When we decided to go to Egypt, we were really anxious. We knew we wanted to experience for ourselves the bulk historical porn on offer but we were anxious about safety and had heard stories.… More
A pause on reality…
Yes to memory making, no to regrets.
“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”— Paulo Coehlo.
The decision to take a step away from our lives (home, family, friends, work, comfort zone, etc!), came surprisingly, incredibly easily to us. We felt really safe and content in our lives thanks to our wonderful home, family, friends, work, comfort zones, etc… and we knew that if we were going to do something this irresponsible, we probably needed to do it when the girls were young (enough to not hold it against us) and in this way, too, we knew that we would be able to really savour these childhood years of theirs before there were teenagers in our house (we often anticipate just how dreadful that might be!). We also had this palpable, unshakable awareness of the fragility of life and that growing old is not always on the cards for everyone. So here we are, carpe dieming our every single day (for the next year and a bit!), saying yes to adventure, yes to daily ice cream and no to future regrets.
We left our little slice of blissful vacancy on the Mediterranean to head north to de L’Averyon region in south central France. The drawcard had been Conques, another on France’s list of Plus Beaux Villages. I can’t remember exactly why but probably because of the budget, we ended up in a little village just east of there and it was totally perfect.
Our little place in Senergues seemed right out of a fairy tale. It was very quaint. VERY. But perfect for us for our week there. There was a big garden, full of fruit trees and bikes for us to ride around the village. The house was spread over three levels and there was no wifi at all! I don’t remember the last time we’ve gone completely dark for this long but we kind of enjoyed it! I downloaded Shantaram on my kindle before we left Frontignan and finished that epic within our stay. Yew!
The village and neighbouring Conques are on the Compostelle route and this piqued my interest as I’ve always had a bit of a non-religious pipe dream to do a stretch of this with the girls one day. Achieving a great distance on a very well travelled (and signposted!) road has an allure for me that I think lies in the reflection afforded when physical endurance and nature are combined.
Days earlier we had also talked about picking up a hitchhiker after we’d spied a pretty nefarious looking young fella along the route from Spain and joked about how he would go sitting in the back between the two girls. Staring out at the Pyrenees Orientales, I had thought about it some more and said then that I would definitely pick up a hitchhiker, if the right one popped up… of course Jordan’s response was to question how we would know this…
So, as these things play out, of course on our way to the village, along a very lonesome (and hilly!) stretch of road, we passed by a young woman on the side of the road with her thumb out. We sped past her but Jordan and I looked at each other and as if we’d made the decision, turned around to see where she was heading. We considered the distinct lack of other vehicles and thought about if our own girls were in that situation; that we were probably a pretty solid offer (if not her only offer!). So around we turned and up we picked Annalise, and bringing her back to our place in Senergues (more on that!) and then drove her on to her last stop, Conques so she could meet with friends in time for dinner. On the way, we talked a lot of the track, how easy it was, how comfortable she’d felt doing it alone, etc and when we left our place in Senergues to drop her off at Conques, she bequeathed me her walking stick so that I could do the last leg with it… so the decision was made here I suppose! How could I refuse?!
I am notorious for getting lost on walks (remember that one time we accidentally hiked through the forest from Tourtour to Villecroze without so much as a 300mls of water and a couple of mentos!?). I just turn down an interesting street/ fork in the road and forget which way I’ve gone or was going! I have a real talent for it actually. But, Annalise had assured me that it was very well sign posted (spoiler alert: it was!).
I loved the walk. I was alone for the entirety of it and had picked a gorgeous day to do it. It was not too rigorous (the last part heading into Conques was very rocky and the most intrepid of the entire route) and when I arrived into Conques I felt really proud of myself for doing it. Not in the doing of it, I suppose. 10kms is not a huge feat but doing it alone, I think, that was the big thing for me. Alone alone. Without the comfort of understanding the language, a knowledge of such foreign direction and of course, without the security of a mobile phone or gps. Jordan decided he would do it the following morning and felt the same sense of accomplishment when he arrived into Conques to meet his now experienced cheer squad/welcoming committee.
Conques was absolutely gorgeous! One of our favourites on the list of Plus Beaux Villages. It is set high up on the Aubrac plateau as you descend towards the Lot valley. When you enter from the Compostelle route, you arrive at the very top and work your way down, down into the stunning village through the array of half timbered houses cut into the terraces of the rock face, descending toward the beautiful Abbey of Sainte-Foy.
