Covid-19 Our Journey through the chaos – Part 1

Covid-19 Our Journey through the chaos – Part 1

 

Like each person on earth – our reflections of 2020 will be less about a “clarity or sharpness of vision” and more about how we navigated the Demon of Death – the Covid-19 virus. However positive we may be, the journey each of has and is taking will have a huge impact on the shape of our year, the outcome of which is still uncertain. Although we will find our new normal and this is only temporary. This series of blogs documents our personal journey through the virus crisis and shares our coping strategies and insights at the various stages of the chaos. 

 

Part 1 – Fleeing the Tsunami

 

As we danced in our little Moroccan bubble, we observed from the safety of our African adventure a world that seemed, for just a moment, to be going quite insane. And each day the rhythm of our life beat in tune to the desert drums, to the camels’ sultry pace and the crazy pace of chaos that seems to work in Morocco. There was, in truth, very little focus on the virus as our explorations were filling us with joy and happiness, far removed from the grip of a demon killer.

When the security of that bubble encasing you bursts, there’s a moment of waking up. A realisation that actually there is something bigger going on; something that over-rides the media’s frenzy and the encircling conspiracy theories that awash our social media. There was a truth that we had to face because its shadow was peaking through our window.

As we landed on Spanish soil, we crashed to the floor of that truth, with a ceiling that was sinking. 

There’s nothing like a drama that brushes against your skin, making its presence felt with the stench of its stale odour to bring you down to earth. The onset of the sore throat was where fear overtook every cell of my body. Ignorance is one thing, even denial can be forgiven, although that moment where you wake up and acknowledge that this crisis is personal is poignant. The fever came next and then the cough – although my research told me that this wasn’t our Covid-19 demon – it was something else. May be it was camel flu, although it felt like a stark warning to open my eyes to the reality sweeping the globe. In a heart-beat life went from high adventure to high alert, added to with a sprinkling of primal fear. All the ingredients for a dish served with mortality.

Then my mum called to say that a friend she had been in contact with had the suspected symptoms and so self-isolation was imperative for her. And with an underlying immune deficiency disorder, emotions ran high as the tide ebbed and flowed around our bobbing boat upon the ocean of uncertainty.

The pace of life took a different gear from that moment on. The leisurely meander of the last month soon feeling like an all-too-distant memory as reality grabbed us by the throat and started to squeeze, ever so gently. And as our breath shortened and became shallow, our mind began to construct images from which nightmares are made and our primal instincts took over our usually calm personas.

My mum says that 

“Every decision you make is the right one, because you made it”. 

Yet it is indecision that is the thief of happiness. Anxiety and uncertainty jostle for position as they compete on the playground of concern as we battled our way through options, consequences and impacts. And yet there is somewhere deep in side the heart, perhaps even in the gut where the answer lurks, ready to present itself as soon as we emerge from our denial and avoidance.

A choice made, a conclusion drawn and action applied – we were off! In what felt like a race northwards, we had to get back to the UK to support and protect our loved ones. Whilst our return was only 3 weeks early, the decision to travel swiftly back to UK felt like an exodus from a safe haven into a forest of danger.

As borders closed and countries locked down, we ran a gauntlet with our tyres turning as fast as they could without harm. Morocco closed, Spain locked down, France a state of emergency. It was as if a tsunami was coursing its way towards us preparing to consume us if we didn’t stay one step ahead.

As we reflect on our 1000 miles in 3 days, our teamwork brought us to our sanctuary with speed, safety and efficiency. We felt as if we were running, escaping an inevitability that would shape how the drama would unfold for us and those we loved. Being stranded and not being close to family who were at risk was untenable and, driven by an adrenalin-fuelled desire to be in our ‘home country’, our return was secured.

Despite our decision to leave UK shores for European adventures in 2016, there’s nothing like the familiarity of home at a time of crisis to help you feel safe and drawn into the bosom of your motherland.

And so as we boarded the ferry, our sighs of relief were palpable and the strain from that last week evident in the furrows of our brows and the deepness of our breath. Now at last we could rest in our 14 day quarantine, knowing that we could find security in the UK and cast our own protective net around us and our family. For now we could allow the relief to wash over us like the warmth of a bath, the bubbles offering strange comfort as it lapped against our skin. For now this was home. For now we were safe. For now we could recharge our batteries and begin an effort to support others.

