Tonight we fly!
- A suitcase and day pack each ✓
- Puffer jacket, gloves and beanie ✓
- Passports (2 each, Aussie and Dutch) ✓
- One-way ticket to Europe ✓
- Treasured possessions packed and en route to store in Ireland ✓
- All other items given away or sold on gumtree ✓
- Car sold (phew – just) ✓
- Investment property sold (big $ loss but freedom gain) ✓
- Family home tenanted ✓
- Long service cashed in ✓
- Pockets full of hope, excitement and the big unknown ✓✓✓
On this typically sunny late December day I suppose I should be feeling nervous. It may be typically sunny as we sit at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport and while I’ve sat here many times before, today is anything but typical. Today I’m sitting with my husband, our four children, our passports and one way tickets. Our possessions have been trimmed down to only the treasures and we are adventure bound.
Surprisingly, I don’t.
Feel nervous that is.
What could possibly go wrong? Surely, buying a campervan over the internet, sight unseen, taking your kids out of school for six months without considering, or even checking if there is a homeschool option and not knowing where you’ll be at the end of the six months is normal.
It must be right for me at this moment. Or is it my kind of normal? Because the only feeling I can express is excited anticipation.
This day, the day we fly, has finally arrived.
It’s rather liberating to be free and without ties. It has taken a little over six months to unburden ourselves of the commitments and stuff we had collected over these past years of our lives. Everything has been digitised, from the past 5 years of tax papers, the cd and dvd collections to the medical and school records. We no longer own chairs for our dining table nor mattresses or even beds for that matter!
I guess we all have our midlife crises in different ways.
We, Greg and I, my beloved, husband and partner of over 20 years, decided to have ours as a campervan adventure in Europe with our four kids. I sneak a glance at our 12, 10, 7 and 4 year old children, the younger three playing uno and the eldest with his head in his online football manager game. These loves of my life, each with their own backpack filled with their worldly possessions. If they were nervous you wouldn’t know it. I like that this is their kind of normal too.
Adventure has become the norm for our family over the past few years. We have upped the wanderlust anti in our family. Climbing the highest peak in Australia, Mt Kosciuszko. Hiking the many incredible hiking paths in and around Sydney. Surfing into the sunset with the dolphins in Byron Bay. Weekend and school holiday adventures became one of our ways of creating a life that feels more us. More than the one we’d started waking up to.
Slowly we’d found a life creeping in that felt in conflict with what felt right (for us). Grumpy ballet teachers, ultra competitive and selective weekend sport, plastic, excessive parties, a husband and father who was always at work, slowly losing himself in the depths as he gave more and more to the insatiable greed of the corporate grind.
This wasn’t my idea of how my kids’ childhoods, or how our life was meant to look. I didn’t recognise myself in this kind of life. So we adventured and I wrote about it on a blog. A blog that helped me to escape the everydayness of life, only to find the everydayness of life. An everyday life our way.
For most people, an epic European campervan trip would be enough of an adventure. Not so it seems when you live with a curious, food loving, Europhile globetrotter. One who needed to find his spirit again.
It had taken Greg longer than me to come on board with the fact that we could leave it all behind to head off into the sunset in a campervan for a while. I’m the dreamy one, he’s the practical one. But as practical as he is, he also had a big dream in him. Apparently, now that he was on board with the whole escape for a while, in his mind living in a campervan with six people wouldn’t be challenging enough.
“It’s just a luxury trip if we do that” he said. “We need a real challenge“. One late night when we were talking about our trip, pensively, he ventured “… why don’t we stay in Europe for a while.”
We’d lived in Amsterdam pre kids and we both held a deep desire to return to a European way of life. This would be a fresh start to create something less stressful than the life we were leaving in Sydney.
We would find new jobs, give the kids the experience of learning foreign languages and of living abroad. We’d spend weekends eating pizza in Naples, taking the train to Paris for wine and cheese, enjoy the piazzas of European cities and the charm and traditional fare of the countryside. We’d follow road bike races, climb mountains, surf the wild Atlantic and be lost in the history and cultures of Europe.
Of course it sounded perfect to the glass half full, adventure seeking kind of gal that I am. Without hesitation – I agreed. It’s not the first time I’ve had to reinvent myself. Heck I’d just done it in Sydney. It wasn’t easy, nothing worthwhile ever is but I’d done it and here I am. Writing, taking photos, about to live a life long campervan across Europe dream. Sure, let’s add to the challenge, let’s stay on in Europe!
For months I’d been checking off administrative type tasks. Cancelling subscriptions, gumtree advertisements, sorting insurances, paperwork to sell a house, rent a house, sell a car, visa paperwork for Greg in Europe, renewing passports which is no mean feat when your kids are dual citizens and they may not move, and most certainly must not smile or show any teeth in this new age of passport photos! The photos alone took three attempts.