When we arrived at Frontignan we had no idea what we would be up to. We knew it was on the beach and that there were pink flamingos but beyond that it was a bit of a mystery. Sometimes we arrive in a place knowing all of the unmissables and sometimes we discover them as we go. So when the girls were in bed on our first night here, we started researching and realised how close we were to Spain. It was a little too enticing to pass up. One of our very good friends is from Barcelona and we had a great time there on our honeymoon all those years ago. We still hadn’t fully decided when we woke the next morning but Jordan and I looked at each other as if to say ‘why not’ and so we jumped in the car and viva la vida!- Off we went to Spain.
Even though the tolls were exorbitant (over $45 AUD ONE WAY- we took the long/ scenic route home to avoid those!), we are so glad we went. It had a vibrancy and pulse that was obvious and distinct from France and we loved it.
We begun our tour of the city by climbing the city walls and using this as our route to the Girona Cathedral. The walls were probably a highlight for us all and we had read about an ancient toilet along the wall that kept them intrigued and excited to plough on. See if you can see it if you go. So strange and wonderful.
The girls were slightly confused when the people we passed along the walls greeted us with a friendly ‘hola!’- because for one, they were being greeted (not so frequent in France) and for two, ‘why are they not saying bon jour?’. It was a really good opportunity for them to learn about culture and language.
We descended the city walls into the beautiful Jardins de Alemanys, we could have kept going all the way to the Cathedral but we heard the impossible to resist sounds of a lone violinist performing to noone in particular in the gardens so we alighted the stairs and enjoyed the beautiful music in an equally beautiful setting. I think this area could have been my favourite. There were little alcoves surrounding a central, almost court yard with places to sit. It felt hallowed and radiant; there were friends whispering to one another in a private cathedral of stone and young lovers holding hands as if they were alone. It was beautiful. I could have stopped here and felt fulfilled and in love with this city.
On to the Girona Cathedral. We had heard a legend about a witch who had been turned into a stone gargoyle on the cathedral; apparently she had been saying bad things about the church and so her punishment was to be turned to stone. Apparently you can actually see her, but we did not. We ate our lunch on the steps of the cathedral and enjoyed the beautiful surrounds.
Girona has been used as a setting for Game of Thrones. We love this series (we’re not die hard fans, do not own tshirts- but thought it would be cool to see!). Scenes from Braavos, King’s Landing and Old Town had been filmed there and whilst we couldn’t really recognise them, they definitely had a GoT feel to them and we were glad we did it regardless.
When you’re in Spain you must must have churros and every cafe and restaurant we passed didn’t seem to have it on the menu. We went to the tourist and spoke to the loveliest lady who told us where to find the best churros in Girona (we think, also maybe the only!) and so we headed there and the girls were totally delighted by the fact that they got an entire cup of chocolate to dip their “pretzel doughnuts” into. YUM! The place was called Montse L’Artesena (Carrer de la Cort Reial, 9) and it was gorgeous. It had a little terrace out front to sit on and the lady inside was really friendly (our girls were impressed by and maybe a little envious of the little girl working the register). We recommend!
Back into the car to head to Figueres, the home town of Salvadore Dali. We pre-purchased tickets to the Theatre/Museum in Girona, on advice of our tourist office friend and were glad we did; the line was huge. It cost us 14 euro each (kids were free) and we really enjoyed it. It was weird and wacky (what else would you expect?) and spectacular. Some of the exhibitions were interactive and because of their peculiarity the girls were totally enthralled.
We had such a special day in Girona. Wish we had more time. We would have loved to check out the Costa Brava and perhaps gone on a little cruise in Roses but we didn’t feel disappointed- we had an awesome day!
Check out our IGTV video post below!
Gorges du Verdon, France
We did some research on exploring the gorge with little people in tow (always, always a factor to consider!) and had some serious, heart palpitation inducing flashbacks to driving the Cabot Trail in Canada last year where our kids yelled at us the entire time and we immediately said no to driving the famous road (which would have taken most of the day). But the thing about life and the life we are trying to lead is that no should not be the default response, so we decided to do a little more research and chatted to the tourist office person who spoke wonderful English and we came up with a (keep Sadie from becoming possessed in the car) plan. Spoiler alert: it involved ice cream and lollies- but ! (And I’m just realising this now as I’m typing) no iPad! Or any other car entertainment (other than me of course, ha!).
We’re early risers so we were out of the airbnb, equipped with fresh baguettes still warm from the boulangerie in our commune, a bag full of fresh, delicious snacks and an over exuberant, ‘I think I can, I think I can’ optimism by 8am.
