Category Archive: Epic Adventure Summer 2014

Backtrack to the Mediterranean

I didn’t get a chance to post anything here while we were in Sete.  So here we go.


We spent our first week in Europe ON VACATION.  My coworker and our friend, Chris, has a house in Sete, a beautiful fishing village near Montpellier in the South of France.  After twisting our arms, we agreed to bring our family of four, with 6 weeks’ worth of luggage, including our mobile office, and invade his quiet existence.  We even settled for inhabiting the entire 3 bedroom upstairs while Chris and his wife camped in the studio downstairs.  We were joined upstairs by another friend, Joelle, a retired teacher from Paris.  She was also on vacation at Chez Christophe.  I think we did well as B&B roomies, made meals together, and chatted in odd broken-Frenglish, mostly just finding different ways to convey our delight at the much needed and totally successful vacation.



I must say I’m very proud of the way the kids behaved in this very friendly but otherwise childless environment.





Seven days in Sete consisted of gradually adjusting to the 9 hour time difference, late morning coffee, early afternoon walks to the beach for ice cream and more coffee, petanque in the garden, dinner (more coffee), and a fair amount of movie and minecraft time as well.






Zumba on the beach.  Purely a spectator’s sport.







Sete is a small island connected by a couple roads to the mainland.  Chris’ house is about 1/3 of the way up the hill of the island, a nice 15 minute walk to the beach.  We enjoyed walking through the tiny sidewalkless streets to an from the beach, admiring the REAL Mediterranean architecture on the way.  Of course Brian’s favorites were a couple houses that could have been clipped from the cover of Dwell.  But hey, they’re Mediterranean now, because… they’re right here.












I loved the tiny cobblestone streets and connected facades in the main part of town.  It was there that we met some young boys who were excited to use a little English to introduce themselves and ask to be in a photo with the kids.  I think they wanted to get close to Josie, but she was having none of it.  They were asking me in French if she was my daughter, and saying she was beautiful.  They learn early, these 8 year old players.  They were happy to take this photo with Liam, after which they followed us for a couple blocks.  Josie was a bit spooked.  I told her I thought I could take ’em.

After seven relaxing days in Sete, Chris drove us back to the train station and sent us on our way to Brussels, and eventually back to work.

But here are a few more pictures of the kids hamming it up anyway….

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Vanessa’s here too

Here’s a post so eveyone knows Vanessa is here with us. She’s carefully avoided all posts thus far, hasn’t she?






In Bruges



On several recommendations, we boarded a train today for Bruges.  No, we haven’t seen the movie yet, but we have it cued up for this evening.  After a lovely ride through the Belgian countryside, we arrived on the platform in Bruges.


We soon found the old town, with cobblestone streets and canals running through.




At lunch, Brian ordered mussels.  Liam and I each tried some and liked them.  Josie was okay to stick with her fries.  She’s not usually eager to try new culinary options.  However, I offered her $10 to try one, and $100 if she liked it and wanted more.  She ate FIVE!  I consider it $100 very well spent.











After lunch we walked around the town more.  Some very cool OLD stuff including a 13th century hospital/museum, and a boat tour…







Flying buttress!!





Naked woman searching for contact lens.



Houses painted with the blood of tourists. (The tour guide had an interesting sense of humor, and looked not unlike Bradley Cooper.)



Buildings that go right down into the water.  I’m easy to please.  When I finally make it to Venice one day – I will lose my mind.




And a rest in the park.


Followed by more treats…


Good spirits for the late ride home.


On our way home we had a couple interesting challenges.  The train back to Brussels seemed to just not show up.  I’m sure there was an announcement, but the stupid Americans didn’t have a clue.  In French I can pick up about 5-10% of the gist of overhead announcements.  Here in Flemish country I am completely lost.

