That Monday Morning Feeling

Ok I’ll admit it, I told a teeny tiny fib. I signed off my last entry promising a swift return, and it’s been a whole month before you hear any squeak of news from me again. To both of my adoring fans, I’m sorry.

The good news is, I have more than just a squeak of news, I have a humongous, fantastical, plane-shaped piece of news. That’s right people, I’ve booked my plane tickets.

The actual booking process followed an all-too-familiar pattern of things I do with my life – I spent an unhealthy amount of time thinking and planning and coming up with the best way of doing things, and then changed my mind at the last minute and hoped for the best. In this case I’m referring to what is apparently a hot topic within travelling circles, the debate that has far too many hyphens for its own good, round-the-world ticket vs buy-as-you-go.

You see, having been told I can fly around the world basically creating my own stops for little more than a bag of sand (that’s a grand for all my non-London friends), I blindly accepted that as the best possible option and never even considered to look into individual prices. However, having recently been told by the same company that such a ticket doesn’t exist (which was weird), and subsequently been given a quote for £1700 to do the four major stops I’m planning to do (London-Perth, Sydney-Auckland, Auckland-LA, New York-London), I dusted off my sensible hat and sought a cheaper alternative.

As it turns out, booking these flights individually will probably turn out to be a similar price to doing it all in one go, and this raises an important point – money is not the biggest factor that determines how far in advance I commit to plans.

I’m in an extremely fortuitous position to be able to afford this trip, and probably next year’s as well, and so I’d rather spend just a tiny bit more to give myself as much flexibility as possible with regards to my timings. Yes, I can spend £1700 and commit to a flight from New York to London in July, but what happens if I want to spend longer exploring Mordor? Or I fall in love with the freezing temperatures in Canada? Or I get abducted by a moose in Montana? It’s important to me to keep my options as open as possible, and based on my current calculations (which aren’t necessarily accurate given that I’ve had less than 12 hours sleep), buying tickets as I go isn’t necessarily going to be any more expensive anyway.

So I’ve booked my flight to Australia on March 12th (which is actually the 13th down there because they live in the future), more precisely I’ve booked a direct flight to Perth. I’ve also booked a flight out of Oz to Auckland, New Zealand, on April 23rd – six weeks later – so that I can show the nice customs person that I do indeed intend on leaving the country again at some point. Luckily, flights between these two countries are as cheap as a second-hand lego set, so having to cancel/move it won’t be too much of a pain in the unmentionables.

In other news, I also have my Australian visa, meaning I can pop in and out of its enormous borders as much as I like over the next twelve months, and as I don’t need a visa to visit New Zealand, I’m pretty much all set to go.

All that’s left to do is to spend the next three weeks saying my tearful goodbyes to everyone who loves me (not sure that will be enough time), and try to squeeze several months worth of stuff into something I can carry on my back, and then it’s Heathrow here I come! At 7am in the morning. On a Monday.

I do love it…

I’ve spent a frustratingly long time thinking to myself, and saying to other people, that I’ll be “making plans soon”, and “putting dates to things before long”. It feels like an age since my breath was physically taken away from me by the view on top of an Italian mountain, and the itch to go explore the world again is well and truly back.

The good news is that we’ve now reached the stage where talking about plans is turning into actually getting off my lazy arse and making some (disclaimer, as I write this blog I’m sat on my lazy arse in bed in my dressing gown), and the first domino to fall is me quitting my job. Again.

I’d like to take this opportunity to say a massive thank you to the people at the G Piccadilly casino for not only allowing me to come back and grace them with my ugly mug for five months, but for once again providing a wonderful, friendly, excellent working environment to operate in. No place has ever made me feel quite as home whilst not at home as there, and I’ll miss you all terribly (except that annoying waiter who hogs the TV remote in the staff room, nobody wants to watch those films).

My last shift will be February 3rd, conveniently timed to be the night before two large groups of Americans run around chasing a ball and falling over a lot, and three nights before a planned celebration of one of my partners officially becoming more intelligent than me.

