The Art of Travel

the art of travel

There have been many profound and inspiring things written about the importance of travel. From Samuel Johnson: “The use of travelling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.” to my heroine (and one true love) Elizabeth Gilbert: “To travel is worth any cost or sacrifice.” It is a subject that provokes a response in all of us whether we’re fans of the “staycation”, weekend city breaks or trekking through the Amazon; taking time out of our lives, away from work leaves us able to reflect, recharge and other beneficial things that start with “re”.

I like to think I’m a decent travelling companion – over the years I have shared laughter, food and many, many books with my fellow travellers. I also hope that I am humble and down to earth as there is nothing more unbearable than travelling with someone who has developed the dreaded “Traveller Ego” – you know the type: they’ve seen it all, done it all and say things like “You haven’t LIVED until you’ve been to this cafe run by nuns in South Bulgaria”. I don’t say those sorts of things. I present to you: five things you’ll hear when travelling with me. It’s unlikely they’ll ever be quoted or written on one of those memes your Mum’s friend Linda likes to put on her Facebook page but that’s probably OK.

  1. “I’ll pick some up once I get there.”

My mother is a planned packer – she makes lists, then more lists and then spends the week before the trip purchasing and washing the things she needs. It makes sense really. I only realised recently I am almost the exact opposite of this. I think packing light was enforced on me by my many years of relying on budget airlines to get anywhere. After being faced with a smug airline attendant watch me frantically putting on all the clothes in my carry on case in order to board the flight (despite me trying to reason that the clothes themselves weigh the same whether they are in my bag or on my body) I decided that could never happen again. So I learnt the art of packing, what the magazines might call, a “capsule wardrobe” but I call “5 pairs of leggings and lots of t-shirts.” They don’t necessarily create perfectly stylish and coordinated outfits but they keep me comfortable. Obviously there is only so light one can pack for an around-the-world trip and, whilst packing my case last week, I had to make room for clothing that is suitable for Summer in Hawaii and Autumn in New York. In order to do this, I had to sacrifice other essentials that you might expect to find in my case like plug adapters and sun cream. It’s fine, I’ll pick some up once we get there. Globalisation has created a world that is less foreign. Costa Coffee in Moscow, KFC in Bangkok. Most of the thing you will need to make travelling through a country comfortable, will be available in that country.

  1. “I’ll have the cheese burger”

Don’t get me wrong – my main reason for going to any country is the food. I’m already planning what to have on my pizza in Chicago and I’m even considering breaking my “no ducks, rabbits or lambs” rule so I can have the Beijing specialty: peking duck. I very rarely turn down the chance to try a new cuisine. I’ve eaten crickets in Bangkok, borscht in Moscow, intestines in Rome and ostrich in Marrakesh. I’m not fussy, I’ll pretty much eat whatever I’m given – apart from marzipan – because marzipan is an abomination. However, I don’t insist on always eating the local cuisine if I don’t want to. When I’m at home I don’t only eat roast beef, cheese ploughman’s and fish and chip, as amazing as that would be. I eat a mix of home cooked meals, Italian food, Mexican, Thai etc… so why would my tastes be different in another country? I would be sad for anyone who went abroad and didn’t try the local cuisine at least once because you might find something you love but it is also your holiday, your break – eat what you enjoy. Which is why on the first day of our honeymoon, in Paris, I ordered a cheeseburger (with ketchup.) Sorry Paris.

cheeseburger

  1. “Let’s not do anything today”

This is an important one. There’s an overwhelming pressure when you are abroad to always be doing something: to go on an excursion every day or take in a new sight, the only exception is perhaps a beach holiday. In London I make sure that at least once a month I keep a weekend completely free to do very little and it’s exactly the same when I’m away. I decided the things I really want to see and do and make sure I fit them in but in between if I spend an afternoon/entire day reading in a park, or drinking beer and playing cards in a bar – that’s fine. I am writing this on the train from St. Petersburg to Moscow. The rain is hammering at the windows. I don’t write that to paint romantic picture – it is literally pouring – it sounds as if the train is being pelted with gravel. It has done this for hours and by all accounts is going to continue well into tomorrow. Which means for next 24 hours we will be playing cards and reading in cafes or maybe taking advantage of the hotel wifi and catching up with some blogging.* Of course we’ll see Red Square and the Kremlin and eat in a few local restaurants before we leave but there’s no pressure to spend every day “doing the stuff.” I need at least a day in the week where I don’t have to be up to catch a coach or train or queue for an attraction.

*UPDATE: What we actually did was have a long lunch in a local restaurant that turned into a long afternoon of drinking vodka. Sometimes it’s OK to spend the afternoon drinking vodka and talking shit with your husband rather than traipsing round in the rain trying to follow an, increasingly soggy, map from your Rough Guide. It might even be considered more Russian. Possibly.

