Long trip requires long preparation

After 25 years at USQ I’m retiring at the end of this year. As it happens I will have sufficient accumulated leave, mostly long service leave with a few weeks of recreation leave, to cover the second half of the year. My effective finishing date is 4 July. At this moment as I’m drafting this, that’s 91 working days away.

Majella has a nephew who is engaged to marry an English woman near Derby on 1 September. We are invited along with other family and were planning to be there. That fixed one date for our itinerary and we booked accommodation for a few days around that event as early as last July. Jane, our daughter, is going to the wedding and she and Virginia, Majella’s sister, and Virginia’s daughter, Margot, planned to fly to Amsterdam for a few days in the week after the wedding. We agreed to go along and added that to our itinerary.

Because Majella has an ambition to be fluent in French we wanted to spend some time in France so we planned to add that to the front end of the trip. We thought that a month or thereabouts might give Majella time to work on her French. I could use the time to enjoy the local scenery, relax, and perhaps pick up a few more words of French.

We also decided to catch up with friends, Charles and Cathy Michie, in Scotland. Our initial plan was to fly from Paris to Edinburgh, rent a car for the UK leg, and fly back out from Edinburgh to Europe to avoid the one way rental impost. We figured 2 or 3 weeks in the UK would allow us to see some of Scotland before going to the wedding and flying out to Amsterdam.

I had thought of attending EDUsummIT 2017 at Borovets in Bulgaria on 18-20 September. We have not been to Eastern Europe and that would have been a reason to get there and wrap some other travel around it. My thinking was to try to find a short package tour that included at least Budapest and Prague. Failing that we would do our own thing in those cities and elsewhere in the region.

Majella also wanted to go to Sierre in Switzerland to catch up with Marie-Françoise and Roland Salamin. That would need to fit between Amsterdam and Borovets. Because Marie-Françoise is planning to visit us in October and bring her granddaughter we need to be back home in the first half of October. That put some boundaries on the latter part of the trip.

Limits on how far ahead flights can be booked online delayed commitment. Sometime in November last year it became possible to book flights that return in October so we made the jump. We decided to maximise time in France so our departure is on 10 July, less than a week after I go on leave. As of now that leaves 140 days to departure. We will be home on 4 October, in time to get ourselves sorted before our Swiss visitors arrive. We could have saved a little by flying in and out of Brisbane but the convenience of using our local Wellcamp airport was worth a little increase in the cost as was scheduling to avoid a long wait in Sydney on the return trip. Perhaps our house sitters will oblige with transport to and from the airport.

Much as we wanted to spend some time in Paris without a teenager in tow (Hannah in 1995, Sam in 2009) we were not keen to do that in the days running up to and through Bastille Day (14 July). Departing here on 10 July gets us into Paris on 11 July and our plan would have been to get out of town as quickly as we could to avoid the security that is likely to be in force. That was until Majella spoke with one of her Sing Australia friends who will be in Paris at the time with her husband. They have rented an apartment near the Eiffel Tower and invited us to spend the Bastille Day evening with them to celebrate her birthday, see the fireworks and enjoy the other festivities. That was enough to overcome Majella’s nervousness. We’ll stay in Paris for a few days and leave on the Saturday. We have our Paris Passes for the 3 days and expect to be busy with museums and other sights.

I started looking for accommodation in France in the second half of last year. Because we wanted long stay in a local environment I looked for gîtes rather than hotels and found La Ferme du Manoir, a converted pigeonnier. I showed that to Majella as something of a joke but she fell in love with the idea and insisted we had to stay there for at least a week. Once we had booked flights I tried to book there for our first week in France but missed by a few hours. Instead I booked for the last week running up to 12 August when we head to the UK. Marie-Françoise and Roland plan to join us there for a few days. For 3 weeks prior I managed to book a cottage in Brittany through Airbnb. It’s in a tiny village with plenty of scope for day trips around the region.

Somebody, possibly Jane, suggested that since Majella and all 3 of her sisters would be in London at the same time prior to the wedding they should get together to mark the occasion. The only problem with that was that until then we had no intention of being anywhere near London since we were planning to come south from Scotland for the wedding. If we had to be south at the beginning of that week we decided to make the most of the chance and visit Port Wenn (Port Isaac), home of Doc Martin. If we were that far south we decided we should get to Lands End and balance that by going to John O’Groats at the other extreme.

With that in mind, we sought advice from Charles and Cathy for our itinerary in Scotland. Glen Postle also contributed some ideas that resulted in a plan for 2 weeks around Scotland including 2 nights in an Airbnb Kombi to satisfy another of Majella’s ambitions. There are some more salubrious accommodations on other nights.

We will fly from France to Birmingham, pick up a rental car, and drive via the Lake District to Edinburgh where we will spend a few days with Charles and Cathy. Then we will drive north and anticlockwise around Scotland, back to England and south via London to Port Isaac before returning to Derbyshire for the wedding. From there it’s back to Birmingham and on to Amsterdam.

From Amsterdam we plan to drive to Sierre where we will celebrate Majella’s birthday with Marie-Françoise and Roland before taking off for a circuit around Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. From there it is back to Paris and home. We looked at package tours around Eastern Europe but decided to try it on our own. I ultimately decided that EDUsummIT could manage without me. I’ll be well into retirement mode by then and would struggle to get back into work mode.

For the first block of time in France and the latter part we have arranged leases of new Citroën C4 Cactus vehicles via Citroen EuroPass. That was competitive with rental and gives us certainty about the type of vehicle that we will be driving.

I’ve booked accommodation as far as Berlin and hope to get the rest sorted out in the next few weeks. There will still be plenty to do with planning but at least the basic details of transport and accommodation will be in place. The Google map shows our various stops and projected route. No doubt the reality will be different but we have a plan.