Fast forward four years and Rory, Nora and I are now suburban dwellers living back in my hometown in North Carolina. Our big adventures have been less geographical and more situational. We all three started school. I graduated in May from Duke University with a degree in nursing; Rory and Nora have a few years to go. Rory loves competitive rock climbing, and Nora plays travel soccer. I start a new career as an emergency room nurse in a few weeks. But every once in a while a chance to travel comes along, and I grab it with both hands.
August 5, 2015
July 19, 2011
I’m always looking for signs. I saw this one in Greensboro at the Guilford Battleground National Park and I knew it was time. After lots of changes and cancelled plans and indecision, it was time for us to move to Hawaii.
And here we are.
December 31, 2010
Well, I’m hot on the heels of it now. We left Cornwall and turned up on the doorstep of our official residence in Britain, the home of Lucy and Thomas. I got in touch with Lucy when I came across her and Thomas on a list of RTW families. She was the only one listed then who was travelling as a single parent. We hit it off right away. Before I ever left Georgia Lucy was rooting me along, giving me great advice and honest accounts of long-term travel as an only parent. We had set our hopes on meeting in New Zealand and travelling together, but Lucy got sick and had to head home early, after a mere ten or eleven months on the road. Quite a haul. These two had set us up for success when we arrived to Europe in April, helping us find a great car through a reliable mechanic and providing us with an address to make all the paperwork go down easier. (Lucy, thank you! )
We wanted to end our trip there with Lucy and Thomas, and with Rachel and her boys, and they were there cheering when the car auction ended. Yee-haw. Selling the car was one thing. Getting rid of it was something else. The buyers were in Germany, and they offered to come get it in one week. It’s hard to believe, after all those months of being on the move and sometimes finding ourselves at loose ends, that right there at the end we didn’t have a week to spare. We offered to drive the car to their town in Germany, and from there we planned to fly out of Ramstein Air Force Base. They agreed, and we spent the rest of the afternoon getting down to bags we could manage on the train and planes, sorting out liquids and scissors and Swiss Army Knives. We were getting ready to go home.
The end was messy and exhausting. It was the kind of travel that makes travel not fun. The highlight for me was leaving Britain by boat out of Dover, finally getting to see those White Cliffs. They are cliffs. And very white. And I saw them. From there, it was downhill. Our drive took longer than expected, and we missed the last train to Landstuhl by four minutes. We stayed the night in an overpriced hotel only to catch a 5:30 am train with three connections before we caught a taxi in the rain to the Ramstein Passenger Terminal where we found we had missed five flights that morning to Charleston, South Carolina, and would most likely have to wait until the following morning to fly.
We were trying to “space-a” back to the States. That stands for “Space Available,” and basically it means hitching a ride on a military plane. We had left America in October, 2009, on a space-a flight to Spangdahlem, Germany, and the balance-in-all-things side of my brain liked that we were flying home that way, too. Of course, the cheap and thrifty part of my brain liked it even more, because space-a travel is free.
We showed up at 0420 (that’s 4:20AM) for a flight to New Jersey and by 7am we were in the air. Our flight was unlike anything I could have imagined. Going to Germany we had flown in a plane that was essentially like a passenger plane, only with grid floors and tanks underneath the seats. Oh, and the seats were rear-facing for safety. Oh, and there were no windows. Well, this plane was a cargo plane. We climbed the stairs to find cargo under nets filling a massive cave. Our seats were fold-down jumpseats that lined the wall. Any hope I had of catching up on three nights of almost no sleep were blown away with the roar of the jet engines. Despite the insulation that lined the walls the plane was freezing and loud. Crew members handed out earplugs, but, as Rory noted, it was good practice for being deaf. Even with the earplugs out and his screaming mouth pressed to my ear I could hear nothing. We read lips for the whole trip. An hour into the flight the kids fell asleep, leaning on me, and I was into the second course of a full-blown pity party when the crew chief came over and offered me a sleeping bag. Bless his heart. As soon as we reached altitude everyone popped up, folded up their seats, and spread out their sleeping bags. One woman blew up a twin size inflatable air mattress and proceeded to put sheets on it. I found some floor space, nestled into a giant military bag (easily the warmest I’ve ever used), and managed a couple of hours of sleep.