Vodka

 

  1. “I’m happy to miss that”

Florence

Florence is one of my favourite cities that I’ve ever been too. It is just so incredibly beautiful. Everything about it: the buildings, the parks and the food is a joy to behold. However, and I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, whilst in the home of the Renaissance I didn’t go to a single art gallery. I didn’t get to The Accademia or the Uffizi. Why? Because it was August and it was at least a 2-hour queue to get in, and in 30 degree heat I’d rather spend 2 hours walking around, eating gelato or doing pretty much anything other than queuing. Which is know is terribly un-British – queues are our best thing after all. On that same trip I did queue for 45 minutes for a pizza but it was bloody amazing pizza – it’s all about deciding what your priorities are. My best friend Lizzie shares my love of Florence firstly because of the food but also for the art which, for her, was a huge part of why she loved it and so it was important that she took the time to go and see those things. The point is neither way is the “correct way” of seeing Florence because there is no “correct way” to see Florence; the only thing that matters is that you enjoy your visit. Don’t worry about what you think you’re meant to see – your experience of a country or city is no less valid simply because you didn’t visit a particular building, statue or beach.

  1. “What’s that?”

The reason I am lost more often than I’m found whilst abroad is because, even if I manage to fathom out where I am on a map and by some miracle am able plot a route to where I want to go I, often get distracted. Something will catch my eye; it could be anything from a beautiful building to a cat (it’s often a cat) but somehow I end up straying from my carefully mapped out path. Occasionally this leads to me getting myself so lost I have to resign myself to not finding my way back and end up spending more money than I have to get a taxi back to wherever I’m staying but most of the time it leads to discovering something I may never have found otherwise: a quiet, shady garden, a beautiful fountain or an excellent place to eat pancakes. Don’t worry about just wandering. Once you’ve removed the pressure of having to see everything you are free to walk at leisure and take in your new surroundings. Although if like me you really struggle with reading maps travel with a patient friend who will do it for you.

“So I’m in my map…”

I would like to point out at this point that I’m not a complete philistine or even particularly disorganised. All my adventures have a planned itinerary and a spreadsheet of costs – which is perhaps slightly extreme. However once I’m away the planning stops and I don’t put pressure on my travels to be any particular sort of experience other than what I want them to be. Ultimately all that I urge is that whenever you go away, whether it’s for a day, a weekend or longer you do it the way you want to do it. Oh and order the cheeseburger. With ketchup.

 

23 ways teachers know that Christmas is coming…

Last week the TES published an article called, “23 ways that primary teachers know that Christmas is coming”. Now I like the TES but I am not sure the article accurately captured what the countdown to Christmas is like for primary school teachers. So here we: the truth.

23 Very Real Ways Primary School Teachers Know That Christmas Is Comin

1) You will wake up with nativity songs in your head. Every. Single. Day.

2) With shows, secret santa and class parties happening, your shopping trolley starts to look totally unhinged. My last shop contained: 18 age 5-6 green t-shirts, a santa hat, 2 buckets, 90 oranges and a litre of vodka. Fine.

3) You exist off meals made up of food that can be scavenged from the staff room/class parties. Last week my lunches consisted of a homemade wrap, a side salad, fruit and big bottle of water. Today I had two packets of Pom Bears, 6 celebrations and a carton of apple juice.

4) When a parent appears at the door at the end of the day and asks for “a quick word” you want to cry/swear/hide under the desk.

5) Last week school was bustling with staff at 7:15am. This week 8:15am is only for the really keen ones.

6) You survive on coffee from 7am – 6pm (and wine from 6pm-8pm.)

7) Bed time is 8:30pm.

8) The children are exhausted so at least two children a day completely lose it because they can’t find their coat (one will be on their peg and the other will already be wearing theirs.)

9) Whilst tracking down costumes for the show, you will, on more than occasion, Google “Christmas space alien outfits” and be horrified at the results. You will then try googling, “Christmas space alien outfits – non-sexual.”

10) There’s at least one efficacious member of staff that wants to talk about interventions/planning/groups/timetables for January and it takes all your efforts to not stab them with a Biro.

11) Whether you’re teaching Reception or Year 6, you’ll do an RE lesson where the children have to sequence/retell the Christmas Story.

12) The penultimate week of term everyone quietly pretends to still be doing all the stuff but no one is doing any of the stuff.

13) One child will be violently sick all over the hall/classroom/cloakroom. Or, in my case, three children will be violently sick.

14) The exhaustion means your class will really start to get on your nerves and just when you think you might actually lose it one of them makes you cry by giving you a card like this:

IMG_0376

15) You will eat a questionable Christmas dinner on a plastic tray. The slices of turkey will be perfectly round.

16) You try to avoid being in the classroom when the cleaner is there as you can’t apologise enough for the fact that your classroom looks like a herd of wildebeest have charged through it. Glittery, sticky, wildebeest.

17) “Not long to go now!” becomes the standard response to, “How are you?”

18) The closer to the holidays – the longer the playtime.

19) A member of staff will fall asleep in the staffroom at lunchtime.

20) A child will fall asleep during story time/assembly/the middle of your lesson.

21)  “Ooo I think you can colour that in MUCH better than that” becomes a perfectly legitimate next step.

22) You all know it’s not going to snow but that doesn’t stop you checking the weather forecast every hour, on the hour.

23) Despite all of this, by October next year you’ll be looking forward to starting the whole thing over again.