Travel Planning 2012 — Or, Getting My Sh*t Together, Sort Of

I had high hopes for our sojourn in Blighty.

By approximately, umm, now, Z and I would have completed a whirlwind tour of the UK, caught up with scores of friends and relatives, and done all the tourist stuff you’re supposed to do in London that you never actually do when you’re actually living there.

I would also have finished two big projects (more details on these, umm, later…), sorted out and sold or given away the possessions that are clogging my parents’ attic (and quite possibly the ones still clogging our old house in London), billed a couple of large jobs, been paid for a couple more and not dropped the ball on learning Chinese.

Would you like to guess how much of this I’ve achieved? Or would that make you dissolve into a ball of crystal tears?

CLUE: I’ve spent more time than is conceivably possible stabbing at the reload button on my eBay sales page like a starving lab rat. £15.63! £15.85! Seriously, it’s worse than the horses

CLUE 2: My parents are semi-retired. This is a lifestyle that suits me rather well. In between binge eating and trips to the pub, I took a whole two quid off my brother playing bridge this weekend. At 5p for 100 points, that’s a lot of cards…

Anywise, at least I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions.

Because if I had a quid for every New Year I’ve given up smoking, I’d have the money for a packet of fags — in AUSTRALIA!

Now, I know that if there’s one thing worse than hearing about other people’s minor ailments, it’s reading about them in a long whiny blog post.

So let’s just say I’ve spent the last four weeks dribbling self-pity and mucus all over my parents’ house, and leave it at that, eh?

Because that’s what every parent wants, when their theoretically adult child returns from two years overseas, isn’t it? A trail of snotty tissues, intermittent low-level whining about sinus headaches and waking the whole house up around dawn with a bout of the sort of coughing normally accompanied by Tennants Extra, a dog on a string, a smelly Army-issue blanket and a rasped iteration of “spare any change please?”

Bonus points to both my parents for not once having suggested I give up smoking…

Still, at least my Christmas pyjamas have been getting good use! (And, frankly, parents, it could be worse. )

Z, meanwhile, who has not only the family gut of iron but also an irritating immunity to colds, has been toddling off to the village school every day, rather in the manner of someone who’s been going there all his life.

Highlights? Playing Vampire in the playground, popping round to his mate’s next door after school, hanging off his grandparents like a rather scruffy puppy and, umm, generally being a small boy.

Low points? Getting up on Asia time twice a week to carry on learning Chinese and doing his maths and science without being late for the social thing that is school.

“But it’s DARK, Mum!”

“I know, sweetheart. It’s ENGLAND. And it’s January…”

Anywise… The good news is that we now have a semi-coherent travel plan for the next few months. (Z is cool with the life nomadic until he’s 13, then basing ourselves in Bali, which gives me a couple more years to change the name of this site. And, yes, since you ask, that *was* also on my to do list for January. And, while you’re asking, he is now actually 11.)

And, in other great news, my cold is *much better*! Thank you so much for asking.

Oh wait. You didn’t…

Never mind.

To our travel plans…

One notable omission to an otherwise thoroughly excellent (almost) two years of world travel has been skiing. Z loves snow. And, while we’ve had a bit of that in China, we’ve both been jonesing for skiing.

So we will be rectifying that — this week! — in Bulgaria, a country I have never visited and am so far signally failing to research. (Although I can tell you the elevation and lift count of the country’s major ski resorts off the top of my head…)

Frankly, research is an unrewarding task, in a household comprising two highly-educated 60-somethings (with a library, no less!) and a small boy with more book learnin’ than is, frankly, good for me.


Me (looking at Times Atlas of World History): “Oooh! Did you know what Bulgaria used to be called in classical times?”

Z (playing Minecraft): “Thracia.”

Me: “How the F*CK did you know that?”

My dad: “Well, it’s rather general knowledge, isn’t it? [to Z] Let me tell you about Basil the Bulgar-Slayer…”

Me: “That’s why Thracia was famous for wine!”

My mum: “Yes, Bulgarian red isn’t bad.”


Me: “Oooh! They have some lovely Roman remains at Plovdiv!”

My dad: “Ah. That would be Philippopolis.”

