Adventures in Kathmandu and arriving in Dhangadhi!

Wow…That is the first word that comes to mind in thinking about Kathmandu. We are literally half way around the world and it really feels that way. After a 6 ½ hour flight from Istanbul, we landed in Kathmandu around noon. Immediately from our departure from the airport we were fully immersed in to the chaos of Kathmandu traffic. What seemed like a relatively short distance, took almost 40 minutes in the car. Finally, we got to the hotel, dropped off our and went straight out.


After grabbing a late lunch, we ended up walking through the main drag of the Thamel neighborhood where we are staying, which is the center of the historic city.  To be honest, our first evening in Kathmandu was a bit overwhelming. The narrow streets (more like alleys) that make up much of the Thamel neighborhood, are not only packed with restaurants and shops (spilling their wares on to the edge of the street), but also completely over run with pedestrians, cyclists, scooters and cars (which clearly weren’t intended to be on these streets!), in the space of about a 1 lane road. Of course, there is no sidewalk, so you’re basically sharing the road space with every other type of vehicle. It has similarities to South East Asia and even Cairo, but also feels totally different. People said that Old Hanoi was crazy and overwhelming, but honestly, when thinking back on it, it seems completely calm and orderly. Oddly, there was some form of organized chaos in Hanoi, which can’t be said for the old streets of Kathmandu!

We also did a walking tour of Durbar Square, the center of the historic quarter. Durbar means royal, and this was indeed the Royal palace, which included the main palace compound plus various temples and shrines. Sadly, much of the old square, with some structures dating back to the 12th century, were badly damaged (even completely flattened) in the April 2105 earthquake. It’s really heartbreaking to see. The good news is that the International community, mainly the US, UK and China have committed to helping rebuild many of the damaged historic buildings over the next 10 years. I guess we’ll see the fruits of our labors in about 10 years!


Walking in Thamel


Hindu Temple




Busy intersection


Vegetable Market

Of course, by around 7:00pm, we were all pretty exhausted. Thanks to a late lunch we were able to skip dinner and crashed pretty early. Sadly, jet lag kicked in and most of us were up between 3:00 – 5:00 am. But it sure did feel good to lay down flat in a bed after a 27-hour journey, and an afternoon of walking!

The following day, we went off with a driver that we arranged to take us around to the key sites. Our first stop was at Swayambhunath Stupa aka The Monkey Temple. This complex was founded by King Manadeva during the 5th century, and includes a Stupa, temples, shrines, Tibetan monastery, museum and library, and MANY monkeys! It’s located on a hilltop to the west of Kathmandu. If it wasn’t for the incredibly thick smog we would have had a clear and beautiful view of the city.

Of course the kids loved watching and taking photos of the many monkeys. They were hilarious to watch, and of course the many baby monkeys were adorable! We found them to be a lot less aggressive than the monkeys that we encountered a couple of summers ago in Bali, when we visited the Monkey forest. This was clearly not just a tourist site as we saw many Nepalese people coming to make offerings at the temples and praying. And since they consider the monkeys to be holy (there is a monkey god as one of the many Hindu deities) people were regularly feeding them.



We then headed to Patan, which is the oldest city in Katmandu Valley. As we were paying to get into Patan’s Durbar Square, we were approached by a Nepalese man who offered to give a guided tour. Given it cost only about $10 and his English was really good, we decided to go for it. It ended up being a great decision because he was a really great communicator, very engaging, and a genuinely nice guy…not to mention that he taught us a great deal about the history of Patan, Kathmandu Valley, the structures within the historic center, and Buddhism in general.

One thing we learned is that long ago, Nepal consisted of over 20 different kingdoms. The King of Katmandu Valley had three sons. They each competed with each other and wanted their own kingdoms, so the king decided to split up the kingdom into three, one for each son. And as expected, each son built their own lavish Royal palaces and series of temples in competition with the others. Which is why there is a Durbar Square in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur.


Anyway, we toured through the palace, which was beautiful. Most impressive was all of the hand carved columns made from teak wood. The detail and artistry are just amazing. We also learned about an annual celebration that still takes place every October, in which each of the Darbur/Palaces sacrifices 108 (lucky number) male Water Buffalos. The meat is then shared with the community and the blood is used for the blessing marks that you see on people’s foreheads between their eyes.


Durbar Palace Details


Field trip to the palace!

