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.

Check out our Gallery by clicking on the image below

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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Camping Mauterndorf, Austria

Camping Mauterndorf, Austria

Camping Mauterndorf – Gets a Five Star review from us! And it’s not often we can say that. As you know we love to wild camp and be in the heart of what Mother Nature gifted to us. Although from time to time we need some campsite love so we can catch up with all our domestic chores.  And as we pass through Austria after our road-trip through Poland and Slovakia we spotted the Großglockener Pass, which is something we’ve wanted to do since we hit the road in March 2016. A half way point happened to be Camping Mauterndorf.

And boy what a treat. It is an ACSI site so out of season you pay just €19 per night plus tourist tax. And for that you get the pleasure of top quality facilities, cheap washing machines for €3, a Wellness Suite with sauna, steam-room, solarium and special showers. The pitches are a great size and totally surrounded by mountains from all angles and the staff here too are helpful and efficient. There is nothing that is too much trouble.

 

 

One of the greatest benefits of this site though is that for the duration of your stay you get a LungauCard which entitles you to a series of free and discounted activities within the area. So we took the Großeckbahn Cable Car, which normal price would set you back €16 per person for a return journey – with your card you get a one-time free trip. Panoramic views await you at the top with hikes galore and Austrian hospitality at its best.

This is a fabulous place to stay and we can’t recommend it highly enough. Vielen dank Camping Mauterndorf.  You can check them out by clicking on their website here. Camping Mauterndorf. Their co-ordinates are 47.14289, 13.6646.

 

Check out our video of the campsite and the mountain area, which is free to explore….

 

Where can you find them?

 47.14289, 13.6646

 

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The journey back to Blighty

The journey back to Blighty

Here we are half way through our trip back to Blighty and I felt inspired to write down my thoughts as we navigate our way through this strange period of our nomadic lives.

Operation UK, as we have lovingly called it, has been a journey full of the usual texture and colour that we have come to expect from our adventurous lives. Although I must admit as we prepared for our temporary homecoming, it had an odd hue of grey around the edges as I struggled to get my head – and my heart around going back.

As I reflect back to December, when our plans became more real, I remember the deep sense of dread which seems to be a recurring pattern when we consider a trip back to UK. It’s a really strange sensation as I picture ‘the return’ which fills me with uncertainty and anxiety. I’ve never been quite sure what has driven this feeling for my homeland. Although I embrace it, as I have every other emotional response we’ve had since we hit the road two years ago.

Our first trip back was Christmas 2016 for a mere three weeks and it was a whirlwind visit to spend precious time with friends and family. As I recall, this ‘return’ had a more intense fear to it, as we had only intended to travel for a gap-year whilst we sold some property, although such was our love for our new lives that we decided to keep going. So this trip was filled with an anxiety that played out some very strange scenarios for me;

Would we want to  stay? 

Would we harbour deep-seated regrets for all we had left behind? 

Would there be a surprising desire to return to our roots and bricks and mortar?  

I think it was the anticipation of these questions and doubts that nibbled away on the inside of my ego.  Although thankfully none of them came to fruition and with a fervour in our heels, we hopped, skipped and jumped our way back to our new European homeland to seek out more life-enriching experiences.  Our trip had been affirming, comforting and full of lovely reconnections, yet nothing held us back from the happiness we have found as nomads.

So you could be forgiven for thinking that having done it once I could come back to UK with a certain degree of confidence in my soul. Although this latest trip was for longer…. This could be up to three months! How would I cope with that and what unexpected nuances would influence our travelling landscape?

Just before we set out on our epic route back through France, to quote the famed Mr King, ‘I had a dream’…  Said dream gave me an absolute clarity about our trip to UK and the role it played in our lives today and tomorrow. It wasn’t so much a ‘going back’ as an opportunity to consolidate a base on which more years of travel could be built on. That realisation brought me a resounding peace and in a flash of that waking moment, I said goodbye to dread and hello to positive purpose.

So often during the course of the last two years I have been reminded of my work as a life coach and the insights that clients and I create to heal their suffering. And here was yet another lovely lesson from my own story book… When things look difficult or tricky, hard or upsetting, then explore whether, within its fabric, is a positive purpose – a reason that that situation, interaction or person is in your life. Once we see this perspective, it makes our handling of it so much easier.

Added to this, an important conversation with a friend gave me the ‘ah-ha’ I sought to the source of my ‘RETURNING’ fear.  Because we decided to swap our corporate stress for a more fulfilling sense of happiness, adventure and simplicity, coming back had the shadow of historical ghosts that lined up ready to suck me back into the nightmare of our previous lives.  My fear was more about what the UK represented for me; a place where for too many years we struggled with stress, mental fatigue and people-pleasing traits that called the shots and that sent our lives into a seemingly uncontrollable spiral. A place that we chose to leave behind and one that we never want to return to, having found the enriching life of nomads.

With clarity of heart and mind we stepped on snowy UK shores with a determination that continues to drive us even into our second month. What was more interesting was that our arrival was exactly two years to the day that we had left for European shores. Was that a strange twist of fate or merely a co-incidence? I’ll leave this to your own imagination, as to ponder on its significance seems futile for us at this point. Perhaps it will become clearer at another junction of our lives, although for now we’ll put it down to co-incidence.

Intent on meaningful connections, productive selling, even more positive purchasing and a little milestone Birthday, we initiated our operation with the strategic character of a battle-field.  A busy month has had our feet not even touching the ground and our to-do-list reducing day by day.

With a bit of an April respite as we housesit back on home turf in Taunton, a place that we proudly called home for four years, we smile at the way we have reacted to being back on the farm where it all started. Our old house next-door is now occupied by new tenants and as they make it their home, our memories strangely don’t feature in any wistful recollections. We simply feel grateful for all that was and all that is right now. Having this stationery sojourn feels comforting and known as we complete the next set of tasks from our list.

One month on, we are making excellent progress on the financial foundation and the social reconnections are being beautifully restored and whilst we sit here on a wet and grey UK day feeling just a bit jaded from our exploits, we know that we are doing well and navigating our intense journey with teamwork. We must though during this next phase of housesitting, allow our bodies (and our livers if we’re honest), take a rest and whilst it is important to see all our lovely friends and family, we must not to fall foul to the old people-pleasing beasts that lurk in the wings of our life’s stage. We must ensure that we continue to put our well-being first so that we may live our lives with the same energy we have up until this point.

And don’t get me wrong, my wanderlust is rising up from my feet with the eagerness of wild horses ready to run through wilderness, although for now this is not where we are meant to be. Our travels will resume soon and in fact there is plenty of adventure to be had in this phase of our lives. It is just shaped by a purposeful need to get our house in order so that we may move forward with greater certainty and confidence.

What will the next chapter bring? That we don’t know, although what we do realise is that with our partnership, love and resilience we can navigate it all with the deftness of a coursing river.

 

Guest Blog – WorldTowning

Guest Blog – WorldTowning

We feel honoured to have been invited to do an interview with the lovely WorldTowning family, for their Inside a Traveler’s Walls series.

WorldTowning have an all-too familiar story of getting caught in the trap of the corporate hamster wheel, trying to fulfil their family life in a meaningful way. And so they set off around the world to give their children an expanded experience of life. As a result of their first-hand perspectives their intention is to build a community of like-minded travellers and dreamers who want to or have chosen to live their lives differently.

Their Inside a Traveler’s Walls series profiles people who made that leap and are willing to share how life looks and feels from within their own personal walls. So why not come see what we shared about our lives on the road.

Thanks guys for giving us a platform to share our passion and our travelling story. Click HERE to read our interview.