’s hard to believe that one year ago we got married and departed on an epic adventure! In celebration of a year going by, I dug up this list we created as we were heading home… some of our favorite things, places, experiences, and some of the not so favorite as well :)
Amanda: Tower of London
Eric: Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Both: The Tagine Kefta at Tommy’s in Fez, Moracco
Both: Rio Chillar in Nerja, Spain
Amanda: Nerja’s small beach
Eric: Lagos small beach we ran to
Amanda: Hofbrauhaus at Oktoberfest, Munich
Eric: Pilsner dark lager (has another name) in Prague
Both – Something to do with Bill…
Most Surprisingly Great Thing:
Amanda: The Lagos Coastline
Eric: Scuba Diving
Favorite Place Overall
Both: Koh Tao, Thailand
Most Foreign Experience:
Amanda: The prayer calls in Fez, Morocco
Eric: The Mekong river boat ride in Laos
Worst Airport Experience:
Both: Wuhan, China
Both: Copenhagen by far!
Both: Su Chilli’s on Koh Tao in Thailand!!!
Best Night Out
Both: Lisbon, Portugal
Best Day Drinking
Both: Oktoberfest in Munich
Most Disappointing Thing
Amanda: Luang Prabang, Laos
Eric: Pinxtos in Bilbao, Spain (Amanda agrees here too!)
Amanda: Everything in Prague!
Eric: The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain
Eric: Morocco taxis
Most Surprisingly Awesome City
Amanda: Stockholm, Sweden
Eric: Granada, Spain
Both: Wuhan, China
Amanda: Fizz in Koh Tao, Thailand
Eric: Szimpla Kert in Budapest, Hungary (So epic!!!)
Both: Koh Tao from Sairee Beach, Thailand
Best Sporting Experience
Amanda: The Usa/South Africa rugby game
Eric: The Scotland/Samoa rugby game
Place We’d Most Want to Live
Amanda: Stockholm, Sweden
Eric: Lisbon, Portugal
Amanda: Bergen, Norway AirBnb
Eric: Fez, Morocco AirBnb
Amanda: Scotland nights in the van
Eric: Walking around Vienna
Prettiest Nature (really hard queation!):
Amanda: Glencoe, Scotland
Eric: The fjords of Norway
Country with the Worst Food
Country with the Best Food
Both – Thailand
Both: Algeciras, Spain Hostel/Hotel
Biggest Life Revelation:
Amanda: Having her own fitness comapny/gym
Eric: He wants more technical work
Moment You Felt the Happiest:
Amanda: Going on a long solo run/hike reflecting on life in Nerja, Spain
Eric: Sitting on the beach in Nerja, Spain
Thing you Missed the Most:
Amanda: My girl friends
Eric: The vitamix
Thing you Didn’t Miss the Most
Both: Bay Area traffic
The Thing you Realized about California
Amanda: That SF is an AWESOME city, can’t beat it!
Eric: The people are better and really nice, easy to communicate
The Best Item you’d Want to Have in our Future House
Amanda: A Spanish microwave (we have one now!)
Eric – Two duvet covers on the bed like they do in Scandinavia
Amanda and I spent 15 hours in Wuhan, the biggest city in central China. It was an interesting experience :) This is what happened, it’s a bit long but it was quite a night:
We arrived and made it through customs at midnight with a 24 hour transit visa
The only way to get to the city center an hour away at night was via taxi
Basically no one speaks English to help us find an ATM
Once we find an ATM it won’t read any of our cards and the money exchange centers are closed
We try to get a taxi to take us to a different ATM and to our hostel in the city center
They can’t read English characters which is how we have the address and name of our hostel written
We find a nice Chinese friend who used to live in America, she can’t translate the address into Chinese characters and doesn’t know where it is
We realize the free wifi works but just all Google websites and apps are blocked in China
We find our hostel on a map!
We find a different ATM at the other terminal! One of them eats my ATM card, but we get money with Amanda’s
We get a taxi, a gruff old Chinese man who knows zero English
I talk him down from 200 to 100 yuan, he’s not happy about it
We drive around for over an hour talking/yelling with the taxi driver and pointing at maps a lot without much success
We find our street! It’s dark with no businesses and lots of abandoned looking (but still lived in) apartment buildings, certainly no signs of a hostel.
So we have him drop us off at a Holiday Inn nearby we drove past
The driver demands more money, we give him the 100 yuan and hurry into the Holiday Inn as he yells at us
Thankfully there is a very nice receptionist who tells us they have rooms and also gives us directions to the hostel we have booked, he says we’re close!
We look for the hostel for 30 minutes with no success so we walk back to the Holiday Inn and get a room
We get to our room at 4am and pass out in the most comfortable bed we’ve stayed in in months
Then, we woke up, took some photos from our nice room view and jumped in a taxi to the airport which took about 90 minutes through traffic, showing us a glimpse into a bunch of the city
It was an adventure! We’re glad we did it but it could have worked out a little smoother. In general, the Chinese people were very friendly but the language barrier is intense. To a lot of people it seems like the English characters look just as foreign as Chinese characters look to us.
We spent a week in Laos and it was quite the experience. It’s definitely like stepping back in time compared to Thailand, which is a fairly developed country. I just looked it up out of curiosity and Laos’ GDP is $12B where Thailand’s GDP is $370B.
We traveled via local bus to the Thailand/Laos border which was awesome! A slow, open air red bus with way too many people and luggage than space. The Thai people are quick to slide over on their 2 person bench seats to make room for a new passenger and Amanda and I both were the third person on our two person bench seats with Thai ladies :)
Then, we crossed the border, spent one night and jumped on a packed slow boat down the Mekong river heading south away from nearby China and toward Luang Prabang. The two day slow boat ride was both Amanda and my favorite part of our Laos adventure. It was extremely pretty and peaceful. You turn a corner and there will be a handful of naked local boys playing on the beach. They get SO excited to see the boat and go crazy waving and jumping around. Very interesting glimpse into the rural life of an extremely undeveloped country. Check out the pictures of the boat ride:
Then we arrived in Luang Prabang which is the old capital of Laos but is still only a 30,000 person city. It sits between the Mekong and another smaller river and is a very pretty town with steep hills around as well. It was fairly touristy and expensive with a big French influence (Laos used to be a French colony). Also, there were Chinese people EVERYWHERE as it’s Chinese new year and they get two months off work and school. Many of them bus into Laos sort of like we go into Mexico it seems.
This waterfall a 45 minute motorbike ride out of Luang Prabang was our favorite thing we did there. It is breathtaking and is fantastic for swimming in the blue waters of the pools!
Buddhist places of offering like this are all over the place in Thailand and Laos – even more than the number of Wats (Buddhist temples). I thought this one was awesome because of all the weird offerings people gave. Who knew Buddha likes fruit jello so much?!