More Hopeful Travels

Here we are, off again as we pack in another Europe trip before the dreaded ‘leave’ date of October 31st. When we park our camper van up at aires and sites we are surrounded by the usual mix of Dutch and German couples, our age or similar, making the most of the mild September weather and the cheaper prices.

They are their usual, friendly selves, smiling and greeting as all we travel pensioners do, yet I feel some sense of embarrassment for the way my own country is behaving; ungrateful, idiotic, stupid-and yes, a little ashamed to be British. As yet nobody has initiated a conversation on the subject of our leaving the EU. The Germans are most likely to do this and I’m waiting for it to happen. When it does I will be apologetic and honest, as I was three years ago. I can find no explanation for the decision to leave. It can only do our own country serious harm-and damage companies in Europe to boot.

But we travel hopefully as always, heading this time towards northern Italy via France and Switzerland. The first day is traffic torture, the second insufferably hot, but we arrive to Basel and a convenient [if extremely expensive] camp site with a tram site outside the exit. Switzerland is expensive, but at least free tram travel comes along with the pitch.

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The tram takes us straight into the heart of the city, through the enormous, international station, during which an announcement in English informs us the station is Swiss, German and French, [being on the border of all 3]; and I can’t escape the irony of how English is used as their common language.

But the city, bordering the mighty Rhine is beautiful, with a stately, red cathedral dominating the bank and a quaint Rathaus building the focal point of the market square.

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Behind the market square we find the famous Christmas shop and soon there are a couple of tiny additions to my tree decorations.

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A small, unmotorized ferry attached to an overhead line takes us across the Rhine. We wander back and take the tram up towards the theatre with it’s forecourt atttraction, the ‘Tinguely’ fountains.

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Then it’s time to relax with a beer outside in the sunshine on a busy corner, watching the world-and its trams roll by before we head back to the site.

Switzerland is not a large country and remains, to me, something of an enigma. They are not in the EU; were neutral in the war; keep much of the world’s wealth safe in their vaults. They are known for cuckoo clocks, chocolate and army knives. There are 3 [or is it 4?] languages spoken. It is not cheap!

We leave Basel next day and make a short hop towards Lucerne and the lake of Agerizee, where, at Unterageri there is a lakeside site. We have our first Brexit conversation with a charming Dutchman who seems to be following all the grim UK news closely.

We don’t like the EU as it is’ he tells us. ‘But it is not good to leave.’ No. We know!

 

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Christmas is not for Life-it’s just for Christmas.

Christmas is almost upon us again, returning with almost indecent speed. With a couple of weeks to go I’ve begun to turn my attention towards gathering up some gifts and writing some cards.

As I stood at a till yesterday the cheerful sales assistant enquired as to whether this was the end of my Christmas shopping quest [we were waiting for the card issuer’s response]. It made me smile. “No!” I told him. “This is my first go.” His eyebrows shot up. “I did all of mine in September. I’ve followed my mum’s example. She always begins in January and does it all throughout the year.”   I explained that in September I would just be going off on holiday and still in summer mode but his behaviour is not unusual. What kind of lives do people lead, that their entire year from January is devoted to preparing for the one day that is Christmas?

Husband is at the other end of the extreme, proclaiming each year that he will begin on Christmas Eve and reminding me of the time-honoured male boast that ‘the garage will be open late the night before’.

Christmas, however is changing. It takes on elements of other cultures and evolves like other celebrations and festivals. In my childhood my mother made Christmas puddings months in advance to allow the flavours to develop and we undertook the magic ‘stir-up’ process of making a wish. I am sorry to say that I haven’t perpetuated this tradition due to the fact that none of our progeny can stand the sight or smell of Christmas pudding. The same applies to mince pies and Christmas cake. Having been brought up in a similar way, Husband and I are more partial to these treats than is good for us, so I’ll be purchasing a tiny, delicious pudding for us to share and some chocolatey, indulgent desert for the next generation. I will, however be making some mince pies because it is an activity and an outcome that I cannot resist.

As a child Christmases followed a routine-from the arrival of one or other maiden aunt to the strict recording of who’d given what [in preparation for the hated ‘thank-you’ letters]; from the division into three of the pound or ten shilling notes [a tricky business] given by aunts and uncles to the round of Boxing Day visits and evening party games. If we’d seen Santa Claus it would have been in a department store with a sparkly grotto.

We woke on the morning to feel the weight of a crackly, knobbly, woolly sock filled with the expected items [a tangerine, a sixpence] and some unexpected ones. I can still remember the excitement of finding a hardback copy of ‘The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe’ next to my stocking, the gift I had longed for more than anything on earth.

Christmas is no less exciting for small people these days but I do wish it didn’t have to start cranking up in September!

 

It’s an educational odyssey-honest!

                September. For many of us Northern Hemisphereites who are beyond the ties of dependent children or parents or day jobs this is the perfect time for slipping away to extend our summers. This year, especially, as the magic of the first warm, dry summer for seven years bursts in a wet bubble we have made our escape, along with a whole convoy of other wrinklies, besides one or two couples with pre-school children, capitalising on the cheaper prices, the quieter roads and the emptier resorts.

                Despite having undertaken a substantial amount of meandering in foreign territories for lengthy periods since I retired from the nine-to-five I still receive a barrage of remarks and expostulations regarding what I like to call ‘trips’. I describe them as trips for this very reason, since to call them ‘holidays’ would imbue them with an impression of hedonistic opulence and wanton enjoyment and this is not the idea I want to convey at all. I prefer to be conveying the appearance of undertaking some kind of research or undergoing an educational experience; activities more worthy and valuable than mere enjoyment. One of last night’s FB remarks referred to my ‘life of luxury’-and may or may not have been ‘tongue in cheek’.

                Luxury is a subjective quality. When applied to holidays-or even trips, it means different things to different people. For some, the epitome of a luxury holiday is to be pampered in an exquisite hotel offering complimentary champagne on arrival, chocolates, fruit and flowers and plump pillows. For many it is to be carted away on a floating gin palace, stuffed full of food whilst dressed in a designer outfit and disgorged at intervals for a hasty snapshot of a famous city-[as in ‘if it’s Saturday it must be Rome’]. For anyone in a demanding and stressful job, luxury can be slobbing around in bed on a Sunday morning in front of the TV with a cup of tea.

                I have friends for whom the ideal break is two weeks, twice each year in the same apartment on the Costa del Sol, lying on the same sun-beds, visiting the same bar. It is relaxing, they explain, that nothing has changed, that there is nothing to do. This is easy to understand.

                For me, the concept of luxury is also a simple matter. It is freedom. You wander where you want, for as long as you want. When you tire of somewhere or it rains you move on. If there is a lot to do, or the weather is wonderful you stay. It isn’t always simple. You have to research, you have to plan, you have to drive, shop, set up, pack up; but you are free to do exactly what you want. And that, reader, is my idea of a luxurious trip. What’s yours?