Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Funday Monday - Trip of a lifetime!

I know it's a bit on the late side but I badly wanted to participate in Funday Monday. I got this post half written on Monday and have since had to go and attend to other things! I should be finishing those things today but they can wait!

This week's Fun Monday hostess is Alison of RDH Mom. She wants to hear about our favorite vacation.

She challenges us to consider...

Vacations...this is the time of year when most of us go on vacations. Show us and/or tell us about your favorite vacation - where you went, what you did, etc. Pictures would be great. Let's all take a trip around a the world via our FM friends!!

I warn you this post is long, rambling and full of lots of photos! I found it very hard to stop writing as I relived each moment. I have missed so much! The holiday almost felt better for me this time around! If you are brave enough do read on!

My favourite holiday of all time was the trip of a lifetime Mr B and I took to Europe over a month in September/October 2006.

To give you a bit of background, Mr B and I settled down and bought our first home whilst in our early 20s and spent that time trying to get ahead financially instead of travelling in our "gap" years. We subsequently travelled to places not so far away, Fiji, Thailand, New Zealand but had never conquered the obligatory trek through Europe.

Part of the reason why we had never travelled far was that I was very afraid of travelling. I had been involved in an accident whilst on a school trip in high school. I sustained severe spinal injuries but most luckily narrowly avoided becoming wheelchair bound. A number of other students were also badly injured and one fellow schoolmate passed on. All of this happened in a very remote location very far away from medical assistance, home, family and friends.

So for a long long time I did not associate the prospect of distant holidays with fun and avoided the idea like the proverbial plague. Instead I really threw myself into my studies and then my new career. And time passed.

Much happened in 2005/2006 which changed all of that.

In late 2005 Mr B, Fifi and I together decided on a whim to conquer a cycling holiday the following March.

We were all in our own ways, in a funk, and wanted to do something totally totally different. So we trained and eventually together rode 500km in 9 days as part of the Great WA Bike Ride. As almost all of the pictures of that holiday involve one of the three of us in not so flattering lycra I will not subject you to those here!

That holiday turned out to be a life changing experience for all of us in different ways. Mr B and I came home absolutely pumped. We were fitter and happier than we had been in a long time. We had enjoyed a great holiday together and felt that we could take on a bigger things. We were restless to try something new and also started to seriously plan the future of our lives together. Which sounds strange because at that time we had been together 10 years and married for 4.

But until then we had both been studying, working, trying to get ahead careerwise and really had not looked at where we wanted to be in the long term. We realised that god willing, we wanted to start a family sooner rather than later.

And that we wanted to travel afar before our family started to grow.

So in mid July 2006 we made a pretty spur of the moment decision to depart Melbourne and see some of Europe. At the end of the following month.

We decided to do it all ourselves. No tours. No travel agents. Just the us and the net. In the 6 weeks before our departure we booked everything on the net with the help of Tripadvisor and some trusty travel guides. The task was time consuming but in a good distracting way.

It was a huge turning point for me personally.

Beforehand, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever be inclined to go somewhere so far away and try and enjoy it! A number of times I decided that we weren't going. That I could not do it. About a week out I nearly pulled the pin altogether. The tightwad in me was about the only thing that stopped me from cancelling the whole thing!

Being the drama queen that I am about 3 days before departure I fell and sprained my ankle badly. It was at that point that I realised how badly I really wanted to go (and also how badly Mr B wanted to go and had wanted to travel for many years).

The day we flew out of Melbourne was just perfect. The weather clear. No traffic on the way to the airport. I clearly remember the U2 song "It's a Beautiful Day" playing in the taxi on the way to the airport. I was calm and relaxed, most probably partly due to the Valium I had taken and partly because I knew I had done everything I could to be ready for whatever were to come. The rest was out of my control. A revelation. For the first time in so long I experienced merely anticipation not trepidation about travelling.

Our itinerary was Melbourne-Hong Kong-Frankfurt-Prague-Berlin-Paris-Venice-Florence-Cinque Terra-Rome-Hong Kong- Melbourne.

Hong Kong was lovely but as we had been to Thailand before it did not make a huge impact on us. Except for the airport. As my ankle was still crook I ended up with a wheelchair escort through the airport. Definitely the quickest way to clear customs! We were anxious to get to the European continent and get started on our bigger adventure.

We flew into Frankfurt at about 5.00am. It was dark and cold. The airport was not yet really alive with activity. As we cleared customs Mr B and I held hands and dragged our luggage through the threshold and wondered out loud together what we had got ourselves in for.

We somehow made it to the train from the airport to Frankfurt city. The first thing we noticed was the granduer of the Frankfurt railstation, something which would strike us again and again as we travelled through Europe.

It was starting off as a cold dark day. We checked into our hotel, had a shower and went for a walk. And had a beer and a Frankfurt. I swear that I have never in my life enjoyed a tastier sausage. A ball of excitement swelled in our stomachs together with the beer and we awaited happily for that which would unfold.

The train trip to Prague was an interesting one. People did not take their allocated seats. Smoking was still allowed in the carriages. Neither Mr B nor I had ever seen a decent sized gun before. At the border of Germany/Czech Republic our tickets were checked by handsome Czech policemen. Who were accompanied by other fairly mean looking policeman. Who had some seriously sized rifle looking guns.

We were to see those kinds of guns alot whilst in Prague. On the streets, at the palace, guards everywhere with guns.

We stayed in the Jewish quarter in Prague for three days. And fell in love with the place. The history of it. The beauty of the old buildings particularly the castle. We floated around on highs neither of us had ever experienced before. We wandered over the bridge making wishes on the icons along the way. We did not think we could love any destination as much as Prague.

