Life Abroad,  Travel,  Winter,  Yearly Recap

A Year of Life & Travels: 2023

Here we are at the beginning of another bright new year! These yearly recap posts are my absolute favorites to read (on other blogs) so I hope you will enjoy catching up with my year and seeing little Mouse grow before your eyes! It was a big year for our little family and we are so lucky to have had the travel opportunities we did! If you’re on the fence, I cannot recommend traveling with a baby this age enough, truly.

New Year’s Day, January 1st, 2023 was unbelievably warm – we’re talking 18°C (64°F)! We took a long walk with friends & no coats with our six month old baby. It was a little bit snowy and I took daily walks with the dog and baby in the carrier. We celebrated seven-and-a-half months in, seven-and-a-half months out, and Covid finally found our house after three years at the end of the month, quashing any Lunar New Year celebrations. As Alex isolated in the living room, we isolated for the week in the bedroom until I got a positive test anyway by the end of the week (sigh). That week would have been so much easier had I not had to single-parent an infant the entire week but we really did have to try. Fortunately that strain manifested for us all as only a mild cold.

We made up our Lunar New Year celebration in February when we all tested negative again. Otherwise it was a quiet month of maternity leave with my little seven/eight-month old! I took myself on a mama/baby Valentine’s Day day-date, strolling around to cute places around town, getting a hot chocolate, and later had a lovely high tea with Alex at Born in London. I went out on my own to see a punk show one night that month! It felt somehow momentous to go out at night for something like this.

I also found my groove with baby-led weaning! Introducing solids to Mouse was a slight headache as our doctor gave us only very vague information so at the end of 2022 I was just doing the best I could… and then I found Solid Starts. What a world opened up and I began to feel more and more confident feeding baby solids. 2023 was truly the year of weaning and learning how to best support that!

In early March for spring break we all flew to Rome for most of the week! It was the perfect thing to get a taste of spring in Italy (when it was freezing cold in the Czech Republic) for my very first time there. We had wanted to go there during the pandemic so much which wasn’t at all possible and I hadn’t been to Italy in fifteen years and it was so good to be back! Rome was a feast for the eyes and senses. We stayed in Balduina in a beautiful villa. I breastfed in the Colosseum, ate so many slices of pizza from Bonci Pizzarium, swilled local beer (but didn’t have a drop of wine!), saw the Pope live at the Vatican and toured St. Peter’s Cathedral and the Sistine Chapel, sipped espresso all across the city, marveled at all the Caravaggios and other public art in local cathedrals, walked up and down the Spanish Steps, ate at little trattorias with only one tiny cry-fest. The weather was nice and mild, flowers were just starting to bloom and it was the perfect time to travel with a baby. Mouse would just start to crawl a couple weeks after so he was still not-so-mobile but very happy to go along with everything (and nap). It was a fantastic little trip and I had so much fun researching for it as well. (Unpopular opinion: Researching is half the fun.)

Tried flying out of Vienna airport but it was just not worth the slightly cheaper plane tickets in terms of extra time on the train to get there. Going to manage from Prague only from here on out.

April was spent chasing after this little crawler! We went to Prague on a particularly grey April day to check out the Easter markets. Our old wash machine broke (good excuse to get a better one with all those cloth nappies we’re washing!) and we spent a nice Easter with friends, braiding pomlázky (Easter sticks). We enjoyed a traditional Ukranian Easter festival with many refugees who are now residents of our city, had some beautiful spring hikes in the countryside testing out our new hiking carrier. Al fresco dining season began in earnest on Earth Day and from then ’til October, Mouse enjoyed many an outdoor balcony meal. I wrote about my current foreign language speaking strategy.

May brought the sunshine and disbelief that our little one was almost a year old! For my birthday, I wanted to spend a night out in the countryside and hear brooks babbling and birds tweeting, so we stayed near Dívčí kámen at the Hamr pension which was really quite wonderful. With a young child, the days pass so quickly (especially on vacation) since you have much more limited free time so two days flew by like nothing. We spent my birthday crossing the border enjoying a spa day in Gmünd (Austria) for the afternoon. Baby M had just started his swimming lessons a couple weeks before and had just got used to being in water regularly, so it was great timing. The second half of May brought in lots of good outdoor time and Májales festival – baby’s first music fest! Funny that you could see all the other parents with young children doing the early shift as well.