Virus 0 – The Motoroamers 1

 

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Celebrating Birthdays whilst travelling

Celebrating Birthdays whilst travelling

Celebrating Birthdays whilst travelling

 

Celebrating Birthdays whilst travelling or living on the road can be a tricky affair. Buying the right gift that you can keep a surprise, no room for parties, not being close to friends and family.  It’s a big conundrum that has vexed me since we left UK in March 2016.

Yet choosing a nomad life or even just spending a lot of time on the road means that life becomes a whole lot simpler. You find yourself thrust into an existence where your needs are few and your desires for material things dwindle with the speed of a gazelle.

A streamlined life with a back-pack, camper or boat may take on the look of a minimalist hermit, although the truth is that we really don’t need much to be happy. We are conditioned by the commercial marketeers that we need the latest leather sofa or car with go-faster stripes to define ourselves, yet we know in our hearts that it isn’t true.

Our stuff may well be decluttered, recycled or stored whilst our wanderlust takes over the reigns of our chariot, although our habits take a little longer to be reshaped. We are programmed to celebrate Birthdays, Anniversaries, Christmas, New Year with the gusto and flamboyance of a Royal Wedding. We go to town decorating our homes, buying gifts that no one in their right minds would purchase any other time of the year, bake cakes, write cards and generally set out to spoil the people around us in order to make them feel special.

Yet is love buying the latest gadget, the trendiest outfit or the most adrenalin filled experience? No with a capital N. This is what we have come to learn, although it is not the truth. And it is what life on the road is teaching me.  Life and gifts are so much more than purchases we make to bring happiness. Although I’ll not lie, breaking that materialistic bubble is tough when it comes to Birthdays. Even four years on, for me celebrating birthdays whilst travelling is a hard one to overcome.

Deep within me I love to make those I love feel happy – it’s an engrained pattern deep in my DNA;  a people pleasing trait. In turn, I feel more worthy when others acknowledge my Birthday. I’m not proud of this flaw and it is something that I am constantly working on  –  although there we go, this is my truth.

And it is these legacies that have me recoiling when it comes to celebrating my loved one’s anniversaries. Strangely I have overcome the whole Christmas thing as we’ve not sent cards or bought presents for over 12 years. So my habit has changed over time. And I hope the same will happen soon when it comes to Birthdays.

So as I sit here pondering on this non-Birthday Birthday phenomina for Myles 53 celebration, I thought it might be helpful to work this one through for those Life on the Roaders who, like me struggle to know how to approach it. I’ll be honest though, this is still work in progress, so I am no means cured from the society norms that have carved their patterns into my psyche.

 

10 Ways to celebrate without consumerism

 

 

1. Celebrate with a home-cooked meal 

As they say, ‘The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.’ Lots of people enjoy showing their love through the food they cook.  It’s so lovely to be able to design a menu of food that would make their hearts sing.  Ask if you had to design a ‘last meal’ what would it be.

 

2. Spoil them with breakfast in bed

I always enjoy the whole breakfast in bed gesture and whilst wholly impractical, it’s the thought that counts.  Going to extra effort on a special day is so much more meaningful than pile of presents that satisfy only our own desire to please.

 

3. Wake up to an appropriate song

“If music be the food of love, play on.” Shakespeare

For our Birthday’s we always have a song playing – often it’s Stevie Wonder’s ‘Happy Birthday’. What a fabulous way to start the day. Music has such a great vibe to it.

 

4. Create a personalised collage or gif and post to Social Media

I love putting collages together with my favourite pictures of times spent together.  Using an app like canva.com you can come up with some great designs that share  so much more than a present can ever do. The thought that goes into creating, building and designing something is worth its weight in gold.

 

5. Make a video from friends sending Birthday greetings

For Myles’ 50th Birthday, I asked friends and family (many of whom he hadn’t spoken to for a long while) to put together a 2 minute video sending him their Birthday greetings. I then put all those together into a video with music and made this his main ‘present’. It stunned him into silence and he still plays it three years on!

 

6. Celebrate with a meal out 

It’s always fun to be with people you love and being able to share the celebration with special people makes the day more meaningful. So if you’re in a place where you can share with loved ones, find a way to celebrate together. We are often stationery in a campsite on Myles’ Birthday, so we have the chance to be with friends or visiting family who are with us for the Christmas period. Otherwise we might delay a celebration so we can be with fellow travellers who we want to rendezvous with.

