Traveling 3X Generations in Eastern Europe

“Where is grandma?” I asked the children after we hiked down from the steep slope of the Oracle of Delphi in Greece.

“You know the answer, dad,” Olivia replied with a grin. “If you don’t see her, you can always find her at the toilet!”

For the past one month of traveling with my 73-year-old mother or the children’s grandma in Eastern Europe, “toilet” became the topic sentence of our travel adventure. It seemed as if everything we did, said, saw, or eat couldn’t escape from the clutches of the “toilet”.

Grandma has a good eye for spotting public toilets.
Grandma has a good eye for spotting public toilets.

When I told her excitedly the place we will be sightseeing next, her response was, “How long is the tour?”When I told her it will be only an hour, she replied with relief, “That’s good. I can hold for an hour.”

Before we took a transfer van from Kotor, Montenegro to Mostar, Serbia, she asked me the night before how long is the ride. When I told her that it would be around four to five hours, she responded, “Okay. Then I will wake up earlier at 6:30AM to eat breakfast and drink water. By the time we leave at 8:30AM, hopefully, I would have time for the food to digest and to go to the toilet.”

Everywhere we went, we felt as if she was constantly scanning the environment for the “WC” sign. Although her eyes were not as good as when she was younger, she always saw the “WC” before us.

“Look, WC,” my mom pointed at the sign and said to us excitedly while we were waiting for the 9-hour bus ride from Bosnia to Croatia. “Let me go again before the bus ride.”

Nathan, who is famous in our family for coming up with creative one line joke, was inspired by grandma and came up with a new joke: “What do you call a sign with skulls and crosses. A sign of danger. What do you call a sign with the letters “WC”? A sign of relief!”

Grandma took many night trains with us as we travelled through Eastern Europe.
Grandma took many night trains with us as we travelled through Eastern Europe.

It was not just about whether there will be toilets, it was also about how clean the toilets were. On our first overnight train ride together from Budapest, Hungary to Belgrade, Serbia, we were pleasantly surprised at the good standard of the beds and how there was a door. Her perception however was that the train was unacceptable, “I checked the toilet and it was dirty.”She would also often remind the children while staying in the various AirBnB rental apartments, “After using the toilet, please remember to pick up the hair on the ground with a toilet paper.”

How grandma ended up traveling with us for a month along the Silk Road began surprisingly from our love for food. When we barbecued tender slabs of lamb meat over the campfire in Mongolia or when we pan-fried steaks from New Zealand and Pakistan bought at the mega-supermarket in Dubai, the children’s first thought was always, “I wish Grandma was here. She would love this!”

Our children are very particular as to whom they feel comfortable traveling with. I would not have asked my mom, if they didn’t ‘approve’ and if they were not so enthusiastic about having Grandma travel with us for a period of time. I was hesitant because I was not sure whether we are able to accommodate our travel style to hers. However, seeing how much the children wanted to share the joy of our travel with her, I decided to ask her.

The children greeted Grandma in Vienna airport as she joined us as our newest member on March 10th for one month in Eastern Europe.
The children greeted Grandma in Vienna airport as she joined us as our newest member on March 10th for one month in Eastern Europe.

Finally, one day while we were enjoying cooking spicy hotpot in -5C degree temperature on Chinese New Year’s Eve in front of our “cave” hotel in Turkey, we facetimed Grandma and asked her sincerely, “You should join us on our trip. You would love the food. The children look forward very much to have you travel with us.”To our surprise, she said, “Yes!”

My mother would never leave my father at home alone, being afraid that he would not be able to take care of himself. However, in March my father was traveling for almost a month so she felt free to do whatever she wanted. After following our travel in 2008 and now again in 2015/16, my mother changed from being against the way we travel so “dangerously” with our children to now considering and actually traveling with us. We were both surprised and happy at the same time.

Olivia, Nathan, and Joani were so excited that they all wanted to go with me to greet her in person at the airport in Vienna. At the airport, we greeted her with a big signed made by Olivia that read, “Welcome Ruth Su — the Newest Member of the Su Family Adventures.”

