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.

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.

8. Diksmuide, Zonnebeke, and Ypres

Lest I Forget

After the charm and colour of Bruges, it was time for my travels to take a very different, very emotional course. I’m not travelling round the world just to ooh and aah at pretty things, I’m doing this to learn about it. I want to know more not just about its cultures and sights, but about its history, and the events that helped shape it, for better or worse, into what it has become today.

The main reason behind including Belgium in my trip was to learn more about its role in World War I, and pay my respects to those who fell during it. This desire has led me to three locations in the past few days, the first of which was a hole in the ground just outside the village of Diksmuide.

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This wasn’t just any old hole, though, it was the last remnant of the trenches used in Belgium in World War I. A final, chilling reminder of what soldiers had to live through, as they prepared themselves for almost certain death.

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Besides a small tourist centre at one end, and a few informational signs situated near to it, there is little here to distract from the harsh simplicity of your surroundings. You’re standing in a six-foot ditch, held together by sandbags (albeit reconstructed concrete ones), and there’s a river on one side of you, and fields on the other, and that’s it. On a suitably grey and chilly day, it was a poignant reminder of this awful phase of human history, knowing that a hundred years ago, men barely old enough to drink beer were standing in the very same spot, getting ready to go over the top and face a barrage of German bullets.

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After visiting the site of the final moments of too many men, it was time to head to Tyne Cot Cemetery, near Zonnebeke, to pay my respects at the final resting place of thousands.

Be prepared, because when visiting this cemetery, one cannot help but be moved by the sheer number of people remembered here. Nearly 12,000 graves stand, side-by-side, in haunting silence (unless you happen to have arrived at the same time as whatever the Dutch for sixth-form school trip is), marking the bodies of the fallen.

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Tragically, around 8,300 of those bodies couldn’t be identified, and are simply marked as “A Soldier of the Great War”. These brave men not only sacrificed their lives for their country, but, in most cases, their very identities as well.

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As if standing in a field surrounded by thousands of graves wasn’t moving enough, the eastern boundary of the cemetery houses the Tyne Cot Memorial, a list of names of those who have no known grave, or whose bodies could not be recovered. Around 35,000 of these names line the memorial, a number that is difficult to comprehend even when standing next to it, let alone while sitting in the comfort of wherever you are right now reading this.

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Note: The T.E. Hayward in the first picture is, as far as I’m aware, not a relation.

The vast sum of people commemorated at Tyne Cot is a visual reminder of the sheer scale of death that this terrible conflict saw. It’s easy to make one angry at the world, and question the necessity of an event such as WWI when standing amongst these fallen, and easier still when you consider that all these names only account for roughly 0.5% of the combatants to have perished during The Great War, and that doesn’t take into account the deaths of everyday civilians.

The last leg of my tribute to the fallen saw me standing at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres. Built in the 1920s, despite the locals protesting against their town being turned into a giant memorial site, the Menin Gate pays tribute to those who passed through the town, only to go on and lose their lives in battle, and their bodies never to be recovered. In total, there are some 55,000 names carved into this impressive stone monument, which despite its size, still wasn’t big enough to house all the names it needed, hence the memorial at Tyne Cot Cemetery.

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But whilst the size of the structure and quantity of names were overwhelming, I was there mainly to see one small part of it in particular. Stanley Arthur Hayward, who served in the 13th Battalion, Canadian Infantry, was my Granddad’s Great Uncle. On 13th June 1916, at just 25 years of age, he went over the parapet at Sanctuary Wood, east of Ypres. Tragically, Stanley was killed by machine gun fire the moment he went over the top. He never even made it into battle.

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My emotional few days was wrapped up by the playing of The Last Post. Every evening at 8pm, just like it has done every day since 1928, the Last Post Ceremony is held at the gate, honouring those who made the ultimate sacrifice to help us become who we are today. It was a fitting final tribute to what has been an episode of my travels that has left me so drained, I’m turning in for the night before some of my ex-colleagues even start their night shift in the casino.

Still, tomorrow I’m travelling to a town that sounds like a woman born in the 1930s, via a country nobody knows anything about, so it will be back to business as usual.

Day One

So far on my journey, I have:

-sat next to an Olympic medal-winning gymnast
-kissed two girls
-left all my important travel documents in WH Smith
-got lost in the streets of Brussels (twice)
-had the most expensive poo of my life
-got lost trying to find my hotel (only once)
-been told that camels aren’t an acceptable form of currency

and this is only the first day.

(Don’t worry Mum, I picked up my documents again)

The Pang

When a lion wants to explore a different area, all it really needs to worry about is whether or not there is enough food available, and that there isn’t a rival pack of lions already there, and off it goes. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for humans.

Having used our levels of intelligence and patriotism to create a vastly complex and fragmented existence all over the planet, travelling to other parts of it becomes much more than simply picking your cubs up in your mouth and heading off on a jaunt.

Over the past few weeks I’ve had to worry about travel insurance, foreign currencies, vaccinations, visas, what I’m bringing with me, seeing the doctor, seeing the dentist, seeing the optician, talking to the bank to reassure them that someone isn’t about to nick my card and have a merry time with it in other countries, registering with the government so they give me travel alerts in case I end up stuck in the middle of a coup d’etat, making sure I can use my phone abroad, buying a webcam for my parents so they can video call me, booking train tickets, booking hotel rooms, and I’m sure I’ve missed one or two other twiddly bits out.

It’s been a lot of work, but, with just three days to go, I’ve just got “the pang”.

You know, the pang, that indescribable feeling you get in the bottom of your stomach, when you’re about to go on a first date, or on stage at a gig (yes, I have done both), or go round the world for a year or three. The pang, that consists mainly of excitement and anticipation, but with a decent smattering of “I hope this doesn’t go horribly wrong and I end up with bruises where I shouldn’t have them”, which is possible in any of the above scenarios.

All I have left to do, is pack, and make sure I have everything I need/make a last minute dash to the shops for anything I don’t have. I’ve even written a list of things I’m taking to make this an easier process, and that’s a good thing, because the pang is starting to take over, and the excitement/stress of the rapidly approaching departure date is starting to cloud rational thought and judgement.

Is it Monday yet?

Brace yourselves…

…this quiet little corner of the internet is about to get busier.

This morning marked the first real tangible proof that this journey is just around the corner. Having scribbled something that doesn’t resemble my signature in any shape or form on a delivery man’s electronic notepad, I took delivery of my Interrail tickets.

I now have the ability to travel on just about any train I want to in Europe, most of which will be free of charge. At £613 the this luxury isn’t cheap, but when you consider that the Eurostar train I’m taking (and just booked OMG THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING) would have normally cost me £179 alone, the tickets will soon pay for themselves, and then some.

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So, to recap, I set off in six days, and I have no hotels booked, no foreign currency, and nothing is packed. But hey, I have the ability to ride to the Bulgarian mountains tomorrow if I want to.

(I don’t know if Bulgaria actually has mountains)