 

7. Buy a local tipple or tasty bite

If buying a gift still feels important, then look for a special tipple or traditional food from the country you are travelling in. It might make a nice change to try something cultural that they wouldn’t normally have throughout the year, that feels like a treat.

 

8. Send an ecard

If like us, whilst on your travels, having cards that cover every eventuality is impractical, then you always make one or send an e-Card. Increasingly saving resources is important so an e-card is a lovely way of celebrating that special day.

 

9. Kiss, hug and squeeze just a little bit more than normal

Special days come each morning we wake up, although when it’s a Birthday or Anniversary, then the most priceless gift is your time and affection. When we recondition our beliefs to realise that buying a present isn’t the only way we can show our love, then the options are endless. Take more time to spoil your loved one with even more hugs and kisses.

 

10. Do what they want to do and not what you think they would like

I remember last year’s Birthday for Myles; I asked him what he wanted to do with his day. His needs were simple – just a walk along the beach. Whilst it didn’t feel ‘enough’ for me to acknowledge his special day, it was a perfect for him. And that’s what really mattered.  Sometimes the most simple pleasures have the most meaningful impact.

 

Celebrating Birthdays whilst travelling is just one of the many things that require a shift in thinking and a change of habits. Finding a different and more simple way of showing someone you love them is so important. After all, moving away from the traditions of the Matrix was what motivated us to live an alternative life in the first place. So as we evolve our behaviours, we continue to find more simple ways to give gifts, show love and acknowledge important dates without the commercialism that we have grown up with. For inspiration on creative gifts whilst on the road, read my post by clicking here.

How do you celebrate whilst travelling? Would love to hear how you approach this tricky conundrum.

And I’ll leave you with one final thought thanks to Henry T. Ford….

 

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

 

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Which is best? Spain to Italy – Road or Ferry?

Which is best? Spain to Italy – Road or Ferry?

The Age-old Conundrum – Road or Ferry? 

Europe’s shores are calling; adventure, culture and a rich tapestry of beautiful scenery awaits. And where better to explore than the delights of Spain and Italy. Whilst perhaps close in their language root, distance between these two European siblings is great.  So how is it best to experience these two great nations? How can you best dance between the joys of Spain’s Tapas and Flamenco to Italy’s Gelato and rock villages?

On our travels since March 2016 we have visited both countries and indulged ourselves in their beauty for months at a time. Although the thought of trying to get to each one easefully can be a tricky conundrum for us travellers. Do you go by road or by ferry? 

We’ve done both routes and feel that with both experiences under our belt, it’s a good time to share our journeys, the cost comparisons and offer these up to you. Hopefully as a result you can then make your own personal choices. 

 

The Road Route

The road route to and from Spain to Italy is surely a beautiful one. Flirting with the edge of the Pyrenees at one side of the continent, through the southern regions of France’s Riviera and skipping into Italy’s Riviera cousin. With such sights along the route as Carcassonne, the Camargue and Provence’s coastal delights it makes the road-trip an easy temptation. And who could resist the joys of baguettes, the regional Pastis and a croissant or two? Crossing the border into Italy gives you a plethora of seaside resorts to enjoy or the tourist magnet of the Cinque Terre, Portofino and Pisa. And so your Italian adventure can begin. 

With that in mind, let’s look at the stats and costs of choosing this route.

 

  1. It is approx 800 miles from Civitavecchia in Italy to Barcelona in Catalonia.
  2. That’s a rough cost of £140.00 for diesel, based on 0.17p per mile for a 3.5T motorhome.
  3. The Tolls through eastern Italy and France can add up depending on how many diversions you take for sightseeing. Allow around £130 for Tolls depending on the class of vehicle you are driving.
  4. There are potentially two Weighing Station possibilities, both on the France/Italy border and at Perpignan as you head to/from Spain. Whilst we have never been stopped, there are regular stories about campers being taken to the weighing station en route from Spain into France. If you want to avoid this, then the coastal route from Collioure to Roses is an alternative. This will take you an extra hour and an additional 20 miles.
  5. Depending on your travel philosophy and how many hours/miles you are willing to do in a day, it will take between 3-5 days.
  6. Meals/drinks for those days need to be built into the cost analysis together with campsites, Aires or services.