Perhaps more relevantly to this blog, it gives me roughly a few weeks to relax, plan, and get waaaaay over-excited at my next global adventure, which I’m aiming to commence at the beginning of March.

The next step is to come up with a rough plan for the route I’m taking, and a more specific plan for the initial stages of it. As things stand, the rough plan is:

March/April – Australia
April – New Zealand
May – USA
June – Canada

However, there are several factors that can and will influence this itinerary between now and me trying to keep my lunch where it should be during take off, the biggest of which being how I book my plane tickets.

I have a few alternative ideas up my sleeve, some include bringing forward my trip to Japan – one of the countries I’m planning to visit in 2019 and the country I want to see more than any other – to this year, others include Hong Kong, or Dubai, or even skipping Australia altogether.

To make sense of all of these plans, and work out which one I want/is best for my wallet, I need to make a phone call. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll return shortly with more news.

A Sweet Solution

I thought I’d give it a few weeks before I wrote this post so everyone has the opportunity to finish reeling from my recent revelation that I’m actually capable of having feelings.

In the mean time, I’ve been brainstorming so many different scenarios for the next few years in my head, the cogs upstairs now look more like wheels. But, finally, one idea in particular is starting to stick. Well, when I say stick, I mean cling on for dear life like the hair on top of my head, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.

The basic idea is this – next year I’ll spend roughly four months, from March to June, exploring Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada. Then, in 2019, I’ll take a few more months to enjoy the delights of Eastern Europe and South-East Asia.

The advantages of this plan are obvious. I’ll still get to see all the bits and bobs of the world that I want to see, but don’t have to worry so much about spending too long away from the people (and kittens) that I love back home. Plus it means I can keep a grasp of my youth and go another couple of years without needing to worry about growing old and sensible and settling down somewhere, which is definitely a win.

The astute among you will notice that there are a couple of time periods that I’d need to think about if this plan is to go ahead, more specifically with regards to employment, and topping up the travel fund coffers. Firstly, the idea was that my current part-time work at the casino would end in December, giving me Christmas and New Year to relax, and January to finalise my travel arrangements, but if I’m delaying the sending-off party until March, that gives me an extra couple of months of twiddling my thumbs and not earning any money – should I extend my current employment longer, at the risk of sacrificing my festive holiday? I haven’t decided yet.

The more important phase though is the one between the two intended excursions, from summer 2018 until whenever I head off again in 2019. Obviously I’m going to need to find work, but the nature and location of that work is still very much up in the air. I’ll always have casino-related options available, but I want to be careful not to burn any bridges I may want to walk across when I start thinking about my longer-term future once all this travelling nonsense has escaped my system.

Maybe I’ll find a sugar daddy to pay me for everything, I’ve heard that’s a thing, I’m sure it can’t be that hard…

The Emotion Problem

Ever since I got back from my jaunts around Western Europe, people have been asking me when and where I’m going next. It’s been happening so often that one can be excused for starting to believe that they can’t wait to get rid of me again – or that they can’t handle the excitement of me being around, yes, we’ll go with that one.

I always give the same answer – I’m exploring the other side of the world for six months or so, starting in January – and during the inevitable three seconds of semi-awkward silence as we both desperately search our internal monologues for the most appropriate follow-up comment, I add “I’m looking forward to it.”

Of course, that’s the truth. This is something I’ve been looking forward to doing ever since I started this travelling malarkey way back in 2007 with a three-month tour of the USA and Canada’s out-trousers. The prospect of sitting on the corner of a busy Chinese intersection sampling the local delicacies (food, obviously, you perverts), gawping at a rather sizeable rock in the middle of Australia, or experiencing the madness of Tokyo is one that gets my travelling juices flowing so much that all I can think about is getting on that plane in January and exploring the big wide world.

Only, I might not be.

