The Return Questions – Ben

Favourite place we went/ best thing we did before St Pierre 

Place – Budapest, because it was so alive. 

Thing we did – Graffiti, because we all enjoyed it, and each of us did great bits of the whole. 

Favourite thing we did at St Pierre?

Grand Som. I had wanted to climb it for ages, and was a little scared of it. I loved it. 

Get fitter, including the gym, and all the walks. 

Best place we went after St Pierre?

Bordeaux, even though it was only for an afternoon, I wanted to come back. 

Worst bit?

Before – arguments in Brussels, and the opera in Berlin was disappointing.  Getting stuck in the mud of Zakopane was snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, but was one of the worst at the time. 

During – I didn’t enjoy my first trip to Carrefour during lockdown, and various stupid bickering moments were not fun. 

After – Carcassonne was a bit of a let down. Not nearly as spectacular as I had remembered, and a grubby apartment in the evenings. Driving in and around Nantes was unpleasant – it feels like a city which has grown faster than its road system. 

How have you changed?

I’m fitter, better at French, though no closer to knowing what I want to do next. I worry I am less patient, more lazy and more intolerant, and maybe less kind. I thought I would be better at being patient, tolerant and kinder. 

Have we changed as a family and if so how?

I think we understand each other more, even if we sometimes don’t accept each others different desires, viewpoints and quirks. 

We are much better at the day to day organisation of travelling, which will help in the future. 

What are you most looking forward to about being home?

My bike. More variety in my clothes. Not living out of a backpack. 

Is there anything you’re not looking forward to?

The expected competition for the right job in a post-Covid economy. Explaining how I feel about what we did and didn’t do, and how I feel about it, to everyone I meet. 

Will we ever get to Tokyo? When? Do you want to?

Yes / Next year, for the Olympics / Yes. 

How do you feel about what Covid did to our trip?

All of the seven stages of grief – 

1 Shock – including being quite scared the night before our long drive. 

2 Denial – right up to when we planned the drive to St Pierre from Vienna

3 Bargaining – maybe not this. 

4 Guilt – all those people working and dying without proper PPE and without better guidance. 

5 Anger – mostly grumpiness, as more and more hot postponed then cancelled

6 Depression – particularly when we had planned to be somewhere I had really wanted to be. 

7 Acceptance – given this was beyond our control, and it happened to everyone, we were both lucky (not to be working, not to be worried about money, to be healthy, to have my parents’ lovely home to use, to be in a beautiful place, both during and after lockdown) and we made the most of things, almost every day. 

Strangest thing you ate?

Bulots, but not that strange…

Best baked treat?

Harriet’s chocolate brownies

Favourite new food (sweet/savoury)

Sweet – Kouign Amann

Savoury – spicy Polish soup. 

Worst/best thing about lockdown

Worst – monotony, no shorts and missed opportunities to realise long-planned dreams. 

Best – Developing more resilience, and requirement to slow down. 

What one thing do you wish you had done in St Pierre that we didn’t do?

Read more. And more walks still on the list, particularly Chamechaude. 

Best book you read or film you saw.

Lotharingia – Simon Weston / Le Mans ’66.

Favourite thing you have acquired on the trip. 

Tempted by either a 10k pb or a bright orange t shirt, but probably a pair of shorts was the best thing, after all that time without during lockdown. 

Have you lost anything? If so, what?

About 10kg

A pair of socks

A charger cable

All my iPod songs (backed up at home) 

Biggest regret of stuff we didn’t do.

Go off-road in a car and on foot in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, because I worry that this will be cut from a shorter trip if we go next year. 

Biggest regret of something you did.

Yell and act aggressively towards each of the children at times. 

What song will remind you of this trip?

Shake It Off – Taylor Swift, Blinding Lights – The Weeknd, and that deepdipdoo dubidubidubidubi deepdipdoo Tiktok one. 

What did you bring (or buy) that has been unexpectedly useful?

Spare day pack, and a bag for between the front car seats. 

What did you bring that you haven’t used at all?

Pen knife, Lonely Planet Guide to China, Russian and Chinese Visas, Olympic tickets, Filtering Water Bottle, syringes (thank goodness).

How do you feel now we have been home for four days?

It’s a mix of very familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. St Pierre de Chartreuse and France in general seem a long time ago. I’m looking forward to having a new job, but not really looking forward to finding one.

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