 

Advantages of the Road Option

  • It gives you the chance to explore en route if you don’t know the area.
  • Avoids potentially stormy seas of the ferry crossing.
  • You can be flexible when you make your journey.

 

Disadvantages of the Road Option

  • Much of the most direct route requires Tolls, many of which are nigh on impossible to avoid, can be tricky to navigate and can add to your stress, time and mileage. And the costs do add up. 
  • You need to build in the wear and tear on your vehicle, tyres in particular.
  • There is a risk of being stopped at the Borders for weight checks. 
  • Places to stay alongside the motorway are limited and not recommended so a diversion into the towns are required, adding further to time, mileage and costs.
  • If you are travelling in the winter heading from Italy to Spain for some sunshine, then most of the campsites will be shut, so you are reliant on Aires, wild camping and Sostas.
  • You are at the mercy of bad weather conditions and accidents. 
  • The road quality in the north-west regions of Italy are particularly low quality.
  • You have the Genoa issue to navigate following the collapse of the bridge in August 2018 that carries the main arterial motorway. 
  • If you are travelling in winter, then weather conditions and potentially snow around the Pyrenees are a factor to consider. Also in Italy, from 15 November, winter tyres are recommended and snow chains are compulsory so, if like us, you only have snow socks for your summer tyres, then the ferry is a strong contender.

 

Total cost for Road = minimum of £300 excluding campsites, Aire fees and the wear and tear apportionment.

 

The Ferry Route

From Baracelona to Civitavecchia, just north of Rome is a 20 hour sailing leaving at night between 2000 and 2300 respectively. So for 7 hours of the journey you are asleep. The boats are cruise ship size vessels from Grimaldi Lines and whilst not the quality of a cruise liner, it does what it says on the tin.  The boats for summer trips have a swimming pool and sun loungers and for other season, a Well-being centre, restaurants and bars. With plenty of cabins available you have your own private space and toilet/shower facilities. Or you can choose a reclining seat in a private lounge. 

Here are the costs for the ferry option;

 

  1. Based on an April 2017 from Barcelona the cost was £356.00 and a November 2019 sailing from Civitavecchia was £349.00. Both ferries included a cabin and were booked online with Directferries which was a lot cheaper than going direct to Grimaldi Lines.
  2. There is also a route from Genoa and Savona to Barcelona obviously depending which part of Italy you are travelling from or to and they are slightly cheaper by about £50. So it might make more sense to take this ferry if you are in the northern regions of Italy than to drive down to Civitavecchia. 
  3. Prices are based on the size of your vehicle <6m and from 6m-9m. 
  4. Allow for Breakfast, Lunch and refreshments whilst on board, prices of which average £17pp for the trip.
  5. You can reserve a reclining seat for £5 or a cabin for £80. Bear in mind that if you pay for a cabin when onboard, it will cost you  £10 more than if you reserve it on line. 

 

Advantages of the Ferry

  • It is much quicker than the 3-5 days it takes to drive. With the overnight boat, 2/3rds of your journey is done by the time morning arrives.
  • It saves on the wear and tear of your vehicle. The 800 miles direct route by road accounts for around 5% of your tyres’ lifespan. So this does need to be built in, mentally at least.
  • With a night time schedule, no accommodation the night before is required, so you can travel directly to the ferry, ensuring you check in 120 minutes before the sailing. 
  • If you order a cabin you can have unlimited showers with piping hot water! 
  • Dogs are allowed on the ferry, with either Kennels or Pet Friendly cabins. 

 

Disadvantages of the Ferry

  • The weather is unpredictable, so stormy seas are a factor https://www.instagram.com/ especially during the winter, causing potential sea-sickness if you are prone.
  • The food quality is not great and is expensive.
  • If it is busy then embarkation and disembarkation can take time.
  • The schedule is always open to disruption from operational issues. Although unless it is cancelled you are still across the Mediterranean within 24 hours. 
  • It’s never a great quality sleep on a boat. 
  • On exiting the ferry, a wrong turn could have you in Barcelona’s Low Emission Zone, which without a sticker could be an expensive fine. Although sticking to the outer ring road is not in the city zone. 
  • If you time your crossing over a half-term, there is a risk of school children crossing to or returning from a trip to Rome or Barcelona. This happened to us on our first crossing in March 2017 and it was not pleasant given their teachers were all sitting in the bar having a fine old time.

