That’s just how it works right now – you are part of me. Where I go, you go. I’m more aware of it now than I have been. When I walk down the hallway at school, when I’m on the freeway heading home, when I’m laying in bed at night, I think about how you’re here with me. It used to feel like carrying a secret, a delightful knowledge that you existed and only your dad and I knew. Now you’re starting to become more visible to the world. I find my hands drifting to my belly more and more frequently along with my thoughts.
I have a sense that this is just the beginning. That even when you’re no longer inside my body, even when I no longer carry you in my arms, I will carry you everywhere I go. You are part of me.
Today is your dad’s birthday. He’s 29 now, the same age he will be when you’re born. I can’t wait for you to meet him. I can’t wait to see him holding you, to watch him care for you, for you to get to know each other. I bought him a coffee mug that says ‘papa bear’ on it and he uses it proudly every chance he gets. He’s been practicing his dad jokes so they’re fully ready for your arrival. We got to see you with a sonogram a few days ago, and he was standing right next to the screen the whole time so he wouldn’t miss anything. He loves you already – and I can tell you from experience that it’s a privilege to be loved by him. He’s got the biggest heart of anyone I know, and a piece of it belongs to you.
There are so many things in the world to be afraid of.
I’m pretty good at thinking of all of them. You will probably know that about me. It will probably drive you crazy, especially if you’re more like your dad and don’t worry about anything. I’m sorry.
Since I found out you existed, I have discovered lots of new things to worry about. I want so badly for you to be okay. There is so very little that I am actually in control of. I know this is how it will be for your whole life – I will always want desperately for you to be okay, and I will never be able to control the circumstances. Already, with you still inside of me, I have to learn to let go.
I read the Bible to my kids at school every morning. A few days ago, I read part of John 6 to them. Like always, when I finished reading, I asked for a volunteer to narrate. You’ll be very familiar with narrating because we’ll do it every time we read. I will ask you to tell back what you just read, or what I just read to you. A little girl in the second row volunteered.
She retold the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Then she talked about Jesus walking on the water, and she said, “The disciples were afraid. Then they saw that it was him, and they weren’t afraid anymore.”
I found myself fighting back tears.
The simplicity of the message, delivered in a child’s voice, cut straight into me. When I’m filled with worry or fear, I want to fix my eyes on him and be filled with peace. He is good, and he is trustworthy, and he is on his throne. No matter what the circumstances are, or how rough the water is, I can look at him and forget my fear.
There are so many things in the world to be afraid of. But our God is bigger, and he is greater, and he is better. He tells us to fear not, to be courageous, to be still. We can see that it is he who reigns and who rejoices over us and who makes all things new, and we don’t have to be afraid anymore.
We’re waiting for a baby. We’re singing hymns that we always sing this time of year. We’ve decorated with beautiful lights and a tree. We’re telling familiar stories and cooking familiar foods. We’re looking forward in hope, longing for the advent of Emmanuel, God with us.
This year, we’re waiting for you. We are in a season of preparation. If you could see our apartment right now, our credit card statement, our calendar studded with appointments, it would be clear that we’re making room for you. Yesterday morning, your dad and I were drinking coffee, lounging around, talking about how we can’t wait for you to be here. We delight in the signs of your coming, my growing belly and your response when I drink something warm. We’re looking forward in joyful expectation, longing for you to be here with us.
We’re waiting for our baby, and we’re waiting for our King.
In the season of Advent, we look expectantly for the coming of Jesus. We remember the stable, and Mary, and the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. We tell about the three wise men and their gifts. We celebrate the baby, his humanity, his dwelling with us. We rejoice that he came to ransom his people, to set them free.
We also look for his return. We know he is coming again, not as a baby, but as a King. He will come again in glory and his kingdom will have no end. He will make all things new and set all things right. Sorrow and pain will be no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. We are in a season of preparation. Already, and not yet. He has come, and he will come again. We live differently in light of his advent. We live remembering and hoping.
