Paris. You wake up early, and instantly know you're not going back to sleep. It's dark, and your family is still sleeping. You listen for a moment to the rhythm of their breathing. You fumble for your phone and wallet and some clothes in the dark. You step into the hallway in your underwear, and the automatic light unexpectedly comes on, blinding you momentarily. You finish dressing and head downstairs where the man in the lobby helps you find the door release, and gives you a look like you've lost your foreign mind to be up so early.
You walk a few blocks to the Champs de Mars, and it's completely deserted. At first it is nice, but then you start to worry you could be mugged, and you've brought all your money and credit cards so that would be a big problem. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. You avoid a few darker walkways for that reason, and that means you pass almost directly under the Eiffel Tower. It's impossibly impressive up so close, the base is just so huge. And there is no artifice to it - it literally is a giant version of the mini toys you're constantly being harassed to buy during daylight hours ("1 Euro 1 Euro! Mister!") There's a few more people around now. You start to feel a little safer.
You buy an overpriced but admittedly good espresso at the only place you can find open, ordering in stilted French. You sit awkwardly and finish it while the staff mill around getting themselves ready for the day. Croissants arrive. You are offered one, but decline. Too early to eat. You pay and wander on, crossing the Seine just because it's there and you can. The bridge is insanely old and awesome.
You come through a park with fairy lights where they seem to be setting up an aquarium show and you just randomly stumble across a huge Palace (later you discover this is the Palais de Chaillot). You climb the steps and at the top you see a couple taking wedding photos, all made up in the early morning, and you wonder why here, before you turn around and see the Tower behind you, it's that classic view of it, straight back down the Champs de Mars from on high. And then you smile. You are here.
I enjoy the mornings. There is a stillness about them you don't get at other times of the day - the dust has settled, literally, and the background noise of civilization (which you're unaware of until it's gone) is muted. I like to sit, probably with a coffee, and just listen to the world for a bit. I might exercise, I might not. There is time. There is space. You can breathe.
For a while now, and not by intention, I've been a reasonably early riser. Not crazy early, like the 4am club, but I'm usually awake by 7, without an alarm, and I can't get back to sleep. At home, that usually means I am on Sam duty in the early morning. On this trip, Sam has been staying up a bit later and therefore sleeping in a bit in the morning, so that has meant some morning solitude for me. Often the place we're staying doesn't have much space (read: one double bed and a kids bed in one room), so I end up going out for an early morning walk.
It's a unique experience, watching a city wake up. For obvious reasons, the tourist crowd isn't around, and you see real people, local people, going about their actual business. Delivering baking and produce for the day, setting up their stalls, sweeping the streets. The first rays of sunlight creep over the landscape, or the buildings, and you see a bit more. The slow reveal lets you take things in step by step, and your mind can process it more consciously.
I know mornings aren't for everyone. Annamarie struggles to rouse herself, I think mainly because she doesn't sleep that well at night (partly related to the other health issues we've mentioned here). And it is a balance - you need to make sure you've got enough sleep on board so you don't crash halfway through the day. But I think, if you can get yourself up, it's a great way to see another side of the world (or I guess more accurately, the Sun).
Shake off the dust. Get some space. Take a breath.
And for a bonus, here's a pic from good ol' NZ when we managed to catch Te Ra (the sun) rising in Whananaki, Northland in January this year. There is nothing like a NZ summer sunrise!
This time last year we were in Fiji. We had a mini break to distract us from the fact that we should have been having our baby girl that week. From the fact that we had made plans for another little person to join our team and that it was never going to happen. We figured if we booked an adventure, somewhere it was almost impossible to feel sad, we wouldn't fixate on what we'd lost.
This year we're away again, on an adventure to try and escape our demons. To try and find ourselves again after 2016 shook us to our cores. But being on the other side of the world doesn't take away from the loss. It doesn't mean that we don't think about her most days.
Would she have blue eyes?
Would she have been a big smiler or be a serious baby like her brother?
Would she like music as much as her Dad and brother and dance along to Bruce Springsteen like Sam did that age?
Would she have inherited her Dad's genetic vision impairment? Or maybe inherited her Mum's lazy eye like her brother did?
Would she be a girly girl like most of our nieces or would she join the boy's cousin gang?
Would she have curly hair like her mother did at that age?
Would she have the same dimple that Sam and her Mum have?
Would she already be speaking words like Sam was at that age?
Would she already be walking or just crawling like Sam was at his first birthday?
Would she only be wearing her brother's hand-me-downs or would we have caved to buy traditionally girly outfits?
Would she be a good night sleeper like her brother or would we be a walking zombies like some parents of 1-year-olds?
Would she be high on the charts like her brother 99% for weight & 95% for height or would she be a dainty wee thing?
Would she be a Daddy's girl or clingy with Mama like Sam was in his first year?
Would Sam be a good older brother?
Would he dote on her or wish she hadn't joined the family?
