Today, seven weeks ago, we arrived in Amsterdam, the first stop on our trip. Another six weeks, to the day, lie ahead. It’s a long time on the road, when you look at it like that!
At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s different being a long-term traveller than a tourist for two or three weeks. It is especially true on this trip where we are spending significant chunks of time in one place, staying not in hotels or guesthouses but in suburban homes.
Yesterday, for instance, on my morning walk to the cookery school, I encountered refuse removal day in Blackrock. The green truck trundled up the street and a man jumped off and on as he emptied the wheelie bins lined up outside people’s homes. This was Dublin going about its business, being a place where people led ordinary lives, I thought. This was not what tourists came to see (obviously!), but it was one of the thousands of jobs that had to be done in order for a city to be a destination.
Much as you get to see the mundaneness beneath the glamour of places, on a long trip you don’t escape domestic drudgery. You simply cannot bring enough clothes to avoid doing laundry. And if you’re staying in a self-catering place, you have to sweep the floors and do the shopping. Fortunately the difference in products, prices and the shopping process is significant enough to make going to SuperValue or Marks & Spencer or Lidl feel like an adventure. To me it all adds to the flavour of being here, of getting to know a place a little beyond the first-date stage.
A pleasure of spending time is that one begins to understand the lay of the land. Spatial orientation and sense of direction are not my superpowers. It takes a while before I know where I am. You can see how not moving on to a different city every three days is useful to me! We have been to Dublin twice before, but the greater Dublin Bay never featured on our radar on those visits. We were focused on the attractions in the city itself. This time round, we stay in one of the towns on the Bay and have the opportunity to explore several others. A whole new picture is unfolding in my head. I’d still get lost if I didn’t pay attention, but at least I now understand enough of the area’s geography that I can get on a train or a bus and know which direction to go. (You’ve no idea how relieved Rob is, knowing I can find my way home on my own!)
To me the greatest luxury of not being a “tourist”, is that I don’t feel so rushed. The panic of having to get through a list of must-sees and must-dos disappears almost completely when you know you have time. I’m also discovering that as the experience of being in a place becomes richer, the need to tick a top-10 list of attractions diminishes.
The weather doesn’t matter so much either! The first two weeks in Dublin were rather grey and wet and cool – not cold, mind you. Soft weather, I think is the right description. The last four days were summer in all its glory, with mostly not a cloud in the sky. This morning, however, the soft weather was back. None of it matters too much, though, because we are here for long enough to simply enjoy what every day brings and adapt to it.
A marvellous surprise is that I’ve stopped keeping track of how long we’ve been away from home, and that I don’t really fret about time running out and the trip coming to an end. I’m getting better at being in the moment. Sometimes my mind wanders to what lies ahead (France again, then Italy), but it is as if my head and heart are too filled with the richness of this day to have space to dwell on it. Of course I look forward to it, but I feel grounded where I am now. Such a precious feeling, and one I am consciously aware of and holding on to.
Is there anything I struggle with? Yes. There are times when I feel isolated. Not lonely or homesick as such, but I miss getting together with the special people in my life for lunch or just a chat over coffee. I’m meeting interesting characters over here and am having delightful encounters, but none of them know the backstory. There’s no way I could explain the layers of my world so that they can understand why i find something funny or amazing or sad. The sheer weight of the effort it would entail to build that connection often silences me. Technology is a saviour (thank you WhatsApp, Facebook and Skype) but Rob is the real hero at these times. He knows the stories of the past and discovers with me the ones we will be telling in future.
For now, however, we just revel in the wonders of every day – even days when nothing special happens – because that’s what travellers do.