And so we wait. Longingly, expectantly, joyfully. Come, Lord Jesus.
I felt you move this week. Just little flutters and gentle taps that I know will transform into more insistent jabs and kicks in the coming weeks. It has been one of the strangest things I have ever felt, and also one of my favorites.
Don’t worry; your name isn’t actually going to be Rosabelle. Your dad and I have not yet decided what your name will be. Your seven-year-old cousin Kaelyn is very pleased that you’re a girl, and Rosabelle is the name she wants for you. She has a friend at school named Rose and another named Isabelle, and thus: Rosabelle. That’s what we’re calling you until we decide what your actual name will be. Our conversations these days are peppered with name possibilities. Some are quickly discarded. Some we ponder for a few days, practice saying them out loud and with different middle names, and some strike a chord with us and make it onto the official possibilities list. It’s a lot of responsibility to know that you will carry whatever name we choose for your whole life.
We found out you are a girl just last week. Your dad had a feeling all along, but I was surprised. We’re both thrilled. It’s fun to be able to talk about our daughter and dream about who you will be.
You have changed me already. Not just physically, although those changes are becoming more visible to the world every day. I’ve never had such a clear understanding that my body is not my own. I believed that already, that I am not my own, that I’ve been bought at a price, that I belong to Christ as he belongs to me. It’s different to know that in my head and to have someone tapping me from the inside, changing my coffee consumption habits, the way I sleep. I think all the time about what is best for you.
It’s baffling to me that I can go about my life, going to work, shopping at Target, doing laundry, and all the time you’re growing inside of me. It seems like I should have to work harder for it. But that’s what God does. He makes something out of nothing. He takes emptiness and he brings new life, and he doesn’t need my help. He is the one who makes all things new, who takes a valley of dry bones and breathes life into them. I find myself frequently close to tears at the beauty of all of it. There has been one heart beating in my body for nearly thirty years; now there are two.
I’m constantly marveling at the idea that this happens all the time, has been happening all the time since the world began. I look around at all the mothers I know, these superheroes in everyday clothing, grocery shopping and wiping noses and doing their jobs, business as usual. These mothers who have brought life into the world when it did not exist before. These mothers who bring light to darkness, fostering and adopting, choosing to take on the responsibility and privilege of nurturing someone who needs them. It is a freaking miracle every time. I am filled with awe and gratitude that I get to be a part of it.
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost three months since we got back from our trip. Sometimes now it feels like a dream, but a really great one. There are a few things I wish I had known before we went, so hopefully these can help someone planning their own first trip to Europe!
Tip #1: Don’t Worry About Money
It was so much easier than I expected to spend our money in Europe, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. 🙂 I went back and forth about getting local currency before we left, and I’m glad I didn’t. The best thing we had was our credit card with no foreign transaction fees. I called them ahead of time to make sure there wouldn’t be any fees and to let them know we would be traveling so they wouldn’t put a fraud alert on my card. I also called to put a travel notice on my debit card just in case we needed it. Nearly everywhere we went accepted cards, and most of them accepted ApplePay, so all we needed were our phones. If you pay in dollars using your card rather than local currency, your bank will charge you the best available exchange rate. This was by far the best way to spend money and keep track of what we were spending, as well as have the option of disputing the charges if we really needed to (we never did). We used an ATM once in Dublin and once in Edinburgh. We got 100 euros in Dublin and 100 pounds in Edinburgh for emergency use. We wanted to take money out of an ATM as infrequently as possible because Chase charges a fee each time. We didn’t spend all of that before leaving Dublin or Edinburgh, but we were able to spend it by using our pounds again in London and euros again in Paris. We had to go buy lots of snacks to get rid of our last few pounds in London because it wasn’t enough to be worth exchanging it back. I did keep a pound coin with Queen Elizabeth on it just for a keepsake. #GodSavetheQueen
Tip #2: Be Prepared for No WiFi
