End of Chapter 1November 23, 2017 in the United Kingdom
On Thursday 23rd of November at 1:35pm we set sail on The Pride of Kent after 513 consecutive days, (nearly 17 months) abroad. This was the end of the first and by far the longest chapter of our 5 year European tour. We've driven 36, 800km, explored 12 countries and visited 20 in total. We've reached the most southerly point in Sicily and the most northerly point in Norway. These 34 degrees of latitude have taken us from desert lands, where cacti grow wild, to arctic tundra, where very little is able to survive and reindeer wander free in 24 hours of sunlight.
We've been incredibly fortunate to be able to immerse ourselves in different cultures and languages. However, even spending several months at a time in many countries, we've always felt there is more to see and learn in that place.
The warm, friendly and helpful responses of the people we met have made our hearts melt on more than one occasion. We've found many places with a strong a sense of community that embrace strangers with open arms. In these places, national pride has meant sharing the things they are proud of with others, such as ourselves. We've tried to approach the people we meet with a smile, a positive attitude and attempt to speak at least a 'hello' in their language; something we feel has improved our experiences.
There have been tough times, both physically and mentally. 5 years is a long stretch, but when you break it down into days spent in each country, there is a lot of distance to cover. This has sometines meant long sessions of driving unfamiliar roads and only touching down for 1 night at each stop, night after night. In the depths of winter we had to be rescued by a snow plough after being snowed in on a mountain road. In warm climes we've struggled to keep the van, Poppy Dog and ourselves cool. In Italy we unknowingly filled our tank with poisonous water and used it to rehydrate ourselves when we began feeling poorly.
Tough times have brought a sense of reality with them, which in the overall scheme of things we've been grateful for because it keeps us grounded. Our journey through Europe isn't a holiday, it is our lives and in life there are ups and downs. We are incredibly fortunate to have been able to choose a path that gives us thrilling highs like stepping out into fluffy white snowflakes and fairy lights at a Vienese Christmas market, watching the midnight sun from the most northerly place you can drive to in Europe, canoeing over the borders of France, Germany and Luxembourg on the Moselle River and feeling the tremors on Mount Etna during a small eruption.
(see videos here:
Midnight sun: https://youtu.be/EEoJ7MnaqkY
Moselle River: https://youtu.be/CMnO3hYIWb4 )
We've learned a lot about the countries we've visited, but also a lot about ourselves and what is important to us. Before we left we got rid of so many material possessions. Our TV, food processor and sailing dinghy are all things we can live happily without, but our relationships with loved ones enhance our lives beyond measure. The part of our lifestyle we've found most difficult, is being away from family and friends. We've been incredibly lucky to have so many people come out and visit us and ironically, because we've had fewer demands on our time, we've been talking to people over the phone a lot more frequently than we did back in the UK. However, it wasn't the same as spending time with them on familiar ground and so we've very much looked forward to that aspect of our return visit.
500+ days is a long period to spend away. We know there are going to have been a lot of changes that will hit us all at once and also we've become so used to spending time as strangers in the places we visit, that spending 6 intense weeks with people we are close to, whilst amazing in so many ways, may be a little overwhelming.
We took the ferry over a wavey English channel (see video here: https://youtu.be/4SEo-PCVnTA) and have been back a week. At many points of our return, especially as we neared the white cliffs of Dover, there were butterflies in our tummies. The drive back was challenging as Will readjusted to mph, which lane of the dual carriageway was the inside lane and going round roundabouts the opposite way - arghh! It was strange to see the road signs and number plates, so familiar yet different from what we were used to. By the time we arrived at Will's sister's home, we were both feeling overwhelmed. What better to calm us down than a nice hot cuppa eh? Being around family who could just 'pop round' was wonderful and in quiet moments we caught each other grinning appreciatively or sighing contentedly.
Out and about we acclimatised rapidly to understanding what people were saying, picking up accents instead of languages. Little things like being able to book appointments in English and understanding all the product labels in shops were novelties we were grateful for.
We intend to do a 'Goodbye to Belgium' post then take a break from blogging during our UK visit and revel in the time spent with others. We are hoping that our trip home will revitalise our appetite for travel and we'll hit the Spanish ground running in January!Read more