 

Total cost for the ferry = £385.00 with no additional extras

 

Conclusions

A significant part of our decision about the ferry versus the road is about time rather than costs. As you can see there’s not a huge amount in it, once you factor in the Road Option’s hidden and unexpected costs. For us the speed and efficiency of the ferry far outweighs the road. We all know that travel is tiring and to cut off potentially 3 days travel time is worth doing, in our book. Although of course it is a personal choice based on your individual circumstances and also where your start or end point is in Italy. 

If you have no time constraints and the seasons are in your favour, then the road has some huge sightseeing benefits. For autumn and winter, then the ferry is far more appealing. The choice is yours!  

We hope that this has been helpful in working through the options for you with some stats and facts. 

 

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Travel’s Lessons – Joys and Shadows

Travel’s Lessons – Joys and Shadows

The effects of traumatic events last much longer than the headlines

Travel is the greatest educator, inspirer and leveller. There is nothing I have experienced in my fifty years on planet Earth that has given me so much in such little time.

Travel is like a bag of Pick and Mix sweets that someone might select for you; so many different varieties from the melty fudge candy and sweet marshmallow to the dreaded coffee-centred chocolate and chewy toffee crunch that threatens to break your teeth.

After a year of magnificent travel experiences which gifted us exploration in five new European countries, our wanderlust has been satisfied beyond expectation. From the far west of Portugal’s beautiful beaches that caressed our faces with salty breezes, to the charm of Denmark’s surprising hidden depths. Sweden’s sumptuous authentic character had us engaged in a love affair of extreme passion and Norway’s majestic masterpiece blew our tiny little minds. And what of Czechia with its plethora of castles and softly curvaceous landscape?

Amongst our exploratory joys, we have hit travel walls, suffered from blogging burn out and harboured physical injuries. We have navigated a return to UK from Europe’s most northerly junction for a family funeral and had battles with tennants who are not paying their rent. I say this not out of any need for sympathy, just by way of offering a balanced perspective of this life on the road, seen as the dream and yet just the glorious mixture that is life.

And in this mixture of all sorts, we’ve learnt to travel to please ourselves, to rest when we need it and to increasingly find our stillness within a life dominated by movement. We have become aware of travel’s infectious magnetism that fuels our desires and entices us to do more. Yet we are more mindful of heeding our inner-selves’ need for reflection and stillness rather than feeding our insatiable and needy egos. 

In ego’s midst, our hunger paled into insignificance this week, as travel revealed its true face beyond the mask of pretty vistas and cascading waterfalls. A humbling lesson that teaches us about life – beyond the dream of ticking one country off at a time. A peek into the shadows of reality – a perspective of people’s lives that may pique the interest of the world’s media for a nanosecond then fades into global obscurity. A glimpse into real life, one breath at a time.

On 24t August 2016, a small village in Lazio, Italy became the epicentre for a 6.2 magnitude earthquake; tectonic plates rubbing together in a frenzied attack beneath the surface of the earth. Amatrice surrendered to the full force of Mother Nature’s wrath and surrounding regions within a 50 mile radius suffered a matching fate. At 3.36am clocks stopped, cars halted and life was held in suspended animation as earth took over the reigns. Homes crumbled, around 300 lives were lost and 4000 people were made instantly homeless. Within a heart-beat the future fell apart from that moment in time. Italy was in mourning.

Communities rallied to rescue and salvage, whilst red zones warned of impending doom. Homes razed to the floor with rubble and exposed wires the only evidence of their postal address.  Quintessential regions of Italy stripped of their identity in the blink of an eye.

And how cruel fate is, that just three months later, a second 6.5 magnitude quake shook the area with additional force, attempting to battle with the communities’ resolve; a secondary blow to assert domination over our fragile lives. This was the largest seismic event in over thirty years. Oct 30th 2016, we felt the ripples of the 6.40am earth rumblings 100 miles west on the Tuscany coast, above Rome. little did we know the story that preloaded this chapter in Italy’s fragile tale.

In some bizarre twist of fortune, no one died. Perversely, thanks to the impact of August’s quake, many people in vulnerable property had already been made homeless and saved from a more traumatic conclusion. Yet the impact of this second shake of Mother Nature’s dice had actually a more severe affect on the hope that still lingered from August. Whole villages devastated by the twin quake effect, communities looking like war zones and road links severed leaving farms and towns isolated from each other.