The last time I was abroad was Argentina in 2012. Things have changed in the world since then. WiFi is so much more readily available, but I wasn’t sure how available it would be in all the places we were going. I’m really glad I planned ahead on finding things like train routes, because it was really spotty in some places. We put a travel plan on our phones before leaving. Verizon charges $10/day/line in Europe for phone service and using your data plan, but it doesn’t charge you for that day unless you use cellular data. We wanted the option in case of emergency, but were trying to keep it off as much as possible. In Dublin and Edinburgh, we were able to find Wi-fi nearly everywhere. It was available for free in the city centers, in our hotel in Dublin, and in nearly every restaurant or shop we went into. It was also pretty reliable and easy to connect to. In New York, WiFi is available in train stations and on trains, so I expected the same in London and Paris. We were shocked at how hard it was to find WiFi in London. Our connection in our AirBnb was spotty at best, it was not available in train stations or on trains, and it was hard to find networks you could connect to in shops and restaurants. In London, I was so glad I had researched everything ahead of time and it wasn’t really necessary for us to be able to look things up on our phones. We found the same thing in Paris. Again, we were really surprised how hard it was to find in a major city, although the WiFi in our hotel was much more reliable. The trains we were on between cities also offered WiFi, but it was also spotty. We were glad to have the option of using cellular data if we really needed it, and that we had figured so much out ahead of time. We also downloaded maps of the areas were visiting on our phones before we left so we could access those without WiFi or cellular data.
Tip #3: Use Public Transportation
Public transportation is so easy to use, and we saved so much money using it. We did try to walk whenever possible, because we like to walk and think that’s the best way to really get to know a place. Dublin and Edinburgh were small enough that we were able to walk nearly anywhere we wanted to go, but in London and Paris things are just too spread out. The rail system in Dublin looked very convenient and easy to use too, but we just didn’t need it. Riding the trains in London and Paris helped us to get to know the city better by traveling like the locals do and figuring out where things were in relation to each other. It’s also very fast and reliable. If you’re going to use the Tube in London, buy an Oyster card. In Paris we just bought packs of tickets, and it’s worth noting that sometimes you have to scan the same ticket more than once on a journey. A couple of times, we decided to take Ubers or taxis. Uber was available in most places, but not in Dublin. In Dublin we had to download the app MyTaxi to get a car. It worked the same way as Uber or Lyft and we had good experiences.
Tip #4: Pack Light
By pack light, I mean pack as light as you possibly can. We got everything into a carry on and backpack each, and I was thankful for it so many times throughout our trip. We stayed in one place that had an elevator, and everywhere we stayed was somewhere between the third and fifth floor of the building it was in. We spent a lot of time dragging our bags up and down stairs and around city streets. It was pretty chilly in Edinburgh and pretty warm in London, so we packed layers and things that would work in different climates. David has a jacket that is both waterproof and keeps him warm, but I had to pack three different jackets to meet the needs of our trip. I ended up wearing all three of them multiple times, but they took up quite a bit of room in my bag. I took duck boots that were really great for rainy Scotland, but they didn’t fit in my bag either and I had to wear them each time we were traveling. Since we knew all the activities we were doing, it was easy to make sure I had everything I needed while packing as little as possible. I wore the same two pairs of jeans the whole trip. We were able to do laundry while we were staying with Meagan in Edinburgh, but David also washed some of his clothes in our hotel rooms and that worked out just fine. We had laundry available to us at our AirBnb in London too, but never ended up using it. Look into all the places you’re staying and see if laundry is available at any of them. Sometimes hotels will do it for you.
Tip #5: Start Walking
This is David’s top tip from our trip. You will be walking. So much. If you aren’t used to walking a lot, start now. Get on a treadmill and work your way up to at least five miles every day with an incline. The smallest amount we walked any day of our trip was six miles, and some days were between ten-fifteen. In Edinburgh, everything was so hilly too. If you aren’t used to being on your feet all day, you could be pretty sore and it could affect your plans. It also helps to make sure you have shoes that are comfortable all day and broken in before your trip. If you can start walking in the shoes you’re bringing before you leave, so much the better. Having sore feet, hips, and calves can really detract from your enjoyment of all the beautiful and wonderful things you’re seeing and experiencing.
