425 Round the World

By Gretchen Richter DeMedeiros and Rodrigo DeMedeiros | Photos by Rodrigo DeMedeiros

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We will be following the family’s adventures this year in 425 magazine. Rodrigo has been a longtime contributing photographer. Read more and watch videos on their blog.

The Finale: Europe

As spring turned to summer, the Eastside’s Richter de Medeiros clan continued its adventure through Europe — the last leg of an Around the World adventure and the finale of the family’s year of travel.

Though they picked up the pace, they kept the spirit of slow travel alive, spending at least a week in each locale. The family fell in love with the cobblestoned fairytale city of Prague, with its hilltop medieval castle, delicious food, and innovative museums.

They stayed in a suite in the friendly Charles Bridge Economic Hostel and reconnected with Ivana, their Czech au pair. The family admired the grandeur of two libraries: The Strahov Monastery and the Klementinum. They were entertained by the hands-on exhibits, optical illusions, and animatronics of the Film Special Effects Museum celebrating the work of cinematographer Karel Zeman.

The Jewish Quarter provided a somber lesson in the horrors of Nazism and the Holocaust. More than 80,000 Bohemian and Moravian Jews perished during WWII; the victim’s names inscribed on the walls of Prague’s Pinkas Synagogue.

Copenhagen’s busy waterfront, crisp temperature, and blue skies reminded the family of home. On one street corner Danes wrapped in wooly blankets sipped coffee, and soaked up the sun. (Such a Pacific Northwest vibe!) The kids played at Tivoli Gardens, the world’s second-oldest amusement park and Walt Disney’s inspiration. Other touristy highlights were the Danish Museum of Art and Design, where son Marco created a stop-motion video; peeking into houseboats along the city’s canals; and seeing the famous Little Mermaid sculpture. Though Denmark can be an expensive destination, the family stayed on budget by making all its meals in the apartment, and using public transportation to get around cheaply and efficiently.

Next they headed to Scotland and Ireland. Both lie outside the Schengen Area, which meant the family could stay compliant with visa rules and extend its total time in Europe. Most travelers can visit the 26 Schengen member states for up to 90 days by getting a visa upon arrival. After that, however, they must leave for 90 days.

In Edinburgh the kids completed their formal studies. Marco was elated to ship his math book home after his final exam, and daughter Bella turned in her last few school assignments online.

The family took advantage of several free experiences such as the Scottish National Gallery, National History Museum, and Scottish Parliament, where everyone watched a debate in session. Literary landmarks filled the city and everyone kept their eyes peeled for places that inspired J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. They even took a daytrip to ride The Hogwarts Express (officially known as the West Highland Railway’s Jacobite Steam Train).

In Ireland the group was joined by Gretchen’s mother, sister, and aunt. They scoured the countryside for idyllic scenes: dogs herding sheep in rolling green pastures, abandoned lakeside monasteries, and cozy village pubs. Historic Dublin was characterized by music. The adults learned about traditional instruments and ditties during a pub crawl, and even sang a few verses of Molly Malone beside the bronze statue of the fictional fishmonger.

Heather, the school tutor who came on the trip, and Bella were thrilled by the songs and dance of the original production Ireland Rises.

Rich text and art in the Chester Beatty Library and the spectacular Book of Kells gorgeously illustrated similarities and differences of world religions. And of course, no Irish-American can resist digging into genealogy at the National Library of Ireland.

The little group broke up in Spain: Marco, Gretchen, and Rodrigo stayed for four weeks, while Heather traveled through Scandinavia, and Bella attended French language school in Montpellier. Madrid was hit by a major heat wave, but that did not keep Marco from enjoying two weeks of soccer camp with the famous team Real Madrid. Gretchen and Rodrigo spent their days visiting art museums, and sampling tapas and wine. The trio was fired up by a sultry, swirly Flamenco one night on the town, and savored Valencia-style paella for a Sunday lunch.

They decided to move to cooler Pamplona for the San Fermin Festival that features the world-famous Running of the Bulls. Not willing to put their lives in danger, they watched the raucous event from a balcony in the center of town.

The family was reunited for its last week on the road in Amsterdam. Their time felt extra-short with the knowledge that the flight home was only days away. Nevertheless, they visited the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum, ate Dutch pancakes, and watched the extravagant Pride Parade weave its way through the canals. At the Anne Frank House, the young woman’s words and hidden home struck the travelers deep in their hearts.

