The Tortoise and Hare Go Traveling

When our kids were little, really little, we traveled at a pretty slow pace.  If you’ve  traveled with a Little Person, you understand that everything takes longer than expected. You have to wrestle with car seats, nap time, bed time, hunger pangs, little legs and shorter attention spans.  Now that we occasionally travel without the kids, something is quite apparent.  The Mister and I suffer from TSI…Travel Style Incompatibility.

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My  sweet husband is the Energizer Bunny of travel.  He is the only person I know who completed the entire British Museum collection in 90 minutes.  I am the Cecil Turtle of travel.  It takes me 90 minutes to work through one gallery at the V & A. We are officially the Tortoise and Hare of worldwide travel.

The Mister’s idea of a perfect day in a new city is 12 hours of sightseeing completed by lunch, which leaves enough time for 12 additional hours of sightseeing before dinner.  Twenty-four hours worth of activities squeezed into 8 hours.  With time for a walk before bed.  Rinse, lather, repeat.  My perfect day in a new city is a leisurely mix of wandering, sightseeing and multiple stops for food and photography.  His preferable breakfast is a banana in his backpack and a to-go coffee, mine involves a neighborhood cafe, endless cups of coffee and a lot of people-watching.   How do you plan happy travel for a box-checker and a “loose agenda, this-looks-cool-let’s-go-do-that-instead-after-a-coffee” person?

The Mister and Me

The Mister and Me

We’re trying to figure it out.  He is certainly wiser than he once was and knows it’s better to wake me up with a “Look!   I brought you coffee!” instead of  “Hey!  It’s already 7 o’clock! How much time do you need to get ready to go?”   I’ve learned not to plan sitting-on-the-beach vacations or endless afternoons poking through ancient, overgrown cemeteries.  It’s about compromise and learning from each other.  I think we can do that. How do you balance two different personalities while traveling?  Tell me your secrets!

Things to Know

*No feelings were harmed during the writing of this post.

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Has it been a year?

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This weekend marked the one year anniversary of our move to the UK.  365 days since we waved goodbye to friends and family and set up house in a tiny flat in London. I find landmark moments in time warrant a complete review of how that time was spent so I created a personal end-of-the-year report card of sorts.

1.Moving was a major undertaking.  I give myself an A in that category only because someone else did the packing and shipping. Anything is better than the 10+ previous US Navy military moves. No one tried to pack a bicycle inside a cherry armoire this time, so I’ll consider it a win. Perspective is everything.

2. Adjusting to my new home country is still a work in progress…I give myself a B to B- strictly because of the rage inducing encounters I had with BT, O2 and NatWest during the first few months of our London life.  I’m working on adjusting to a new level of customer service and am happy to report I pleasantly negotiated a non-hostile refund with Gatwick Express today. Progress.

3. Traveling.  Travel was a prime motivator for accepting an overseas move and we’ve maximized every opportunity.  We get an A- with a side of Needs Improvement. I had a moment in Hong Kong when I woke up in a dark room at 3:00am and had absolutely no idea where I was.  No. Idea.  This disquieting middle-of-the night, jet-lagged moment led to an epiphany…perhaps, just perhaps, we were traveling a bit too much. Mind you, I’ve enjoyed every single minute of every trip, but realize that running from one place to the next with a camera and notebook in hand left me little time to really reflect on where I’ve been.   I’m going to take some time this summer to sift through my 5000 photos (don’t worry, I won’t post them all) and my little notebook stuffed with semi-legible notes.  There are good memories in there to share.

4.  Learning.  It goes beyond learning not to over-shop at the grocery store when you have a 2km walk home and not saying “pants” when you mean trousers.  It’s learning how create a new work life from nothing, how to reach out to others and establish new relationships with complete strangers and trusting that just this once it might be ok to figure everything out as you go along.

