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The Last Post

BY MURIEL

sunny 22 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

As I “open at the close” (the final Harry Potter reference, I promise), I thought it might be interesting to share some statistics of our trip:

71 accommodations (so 71 pack ups)
7 flights (Paris, Sicily, Malta, Athens, Turkey, UK, Canada)
13 000 airplane km
32 000 driving km
6 ferries (Ireland/UK X2, Malta/Gozo X2; England/France; Victoria)
104 loads of laundry
18 capital cities
23 countries (plus Gibraltar)
24 languages
257 blog entries
769 blog comments
4 dead watch batteries
3 police encounters
25 fridge magnets for most countries (missed the one from Iceland but got one for Wales and Scotland)
22 pins for Moe
Broken: 1 glass door, 1 washing machine, 1 car side mirror (unfortunately, not ours), numerous glasses/dishes, 1 power adaptor, 1 camera
Lost: 1 power adaptor, 1 headlamp, 2 wash cloths, 1 sweater, numerous single socks, composure (a few times)
4 saint’s relics
Uncountable churches, mosques, and synagogues
Uncountable bottles of alcohol
7 public transit systems (Madrid, Rome, Paris, London, Budapest, Venice, Istanbul)
154 West Wing episodes (22 x 7)
25,000 + photos
8 car rentals/leases
21, 482 bug brains on the windshield
Unlimited opportunities for growth

Coming back home has been both welcome and somewhat jarring at the same time. Of course, we expected variable feelings, given that we have been away in a cocoon of sorts and are now being immediately thrust back into real life. What else could we have expected? We anticipated the euphoria of seeing family and friends again, and of enjoying the pleasant familiarity that comes with pausing at favourite haunts and imbibing the much-missed sights, sounds, tastes and smells of our country and our home. We steadied ourselves for the reality of working and understanding what a regular work day is like, or in Ben’s case, what an extended work day can be as he prepares for his position as vice principal and generic classroom teacher after several years being dedicated to library and technology classes. We predicted the increased pace that comes with Abby and Hannah going into Grades 10 and 12, respectively. Their lives scheduled to the brim with school work, extracurricular activities, friends and now work will force us to be more diligent about squeezing out the joint family times we can. All these things were on our minds in the last couple of days in Europe as we purged our once-so-necessary collections: our just-in-case assortment of dishwasher tabs, laundry soap, dishcloths and matches; our kitchen spice kit accumulated over several months and even more countries, the various languages on the bottles tracking our path through Europe; the worn shoes once so valuable but now admittedly shabby and past the point of no return; the half disintegrated candies from Turkey that seemed durable at the time of purchase but now couldn’t in good conscience be shared with friends (or even colleagues); and the scraps of papers, receipts, and travel information we had amassed and purged at regular junctures. It all had to go so that our electronics, key though well-worn clothes, and few souvenirs could fit neatly in the packing cubes one last time. You can imagine the furor as we endeavoured to get things ready the evening before the trip home. The morning saw us do a last check around, turn in the final lease car, and pass through the concluding security checkpoint. Our flight was scheduled for early afternoon and as all check ins, transfers, and customs checks went very smoothly, we were tired but happy travellers arriving back in Victoria on July 31, walking off the evening ferry with light still remaining in the sky. As we made our way in the direction of the ferry waiting room, towards our friends Marianne and Calvin, whom we knew to be delivering our trusty vehicle, Abby broke into a run. While she had hardly been able to lug that big packsack across Europe on her small frame, straining at most airports and subways, she somehow forgot the weight when she saw that three dear friends were waiting for her. Welcoming her with open arms were Shaleyn, Leah and Lydia and after all the hugs and pictures, they came in very handy indeed, relieving us elder travellers of our bags. As we travelled back along the peninsula, the months melted away in one fell swoop and we were BACK. As the next few days evaporated with unpacking, cleaning and settling back into the house, we couldn’t believe how different those two worlds were. We had discussed all quickly writing a ‘final reflections’ blog while our trip was still fresh in our minds but never did get to setting down to write that. And in hindsight, most of us feel that it will take some time to digest our adventures, learnings and ponderings so perhaps those reflections will come in time.

