It’s just one of those immutable facts I’m afraid. When we travel, people tend to think that because we live in Australia surrounded by all its inherent life threatening dangers, we must be somehow tougher or braver or perhaps faster than they could ever possibly be just to have survived to a reasonable age of retirement.
But we have a natural instinct for avoiding nasty things. Today for instance was Fathers’ Day, the first I have spent on the same continent as our kids in perhaps a decade, so the three of them decided a monster family gathering was in order. No doubt concerned that travel fatigue may have slowed us up a little, they decided to mitigate some of the risk by getting us together at a safe distance from the water where as best we could we would avoid the threat of shark attack, blue ringed octopus bites, cone shell stings and death by box jellyfish.
Instead we barbecued in the bush at the Koala reserve in Daisy Hill, eating bacon fried to a crisp, with egg that tasted vaguely of someone else’s lamb chop cooked yesterday on the same bush barbecue, while bathed in a veil of eucalyptus smoke, all the while keeping a careful eye on the littlies noisily stalking wallabies, with only stinging trees, poisonous ticks, vicious snakes, poisonous spiders and possibly the odd drop bear to worry about. Ahh, we are home at last.
Jet lag I think, is a little like being almost five. We run around and squeal a bit and hug anyone who stands still long enough, but at the same time we don’t really understand what’s going on. They could give us a train that should have spelled our name and instead they could use the letters to say something vaguely rude and we’d be happily oblivious too.
And we, like them, manage to remain happy through it all until that point where fatigue finally takes over, although unlike them hopefully age and experience means that we sink into silence rather than compound the issue:
Lily: Mr Nine won’t let me throw the ball to him.
Lily’s Mum: Well Papa will throw the ball with you.
Lily: But Papa’s a grown-up.
Papa (in his most consoling tone): I am quite immature though Lily.
Lily loudly now (and sobbing with her heart truly broken): I don’t even know what immature means!
I am not sure what anything means at the moment, but this world is spinning faster than the way we remember it. In a few days the spinning may stop and we will try to work out how we got here.
There’s a pattern to any long haul flight, which goes something like; watch movie, eat dinner, watch movie, wriggle and fidget for a few hours wishing sleep would just happen while the cabin staff disappear somewhere for the rest of the night, give up and watch another movie, eat breakfast, fall fast asleep with fifteen minutes to landing time.
Last night, we were only a little while into the wriggle and fidget bit when we began to get the impression that just possibly someone was smoking. After a few more wriggles and fidgets the bloke in front of us stood up, as did his wife across the aisle, his father beside us and his mother from somewhere else. It seems his in-flight entertainment system had of its own volition, put on a display of pyrotechnics and was attempting to fill our little bit of the cabin with some nasty rich substance which bore little resemblance to the air we usually quite like breathing.
It is fair to say that the cabin staff, by now to a person bright eyed and bushy tailed, did not exhibit any natural aptitude for tracking down smouldering wiring mid flight. Shutting down the bank of entertainment units for the duration seemed to be a wise and logical thing to do. Every so often for the rest of the flight some hitherto unseen crew member would wander in to our space, nostrils aquiver in the manner of a sniffer dog, and declare that perhaps the smell was getting better. In our sleep curtailed state it was all we could do not to throw them a toy to tug on as a reward.
We have but six more hours to wait in Hong Kong, feeling as washed out as the tarmac, with the smell of half-finished movie lingering in the sinuses.
It’s that time of our journey once again where we wake up earlier than we need to, then watch as the clock ticks ever so slowly towards departure time. We find ourselves sitting anywhere we can, mostly for hours on end. It’s late morning in France right now, and we’ve already queued for the shuttle and for check-in and for customs and for the security checks. Shortly we’ll be queuing for a snack because our flight doesn’t leave till after one, and it would be a shame to be hungry before we consume the first of two thousand meals and snacks we will be offered over the next thirty-six hours or so.
Mostly though, in between all that queuing, until we are ushered to that reclining padded seat and handed our headsets, we’ll perch anywhere we can find.
That pretty much sums up the glamour that is international travel!
We’d planned it. We’d made a dozen phone calls wherein we explained to all who would listen that we were going in to the city for the day today. We’d even gone as far as marking out a nice little walking tour and were just about to put the map in our carry bag when we turned to each other and asked “Why?”. It’s not as if we haven’t been there before, and we’d only walk until our feet and knees hurt and then we’d have to walk some more to get back to the bus and we’d feel like sleeping all the way back to Roissy.
We could instead we thought, amble through the park at Roissy-en-France and linger over a very long lunch which would cost less than the price of the bus fare to town, wander back to our room and sleep as we would were we on the bus, but without the nodding, and perhaps fill in anything left of the day by tidying up loose ends.
Which is how this journal so suddenly came to be up to date, and we are already ready for the shuttle in the morning. Roll on tomorrow.
Politely, we refrained from mentioning the notable absence of wentelteefjes (pronounced “wait till dave hears”) from the breakfast menu this morning, having not so politely cast some doubt on its ethnic origins yesterday, but none the less, for the third time in three days breakfast took longer than it should. This was in part because of having to deal with the feast that Davo and Bluey had prepared and in part an intentional delaying tactic by the four of us trying to prolong our hour of separation.
Tempting though it was to stay just a little longer, fear of putting unnecessary time pressure on the return of the car had us away in good time, and we were again sitting with cruise control on “max” down the motorway, watching the best of rural France roll by for the hours that were left in our journey.
Dropping a rental car at an airport does bring one back to earth with a certain jolt though. Even on a Sunday without the crowds there’s a certain grubbiness about parking stations and transit terminals that seeps in to one’s pores. Thankfully there's nothing like the smell of cheap disinfectant in the hallways of an airport hotel to make one feel fresh and clean again.
