Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Inward Journeys

Every morning for the past several weeks I’ve awakened with a mixed bag of “to-dos” rattling around in my brain. What needs to be done before we move out on June 29 must be infiltrating my dreams because even before my days have started, my head hurts! By the end of every day I check off several items from the list. Order duffel bags; check. Complete change of address forms; check. Make dentist appointments; check. Locate our birth certificates for our visa applications; check. And every time I delete one item from the list, three more appear. While taking care of all the logistics for our gap year and getting things done are part of the whole experience, I can’t forget to slow down every few days and lose myself in the emotional preparations. While packing the dozens of books, pictures and knick-knacks from our living room shelves a few days ago, I sat down on the couch and read and reread the following Lawrence Durrell quote I had framed and used as a bookend for our travel book collection many years ago.

“Journeys, like artists, are born and not made.
A thousand differing circumstances contribute to
them, few of them willed or determined by the
will – whatever we may think. They flower
spontaneously out of the demands of our natures –
and the best of them lead us not only outwards
in space, but inwards as well. Travel can be one
of the most rewarding forms of introspection...”                        -- Lawrence Durrell, Bitter Lemons, 1957

Durrell is one of my favorite travel writers and his evocative prose has enriched my previous trips to Greece and the Mediterranean. What he expresses above is a big part of why we have only a rough idea of where we’ll travel for 12 months. I am certain that our trip will unfold as “our natures” need it to and we want the flexibility to follow where our hearts lead us. So, now that Durrell has helped me sit down, close my eyes and do some careful reflection, it’s time to get back online and cancel the newspaper.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

More Hiking

I remain in a hiking state of mind. I’ve already mentioned the Tour du Mont Blanc but we’re also planning to do the Cinqueterra in Italy, Mount Etna on Sicily, a few Pyrenees hikes in France and I’m sure there will be several in Greece. We did the Samaria Gorge on Crete way back in 1979 and then again twenty years later with our kids. The gorge is now chokingly crowded in warm weather so we’ll have to search out another less traveled trail on that beautiful island. The first time the notion of hiking entered my consciousness was when I saw The Sound of Music. The indelible image of the Von Trapp family with their packs and walking sticks climbing the Alps to escape the Nazis still colors my visions of trekking. So, it makes perfect sense that my very first real hike was in the Swiss Alps. It was on my after-junior-year-of-college summer backpacking trip that I decided to leave my fellow travelers in town and hike up an Alp. Let’s Go recommended an all-day round-trip walk from Grindelwald, Switzerland (http://www.magicswitzerland.com/grindelwald.htm) up to the Kleine Scheidegg pass at snow line at the base of the Jungfrau and Eiger peaks. So, armed with my camera, some decent walking shoes, a small bottle of water and some snacks in an over-the-shoulder bag, I left the Interlaken youth hostel at dawn, took the mountain train up to the trailhead in Grindelwald, and headed up towards the Jungfrau. When I think back on that inaugural excursion, I now realize just how ill-equipped I was, but at twenty-one, all I wanted was to experience climbing an Alp. The four-hour ascent took me up through meadows and pine forests, across rocky streams and over stiles. The footpath also crossed a few farms and I met several bearded goats sporting clanging bells around their necks. Several lederhosen-wearing Von Trapp-like families passed me along the way and I swore then and there that hiking treks would become part of my future family’s getaways. The gradual ascent was punishing to my amateur hiking legs and at one point I thought, I cannot possibly take another step. But then the snowline finally appeared ahead and I managed to drag myself through the final, strenuous mile. My reward for reaching the pass was a well-deserved apple juice, and never had a cold drink tasted so good. I had a fellow hiker take the picture below (what’s with the knee socks?), sat and marveled at the scenery around me for almost an hour and then reluctantly began my descent. The fours hours up turned into 2 hours down and while the ascent tested my lungs, the descent uncovered muscles I’d never knew existed.  My thighs turned to jello about half way down but adrenalin and the thought of dinner kept me going. I arrived back at the hostel by seven p.m. after stopping in Interlaken for a drippingly delicious cheese fondue. My solo Grindelwald day was one of my most treasured memories of the entire trip and it inaugurated my love for hiking. Joe and I now have a year ahead of us to create so many more hiking memories.  