We got on a slow train which was going to take about 2 hours to get back to Brussels.  No problem except that it was already 9:00pm, and Josie was getting a little worried.  It was a good chance to share with her an important point.  “I understand you are worried, that’s okay.  But this is why I am not worried: We are all 4 of us together, we have plenty of food and water, and money in our pocket.  Even if we just got on a train headed in the wrong direction, we will be fine.”

This worked.  And of course we were not headed in the wrong direction.  At Ghent, the ticket taker was kind enough to tell us that a faster train was coming on the next platform in 9 minutes.  So we transferred to a super crowded express train and got back to Brussels at 10:00 instead of 11:00.

One final weird thing happened in Brussels.  We got off the train platform, and somehow made it into a section of the station that was separate from everything else.  One long hallway with stairs to the various train platforms, but no ticket counters, no information, no signs or connections to the Metro or any other local buses.  I felt like we stepped into the Twilight Zone.  For a moment we thought the station had closed up at 10:00 or something.  We went outside onto the street and used the last of our phone battery to look for the nearest Metro station.  We’re pretty comfortable with the Metro system here now, so that’s all we needed to find in order to get within 1 block of home.  That is, as long as Brussels Metro system doesn’t magically turn into a pumpkin at 10:00pm.

Of course that was not the case.  We walked 50 yards to the next door back into the same train station, only this time it looked like the lively, bustling station we had left several hours earlier.  There were the Info booths, and the escalators both up and down, to the international trains as well as to the local Metro.  The Twilight Zone episode ended as quickly as it had begun.  Oddly, this is what I live for.  I love a good mystery.  I love a good Brian.  I love exploring new things with my family.  So getting hit with a weird mystery, with Brian, and solving it together with the family…. what else is there?

So we made our way down to the Metro, which of course looks a bit different at 10:00pm compared to all the midday trips we have made so far.  Still it’s a very friendly place, some excited young families, and late commuters, and one old guy with a harmonica and his hand out.  Just enough color to make it interesting.

Yesterday was a great day.  Today (Sunday) we slept in, cleaned the house, and are working our way through a day-long ping pong tournament.

Love to all.


Museum of Musical Instruments


Yesterday we made a most amazing find.  The Musical Instrument Museum next to the Royal Palace in Brussels.  This is becoming a habit for us.  In Almaty, Kazakhstan and even in Athens, Greece on our honeymoon, we stumbled upon tiny musical instrument museums with amazing old folk instruments.  Each time it has proven to be a highlight of our trip, and this time was no exception.

There are several reasons this is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited.

1) I have visited very few museums

2) Music is awesome

3) Musical instruments have a unique ability to communicate cultural and historical context, just by their look and feel

4) This is an extremely extensive and rich collection, from ancient to less ancient, and from all over the world

5) The interaction design of the museum is f-ing genius!

We received a modified iPhone to carry around, which automatically plays the music of whatever instrument you are standing in front of.  So simple, and yet SO powerful.  We spent a few hours exploring, and all 4 of us were completely engaged that entire time.  Truly amazing.

I took way too many photos.  Here are a few, illustrating some of the extent of the collection:

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Enjoying the sounds.


An entire sheep’s body?

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I count 24 pegs….

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 I want me a hurdy gurdy more than I can say!

– – – – – INTERMISSION – – – – –



Lunch at the rooftop cafe:


We ventured up to the roof, lured by the smell of something good.  We found some good food and a beautiful sunny view.





“SAX200 is an exhibition in the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels about the life and works of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, on the occasion of his bicentenary (Dinant, 1814 – Paris, 1894)”

After lunch we explored the remaining two rooms.  I must say I really don’t care much for the saxophone.  I love all sorts of music, but the sax just doesn’t really do it for me.  However, this exhibit is still entirely impressive.  Check out some of these instruments!



Some crazy originals….


What is this even for??

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Original Sax-cloche symphonique.  A symphonic clock bell?  I have no idea.


Sax-Mahler connection.


And a letter from the British patent office granting his patent on the saxophone.  Neat.