Even as some realities were so anticipated, as I mentioned above, one was not. It is this new reality that has sent us reeling and off kilter the last few weeks. The week after we returned home, Ben’s dad (aka Opa) went into the hospital and was subsequently diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. It had been such a boon for us to share the trip with him and, ironically, the more the miles lengthened, the closer we felt as he proved to be such a loyal fellow traveller. All the Skype calls, witty and articulate blog comments and quick, meaningful visit while I was in Victoria served to cement our familial bonds. So it is with sad yet peaceful hearts that we prepare to let Pa go on his next journey. We don’t know when this will be but Ben has taken time off work to be with his dad more and is shuttling between Port Alberni and Victoria quite a bit. Pa has many family members and friends visiting and it is this that cheers him most and helps his days. It is sad to think the girls will lose both their grandpas in one year but, as Pa has commented, he and my dad seem to be on the same trajectory, having been born within months of each other as well. All the realities we’re experiencing, but this one most of all, support us in our conviction that we did the right thing to take this past year off. Life is all too short a journey and to have been privileged to share an intense, collapsed year with our immediate family has been valuable beyond belief. We have grown as individuals but also as a family unit. Individually, it has been maturing for the girls, and life changing for Ben and me. Possibly life changing for Hannah and Abby as well, but I think that may take some time to become more apparent.

We are very grateful to the many who have shared our journey with us in various ways – you were and are so appreciated! Till next time.

Posted by KZFamily 07:23 Archived in Canada Tagged home canada Comments (5)

Quainter than Quaint

BY MURIEL

sunny 23 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Walking the Pastures Around Bledington

Walking the Pastures Around Bledington

The cottage we are staying in is soooo comfortable, with a cosy kitchen nook; slanted-roofed bedrooms with large leaded windows; soft loveseats; ample kitchen equipment and space; and a small private garden space for morning chats. We took advantage of the strong sunshine and blistering temperatures (23 degrees), for both frivolous and practical reasons: first, to support breakfast in the garden and then, to line dry our clothes.
Since I had to get a blood test, our host advised us to go to ‘the surgery’ in Stow-on-the-Wold four miles away. I was able to see the nurse after just a few minutes and get the job done. Since it had cost over $100 in Turkey, I had prepared myself by stuffing my wallet with pounds. However, when I enquired as to the cost, she informed me there was no charge as England ‘has an agreement with Canada.’ Brilliant!
With chores out of the way, we set out to find some footpaths, the girls going their own way as Ben and I went another. There are many signs in each of these small towns pointing the way to public footpaths, even those running through farms. We wondered whether farmers are ever compensated for walkers trudging through their fields and livestock herds. In Europe, as well as other places, there are movements supporting the ‘right to roam’, which is the general public’s right to use public or private lands for recreation or exercise. In England in 2000, the government introduced a limited right to roam, without compensation for landowners. Now, everyone has the right to walk in certain areas of the English countryside, if they follow some conditions of care, of course. It turns out walkers have a powerful lobby! Taking advantage of this, while sticking to the marked footpaths, we walked through a few sheep herds, the only downfall being that we had to really watch our step. We saw a sign pointing the way to Kingham along the road; since it was only one mile, we made our way for the neighbouring village. After walking over half a mile, we located another sign --- which also said ‘1 mile’ to Kingham. Hmmm. Proceeding, we meandered along the road for another twenty minutes or so, only to find a third sign, this one stating there were ‘3/4 miles’ left to the elusive Kingham. Feeling as if we were on a goose chase, we turned around, leaving it to another day. However, we saw a lot of traditional village sights in Bledington. The place is just so darn quaint with its thatched roofs, beige stone houses, English country flower gardens, old churches, a homey pub, beautiful village greens and waddling ducks. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stand it.