Let’s get one thing clear, I’m a very lucky boy. I’m lucky in that my current circumstances allow me to take a hiatus from life to go see pretty things that most people don’t get to see. I don’t have a mortgage, I don’t have children, I work in a career that is relatively easy to dip in and out of, and I have no meaningful relationships to worry about.

At least, that’s what I thought was the case, until several (unrelated) recent events catalysed a re-think. No Mum, I’m not about to be a father, don’t panic, I’m talking about my relationships.

For those of you that don’t know already, I’m polyamorous – which means I am involved in multiple relationships simultaneously. Yes, everyone knows about everyone else, yes, they’re all happy with it, no, it’s not cheating. At the time of writing this blog post, I have three meaningful relationships, with a new, fourth one ascending at an alarmingly impressive rate. My attitude towards my travels and these people is that whilst I will miss them all terribly, that is a compromise I am willing to make in order to do something I love and have been wanting to do since I could spell Vanuatu. My girls, despite knowing they would miss me terribly as well (they’re only human), understood this desire of mine, and gave me their respective blessings.

However, over the last month or two, I’ve seen one relationship go through the mill and come out the other side better and stronger than ever, a second relationship reach a stage of human interaction that I didn’t think I was capable of any more, and the aforementioned new girl, who’s just plain fun to be around.

The simple fact is this – the closer I’m getting to D-day, the more I’m realising how much I’m going to miss the people I love, and I haven’t even mentioned my family yet.

For context, when I went round North America in ’07, it took me three months, and during the final couple of weeks or so, I was ready to head back home and see my family. That was at a time when I had no relationships, and was a fiercely independent individual. Now, things are different. As I spend more time and build stronger connections, I start to rely more on the meaningful people in my life, I start to lose my independence, I start to…*shudders*…have feelings.

Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not. I’m loving life at the moment, and all the people that are in it. But it does throw up a quandary when it comes to leaving everyone behind for half a year. That’s something that this time last year I could probably do without serious issue, but now I’m not so sure.

One might say that my mid-life crisis is having a mid-life crisis.

Korea Change

A lot has happened since I last graced you with my eloquent diatribe. Relationships have come and gone and come back again, family members have got ill then better then ill again, my employment situation has changed, I’m about to be living in London again (part time), and I’ve somehow become rather obsessed with NASCAR.

But despite these partly inexplicable adjustments, one thing remains constant – my desire to see the world.

Since returning from my jaunts around Western Europe earlier this year, I’ve been looking forward to, planning, and talking a lot (mainly to myself) about when I’m heading back out again, and to cut a long story short, it will be in January.

But whilst my previous endeavour lasted a mere seven weeks, this journey – thanks mainly to the absurdly wonderful value for money ticket I’m buying – looks set to keep me occupied for around six or seven months.

The basic idea is this:

Jan/Feb – South East Asia

Mar/Apr – Australia & New Zealand

May/Jun – USA & Canada.

Now, if this year has taught me anything, it’s that trying to make any more detailed plans will probably be a waste of time. Nevertheless, I’m still hoping to see many speech-destroying sights including wild tigers, massive rocks, bright lights, and a sex museum. Because why not.

One part of my journey that has changed, however, is my stance on visiting North Korea.

I’ve always been fascinated in the way of life over there, and how it differs from other civilisations thanks to its style of leadership. However, given recent and inevitable future escalations in diplomatic tensions, and for the sake of the sanity of my loved ones, I’ve decided not to go.

Now, those of you with a sturdy memory will recall that I mentioned something about my job situation changing. More specifically, I’m back working as a casino dealer again. Those lucky, lucky customers.

Given that it’s another few months before I once again head off on a big adventure, I figured it would be sensible for my bean collection and my own sanity to do some part time work until the end of the year.

So, if you happen to find yourself at the G Casino just off Leicester Square on a weekend evening, you might just see my cheeky smile and ridiculous ears as I take copious amounts of money from people daft enough to give it to me.

And so concludes my summer update. Now if you don’t mind, I need to remember how to play blackjack…

20. Santa Fiora, Italy

The quietest, loudest place in the world.