Our brush with this drama initiated when we felt the disconcerting rumbles in our camper. Everyone rushing out to seek answers to the mysterious movement of the earth. Even the Italians were bemused. And then the local news uncovered the truth about this massive giant beneath the earth that had made its presence felt.

It wasn’t until our fourth visit to Italy to meet up with friends affected by the quake themselves in the Marche region, just north of the epicentre, that the full picture became clear. Buildings shored up with struts and barriers. Homes impounded and still uninhabitable. Lives transgressed into flight and fight, a far cry from the luxurious destination of blissful happiness often promoted by the glossy magazines.

As our explorations took us around the beauty of the Sibillini National Park, our eyes were opened and hearts severely tugged at. We drove around villages south of the region that would have looked more at home in a war zone than the stunning countryside of Italy’s Apennine beauty hotspot. This backbone mountain range is where we find our earth tremor answers and yet to look at them, you would struggle to see how history played out.

Yet the villages soon made up for the gaps in the story. Our path constantly affected by road closures even now, three years on. Houses that look like a giant has ripped off their walls in a fit of spite, demolished walls looking like an archeological dig and restaurant signs indicating how life used to be.

On our journey painted with frustration, as one road closure after another diverted our route, irritation washing our egos, we drove to our home for the night. An idyllic spot in the foothills of Monte Vittore surrounded by a kaleidoscope of autumnal colours. Yet the stark reality was to reveal in the morning light as I visited Pretare, one of the devastated villages. To wander around this once thriving community, now just a ghost town, was sobering. A wreath still in place honouring the Great War paradoxically made me think about the battle with nature that we all face in different ways. Why oh why we battle against each other when there is tragedy enough from the natural world is beyond me.

I spoke to a lady with the help of my friend Google, who hadn’t been evacuated from her home. She was the only resident left in this ghost town. So whilst on the one hand may be you could class her as lucky; the reality is that she lives life in isolation, without a community and with the suspense of what another tremor might do to her home. The gentle smile on her traumatised face did not hide her sadness that her village would never be rebuilt – there was a strange acceptance to her fate.

Homes here show how that earthquake moment must have struck, as precarious ceiling beams, becoming balancing acts for chairs, suitcases and personal possessions. All left behind in the salvation for life. Cupboards torn apart from their walls revealing crockery and bathroom taps still sitting on tiled splashbacks as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

In our gallery below, I have chosen to distort the pictures out of respect for those whose homes I have captured.

And yet, something incredible has been born from the tragic events of 2016. Evidence of how communities have rallied to support their people. New homes have been built for the locals, once homeless, now safe. Identical prefab-style bungalows in small estates offer protection and hope. Wooden huts for businesses have been constructed to make sure livelihoods can continue and the needs of the locals still served. Tree-lined avenues and parks now holding makeshift sheds for Pizzerias and Post offices give a glimpse into the life that carries on, in spite of the rubble.

Animals were rescued by kind souls like our friends who, despite their red zone property, poured their energy into rescuing the vulnerable and keeping their B&B accommodation going. Communities are pulling together and are determined to promote that Le Marche is still very much open for business. They are ready to welcome lovers of nature, wilderness and spectacular mountain scenery. Le Marche is one of the most beautiful regions of Italy, that surpasses the iconic landscape of Tuscany. Yet it fights for its survival and preservation of dignity and history.

After our time spent exploring this magnificent region, with its historic landmarks, hilltop villages and mountain spectacle, we have been served up with a dose of humility. An important journey that has given us a glimpse into life on the edge. A life that, three years after the tragedy, the media is no longer interested in and yet people still struggle to survive, making the best of all that they have.

Check out our Gallery of how Le Marche looks, compelling visitors to come!

What a humbling experience travel revealed to us. A poignant reminder that life is fragile, often precarious and never static. Whilst a dream lifestyle travelling the world, may well look catwalk perfect, if you just open your heart to see beyond the facade, travel has an amazing story to reveal. And more importantly it will take you on a journey of more than miles, it takes you on a profound journey into yourself and will change you forever.

 

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A letter to Travel

A letter to Travel

 

Dear Travel

When you were our holidays, we loved the precious time you gave us, where we had the space to retreat, rejuvenate and reconnect.  Into the mix you would offer us a brief glimpse into the culture of our temporary home. Whether that was food from the local hostelry, a street market that would tempt our culinary delights, or perhaps even a regional celebration that honoured a local custom. You encouraged us to dip our toes into a way of life that seemed far removed from our own stressful existence. Returning home we would often recall our experiences and studiously review our photo album, sighing with a longing that accompanies that inevitable back to reality.

