Saturday, February 28, 2009

Chicken Abroad... Fairly Interesting

Maria made me a bumper sticker. It is the only bumper sticker I have ever put on a vehicle.

I suspected that my earache would muddle my brain, and it has is. My brain is muddled. I cannot hear and I feel like I have a dense accumulation of cotton candy in the cavern between my ears. I have seen a doctor and he did look in the ear, and he did pause and look again and then he prescribed an arsenal of pills, and drops, and after drops to counteract the gut bomb antibiotic missiles. I have been stoic and brave... no moaning, no writhing, no pathetic displays of my weak morale. But I have also been fuzzy and withdrawn, detached and very sleepy. I have not answered the phone or replied to messages, because it's too hard and frustrating trying to understand spoken language and make coherent replies. Forgive me for not being fully present.

And forgive me for semi-announcing something that sounded big and amazing, when it is really more fairly interesting and kind of silly.

Here's the deal: Geoff and I have planned to go to Europe since about 1983. It's one of those things we have postponed and delayed and fumbled and put off for later. But no more. We have passports gasp! We have cute little passport holders classy! We have maps and guide books clever! We have gumption finally!

Don't tell Geoff, but I think I may have been the single greatest obstacle to our European adventures, because I am Chicken. I am also frugal, and pragmatic, but those may be fancy talk for Chicken. Bok-bok-bok-bok-bok... I do not like to fly. Not a bit. I do not like to fall from the sky and sit in heaven and imagine my family having to clean my messes and miss me, and not be able to enjoy one more Christmas or planting another vegetable garden. I may have control issues too. Just saying.

I like my nest. I like my Odyssey, which is an extension of my nest. I love my bed and my comfy quilts, and the familiar sight of my children reading, playing, eating, smiling and singing. I love my husband... I may not see him often, but he's close. I have a vague and lingering suspicion that the world is flat. Don't laugh. Until I get to a spot and see it for myself, I get an uneasy feeling that it's not all together solid and there exists a possibility that I could fall off. My nest, the familiar range of my world, is comforting and good, and like any good hen, when the sun goes down, I want to return to my home.

OKay. Just as an exercise, try thinking of a fear or concern that you shelter deep inside, however unfounded or embarrassing, and then write down the fear, however irrational or silly. It's illuminating.

Geoff and I have planned to go to Europe since about 1983, and we are going to make the trip this summer! We are going as a family. We are going for... uh, I am not sure how long we'll stay or where we will stay or whether we will need rail passes. In fact, there is a lot we do not know, in spite of our guide books and the Internet. And because we don't know much, Geoff decided we need an advance party, a scout. And he has decided that I deserve the honor of being the European Advance Party.

I am the EAP. I pronounce it Eeep!... like a scared mouse or a nervous Chicken. I know. Some of you are thinking that 'this is an amazing opportunity, a wonderful gift, a chance of a lifetime.' And I know that I will be profoundly affected and thoroughly mesmerized, that I will love my adventure abroad... eventually. Right now I feel a bit anxious, uneasy and nervous.

There are a lot of wonderful stories about individuals who have left their comfort zone to discover new lands and new people, and they share marvelous tales about exotic sights and renewed spirits, about art and history and winding roads into uncharted territory. I don't know of many stories about a reluctant Chicken, traveling with advance reservations (no pun intended) and a good cell phone... a Chicken, who's first inclination is to stay home and bake lemon bars, and quilt. So, even though I may sound silly or as though I do not appreciate this opportunity, I am going to tell it like it is: I am a reluctant and nervous Chicken Abroad, sent as a scout to learn the ins and outs of traipsing through Europe with 4 children. I hope you find this more amusing than annoying. I am not a total 'stick in the mud.' Really, discussing my fears and admitting my homey nature, helps me, so that when I go finally do go forth I will be prepared and receptive... it's my process.

Non-Chickens know where they want to go. The AAA lady says she has a "before I die list." She said it's about places she wants to see, things she wants to do, and then she looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to finally decide where my flight should land. Now, partly, my noncommittalness was due to the earache; it really messes with my decisiveness and ability to focus. But I also have no particular must see destinations in my mind or heart. I sat in front of the maps and kind of weighed the pros and cons of this place and that, of late winter travel, and direct-non-stop flights, and even after pouring over books and maps at home, I didn't feel any closer to a decision sitting in front of the patient travel agent. Working from the ground up, we put together a plan that goes something like this...