In Nepal, foreigners are not allowed to go inside Hindu temples. However, our guide took us a bit off the main drag of the complex to a Buddhist temple, which we were allowed to visit. Again, the history and details he shared were super interesting. We are not a religious family and as a couple we come from different religious backgrounds. But to be honest, the one religion we tend to connect with the most is Buddhism. It’s not that we worship Buddha or go to a temple, but many of the main principles are similar to how we choose to live our lives.


Inside of Temple Complex


Girl at Temple Entrance


Evan hoping for some good luck

After the temple, our guide asked if we wanted to see the work of a master metal worker, specifically the “healing bowl”. All around the markets, we saw “singing bowls” for pretty cheap. He explained that those were machine made and make a specific type of sound, but that the “healing bowl” is hand made and has qualities that are actually used for healing. Desmond has actually been wanting to buy a singing bowl for MANY years, and always said that someday when we go to Nepal, he would plan to buy one there, so we were definitely interested to see what the guide had to show us.

This ended up being one of the coolest experiences in Patan. The healing bowls are incredible, in the vibration and sounds they make. Roxy had a large bowl placed on her head, while the owner of the shop gently banged on it from different sides. The vibrations could be felt throughout the body and are supposed to help you find balance and focus. The kids and Desmond each tried out stepping in a large bowl and felt sensation going from their feet all the way to their heads! The most amazing however was watching how water in a bowl reacted to the vibration made. Here’s a video. Needless to say, we ended up buying a small bowl. We even tested the water trick in our hotel room and it really does work.

Once again, it was really sad to see and hear about the earthquake and all of the damage done to the many historic buildings, as well as the thousands of people who died as a result. Restoration was underway on many of the structures already, but some had a VERY long way to go…still it was interesting to see before and after photos posted on the gate of each structure under construction.

Our last stop for the day was at the Pashupatina Temple and Bagmati River. Unfortunately as non-Hindus, we weren’t allowed in the temple itself. However, there was still lots to see. The temple’s exterior and its surrounding buildings are definitely beautiful. Sadhus (Hindu holy men) just hang out on the grounds of the temple and some even encourage visitors to sit with them for a photo, for about a dollar each! We found the photo opp to be well worth the price.


Probably the most interesting and meaningful is the activity around the riverbanks of the Bagmati River, which are a popular place for cremations. We actually witnessed the beginning of the ceremonies for two people. It was fascinating and moving to watch. Ella in particular was very apprehensive about seeing an actual dead body and cremation. Fortunately the bodies that were presented were wrapped in beautiful cloth and we did not see the actual cremation. Nevertheless, the visit left its mark on us.


Pre-cremation ceremony





Evan’s fan who asked for a photo


At that point, it had been a long day out and we headed back to the hotel to meet the rest of our Build On group (except our friends Helen and Hans who would be meeting us in Dhangadhi) for a welcome dinner. It was great to connect with the rest of the people who has raised money as part of our group. I think this experience will bond us together in a very special way.

Yesterday we flew from Kathmandu to Dhangadhi, where BuildOn has a local office, and our final stopping point before driving to our village.

The flight on Buddah Air was an experience it itself, beginning with our departure from the very small and overly crowded (seemingly used by only locals) domestic terminal, to walking out to our propellor plane. Once we got up to cruising altitude we were blessed with a view of the Himalayan Mountains on the right side of the plane (where our group was fortunately sitting thanks to prior planning by our group leader Supachart) throughout the fight. It’s amazing to be in a plane flying at cruising altitude and still be below these majestic mountain range. Also amazing to be flying over the beautiful and rural Nepalese country side.


Checking in for our  Buddah Air flight in Kathmandu Airport


Our BuildOn team


The Himalayan mountains out our window. Wow!


It’s so fun to fly Buddah Air!


Once we arrived in Dhangadhi we met the rest of the BuildOn staff that will be with us in the village, which was great! We have two interpretors, our two Trek leaders and a cook that will be making our breakfasts and lunches. Dinners will be spent with our host families.

The ride from the tiny one flight a day Airport to our hotel was incredible….gorgeous country side and rural scenes that are out of a National Geographic magazine. After we arrived at the hotel, we had a group orientation to prepare for our time in the village and some language lessons. Learning Nepalese is certainly not easy, but we’re all trying really hard to get some of the key words and phrases down so we can communicate in even a small way with our host families.  We ended the evening with a really fun group dinner and we are all ready for an adventure of a lifetime!



A long layover in Istanbul!


