Monday, 11 August 2014

The Italian Job: The End

*Many of you have been following our month long trip in a Passat estate around Italy with the three boys.  We've had our thrills and spills and ups and downs.  This is the final post about our journey through a simply magnificent country.

The boys were amazing on the car journey home.  I suppose that after 4 weeks away, we had all settled into a ‘driving’ routine, whether it was reading for a bit, limited electronic entertainment or just a general laugh about what we had seen or done. Time flew by fairly quickly, we stopped for fuel and a leg stretch, and a peer into the sunlight after the darkness of the copious tunnels that we had been in.  But it seemed to be getting darker the closer we got to Calais, and it was only mid afternoon.  A quick scan of the news channels on the radio and we realised that the tail end of ‘Big Bertha’ the weather front that had played havoc in the Bahamas was heading our way.

And indeed it was not long before we were caught in the middle of an amazing thunderstorm.  Cars had pulled over haphazardly on the toll road, hazard lights twinkling in amongst the lightning bolts.  Winds buffeted the car, and the roof box thumped up and down.  Rain lashed at the windscreen as G endeavoured to keep steering in a straight line.  Little Man buried his face in my lap and emitted a low moan.  Only Middle Son, a storm chaser in the making, looked genuinely thrilled with the situation. And then it was gone as quickly as it arrived.

Driving through the storm
We all looked at one another shakily.  It seemed a good time as any to pull over and get something to eat.  We asked Garmin the sat nav for any restaurants nearby.  The famous Golden Arches logo popped up on the screen.  ‘McDonalds!’ shrieked the boys in joy, thoughts of home not far from their minds.  And so it was that the last meal of our trip was in a rather funky French McDonalds, with sections divided into Salle Rock, Salle Pop and Salle Classique, as well as a childrens gym (it had spinning bikes)/play area for those who had had that one nugget too many…


McDonalds, French style


Having  arrived at the Eurotunnel quicker than anticipated, we queued for an earlier crossing.  Hundreds of English visitors were returning home.  A woman in a Range Rover was shouting animatedly at her husband and jabbing at him with her finger in accusation.  They’d obviously had good holiday…

G opened his window to be searched for explosives by a man waving an electronic Geiger counter type thing over the steering wheel.

‘But what,’ asked Little Man in a loud voice, ‘If Mummy had a bomb?  He hasn’t checked if Mummy has a bomb.’

‘I don’t have a bomb’, I said indignantly, turning around to face him in my seat.

‘But we could have one in the roof box, or in the back of the car – he hasn’t checked, Mum, we could have bombs everywhere and he hasn’t checked.’

The man was standing by the car chatting into his walkie talkie.  G had gone a rather strange colour.  ‘Can everyone stop talking about bombs please?’ he hissed, as the man waved him on.

‘I was just saying,’ said Little Man huffily as he turned back to see what Middle Son was playing on the iPad, ‘Ooh, are you dead yet?’

And so it was we arrived home, just before midnight, the cats looking at us as if we were utter strangers as we entered the house.

It’s good to be back.  It’s strange to be back.  It’s weird to think of what we’ve accomplished – the places we have seen, the people we have met, the experiences we have had.  And we all agreed, we would do it again in a flash.
He has been warned that this will be the only time I leave the last word to G, but I asked him to sum up his thoughts.  For now, Ciao xx

The Last Word…

I forgot to mention that on the very first night of our travels (Dijon) I witnessed a shooting star.  It's the second I have seen in my life, both occasions being pure flukes when I just happened to be staring skyward. Both times I gained a sense of oneness with the cosmos as if 'it' and I were having a moment.

These past few weeks I have seen so much, travelled so far (easily 3300+ miles - as far as Dubai is from London), that I've had a problem trying to sum it up and so crystalise the memories for myself.  When I think of every place, object, meal or experience a cumbersome montage forms in my mind so I have gotten to thinking about themes and what would be the lasting legacies?  I quickly realised that it wasn't the what, where, when or how that really mattered more than the why and who because these two were the conception and the conduit respectively for the memories.

That's not to ignore a series of personal bucket list ticks; The Colosseum, The Pantheon, the Circus Maximus, the Sistine Chapel, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a gondola ride, Vesuvius or Capri to name a few. Nor does it negate the thousands of driving experiences in the mountains, along the Amalfi coast, through great cities, through the countless tunnels or over the countless bridges (I had wondered where the EU money went other than Spain) These were special but all are repeatable.

 For me the 'why' has always been the same and beautifully expressed by JFK (no I'm not comparing him to me or the moon landings to my holiday).

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” JFK

Although I tend not to flog dead horses, I do like to run things close on occasion.  I like to aim for a goal a little further out than is comfortable; it ensures I remain in a heightened state ready to make the most of things.  I realise this may be an anathema as a vacation but I find it an irresistible state of mind.

Away from the narrative then and my lofty inspirations are those things that are unique of their moment and imbedded into the 'who' and as such are destined to be woven into family lore to become the defining legacy. 

For instance, on the journey back R-indoors discovered a hole in the space-time-continuum when she seemed to observe that Folkstone and Calais where on vastly different Longitudes, it being light when we left Calais on the train and dark when we arrived in Folkestone...neglecting to factor in that we were actually still in the tunnel as she gazed out of the window....Priceless.

She has a bit of form on such matters having once thrown a fit on a previous expedition when map reading because she couldn't locate Barcelona on the Spanish coast...or even the coast itself apparently...before I very carefully pointed out that she was haranguing a map of France...  That said and despite a hardwired inability to discern left from right she's a great navigator and programmer of sat navs following the immortal instruction 'punch it Chewy'.  I laugh every time at my tired Hans Solo gag and every time she responds with that Princess Leah 'not if you were the last guy in the Universe' look.  And so our love grows :)

But.  If this holiday follows previous patterns then the real legacy should be the simple, powerful yet increasingly rare experience of the family being so close together for so long.  80+ meals together, thousands of miles together, walks, talks, games, A couple of old movies together (from my 'you will watch these my son / right of passage' collection [Spartacus & The Vikings]).  Formation carpet bombing Mummy in the pool, annoying Daddy whilst he sunbathes and yes, a few lively arguments together. 

I'll spare us both an examination of just why in today's world so much effort and money has to be invested to do what was once a way of life.....and instead wrap this ramble up with a promise to myself that so long as I can I'll do my best to ensure that me and my family keep one eye scanning beyond Life's horizon so as not to miss the next shooting star.

G



Til the next time!