How Do You Feel? – Lucy’s view

How do you feel about the trip? Are you scared? What will you miss? These are all frequently asked questions. I don’t know how to answer this because obviously, I have never been on a “round-the-world-trip” before. Because the ferry has been cancelled I am a bit worried because we have done all this planning and before we even set of our first big move is cancelled.

Some bits I am really worried about include forgetting anything, missing important trains and arguing. As a family I think we all have a really good variety of skills which is why there couldn’t be a better way to “bond” than on on this trip, however I do think we may argue more than some families, so no I am not worried.

As for what will I miss, friends is a really big one. Yesterday all my friends came round for a pizza lunch: this is when I think it all started to get REALLY real. Amid hugs and presents I feel a weird not quite sadness that I will not be at school on Monday morning.

High quality photo minus Sophie (not the sister)

However this will go down in my memory books forever and anyone I know would love to go on a trip like this.

Lucy

Resilience Training 101

So here we were feeling all “ready to go” and “we’ve got this”, when we heard that our ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam has been cancelled.

The very first thing we have booked has already been cancelled. Fair enough – there is going to be the mother and father of a storm this weekend – and crossing the North Sea then would have put our consitutions, and possibly minimal packing, to the test.

The alternative we have been offered is a sailing on Wednesday evening, which doesn’t work for a number of reasons –

  • We have paid for our accommodation in Amsterdam
  • We have tickets for Keane the night we arrive
  • We have tickets for Anne Frank’s house the next day
  • Our lovely friends who are staying in our house are expecting to move in on Tuesday

So, we have accepted the challenge, and will be leaving home a day before we expected. We have booked the Eurotunnel, which is not going to be wind-affected. We will stay with Granny in Essex on Sunday night, and get to The Netherlands for Tuesday via France and Belgium on Monday.

Some sleep-overs will be cut short, a nice evening with friends will have to wait half a year, and it is a very good thing I didn’t go to the Calcutta Cup.

Ben

What about the Coronavirus?

Two weeks ago this wasn’t even a question. This week it’s definitely in the top ten.

Our planned route has us spending a month in China, arriving in early June and leaving by boat from Shanghai to Osaka in early July. We’ve bought the map and the Lonely Planet, identified the places we really want to see and worked out an outline itinerary. I’ve even spent the last six months learning some very rudimentary Mandarin in expectation (Nihao!).

Coronavirus. Quite pretty if you don’t think about it. image from Wikimedia Commons

That was all before Coronavirus. In the last week the World Health Authority has declared the outbreak a global health emergency and the Foreign Office is advising against all non-essential travel to China. Even if we were to ignore that advice (which we won’t), Japan has closed its border to travellers from China so we would be turned away there.

Clearly this is a minor inconvenience in comparison with what it must be like for those suffering, their families, or those trapped in their homes in Hubei province, and it is for their sake not ours that we hope very much that it passes soon.

But for the moment, the answer to the question is, “We’ll see“. We have four months before we arrive in China and we will just have to wait to find out what the situation is much nearer that time. We have a possible plan B in our heads (although that too is not without difficulties) and if it comes to it we will just have to do, and go, where we safely can.

For the moment though this is an exercise in not worrying about what we cannot change. It appears that the resilience training has started – even before we have left the country.

Hard choices – Not this time for Nukus

Last year I read an article telling the incredible story of the Savitsky Collection at what is now the Nukus Museum of Art.

In short, Igor Savitsky was a wealthy Muscovite Russian who over a period of years amassed a stunning collection of Russian avant-garde art during the 1950s, in particular buying and collecting works by (and from) dissident artists who had been banned by Stalin, and taking them to Nukus, in what is now Uzbekistan, far from the watching authorities in Moscow and even Tashkent.

It is exactly the sort of place I would love to visit for all sorts of reasons.

I was given 3 lovely mugs from a National Gallery of Scotland exhibition of Russian avant-garde art for my 21st birthday. It is a fantastic story, and it seems like it was just the sort of place we should visit, if we are close. And why wouldn’t we do it as part of the adventure?

But here’s the thing. When Igor Savitsky took all that art far away from prying eyes, he did an extremely good job…

It turns out it is really difficult to get to Nukus and it really is a long way from anywhere else we are planning to visit. We want to stick by our no-flights-except-home rule, and this means trains.