As we flew on Turkish Airlines, we ended up having a relatively long layover in Istanbul (7 hours). Of course the easiest thing to do, would be to just hang out in the airport, potentially even paying to go into one of the posh lounges….but that’s not how we travel. 😉

We’ve been in similar situations, like the time we had a layover in Munich for 8 hours on our way back from Greece. We had a great time taking the train into town, walking around the historic center, buying goodies at the outdoor market, and having beers and yummy food at the Hoffbrau House, while listening to live Oom Pah Music! So much more fun than just sitting in the airport. So, with that fond memory in our minds, we thought going into Istanbul was a no brainer. But as we got closer to our departure (partially due to our fatigue and anxiousness), we wondered if it was going to be a lot more hassle than it was worth. We ended up getting the Turkish visa online, to have one less obstacle at the airport and did some research to find the best ways to get into town. We sat next to a guy on the plane who apparently visits his friend in Istanbul every year. He suggested since we would be landing around rush hour in the evening, we should take the metro into town because a Taxi could take twice as long in traffic.

So we decided to go for it. Once we landed, we found the Left Luggage place and left behind the majority of our carry on, grabbed our scarves and gloves (the forecast showed temperatures in the 30-40s Fahrenheit (Brrr…), and headed to the Metro station. It would have been nice to go to Sultanahmet Square and see the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, but we knew that our time was very limited, so we decided to take the subway to Taksim Square, and walk down the pedestrian area towards the Golden Horn and the Galata area (where we had eaten several meals the last time we were in Istanbul 2 years ago).

The journey into town proved to be pretty easy, taking a little less than an hour. We came up to Taksim Square, to find it raining. That we were NOT prepared for! After a little trial and error, we navigated our way to the main pedestrian street and grabbed two umbrellas off a street vendor (about $5 each). It did feel really nice to be outside after a 12 hour plane ride! We worked our way as planned to the Tower and opted for a restaurant we had eaten in before. It was a yummy dinner, finished off with Baklava and tea.

After dinner and a few photos of the kids, we headed back to the airport on the Metro again. Definitely don’t regret the added hassle to go into town, as it proved to be a really nice evening and another small adventure in our overall travel experience….and besides, we LOVE Istanbul!

Now onto Kathmandu…

Our Longest Journey…


I won’t lie. I do not enjoy the time leading up to a large International trip. You would think packing would be easy by now, but it’s not. And for some reason, our trip to Nepal and India seemed significantly more difficult from a preparation and packing perspective. This trip is unique from our norm because not only do we have limitations regarding the type of things we can and need to bring, but also requirements around the type of clothing we should wear (only loose fitting pants and tops for women in the village, work clothes and gloves for when doing construction, and lots of layers given the big variance in temperatures during each day). And of course, there are also the supplies we needed to bring (i.e. sleeping bags, solar lanterns, etc. for our time in the village), first aid supplies, a variety of medicines in preparation for any situation (including some seriously strong antibiotics), as well as the gifts that we wanted to bring for our host families in the village.

Above all that, we needed to pack relatively light, with only one large backpack each (no big rolling bags on this trip!) and one carry on. Anyway, just making sure we had everything we needed, getting our shots and prescriptions, preparing our house for a home exchange (yes, there’s another family from Florida staying in our house), plus going through the normal holiday preparation for Christmas (totally snuck up on us this year!) made for a relatively stressful December. I’m exhausted just thinking back on it now!

The night before leaving, Desmond and I admitted to each other that we had both been feeling a little extra anxiety and trepidation about this trip. I suppose it’s because we know this will be the farthest we have ventured outside of our comfort zone as a family. Also, almost every person we have spoken to, who has been to Nepal or India seems to have experienced some type of illness while there (most commonly Delhi Belly, but some with serious bacterial infections). Obviously, that hasn’t helped with giving us piece of mind while preparing and anticipating this trip. Especially being that, while in the Village in Nepal, we will not be staying in a hotel with a western style bathroom. We have been told that there will be no running water and only squat toilettes outside (aka holes in the ground). Again, REALLY hoping no one will get suffer extreme intestinal issues!

One aspect that helped a little was that our our flight was not until late afternoon on the 26th, because we literally needed all day to finish packing (really tried to just enjoy Christmas even and Christmas day) and prep the house for the home exchange. We literally were scrambling until the last moments, trying to sort out how many carry-on bags we could limit ourselves to and get everything ready in time to leave for the Airport.