We had a big celebration the first day Grandma arrived at Vienna in my Aunt Esther’s home.  We had a fun time sharing old memories together with Grandma and Aunt Esther, Uncle David, and cousin Janica. After traveling for 9 months, we really enjoyed spending time with close relatives. Grandma replenished our travel supplies such as Korean instant noodles, Malaysian soup mixes, Sichuan hotpot spices, bars of chocolate, toothbrushes, and dental floss. We were in heaven!”Do you think you can stand for a few hours to watch opera at the world famous Vienna Opera House?” I asked my mom on our first day of traveling together.

Grandma came and supplied us with goodies that we missed so much during our one year travel.
Grandma came and supplied us with goodies that we missed so much during our one year travel.

“Standing is not a problem for me. Problem for me is sitting as my leg gets numb,” She assured me.

One secret about the Vienna Opera House is that while regular seat ticket is around 100 Euro, standing ticket is only 4 Euro. In the Chinese language textbook that Olivia, Nathan, and Joani studied in local Chinese school, the Vienna Opera house was described in one of the lesson, which they still remembered. It was too good to pass up!

We got cheap standing tickets in the famous Vienna Opera House.
We got cheap standing tickets in the famous Vienna Opera House.

Although even for standing room we each had an English subtitle screen in front of us, the opera was three hours and near half way point Grandma, who was getting tired, volunteered to go back home early with Joani who was sick.The next day, Grandma woke up early with us to listen to the world famous Vienna Boys Choir at the Sunday mass in the Royal Chapel downtown. Again, a seat would cost around 30 Euro while standing room in the back was free! The mass lasted about 90 minutes. Half way through she left and went outside the entrance door where she could sit and see the inside through a TV monitor.

We stood in the back of the Royal Chapel to listen to the Vienna Boys Choir.
We stood in the back of the Royal Chapel to listen to the Vienna Boys Choir.

“Ah Jon (the name my mom usually addresses me), you should have come outside with me. It is better outside than inside,” my mom told me excitedly after the mass. “You can see the Boys Choir up close on the TV monitor while sitting. I took many photos through the TV monitor!”Although both times Grandma didn’t last through our torturous way of sightseeing, we were amused and amazed at how she was able to cope and enjoy in her own way.

One very amusing habit of Grandma that the children noticed was that instead of taking photos of the sceneries in front of her, she liked to take photos of postcards in souvenir shops.

Grandma likes to take photos of postcards.
Grandma likes to take photos of postcards.

“Why do you do that?” Joani asked once.

“I am not good at taking photos. It is easier and more beautiful to take photos from the postcards. I only take pictures of things I saw.” grandma explained

“Then why did you buy these two postcards?” Joani continued asking.

“The store owner saw me taking photos so I bought them!” grandma explained with a bit of embarrassment.

Afterwards, whenever we saw postcards we would think of grandma and how cute she was. We would even take photos of the postcards as well. It became our way of remembering our time with grandma.

After Vienna, we left for Budapest in Hungary, where we stayed with the parents of Olivia’s American high school teacher Ms. Lingenhoel. Despite having lived in the US for more than thirty years, Grandma had never stayed in an American’s home. She was fascinated by the experience.

Grandma and us enjoyed our time staying at the home of the Lingenhoel in Hungary.
Grandma and us enjoyed our time staying at the home of the Lingenhoel in Hungary.

“That’s one thing I enjoy about the way we travel,” I responded to her fascination. “We get to stay at and meet interesting people along the way.”

At Budapest, we also went on a 3-hour free walking tour of the old town. As expected before the tour, she happily paid for using the toilet in a souvenir shop knowing that the tour is long. We were surprised how she kept up with walking long distance and climbing up the big hill to the Buda castle. When she fell behind the tour several times, one of the children, Annie, or I would take initiative to hold her arm and walk with her.

Grandma was a really good trooper as she walked up and down the old city of Budapest during the free walking tour.
Grandma was a really good trooper as she walked up and down the old city of Budapest during the free walking tour.

 

Nathan was very kind in holding Grandma's arm when we went on long walks during the free walking tour in Tirana.
Nathan was very kind in holding Grandma’s arm when we went on long walks during the free walking tour in Tirana.

There at Budapest Grandma joined our “one on one date” for the first time. Our “one to one date” tradition consisted of taking turn to pair with a different family member each time for a date with the condition of a spending budget of 50 RMB and having real deep conversations to get to know things we don’t know about each other.