5.  Being thankful.  We are incredibly grateful every day for the opportunity to live as expats.  It comes with its own set of worries, true.  We worry about our parents, our kids, sick relatives, not being home to celebrate and/or grieve with people we love. We worry about never finding a community to call home, but in the end, we hope the pros outweigh the cons.  We’ve been blessed with a nice neighborhood, a shorter commute, more time together and fabulous friends in Crossfit Central London and elsewhere. We  have  a non-stop stream of house guests who bring us love, a bit of home and the good kind of peanut butter. We are blessed.

Thanks for following along.

Megan

Monuments and Memories in Pere-Lachaise

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The cobbled path to the heart of Pere Lachaise was uneven and icy.  I questioned the idea of touring a windblown Parisian cemetery on a cold February afternoon, but my love of old cemeteries overruled any common sense.  My fascination with old cemeteries is rooted in my love of history and my curiosity about the people that lie beneath the stone…the lives they lived, the world they lived in and the stories they left behind.

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Pere-Lachaise lies in the 20th arrondissement and holds the remains of over one million people, seventy-five thousand of whom are current residents. The walled 100 acres are a maze of pathways winding through, around and over monuments and tombstones in various states of repair.  There are maps marking the grave sites of the most famous residents (Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Jim Morrison) but the magic of Pere-Lachaise is uncovered by aimlessly wandering through the curious and beautiful monuments and decyphering the stories and lives depicted in the carvings and monuments of the lesser known.

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So many of the monuments themselves are works of art.  Stunning sculptures and intricate engravings grace the tombs of the relatively unknown while the graves of the famous (and infamous) are often unremarkable.

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Many of the tombs, monuments and mausoleums were graced with flowers and attention, but just as many were barren and in a state of elegant disrepair.  It is easy to understand the continued devotion to French icons, such as Edith Piaf

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but I wondered what  inspired a person to climb a monument and place a fresh, red rose into the hands of someone dead for almost 200 years 

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or create and lovingly place a sculpture and artsy sign on the grave of a musician …

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while nothing lies at the tomb graced with the title of Prince Henry De La Tour D’Auvergne Lauraguais, which is tucked away in obscurity amongst 70000 others?  So much to ponder with so few answers. We eventually tired of such quiet company and decided to seek out a warm refuge where we could contemplate the long list of interesting names collected in Pere-Lachaise and enjoy a hot meal and a bottle of good French wine.

Things to know

You can reach the cemetery by taking the number 2 or 3 metro line to the Pere-Lachaise stop and entering through the cemetery gates.

If you are interested in a comprehensive list of notable figures buried in Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, click here

It can be difficult to find particular tombstones, even with a map.  The Mister and I looked for, but did not find Victor Noir, Isadora Duncan, Balzac and (at The Mister’s request) Fourier. Next time, hopefully.

I was puzzled by some of the notable, non-French figures buried in the cemetery (Jim Morrison?) and researched the requirements. To be eligible for burial within PL, one has to be either a resident of Paris or expire within Paris’s boundaries.  There is a current waiting list for burial plots, which are leased for 10, 30, 50 years or in perpetuity. Yes, burial sites and tombs are reused.

I Missed You, London (but not really)

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I knew it was going to be a perfect morning for my last walk with the dogs. The sun was streaming through the big front windows and a heavy mist hung low over the fields and wrapped around the church tower in the distance.  My week of housesitting in the country was coming to an end. I pulled on my wellies and tattered old Barbour, leashed the dogs and headed down to the fields. I thought about the past week, the serendipitous moments, the theraputic hours spent walking the fields and woods with two appreciative and affectionate dogs. I thought I would miss London.  I didn’t.

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I’m convinced my first English housesitting experience was unusual.  The location was spectacular… a small, country village on the outskirts of Salisbury, the lovely old vicarage that overlooked sheep-speckled fields and two beautiful labradors to keep me company. My job was to take care of the house and the two dogs, walk them daily and keep general order around the property.

