Meet, Plan, Go!

Kick-Ass Host: Janice Waugh
Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

All of our local kick-ass Meet, Plan, Go! hosts have inspiring stories of their own career break travels. In the time leading up to our National Event in October we will introduce them to you so you can see why they are part of our team.

Meet our Kick-Ass Toronto Host: Janice Waugh

18 Loves

The other day I was reminded of a film about love: Paris, Je t’aime. Actually, it’s 18 small films about love, made in that amazing city of love.

Last year I wrote my Meet, Plan, Go! post about losing the love of my life shortly after our long-term trip. This time I want to write about 18 loves I found on our 10 month journey through Europe with one son all the time, one son half the time and the other two part of the time.

Love #1 – Time

I found a new meaning of time on our trip. Time was ours to define. We could stay as long as we wanted in a location or leave it quickly. Time was our ally whereas at home, it can be an enemy.

Love #2 – Our VW Pop-up Camper

We spent 10 months traveling Europe in a VW Pop-up Camper. That camper was transportation and accommodation in one. It was our kitchen, bedrooms, music room… It was reliable, affordable and, even though it had a diesel engine, could cruise at 160 k/h without a problem. I get sentimental every time I see one.

Love #3 – Our view of Il Duomo in Florence

Our campground outside of Florence was on top of a hill – on top of a very high hill. We drove up for a while and then the road became steeper. And then steeper still. So much so that we had to rev up the van to get it up the last leg and into the campground. But, from that vantage point, from our campsite on the edge of a cliff near where Leonardo da Vinci tested his flying machine, we had a view of the Duomo in Florence. Priceless for a pittance.

Love #4 – My 12 year old’s independence

At the beginning of our trip we rented a small apartment in Neuchatel, Switzerland where our second youngest went to school for one semester. We traveled out but also stayed in that small, very safe city of 30,000. Here our youngest son was able to stretch and develop independence and street-smarts that wouldn’t have been possible in Toronto.

Love #5 – Toledo

Hill top towns hold a fascination for me; you don’t see them in North America. My favorite was Toledo, Spain, just south of Madrid. We camped outside the walled city and walked in every day. This is Don Quixote country and at one point my son sang “The Impossible Dream” in the central square.

Love #6 – European Parades

In North America we control our parades with police on the sidelines keeping people off the street. In Europe they don’t. Everyone can get involved and they’re a little wild. In Neuchatel we went to the annual Fête des Vendanges celebration of the grape harvest. A lot of wine was involved and they shot confetti out of canons! In Vilanova i la Geltru in Spain they celebrate Carnival by tossing candies into the streets. Not just a few. The streets of the entire town are so thick with candies that if you stop moving it’s a struggle to get your foot off the ground again.

Love #7 – Cycling in Amsterdam

The pacing of a long-term trip is different from other travels. Towards the end of our trip, we decided to take a break from the road and rent an apartment for six weeks in Amsterdam. We rented bikes and lived the city like locals. I’m a cycling enthusiast anyway but in Amsterdam it was fabulous.

Love #8 – Spontaneity

With 10 months of travel available, there is no pressure to stick to a schedule. We were able to change plans on a moments notice. On one occasion in Sicily, we decided that we needed to leave. We were near Mount Etna. Could we make it to Palermo in time for the ferry? Maybe. We raced across the island and were the last vehicle on the ship.

Love #9 – Risotto

Risotto is the perfect meal for camping. Most of the ingredients do not require refrigeration and it is cooked in one pot. Serve it with a salad and a glass of wine and you have an elegant, tasty dinner suitable for entertaining.

Love #10 – Luxury camping in France

In France I’ve camped in a luxury resort, on the grounds of a Chateau and on a beautiful terraced hillside. Camping in France is a wonderful experience, especially when they deliver fresh croissant to you in the morning.

Love #11 – Chianti

I always thought of Chianti as a cheap, harsh wine. In Florence I learned that this was not the case. Taking advantage of the fact that one of the older sons was with us, my husband and I went on a date to a fine restaurant and allowed the server to choose our wine. I was a little hesitant when he suggested a Chianti but, when in Florence… So we tried it and it was wonderful.

Love #12 – Haus der Musik in Vienna

This was my favorite museum in Europe yet few people have heard of it. My son found it and put it on our itinerary for that city. It’s located in central Vienna near St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Vienna State Opera House. It’s interactive and playful and teaches the science as well as history of music.

Love #13 – Going slow

A long-term trip is about taking one’s time and feeling a new location and culture. For me, going slow also means having time to read and meander. Going slow is a big love I found in long-term travel.

Love #14 – Fields of Olive Trees

My memory of the olive trees focuses on Spain. We drove for hours through rolling hills with olive trees in bloom. It is indeed a beautiful sight.

Love #15 – Roman Ruins

My fascination with Roman ruins does not seem to end. Fortunately, you can see them everywhere – from Italy to Germany and beyond. What an extraordinary civilization. My favorite are the aqueducts like the one found outside of Tarragona, Spain.

Love #16 – Getting lost

My son likes to remind me of my inclination to get intentionally lost. If I tired of one road, I’d spin off in a new direction on the next roundabout – a little disconcerting for a young navigator.

Love #17 – Letting the kids be our tour guides

Some days, we stopped planning and let the kids do it all. They got to learn and do what they wanted to do and we could relax and just follow them around.

Love #18 – The Alps

The beauty of the Alps is truly breathtaking. I remember the first time I had a view of them in winter. The mountains were covered in snow with rocks jutting out against a brilliant blue sky. I was in awe and I have not tired of such views since.

Naturally, there are many more memories and many more loves that I found in Europe that year. These are just 18.Janice Waugh publishes Solo Traveler, the blog for those who travel alone and is author of The Solo Traveler’s Handbook. She has spoken at The Smithsonian and been quoted in many media outlets including the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, LA Times and USA Today. Her blog offers solo travel stories, tips, safety advice and destination ideas as well as a couple of free ebooks including Glad You’re Not Here: a solo traveler’s manifesto.

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