If you’re not a close relative of mine, or in a particular one of the many social circles I skirt the fringes of, then you’ve probably never heard of this place. To be fair, why would you? It’s just a small town half way up a hill in the middle of the countryside, with no world-famous landmarks or tourist attractions. You can’t even drive through most of it unless your car is the size of a shoe, and the only supermarket there is closed for umpteen hours during the middle of the day while everyone goes for a nap.

On the face of it, it’s not really worth the ~3 hour drive from Florence. However, if you enjoy wandering around a sleepy town that for 11.5 months of the year is largely untouched by swathes of tourists, getting lost in tiny, historic back alleys before being greeted by spectacular views of Italian mountains, then Santa Fiora is right up your, err, tiny back alley.

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This is not a place for activity seekers and adrenaline junkies, but it is a place that houses pretty bridges, churches with rivers flowing through them, countryside views that will take your breath away, and, if you’re me, a very friendly, very welcoming, very Italian lady who’s been your life-long friend and is happy to give you a bed to sleep in and enough pasta to fill a reasonably-sized Colosseum.

If all that isn’t enough for you, then hopping in a car and driving (which you need to do around here, don’t rely on public transport) in pretty much any direction will see you navigating your way up and down mountains and through similarly beautiful, similarly historic villages. Just keep your eye out for potholes, the Italians have a very…Italian attitude towards mountain road maintenance.

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Possible summer activities include driving to the top of a mountain and taking photos of an abandoned ski resort.

I recommend visiting Pitigliano, which appears to pre-date the invention of time itself, whilst perching dramatically and somewhat precariously on the edge of a cliff. It also has some very lovely wine and cheese shops, if you fancy having a picnic on the top of said cliff.

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The theme of my five-night pit stop in this utterly gorgeous part of the world, was quiet. After spending the last month hurtling around in trains and cars, immersing myself in both hustle and bustle, and gawping at what Western Europe could offer me, it was nice to take a step back, chill out, and embrace the calm.

Have a think about this for a minute – how often do you experience total silence? Probably less than you think, for there’s usually a background noise or three courtesy of cars on a distant road, birds tweeting in the nearby trees, or if you’re in London, the tutting of angry businessmen whose journey you have the audacity to slow down by more than a nanosecond. As a matter of fact, you get to experience complete silence so rarely that when it does happen, its power and presence is so noticeable that it seems like the loudest thing in the world.

In Santa Fiora, I was able to experience this feeling whilst sitting in the Chiesa di Santa Chiara. I’m not a religious man, but I do appreciate religious architecture, both big and small, and this establishment certainly fits the latter. Barely large enough to hold a family dinner (which admittedly is usually a big occasion in this part of the world), this is the place where I sat, closed my eyes, and forgot all about the rest of the world.

That is, until the Italian fighter jets started doing their practice runs through the nearby valleys.

I feel I should point out at this stage that if you’re seeking peace and quiet, don’t come here in the middle of August. The “Ferragosto”, a public holiday observed on the 15th, sees pretty much the entirety of Tuscany descend upon this small town for markets, fairs and other generally noisy festival-based activities. So if you want a good night’s sleep, avoid coming here at this time.

This town is not for everyone, maybe that’s why it’s not very well known, but for me, it served as a perfectly quiet interlude in the middle of my constantly noisy journey, and all whilst being hosted by the lady who gives the best hugs in the world. Thanks Rose.

 

Don’t panic

Yes, I know, I haven’t written anything for a few weeks. Don’t worry, I didn’t get picked up by a dodgy Italian hitchhiker, or accidentally got on a plane to Antarctica.

A combination of some very Italian internet connections, being busy meeting other people, and my own laziness during and exhaustion after the journey are the reasons behind my lack of recent creative juices.

I’m back home now though, with WiFi that actually works, and a fresh pair of legs that is already thinking about the next stage of my adventures now that it doesn’t have to recover from driving for nine hours in one day.

I’ll be catching up with the last handful of places in the first leg of my trip in the foreseeable future.