A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

DSC07738After the mountain scenery of Lake Geneva, Lac Léman to the locals, we moved through Switzerland into the Alsace region of France with Strasbourg as our destination for a rendezvous with friends. Uncharacteristically for us, we travelled on the motorways as our journey was time critical, so the scenery was not of a ‘road less travelled’ quality. Although this once, we allowed ourselves speed and not spectacle.

However, we did notice a big shift in the landscape which had flattened out from the curvaceous mountains to fields of sunflowers, grape-vines and cabbages – an interesting agricultural combination! The villages’ names were also morphing into something much more Francho-Germanic. With such close proximity to the German border, you get the distinct impression that some territorial blood was spilt here.

Strasbourg is most well-known for three things; first has to the be the Christmas Markets, which I can imagine, having now visited, is quite a sensual experience. The second is its seat of European Parliament and finally its UNESCO city rating, most essentially the Petit France region of this Alsace capital, which is strewn with colourful tudor style buildings and flower clad canals and rivers.

DSC07901Our first view of Strasbourg was from the Barrage Vauban looking out towards the Ponts Couverts, four defensive bridges errected in 13 Century.  You can still see the cannons in place to ward of those power-hungry tikes!  This entry position into the city is well worth being first on your list as you will be wowed as you meander through the cobbled streets, quaint squares populated with inviting looking bars and cafés and imposing looking churches.

DSC07835If you pass your gaze beyond the tourist tat that is on offer around the lanes, Strasbourg’s inner sanctum is a delight and you are never far away from the protective embrace of the surrounding River Ill. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame is breathtaking and towers above you as you walk into the main square. Although there is an unsettling presence of armed guards around – sadly a sign of our times, the buzz of the tourist and of course the stupendous architecture of Our Lady commands your attention. The Cathedral transforms from its day-time splendour into a magical Light Show at night during July and August where you will be entertained and enthralled by a musical and visual display that will have you ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ like Bonfire Night. Definitely worth staying up for – even in the rain! Strasbourg is a delight and with its fusion of history, charm and modern influence, young and old can appreciate its essence and soul.

And then there’s Colmar…..  You can’t visit Strasbourg without taking a day to marvel at Colmar, which is only an hour and 40 odd miles away.  To try comparing the two places, would do both an injustice, although there is definitely a different feel to this characterful place.  It’s like walking into a scene from some Disney creation of Hansel and Gretel.  You could almost expect to see seven foot tall Donald and Micky walking towards you – mistakingly feeling like you are in Disneyland.  Although this place has so much more authenticity than that.

I’m trying to liken Colmar to an English town to give you a sense of its appeal and the closest I can get to is Shakespeare’s home town, Stratford upon Avon.  They both have tudor style buildings, canals and a story.  And yet you need to add a dash more wow and shake of OMG to the mix to really get half way to Colmar’s gorgeousness.

I have learned to measure my love for a place by the number of tears I shed and Colmar most definitely appears on the Tearful List.  It’s impossible not to be impressed, as around every corner there is yet another colourful, quirky, wonky looking Gingerbread house with beautiful, crooked walls painted with murals, Germanic turrets and charming shop signs hanging from the walls.

You will hear some people talk about Colmar as a ‘Little Venice’, although I would avoid this filtering into your expectations. There are indeed a couple of canals that run through part of the town and they are very sweet, although Venice it is not – it is Colmar and it stands proudly on its own magnificent reputation. The town is simply delightful, so be prepared for your eyes to be feasted with a pix and mix of visual delights as if a child in a sweetie shop.

It’s really hard to find the right adjectives to describe Colmar any further than I have attempted to here.  It’s one of those places, that you just have to visit for yourself and then you will understand exactly my authoring challenge. I think the pictures will have to convey the rest.  I simply urge you to go and feel its vibe for yourself.

Locking up and Leaving – Top 10 Tips to navigating it sanely

Locking up and Leaving – Top 10 Tips to navigating it sanely

Having said ‘goodbye’ to Blighty, we are now rocking and rolling with the waves of the notorious Bay of Biscay, which gives me time to reflect on the last six months leading up to our nomadic lifestyle.  And what an interesting journey it’s been, with so many lessons. Here are my Top 10 Tips for navigating this period sanely:

1. Time flies
I can’t quite believe what we’ve done in six months. It has been epic when I stop to think how it was only April 2015 when Myles put forward the idea of locking up and leaving Somerset and going travelling in a motorhome. It took me until the end of August, with a little help from my mum, to work through my potentially sabotaging fears and sign up to his vision. In that moment, life turned on a six pence and the months seemed to fly by, even though the waiting often seemed painful.

However far away your D-Day is, watch how quickly the days dissolve. It is imperative to have plans in place, otherwise time will bite you on the bum.

2. Time also drags – especially the last two months
Whilst tempus fugit, there were moments where it felt like we were walking through treacle, in particular the last two months. After New Year we had two months to D-Day. Excitement was building, although each day seemed to have a ball and chain wrapped around its timepiece. I think when you want something so badly, the Universe has a very subtle way of keeping humility ever present.

Be aware that depending upon how you are feeling, time will speed up or slow down in response to your own energy. Just be mindful of this and you will navigate it just fine.

