What an impossible question. And I set the questions….
Pre-Covid my favourite city was Budapest. I loved its slightly seedy, gritty grandeur. I could have happily visited the Szchenyi baths over and over again. We stayed in a great flat too.
But in terms of what we did, our graffiti wins hands down. I suspect I will not be the only person to pick that. We, together, created something of which we were all, rightly, proud. I’m so pleased we did it.
In St Pierre the best bit were the people. We have made some real friends.
And afterwards, if I must pick something, it would be a beach. But which one is too hard to say.
Brussels. It wasn’t Brussels’ fault. we did and saw lots of great things there, but a lot of the first month of the trip was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster of adjustment for all of us. There was a moment in Brussels when I really thought that we, as a family, might not survive this trip. That sounds like it was Ben and me fighting: it wasn’t. We realised that the children and we had very different expectations and needs. I think we have, gradually, found ways to accommodate each other, but Brussels was definitely the low point. Covid aside, obviously.
How have you changed?
I think I have become more relaxed about lots of little things. I’m happier to let the children put a packet of marshmallows in the supermarket trolley, or use their phones in the car. I think I, hormones permitting, catastrophise less and generally I feel that dread, anxious, weight in my chest less often. It hasn’t gone altogether, but I think it is better. Whether that will last is a different question.
It may or may not be related but for the first time in my life I have strong and healthy fingernails.
I’m fitter, too.
Have we changed as a family and if so how?
I think we have learned to get on better, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. I think Ben and I have learned (or perhaps just had time) to listen more. That has felt like a real privilege. I think we just know each other better than we did.
What are you most looking forward to about being home?
The people. And my kitchen.
I’m excited, but daunted, about starting my new master’s course too.
Is there anything you’re not looking forward to?
Erm. Pretty much everything else. The day to day relentless routine and the constant pressure to keep up and keep everyone happy. Or just in the right place at the right time.
Will we ever get to Tokyo? When? Do you want to?
I really, really, hope so. I’d love to think we will make it for the Olympics next Summer. That is certainly the aim, but depends on so many factors, over most of which we have very little control.
How do you feel about what Covid did to our trip?
We’ve talked before about how we have passed through the many stages of grief when it comes to our long-held plans. I think at the moment, in France, I’m at acceptance. I suspect though that there is still quite a bit of denial in there. I think that may come crashing down on me when we are home and I am faced with the unchangeable truth that we really didn’t fulfil our dream.
Best baked treat?
Kouign-amann. If I lived in Brittany I’d be the size of a house.
I might have to find a recipe.
Worst/best thing about lockdown
Perhaps oddly, I quite enjoyed the limited structure and routine of proper lockdown. The days and weeks went very quickly. The daily walks in particular were a huge benefit to body and mind.
Favourite thing you have acquired on the trip.
Either my stripey jumper or my flamingo scarf.
The most useful though were the trousers and jacket Ben made me buy in Brussels. Both have been invaluable.
Have you lost anything? If so, what?
My lovely sunglasses. Now polluting the Atlantic Ocean. Still cross with myself about that.
Biggest regret of stuff we didn’t do.
Uzbekistan. I was first invited there over twenty years ago and I still haven’t got there. It looks so amazing and I was so excited finally to be on our way. And Mongolia. We had (and still have) an amazing-sounding experience booked there. I wish we had got to do that.
But actually, really, any of the part East of the Urals…
What did you bring (or buy) that has been unexpectedly useful?
My dress. I bought it on a whim from a closing down shop in Kelso and I never intended to take it with me, but having a packable, un-creaseable dress has been hugely useful. I won’t travel without one again.
What did you bring that you haven’t used at all?
Any of the kit for epic travels. And my travel coffee mug.
How do you feel now?
This week has been very strange. We got back on Friday lunchtime and by Sunday morning I was naming school uniform. It feels as though we have got back to what passes as normal frighteningly quickly.
I thought I would feel, and be, different. I thought I would come back having had a life changing experience. I thought being back would be very difficult as a result.
Instead I feel much more as though we have just returned from a holiday, in that way that you forget so quickly: before the suitcases are unpacked and the laundry put away you are back into home mode and the holiday feels months ago. That’s normal after two weeks, but I didn’t expect it after six months.
But I think I have changed too. I am, still, more relaxed and I am, which I never was before, more spontaneous – I went to the beach on Tuesday at no notice leaving the to do list undone. I’d never have done that before the trip. Whether any of that will survive the return to work I don’t know, but it’s good while it lasts.