Traveling Europe with 3 Indonesian Grandmothers: Postmortem

Wow I have been away for a while! My mom and two aunties came to London. We traveled around Western Europe for 18 days. Back to London and traveled some more after working hours and on the weekend (I had to go back to work promptly). They flew back to Indonesia after a month in total here. The next day I flew to Southern France with my friend for another 3 days. Went back to work promptly on Monday, and got sick the next day. I always get cold and snotty when I get too tired. It’s a way for my body to give signals – STOP! And boy what a severe warning it gave me! I was totally down and took a sickie for a day, and continued to work the next day though still very snotty (felt bad to take more days off after taking leave for so many days). Then I got invited to two plays to review on my book blog and stayed until late to watch the Olympics Opening ceremony at a friend’s place that week. So my cold kinda stays around a bit since I didn’t have time to rest and get well. I’ve been trying to not go back late after work in the next week or so to get rid of the cold. And only today I feel that 95% of it has gone!

So now is writing time! Yay! I can’t wait to dig into photos and pictures from the entire trip in the past month and tell y’all. Expect a series of posts in the coming weeks!

So the first thing:

How did it go traveling with 3 Indonesian grandmothers to Europe?

mom and aunties in Athens

mom and aunties in Athens

I’ve done traveling solo, with husband, boyfriend, friend, family of boys, but never before with three old(er) women with age ranging from 54 to 61 years old – chasing trains, climbing the Acropolis and Delphi in the heat, bracing storm in Amsterdam, following one waterhole to another across the city of Rome, crossing the Pyrenees in Spanish/French border, being fooled by false polices in Barcelona, and going up and down the stairs in complex subway network of Paris – complete with 18 days worth of luggage and shopping goods (boy did I run up and down the stairs to help with the luggage! Felt like there were a million stairs *sweat*). If this were a video game my experience points have definitely gone up by several points!

For a little background, only one of them (one of my aunties) has been to Europe, and that was with tour from Indonesia – which means charting private coach for the group to go from city to city. They did not go by train or flight or even local transport. They went only to the most popular destinations for Indonesians, namely Italy (Rome, Vatican City, Pisa), Netherland, and Paris. But they all have traveled to other places before, and though it hasn’t been too intense or adventurous, they have got some experiences.

What is the thing that surprised me the most?

I was surprised to find out how they were so very afraid to get hungry! When I travel, I usually have a big breakfast, a simple lunch (often no sitting down, to save time), then have a rather nice dinner to close the tiring day.

big breakfast at Rotterdam

big breakfast at Rotterdam

In the first couple of days, we spent so much time eating! It felt like that’s all we do – EATING, all day long. Big breakfast, continuous snack, big lunch, more snack, big dinner.

This is a rather Asian thing, which happens to most of my parents generation. If you don’t eat proper substantial food on the plate, it feels like they haven’t had lunch or dinner. Some need to eat rice to feel like they’ve had eaten a meal. So for example if they eat bread at lunch time on the train, they wouldn’t feel like they’ve had lunch, so they would keep looking for food for the REAL lunch.

I honestly thought my tummy literally got bigger in the first few days (the total opposite of what usually happens when I travel!) – apart from being annoyed from the constant requests of food and the time wasted from stopping so much to eat.

In day 5 or so I managed to change this eating style a bit. They started to learn to eat simple lunch (we even brought lunch sometimes like simple sandwiches and fruits) and there’s less requests for food and early dinner. (I warned them not to mention about dinner before 6pm, sometimes 7pm!)

There was still continuous and constant request for ice-cream at random times of the day – a curious thing, and frankly drove me a bit mad. I mean I like ice-cream. I don’t look for it that often though, and definitely not every day. The only time I thought the ice-cream request was valid was when we were in Italy. And we did go for ice cream every day, sometimes more than once per day!

I think part of the problems was that they sort of mixed tiredness and hunger. They probably were tired and wanted to sit down, hence the requests to stop for food. I reminded them often about this. We could always find a place to sit down without having to eat! (Are you sure you’re hungry? Maybe you’re just tired. Let’s sit down for a bit.)

seating in front of the Pantheon

sitting in front of the Pantheon

What is the thing that I anticipated and had to work a way around?