While I snoozed Rory came to life. One of the Airmen took him under his wing and showed him around the plane. The highlight was a tour of the cockpit. Rory asked every question he could think of (remember, he’s a curious child), and the pilots answered every one. Later in the trip the same crew member took Nora and I up to the cockpit, so we wouldn’t feel left out, and it was amazing. Those Airmen made some real fans that day. In flight beverage service? Nope. Reclining seats? Not a one. Movies on demand? No, only aluminum foil over the two door windows to keep out the sun. Not a single luxury or comfort, except for the extraordinary kindness of the fellow passengers and crew, and it was our favorite flight of the whole trip.
We landed in New Jersey mid-morning, rented a car, and pulled up in my parents’ driveway in North Carolina before 8pm. We were home. Our trip was over. How do we know? No one thought to take a picture.
Those of you who have been following this blog since last November (or anyone awake and reading) must have noticed a drastically increased frequency of posts. I mean, I posted NOTHING for almost four months and now I’m writing something every couple of days? Weird, huh? Well, I’m suddenly in a hurry to get to the main event of our storyline. In most ways our trip (and this story) starts and ends with Brandon’s leaving for Iraq and Brandon’s returning from Iraq. Clearly, he’s home, and I’ve got photos, and stories, and I want to see this thing through in the same calendar year that it took place. By tomorrow. So, here goes.
When we last saw our heroes (that’s Rory and Nora and I) we were lounging around the home of the Pilbeam’s somewhere outside of Edinburgh. Our time was short. We knew Brandon was due home sometime in October, and we meant to be there, household established, waiting for him. That gave us about three more weeks in Britain, then about three weeks at home, trying to settle in and get a house ready. Out of our three travelling weeks we wanted to wring all the satisfaction and joy and adventure and fellowship we could. We wanted to make them count. We wanted to spend our time with friends. And I absolutely, positively had to sell our car.
The Pilbeam’s pointed us toward the Holy Island of Lindisfarne on our way south to York. Just like Mont St. Michel in France or Skellig Micheal in Ireland (both of which, due to lack of prior planning, we viewed from afar) Holy Island was a religious community separated from the secular world by thought and deed and the tide. Now the ruins of an abbey, a National Trust property and some shops lure travellers over a wet road twice a day at low tides. And, thanks to the Pilbeam’s, we got there just in time to roll in, stroll around, and leave again before the sea reached our rims. Thanks, Ian!
We had also planned to go by Alnwick Castle, which was used as Hogwarts in some of the Harry Potter movies, but once there I calculated that it would cost us more than $70 to stroll the grounds and try to see exactly where Harry learned to play Quidditch. Hmmm… we backtracked to an overview, had a good look, and kept the money. No regrets there.
I have to admit, I have long wanted to see York. The cathedral, the old town, the Viking museum: I wanted to stay days and days and really take it all in. We set up the tent by the loveliest little river imaginable a few miles outside town. The plan was to stroll into town and take a bus back. Well, we never once left the campsite once we settled in. Those were our last few days in the Snug Bug, and that had a greater pull than York Minster.
Here’s where the Near Strangers come in. Long, long ago, early in the trip, we literally ran into another RTW family in a hostel in Queenstown, NZ. That family, the Price’s, kept an excellent, timely (hpm-hpm) blog which I read every chance I had (as should you: www.globalprices.wordpress.com) After our meeting we stayed loosely in touch, and they invited us to come for a visit if our itineraries allowed. So, strangers? Not really. Friends? Well, they are now. Tim and Kirsten and I stayed up late comparing notes and swapping tales and discovering one freaky coincidence after another. Ready? In addition to the biggie ( finding ourselves with our children on the opposite side of the world in the same hostel on the same day at the same minute, obviously!), we both own really old houses on High Streets, we both had (or have, in our case) a cat named Phoebe, and there was one other one I forget. It was quite late. Anyway, it was fated. I love those guys.