Art. History. Literature. Religion. Politics. Economics. These subjects are taught at schools and universities worldwide, but for the Richter de Medeiros family, the lessons learned traveling through Europe were worth far more than lectures in a classroom. Making connections between stories told by different city guides, comparing and contrasting art and architectural styles, and discussing opposing cultural perspectives were natural outcomes of their experiences, helping them gain the world school education they were seeking abroad.

Turkey and Greece

After an unforgettable experience in South Africa, the family entered Greece, the cradle of democracy and philosophy. They arrived in Athens on a cold, gray, rainy day.

In Athens, ancient ruins stand paradoxically against contemporary constructions and modern life. High atop the Acropolis, famous monuments like the Parthenon and the Temple of Nike still stand proudly despite suffering a millennia of invasions, demolitions, reconstructions, and modern pollution.

They visited several more famous sites, including the Ancient Agora (where they were most impressed with the stunning, well-preserved Temple of Hephaestus), the Temple of Zeus, and the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos. A guided tour of the Archaeology museum and sidetrip to Delphi to visit the Oracle of Apollo rounded out their experiences in ancient Athens.

The family loved making traditional Greek food with a chef in her home. Working together, they crafted a five-course meal of zucchini fritters, spanakopita, tzatziki, and Barduna-style rooster with noodles. For dessert they enjoyed Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts, and the adults sampled Metaxa liqueur.

Next they headed to the quaint seaside town of Nafplio highlighted by the rituals of Greek Orthodox Easter. They visited the ancient city of Mycenae, birthplace of the legendary Helen of Troy and site where Agamemnon’s golden mask was unearthed. In nearby Epidavros they tested the incredible acoustics of the most well-preserved amphitheater in all of Greece, and in Olympia they toured the ruins of that once amazing athletic center.

No trip to Greece is complete without a visit to the islands, and the family’s excursion to Hydra was very uplifting. The small island is the only one that doesn’t allow any motorized vehicles. Donkeys in colorful bridles and saddles wait by the ferry dock to transport visitors (and their luggage) around the island. The cold Aegean waters are a scintillating mix of silver, turquoise, and cobalt blue; the green hills and Hydra’s white-washed little houses made everyone smile.

A 10-hour ferry trip took the family to its last stop in Greece — the island of Samos in the eastern Aegean Sea, where the Galini family graciously opened up their Airbnb amid preparations for high season. Blue skies, olive-tree-covered hills, a lovely little bay, and delicious home cooking complemented their week of down time. Hiking to Pythagoras’ cave provided the perfect opportunity for a road-school lesson on his famous mathematical theorem a²+ b² = c².

From Samos, they ferried to Turkey, where they spent a month with their longtime friends and fellow world travelers, the Oestings. They experienced friendly Turkish hospitality in the peaceful town of Selçuk, where ancient cities and temples stand side-by-side with religious sites important to both Islam and Christianity.

Each morning the family woke to the unique sound of the call to prayer from Isa Bey Mosque, just half a block away from their rental home. They visited the remains of the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), spent a day exploring the Roman city of Ephesus, climbed to see St. John’s Basilica, and toured the Virgin Mary’s last-known dwelling. They also day-tripped out to the Greco-Roman and Byzantine city of Hierapolis, dipping their toes into the surreal white calcium Travertines which attract millions of visitors each year.

The family loved the delicious flavors of typical Turkish food. The visit to Selçuk ended on a high note: an evening with new local friends, great wine and traditional food, and a sunset over the mountains of Sirinçe.

The next stop was vibrant, cosmopolitan Istanbul. The family decided to stay in two different neighborhoods of this unique city, the only one in the world that spans two continents. On the Asian side, they stayed in funky Uskudar, where the highlight was touring the Bosporus Strait by boat. On the European side of the city they visited the famous Hagia Sophia (first a basilica, then a mosque, now a museum), gawked at the domes of the Blue Mosque, and shopped in the bustling Grand Bazaar. They also witnessed the mesmerizing Whirling Dervishes — a ceremony in which followers of the Sufi order of Islam spin themselves into a trance-like state of prayer.

Turkey was a wonderful location to be introduced to modern, secular Islam. The family was kindly welcomed by each person they met and were treated with genuine hospitality. They’d happily return to explore more of this moderate Muslim nation.

Exploring South Africa

Longtime 425 photographer Rodrigo DeMedeiros and his family are spending a year traveling the world and documenting their journey on their website, learnlivetravel.com, with photos, blogs, and videos. We are also chronicling their adventures here, in 425 magazine. They report that their recent stop in South Africa was “life changing,” and they are already planning a return trip. This is a glimpse of their South African adventure.