Grandma asked, “How is it possible that we not already know each other well being a family and now having travelled together constantly for 9 months?”

At Budapest, even Grandma bravely learned fencing with us.
At Budapest, even Grandma bravely learned fencing with us.

Olivia replied to the question at once, “Being together is different from knowing each other!”

The children all voted for me to be paired with Grandma for her first “one on one date”.

“You two need to know each other better,” they reasoned.

“I know my mother very well,” I responded to their unbelief.

“Do you even know her favorite color?…” Olivia asked.

“Umm…”

“You see what I mean!”

Jonathan and Grandma had cheesy Lango fried bread together for their first one-on-one date.
Jonathan and Grandma had cheesy Lango fried bread together for their first one-on-one date.

Over a gigantic oily cheesy fried bread dough (Langos) at an underground street stand next to the Budapest train station, we thought hard at what question we should ask each other.

“What is your favorite color?” I asked her given that I couldn’t answer Olivia earlier.

“My favorite color used to be purple,” my mom answered. “But now that I am old, I like brighter colors to look younger.”

“I always wanted to know how was your time living with your uncle in Boston without us when you were in high school?” my mom asked. “Was it a challenging experience given that although my older brother cares a lot for you but might not so expressive with his feelings?”

With these and other similar types of questions such as her common nightmares, I had my first one-to-one date with my mom in the exotic old town of Budapest! Thinking back, I realized that I often took my mother for granted. She has always played the role of my “mother” in my life, so much so that I often don’t see her as a person with her own personhood, dreams, and fears. The one-on-one date helped me to see her as a friend, not a mother, and gave me the desire to understand her more as an individual.

We all enjoyed the view from the castle of Belgrade overlooking the two rivers.
We all enjoyed the view from the castle of Belgrade overlooking the two rivers.

Our next city was Belgrade, Serbia, the capital of the former communist regime of Yugoslavia. The old castle of Belgrade was situated spectacularly on top of a hill overlooking the convergence of two great rivers. So one afternoon while waiting for our night train, the children and I hiked up to the walls of the castle to play frisbee while my mom and Annie sat and chatted with each other. Near the end of the day, Olivia had a great idea!

“Why don’t we read together the book we published about our 2008 trip to South America?” Olivia proposed. “When it comes the parts about Grandma, Grandma can read that part out loud!”

Reading in Belgrade our 2008 travel from our first book, Grandma and us had many good laughs.
Reading in Belgrade our 2008 travel from our first book, Grandma and us had many good laughs.

So as we sat on a bench in the parts, we begin to read the part where I and mom were arguing over my idea for the trip in 2008.

My mom read out loud: “What? You are bring the children backpacking? Why do you want to go through this unnecessary hardship?”

I read out loud: “Mom, why not. There is nothing bad about backpacking. The children will be able to understand the world better. It’s a kind of education.”

My mom read out loud: “Traveling to Europe or other developed countries can be educational as well. Why do you choose to go to these dangerous, impoverished places. Also, why do you want children to carry their own backpack? They will injure their back and affect their growth!”

“Haha, I just said that this morning!”, my mom realized.

Grandma is so cute when she laughs.
Grandma is so cute when she laughs.
Grandma is so cute when she laughs.
Grandma is so cute when she laughs.

I read out loud: “Mom, the children are old enough to carry their own backpacks. Their school backpacks are even heavier than these!”

My mom read out loud: “Why can’t you be like other parents and educate them like everyone else? Why can’t you think what is best for them and let them eat better food, sleep in normal places, live in a comfortable environment? Is that so wrong?”

As my mom and I took turn to read the book out loud, the children and Annie couldn’t stop laughing. All the things she said 8 years ago, were still the same things she said even as she was traveling now in Eastern Europe. My mom has not changed much after 8 years! However, one big change is that she is willing to backpack with us this time, which for us is a major milestone of her recognizing the positives of what we are doing.

That night before our train ride we booked to play a new type of interactive, team-building, puzzle game called “escape room”. The goal of the game is to escape a physical room that we are locked in by finding clues and solving puzzles within 60 minutes to arrive at the answer that will open the door.

“Look, there is a puzzle under the table after I took off the table cloth,” Grandma exclaimed as she showed the paper proudly. “I made a contribution to your game!”