Dave and Ria, no doubt concerned that the three days we have just spent away from the water (if one doesn’t count the rain) may be starting to take an emotional toll, suggested that we might visit Max on his mooring at Beernem today. The prospect of yet another picnic hamper filled with superb goodies from the shops downstairs would in itself have been enough to ensure success for the day, but the thought of consuming those during a gentle tootle on the near-deserted canals of Belgium under a gloriously perfect sky sealed our fate.
Perhaps it goes without saying that we didn’t want the day to end. We did our best to delay things, stopping in Veurne for a gentle wander as the sun began to set while the church clock inexplicably struck something like four hundred o’clock but eventually once again we returned to those cosy familiar surrounds of our hosts.
It’s all a bit surreal to think that two days from now, we will be imprisoned for a time in a silver tube, our fling in the northern hemisphere over for another year. We simply can’t imagine not being here, but it will be real soon enough.
If Dave and Ria hadn’t accidentally crossed paths with Graham and Iris all those years ago, we would probably never have heard of Sint Idesbald.
We wouldn’t have known about its miles of beaches and huts and it’s laid back holiday atmosphere to say nothing of what are reputed to be among the finest butcher, fishmonger, and baker in all of Belgium, and it probably wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say, possibly the world. Yet here we were, following Ria this morning through those very same best-food-in-the-world shops where we loaded ourselves with surely enough bags of glorious things to feed an entire airforce. If that sounds like an exaggeration, there was certainly at least enough food to feed that part of the Belgian airforce which came home to lunch with us, and enough left over for dinner and possibly lunch tomorrow as well.
All we wanted to do after that was sit in the sun or perhaps lie about in the shade, but we didn’t give in. We needed no reminder that sunshine is not in quite the same abundance in these parts as fine foodstuff is so took advantage of the weather while we could. We walked the three of us, not up hill nor down dale because Belgium doesn’t have those, but along the dunes and through the leafy streets until we were certain that Dave would be home after a hard day at work, preparing dinner.
The day started so well too. Sure the spectre of departure loomed over us, but that was later and we still had much to discuss or perhaps not much at all but we did anyway as we lingered over breakfast in that way that people do when there is reluctant parting to be had.
Eventually we could linger no more and naturally that was exactly when the rain began, settling in to a steady drizzle before we hit the motorway. So we crossed Belgium in a sheet of spray, visibility marginal at motorway speed and hopeful that the traffic would not approach from behind too quickly. We had a choice of facing the congestion around Antwerp or Brussels. Either one would certainly provide a respite from the high speed madness, and we chose the latter or our highly intelligent GPS which knows about these things did. As the trucks snarled around us for an hour while we covered the sixteen kilometres on the express ring road, we could only be thankful that we had for once managed to avoid the really bad hold ups.
It hadn’t been an easy drive, and when at last we arrived to clearing weather, we watched the sunset from Dave and Ria’s back deck, feeling as though today we’d earned it.
All things considered we were quite bright eyed and bushy tailed by the time we arrived in Ratingen, just in time for our second breakfast. We suspect that Günter and Alexa’s tummies may have been rumbling a bit while they waited for us to battle with the morning traffic on the autobahn, but all’s well that ends in a meal.
It wasn’t long before they had us out and about again, leading us on the best kind of guided tour there is; the kind where a pair of people who grew up in a place simply wander through their favourite streets and hangouts and allow us the privilege of tagging along. Thus it was that in what seemed like no time at all we had picked the eyes out of the place in a tourism sense, and according to our trusty pedometers had covered fourteen kilometres in the process, stopping only to eat and drink several times along the way.
Eventually we called of a sight-seeing truce, collectively deciding that enough was enough for one day and that perhaps it was time to light the barbecue and settle down to some serious conversation about the mysteries of life and Wuppertal, and wooly mammoths and Roman soldiers and how chance meetings of strangers can from the foundations of lifetime friendships.
Thirty-three years ago this month, armed only with a pair of very small children we travelled on a Rhine River day cruise from Koblenz heading upstream intending to reach Mainz, but were so entranced with the villages and castles along the way. On a whim and with the absence of planning which has held us in good stead ever since, we disembarked in the village of Rüdesheim, completely inspired by the journey and promising to do it again “one day”.
Today was to be that day, but by the time we had slept sufficiently and eaten sufficiently the cruise departure time had come and gone. After a hasty conference at the booking office, we discovered that the return journey was entirely possible if we were willing to suffer an hour or so of train travel with nothing but the river the forest and the castles to see on the way. We grasped the opportunity, were thanked for our flexibility, given last minute (and seniors’) discounts totalling thirty percent of the fare (to help with the cost of the train) and wished well as we set off for the station.
Of course the journey was all that it had been in our memories and perhaps more. Back in Koblenz we may well have retired gracefully to our room to quietly digest all that we had experienced were it not for Joel and Cindy waiting in their motorhome, ready to accompany us on yet another big night out. One day we will work out how it happens that random friends from far away places simply turn up in our path from time to time. Perhaps then such meetings then will be with less incredulity.
When finally we found our hotel we were like kids full of red cordial, minds abuzz with vineyards and castles and fairytale towns and ice cream sundae and laughter with late night schnitzel, not at all ready to tackle the road again on the morrow.
home I can barely remember what I had for breakfast any longer, let alone what I did yesterday.
Since life for us seems to involve a constantly changing set of circumstances, jotting down tomorrows memories today may well assist in staving off the fading process for a few more years.