So after a seven and a half hour flight into Singapore it was rather nice to have a checklist that looked like this – sleep, swim, enjoy the spoils of the Asian buffet breakfast. I mean does anything compare to eggs any which way you wish? We’ll take one omelet, two poached, a fried and a boiled egg please. Plus all the summer fruit thanks. This would be the last we’d all be seeing of summer for a while.
I have never really understood the airport hotel. I’ve always wanted to get where I was going. But travelling with four kids who decided early on that plane sleep would not be something they were into, a 12-hour layover was the perfect salve. Why would they sleep? Movies and their own personal gaming devices in the seats in front of them, non stop food, drink and lolly service are far more interesting to a kid than sleep. That layover prepared me for what felt like a long, very long leg between Singapore and London. Thirteen hours of watching your kids exhaust themselves with sugar indulgence and sleep refusal.
London baby, we made it.
After living and sweating it out pushing a pram in the hilly eastern suburbs of Sydney for the past three years, waking up in London this morning felt delicious. I was up to enjoy it before the daylight arrived thanks to my friend jet-lag. I make the most of being awake and as soon as the light allows I take a wander outside in my puffer jacket, beanie, gloves and neck warmer – the full kit! It feels rather novel to be rugging up so warmly. I wonder if I’ll still feel like this after a few deep winters. I also have my trusty camera with me to see what I can see.
I never thought I’d long for the cold but these past few years of living in the humid heat amongst the noise of city life feels like they’ve had a dehydrating effect on me. I take a photo of some delicate tiny frost covered leaves and I feel my sense of wonder. It flows through my body and warms my skin as my smile grows and my eyes sparkle. There’s a crispness in this London air that feels refreshing. Healthy even.
The birds are slowly waking and as they populate the bare winter trees to begin their daily routine of song. I feel peaceful. The holy grail kind of peace, inner peace – contentment. It’s the perfect way to end this year and the perfect way to begin this new one. There will be no need for any resolutions tonight or tomorrow. I am right where I want to be.
Over the years I have visited London and to me it has never lost its magic or mystery. It always feels like anything could happen when you’re in exciting London town. We are lucky enough to be able to house-sit for Greg’s sister. Like many Australians she has spent most of her adult life in London. Together with her Irish husband and their beautiful growing family, this is now home. Home amongst the tudor style windows, thatched roofs and the rich woodlands in this enchanting village hamlet just outside of London.
When in Rome we would always, without doubt, visit the Pantheon, often more than once, such is the breathtaking splendour of this former Roman temple. In Barcelona it’s the Sagrada Familia, in Lisbon the view of the city from São Jorge Castle. London, naturally, boasts its own places of reverence for us. This is the first trip to London for our children and we are looking forward to introducing them to our favourites.
We love food, and food markets. Our biggest regret when we left Melbourne to live in Sydney for work, aside from family of course was giving up the the Vic markets. Stall after stall of produce. Everything you need under one roof. The organic, slow, sustainable produce we prefer. From vegetables, fish and meat to the artisan producers and purveyors of breads, preserves, cured meats and cheeses.
Our first stop is London’s historic Borough market. With its 1,000 year old history these markets have evolved into a foodie haven. Over the years, it has become a tradition for us to stop in and satisfy our taste buds with their array of street food on offer. Today is no different. Greg and the kids go for his traditional favoured choice, the chorizo roll. I chose the Lebanese vegan wrap. We are only in London for a few nights so we can’t buy food that will be wasted and honestly we’re a little too tired to meal plan! We do however spoil ourselves with a selection of local and continental European cheeses to enjoy.
By the time we finish at the markets we realise we probably have one more visit in us before we need to get home and fade. Old friend jet-lag will surely stop by again and it’s a risk with four kids to push too hard, even without the threat of jet-lag. We find our way onto the tube from the market and decide to visit Buckingham palace and the guards in their red coats and bearskin hats.
We found our way to the palace via Green Park. For all its hustle, London is truly a beautiful city of expansive and beauteous parks. I never tire of walking in London. On the tourist trails the magnificence of the green spaces are never far from where you are. Which, when you’re travelling with kids is the essence of finding compromise in exploring cities.
Our kids are quite taken with the palace and its pomp. Lucas, bless him, our seven year old declares ‘ … I don’t think we can go in. I’ve got mud on my shoes, the queen wouldn’t like that’.
I guess that will teach me to let them run in the park before going to visit the queen. Kids though. I do love how they see the world without barriers. Of course the queen would see us if our shoes weren’t so muddy and we weren’t all in comfy tracksuit pants!
Next week …
Is 8 am too early for blue cheese?
Lost – our obsession with time.
If you made it this far, thank you! 🌷 Perhaps you can help me. Are there mistakes, gaps? Do you need more description, depth or explanation in any of the paragraphs? Are some details not needed? Obviously it is the beginning so the bigger themes of minimising, travel and of course the trip will unfold but I’d like to be sure I keep the flow. And this is a beginning, a draft and I will grow with it, but my friends and editors, please feel free to offer your advice. You can do so in the comments or via my comment page.