Sound Lab


The final room was on the basement level.  I thought it might be a kids’ area because it was called the Sound Lab.  I was initially disappointed that there weren’t any interactive exhibits (I still would argue that they could have made the theramin an interactive exhibit, since you don’t actually touch it to play it anyway).  But it was plenty awesome for what it was.

This is the room with all the music machines.  From music boxes to organs, magnetic tape recorders to synthesizers, and the aforementioned theramin.  Again, it is far less impactful without the soundtrack, but here is a taste of what we saw:

















Our street in Brussels


We haven’t talked much about the fact that we’re in Brussels. It’s a three-city tour and we’re here for 10 days. That’s our street above. It’s quite magical, really.


From the Atomium

Several people have asked, “Why Brussels?” And the truth is, “because someone there wanted to swap with us.” But it’s actually a beautiful city. Plus, because of our work schedule, we only have a few hours per day to go see anything, so I think it works out perfectly. There aren’t a lot of touristy things to see – the Atomium is just around the corner, the Palace area, and we went to the Musical Instruments museum yesterday (see Vanessa’s post) – but we love just being in a new place and eating new foods (not mayonnaise on our fries, mind you), and seeing people living their lives outside of our bubble. If someone else was touring Europe on vacation, I don’t think I would suggest a whole week and a half in Brussels. But if someone was doing their “Work from home” thing from a swapped home, Brussels  is as cool a place as any.

All that said, today we’re heading to Bruges for the weekend on several people’s recommendation. It looks beautiful, so I’m  psyched.


Water Jousting


Saturday in Sete.  The water jousting semi finals.  These guys take turns standing at the back of the boat, and trying to knock the other guy off.  Awesome.  Each boat even has a little band with a drum and a piccolo(?), playing attack music.  The event lasted 3.5 hours!  Plenty of time to watch 20-30 rounds, then go have lunch, check out the town, and come back for another several rounds.  Beautiful day.

Back to Work

We’re back to work now.

I started Monday, and Vanessa started up again today.

To recap – we both work from home full time, with occasional in-person meetings with clients. We figured if we can work from OUR home, then we can probably work from ANYONE’S home. And then we went even further and guessed we could probably work from anyone’s home in EUROPE! So here we are.

But we started the trip in Southern France (which sounds less pretentious than “the South of France”, right?), so we decided that week would be a vacation. I’m glad we did that because it let us get somewhat acclimated to the time change. “Acclimated” in this case, means somehow the kids got onto a sleeping schedule of midnight – 11 or noon, and I was more like 2 – 10. We sort’a did it on purpose (or didn’t fight it) because we’ll be working 4-midnight at best, and sometimes later shifts depending on meetings and client needs. But that meant we weren’t getting out of the house until 1 or 2 in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, we went to the Orange (Verizon of France) store in downtown Sete earlier in the week and got new pre-paid SIM cards for our phones; Made sure we had reliable Internet at the house; and upgraded our Skype accounts to $3/mo for calling land lines in the US (3 frikin’ dollars! And Skype works on the mobile phones too – though it does eat up data usage). We’re all set on the technology front.

Monday comes around and I have a meeting at 7:00PM. We had gone back down the beach in the early evening, and being the showoff that I am, I didn’t put too much energy in getting back in time, and took the meeting from the beach…in (this time it is pretentious) the South of France. I used my mobile phone because “hey, I have a mobile plan”, and the International rate of calling the US ate up my free $5 credit-toward-anything and my $20 card plan didn’t include international calling. So I called back into my meeting with Skype – as I should have done in the first place – and connected ok initially, but after a few seconds of me apologizing for falling off the call the first time, the quality drops and I can’t hear or say anything.


This working from abroad thing isn’t going to be a walk in the park.

So I walked back to the house, by which time I missed the meeting, but in the end, really, everything worked out with the client.  I wish I tried to start a little slower though. It turned out I had forgotten to disable WiFi on the phone, so I wasn’t using the mobile data. Instead, I was using France’s Free WiFi, I was getting France’s Free WiFi’s quality.