This is an Indonesian thing. When someone travels, EVERYBODY wants something for you to bring home. There’s a special word for it in Indonesian (oleh-oleh) which doesn’t have the equivalence in English. It specifically means “something you bring from your travel for people at home”. “People at home” could mean anyone from family, relatives, friends, coworkers, people from church, that person you just meet a few times, really there’s very little boundary – anyone that knows you are traveling. Sometimes, these people ask for very specific things from a very specific place, like a miniature J’adore absolute perfume from Paris (true story).

It’s a bizarre idea, I know.

Since I have been out of the country for too long, I don’t conform to this idea, and don’t care much about it. But I knew that my mom and aunties had to oblige – to a certain extend.

I have warned them from months before we started traveling, that each person should just bring one pull-on luggage and one bag you can carry on your body (big handbag, backpack), and no more! We were going to fly on a few budget airlines that have really strict luggage regulation (*cough* hate Easyjet *cough*) so this was non-negotiable. And really anymore than that they would really regret carrying, I know. Lots of complaints, but I managed to put my feet down.

luggage at the beginning of the trip

luggage at the beginning of the trip, London

This restriction has managed to put a break to the shopping. No big stuff, not too much, and maybe you don’t really need to comply to those crazy requests from various odd friends anyhow.

It does not however put a stop to the shopping at all. There are still grandchildren, sons and daughter, brothers, sister-in-laws, favorite nephews and nieces, mother-in-law, grandchildren-in-law, neighbours, close friends.

I get it. They need to shop.

red shop in Amsterdam

red shop in Amsterdam

So I integrated shopping into the itinerary. I told them when there would be shopping time ahead (so concentrate on this one sight please!). I pointed to shops so they could go ahead while I took pictures. There were only two times when I decided to branch out and explore by myself for an hour or two, while they spent time shopping.

All in all it was not so bad, and I feel quite proud to be able to integrate shopping time quite seamlessly into our busy days!

What are the pros traveling with the grandmothers?

They don’t have problem waking up early!

climbing the side of the Acropolis

climbing the side of the Acropolis

In fact they wake up so early that I didn’t have enough sleep. I’m a light sleeper, so I wake up when somebody else in the room wakes up. I also need 8 hours of sleep to keep healthy in the long term. I can keep up less-than-8 for a few weeks before my body gives up (hence the cold at the end of this trip).

Waking up early is a very positive thing while traveling. I’m a morning person. I like to wake up early and do stuff. Especially when it’s not working day! Most people of my generation as I know though, are NOT morning persons (especially guys?)! I’ve got quite a few troubles in the past traveling with my husband, or brothers, specifically about starting the days early. But not with the grandmas!

Also since we always worried that we move a bit slow (in comparison to young people) we were always early for everything. I have experienced quite a few near-misses for trains and flights in the past, because we’re young and confident we could run for it (and it was ridiculously stressful!), so this was a nice change. Something that I would like to adopt for my future travels!

The last words

Like every new travel mates, you have to learn about each other’s style and priorities, and adapt accordingly. Considering their age, background, and experience in independent traveling (very little), I thought it went pretty well! And I honestly had a lot of fun :).

Though I won’t be traveling with three grandmothers again anytime soon (it does have its challenges), I’m so glad we did it. It is such a rare opportunity and I’m not sure if there would be another chance in the future – what with the cost and age and time for everyone.

My two aunties have bought me things from their travels when I was just a little child dreaming to see the world – all of them I still remember to this day, even if they have forgotten themselves. Now to have a chance to travel together in the other part of the world and bring them around is possibly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Lastly and most importantly my mom, who always has many dreams – just like me, only she had children early and had to postpone to do her own things to her 50s. What a dream come true it was for the both of us. Never ever in our wildest dreams did we ever imagine to be able to travel together to the places that we only saw on pictures. Life was hard until I was in my 20s and travel was a luxury we could not afford. Vatican City, Fontana di Trevi in Rome, and Lourdes were ones of the spots where we stopped for a bit, soaked things in, and had a long sigh.

“Finally… we’re here. It’s like a dream,” mum said several times

in Vatican City with mum

in Vatican City with mum

It’s a long wait for me, and an even much longer wait for my mum.

But it happens.

Finally :)