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My mornings consisted of waking and feeding the dogs, chugging a cup of coffee and trying to choose which of the dozen scenic walks we would take that morning.  There is something to be said about crunching through the hoar-covered fields and ancient forests just as the sun hits the horizon.  Clears the head.  Accentuates the need for more coffee.  Afternoons were much the same…a long ramble, a quick walk through town for stops at the butcher or green grocer before heading home for dinner and a night snuggled up on the sofa in front of a fire.

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On the weekend, The Mister came to play the role of country gentleman and our daughter came to visit.  We piled the dogs into the car and explored the neighboring towns on Saturday and drove to the beach on a beautiful, sunny almost-spring day. Sound like heaven?  It gets better.

My  first morning in town, the doorbell rang.  I opened it to find a neighbor, who stopped by to see if I needed anything.  We shared a cup of tea and a chat before he was off with a promise to return if  anything came up while the owners were gone. The shopkeepers in town were lovely and helpful.  They called you “luv” and asked if I was”enjoying my time here.” Strangers on the street said “hello” and “you’re a long way from home.”   In my first three days of housesitting, I had two coffee dates, one tea afternoon, two lunches and an invitation to church on Sunday. I met an ex-Royal Navy pilot, numerous retired clergymembers, a woman who was in the midwifery corps that inspired the Call the Midwife series and someone who had, in addition to an amazingly interesting life, Hugh Bonneville as a student (just mentioned in passing).  Somehow I had landed in the Lake Wobegone of England. In addition to everyone in town being good-looking and above average, they were interesting, kind, generous and neighborly. It was unexpected, undeserved and much appreciated.

There were moments that weren’t perfect. I forgot the poo bags on my first walk and had to walk a half mile with a warm poo wrapped in a receipt I found in my pocket.  I managed to blow a fuse in the kitchen the first evening. I stood on the toilet with a flashlight in my teeth and yanked the fuse out with enough force that it ricocheted off the wall and cracked into two pieces.  I did get to meet the electrical supply people in town, though.  They were very nice. There was a trip to the vet and a silly issue with a car key (by silly, I mean I was being completely stupid).  Life is interesting, isn’t it?

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So, I’m back in the city, missing the country, needing a dog and a few friendly faces.  Maybe I can talk the owners into an extended vacation.

Diary of a Wimpy Traveler

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I’m not a wimpy person, per se’.  I certainly appreciate the spontaneous, the adventurous and the unplanned things that make life interesting.  I do, however, like things a certain way when I travel. I don’t need luxury (although I appreciate it) and I don’t need someone to hold my hand and tell me what to do (never used a travel agent).  To me, half the fun of traveling is finding the place, doing the research and making a plan.  I volunteer to plan other people’s vacations because I think it’s fun.  I do all these things with excruciating precision, which makes me wonder…am I missing an essential experience of travel by planning and obsessing over every detail?   I know where we’re going, where we’re eating, how we’re getting there, where we’re staying and, if you’re traveling with me, I know those things about you too.

A friend of mine, who certainly embraces a no-holds-barred approach to everything, shared that her husband accused her of “being addicted to comfort.”  Now, in my house, that would end badly…for The Mister, anyway.  The truth is, after years of planning household moves (14), family vacations, other people’s family vacations and teaching a roomful of lively 5 year olds how to read (all of which require the planning skills of a 4 star general), the thought of not knowing everything ahead of time makes me uncomfortable.

My move to London is a game-changer.  I’m not moving, I don’t have to plan my day around those darling 5 year olds and my own children are adults (or act like it most of the time). Maybe it’s time to try something different.  Something outside my pre-planned comfort zone. Perhaps… it’s time for a little adventure. So, I’m making a travel list and checking it twice (or three times…old habits die hard).  I’m vowing to take advantage of the last-minute, the un-planned, the serendipitous travel opportunities I see on my travel account everyday.  I start this week with my first house-sitting job in the English countryside. Hey, you have to start somewhere.  I might even get crazy and call a travel agent.

Are you a planner when you travel?  Have you ever left on a trip without  “a plan?”

PS. To all those who are or will be traveling with us this year, fear not.  I still plan on organizing the hell out of your trips.  You’re welcome.