60 minutes had never passed so quickly. We had no time to spare and everyone, including Grandma, worked intensely to uncover clues behind picture frames,  through ordering Russian dolls, or through solving logic puzzles. It was wonderful to see the six of us that represents three generations helping each other and having fun together.

We enjoyed our teamwork as we escaped from the Escape Room Tito in Belgrad, Serbia.
We enjoyed our teamwork as we escaped from the Escape Room Tito in Belgrad, Serbia.

“We did it!” I shouted as we high-fived each other including grandma for escaping the room with only 1 minute and 53 seconds to spare.

We all had so much adrenaline from the game that even as we boarded our train that night at 11:00pm, we didn’t sleep but still kept talking about the escape room.

Grandma took many night trains with us as we travelled through Eastern Europe.
Grandma took many night trains with us as we travelled through Eastern Europe.

After a night on the train, we arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria in the morning. As a family of food lovers, we had a great time that same afternoon eating all over the old town on our only free food walking tour of our trip, called Balkan Bites.

The free food tour in Sofia, Bulgaria, was the type of walking tour we all enjoyed.
The free food tour in Sofia, Bulgaria, was the type of walking tour we all enjoyed.

However, the children were even more excited about watching Korean drama with Grandma as a way to create shared memories. As a family we are crazy about Korean drama. During the school year, Olivia forbids us to watch because she was busy with her senior year. Now that we were traveling, we were able to watch three Korean dramas already. For our fourth one, a Korean version of Jekyll & Hyde, we were patiently saving it until Grandma arrived since Slovakia. I kept wanting to start but the children were very strict and didn’t allow me to even have a sneak preview. So during our 3 days in Bulgaria, we finally were able to have some free time for Korean drama.

When we were waiting for the bus in Sofia, we caught up on some Korean Drama.
When we were waiting for the bus in Sofia, we caught up on some Korean Drama.

We watched after dinner, during children’s homework break, and even while we were waiting at the bus stop to go up the snow mountain close to Sofia. However, Grandma was not used to reading the Chinese sub-titles and started to lose interest. Unfortunately, once I am hooked, I have trouble stopping.

“Ah Jon, this is a bad habit you have,” my mom would warn me. “You are addicted. You are going overboard with the watching.”

“I am not addicted,” I would refute her angrily. “This is a way for me to relax. Don’t worry.”

The nagging from my mom got so bad that at one point I became quite upset and sat in bed sulking by myself. I felt that I have been a very good son and father with no bad habits or being irresponsible . I took care of the family and planned the trip with diligence. Why did she kept nagging me about this “harmless” way of enjoying my free time? Fortunately, once we finished the 20 episodes of the Korean drama, the conflict disappeared naturally.

Traveling backpacking style in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Traveling backpacking style in Sofia, Bulgaria.

After Bulgaria, we had to take two separate trains to reach Athens in Greece, one for 6 hours and one for 5 hours. When we travelled, we often take the night bus. However, to accommodate my mom’s fear of not having a toilet nearby, I tried to book trains instead even if it was more expensive or inconvenient. Luckily, the previous two night trains we took had couchette sleepers, which meant that we could lie down flat on a bed. However, in Greece there is no couchettes, only normal chairs. I was afraid for my mom that she would have a hard time sitting for so long due to her back problem. So for her, I booked her a 1st class seat while for the rest of us, we booked second class seats.

Grandma tried to sleep in the train station as we waited for the connecting train late at night.
Grandma tried to sleep in the train station as we waited for the connecting train late at night.

The next morning when we got off the train in Athens, I asked her with great fear how was her sleep. Surprisingly, she replied that she slept alright because there was an empty seat next to her so she was able to curl up and lie down on two seats! Her ability to adjust to our travel style really impressed me. Before, she often complained that the way we traveled was bad for the children. In result, I often thought of my mom as someone who is not able to handle challenging travel situations. Starting that day, I saw my mother in a different light. She is now really a member of our Su Family Backpacking Adventures Team! Hooray for Grandma!

We took a photo on the hill where Paul preached to the Athenians about the "Unknown God".
We took a photo on the hill where Paul preached to the Athenians about the “Unknown God”.

