Return of the TravelWeeds: Jenny

Posted on December 28, 2011


Return of the TravelWeeds: Video

Return of the TravelWeeds: Pictures

The trip was an unqualified success. We had (okay, mostly David had) planned, saved, discussed, and finally embarked on a six month trip that neither of us had ever been completely sure would really happen. But it had, and we’d enjoyed the hell out of it. In fact, the trip was even better than we’d thought possible. Between the sights we’d seen, the food we’d eaten, the wine we’d drunk and, most of all, the people we’d met, we knew it had been the experience of a lifetime.

The feeling I had before coming home to Texas after six months was not nearly as dramatic as I thought it would be. I was a little homesick, and of course I was looking forward to all the comforts that being back would afford, but I wasn’t desperately longing for home in a way that took the fun out of the journey. That was a pleasant surprise, actually. David and I both worried going into the trip that I would have a very hard time being away for that long. I didn’t travel much as a kid, and my wanderlust isn’t as keen as David’s. Not to mention the fact that I enjoy being domestic- cooking, lounging, keeping my little home space comfy and cozy- all fun for me. But I think the sheer amount of good times we had, plus knowing that the time was finite, not to mention the fact that this might be a once-per-lifetime kind of thing- all conspired to keep me traveling longer and happier than we thought I would.

We considered it appropriate that we would spend the last night of our epic trip in France, in Paris. The city and its suburb of Louveciennes, where David was an au pair, both held so many memories. More than that, our French family provided us, as always, with a warm welcome. We had a lovely dinner around the table where we’d spent so much time during our visit, chatting about nothing in particular. Cecile baked us one of her famous chocolate cakes, and we savored every bite with the unavoidable thought that this would be our last evening enjoying a treat like that in a place like this.

We knew the next day would bring long hours of traveling, hassle, and probably stress. But at the end of it all, David’s parents would be picking us up at the airport. We would see David’s dad for the first time in six months, then have a meal with my Dad and David’s parents. And at the end of the evening (or as least as long as we could stay awake), we would see our close friends, put our toothbrushes in our very own bathroom, and sleep in our own bed.

Traveling on September 11th was not my favorite thing ever, but since we were flying between Dublin and Paris, I wasn’t too paranoid. I figured if terrorists wanted to target something on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, it wouldn’t be a measly little RyanAir flight with a bunch of hung over Brits. Flying on September 12th though, that was a little more nerve wracking. The security at Charles de Gaulle was on high alert, and therefore I was on high alert too. When we went to board our flight, we passed about ten random passengers having their carry-ons searched in the tunnel. That did not inspire confidence. Then, instead of getting on the plane, we were channeled into a dim hallway in the bowels of the airport. We stood there, not moving, for about fifteen minutes. Then, they led us down some stairs and outside, where we boarded a bus. A couple of airport employees jumped onto our bus and started calling the name of someone who was apparently not there, since no one responded to their yelling. After about ten minutes of sitting on the bus, waiting for something no one explained, we were finally driven across the tarmac to our waiting plane. I couldn’t help but wonder what all the fuss was about, and whether these confused looking airline employees were hunting down some shady character. The icing on the cake was the French military tank that drove across the tarmac next to our plane as we were climbing the stairs. Two soldiers craned their heads out of the top of the tank, checking out the scene and taking my internal warning status from orange to red.

Needless to say, we made it home safely, and there were no shady characters on our plane. Scratch that, I’m sure there were several shady characters on our plane, but not the kind that I was afraid of. The worst thing that happened was that I had a 5-hour battle with altitude sickness, in which my head felt like it was going to crack open like an egg. This made eating, reading, watching movies, or doing pretty much anything else impossible, and all my plans for making the time go by faster were ruined.

But we did eventually land, and the pilot made sure to let us know it was 100 degrees outside. As soon as we stepped off of the plane, we knew we were home. Ah, the feeling of being baked like a lasagna inside a big metal pan. How I’d missed that.

David’s parents picked us up, and big hugs were exchanged all around. It was actually a bit anti-climactic, and felt more like we’d been away for a couple of weeks rather than six months. But just being home was enough for me. We met up with my Dad for dinner, and to pick up our car from him so that we’d have a way to get around. Eating our first American dinner was pretty fun, since we knew exactly what to do, how to say what we wanted, what questions to ask, and just generally felt at ease with the whole process. This was a revelation after six months of changing norms and expectations every week or two.

After a nice meal, we were headed back to our home at Katy and Justin’s. Driving back to Flower Mound felt very strange and yet very not strange. Driving our big SUV in such big lanes, parking in huge parking lots with spacious parking spaces, knowing exactly where we were- that was different. But hauling ourselves around the Metroplex highways was the same as it’s always been; long, tedious and full of traffic. But even though we were jet-lagged, our annoyance threshold was still pretty high- we were home!

Katy and Justin were happy to see us, and we caught up with them a little before retiring to our room to crash. We’d just seen them in August, so they didn’t have time too miss us too badly. Going to sleep in our bed for the first time was pretty awesome, and we’d already agreed to spend the next morning strategizing about our “new” old lives. Setting goals, making plans, and drinking Starbucks. We had a week to prepare to return to work, and that meant lots of laundry. Or, just putting everything into a big metal barrel in the backyard and burning it, like I’d fondly imagined countless times. I did end up doing the laundry instead of burning it, and now I find myself becoming unreasonably attached to many of the items I was intent on destroying only a few weeks ago. I think of what these poor items went through with me for six months; daily use, bedbug scares, scalding washers that turn everything blue, every type of food and drink imaginable being eaten carelessly in cars, trains, buses, ferries and other moving vehicles, and lots and lots of walking, walking, walking.

Our goal-setting meeting at Starbucks was very fun, but I found myself having trouble focusing. It seemed that it would be quite easy to get caught back up in the grind of daily life, with chores, housework, cooking and working taking up much of our time and energy. This is normal living, but also allows much less time for thinking about the world and your place in it. I don’t know if that’s ever an easy task for anyone.

I’m still trying to figure out how and how much the trip changed me. People mostly ask what our favorite place was, and whether we have any regrets. The answers are it depends and hell no. No one has really asked me whether I got what I wanted out of the trip, or how I am different because of it- but that’s understandable. The answer is that the experience was worth the effort, and the places we saw and people we met will be with me forever. I would definitely do it again given the choice. I didn’t have any major epiphanies, just some good conversations. I didn’t figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life, but I definitely spent six months of it doing something worthwhile.

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