My mum: “Oh, yes, Philippopolis.”

Z: “As in Philip of Macedon?”


Me: “Do you have any books on Bulgaria?”

My dad: “Yes, we have one on the medieval Balkans.”

My mum: “That’s unreadable.”

Me: “So what exactly does medieval mean in that context?”

My dad: “Before the Turkish invasion, roughly…”

Me: “Ummm…. When was that?”


Me (applying remnants of high school Russian to the Bulgarian state railway website): Did you know they use Cyrillic script in Bulgaria?

My mum: Yes. We drove through it on the way to Romania.

My dad: There’s only one famous Bulgarian. Bogomil. Of the Bogomilian heresy.

Me: Pray continue…

My dad: It’s a version of the Manichaean heresy…


We’ll head back from Bulgaria to Blighty for a couple of weeks of finishing off projects (or procrastinating, of course), then spend the British half term catching up with friends and family and hopefully doing some tourist stuff too.

Then we’ll be off through North Africa. Plans are to visit Egypt, Jordan, Israel, where we have friends, probably Lebanon, and then Turkey, working our way through to Greece, where my folks have a house, for early summer, and getting in some diving, some religious and cultural unschooling, and a few more wonders of the world.

Which we will, both of us, hopefully have researched rather better than I’m doing with Bulgaria.

As far as I can tell from my decoding of the travel advisories (for a good perspective on the worthwhileness of any system that rates Turkey, a popular package tour destination in these climes, at the same level of risk as Iraq check Travelfish’s blog), these bits of the Middle East should be sunny, educational and, provided we don’t hang out in Tahrir Square, get too close to the Syrian border or start exploring refugee camps solo, not significantly more dangerous than a couple of years ago.

If not as safe as Z would like to think.

“Does Gaddafi going mean we can go to Libya now, Mum?”

“Umm, no… As with most Western wars in the Middle East, quite the reverse…”

The rest of the year?

Well, that’s a little in flux. Z has agreed to spend six months in a Chinese school to consolidate his Chinese, and I’d like to be in northern China in time for the ice festival in Harbin next year. Z also wants to take the Trans-Siberian into China, see Moscow and is keen for some Bali time too, while I’m developing a minor obsession with Mongolia.

On the other hand, his dad, who was due to visit this hemisphere in February but now can’t, is now planning to move back to the UK in the middle of the year.

Which means, given we didn’t get it together for Z to fly to Oz before we left Asia, and he’s long overdue some dad time, he’ll be headed to either Brisbane (flying unaccompanied minor) or Western Europe (probably with me and overland) around the middle of the year.

So, after a slow and (sorry!) rather snotty start, 2012 is looking pretty good so far. How’s yours shaping up?

23 Responses

  1. Nikki says:

    Oh come back to Bali sooner! We will be leaving when you’re arriving! What happened to Spain?
    Mongolia sounds so cool eh? One if my top picks.

    • Theodora says:

      Seriously?! Where are you guys going? Back to the States? And when?! Spain sort of got replaced by China/Bali — long story, which I should probably go into. But, basically, if Z’s going to be doing the whole Chinese thing, chucking him into another new language environment — admittedly an easier one than Chinese — is just going to be a bit much. Also, the price of gas/vehicle insurance is just STUPID over here…

  2. Toni says:

    Great round up Theodora – sounds typically hectic when snotty =) Glad to hear that you’ve got your travel plans sorted now though and that things are getting back on track for you!

    • Theodora says:

      Thank you! A bit of snot is far from the end of the world, but it did rather put a kybosh on the last few weeks…

  3. I hope you at least picked up the used tissues and didn’t leave the job to your mom:) Looking forward to tagging along on you and Z’s adventures!

    • Theodora says:

      Holy crap! I so need to check my bedside table! (It’s actually my dad who does the cleaning…)

  4. Natalia says:

    Totally jealous – of the knowledgable parents, the trip to Bulgaria, the long trip through North Africa etc., of a chance to do the trans-Mongolian … just not the cold 🙂
    If you get remotely near Wiltshire before you leave the UK we would love to take you guys down to the pub or a trip to Stonehenge or Avebury or wherever. Just let us know.