Lesson learned!

Sete-WorkstationBut now to get into the working groove. I set up a workstation for myself. I stand at my desk most of the time, rather than sit. So I got something set up, and can look out the windows at the Mediterranean as I work. That doesn’t suck. You can’t see it in the picture because of the lighting, but the lower half of what looks like an all-white sky in the picture is actually blue sea. A picture tells a thousand words, and sometimes a few more words are needed to fully describe the picture.

Day two: I accepted a meeting at 4:30PST. That means 1:30 – 2:30 in morning here. That should be fine, right? That’s what I signed up for. Except we moved from Sete to Brussels yesterday, and had to get up at 7:30 to catch a 9:02 train, and then travel most of the day, and settle in, and figure out everything we’d need in the new house, and learn that Orange doesn’t actually have coverage in Belgium as we were led to believe.

But I made it. Thank you Skype…and coffee, and a short nap.

And now it’s Day 3. We got new SIMs for Belgium and learned how to make cheap Intl calls without Skype if that’s what we need to do, so that’s all good. And I’m working a full day (including writing this, or course), and had a few meetings, and we juggled the kids, and dinner, and bedtime, and more meetings, and it’s all good. We’re tired for sure, but I think this is going to be fine.

Stay tuned.

Sans Issue

Sans Issue

The other night was a little bit stressful because things didn’t go according to plan and we had to adapt. In truth, the only real issue that caused any amount of concern was getting replacement tickets for the train ride we had missed (see the previous post). We really had no idea what to do. Vanessa had taken care of all the train plans, so I was just following along – so I felt completely unfamiliar with what was going on, or even what we were trying to even do. I’m not so sure she had any more confidence than I did, but she handled it perfectly. We wandered around the train station for a little while, and found what looked like ticketing windows. In fact, there were 3 different lines for what appeared to be 3 different services. One was clearly for International travel, but the other two lines weren’t obvious. The shorter of the mystery lines seemed like a fancier service than the other, had one open service window, about 5 people waiting, and was labeled something related to “Immediate” plans. The other line was a mystery, but had about 15 people in line and 3 open windows. V had the tickets and got in the fancy immediate service line, and I got in the longer one to hold a place in case hers was wrong. She got to the one window, explained the situation (we missed our train 15 minutes ago) got tickets for tomorrow’s 9:15AM train, and learned that the 5 or 6 hotels that the woman on the other side of the window would normally recommend were all full. My line didn’t move at all in that time.

We had new tickets for tomorrow’s train, and needed to find a place to sleep, ideally near the station, and it was starting to rain a little. Rain? It’s Summer. My Marin County-native mind does not get this. 2 Weeks ago I was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for a meeting with DHL and it rained. It seemed so wrong. Winter = rain. Summer = sun. Right? Well, apparently not outside the bubble.

So, light rain, new tickets, need a place to stay. Oh, and we don’t really have phones because we’ve shut off all data/voice in fear of million-dollar charges. BUT, we got online using the free WiFi throughout Paris, searched for hotels in our vicinity, and picked a pair based on price. We dragged our luggage 3 blocks and got a room. A tiny, tiny room. It did have a queen-sized bed and 2 twins, but those took up pretty much all the space. But it worked, and only cost a couple hundred bucks. <gulp>. We dumped our stuff and went out to eat at one of the many curb-side eateries while watching the Germans smack the bejeebers out of the Brazilians in the World Cup semifinals.

Here’s the fun part, and the reason for the photo: Anyway, 20 years, ago, when I did a Eurorail-style tour of Europe with my friend Danny, early into our trip we adopted the ideal that “everything works out,” because, well, everything worked out. We lost a passport in Amsterdam, but got it replaced; We had trouble finding places to stay in Pamplona, but eventually found a spot in the park; Got lost in London, but found our way back; and so on.