One of the many kindnesses they showed us was helping me to get the car listed on eBay. Kirsten gaped but held back the tears as the contents of our car were disgorged into her entryway. She gamely helped me to sort, repack and donate our stuff. And we are talking PILES of crap. And Tim did such a top-notch job guiding me through the car listing that it sold in five days for more than I paid for it. I’m still smiling about that.
We loaded up (a much reduced load, mind) with a few days to go before we could burst into Lucy and Thomas’s lives again. We had just enough time to zip down to Cornwall to visit a family we met while camping in New Zealand.
Now, of all the omissions of this blog, and they are legion, I just did a quick search and nowhere have I mentioned these folks. That is shocking. Rory really made these friends for us. We were in the very south of New Zealand, camping on Purakanui Bay at a Department of Conservation site (kind of like a National Park, but no park or facilities). Rich and Fiona and their girls were on a five or six-week trip over from England, and we all, kids and grown-ups, and Rich, hit it off right away. Our evening watching sea lions frolic while the kids danced in the sand for joy is one of our highlights of the whole year. Not only that, but we showed up on their doorstep in April, and they showed us a fine time. We drove across Cornwall to see the sun set over their favorite beach, and when we go home they opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate. The best part? Unbeknowgst to them it was my birthday
You can see how we headed straight back for a repeat. In the interim they had had the good sense and amazing fortune to move from town to their favorite beach, so we got to see them in a new setting. Thanks, Rich and Fiona and Edie and Megan and Ruby. You guys are super star.
Looks like I have my work cut out for me tomorrow… stay tuned.
December 28, 2010
Two weeks in Ireland, a week each in Oban and the Isle of Skye in Scotland, followed by three sensible nights in an Inverness hostel and a visit to the Pilbeam family, themselves veteran world travellers (www.web.mac.com/familytrippers/Site/Blog/Blog.html) and fabulous hosts who live just outside Edinburgh. Can I recommend camping in damp countries whose high temperatures in August nudge 67? Heavens, no. We nearly froze. Camping with two children is nothing like experiencing the pubs of Ireland (the only place in that green land where it never rains) or the castle B&B’s of Scotland. Still…
We scared ourselves silly (okay, I scared myself) hiking the Cliffs of Moher. At the National Heritage Living Museum (or some such thing) in Ireland Rory learned his name means “Red King,” and for days he would only come when so called. We had hours of fun poking numb fingers into tidal pools where the Cuillins ease into the sea. We were shocked by the violence and passion of “The Troubles” bubbling right on the surface in Derry (and I was shocked to find I had booked us into a B&B just a few door down from a police station which had been bombed the previous week. Oops). Anne Pilbeam’s chocolate mousse cups are legend in our house, and Ian’s tales of Sammy the Seal turned out to be true (he looked like a giant aquatic dog). We walked the moors of Culloden on the anniversary of the day Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Glenfinnian to reclaim his father’s throne. At the Scottish National Museum (one of the best we saw anywhere, by the way) we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the emigration stories. An interactive display asked you to imagine you were leaving home, maybe forever, and we found that quite easy to do… And we tell and retell every story Mr. Noel told us while we camped at the charming Alie River Hostel in Doolin. So, cold? Yep. Heaps of lasting memories? Well, the Red King hasn’t forgotten yet, and the requests for Irish Stew just keep coming.
December 23, 2010
Here’s the conundrum: I can send out Christmas cards (late, but, still…) and mention the blog, or I can use that time to update the blog, but then I can’t mention my newly updated blog in the cards because I don’t have time to send them.