3. Stay grounded – life is now – avoid counting down the days
Myles put a time counter on the website and I remember feeling super excited when we reached 100 days. From this point we could see the light at the end of the tunnel and we began to count down the days. On reflection, I think this is really dangerous. As a Meditation and Mindfulness Teacher, I knew that spending too much time in the future was losing my life in the here and now. Yet when you’re doing something so life-changing, it’s so easy to get caught up in the dream.

So bare in mind that your excitement and expectation will hold you in an empty future – remind yourself to come back to this moment. Life is too precious to waste it wishing for a date to come quickly. We must honour the life that is happening for us right now.

The countdown continues

4. Focus on the practicalities
Whatever shape your life-change is taking, there will be a bucket load of tasks to do and even more research needed to bring everything together. The ideal is to have everything in its place so that there is as little noise as possible when you set off on your adventure. We found it very easy to get lost in the dream of what we were about to do and forget the detail that would make it a great experience.  And that detail has now paid off.

Being the organised one of us, I drew up a timeline of tasks, which we took individual responsibility for. It’s easy in the wave of excitement to miss something off the list, so the plans help you keep focused and work through the ‘To Do List’.

One a very practical note, watch out for anything that involves UK Government – they always take a lot longer than you think. Our Driving Licences are one such example. You should be able to do a change of address on-line and a new licence issued within 24hrs – unfortunately there are a small number of cases where the system fails. Being part of that ‘Club’, we had to do a paper application, which can take up to three weeks. After a few sobs down the phone when I explained we didn’t have three weeks, the DVLA offered me a high priority department to deal with our request. There is always a way around things, although they often add to the stress load that is an inevitable visitor.

5. Make emotion your friend
The practicalities are easy in many ways – it comes naturally to us as human beings to have a ‘To Do List’. What is perhaps more tricky is the emotional rollercoaster that will stealthily creep up on you and pounce when you least expect it. Change evokes some very primal responses, especially if you are letting go of your home, job and everything that defines you on a day to day basis.

Be aware of your sensitive points – what triggers you to feel unhappy, angry, fearful, tired. If you can go into this period with your eyes open, you will navigate the emotions with  dexterity. Listen to your body, your mind, your heart and tune into how they are feeling. The emotions are not to be judged, just understood. Be mindful of your emotions and make them your friend.

6. Work together
If you are making plans with a partner, family or friends, it’s essential to work as a team. Once again, with the primal nature of change, even a good change, we can find ourselves in different places at different times, creating potential conflict.

We had regular check-in points with each other – often in the evening, when we talked about our days and the progress we had made – or not! We always gave each other the space for arising emotions and tried not to fix them. If we became snappy, we both recognised why we were feeling this way and rather than cobra-bate the situation, we simply gave each other space to be, at that moment in time and let it pass.

Communication is key. Talking through where you are emotionally and practically is really important as you navigate these life-changing waves. Whilst they may not be as tempestuous as the Bay of Biscay, they will exist from time to time. Be open, listen, understand, appreciate and support.

7. Learn to let go and release
Locking up and leaving for us was the chance to declutter our lives from the stuff that we think defines us. We’ve done a couple of huge moves in the last five years and yet every time we engage in a clear out, we still seem to chuck out a load more non-essential items. I guess we outgrow household ornaments and clothes, so they’re easy to let go.

Other elements are less easy to release. Friendships, jobs, passions, activities and hobbies that used to fill your life with some sort of meaning. I was holding on to a corporate client from my old life and yet it was causing me all sorts of stress – yet the money was good. In the end, I chose to let that go as the money versus the stress equation was seriously out of balance. I also had a job, as part of my new life, at a local school, teaching children relaxation and meditation. Yet this life-change meant I needed to let go of this and the voluntary work I did at the local Donkey Sanctuary. It was hard, although necessary if we were free to follow this dream.

Be prepared to let go of things that could be excuses holding you back from making your life-changing decision. Whilst it may be hard to do, your dream holds another, more important purpose for you.  You can always re-engage with these things at another time. The letting go can be a really cathartic process so challenge yourself around it and then let go some more.


8. Make time for good byes
When we choose a new way of life, we inevitably leave something or someone behind. Ensure that your precious relationships are handled sensitively and with respect. Family need nurturing with reassurance of connection as you leave for new horizons. Although it might feel like lots of time is invested in saying goodbye, it is as important for your friends to have the opportunity to say farewell as it is for you. Whilst it’s not a true grieving process, important relationships need holding with love as you set off on your adventures. Give space and time to them all and work out how stay in touch. True relationships will survive all the twists and turns of life’s adventures and in this period of your life, it will be no different.

9. During tough times, hold the dream
There are going to be difficult times before you reach your D-Day, be assured of that. Our expectations and fears will always throw up hurdles to climb over. If we understand this natural passage of things, then it will be far easier to navigate. When you find yourself stressed, then take time to refocus on what you are doing and why you are doing it. Picture how your life will look and all the treasure that will enrich your lives. Keeping the dream alive is really important when you feel like you are struggling.

10. The journey starts now
Our philosophy is that it is our inner journey that will define us far more than the miles Scoobie’s tyre tracks travel. And we decided at the outset, that our journey started the very moment I overcame my fears and committed to the dream. Every twist and turn is shaping you and ultimately is remoulding the very fabric of your life. Allow this part of the journey to be as meaningful as the eventual adventure you are about to take.

And so I hope these Top 10 Tips of how to navigate the Lock up and Leave journey can help you as you, tread this exciting life-changing path.

‘Make every day an adventure and each moment count.’


With travel blessings

Karen and Myles
The Motoroamers.