Sometimes because of the way our lifestyle panned out, you were simply days out or short breaks away; we loved the escape you opened up for us, which quite simply used to get us away from life’s grind. A day-trip in the car or a city break gave us a destination to blow away our corporate created cobwebs. A rare treat to remove ourselves from the daily routines of professional and domestic chores which, in that moment, made us feel alive.  Whilst these may have been all too short, sometimes they were all we could squeeze in amongst the stress ball of life.

 

And then three years ago, you showed up in all your glory –  Travel, the full frontal experience. You gave us a chance to fill our lives with adventure, freedom and choice – riches beyond our imagination. And whilst we look back at our vacations and short breaks with fondness, they neither fulfilled us nor changed our lives. Their healing necessary although their longevity impermanent.

Yet the opportunity to enjoy every inch of your personality has been profound. You are the greatest teacher, the most flamboyant of moments and you provide the most deep-rooted memories that exceed every expectation. We feel privileged to have connected with you at such a deep level. To have shaken hands with your hospitality and ridden the rollercoaster of adventures that have taken us to the peak of joy and the depths of stress. Each one proving that we are alive and free.

You are not, it must be said Travel, always joyful. You are at times like a teenager throwing tantrums that capture us in your trail of destruction like a shoal of fish. Testing, pushing, stretching – although it is in these tempestuous moments that our characters are defined, refined and honed. Our coping mechanisms are so much more resilient because of your challenges. 

Travel, you have taken us on a journey that with each step makes our heart beat as fast as a pair of star-crossed lovers on their first date. Around every corner you gift us with fresh vistas that take our breath away. You present us with stunning sunrises that herald a new day and powerful sunsets that gather the joys of that day underneath their rose-coloured veil. 

For the last three years you have invited us on your journey of discovery revealing far more than just the cultural uniqueness of the countries we have visited. You have subtly mentored us to look within and understand more about our nomadic selves, uncovering the simplicity of life that exists beneath the stars. With your help, each day we remove ourselves from the corporate and commercial hub that imprisoned us and start to relish the truth that is entwined around life.  How little we need to thrive; how little our materialistic possessions define us and how much more freedom we have when we grab the reigns from life’s galloping horse. 

With these gifts that sit underneath our eternal Christmas Tree, how enriched our life has become. Each morning we awake with gratitude as the sun dawns and with eager anticipation we await the day’s lesson. It’s not always an easy class, as sometimes you throw a curve ball or two to stretch us. Although thanks to your solid foundation we cope so much more easily with those tests.  Our stress from the old days are a dim and distant memory as deep wounds heal themselves and a fresh perspective graces our minds. 

Home for us now can be found wherever our tyres stop for the night. That temporary abode is as homely as any brick wall and front door. We have embraced the open road and the wide open spaces that span the globe. And so when our wheels stop from their incessant roll, we breathe in the peace from the sanctuary that you have carved for us; beside the beach, in the bosom of the mountains or nestled beside a babbling brook.

Is this why when we return to the source of our birth ‘home’ that we feel so unsettled?

The girl who was a home-bird, who found the security of her house comforting and stabilising – now craves the open road. The itchy feet syndrome never feels so real as when we are drawn back to UK. Sometimes for three weeks, sometimes for three months, we have pitstops that are always purposeful and necessary although feel so strange. What a dichotomy. Returning to the nest yet not feeling at home.

Travel, this is your greatest puzzle. You have captured our hearts so gently and gracefully that we feel almost lost in the familiarity of our home country. And this is nothing to do with those we hold dear. They remain the same gorgeous and kind-hearted souls that we love unconditionally. No this is more about us and how we have been affected by your infectious path.  We have learnt to be mindful in every moment, although I must confess that our minds often wander to the day when we return to the road. 

We never really appreciated what it meant to have itchy feet as we lunged from one stressful situation to another in the corporate web of yesteryear – driven only by the next pay check or weekend retreat. Now blessed by a self-generated freedom, the generosity you have shown us makes us crave more. An addiction that feeds the soul, nourishes the mind and nurtures our human instincts for discovery, adventure and evolution.