En route, we stopped by Les Salles-sur-Verdon. An interesting place, the newest village in France because in the 70s the entire town was destroyed to allow the construction of the Lac St Croix. CRAZY! Our tourist office lady told us that the new town is not very nice and the locals were still resentful and bitter about this (when we stopped for a loo break and to grab some tomatoes from the market, we felt that maybe, just maybe this could be true- SORRY Les Salles-sur-Verdon!!)
On to the Gorges, we headed straight for the pont du Galetas where we knew we would be able to rent a boat. Already, at 9.30 there were a few kayaks and paddle boats out on the gorge as we crossed over the bridge and took in the spectacular views.
The colors of the lake are a magnificent emerald. It seems a little surreal; its color is so saturated and the rocky cliffs of the gorge make for an astounding and dramatic backdrop.
We rented boats from Etoille right over the bridge at the gorge. There is a sign on the side of the road just beyond the bridge, you can’t miss them as you can see the boats as you drive. We decided on an electrical boat for two hours which set us back a cool 80 Euro (and included life jackets for the girls). You can rent 4-6 person paddle boats for 20 Euro an hour but it is tough to make it to the end of the gorge and back in this time and we were palpably aware that all of the things with kids take longer (especially with crazed three year old drivers who think they own the water way (and the sole right to drive!).
The electrical boats weren’t ready until 10.30 so we took a walk back to the bridge (there’s a little path that was kind of rocky but many were pushing prams and strollers easily) and we took in the spectacular view.
By the time we got back to the boat rental place, there was a solid line and we were glad we had arrived early and didn’t have to wait. We packed our baguettes and cooler bag to make a picnic along the way, even though you’re not supposed to stop along the gorge. Or swim, or jump according to the signs but Europeans don’t follow rules and we’re here for an immersive experience!!
We genuinely didn’t have time to think about lunch on our 2 hour cruise though, we were so happy taking in the landscape of the gorge, swimming (the water is FREEZING!) and watching the young and uninhibited climb the precarious and rocky face of the gorge and dive into the water… Sadie wanted to have a go. We did not let her.
Afterwards we picnicked right by where we had rented the boat and then took a drive around towards the beautiful village of Moustiers Sainte Marie, which gave us some insight into the views we would have had on the half day drive. We would have loved to stop in Moustiers Saint Marie- it looked delightful but there were no parks, the girls were napping happily in the back and ain’t nobody want to mess with that/poke the bear(s).
We’re really glad we got there early and snagged the first fleet of electric boats, it meant not having to kill time, wait in a huge line or grapple with the huge afternoon crowds.
We had the most wonderful day and highly recommend this as a family adventure.
Check out our video below!
… Began with a dismal forecast of ‘wet and cold’… and it was really, ‘wet and cold’ and I had left my jumper (my only jumper) at the airport in Hong Kong (just to be clear: that is on the way to begin our year of travel, not during… I am the reason I can’t have nice things).
We started at La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière and actually I think it is one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve seen (I’ve seen a lot!). Walking out, Rosie asked hordes of questions that got a little complex (we are not religious, but spiritual and happy to help the girls explore the important ideas in the world) and Sadie, earnest (EAR.NEST!) in her attempts to interrupt, posed her own question:
“but but BUT! Why did John Lemon get shot??”
Ummm. Yep! The important things.
After the Roman Ruins, which we found pretty cool, we made a beeline for the famous, ‘Les Halles de Lyon- Paul Bocuse’. This area is renowned for its culinary prowess and we had a guilty chuckle as we handed the girls a round of brown bread, turkey and cheese sangas whilst we perused the halls for lunch.
I had tabouleh and this wee thing called a timbale de courgette au parmesan (I believe this is French for crustless quiche with zucchini and parmesan cheese… doesn’t have quite the same allure in English though, does it?). Jordan had salmon – Canadians can’t say no to salmon.
And of course- MACARONS. I bought 4 (with the complete awareness that 1/4 members of our party is deathly allergic to nuts and also kind of owes me for being such a legendary wife, so…), 4.
2 x chocolate and 2 x caramel butter (I had one of each but possibly enjoyed the caramel more as I didn’t have to quickly shove it in my mouth and inhale whilst eagle-eyed, freshly addicted macaron-lovers enquired constantly as to wha would be the fate of the remaining macaron).