It is impossible to accurately describe the amazing experiences that the family had in South Africa; every expectation was surpassed. This segment of the ’round-the-world trip represented a unique opportunity for immersive learning that far exceeded any formal school education — biology, geography, philosophy, creative writing, filmmaking, politics, world history, religion, sociology, and botany are topics the kids focused on during the family’s month in that amazing country.

A week in Cape Town provided deep insight into South African history: A full-day tour of the city highlighted the Dutch influence in agriculture, architecture, and the impact of apartheid. The family had a cooking lesson and lunch at Cape Malay Muslim household, learning about the community’s history and contributions to South African culture. The tour ended with a visit to the community of Langa — the oldest black African township in Cape Town and site of political protests and resistance. Other highlights included a humbling tour of Robben Island (where Nobel Peace Prize winner and political leader Nelson Mandela spent 27 years of his life; their guide, Kgotso, a former political prisoner, met Mandela during his time there), a visit to the two-oceans aquarium and luscious Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and viewing iconic Table Mountain.

The family rented a van to road trip along the stunning Garden Route, from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. Every stop was a hands-on opportunity to see the many facets of that beautiful country. At De Hoop Natural Reserve, there were 100-year-old Baobab trees, while in Hermanus a huge colony of jackass penguins basked in the sun. In Knysna, the group sailed from a placid lagoon into the powerful waters of the Indian Ocean, visited a sanctuary for monkeys and lemurs, and had a heart-stopping zip-line tour amongst 600-year-old trees. In Mooiplaas they tasted delicious ostrich burgers and had a chance to (briefly) ride those curious animals.

The road trip culminated in Addo Elephant National Park, where the adventurous five spent three unforgettable days at a private, fully-catered lodge focused on animal viewing with twice-daily game drives. Early each morning, they were greeted by dazzles of zebras, funny-looking families of warthogs, and fast-running ostriches. There, on a narrow dirt road, their specially outfitted topless Jeep came face to face with an elephant — the group watched in silence as the bull attempted to pass, choosing instead to climb a low bank alongside the vehicle, standing so close it was possible to touch it should someone stretch an arm. And the best was yet to come.

From Port Elizabeth, they flew to Johannesburg and headed to Kruger National Park — an area the size of Israel — for a full week of private safari. Those days in Kruger were life-changing, to say the least. On the first 24 hours, the group sighted the “Big 5”: rhino, elephant, lion, leopard, and Cape buffalo. They divided their time between three rest camps — Satara, Lower Sabie, and Berg-en-daal — and took two three-hour game drives per day (one around 5:30 a.m. and the other at 3 p.m.), resting each afternoon. One night, their guide, Bretton, a veteran of Kruger, prepared pasta with fresh impala meat as the group shared stories under the stars. Bretton also provided priceless insight into every single animal seen. There were numerous unique encounters with zebra, impala, rhinos, hyenas, lions, elephants, giraffes, gnus, hippos, cheetahs, leopards, and wild dogs, but the rarest of sightings was a mythical black mamba snake, feared by all.

From Johannesburg, they headed to Europe, starting with Greece and Turkey. The family left South Africa with a heavy heart but with one certainty: There will be a return trip in the future.

At Home in Brazil

425 contributing photographer Rodrigo DeMedeiros and his wife, Gretchen, along with daughter Bella, 15; son Marco, 12; and road-school teacher Heather Holmes, left Fall City late last year on a trip around the world.

They recently reported back on their trip to Brazil.

From Argentina, the DeMedeiros family headed to Brazil to stay three months in the Northeastern city of Natal with Rodrigo’s extended family. This was a great opportunity for Bella and Marco to spend time with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins; speak Portuguese; and catch up with
their lessons.

The family celebrated Thanksgiving by preparing a “fusion feast” — substituting the Jerimum, a orange-red squash, for pumpkin, and adding acerola berries to the cranberry sauce. Eating delicious foods became a theme, from all-day churrascos (barbecues) with family, to feijoada (black bean stew) and an abundance of seafood. To counter-balance, Gretchen, Rodrigo and Heather signed up for Run Or Dye, a 5k run where each 1k milestone was celebrated with an explosion of colorful dyes!

Natal is famous for miles of pristine coastline, white sand dunes, and rivers emptying in to the sea. The family lounged under parasols, sipped fresh coconut water and even zip-lined and splashed into a freshwater lagoon.

