One is the magic number

Not all those who wander are lost.

JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

 

I love travelling with M. For me a huge part of the enjoyment of any trip is in the anticipation of it – the booking of the flights and hotels, the research about things I’d like to see when I get there, the studying of the phrases I know I’ll never have the confidence to actually utter out loud – and in the reminiscence about the trip when I get home. And expectation and rumination are double the fun when you’re indulging in them with someone else who will be/was there. When M and I are travelling à deux, the fact that we can rely on each other to share the practical stuff enables us to relax and open our eyes and our minds to serendipity, the miraculous and the unexpected.

But sometimes (and I don’t think M will mind me saying this…) there’s nothing quite so invigorating as getting out there and seeing a bit of the world on your own.

I was reminded of this as I stood at the Europcar office at Bilbao Airport last night, having just arrived from Geneva.

Erm, the car you booked online is very, very small, said the woman at the counter. Are you sure you wouldn’t like something bigger for six euros extra per day?

No thanks, I answered. It’s just me and one piece of luggage so a small car is fine. (When I’m travelling with M this cost-saving measure doesn’t work – it brings a tear to the eye to watch a six-foot-six man trying to fold himself into the smallest of Spanish SEATs.) This was a solo adventure and a little car would be the perfect compact companion.

When I got out to the car I saw that not only was it as tiny as advertised, it was also a manual, something I hadn’t encountered in a while and have rarely experienced in a left-hand-drive vehicle. But after a few stern self-administered enjoinders to remember to use the clutch, I set the GPS for my destination in Logrono and (once I’d stopped bunny-hopping and found my way out of the car park), hit the highway.

It’s not a long drive from Bilbao to Logrono – a couple of hours at the outside – but I enjoyed every second of the drive, with the red-roofed houses flashing by, the car chugging, revs high and in second gear, through the hairpin turns into the mountains, and the churches sitting majestically on the landscape.

When I got to the hotel and asked about parking for the next few days, the receptionist asked what kind of car I was driving. Why? I wondered. Is there some sort of quality threshold below which they won’t stoop? I mumbled something about driving a SEAT and the receptionist said, Oh, that’s OK then – it will fit in the lift. Not something I’d expected – having to drive the car into an elevator and wind the window down to press the button marked -2 – but then that’s what travelling is all about, isn’t it? Dealing with the unexpected?

Another thing I hadn’t expected was that I’d get lost this morning on the 20-minute walk from my hotel – close to the apartment we stayed in last time we were here – to the office where I had an appointment, which I’d visited a couple of times before. It was supposed to be a 20-minute walk but I left the hotel early, determined to take some photos along the way. (M is infinitely patient with my obsession with taking photographs but I still always feel guilty about inducing chronic boredom in a companion.) I ambled out of the hotel thinking that I was bound to recognise things along the way. When after 20 minutes I’d recognised absolutely nothing I thought I’d better start taking the need for navigation seriously. I consulted a map – not a forte of mine and a task I’m always happier to delegate – and was shocked to see just how far I’d managed to stray off the necessary path. But after that I concentrated and thumbed the map like a pro, and the sense of achievement I felt when I got to where I was going was something that only those with similar topographical disorientation will appreciate.

When I was ushered into the waiting room and instructed to take a seat (not a SEAT – that was yesterday), I noticed that the French band Nouvelle Vague’s cover of Echo and the Bunnymen’s brilliant The Killing Moon was playing. I love Nouvelle Vague and it was a perfect soundtrack for my mood but I knew that if M had been there he’d have struggled to stay in his (lower-case) seat, so unbearable does he find pared-down bossa nova beats on classic songs. Without him sitting beside me dissing the music, I was free to listen without prejudice (something that I can’t necessarily do, I must admit, when I listen to the man who coined that phrase), and await my appointment with a sense of calm satisfaction.

I wish M could be here – I really do and he knows it’s true – but since he has no choice but to be at work while I’m here in Spain I have no choice but to get on with the tasks of going it alone and getting some enjoyment out of it. And who knows what sort of Nouvelle Vague I’ll ride with the Spanish Touring Car Company tomorrow…

Wonderlust

Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

Ray Bradbury

DSC07468

In La Chautagne, the area of south-east France that M and I currently inhabit, the weather isn’t so much a talking point as a cast of characters. In the last nine months I’ve had a brief introduction to all of them and I’ve been looking forward to getting to know them all better, to seeing how their temperaments might change from one year to the next and how that would alter their interactions with one another. But just as I make the reluctant transition from shorts and Birkenstocks to hiking boots and a Barbour jacket, and the landscape swaps its summer greens for the rustic oranges and reds of autumn, M and I have decided to pack up and move again.

In the line of work that M’s been in for the past decade, he’s always had to live in the accommodation that’s been provided for him, and that accommodation has always been in cities. So when we had a chance, on this mission, to put a roof over our own heads, we chose a big old roof in the French countryside. But man there are some drawbacks to living how the other half live! Yes the house that we’re renting is huge and beautiful and yes the countryside around it is spectacular (it’s amazing how much more bang you can get for your buck when you move away from the city) but it’s in the middle of nowhere and much to my own shock and amazement, I actually really miss having other people around!

IMG_1033

When we recently scoped out a possible new hometown and spoke with a potential new landlord, New Landlord told us about the highlights of the environs and asked if we’d seen them.

Have you been to the lake? he asked.

Not yet, we answered.

Ah, you have to see the lake! he said. There are people running and people swimming and people walking with their pets and…

There are people?! I responded? Brilliant! When can we move in?

And so we’ll be downsizing, erm, rather a lot. Our new home will be a third the size of our current one, we’ll have neighbours upstairs and down, our outdoor space will be measured in centimetres rather than acres and we’ll have to buy all our own furniture… And I can’t wait.

There are actually a number of practical reasons for our planned departure from the wilderness, not least being the fact that M currently has a one-hour-and-forty-minute commute into the office each morning, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there might be more to it than that for both of us. If I’m totally honest I fear that we might both have become infected with wonderlust…

IMG_0992

It’s no secret that wanderlust, our new condition’s close cousin, got into our veins a long time ago. I’m sure that what my Mum used to describe as growing pains when I was a kid was actually the gnawing ache for distant places that as an adult I’ve been more easily able to recognise, articulate and remedy. And M no doubt caught the affliction on one of the many trips he did as a child to the far-flung places where his Dad worked for the UN.

But if wonder is a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable and lust is an overwhelming desire or craving,*  then given the symptoms, I am self-diagnosing the lesser-known condition of wonderlust. The insatiable desire that both M and I have to see as much of the world’s gorgeousness as we possibly can during our short stint on the planet only becomes stronger as we slip inevitably closer to the time when we’ll shrug off this mortal coil, and so we have to cram in as much of the unfamiliar and inexplicable as we can.

I’ve read in several places recently that some sharks, including great whites, have to keep moving forward to stay alive, and there’s part of me, I think, that identifies. While the idea of perpetual motion is utterly exhausting and in some ways I’d love to just create a home and stay there, I fear that wonderlust would overwhelm me if I tried to stay in one place for too long, however much I might love the place and the people in it.

And so for now, as I count down towards the end of the three-month notice period we’ve given on the rental of our current home, I’ll start wallowing instead in that other affliction of the geographically restless – nostalgia for a home you’ve loved and will never live in again.

IMG_0982

* Thanks, Dictionary.com