There they are, folks! If you’ve been to Europe, what tips would you add?
I usually enjoy the process of creating a plan too, but planning for a two-week trip to Europe seemed a little daunting to me. I had never planned a vacation of that scale before. When I studied abroad, it was with a decent-size group, and everything was organized for us. Most of the vacations we went on growing up were cruises, so again, minimal planning involved. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to figure everything out on my own, but I decided to try. David is allergic to planning things ahead of time, so I knew it would mostly be up to me. I did reach out to a European travel agent early on in the process, but they never responded to me. This is how I went about it.
Step One: Dreaming/Budgeting
Long before we settled on any details for our trip, we talked about going on a big vacation together. We both love to travel, and the last time we did a big trip together was for our honeymoon in Hawaii in 2013. I studied abroad in Argentina in 2012, and David went to Greece for work trips in 2015 and 2016. Because of that, I really wanted to go to Europe, and David really wanted to go to South America. We decided that we would go to Europe for this trip since a South American trip would include Argentina, and that way we could go to places neither of us had ever been. We’re both Anglophiles, so of course the UK had to be one of our destinations, but we weren’t sure after that. Once we started talking about it, we put a separate travel line in our budget every month and started setting aside money. We wanted to have a wonderful, memorable time, but not wipe out our savings, so it was important to us to plan with a budget. This stage is also when we made sure our passports were renewed!
Step Two: Crowdsourcing
Although we had never done a trip like this before, we have lots of friends who have. I started asking around for input from people who have been to Europe and have planned their own trips. This is how we found out that Dublin is the cheapest place to fly into, and were convinced that we needed to add Paris onto our trip. It’s also how I got the idea to use Southwest points to fly to New York first, which saved us hundreds of dollars on our transatlantic flights. A lot of people confirmed what we were thinking, that it’s better to just pick a few destinations and see them well, than to try to visit everywhere in one two-week span. We decided we didn’t want to spend a ton of time traveling between cities, so we narrowed our focus for this trip to just Dublin, Edinburgh, London, and Paris. That still felt like a lot, and we didn’t have a ton of time anywhere, but I’m glad we didn’t try to do any more than that. We had a few friends who have lived in those places, and their input was invaluable. Of course, staying with friends in Edinburgh was the best possible scenario. A few friends who had been on similar trips sent me their detailed itineraries, and that helped me figure out what details needed to be settled before we left.
Step Three: Securing Dates
Once we had an idea of where exactly we wanted to go, it was time to nail down dates. We were pretty flexible because I don’t work in the summers, so really anytime from June to early August would work. We knew two weeks was about the maximum of what we could afford for this trip, so I just started looking for flights with all kinds of different dates to see if I could find a good deal. I used the app Hopper to help me keep track of flight prices. You put in your destination and when you want to go, and Hopper will help you find the best price and advise you when prices are likely as low as they will get.
I found a website called European Destinations through a Facebook group I’m a part of. There were several people who said they had booked a trip through the website and it worked out well for them. I was a little wary of it at first because the website doesn’t look really professional. I hadn’t heard of them previously and wasn’t sure if they were a reputable company, but I looked up lots of reviews and it all sounded good. European Destinations allows you to design your own trip, and they take care of booking it for you. You choose your dates and what cities you want to go to, and they will help you find flights, accommodations, and ways to travel between cities. It allowed me to create several different itineraries and save them so I could price compare different dates and order of travel. One of my itineraries I created ended up being a really great deal, and cheaper than it would have been for me to book it all separately. I was able to organize our flights to Dublin, hotel in Dublin, flight to Edinburgh, train to Paris, hotel in Paris, and flights back home all through their website. It was so easy, and everything worked out perfectly. They sent us vouchers for everything we would need on our trip ahead of time, and it was wonderful to have it all in one place. They were really helpful and quick to respond when I had questions. I highly recommend them if you’re booking travel on your own.