Forward to now: Outside our tiny hotel room, across the tinier hallway was a sign on a door reading, “Sans Issue”. Within the confines of our extremely limited French, we liked the idea that it meant, “Without Issues” (knowing it probably didn’t). Here we are again: No train, no language, no hotel, but it worked out fine. No Issues. Just a reminder that little hiccups in plans and hurdles to work around will happen. They’re only as big as we make them.

Hopefully, we don’t read too much into the fact that it actually means “No Exit”

Leaving Marin

The Calders’ Epic 2014 Summer Adventure – Episode 1

We are in France.

As I write this, the four of us are on a train racing south from Paris to Montpelier where we’ll hop onto another train to Sète. I’m really struck by the landscape. Of course I’ve heard of the beautiful French countryside, and I’m seeing a slice of it. And maybe this is what people have been talking about. But specifically, what I’m loving about this are two very specific differences to what I see in the states (or at least my Californian bubble as I drive up highway 5 or something):

farmlandThis is primarily farmland. But the different farms, or plots, or crops, or whatever they are, rather than a nice, even grid of rectangles, are all different shapes separated most of the time by a row of thick, mature trees – like a giant art-decco stained glass window was carved into an old, dense forest.

villageSecondly, they have “villages” here. Real frikin’ villages. Every few miles, popping up within these random polygons of crops is an old church with a blatantly tall spire surrounded by 20 to 100 virtually identical houses tightly gathered around it. I never really knew what a village was. But there they clearly are scattered all over – mostly the first half of this journey – being real villages…I think.

All of this was supposed to happen last night, but we missed tht train. And now I’m kind’a glad we did because I would have missed all these real-life villages in the dark. We flew in from San Francisco yesterday evening, landed at 5:15 or so, and after a very easy stop in customs and an uneventful wait for baggage claim, we caught a taxi to an intimidatingly large train station. We had about 2 hours to accomplish all that, but we fell into “Paris Traffic,” as the driver labeled it. I would have explained that it was very similar to “California Traffic”, but he didn’t speak any English. Come to think of it, he’s the only person we’ve run into over the last 36 hours who we can’t talk to.

Obviously, we got it worked out, but spent the night in Paris last night and caught the train this morning.

Why are we on a high-speed train heading toward the South of France? Because that’s the first (planned) stop in the Calders’ Epic 2014 Summer Adventure. Apparently, Paris was the actual first stop, but whatever. That’s what makes it an adventure.

The plan was set in motion back in February of this year, when we were in Sayulita, Mexico, and decided that we should spend the whole Summer THERE. Actually, the plan was set in motion many years ago when we both starting working from home full-time, and I’ve been whining about the fact that we could live virtually anywhere in the world, yet I’m spending my 44th year in the Bay Area. Vanessa finally pointed out, in Sayulita, why don’t we just start with 2 months instead of actually MOVING? Why not? Turns out Sayulita, Mexico is really, really hot in the Summer though, and really, really humid. And there are bugs the size of antelopes. Or not – depending who you ask. Half the people we talked to who live there year-round said it’d be too hot for us, and the other half smiled and said THEY love it.

So, when we got back home from Sayulita, we created an account on and started poking around. Somehow, we settled on Europe, and one Sunday afternoon, we sent out 127 emails to people all over Europe whose profiles indicated that had some amount of interest in coming to California. Many were only looking for a week or so, or already had plans, or weren’t interested for one reason or another. But, a few people responded favorably, and after a couple weeks and some back and forth emails, we’re set up to swap homes with one family in Belgium and one in Paris. Throw in a week visiting a friend in the South of France and voila! Here we are.

And when you’re doing something like this, friends and family want to know how it works, and what kind of success and complexities we encounter throughout the planning and execution. Because they want to do it too. So, here’s the blog that will hopefully serve as both a communication of our day-to-day experiences in an international home swap, AND, a shared log of our musings of the French culture, wine and beer, fast trains, villages, and who knows what else.

Stay tuned, please.