Of course, we ended up leaving later than planned, and although it seemed we still should have had plenty of time after checking in and grabbing a quick lunch at the airport, we encountered an extremely long security line, probably longer than any other I can remember having in the International terminal (yeah, I know…it’s the day after Christmas!). To make matters worst, the line was just NOT moving. That’s when I started to panic. So I went back to the security people and let them know that our flight was schedule to leave in about 30 minutes and they said all we could do was ask the people in front of us if they would be willing to let us go ahead of them. And as much as I hate the thought of asking people, I did out of desperation. And thank goodness for some kind people, we got closer to the front of the security line. Sadly our gate was literally the farthest one away in the terminal, so we did some running down the terminal ala The Amazing Race, only to get to our gate and see a huge line of people still boarding.

But we finally made it onto the plane. It still felt pretty surreal to think we were headed to Nepal. As Desmond said, it took him a bit off guard when the person checking us in said “your final destination is Nepal?”! And so we finally set off on what is definitely our longest journey as a family, hoping this will be an adventure of a lifetime, giving us all a new perspective on life.


We did it…for the love of travel!

For many years, we have wanted to do a family Travel blog but have just never seemed to be able to get our act together. So, with this post, you are hopefully witnessing the start of a long-time desire, coming to fruition!


Travel has been a joint passion for us since we started dating about 25 years ago. In fact, it’s probably what solidified our relationship, as we spent a little over 3 months traveling together through Europe a year after we started dating. They say that traveling can either make or break a relationship, and that certainly proved true for us.

Since we got married relatively young, we were in no hurry to have children, and continued to make travel a priority in our lives…taking at least one (and sometimes two) trips per year. As we began to get closer to the prospect of having children, people kept saying to us “It’s a good thing that you’ve traveled so much, because once kids come along you won’t be doing that anymore”. This not only struck us as odd, but also really annoying…so we became determined to prove everybody wrong!
Now, 14 years in (since having our first child), we’ve traveled to over 30 countries as parents with children, beginning with a trip to Italy when our son was 3 months old. Evan is now 14 and Nepal and India will be his 32nd and 33rd countries, and for Ella at the young age of 10, it will be 19th and 20th.

There are many reasons that traveling together is so important for us, and why we’ve made it a priority over the years. Outside of our just plain LOVE of travel, the biggest benefit for us traveling together as a family is because as the kids get older, we find it increasingly difficult to have quality time as a family at home (with school, extra curricular activities and work) and the days and weeks seems to be going by quicker and quicker every month. But when we go away, it affords us an opportunity to have 24/7 quality time as a family.

The other equally important reason is that we truly believe that travel and personal exposure to foreign cultures and lifestyles is key to having a well-rounded global perspective, a better understanding of their place in the world, and an appreciation for all they have in their own lives. We tend to think that our kids have grown into pretty open minded and adaptable people because of a life of navigating foreign cultures and countless experiences outside of their “comfort zones”.

And just for the record…despite having so many “glamorous” sounding travels, we’re NOT extravagant travelers. We’ve used miles for many of our flights, we plan trips a year in advance and monitor airfares to get the best price. We use relatively budget accommodations, rent apartments and do home exchanges (cooking a lot of own meals). And we pretty much always eat inexpensively. In fact, we’re often surprised to learn that our 2 and a half week trip in Europe, may have cost us about the same as friend’s one week trip to Hawaii!


And so, that brings us to December 2017, when we’re just weeks away from embarking on one of our greatest adventures yet….helping to build a school in a rural village in Nepal.

How did this come about you may ask. About 2 years ago, our good friends shared their amazing adventure building a school in a rural village in Malawi in partnership with We felt completely inspired by their stories, photos and overall experience, and decided to sign up with BuildOn as well. What sealed the deal was hearing their children (at the time the same age as Evan and Ella are now!) speak about their experiences and share their photos. It was clearly a life changing experience.

We as a family believe in the importance of education, not only for our children, but for those who depend on it to get out of the cycle of poverty. We know there are communities around the world in need of help, but the only way we can make a difference to commit to helping one community at a time. The opportunity to combine our passion for travel and our desire to give back, perfectly came together with this commitment.

So after about a year and a half of fundraising and planning, we (and 6 others) have raised over $50,000 to fund a new school and are about to embark on our Journey to Nepal where we will all be meeting in Kathmandu on December 29th, before traveling to the village of Nimuwaboji.

We are so grateful for the support of our many friends and family members who have helped us reach our fundraising goal to build this school, and look forward to being able to share updates, stories and photos with everyone via this blog during our travels.

AND we’ll hope to continue to chronicle our family travels going forward as well now that we finally got this up and running!

Team Gribben.