Would our family feel complete?
Would we feel complete?
It would be crazy to assume that just because we're on holiday, having a big adventure, that the stress we've been feeling just melts away. But the thing is, that every other time we've been overseas - like our honeymoon 10 years ago where we spent 2 months in Europe or our American adventure in 2011 where we visited San Francisco & New York for a month - every other time we traveled a long distance it was just the two of us. We were able-bodied, excited about our adventures and were free from the stresses that have been nipping out our heals for the last 18 months. Our lives were blessed, we were set up to have big adventures, nothing was going to hold us back.
This time the dynamic could not be more different. Going into this trip I knew my body was still compromised from an extended period of unwellness. I had no stamina, was still in pain from recent surgery and my anxiety levels were umm, a smidge high. Nick had his shoulder injury from his car accident months earlier, plus a recent ACL repair on his knee and a hip injury from said car accident. Combine that with a 4-year old and (sometimes) two 60+ parents and you have the makings for a good sitcom, or maybe a dramedy? Anyway, it was clear from the outset that this adventure was not the escape we had dreamed for. Sometimes I sit here and wonder whether we did this the right way, whether going on this adventure was a good idea. Taking Sam out of his routine & comfort zone, taking us away from our support networks and thrusting us into spending 24/7 together, something we haven't done in a long time. But you know what? It is what it is. We signed up for this and for better or worse we're in it now and we just have to keep moving, keep making the best of it. Another part of me says, damnit I'm going to find that peace, that sea-change, that reflection time, no matter what happens so look out world!
But things never go as planned. Of course life isn't like that. And sometimes when things go pear-shaped "making the best of it" seems beyond us and we have to say, we haven't always acted our best or supported each other as we should. So in a bid to move on from past stresses, we thought we'd share some of our tales of woe with you, let you enjoy the comedy of our misfortune.
~ Receiving an email from a hotel you had booked to stay at in Normandy in September on your first night in the London in August asking where you are and realising you booked online for the wrong month. And then after contacting them and explaining your mistake, they understandbly tell you they will have to charge you the full fee for the no show and when you try to negotiate to pay part of the fee because you plan to re-book for September there is radio silence and you realise you've just wasted over 1000 Euros...
~ Arriving at Gare du Nord in Paris, after your father has admirably braved the crazy Paris streets and before that ridiculously expensive toll roads (seriously, 6 toll roads in 2.5 hours and almost 30 Euro in tolls??) and having just enough time to drop off the van and get the luggage to the train station before catching a high-speed train to Amsterdam. You have finally found the carpark you need to leave the car in and driven down the ramp only to discover that your mafia-style black van is too high for the barrier and to make matters worse, an aggressive taxi driver behind us refuses to move out of our way to reverse back. Much gesturing & swearing ensues.
~ Trying desperately to find a bar in Bruges that sells anything but Belgian beer and after having left 10 different bars because they only had beer (not that Nick minded that part), you find a little "Tapas & Cocktail Bar", upon entering the waiter takes one look at you and tells you that they only serve dinner (so essentially, jog on little foreigners). This is after a waiter at another establishment told you that you couldn't sit in the seats with a view of the square because you weren't ordering food. Despite the restaurant being devoid of all other patrons.
~ Being stranded on the wrong side of an open bridge, watching your own boat cruise through said bridge and realising you have no way to get to the boat. Once the boat is moored you have to walk down a motorway on-ramp with motorists aggressively tooting at you then being yelled at by another motorist waiting next to the motorway. After yelling back that you have no choice about walking here and he should just mind his own business, you're cheered to hear your mother also give him a piece of her mind.
~ Having just turned off the light on night three in Paris, when with no warning your child wakes up and projectile vomits, over this bed, the carpet and the entire bathroom (and it's a tiny, tiny room). As this is the second time on this trip, you're now a pro at dealing with this. You coax him through finishing his session at the toilet then you turn on the shower and strip the child, place him in the shower, jump in to give him cuddles while your husband strips the sheets and visits the 24 hour desk (lucky!) to ask for new sheets and towels. You then clean the bathroom with an entire packet of wet wipes.
~ Turning down the wrong way from where your GPS wanted you to go and finding yourselves driving down the world's most narrow winding English country road, with long grass growing high at either side of the road and no place to pass. Then the heavens open and the biggest sun shower you've ever seen rains down and you pray that no one comes down the road towards you because you don't fancy your husband's reversing skills.