Thursday, May 19, 2011

OMG We Need Visas!

I have not wanted to jinx this major development, but I think I’m finally safe saying that we’ve sold the house. After having the house on the market for 14 months and making sure we left it in show-able condition EVERY SINGLE DAY, we have a signed contract and a closing date of June 30. OMG. So now the real fun begins. Packing, sorting, gathering documents, figuring out where we’ll live for the summer, moving all our financial accounting online, getting visas! It didn't even occur to me until about a month ago that we would need visas to stay in Europe for a year. I figured that since we won't be in any one country for more than 3 months at a time, our gold-standard US passports would get us anywhere we wanted to go. Wrong! A quick Internet scan brought up dozens of sites and posts about a "Schengen Visa. "A what? Sounds like a bad line from The Producers. But the Schengen variety of visa lets you stay in a group of European countries that roughly mirrors the EU for up to 3 months. You then have to leave for at least 90 days and then you can come back in for another 3-month period. Well, that won't work unless we plan a couple stints in Africa or the Middle East. The closest we'll come to that is a week or so in Morocco -- and that'll be plenty exotic for this particular trip. More research required. It's likely we'll end up having to go to the French Embassy for long-term stay visas. The prospect of cutting through the infamous French red tape is not a pleasant one, but we'd better get used to it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

New Sandals

I go through phases as I think about our gap year. Sometimes I daydream about the food, other times I imagine all the books I’ll have time to read and yet others I lose myself down cobblestone mazes. Today is a hiking day. This morning I woke up in the middle of a dream that took me into the chalky hills of Provence – the hills like those in the film, “Jean de Fleurette.” All I remember of the dream is that I was walking and walking and walking for miles but wasn’t the least bit tired. We’ve never done any significant hiking in southern France but it must be calling our names. So, with the dream as a sign, I went out and bought myself some hiking sandals this afternoon. I have some big, full-fledged hiking boots that have served me well and will continue to do their job as we trek through Europe, but I’ve had my eyes on some lighter weight footwear for less strenuous walks. After debating the merits of some open Chaco’s with those of a pair of closed-toe Teva’s, I settled on some Keen’s and am thrilled with my new dark earth/Caribbean blue sandals! I immediately took them out on a four-mile test walk and all went flawlessly. Not a blister to be felt! They’re now going back in their box and the next time I wear them, we’ll be in Europe! It’s somewhat childish, but as I purchase things specifically for our trip, I have a hoarder’s urge to tuck them away deep in the closet so they maintain their aura until it’s time to pack. I take them out every once in a while to make sure they’re still there and to imagine how excited I’ll feel when we finally get to pack our bags. The list maker in me had a very good day: hiking sandals – check!! 

Friday, May 13, 2011

I'm Back!

I took a bit of a hiatus from this blog while I did 3 months of student teaching bootcamp this spring. It's all part of the master plan, I’m happy to say. I left the corporate book publishing world in 2010 and became a consultant so that I would have enough time to finish my Masters in Education and become a middle school French teacher. An important part of the program was completing 12 weeks of actual teaching and as anyone who has been a student teacher will tell you, it’s brutal! I have never been so terrified or worked so hard in my life! Who knew that a classroom full of adolescents could be so intimidating – but they are! Especially when you have to speak to them in French and they point out your every mistake. Well, the good news is that my formal training is over, the better news is that I survived and the best news is that I know I made the right choice by marching down the French teacher trail. While we’re in Europe, I’ll take every opportunity to loosen up my French jaw and hope to take a course for French profs when we’re in Provence next summer. This way, when we return home (wherever home will be), I can start a new career with the scent of lavender and goat cheese still in my hair. As to what Joe will do when we get back, well – he’s just not sure yet. It’s part of what he’ll be doing while we’re away: figuring out what he wants to do with the rest of his life. And pondering the big questions like that one from the vantage point of being far, far away from all that is familiar can often help the possibilities appear. A different backdrop can sharpen the senses, broaden the horizon and let the most important things float to the top.