As we started getting things booked, I made a Google Doc with a detailed itinerary with a page for each day, including times, addresses of where we were staying, confirmation numbers for flights or train travel, and directions to get to the next place. I also kept a to-do list as the first page of the document with things to get, print, book, and do before leaving. Once everything was settled, I printed off a copy of the itinerary and brought it in a folder, each page in chronological order with copies of tickets and anything else needed for the day. It really helped to have it in a Google Doc because I could also access it on my phone when we were out and about and the folder wasn’t handy.
Step Four: Where to Stay and Travel Between Cities
I did some of this through European Destinations and some of it on my own, all based on the price. I tried adding several different things to our European Destinations package, and then priced it myself separately to see if they were getting us a better deal or not.
For accommodations through European Destinations, you can choose what level hotel you want to stay in and then choose from several options they give you, all with reviews available. We found a hotel we liked in Dublin in a great location. Since we were staying with friends in Edinburgh, I could opt out of a hotel there. I looked into other places to stay in London and found a better deal through AirBnb, so I opted out of that on our itinerary too. Side note: London is EXPENSIVE. It was by far the most expensive place we stayed on our trip, even though our room was teeny-tiny. I booked our hotel room in Paris directly through the website as well. For each city, I checked the options to European Destinations, googled hotels and hostels, and checked AirBnb.
I looked up train tickets from Edinburgh to London through a rail line that a friend had recommended and found them to be cheaper than what European Destinations was offering, so I booked those on my own. The EuroStar from London to Paris was cheaper through European Destinations, so I booked that directly with them. For me, it was worth checking on all of those things because it ended up saving us a pretty decent chunk of money to do the research and pick and choose what we wanted included in the package.
The train travel between Edinburgh and London, and then London and Paris, was so easy, simple, and comfortable. I highly recommend traveling by train whenever possible.
Step Five: Activities
Once our days were set in each city, it was time to start breaking down what we wanted to do with our time in each place.
I sat down with David and made a list of what our priorities were in each place. Once we had ideas of what we wanted, I looked them up on a map and looked for things that were close to each other and made sense to do on the same day. I settled on an itinerary for each day in each city, starting with Dublin since we were going there first, and working my way through to Paris. Most cities offer some kind of museum pass that allows you to skip the line at different attractions. I priced out the pass vs. admission prices at each of the places we wanted to go. For all the cities we went to, it wasn’t worth it for us to buy the pass. If we were in each place longer or spent more time at museums, it would have been a great idea. Since it didn’t work out to do it that way, I just bought our admission tickets to each place online and printed them out. For most of the places we visited, buying tickets ahead of time allowed us to skip the line or join a shorter line when we got there. Some things, like the Harry Potter studio tour, required us to purchase tickets ahead of time. I looked for tickets to that about four months before our trip, and by then there was only one time slot left during the whole time we were in London. I ended up having to rework our whole itinerary for London to make it fit since we really wanted to to do the studio tour. If you’re going to try to do that, make sure you book it early!
The fine print on the tickets told us if we could just show them on our phones or needed to print them out, and where to go on arrival. It was different for everywhere we went, but I printed them all out just in case our WiFi wasn’t working on our phones.
Once we had our itinerary set, I also started working out how to get to each place. We walked and used public transportation whenever possible. I downloaded apps for the Subway in New York, Tube in London, and Metro in Paris. Each of those are super helpful, and allow you to plan your route. They’ll tell you which trains to get on and which stops to get off, and where you need to change trains. I was so glad I had downloaded all of those, and ended up using them multiple times before we left and while we were there.
I tried to do some research on places to eat, and it was hard for me to find places on Yelp or Google. I found a few places through Facebook groups that people recommended, like White Mulberries in London, but for the most part we just found stuff around us and it worked out great. In Edinburgh, it was really great to have Meagan there to eat with us or recommend places she liked.