June was a busy month, as most Junes will be now– they mean Mouse’s birthday, our wedding anniversary, the end of the school year and this year, particularly, a large spate of choir concerts. It was my first full year back in my choir post-pandemic and it was so fun to spend rare afternoons and evenings out performing in a diverse selection of places, from a kiosk in the middle of a city park, an art gallery and winery courtyard, and most memorably, a music festival in an extremely remote apple orchard near a village in the countryside — a setting too idyllic for words, with rolling hills, fields of wildflowers that you had to hike through to get there!

We threw a little birthday party to celebrate baby’s first birthday and had a photo shoot to mark the occasion as well — it was so special to us. The end of the month brought so many swimming days and just enjoying one of the most beautiful times of the year before it got too hot. I wrote a nice post about all these June happenings here.

July was off to a fantastic start as we all jetted off to Karlovy Vary for our first KVIFF post-pandemic! I had missed the city and festival so much and was completely ready to do it, even with pup and baby in tow… didn’t even matter. Alex and I took turns seeing films while the other one enjoyed the unique outdoor festival atmosphere during the day and spent time in the beautiful quiet parks just outside of the buzzing center; of course, refilling my water bottle with as much spring water as I could and subsisting on what seemed at times entirely on free promotional Nescafé espresso beverages. It proved that you totally and completely can do this festival with children (or pets!) and I already can’t wait for this year’s edition.

After we returned, though, things got a bit… intense. We had the longest and most intense heatwave I’ve ever experienced in Czech Republic in over ten years and although I am completely a summer person, things weren’t fun anymore. (Can I get off this ride?) Alex was away teaching at summer camp leaving me alone with baby during the day for two weeks + intense heat = really not a good time. Most of the stress was worrying about if Mouse was too hot/cold while sleeping and the trial and error of sleeping arrangements to alleviate that (when you haven’t got any lightweight baby bedding/sleep sacks). Flying to the USA could not come soon enough, even though I was a little nervous about how that would go, the worrying was generally unfounded and our sleeper champ did his thing! (More about our July here.)

The first morning I woke up in Washington, I stepped outside and it was this huge blast of verdant, fragrant forest air that just hit me like a beautiful cedar-scented sledgehammer. I couldn’t believe that this is what I had been missing for, well, years living in the city center in Budejovice. The air and freshness is just so different compared to a Washington state forest (aka, my backyard). I was floored. (Talk about something you majorly take for granted growing up there!) I was resolved to spend as much time outside for the rest of the summer as possible (in the mild, 70 degree Northern Washington summer). We also immediately ran out to have some date nights seeing Barbie (of course!) and also On Golden Pond at the local theatre (where I had grown up acting in plays) – both very thoroughly enjoyed.

August, my favorite month of the year, started off really promisingly as we went on a little camping trip on Orcas Island (baby’s first camping!) but got sad pretty quickly when I got the news there that my father had suddenly passed away. The sadness of this event cast a pall over much of the month but I was very glad to have been back home with family when it happened instead of across an ocean. Through it all, we were able to visit properly with some dear friends who we only get to see every two years, enjoy Washington’s own little heatwave and loads of beach days, and lots of good family time. Being back home this summer was truly everything! We spent the rest of the month in Washington due to a change in travel plans but it felt truly needed and just the right amount of time. One of my favorite things was a weekend in Seattle with my mother, revisiting my alma mater campus (University of Washington) that I hadn’t been back to for over a decade, thoroughly enjoy a farmer’s market morning and some nights out in some of Alex and my favorite places in the district of the city where we fell in love. Walking across massive parking lots in the glow of neon lights, later treading several blocks “home” to our accommodation late at night just like we did ten years ago, through the flower-scented sidewalks of Ballard on a summer night. It felt nostalgic but also very current at the same time. It could be ten years ago, it could be tonight. (but oddly, ever bar I went to was playing Family Guy. In the Year of our Lord 2023. Family Guy. Seattle, are u ok?) I wrote a post all about our first summer in the USA with baby here.