With every passing day we find ourselves longing to return to your route-map and are thankful for the love and support we have to follow our dreams. Travel, you have enriched our lives and we look forward to our homecoming as our tyres hit the tarmac for yet another new adventure.

Travel, we thank you for the lessons, the discoveries and the personal realisations that have made us grow as human beings and, and with hope as our companion, may it be for many years to come. Draw us further into your web of intrigue and massage our life with experiences that create a page-turning book of intrigue, passion and discovery.

With love and gratitude..

 

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A Parley With France

A Parley With France

France what a delight you are. Just when I think you can’t amaze me any more, you throw us a surprise that just endears you to my heart even more. How is it you get underneath my skin so well?

From our voyage through the Chartreuse, Vercors and Cevennes Natural Parks to the Haut-Garonne region, little treasures keep emerging that bowl me over and create just a little flutter in my stomach. After all, who cannot love the gorgeous Les Plus Beaux Villages that hide in your countryside with tales to tell those looking beyond the castle walls?

Of course I love the iconic French destinations; Avignon is to die for, Provence Lavender just so sensual and Annecy is beyond adjectives. And yet this week, France you have thrown up so many joyful routes, villages and compelling stories that I find myself reengaged with you and your diverse characterful landscape. You are a joy to behold.

In search for a place to rest our travel weary heads, we found ourselves in Soreze in the Midi-Pyrenees region of the south west, nestled within the Toulouse, Carcassonne and Castres triangle. Seemingly inconspicuous and just one of many towns embedded into your map and yet, like an unexpected Christmas gift, we opened up your present which had me melting like putty in your hands. 

 

 

Soreze, famous for three things. Its 754AD Abbey School, the source of the UNESCO Canal du Midi and is a well-known resting point for the Saint-Jacques de Compestela pilgrimage path – what more could you ask from a name on a map?

With maisons à encorbellement – (buildings with upper storeys protruding over the lower portion) and their half-timbered frontage, we felt like you had transported us back into the Middle Ages. The atmosphere here was amazing and with all the plaques around the town that tell you about the famous people who lived here once upon a time, I felt like you were drawing us into an intricate tale that made us just pure bystanders. The view down the narrow streets was like something out of a Dicken’s novel and with the image of Saint Martin’s tower looming at the end of the vision, we were compelled to check out its dominant features. It was a bit of a shock when, impressed by its sovereignty, all that remains of this 15 century church is this bell-tower. No regal interiors, no crafted alters, no stain-glassed windows. Just a shadow of its former glory. How sad and yet perversely how amazing that you have salvaged this historical monument and continue to protect its legacy. 

The narrow, paved streets hold the footprints of man and beast, and I was left wondering what their contribution to the historical tale might be.  And somewhere in the whisper of the wind I am sure I could hear voices from a distant past; perhaps it was the Benedictine monks or the philosophical and military scholars who studied at this prestigious college. May be it was the sound of the horses who carried their loads or the chatter from the artists who made this sumptuous town home. Either way there was plenty to feel in the walls of this ancient yet modest and humble place.

 

Soreze’s neighbour, Revel that was no more than 5km away offered us a slightly different feel; one that had a modern edge to it on the outskirts of its Market Square. With fountains and murals, you have brought Revel into a contemporary world where history holds on tightly with a fingertip grasp on the past. Evidence of that space in time is still clear in the town’s centre, where one of your finest examples of a medieval market square can be seen here. And it is here, each Saturday that a traditional market is held which is reputedly over 600 years old. Surrounding the square are arched walkways with cafés and your traditional stores enticing us with smells and tastes of the local French cuisine. The chocolate box facades of your medieval buildings are part and parcel of the past that the modern world cannot erase and it feels as though it holds a mysterious legacy that only the walls can confess. Revel you were a delightful interlude that we were glad not to have missed.

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France you delight and surprise us around every corner. When we take your off-the-beaten track routes, we find our eyes filled with ancient splendour and our hearts bursting with a gentle respect for these out of the way places. May you always lead us to your quiet treasures and continue to remind us of your grace, simplicity and ubiquitous splendour and charm.

 

If you wish to camp in this amazing region, then there is a great spot, Camping Saint Martin (43.45473, 2.06960) or there is an Aire around the other side of the village close to the supermarket with service facilities, (43.4505, 2.06567)

 

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