When we arrived in Athens, my mom and I went to the supermarket while Annie and the children recovered from a tough night on the train. I was amused at how my mom’s eyes lighted up when she saw the fresh seafood section with several species of Mediterranean fish, octopus, squid, and shell fish. Ever since I could remember, my mom always enjoyed buying food more than clothes or jewelries. When we travelled, she especially like to try new food or dishes. She is the reason why I and now my children enjoy trying new food the most in our travels. For us, travel equals food. It is difficult for us to like the country if we don’t like the food.

The fish market in Athens was a special treat for Jonathan and Grandma.
The fish market in Athens was a special treat for Jonathan and Grandma.
Our Sichuan spicy hotpot dinner in Athens was one of our highlight with Grandma.
Our Sichuan spicy hotpot dinner in Athens was one of our highlight with Grandma.

That night we used the mouth-watering Sichuan spicy hot pot mix my mom brought from the US and had the most tasty seafood hotpot since we left China 9 months ago. It made us really miss home back in China. In addition to our home cookings, we got to taste authentic Greek cooking of moussaka, Greek salad, and fried zucchini at my MBA classmate Nico’s home. Nico also took us on a two-days road trip to Olympia and Delphi in the peak of beautiful spring season.

Nicos, Jonathan's MBA classmate, took us on a beautiful two-day road trip in Greece.
Nicos, Jonathan’s MBA classmate, took us on a beautiful two-day road trip in Greece.

After 7 wonderful days in Greece, we took two trains, a taxi and a bus over a 14 hours period to get from Athens to Ohrid in Macedonia (Former Yugoslavia of Macedonia). Because my mom wanted me to buy 1st class train seats for the whole family, this time we all enjoyed the comfort of seating in the 1st class cabin. However, when we arrived in Ohrid, suddenly something totally unexpected happened…

Thanks to Grandma, we enjoyed sitting on the 1st class train seats.
Thanks to Grandma, we enjoyed sitting on the 1st class train seats.
We took many fun train rides with Grandma during our one month in Eastern Europe.
We took many fun train rides with Grandma during our one month in Eastern Europe.

“I am not walking another step!” my mom declared suddenly. “How can you do this? Why didn’t you get a taxi?”I was in shock. Annie was in shock. The children were also in shock at Grandma’s protest. After we got off the bus at Ohrid, we started to walk to our rented apartment near the lake. After walking for 15 minutes, instead of the children protesting as usual, it was my mom that protested by refusing to walk.

“Grandma is on strike!” Joani observed amusingly. “I went on strike many times but was never successful. Dad never stopped and listened to me when I went on strike, even at six years old. But when Grandma strikes…Woooooow…Incredible!”

“Mom, we didn’t take the taxi because we can’t fit in one car and I can’t speak the language to explain where to go,” I tried to plea my case. “It’s only a kilometer away and we have walked this far many times with the children.”

“I don’t care,” my mom replied. “You go first and find the apartment. I will wait here for you.”

Grandma always insisted on carrying her own luggage as we moved from city to city.
Grandma always insisted on carrying her own luggage as we moved from city to city.

Throughout our one month of travel in Eastern Europe, one point of contention I had with my mom was over carrying our backpacks and me trying to pull her roller suitcase. Because she has a bad back, she did not want me or her grandchildren to suffer the same. So she was very sensitive to us carrying our backpacks. Many times we would have arguments like this:

“Ah Jon, you are carrying too much luggage. Your back is going to break. I will carry my own luggage.”

“No mom, I will carry it. If you injure yourself, it will be even worse. I am fine.”

After the children and I reached the rented apartment, I went back for my mom. She was still sitting where she had stopped. I took her luggage as we walked towards the apartment.

“Don’t do this again,” my mom told me. “Next time, just get a taxi. I am willing to pay for you all.”

Grandma was very happy to ride in the door-to-door transfer shuttle between the cities.
Grandma was very happy to ride in the door-to-door transfer shuttle between the cities.

After Macedonia, when we travelled to Albania, Montenegro, and Bosnia, I took her advice and got door to door taxi or direct shuttle services. She was very happy. The children were very happy. I was happy that everyone was happy too!

We all enjoyed the view over the Ohrid Lake in Macedonia.
We all enjoyed the view over the Ohrid Lake in Macedonia.

Another highlight of our time in Macedonia was walking along the beautiful lakeshore of Ohrid. My mom said many times that having lunch on the scenic shore of Lake Ohrid was one of her highlight,consistent with her love for good food.