September‘s whole theme was “getting used to not being in Washington anymore”. Leaving it is hard, which is why I like going to Michigan afterwards because we’re still in the States so it’s a nice stepping stone between my American home and our European home. It was a quick week in Eastern Michigan in early September where we had the worst weather you can imagine. Too humid, too many mosquitos, too much rain. Our last day there was the only “okay weather” day and that one was one of my favorites, actually! Running around in our rental, stopping at every thrift store we could think of, finding costumes at Spirit Halloween and getting Tim Horton’s. What’s not to love? But this month was actually pretty hard. I have never felt worse flying to Europe than I did on this flight (besides the fact that we flew British Airways, had bulkhead seats and our baby slept b e a u t i f u l l y in one of those wall-attached bassinets! I was feeling pretty rough in terms of the whole “what am I even doing” aspect to life abroad.

But in October, I found that love of being in the Czech Republic again, especially as the leaves on the trees turned orange and yellow and we were treated to another amazing autumn season… one that I credit Little Mister with as we went around to so many playgrounds and spent so much time outside. It was lovely seeing things through his eyes! At the end of October we spent a long weekend in Prague just to do city things, but got pretty unlucky with the weather. Pouring rain all day long and not warm as past years had been at that time. You can’t win ’em all. Mouse took his first steps right before Halloween, making his dinosaur costume (his first one!) all the more Godzilla-like.

November brought more outdoor baby days — we headed outside whenever possible until the weather got absolutely much too cold or rainy to do so for long periods anymore.

The first days of December brought dumpings of snow, in fact, it didn’t stop snowing for nearly sixty hours! Never before in my life! We enjoyed many snowy walks in the park and baby enjoyed his first sledding experience. He was… completely indifferent. I was pretty sad to see all of it melt! This Christmas we stuck around (quite different from last year in Tirol and the year before in England!) so we were happy to have a quiet time at home. We are so lucky to have such a vibrant Advent market here in Budejovice which I visited whenever I could, and I got plenty of rest and me-time (a cafe morning alone with a book! sauna!) and we took a couple of day-trips to Krumlov and Gmünd. Mouse, being more of a swim guy now at a year-and-a-half enjoyed his pool time even more than when we were there in May.

In store for 2024…

This year I am dipping my toe back into the working world as I’m planning to go to the office one morning a week and teach in a classroom for the first time in a year and a half. Happy we can organize our schedules in order to do this and grateful that my back-to-work progression will be gradual. I still have officially one more year of maternity leave, at which time I will return on a part-time basis until Little Man is old enough to go to preschool the next school year at age 3.

I hope to enjoy this last maternity leave year to the fullest with lots of swimming classes, playground visits in all weathers, and baby play-dates and to remember what a unique and special time and experience it is to spend with my son in his earliest years.

In terms of travel, I am hoping to go to Karlovy Vary for KVIFF again because one year post-pandemic wasn’t quite enough to sate the urge to relish in all things festival. This year as we will be staying in Europe, we would love to take a long(er) summer holiday to visit a new-to-us country! Still not sure at all where that will be, but my requirement is seaside + relaxing. One mental barrier I have at the moment when it comes to travel is accommodation – if it’s not the perfect accommodation for our unique family situation and my personal needs (quiet, bedroom with dark curtains, separate living area, outdoor space, crib available, dog-friendly), I’m not even interested. I think the accommodation will be as much of a draw as the place will be.

That said, since returning from the USA last September, I have never before in my time here felt more at peace with just staying put here in the Czech Republic. Even though it’s more comfortable to do so than ever, wanderlust still does come-a-calling sometimes.

As far as blog things go, it has never been a more discouraging time to blog than it is now in the age of TikTok and Instagram reels. It seems that the blogs that are actually still active are mainly doing so because of sponsored content and those doing it for the love of the game have been out years ago. Never one to easily give up, I have an idea, even a resolution if you will, to blog every one to two weeks just about daily life things. This, in addition to the posts I still ever much want to get out (The Books of 2023, flying transatlantically with a baby) seems a lofty order for a person who has only a couple hours of free time per day, but let’s see how we can do. Expect less photos and more text… photos being the main reason why this particular post is so late as they take forever to upload to my server.

In 2024, with all things in my life right now, perfection is the enemy of good enough.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year and thank you for being here over the months and years.

PS, You might enjoy past editions of Year of Life & Travels: 202220212020201920182017201620152014.