They also spent two weeks with friends in Rio de Janeiro, known as “The Marvelous City.” Their apartment was just blocks away from Ipanema Beach, made famous by the Bossa Nova movement in the ’60s. Marco’s 12th birthday — New Year’s Eve — was celebrated in great style on Copacabana Beach with 2 million others and one of the most amazing fireworks displays on Earth.

Other Rio highlights included a visit to Gigoia Island, an oasis in the heart of Rio accessible only by boat, and an early-morning visit to Corcovado to see the Art Deco masterpiece “Christ The Redeemer.” Rodrigo conquered his fear of flying by paragliding from Gavea Rock to Pepino Beach — what an unforgettable ride! He also climbed to the “Vidigal” slum for a panoramic sunset view of the city.

Leaving Brazil was bittersweet, but it gave the family time to properly prepare for their next adventure: South Africa!

Exploring Ancient Inca Ruins and Penguin Sightings

One 425 family is spending a year traveling the world — this is a glimpse of their adventures. We will chronicle it in every issue in 2015 (assuming they have an Internet connection!).

425 contributing photographer Rodrigo DeMedeiros and his wife, Gretchen, along with daughter, Bella, 15; son, Marco, 11; and road-school teacher Heather Holmes left Fall City late last year on a trip around the world.

They recently reported back on their trip to Peru, Chile and Argentina.

Peru was a country full of firsts for the group. They saw the Inca ruins and ran into a first major challenge when their rental apartments weren’t ready when they arrived. And this is the first time the kids got sick on the trip.

When they got to Chile, it was “chill.” The group cooked, edited photos and videos, and took long walks. They enjoyed swimming in the still-chilly pools, and sampled wines in Colchagua and the Casablanca Valleys.

Finally, when they arrived in Argentina, they road-tripped sans GPS. Navigating “mostly good” roads, the group saw a lot of topography from Sierra Madre, the Andes, canyons, pampas, oil and dino-rich deserts, and rugged coastlines. The wildlife at Peninsula Valdez was a highlight and included Southern Right whales, penguins and sea lions. It was the kids’ favorite experience so far.

Next stop: Brazil!

Eastside Family Escapes Daily Grind for Year of Learning

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View of Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru.

Rodrigo DeMedeiros and his bicultural, binational and bilingual Fall City family recently set out on an 11-month RTW adventure. “RTW” stands for “’Round the World.”

Mom Gretchen, 44; dad Rodrigo, 43; daughter Bella, 15; and son Marco, 11 left in the fall on their epic trip. They are accompanied by family friend/teacher Heather Holmes, who is helping them “road-school” the kids.

“We decided that it was time to shake things up, step out of our comfort zone and hit the road,” Rodrigo said.

Both Gretchen and Rodrigo were overworked, under pressure and often stressed out. Rodrigo’s daily roundtrip commute to Seattle as a photographer, director and producer at an ad agency sometimes took up to three hours, depending on traffic. Gretchen had been working the past nine years at Microsoft, most recently as a design program manager. The kids were showing signs of boredom and lack of interest in the overall educational system — and they were attending some of the best schools. “We all had enough of the daily grind,” Rodrigo said.

The idea to take a year off and travel was first sparked in 2011 after a six-week journey through Brazil with friends. The kids got to experience Brasilia (where Rodrigo and Gretchen met) and meet many of their friends from high school and college. They spent two weeks with Rodrigo’s family in Natal.

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Marco playing soccer in Venice — the family brought a deflated soccer ball on the trip so he can play whenever possible.

“Coming home from that trip we started chatting about how fun it would be to travel more often, and for longer stretches of time,” he said.

More recently they traveled with Gretchen’s extended family for her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. They spent five weeks in France and Italy — it was an enlightening “trial run” for their RTW adventure. “We explored different ways of facing some of the challenges we might encounter along the journey — from properly packing to understanding each other’s thresholds regarding pace, hunger and level of expectations,” Rodrigo said.

The family’s adventure will take them across South America, Africa and Europe. Their plans aren’t rigid. They want to see where this adventure takes them — and they are open to whatever experiences come their way.

“We want to go places and stay for a while, taking the time to get to know how local living feels like,” Rodrigo said. “The possibilities are endless.”

So why pick up and leave careers and school?

“We believe that traveling is a need, not a want, and that by doing so we become better, more knowledgeable human beings; traveling opens our eyes and minds to new ways of looking at the world around us, making us more resilient, more respectful of others, more human,” Rodrigo said. “This is part of the legacy we want to leave our children. People always say they want a better world for their children, but perhaps that thought is backward — we need our children to become better adults so the world can be a better place.

“And we think seeing and experiencing the world is a vital step in that direction.”

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