Even though in last week’s column, I claimed otherwise, due to my inability to be pleased for longer than 3 days, you should know- I generally hate the cold.
I found myself complaining none too quietly, ‘I miss the sub-Sahara temperatures! There’s no need to alert anyone that WINTER IS COMING. It feels like yesterday, but having experienced the summer holidays… I am like Boris Johnson and his flip-flopping ways. I am somewhat glad to see autumn come back into my life. Let me explain.
I was never much of a tourist but I used to be a rather footloose and carefree traveler. I wasn’t opposed to organising things but found that some of the very best experiences I’d had happened because I met someone on a train who told me about a gem she’d heard about. Next thing I’d know; I was traveling down the east coast of Turkey with a motley crew of idealistic, intellectual marijuana-smoking 20 year olds in desperate need of a good wash and some direction in life. In fact, I randomly met Sweet British Pete (SBP) when he was a visitor in a foreign land, so the rewards from this type of travelling are manifest. (He was perhaps a little less open to such vibrant traveling companions, but I appreciated how similar his approach to travel was to mine).
One of our first holidays was in Lanzarote. Upon collecting our luggage, SBP and I turned to each other and asked almost at the same time, ‘What is the hotel name that we booked?’ While standing at the information desk, staring at a map of the island, both fairly sure it was a hotel in directly opposing directions, it dawned on me that perhaps our lackadaisical approach needed a re-think.
Then we had children
It must be said: young kids make traveling rather miserable. They appreciate little, sleep approximately half the amount they do at home and generally seem intent on showcasing their most heinous behaviour. They have also changed my travel style.
I anticipate tantrums, spend hundreds on ‘brain-stimulating’ games which usually get chucked at another family member and pack enough food to feed them until they go to university. Plane journeys mean I arrive at most destinations demoralized and broken, looking like someone who’s had her head held firmly in a public toilet and her clothes splattered with unidentifiable liquids.
This year’s summer holiday
We have yet to go on a holiday which doesn’t involve at least one family member getting violently ill. This year was no different but, rather cleverly, I brought drugs. Sadly not those fun drugs from my 20-something days, but legal baby drugs from our Luxembourgish doctor. This meant that, whilst I was unable to experience the zen-like calm that fun drugs can bring, we didn’t have to sample yet another foreign emergency room.
The first half of our holiday involved renting a glorious 17th century chateau with my family. They hail from Texas; my sister made sure we were kitted out in monogrammed berets à la Clark Griswold in European Vacation and my dad attempted to practice his three months of French lessons to any French person he encountered.
We actually had a glorious time, but it was marred by my 19 month old’s determination to die in France. We were warned by the caretaker about a bat who lives in the basement and will come flying directly at your face if the door is open. Guess which door was his favourite?
When I wasn’t throwing my full body weight at said door, I was removing a lethal spray bottle from one of his orifices. This occurred after he had just waddled out of the massive cleaning closet filled with the most toxic of treasures which I can assure you have not been legal in most countries since the chateau was built.
The Italian Job
The second leg of our holiday didn’t go quite as smoothly. In fact, if given a choice between reliving the travel day from the Dordogne to Florence, and spending time with the French bat, I’d let the little critter lie fallow on my face for hours on end.
It started with the wake-up call for the kids at 5 am, which they did not take in good part. We drove to Paris to get our plane to Italy and things seemed to be right on track until the pilot attempted to land three times in Florence. After each attempt, he ascended so quickly that nearly every child on the plane was either crying or violently vomiting. But we were all scared witless when the pilot announced that we were running out of fuel. That meant we found ourselves landing in Bologna.
The luggage was delayed by an hour, due to some poor person’s baggage being completely ripped into shreds, cut in half and crushed, leaving the most embarrassing of items strewn across the baggage claim. Naturally, that poor person was me and naturally, I was given a large trash bag as my new fancy suitcase.
We were directed to take an AirFrance coach with no seat belts or air conditioning. This was not part of even my revised reality, so after dividing our children and trash bag luggage into two taxis, we were on our way to our intended airport in a matter of three hours.
I was relatively calm, even when the taxi driver told me I wasn’t allowed to feed the baby in the car because he wanted to keep his mediocre car tidy.
I really tried to remain calm when said taxi driver told me he couldn’t accept credit card. I tried but it became impossible not to point out the fact that by paying him 300 euros in cash because his machine ‘wasn’t working’, he obviously wasn’t paying tax on our journey.
I might have muttered something about the bunga bunga politics, the alarmingly politicised justice system and rounded my rant out with organized crime and corruption issues. In any case, I sounded totally sane and I’m sure he took in every word.
The future of family travel
SBP and I like to have a debrief after any holiday and discuss what must be considered for future trips. Since it is frowned upon to send under-twos on holidays alone, we are thinking of perhaps forgoing the entire airplane experience and driving our own vehicle next time for the entire trip. This is a concept I was diametrically opposed to because I hate driving more than 15 minutes, but I think I dislike the experience of having inadequate French pilots dispatching me to a city I have no intention of visiting even more. It has the added bonus that I will most likely insult less people (although SBP will inevitably get the lion’s share – c’est la vie avec Meredith).
Of course we could always stay home but I figure the earlier my kids get accustomed to exploring the world and all its wonder, the quicker they will be on the path to becoming little nomads. We are raising third culture kids, and these early travels, (while they require their mother to get double the botox so she is not addressed as their grandmother on the first day of school), will open their minds and help them see less difference between countries and instead more commonalities. We can only hope that like another third culture kid, Barack Obama, they will go on to do great things.
So here’s to the next summer trip. But for now, I’m enjoying the fall and the peace its bringing. Also the priceless memories of a summer vacation, captured perfectly here:
Au revoir l’été
Featured photo: stux/pixabay