Solution? I’ll take it one country at a time and keep it simple. How about a few photos and no long, rambling stories? Do I hear a hearty chorus of “Thank God”s out there? Gee, thanks. So, here they are, highlights from France: the Loire River (so much more interesting than the valley), Paris (from our miniscule balcony we watched the lights twinkle from Sacre Coeur across the skyline to the Eiffel Tower and beyond) Versailles (where we zipped through the Chateau to spend hours riding bikes through the gardens- Nora mastered the two-wheeler there!), and an evening spent watchng the sun set at Mont St. Michel. Even without bread and cheese France is something like heaven.
December 9, 2010
August 5, 2010
July 23, 2010
In one good day of driving we left the heat and passion of Rome behind. We drove through Umbria, through Tuscany, up to the Lombardy region and the beautiful lakes. We only stopped for gas. We had a mission: we were on our way to visit out friends who live near Thun, in Switzerland, and we didn’t want to be late. And, to be honest, we were pretty motivated to be settled in a hotel on the other side of the Swiss border before kickoff of the World Cup game between Germany and Spain. And we made it!
I cannot convey how funny it is to drive from Italy into Switzerland. My mind cannot grasp that two such different countries can share a land border. In Italy the air is heavy and horns blow constantly. Couples on mopeds buzz like mosquitos up and down the sidewalks, and women in huge sunglasses thump themselves in the chest and fling their arms out while they talk. The sorbet is so good, and the orange juice is almost always freshly squeezed. The espresso is a small tablespoon of oily black in the depths of the cup. Heaven. Switzerland? Cool, crisp air. Stunning mountains and hiking trails connecting every valley. Highways and roads functioning perfectly, in total order. A woman in a bookshop took 15 minutes to wrap a book that cost $5 . On the streets were not only trash bins, but bins to sort recyclables about 7 different ways. Also heaven. But how can they be so different? Not only that, but for a while into Switzerland, the official language is still Italian. We headed into the San Gotthard tunnel, and all the signs were in Italian. We came out to find ourselves in a German-speaking Alpine wonderland. Bizzarre.
Rory and Nora were thrilled to be in snow-covered mountains. After 9 weeks in Spain and Italy they were no longer excited about dry hills topped with castle ruins. My exclamations from the front seat of, ‘Hey, y’all, look at that!’ were meet with increasingly dull, “Oh, yeah, wow,” just to humor me. They hardly ever glanced up anymore. Now, in Switzerland, I was the one called on to witness stunning scenery and amazing sights. I pulled over near the Susten Pass, and those two burst from the car and scampered all over the hillsides until I rounded them up again half and hour later. Nora, after our two months last summer out west in the US and Canada, was delighted to discover that some mountains come with cafes on the hillside. Hiking with stops for juice and hot tea? Now you’re talking! We drove on to our friends’ with Nora and Rory foreswearing Switzerland to be the best country in the world and Larissa and Valeria the luckiest kids to live in it.
Well, two days with Silvia and Daniel and their family didn’t change Rory and Nora’s mind one bit. We played in the shadow of flowery chalets. We swam (well, they swam- I was too cold) in a gorgeous pool at the foot of a massive mountain. Nora in particular loved their spacious, bright wood-filled house. I learned to make syrup from mint leaves (or from Holundeer leaves, if I can figure out what they are). It was great to catch up with these guys, friends from a year we all lived in Kansas when our husbands were in school together. Over long chats with Silvia I realized how much I miss the company of other women who send their husbands off and then carry on the best they can. I feel so lucky when, out of all the folks in the world and in Army circles, I meet a friend like Silvia.
Silvia and Daniel helped us plan a route into Germany that was peaceful and jaw-droppingly gorgeous. We stopped in Luzern for a couple of hours, then followed the road around the lake and headed north. Now, we’ve gone months on this trip without crossing an international border, so imagine our delight to find that in one day we were (however tangentially) in four countries. The road we were on started in Switzerland, went into Lichtenstein, cut across a little finger of Austria, and then entered Germany. How exciting is that?