“Everyone order from the menu your own dish. It is my treat!” my mom announced happily. “The price is not expensive. It is the same as in the US but you can’t get a view like this.”

Grandma treated us to a scenic lakeshore lunch in Lake Ohrid.
Grandma treated us to a scenic lakeshore lunch in Lake Ohrid.
The fish soup by the shore of Ohrid Lake was very tasty and special for Grandama.
The fish soup by the shore of Ohrid Lake was very tasty and special for Grandama.

After traveling for more than two weeks, the seafood lunch at Macedonia was our first proper restaurant meal with Grandma in Eastern Europe. We shared three bowls of fish soup containing flavorful and succulent flakes of different types of fish meat and innards. Grandma ordered fried smelt fish for main course while Nathan ordered Caesar salad with smoked salmon, Annie and I ordered cheeseburger, and Joani and Olivia ordered fried pork chops. It was so filling that during the subsequent one-on-one date, Joani and Grandma didn’t eat anything else.

Grandma enjoyed our way of travel where we get to meet locals, such as Diana in Albania.
Grandma enjoyed our way of travel where we get to meet locals, such as Diana in Albania.

Our food adventure with Grandma continued in Albania when we proposed to cook a meal together with our AirBnB host. We brought over Greek salad that we learned while in Greece, traditional Chinese tomatoes with stirred from eggs and chicken, and noodles. Our host, Diana, cooked their traditional Albanian dish of spinach pie and pastries and let us sample various types of their favorite drinks from their farm and when they traveled the world, such as cappuccino and grape and blue berry spirit drinks. It was amazing how a simple thought of cooking together turned out to be a wonderful culture exchange and friendship. That night, we enjoyed watching the first ballet ever choreographed in the world called La Sylphide. Unlike in Vienna, we all got to sit down at the front row for only USD 2.5 per person!

We watched ballet together in Tirana, Albania.
We watched ballet together in Tirana, Albania.
We watched ballet together in Tirana, Albania.
We watched ballet together in Tirana, Albania.

Our next stop in Kotor, Montenegro turned out surprisingly to be the most beautiful town in our entire time with Grandma. The AirBnb apartment we stayed is inside an old fortress behind a 900 years old cathedral. The apartment itself is more than 300 years old as well but the inside was remodeled elegantly and comfortably. The fortress wall surrounds and towers over the hill behind the old town reminding us of the Great Wall of China.

We walked along the old fortress wall of Kotor in Montenegro.
We walked along the old fortress wall of Kotor in Montenegro.
Sitting on top of the fortress of Kotor, Montenegro.
Sitting on top of the fortress of Kotor, Montenegro.
The bike along the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro was scenic.
The bike along the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro was scenic.

While we hiked up the mountain and down the fortress wall and biked along the shore of the Kotor Bay, my mom enjoyed herself buying cheese and dry-cured ham (Prosciutto) at the farmer’s market, buying necklaces for Annie, taking photos of postcards, and having an one-to-one date with Nathan.

While we were hiking, Grandma enjoyed herself by buying cheese and meat.
While we were hiking, Grandma enjoyed herself by buying cheese and meat.

“On our date, I asked grandma about grandpa and great-grandfather, while I shared about growing up in the countryside of Luchun,” Nathan shared.

“What do you know about Nathan’s personality?” Olivia asked Grandma curiously, also testing her memory.

“I know that Nathan cares a lot about people and the only one that would reply to my email,” Grandma shared happily. “He often would take the initiative to ask, ‘Grandma, how are you doing?’ He is a nice guy and will be a good husband!”

The scenery on the road in Bosnia was verdant and magical.
The scenery on the road in Bosnia was verdant and magical.

The scenic countryside view on our way from Montenegro to Bosnia was stunningly green with lakes, pastures, and hills. Instead of staying at the capital, I decided to stay at a smaller town called Mostar. Mostar is famous for the ancient bridge where men would dive down to swoon girls and the center of ethnic conflict between Croatians and Bosnians from 1992 to 1994.

The old bridge of Mostar in Bosnia & H.
The old bridge of Mostar in Bosnia & H.