~ Sitting down with your mother and child after having endured a slow, hot walk through the world's most annoying crowds in Bruges to arrive at a bar near your boat for a well-deserved cocktail. After enjoying a lovely canal-side beverage there the day before, this is a safe bet for a relaxing outing while your husband and father enjoy an afternoon at a Belgian brewery. However, when your mother accidentally knocks over an ash tray and is unable to retrieve it, to your shock, the waiter comes over to lecture her for dropping something & not picking it up the saunters away. When he eventually deigns to take your order your mother says you're actually considering leaving because of his poor customer service, he justifies his behaviour, telling us we are the rude ones then turns tail to ignore us, making it clear we will not be ordering a drink there even if we wanted to. You call back after him that he gets a "minus 10 for customer service" and take your bewildered 4-year old by the hand to explain to him that sometimes people are rude but that doesn't mean you need to stay there and put up with it, especially when parting with your hard-earned money, so sometimes it is better to walk away from a rude person.
~ Researching how awesome Schipol airport in Amsterdam is - heaps of amazing shops, places to eat, kids playgrounds & an off-shoot of the science museum to explore. You decide to arrive 3 hours before take-off to enjoy the airport facilities, only to get through security and be stuck in the smallest airline lounge in the history of lounges. There is no access to said researched cool activities and there is one bar who tells you they're closed then proceeds to open 10 minutes later (after you've purchased dry uninspiring panini's from the only other food vendor), pumping it's music loud to rub it in your face.
~ Arriving in Lille en route to Belgium and being told in broken English by the train attendant that due to works on the tracks, you've been diverted to a bus then two more trains. Going outside to find said connections, and being completely unable to, looking around in desperation, sure that the group is completely fucked, and then seeing a bus turn it's signal from "Out of Service" to "Replacement', and thanking every God you care to mention.
~ Finding an awesome little local bar in the Cotswolds to watch the Arsenal game, settling in with a delicious pint to watch with Sam, which is a very special experience since normally I'm you're watching in the early morning / very late night on the other side of the globe . . . then watching your team get absolutely punished 4-0, while all the Liverpool supporters in the bar go mental.
~ Waiting in a massive line for a ticket to get over to Sentosa Island on the Monorail, then realising you have found an easier option that means you don't have to wait in this godforsaken line since your Metro tickets can be used but they just need a little more funds. So you go down 3 floors and top-up but as you reach the Monorail gate the attendant tells you that your child will not be free (although he is free on the Metro) and that you actually do need to stand in that bloody line. You stand in line for literally another half hour, while your wife seethes and other tourists seemingly view the ticket machine as a NASA-grade impenetrable supercomputer. "Insert payment card"??? What could this secret code language mean???
~ Finally finding a restaurant open on the Champs-Elysees that will serve you food at 2pm when most places have stopped serving food until 6pm (this is a consistent problem with a 4-year-old), and then discovering they actually don't have half the things on the menu available today, including the Fish and Chips your son has his heart set on, and the only thing on the menu suitable for your wife's delicate digestive system, then watching your wife walk out in protest, then as you're trying to catch up to her, it starts to rain.
~ After doing a pretty good job as main navigator, deck hand and mooring assistant through 10 days on the Belgian canals, when pulling into port on the final day misjudging your jump to the jetty and landing quite literally flat on your face, in the process re-bruising your already injured hip, and doing so in front of several other moored boats and some of the local boat engineers. Smooooooth.
As Nick talked about last week if we hadn't suffered through some excruciating / awful / embarrassing moments would we have had the same experience? When I booked the wrong dates in Normandy it opened the door to stay in an amazing AirBnB house - a French country house in a charming small village close to one of the D-Day beaches. If I hadn't screwed up the dates we never would have found this place and it ended up being one of my favourite destinations.
If we hadn't had such trouble finding a bar in Bruges, I wouldn't have appreciated how beautiful and satisfying my "Pink Panty Dropper" cocktail was. And we wouldn't have had to find a park bench to stop at in the square to enjoy the view and I may never have got such gorgeous photos.
If I hadn't had such appalling customer service in Belgium, I may never have been so charmed and surprised by the lovely, engaging, accommodating people in Amsterdam, restoring my faith in those who speak Dutch. Seriously, every waiter was lovely and our concierge at the apartment gave us farewell hugs. Exactly what we needed.
And if we hadn't ended up with such a long wait in the airport in Amsterdam with nothing to do we wouldn't have had an awesome Facetime with our lovely nephew just before his 5th birthday, which we are gutted to miss.
I hate that saying that everything happens for a reason. Because I can't think of a reason for us to lose our baby. Or for other people's babies to go without food or shelter. Or for terrorism or cancer. If there's a reason, it's a shitty one and it's being kept a dark secret. So I think instead it's about the silver lining. When things don't go according to plan, or more accurately turn to shit, it can lead you down a different path, sometimes it's an amazing path, but you'll never know if it would be any different, because this is your path now. Our path led us on this big adventure. We could be at home in NZ right now preparing for our little girl's first birthday. But instead I'm here writing this from our warm quirky AirBnB apartment in Iceland. That's my silver lining. I'm not saying this is better, I'm just saying I'm going to make the best of what's thrown at me and appreciate the journey I'm on.
And here are a few bonus pics of our adventures. Enjoy!
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We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.