    • Theodora says:

      Well, Cornwall might be on the horizons — so if we are heading down that way we will definitely look you guys up! One of Z’s favourite places on the planet, bar none, is a holiday park in Newquay. (Stonehenge is one of the few British tourist attractions we have actually done — largely because it’s en route to Cornwall.) But what a nice place to live!

  5. Phil says:

    Tummy hurts from laughing too hard.. Sometimes we need a healthy period of doing nothing. That said, seems like you have a fully loaded 2012! Look forward to following along as always.

  6. Vernon says:

    Have a great trip ahead. Looking forward for your Z’ adventure Theodora. You give me a great day by just reading your giggling post.

  7. Anne-Marie says:

    Absolutely hilarious – and almost all word for word true. Btw, Bulgaria came after Romania the way we drove it, though given that my map reading ability is not a lot better than yours, I expect we could have done it the other way round. It certainly would have been better than arriving at what we thought would be a land frontier, with a deadline to meet friends the next day, to find ourselves queuing for six hours to cross the Danube by ferry…

    • Theodora says:

      I’ve been making myself popular with Z by getting him to read the menus in Cyrillic and Greek (they have both as we’re only 100k from Thessaloniki)… Rather envying him his youthful knees after today though…

  8. Ainlay says:

    Ugh, at least you were cosy at home while making plans. I broke my bloody arm right at the border of Laos which meant we are having to make new plans on the spur of the minute which inevitably leads to expensive mistakes. Instead of trekking & tubing in Laos we figured we’d wander around Myanmar & had already bought tickets when found I would have to need new X-rays, a new cast & a big medical decision while in the only country with a worse health care system than Laos….l

    • Theodora says:

      Oh f*ck. Do they even have X-rays in Myanmar if you’re not a general? What a downer…. We’ve had nothing major so far. I guess we’ve been lucky, or summat. (Fingers crossed as we’re currently skiing and Bulgarians have a muscular approach to grading their runs. 100 steep metres of moguls on a *blue* run?!)

  9. kate says:

    Sitting in the new library in Christchurch reading this… I can almost picture it!

    • Theodora says:

      Hello stranger! I’ve been trying to get hold of you, but then Caro mentioned you were on an enforced internet diet. Hope Christchurch is fun and L’s adapting — I’ll try and find you on Skype when time zones suit. Hope all is good with you both xxx

  10. Yvette says:

    Aw, hope you feel better soon!

    Back in Amsterdam after nearly a month in the States (visiting family in Florida then an astronomy conference in Texas- yay sunshine!), planning a few European weekend jaunts but nothing major until summertime. I rather enjoy where I am, and besides there is this whole astronomy research job thingy that takes up a lot of my time. 🙂

    If you find yourself passing through Amsterdam let me know, I’ll either show you guys some views through the biggest telescope in the Netherlands or the inside of a cozy cafe depending on how the weather cooperates!

    • Theodora says:

      SERIOUSLY? Biggest telescope in the Netherlands?! Z’s got a small Van Gogh obsession thanks to Doctor Who, so we really should get over your way. Embarrassingly, despite the distance, I’ve never been to Amsterdam. And I’d love to.

      • Yvette says:

        Ha well it’s a 20″ telescope on the roof of our department- not exactly a nation famous for great observational conditions. 😉 So not THAT big, but definitely adequate for “let’s go look at cool stuff” things!

        Van Gogh museum is quite nice but I prefer the Rijksmuseum where the Rembrandts and Vermeers are- more variety. Tip me off in advance tho that you’re coming and I’ll lend you my extra Museumkaart so you can go into all the museums free…


        • Theodora says:

          I definitely will!

          And, yes, I suppose Holland is hardly Outback Australia or even Hawaii when it comes to making observations. A bientot…

  11. Oh, i am so jealous about your trips! i remember when i wrote to you about my plan to move back to Scotland, i did it finally so maybe in a few years i will find a courage to travel further! best regards from UK;)

    • Theodora says:

      Well, I’m really glad you did the first move! And the rest will come naturally. When you’re ready, just like moving to Scotland, just book the flight, and you’re away. Great to hear from you again!