I am flying to Barcelona. I like saying Barcelona, the soft "B," slightly dragging the c, and I like that it is close to another country, because Geoff wants me to visit two countries, for variety. From Barcelona, I am taking a train to Avignon. Avignon is also fun to pronounce, and I chose it because 1. My mom went their and she brought me table cloths from Provence and 2. I like to sing "Sur le Pont d'Avignon, l'on y danse, l'on y danse..." Then it's back to Barcelona, where I want to walk along Las Ramblas and buy my lunch in the Mercat de la Boquería. I squeezed in a day trip, also by train, south to Castellón de la Plana.

There it is. My tickets are purchased, and all I need now are comfortable shoes. Maybe a phrase book too. I went online to learn something, beside the words to a children's song, about France and Avignon. I discovered a website for a great looking restaurant and got perky about the prospect of dining there, so I clicked on the menu... I can speak a fair amount of Spanish, so I optimistically (read: thoughtlessly) believed that another Romance language could not be too hard to decipher... lol. There was not a phrase or word or vowel that I could make sense of and in a moment of simultaneous enlightenment and ignorance I blurted: Cr@p! It's like a foreign language! K... time to brush up on my French. Note... I am mentioning that I speak "some" Español, but I am arriving in a region where Catalan is spoken, which is like, totally like a foreign language!


Anna Banana said...

Couple things. First, WOW. Second, Avignon is where the popes moved when Rome got dicey. Then they moved back. Big Catholic history, beautiful. Third, get a hotel with kitchenette. It is truly exhausting to say Bonjour Madame and Oui (pronounced weh) Monsieur all day. Fourth, you will be in heaven with your camera. Fifth, you must really love that guy Geoff.

nikkipolani said...

GLEEEEE!!!! You are going to have a blast, Natalie. I'm so looking forward to seeing through your adventurous and creative eye.

Frogdancer said...

You are so lucky to live so close. From here, a ticket to London (return) costs around $4000, so there's no way people can pop over to scout things out. *sigh*

I have taken my four kids to Bali and Phukhet. Truly, probably the best things I've done for them. They grow up and see things outside their own narrow experience and we grew even closer together as a group.

You'll have a ball!

Tiglizzyclone said...

This sounds like you will have lots of fun! So go and enjoy yourself! I've never traveled overseas. Just have travel lots all over the USofA and Canada. The one place I have always wanted to go was Wales, Portmeirion mostly.

Sara said...

Perhaps you will find comfort in knowing there are lots of us chickens out there! I know how you feel....having traveled a little, the last time was to Paris in 2001, here is my advice: just get yourself over there, decide that everything is an adventure, and don't let yourself get upset....use humor! Don't plan too much in advance; things never quite go as planned, and surprises always come along. Go with the flow! Enjoy what life is offering and have a great time!


Nell said...

So jealous. So, so, so, so jealous.

Although, I would recommend Italy. But all the Mediterranean countries are fabulous. LOVE it.

mtnchild said...

If I had any extra (Huh? EXTRA???) money, I'd go and hold your hand so you wouldn't be scared! We could "not like flying" together ?!?

When are you leaving on your scouting mission?

Have a blast!

tara said...

I hate to fly too. But do. The whole idea is just absurd to me. We have a family vacation planned this fall and I keep thinking "why dont we just stay home?". I need to jump ouside of my box too.
You are going to have so much fun!! I cant wait to hear all about it.

Tracy said...

That is the best, the cutest bumper sticker I've ever seen...very car-worthy and then some! ;o) Europe....I am sooo happy for you all--this is tremendously exciting! Remember, you have a contact here in Norway! ;o) I don't like to fly either. Anymore I get migraines when traveling by air, which adds more grief to the experience. But flying is the only way I can get over to my family & friends in the US, so I suppose in an odd way I've become used to it--LOL! But details...we'd love details when you have them. Summer is the best time to see Norway... ;o) Happy Days planning your dream trip! ((HUGS))

Emily M. said...

what an exciting adventure! you will love it. i came across your blog following a comment you left on soule mama's blog. felt compelled to comment on this post because we just went to barcelona with the family at christmas. it was amazing. the sagrada familia was easily one of the best sights i've seen in europe. in just looking briefly at your blog i don't think that your kiddos are as small as ours, but perhaps my husband's blog would still be of interest? he does not wax philosophical and he is not verbose, but there are lots of posts about traveling with children!

happy zombie said...

Oh Natalie! I'm so happy for you and your family's trip across the pond. I feel like I have a gold mine of good reading ahead. I've just saved all of your current posts and am saving them for tonight once everyone is asleep and the house it quiet - and I can swim the words and photos of your holiday. My own little vacation - and all while in my jammies.

Happy travels and thank you sharing it! xoxom