The children were sad that grandma only had few more days with us, so while we were in Bosnia, we began to say goodbye to grandma by looking through all the photos, sharing about our trip together, and even watched the American TV sitcom, Fresh Off the Boat, showcasing the cultural humors of a Taiwanese family living in the US.

We enjoyed watching Korean drama, movies, Fresh Off the Boat, and amazing race together.
We enjoyed watching Korean drama, movies, Fresh Off the Boat, and amazing race together.

“I had a lot of fun playing cards with Grandma,” Olivia started to share. “You make our time filled with laughters. When we were playing ‘Bluff’, you would said, ‘Honesty is good. I can win without bluffing.’ Then immediately you would ‘lie’ about your cards!”

Grandma's favorite card game with us was Bluff.
Grandma’s favorite card game with us was Bluff.

Joani shared next, “One of my mission for having Grandma with us is to know how similar you and dad are. And my mission has been accomplished! You two are 90% the same…like stubbornness .”

“I am not stubborn…” grandma refuted immediately.

“See…Dad reacts the same way. He also doesn’t admit he is stubborn!” Joani laughed loudly.

“I love the way Grandma laughs,” Joani shared. “When you laugh you looked so pretty, cute, and friendly. Also, you laughed so much that you have tears.”

While traveling with us, Grandma learned how to shuffle cards.
While traveling with us, Grandma learned how to shuffle cards.

“One thing you didn’t notice is that my memory is bad,” grandma shared. “I often forget things that I saw or hear if I don’t write them down.”

“But your memory is excellent when it comes to keeping the house clean,” Nathan laughed. “You remember where are all the dirty spots in the kitchen!”

“Another cute memory we had with Grandma was when she complained that her phone camera is not working correctly,” Joani shared. “She thought the camera got stuck in selfie mode. She could only see herself in the phone screen and not the scenery in front of her. Then it turned out that there is nothing wrong with the camera, she was just seeing her own reflection from the phone screen! She is so cute! The older she is the more cute she becomes!”

Grandma sometimes have difficulty mastering new technology.
Grandma sometimes have difficulty mastering new technology.

Then it was Grandma’s turn to share, “Traveling with you is not boring. You are also very nice to me. Took good care of me. When I was falling behind, one of you would hold my arm and walked with me, even your dad. That’s my favorite memory.”

“So much so that someone thought you two were a couple in Vienna!” Olivia laughed, and we all couldn’t stopped laughing for minutes!

We made many laughs with Grandma over meals throughout our one month trip with her.
We made many laughs with Grandma over meals throughout our one month trip with her.

“That person was horrible. How could his eyesight be so terrible,” my mom laughed.

“No, it was not the person had bad eyesight. It was because you looked too young!” Joani said sweetly.

“I am amazed at how you three children are so obedient. Eight years ago when you backpacked in South America, I felt so sorry for you, carrying so much luggage on your back,” grandma shared.

“Now that you travelled with us, do you still feel sorry for us?” Olivia asked Grandma amusingly.

Ha ha, Grandma chuckled.

We all laughed.

Grandma carried her own luggages often, not wanting us to carry extra baggage for her.
Grandma carried her own luggages often, not wanting us to carry extra baggage for her.

“Your three innocent children are so obedient…Such heavy backpack…Such bad living condition…Oh my goodness!” Grandma continued. “When your dad was young, I never let him suffered like that.”

“So obedient” the three children repeated after Grandma. “Did you hear that, Dad?”

“So Grandma, would you backpack with us again?” Joani asked curiously.

Grandma laughed again. And we all laughed as well.

Grandma is our newest Su Family backpacking adventurer.
Grandma is our newest Su Family backpacking adventurer.

“One thing I learned from traveling with you all is that you are all very flexible and can adjust to any situation and can take hardship,” grandma shared. “You can live in a nice place and you can live in a very bad place and still enjoyed it. You can eat well and you can eat simply. Like what Paul said in the Bible, ‘I have learned the secret to be content in any and every situation.’ Now when you come to LA, my life is much easier. I don’t need to cook fancy meals. I can cook you anything and you will be satisfied!”

“Except for bread and cheese…” Joani added. “We are overdosed here in Europe!”

“As long as you feed us chicken heart, gizzards, and chicken skin, we are satisfied,” laughed Olivia.

We made many laughs with Grandma over meals throughout our one month trip with her.
We made many laughs with Grandma over meals throughout our one month trip with her.

