As we settle into Sancerre, a sense that the trip is completed has already begun to pervade the feel of the days here. We have an apartment, we are cooking our own food, and we need to begin thinking about subjects like resumes, interviews, and a return to Chicago to begin our new life.
The fact that the trip is over is not exactly bad. Instead of bemoaning a resumption of quotidian life, it feels more like a "fait accompli." Now, with fully recharged batteries we can return to a more organized way of living. It was the life break we wanted and needed. And at some point, I'm sure we will do this again, in some form.
Which led Jenni and me into an abstract conversation of "if we knew then what we know now, what would we change?" The whole trip has been an adventure, with some parts more rugged than others. If we could smooth out some wrinkles, what would we do different? Well. . .
First of all, I would not forget there is an international date line! We lost an entire day that we planned to have in Fiji because January 18 did not exist for us. In the long run, it turned out fine; we felt like we had enough time in Fiji, and were reluctant to spend more money on day cruises and getting out on the ocean--which is exactly what you should be doing in Fiji. Oh, I would also buy a hat immediately!!
Australia was just about perfect. The only thing I could have asked for was more time. More time to spend with friends, old and new, more time to visit Brisbane and Melborne, and more time to prowl the gorgeous countryside of Western Australia. I would make being in Western Australia a larger part of the trip and would probably stay in Freemantle instead of Perth. My main regret in Perth was not knowing about the Fringe Festival that was taking place. First of all, it would have been nice to plan on attending some events, and secondly, I would find sleeping arrangements that were not smack in the middle of an all-night-party (I'm getting too old for this shtuff).
There are also no regrets about Bali except time. I loved settling into Ubud and experiencing "full-immersion yoga" with Jenni. It was a peaceful, restful moment in the trip (once I resigned myself to the climactic experience I was having). I enjoyed returning to a daily agenda of physical excercise. I liked the cuisine, but missed good wine and beer. I would have loved more time to explore the whole island, and to stay in different Balinese towns. Lastly, I will never again bring a full suitcase to Bali. All I need is clean underwear--then I will buy a complete wardrobe of Batik shirts and lightweight pants!
Which brings us to India, the most complicated equation of the trip. If I had never been to India, I would still want to go, but having gone I never really want to go back. We had envisioned it as an economical leg of the trip, but the veritable necessity of traveling on a tour was a financial complication we had not envisioned. It was an incredibly powerful moment of the trip for us, but not like we expected. The best analogy I can give is this: It is like seeing a gold coin in the bowl of an unflushed toilet--having the coin is precious, but you would prefer to forget the whole method of acquisition. Personally, I'm really glad to have that coin, but it was one hell of a dip!
In Turkey, time again became the major opponent. Istanbul was lovely, but we did not have the time to leave the city and explore more of Turkey. Someday soon we will return to smoke a hookah, visit mosques, buy many more souvenirs, and see all of the things we wanted to but didn't. Turkey has become a top priority for a return visit.
Our race across the Balkans was both fun and fatiguing. We enjoyed the spontaneity of the time, and the discovery of numerous places that "were not on the radar." It gave us a wonderful taste of Macedonia and Bulgaria, and makes me want to explore those countries fuller, as well as add Slovenia, Montenegro, and the rest of the Balkans to my "places to see" list. For this trip, however, the journey was very rushed, and it might have been better to simply fly from Istanbul to our ultimate desination:
Croatia! Croatia was everything I wanted it to be. Dubrovnik was beautiful, Split was lovely, and the coastline was gorgeous. I was able to track down something of my family's past (small as it was) and be recognized as "from here," even if only vaguely. When we go back to Croatia, I would make two small adjustments. The first is to rent a car (cost prohibitive for us on this trip) and visit all of the smaller but equally gorgeous villages along the Dalmation coast. The second is to be in Croatia in September, when most of the tourists have gone back home but the ocean is still warm enough for swimming. Cruising the coast in a chartered ship wouldn't be a bad idea either!
Italy, sadly, hardly deserves a mention as part of our world tour, since we were there so little. I enjoyed seeing one of the few cities (Trieste) left in Italy that Jenni hasn't seen already, and sharing the novelty of the place with her. I also enjoyed picking up one of the last Major Tourism visits in Italy that I have not seen: Cinque Terre. My return reminds me that Italy is a strong contender for the Most Civilized Culture in the World: awesome coffee, superior wine, and delicious cuisine. Jenni, overwhelmed to be in her ersatz terre natale, spent our pathetically brief four days in country on the verge of tears of joy to be in her Heart Land.
France has been wonderful as well. Unfortunately, its position at the end of the itinerary has made it more of a challenge than I would have wished. Road-weary and mentally exhausted, Using the Language now felt like an additional Travel Task rather than a pleasure. We also began to slide in our savvy travel skills. For the first time in the trip, we did not have a guidebook for the place we were visiting. (OK, we didn't have one in Italy either, but with Jenni around that did not matter.) It made for a sloppy and more expensive visit in Nice than was necessary. We missed a couple of things we would have liked to have seen, and had to curb some of our indulgences (champaigne, anyone?) as we began to worry about our finances. (It is hard to travel in a place that caters to the Rich and Famous when you are neither.) Nevertheless, the south of France was beautiful, and will be worth a return visit when I am a fresh and excited voyager. But as Don Henley might say, "I'll bring more money, cuz everything's more expensive in France."
Whether any of these lessons will be applicable to our next long trip is anyone's guess. It was a very ambitious undertaking, and a vigorous workout of our travel skills. Worth it? Hell, yeah! Something we'll repeat? Time will tell. I think our next long-term voyage will have different priorities: cultural immersion, creating a sense of homelife where we are, and leaving with a feeling of having stayed, not just having been, somewhere else.
None of the above is intended to imply that I wish we had done this trip differently. Everything, from the mistakes to the successes, have been part of the learning curve. When all is said and done, I am proud to have done this trip. It won't bring me fame, and it certainly hasn't done anthing positive to my fortunes, but it is an achievement that reminds me that life is for living, and that is what I am going to do.