We arrived into Sydney just after 6 am on the 6th of May. A perfect time of day on a beautiful mild autumn Sunday. Dark enough that the lights of the city shone with a diamond intensity. Light enough for sunrise skies to be painted in a rich red across the horizon, against a brilliant blue sea and paler blue sky. It was nothing short of spectacular. Sydney is a beautiful city to fly into and so different from Europe at this time of year. Having had our sensibilities aligned to a different aesthetic for 6 weeks returning home was like flying to a whole new world visually. What born and bred Sydneysider would not almost burst with pride.
So, the reporting is done and it's almost time to put our mammoth trip to bed... I guess the general thing people do is pick their favourite experiences.... but honestly, we both agree that we would just be listing everything we did, including the hail at Lochnagar crater. We had an amazing time from start to finish.
What worked well? What experiences will inform our future planning?
1. Having a theme was great. We chose family history and worked in "must do" general sights and destinations around that. There is just so much to do and see, so it was helpful to have the theme to help you choose.
1a. I guess it's a variation on point 1 but seeing the great icons of Royal history and such in the one trip, or lots of different cathedrals, was excellent. I had wondered if we would get tired of it and it would get a bit samey, and towards the end, for example before we went into the Royal Pavillion Brighton, we thought we were getting there, but in fact, seeing them all in the one trip was brilliant because they all cross-fertilised. What we learned at one was useful at another, so as we went along we just got more and more out of each visit. We understood more. Case in point. Versailles and Blenheim. Before the trip I had figured it might be better to do them on separate trip. No no no. It was much much better to see these two properties in close succession.....and it was brilliant to have done Versailles first of the two.
2. Having variety was great. Especially in such a long trip. Our holiday was like 5 different holidays strung together. So I guess what I mean is you need a balance to keep you fresh. We saw big palaces but on the other extreme we wandered into a dusty shed in rural Somerset and bought cider brandy..When you're choosing your activities you do need to mix it up too.
3. Tomtom is absolutely positively essential (if driving). Probably the most important point of all.. Oh my goodness. Make sure you are old friends with your tomtom before you go.
4. If you're arriving long haul early morning. It's easy to keep travelling the same day. Arriving early morning local time after long haul and hopping straight on a coach and travelling even longer to start the trip out of London worked really really well. We'd do that again no worries.
5. Walking tours are brilliant. absolutely positively the best way to experience a place you don't know is with a guide.(actually that's a lesson we learned in Napier NZ). Do NOT, Do NOT skip the free walking tour of Bath... skip the Roman baths if you have to, but do NOT skip the walking tour. Do the big London institutions (V&A, British Museum etc) with London walks. I cannot emphasise enough how much more we got out of our experiences there due to having taken the London Walk.
6. Take the human led tour of wherever it is you're visiting. Prioritise places that have a tour led by a human. Much much better than any audio guide. More information is provided and its easier to absorb and you can ask questions too.
7. Don't assume that Cathedrals in small towns or cities are less magnificent than Cathedrals in big cities. Often the reverse is true. Wells Cathedral is a case in point.
8. Allow more time when visiting the home villages of great icons. We did flying visits to Helpston (John Clare) and Chawton (Jane Austen) to visit the museums dedicated to each. Both villages have associated walks to do around the village but we didn't have time to do that in either case. Both villages were very lovely. Next time I will be trying to plan more time for those things and looking for the associated walks. In the case of Helpston, if I had my time over, I would still go to that area and stay a couple of nights, as we did, but I would prioritise Clare Cottage and Helpston over Burghley.
9. Do the pre-trip reading. We got more out of Amsterdam because we read the history of the city. I got more out of the Anne Frank House because I re-read her diary..I definitely got more out of visiting Helpston even having read only part of the biography of John Clare... thought the museum is really great and very accessible for children too
10. Do try to keep some nights free to do nothing...especially if you have chosen to stay in an awesome B&B ... you might not succeed in the end.. but do try.. :o). Over six weeks more resting time would be good too... but I think with me.. well.. I would just fill it up with something when I got there. Four weeks it's not so much a problem! It's very unlikely we'll take 6 week trips in future.. that's for a range of reasons not just the fatigue management.
11. ah yes... DO try chains that have outlets absolutely everywhere.. my brother did tell me about Pret a Manger.. but I completely forgot and was put off by it being a chain... MISTAKE.
12. Don't assume that a town destroyed in war is all post war in style... especially in Europe... those battlefield towns in France and Belgium are worth visiting if only to marvel at the fact that they just gathered up the rubble and reassembled their city, even though in some cases it took them decades to complete. Amazing.
Hubby agrees with the above and he adds:
13. Make sure you factor in lunch. It's no good going around seeing things on an empty stomach.. like we did at Windsor Castle.
14 Travel lighter. Snodge comments: It's almost hard to say it's a learning because EVERYONE tells you before you go... but really. Pack and then take half of what you packed out and leave it at home.. Even for a long trip. You need to head out with your luggage half empty.
16. MY man bag* was great. It's important to carry your rain gear with you all the time, and not just for rain.. for wind and cold reasons too.
*Emphasis added by Snodge.
.. and that's it. I guess we spend a few months reading and fleshing out leads of interest we got on this trip and then start planning for the next one.
It's now 8 months later and the gloss has not dimmed on our trip. It was a truly fantastic experience. Every time I read I can't wait to get back for another instalment I am SO glad to have spent the time recording my journal in such detail. Reading it is like reliving a surely untoppable holiday and I am reminded of so many things that would have otherwise faded away in pale memory.