“Yes, that’s another thing I learned from traveling with you. Before, I often scolded you, ‘Don’t eat instant noodles!’ Now I know that sometimes you can’t help it,” Grandma laughed.

“Yeah, I remember when Grandma was eating instant noodle in Vienna she said, ‘This is delicious…delicious poison,” Nathan recalled.

“So now that you travelled with us, what is our travel style?” Olivia continued to question Grandma.

“…Traveling with you, I learned…that you have the bad habit of sharing food by passing it from one to another, that you are incredible in traveling with so few clothes, that Jonathan spent a lot of time planning for the next leg of the trip, that you like to have lots of activities at night such that I couldn’t sleep early…” grandma went on and on.

We had a farewell dinner with Grandma at a nice pasta restaurant in Zagreb, Croatia.
We had a farewell dinner with Grandma at a nice pasta restaurant in Zagreb, Croatia.

After leaving Bosnia for Croatia, we spent our last night together with Grandma at Zagreb. Again, Grandma treated us to a restaurant meal for our farewell. There Grandma shared more memories of our time together.

“Before you three children were still young, so I didn’t really know you. I saw you as just little kids, little kids, and little kids,” grandma shared. “This trip, I suddenly realized that you are all grown up now, as if you jumped from level one to level ten in one moment. Very different from before. You now think like grown ups. ”

Grandma continued, “I remembered that when Olivia and I had one-on-one date, she said that in everything she will listen to what God wants her to do, including her studies and career.”

Grandma enjoyed her one-on-one date with Olivia.
Grandma enjoyed her one-on-one date with Olivia.

“I know that you all sacrificed by having me join your trip. Originally, you could have driven a car, went to more places…but in order to have me, you travelled without a car….But I hope that this month you also suffered the least in order to accommodate me!”

“You children are so cute…the way you talk, the things you talked about…very excellent, very excellent. You two parents did a really job in raising the children. Very good. The only thing is that I sometimes can’t bear to see the children suffer…but if you feel you children enjoy the way you live, I won’t feel bad anymore.”

Olivia made a goodbye poster for Grandma.
Olivia made a goodbye poster for Grandma.

Grandma’s flight back to the US was early in the morning. But despite protest from Grandma, all the children woke up early to say their last goodbye. Olivia gave Grandma a poster with figure drawings and the words, “Goodbye, we will miss you.”

At the airport, my mom told me that she will deposit some fund in my bank account and made me promised that I will not keep any of the money but to use it for the children in Europe so that they can eat well, sleep well, and travel well.

“Don’t forget to treat them to escargot in Paris!” She told me as she left for the gate.

The children each said goodbye to Grandma
The children each said goodbye to Grandma

For many days after Grandma left, we all felt something was missing. When I set up the table, I would naturally put up six sets of utensils. When we ate tasty local food, we would say, ‘Grandma would have enjoyed this.’ This trip, the children have gotten to know and love their grandma even more.

One day lying in bed at night I thought about the one month of travel with my mom. I suddenly had a new understanding. When I was a child, my mother took really good care of me. She made sure that I had good food to eat, warm clothes to wear, and bring me where I needed to go. This trip in Eastern Europe, thirty some years later, she was no longer able to be in charge of taking care of our food, shelter, and transportation. But a mother is always a mother. At the age of seventy-three, my mother in her own way was still taking care of me and the children as well. She made sure that we don’t hurt our backs carrying our backpacks by paying for the taxis and carrying her own bags. She made sure that we ate healthy by treating us to nice meals. She asked that we book 1st class seats so that we can slept better.

No matter young or old, it is a blessing to be loved by a mother.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Good food brings out the excitement in Grandma.
Good food brings out the excitement in Grandma.
Grandma is our newest member in the Su Family Backpacking Team.
Grandma is our newest member in the Su Family Backpacking Team.
We had a farewell dinner with Grandma at a nice pasta restaurant in Zagreb, Croatia.
We had a farewell dinner with Grandma at a nice pasta restaurant in Zagreb, Croatia.

3 thoughts on “Traveling 3X Generations in Eastern Europe”

  1. Happy Mother’s Day to the mothers in your group 😉

    A timely post. We frequently traveled with “grandma” and, years later, we’re certainly glad we did!

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