There are 2 trains a week from Tashkent, and they take between 18 and 22 hours, depending on the route, which is fair enough when you realise that Nukus is over 1100km from Tashkent (about the same as Paris to Vienna). The days they go are not particularly convenient, and there is no child-bribing water-park, or even anything else at all, worth going to see in the surrounding area.

We could go, but it would mean missing out on some of the great Silk Road cities – Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand – as our arrival into and departure from Tashkent are fixed. That’s a lot to sacrifice for a few hours in the company of an amazing art collection and many more hours on long trains.

So it was with regret that we ejected (nuked?) Nukus from our itinerary last night.

This is not an exhibit from the Savitsky Collection.

You can check out some of the paintings here.

Maybe we will have to plan another trip there next year…

Ben

The route

This took months of planning. And we still need to do China. Blue in the car, red on the train

The route is, broadly, planned. We are leaving in just under three months and I know exactly where we are going to be sleeping for pretty much all of the first hundred days of that. Which is good: worry No. 4829 is turning up in a strange town with four tired children and not being able to find anywhere to stay. So at least I’ve put that one off for three months. Assuming AirBnB doesn’t let us down…

But how did we get here? How do you narrow down the whole world (after all you can go both ways round to get to Tokyo) to one route?

We’ve been talking about this a long time, and the route has evolved over time. Mostly due to geopolitics. That’s never previously been a major factor in my holiday planning before but it was this time. In 2012 there was no ISIS and going through Iran was a real (if possibly risky) possibility. In 2014 we thought we might arrive in Russia from Ukraine (not so easy any more). In 2016 Trump became president and we decided we didn’t fancy going that way round any more. And I haven’t even got on to Brexit*.

So by the time we sat at a table at a party (January 2018, great party) and agreed we needed to do some actual planning we had concluded we needed to go East and we needed to stay broadly North. (There was a brief flirtation with the idea of learning to sail and buying a boat but that lasted about five minutes before a sense of self-preservation kicked in).

And then logistics became and issue. How were we actually going to do this? Car gives us flexibility (and the ability to take more stuff with us) but neither of us fancied driving across Siberia (are we nearly there yet?). Train is expensive and means you’re tied to cities/towns that have a station. Bus is an option but not for everything. Please. Planes are out. No planes til we come back. Campervan is handy but again there’s the Siberia issue, and we’d have to buy one.

So the conclusion in the end was the slightly odd circuitous route above. We will take the car round Europe, ending up, oddly, near Lyon where we can meet Ben’s parents. They will fill the car full of wine and tins of duck (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it) and drive it home and we will do the rest on the train. Or bus. Or boat.

Which then made it up to us. Where did we actually want to go? Lucy was desperate to visit Mongolia. So the Trans-Mongolian route it was. Someone mentioned a chocolate factory: Brussels and Belgium. Apparently Cologne Carnival is awesome. There’s an amazing salt mine near Krakow. You can do a Europeean Safari in the North of Poland. We’ve got friends in Copenhagen, Vienna, Moscow, Oslo, Kyoto and the middle of Poland; check, check, check (sorry friends!). Someone invited me to stay with him in Uzbekistan twenty years ago; right, that’s in.

And so a route is formed:

  • Amsterdam
  • Brussels
  • Cologne
  • Berlin
  • Oder Delta
  • Krakow
  • Budapest
  • Vienna
  • Lake Bled
  • Italy (details TBC)
  • Lyon
  • Paris
  • Hamburg
  • Copenhagen

We’ll let you know how we get on….

  • Oslo
  • Helsinki
  • St Petersburg
  • Moscow
  • Tashkent
  • Samarkand, Bukhara, Nukus
  • Almaty
  • Bishkek
  • Irkutsk
  • Ulan Bator and Mongolia
  • China
  • Osaka
  • Tokyo and Japan
  • London and home.

*At present there is visa free entry to Mongolia for citizens of the EU. I’m prepared to bet that if/when we actually leave, with or without a deal, negotiating visa entry requirements to Mongolia isn’t going to be top of anyone’s priority list. We’re just going to have to hope the Mongolian Border guards aren’t big followers of UK and European politics. Or that we don’t leave.