The most scheduled thing we planned was our tour with Rabbie’s in the Scottish Highlands (see Scotland Part 2 for details). It was so much better than we expected, and we would really highly recommend it.
Step Six: Just Go
I spent a lot of time researching and planning. There were a couple of weekends in the late winter and early spring where I really did nothing except work out details. It was totally worth it. We didn’t have to spend any time while we were there figuring out what we wanted to do or how to go about it. Now that it’s over, I’m so glad I invested the time to do that before we left so we could maximize the time we had there. However, there came a point when it was time to stop planning and just let it be. There were all kinds of things we couldn’t plan for or had to be flexible in, and one of the days we had a super loose schedule for the day ended up being one of our favorite days on the trip. I’m glad we left room for spontaneity and making decisions on the fly. It was the best of both worlds for David and me to have days when there was a loose plan, but freedom to linger where we wanted or break off and do something else that looked interesting. Eventually, it’s time to just go and enjoy it!
We were able to spend a night in New York with my friend Grace at the beginning of our trip and at the end. It was wonderful to get to see a good friend who I don’t get to see often, and have time to explore one of our favorite cities at the same time.
We left Dallas on a Monday afternoon and arrived at La Guardia Monday evening. La Guardia is maybe the grossest airport I’ve ever been in. They’ve changed their ride share pick up location since the last time I was there, so it was a little confusing to figure out where we could get a Lyft, but once we figured it out it was much easier than it was previously. We went straight to Grace’s apartment, and got to spend some time with her and then have dinner at Anella in Brooklyn with her and her boyfriend. It was delicious and a wonderful start to our trip.
Tuesday morning, Grace went to work and we went out on our own in the City. We walked to Bagel Smith in Brooklyn for breakfast and had some bacon, egg, and cheese bagels. I took David to True North, a coffee shop I visited last time I was in New York visiting Grace.
After we were fueled with bagels and coffee, we embarked on the Day of Walking. We walked to the Williamsburg Bridge and across to Manhattan, then all the way up to Levain Bakery on 74th. Along the way, we made stops in Washington Square Park, Central Park, and several other places. Once we were finished eating delicious chocolate chip cookies at Levain, we were pretty exhausted and took a Lyft back to Grace’s apartment. Our flight to Dublin left Tuesday evening, and we got stuck in some traffic on the way to airport and were a little worried about missing our flight. Spoiler alert: we made it, and we were on our way to Europe!
At the end of our trip, we arrived at Grace’s apartment at 2:30 am (see the Paris post for details). We crashed as soon as we arrived, but then woke up early thanks to jet lag. We went to a bagel place down the street, Baker’s Dozen, that was delicious – I’m still thinking about that sesame bagel with lox spread. They even had my favorite Chameleon cold brew.
We went back and once we finished showering, we were off on a food tour of Manhattan. We took the train there and started on the High Line. We had some fabulous empanadas from La Sonrisa, and then headed to Chelsea Market. I had never been there before and it was such a fun experience. I wanted to try something from every vendor in there, but we ended up at Los Tacos No. 1 and had some incredible quesadillas, and some iced tea from the place next to them. We walked to Milk Bar in Chelsea to try some of the things we saw on their episode of Chef’s Table, and it did not disappoint.
After that, we were really tired and ready to head home. We got confused on the train, but some very nice people helped us, contrary to the stereotype of New Yorkers being rude and unfriendly. Honestly, I think the New York subway system is significantly more confusing than the one in London or Paris, even with the language difference. We eventually got back, and spent the rest of our afternoon just relaxing at Grace’s apartment. Our flight back to Dallas got delayed a few times, so we grabbed some pizza from the place down the street and just waited there until it was time to head back to the airport. Because we got in so late and then she was at work, we never actually got to see Grace on our second night there. Luckily I got to see her very soon after that anyway (see Travel Series: Michigan). After that, it was back to Home Sweet Texas.