With full tummies we had one last thing to check off the list: the Traboules de Lyon; secret, covered passageways that form a continuous passage throughout the city. Built in the 1800s for the silk traders to get around quickly they also helped Lyon avoid total Nazi occupation during WW2. You can imagine how intrigued the girls were… we had to look for a symbol on a door, push the door and see if it opened (spoiler: we pushed a lot of doors). We found the longest Traboules and walking through this was the highlight of the day for the girls who did not once demand ice cream afterwards (our new measure of good parenting!).
Annecy and Rhône-Alpes with Kids
It was SO hot. Even as an Australian, even atop a mountain, it was hot.
Probably because of our budget, we made the call to stay outside of Annecy, at a guest house in the mountains of Manigod, about a half an hour drive from Annecy. We enjoy the smaller communes and here we felt like we had won.
We ventured into Annecy on Sunday, with the (completely non-unique) idea of checking out the market, buying some delicious picnic provisions and then sitting by the lac, swimming and enjoying our loots.
By 10.30am the centre-ville was swarming with tourists with the exact same agenda (uncanny!). It was like Times Square right before Christmas and gave us flashing, anxiety-inducing imagery of how we are to cope in future Moroccan medinas.
Sadie was on my back, in the carrier, pretending to be constantly on the verge of sleep when enquired upon (she weighs 16kgs), Rosie, who never complains, in a voice, so perfectly whiny it would suggest otherwise, insisted that she too be carried, because (and rightly), she never gets that opportunity and she never complains (that kid stores truths). As team managers (aka exhausted pack animals), we willingly made a motion to call the proposed agenda too ambitious and head home for an afternoon of down time which was spent in terrifying anguish whilst we hissed at the children to ‘STOP CLIMBING DOWN THE CLIFF TO CATCH THOSE KITTENS!’
Armed with the knowledge gained from yesterday’s fail, we woke early (easy with little people), and headed back into Annecy to take 2, this time at 8am in the morning. It was peaceful and there were barely any other tourists, and unfortunately no market either but we didn’t mind. We parked at the Hotel D’Ville and it was cheap compared to other places we’ve been. The street art was visible and the flower adorned bridges were bare, so the girls could run around freely and did not make demands to be carried.
Afterwards, we headed for the Lake, at D’Angon which was suggested to us by our lovely host, Aurelia. There they have a patrolled little stretch just beyond the private beaches. It cost us €5.60 as a family to ‘get in’ which I always find a bit funny… who owns that? But it was perfect. A little stall sold ice creams, drinks and snacks, pontoons were anchored close to the beach but far out enough to dive from safely and the views of the mountains were gasp inducing. The littles played happily in the shallows whilst we swam and read and were satisfyingly exhausted and happy to head home when the suggestion was made.
And home for the week was surrounded by jutting mountain ranges that have for me, an allure that I can’t quite explain or perhaps comprehend. The girls told us, emphatically that it was their most favorite place so far:
Us: ‘ah yes, we know; that view!’,
Them: ‘No, because of the cats.’.
This word gives us constant yucky feelings inside!
When we made the decision to travel full time (aka take leave from our very nice jobs and our very nice home!), we had no idea what it would take and what kind of money we would need. Actually, we thought it would be impossible and truthfully our initial idea was to work abroad as teachers.
BUT! We did some research of other families who had taken this leap, did a few sums and settled. I remember feeling sick that night actually that we were ruining everyone’s lives and we would never be able to afford it.
We sold our house. We didn’t use the money from this (we’re not THAT irresponsible!) but we did move in with my Dad for 6 months so that we could save (and save and save and save).
We sold ALL our stuff. Except the important stuff. The kids/ the books. We really didn’t feel attached to any of it and had mostly picked it up cheaply when we first moved back to Australia from Canada as broke university students.
Talking about money is so private and icky but I found it so helpful to hear about what others were budgeting when we were planning, so we are completely exposing ourselves here (and feeling a little vulnerable about it too!)
We came up with a per day budget and allocation based on what others had done and our own knowledge of how we travel.
LEG 1: Three months in France, two months in Northern Africa/ the Middle East @$170 per day (this budget includes accommodation and daily expenses like food).
LEG 2: 4/5 months in South East Asia @ $100 per day including accommodation.
LEG 3: (if we have managed to stick to our budget) 3 months in Eastern Europe, beginning in Turkey @150 per day including accomodation.
We also allocated a budget for tours and activities: $15,000
And lastly, a budget for flights and transport: $20,000
That’s a lot of money. BUT we have no other expenses for the year, just to live and Jordan was able to take Long Service Leave from his teaching job which gave us the final boost across that line. Also, remember, at this stage, this is a projection, so far we have managed to stick below budget so we may end up coming under budget overall… doubtful but possible!