Churchyard in Bledington

Churchyard in Bledington

The next day, I awoke to birds chirping, natural light streaming through the skylight, a breeze drifting over my face and the smell of coffee coming from downstairs. It took a few minutes to leave my burrow of many pillows and soft white duvet but the anticipation of appeasing the fifth sense (taste) got me up. I realized I was energetic enough to make some Scottish scones and since we had ensured we had all the ingredients on hand, I set to work. Even with doubling the recipe, they were gone within half an hour. Next time, I’ll make sure we can try them with clotted cream as well as the jam.
The day consisted of more walks and talks. Undaunted, Ben and I went off to find Kingham, this time avoiding the roads with their unreliable mile markers and sticking to the footpaths. We made it there in half an hour, skirting the back gardens of houses, walking the fields and scaling a few stiles and bridges. We came upon the town and discovered, to our amazement, that it too was a town of ‘thatched roofs, beige stone houses, English country flower gardens, old churches, a homey pub, beautiful village greens and waddling ducks.’ What are the chances? Pretty high if you’re in the Cotswolds.

A typical Cotswold Street

A typical Cotswold Street

This week, we will have been on the road for six months. It’s hard for us to believe that we have been travelling for half a year, although some days, it feels as if it’s been a lifestyle we’ve lived for decades. This practice of booking lodging (and then valiantly trying to track it down), seeking out neighbourhood grocery stores, exploring new haunts, settling in and packing up, acquainting ourselves with local customs, making mistakes and trying again, and documenting it all through photos and journal entries has become somewhat routine. Routine in the sense that we all know what the priorities are, understand the tasks that need to be done, and participate in the dance together, sometimes awkwardly but often enough gracefully. What isn’t routine is the nature of what we can see every day, and what we’ve learned through this awesome opportunity. We’ve had to learn more patience, with each other and with circumstances; we’ve discovered we can live together in close quarters; we’ve come to understand that we can get out of every situation through problem solving and that “it will end up OK”; we have figured out how to find the isolation each of us needs at times despite the crowding; we have seen how incredibly varied and beautiful God’s creation is and how humans have added to it through the talents he has given. And I have come to appreciate Ben and the girls even more than before -- they are all such great companions. It’s good to know we still have time together when the trip ends!

Posted by KZFamily 12:54 Archived in Canada Tagged england cotswolds bledington kingham Comments (5)

Getting Ready: Details, details, details...

by Ben

9 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Muriel and I had always talked about taking a year off with the kids but never really could think of an opportune time. We went out for a Sunday afternoon walk this past April and came to the startling conclusion that our window of opportunity was almost gone with Hannah already starting grade 11 in the fall of 2012. Within a month we had seriously committed to taking the plung and by the end of June we both had our work leaves approved and by July 1st Hannah and Abby committed to fast tracking their schooling and began their distance education studies. Four months later, Abby is nearly done her grade 9 year and Hannah will only have an English course left to do on the road. What amazing kids! I am trying to finish three courses I am taking this fall at UBC before I leave. Meanwhile Muriel is keeping us all financially afloat by working until the bitter end. Her last day is November 9th and we leave November 10th (thanks for all the sacrifice Muriel).

We have been doing a lot of general research since April and have drawn up a tentative route for our 270 days on the road. It takes us through nearly all the countries of Western Europe as well as Turkey, Great Britain and Ireland. We are leaving out Scandinavia and most countries east of the Adriatic such as Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia etc.. All are worthy of visiting but there is only so much time. We have leased a car for the first 2 1/2 months and booked about 45 days of accommodation within our first 90 days of travel. We thought we would try a combination of preplanned and figure out as you go and see what works best. We are staying in a combination of privately owned apartments and apartment type hotels/motels so we can cook our own meals and hopefully keep the cost per night down to something that fits our budget. As we head north hostels will also become part of our plans.

Storing Our Possessions 1

Storing Our Possessions 1

Storing Our Possessions 2

Storing Our Possessions 2

We packed up our house already in August since we rented it out beginning September 1st. It was quite an effort but we are sure happy now that it is all done.

We ended up becoming part of the boomerang kid generation and have been living with Muriel's folks for the past two months. Thanks Mom and Dad for taking care of us-the free rent and food was an overgenerous gift. Over the last several weeks we have been getting our travel gear together which means a lot of stuff lying around the apartment but Muriel's Mom and Dad haven't complained about that either. In the next week we need to trim down what we are going to bring so it fits in four backpacks that must be able to fit into a mid-sized European car. Less possessions is always a good thing!

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Posted by KZFamily 07:32 Archived in Canada Tagged getting ready Comments (8)

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