Yet we did. Berlin was hands down Mr B's favorite place of our journey. It was eclectic, alive, still without a definite identity after years as a city divided. The recent history of the place was horrifying and fascinating at the same time. We enjoyed so many different things, a walking tour one day, a cycle through the city and the infamous Tiergarten the next.

We stayed in a backpackers hostel which frankly resembled a hotel more than hostel. We ate amongst other things, the most gorgeous dumpling soup ever at Susuru Japanese Noodle Bar.

We fell in love with Germany's cleanliness and order. The polite directness of the train conductors, the unsmiling but genuine attempts at assistance from the shop clerks.

At that point we knew we were lucky to be alive. Just so lucky.

Part of the reason that we decided to go when we did was to suprise Mr B's mother who was to enjoy her 50th birthday on holiday in Paris with my father in law. Our next stop was so gorgeous in part due to our being able to finally share our excitement and wonder with others. As it turns out my mother in law knew we were coming. But it all did not matter. We were in gay Paris after all!

Together we wandered the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, dined in restaurant in the Eiffel Tower (very overpriced, food not so great, but the views fantastic) and cruised down the River Siene. One night over dinner my father in law and Mr B delighted in the view of the beauties performing at the Moulin Rouge! Mr B and I stayed in the Marais in a quaint apartment 4 storeys and 56 stairs up and enjoyed the liveliness of that quarter of the city. We toured the city by bike - a most adrenalin filled jaunt - riding through the extremely busy traffic filled Place de Concorde at breakneck speed after the Amercian tourguide declared "Just yell and keep riding - they should stop for us if we keep in a group!!"

We supped on the most simple lunches of bread, cheese, figs and wine in the Tuileries Gardens.

My parents in law left us the day we travelled to the Palace of Versaille. We had no time to feel homesick for our departing relatives as on that picture perfect day we cycled the gardens and then toured the castle by foot. What a joy.

Our move onto Venice was by overnight train. It was a rattly old journey. Watching the sun rise upon riding into Venice was one of the best things I have ever seen. I had studied Italian for 12 years of my schooling and as we rode into Venice the emotion of fulfilling my desire to see the city overwhelmed me.

In Venice we stayed in a hotel which was horrible. It stunk. It was an old building retrofitted with modern day plumbing which apparently was aired throughout the hotel twice a day. Probably the only negative incident of our journey. Riding the traghettos, eating pizza and wandering the "streets" of Venice more than made up for the hotel in which we barely spent any time.

From Venice we went to Florence for a few days. The view from our charming apartment was stunning. There at the recommendation of our landlord we shopped at the local market and enjoyed a feast of fresh pasta with porcini mushrooms, olive oil and parmesan washed down with a Tuscan red. We wandered around, viewed churches and art. A highlight was seeing David in "the flesh."

We trained to the Cinque Terra from Florence. As we headed south the scenery changed and became more beachy. Upon arriving in Vernazza and meeting the owner of the pensione where we stayed, I felt like I had finally reached home. The people were warm and friendly. They tolerated my terrible attempts at speaking italian cheerfully. The foccacias were fresh, the proscuitto sweet. It was in Vernazza that we enjoyed the most beautiful meal of spaghetti marinara. Now usually I don't touch the stuff. But the owner of the restaurant explained to us it was his best dish, he had fished that day for the mussels and clams. We did not want to disappoint him. Most importantly he did not disappoint us. The magic of the sea revealed itself to us in every single bite.

We trekked the 18km hike between the towns in a day. It was a tough hike comprised of stone paths and stairs. But the most rewarding part of the whole trip for me. The views of the olive groves and towns built into the rocks overlooking the sea. It was everything I dreamed of and more. Mr B and I had never been more close as we watched the sun set together that day.

From the quiet of the Cinque Terra we finished up our italian sojourn in Rome. What a contrast. A city full of grime, hustle and bustle. Taxi drivers trying to rip us off. Long lines to get into attractions. When we arrived in Rome I felt some trepidation for the first time on the trip. I had booked an apartment on Via Giulia near the Campo Di Fiori online. The Roman agent was the only one who required me to pay a significant deposit. The accomodation in Rome was the most expensive of our journey and I was worried that the final days of our stay were going to be in a dud of an apartment.

I needn't have worried. The apartment in Rome was fantastic. Top floor. Above the the children's court and the anti mafia police station - we felt very safe. Beautifully appointed with antique furniture and objects d'art. For example antique Hermes scarves framed on the walls. And a rooftop terrace which overlooked other rooftops and revealed a glimpse of the Vatican.

It was a perfect place to finish our stay. We trekked by foot around Rome and saw the most wonderful sites that the city had to offer, the Vatican, the Pantheon and the Spanish steps. We took a (very big) day trip to view the ruins at Pompeii. We each made our secret wishes whilst throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain. At the end of each day we would shop at the local market for some nibblies and retire to the terrace to reflect over the day over some limoncello, bread, cheese, salami and proscuitto.

On the way home we stopped over in Hong Kong, did some shopping and went to China (Shenzen) for some more shopping.

As our trip drew to a close I know that I felt totally liberated. So lucky to be alive and to have faced my fears.

I had experienced delights visual and culinary about which I had never dared dream.

I felt complete and happy. I knew that I was ready to face whatever might come in a way I had not ever been before.

Which was just as as well really...

...as a bit under 40 weeks later Mr B and I each happily and tearfully disclosed to the other that our respective Trevi Fountain wishes had just come true.

Thank you for sharing the journey with us!

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