My Travel Book - So Much Planning... And Then We Finally Flew Away...

Sometimes it is hard to remember when an idea first pops into your mind and then becomes a project that will evolve into a real adventure. Hard to remember how plans were drawn up and steps taken to turn dreams into reality. How and when? When and how?

Another question. Why? Oh this is usually so easy that there is almost no need to mention why. Of course, why always comes before when and how.

During those past three years, our family has undergone many changes, most of them really huge. As you probably know, we are a very small family of three. When one of us is confronted with change, it usually ends up having an enormous impact on the whole family.

When Swee’Pea moved from South Africa back to Europe and decided to take one year off, the change was seismic! We had to learn to spend more time together which ended up being a lovely experience actually! We had been living apart in different countries and most of the time, in different continents for more than 15 years.

And it so happened that two years ago, Swee’Pea decided to go back to school in Boston to get a new degree in a totally different field. He has a PhD in astrophysics but this time it was to be a Masters of Arts in Law and Diplomacy. (The Fletcher School’s MALD). We were very supportive. But honestly, it was hard to face again distance, time difference and change… quite simply change.

The first year flew away so quickly that it was amazing. A new school year began in August 2016 but we spent a few long weeks together in Brittany in December 2016. One more term and graduation would happen in May 2017. We wanted very much to be there, all together.

Graduation with great pump is uncharted territory for French people studying in France. I still remember the day Swee’Pea received his PhD in astrophysics. One big lecture theater at the Paris Institute of Astrophysics filled with his friends, colleagues, professors (and the jury, of course). He defended his doctoral dissertation. The jury left to confer - not for long and our son became Dr SP, PhD in astrophysics.  In a corner of the Institute entrance hall, we had arranged a small buffet with champagne to celebrate. And that was it. Three days later SP left for his first job as a fully-fledged astronomer at the Nice Observatory.

Graduating from the Fletcher School’s MALD had to be a great moment in our family life. And I guess I am finished with answering the “Why” question.

Now to when and how?

So “when” was definitely at Christmas time, in Brittany. I probably initiated a discussion about plans to be made be in Boston as a family, considering a new important turn in our life. Popeye would be retiring by the end of January, which would give us more freedom to travel.

Now to “how” did we ever plan a trip that started with a graduation in Boston and ended up with a 6 weeks road trip from the East Coast to California and back to New York. How did we go from reasonable to somehow loosing our minds?

At first, we decided that we’d stop in New York for a few days to get over jet lag before graduation. We’d drive to Boston from there. We’d attend graduation and fly back to Brussels from Boston. We soon all agreed on this plan.

How did we end up taking this crazy trip through the States? A trip that did involve two transatlantic flights, two domestic flights across the US, four flights in private rented planes, staying in 11 hotels (*12* except that we stayed twice in the same hotel in NY), renting six different cars plus riding in countless numbers of cabs and Uber cars and hiking a lot too.

Very simple, my friends. Some of you may remember a post I wrote in 2015 -  “My Travel Book - A Road Trip - Where To?”…

There was my chance! A chance of a lifetime!

New York and Boston were requisite. We added Montreal to visit our dear friends and their growing family. And then our plans went definitely wild. What about Los Angeles where Swee’Pea had spent three years at a time when I was not feeling good enough to travel? If we decided to go to LA, why not fly to San Francisco from Montreal and drive down to Pasadena, his "hometown" in one day on Route 1. “Let’s not drive down so fast”, said Swee’Pea. What about Lake Tahoe and Yosemite Park and then taking several days driving down to Pasadena? And while we were in Pasadena, what about flying to The Grand Canyon and spending two days there? And it went on and on.

The plans, at least hotel and commercial airlines wise, had to be set well in advance. So we went to work…

So just the way we had done it in our British road trip, we planned our main stops and we left a lot of opportunities open along the way. Trips planned to the letter do not agree with me. If I miss one single planned thing, I feel a painful loss since I have been somewhat deprived of the most important thing ever. While travelling, I like to have as much time as I can to improvise. Lingering in some places and skipping others. You know, the “Um” stuff! “Um, perfect weather today. Let’s go “there”, whatever “there” is!” Or the “Did you notice the sign on the right? Let’s go there!”

I guess it’s because I’ve spent so much time in Brittany where it is quite hard to plan activities and where one has to live essentially according to the weather! It is definitely never much fun to go sailing on Monday as planned because the sea turned suddenly very rough while it was just perfect on Sunday but...

I am very happy our light planning worked out well again this time. Of course, there are regrets about things and places missed but mainly because there was not enough time. But there were no frustrations. Almost none. Those six weeks were fraught with incredible encounters and adventures which may never have happened if planned carefully.

We would not have taken an impromptu drive around Newport with SP’s wonderful roommate after flying there for lunch. We would never have ended up at Folsom prison. We would not have gotten stuck between two snowdrifts in the middle of nowhere on our way to Lake Tahoe or was it on our way to Yosemite. We would not have followed the steps of Edwin Hubble from his house in Pasadena up to Mount Wilson Observatory where he discovered that the universe is expanding… on a rather foggy day. We would never have enjoyed one last minute delightful lunch at John Steinbeck’s childhood home in Salinas, nor enjoyed a private and totally unexpected visit of the said house. We would not have landed in some improbable place called Marble Canyon… Six weeks filled with so many strange happenings, so many incredibly happy times.

Thousands of pictures to look at on wintery days.

And so many stories to be told… 

*Good Luck, and Good Night*

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