Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Adventures Past #1: A Lang Waak Yem...

# "I can go to Europe, travel with my friends... I can blow a thousand deutsche marks to get drunk in a pub with some Australians...  Buy a giant backpack... Sew a flag on the back..." - Barenaked Ladies

A first date to remember...
seeing a highly recommended film!

12 years ago to the day I went on a nervous first date with someone who I could little imagine I'd be sharing many adventures with over the oncoming decades of my younger adult life. One such joint-adventure was a 2-month epic journey into mainland Europe that around 10 years ago we were just a few short weeks away from embarking on....

I've decided, since I think it's worth remembering such huge milestones in your life, to recount those travels here on the blog, so here it begins - "these are the voyages..." of two green but enthusiastic travellers...  It was a life-changing trip for both of us and just like a certain Mr. Wise of the Shire, it was a journey where I more often than not had moments of epiphany when I'd pause and realise: "This is the furthest I've ever been from home..." (but always with a big grin on my face!)

That epic trek a decade ago this summer was also where I began work a-proper on the "Zip book" (a sort of backstory "Bible" guide to the universe of my first adventure novel - to read more about this, go back to my Official Writing Homepage and click on an object which looks as if I've scribbled lots of space-style story notes on it...)  As I travelled around on the coaches that carried us from country to country, crossing borders and checkpoints, that first novel took form in some shiny notebooks... and the book as a whole, I believe, was shaped by my experiences on the continent...


Europe was where I built
the backstory for Novel #1!

So I've got a lot to thank that nervous first date, 12 years ago, for... A speculative trip to our local cinema to see a small-budget film about the Moon landings from the Aussie point-of-view (The Dish, above!) turned into what I hope is a lifelong shared partnership in adventure, which so far has included,  among other things, trekking across Canada on honeymoon (but that's another story...) - even today, we still plot and plan our globetrotting hols together each year...

So over the next few months here on the blog, I'll be reproducing the story of our trip touring Europe over that memorable summer 10 years ago in a special series of posts titled "Adventures Past" that are taken from a collection of articles I wrote and sent back to a local diocesan newspaper at the time... But for now I'll end with a few reminiscences of the preparations for the trip, from the pages of my (always) ill-fated journey diary (I find blogging a much more productive 'memoria-technica' than calendar-year diaries, which I always begin with gusto but then soon abandon...) So here begins the first nervous scribblings of my younger (time-travelling, if you will?) self back in May 2003...

The map of our planned route...
Would it all go to plan though?
We had both held ambitions for a long time to backpack around Europe before we met.  I had looked into InterRailing and Alison had planned a trip using a coach network called Busabout.  Since this coach network is cheaper and actually drops weary travellers off at youth hostel doorsteps, there was no competition for our mode of transportation!

For myself, journeying through Europe will be a great experience because the furthest I’ve been out of the British Isles has been Southern Ireland.  There’ll be different personal challenges, I’m sure, but they pale in comparison at the prospect of being able to really immerse ourselves into other cultures.

Rome is on our list of places to go, as are Prague, Vienna and San Sebastian.  The map alongside this article shows the route we’ll be following.   The coaches run every few days but we hope to stay in most places an average of three days at a time.


My shiny "Zip" notebooks that I carried around Europe
and which carried vital notes on a story yet to be told...
We leave mid-June, flying down to London, where we link up with our bus for Europe, but we still feel as if we’ve got lots to prepare before we go.

We’ve been able to book ahead with most of the hostels we want to stay at, although a couple still seem to elude us.  Some don’t have websites or email and the prospect of trying to make a booking over the telephone in another language is daunting to me at least.  Still, I got a great surprise the other day though when my mobile rang at work and it was “Lisbon calling”! As a last-ditch attempt to get in touch with a Portuguese youth hostel we had faxed them several months ago, and they finally replied!  Hearing the good but broken English of the Portuguese manager really brought it home to me that in a few short weeks we’ll actually be on our way.  It’s something that we’ve been planning for so long and now that it’s finally upon us, I can’t wait to see mainland Europe for the first time...

It's funny how you can prepare for something for so long but in the end, it still seems to creep up on you almost out of the bllue... That's my memory of how our European trip began... We had planned for almost a year before (beginning to talk about our grand venture as early as February 2002 whilst we planned our Scottish rail journey for that year) - we had booked almost all of our youth hostels online or via the phone, and had been carefully collecting "travel" equipment (such as indespensable foldable travel cups!) but on the night of Saturday 14th of June, I sat at home feeling totally unprepared.
I rang Alison at one point and she said she was suddenly feeling scared too, so it made me feel better!  (solidarity in all things!)  And then I remember going back to packing my trusty rugsack which had served me well on three adventures to Southern Ireland, Cornwall and Scotland.  This was my frist time away from home and out of the British Isles, onto another continent, and so I feel a little more justified in those feelings of weariness and nervous anticipation than I would now.  My parents, brother John and our pet dog Gunner were all at home on that Saturday night as I packed my things which I had spread all over the living room floor, trying to decide what I absolutely needed and what could be left behind.  (We'd be carrying our bags in varying degrees of heat, as it would turn out, that fateful summer of forest fires that swept across the Iberian peninsula and a heatwave that would leave many elderly people in France losing their lives...)

We leave on Sunday 15th of June, 2003, and we're travelling with www.busabout.com and at the time of travelling, I'll be 26 years old.  It was the first time I had been away from home for any great length of time, and I remember feeling very scared and daunted by the prospect of our time away.  How do you fill in the hours at night?  What if I get lonely and homesick?  All of these questions sped around my head before leaving...



As we said goodbye to the White Cliffs,
we were on our way to adventure...

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