A Year of Visits to Aran-Akash

•May 12, 2021 • 14 Comments

“Fathering is not something perfect men do, but something that perfects the man” – Frank Pittman

And that’s a car, and that’s a car, and that’s a car, and….’

One of the favourite things I re-learn every month from my son, is the wonder and sheer improbability of the world he and I share with you all. On my monthly visits, as we walk down the street (usually the same one) over and again in Catalan suburbia where he lives, there is nothing more fascinating it would appear than noticing – and crucially pointing out – cars.

That’s a car, and that’s a car‘, he says, time and again as we walk along the pavement. Sometimes in front of one, though I am not sure why that particular one, he will stop, point to the next parked vehicle and ask, ‘what’s that Papa Thomas?‘ ‘That’s a car‘, I tell him (sometimes adding the name of the colour for variety). ‘Si, si,’ he mutters and we walk on towards new, yet unexplored, stationary vehicles.

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The Flight of The Eagle – Meeting Napoleon

•March 21, 2021 • 13 Comments

My father came and got us from the stable; “Napoleon is in La Mure. The cows can wait until the Emperor has gone.” – Seraphique Troussier, March 1815

A little over a year ago, Google sent, for the first time (to me at least), something called ‘Your Timeline‘. It was an image with a wee map of the world showing all the countries I had visited (was it for that month, or that year?) Below was a number, representing the percentage of the world that constitutes. I don’t recall the details, but as this arrived in February 2020 – one month B.C (Before Covid) – I remember looking at it and thinking; ‘The UK, Spain, Nepal, Bhutan, Israel and Qatar, ok not bad for just two months into the year. This will be fun to post at the end of the year; show off a little how much I always travel‘.

Well, here we are thirteen months A.C (After Covid – which should really be ‘D-uring’ C of course) and the last several of these reminders – they now seem to arrive monthly – have mostly featured just two comparatively forlorn looking pins; Vaujany and Barcelona.

Occasionally, it has rather optimistically, included a third pin somewhere like, Narbonne, Perpignan or Montpellier. In the classic travellers debate; can one count as having been to, a country where all one has visited is the airport? Google, with a nudge from Corona, is now responding in the affirmative – for cities and train stations at least. So, I gaze from the window of my train each month, as it sits, inevitably delayed, at a platform of one or other of these Southern French destinations. Scant comfort drawn from the fact that if we sit for more than five minutes, with luck, Google will get excited and award me with a pin for this.

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Happiness is a Place – Travel with 2nd Cup of Tea in 2021…

•February 7, 2021 • 7 Comments

Got 2 minutes? It’s 2021 so probably, like me, you do. Ok, then just press play below. I will ‘see’ you in the text afterwards…

Looks good? Yes, yes and yes are the answers you might now be looking for.

Yes, this really does exist, yes you really can visit and yes I have created my own trip – Bhutan: Happiness is a Place – for 2021 and will be your Tour Guide in November (was that a fourth yes?) If ever there is a place that lives up to the over-used ‘once in a lifetime‘ – then Bhutan is it. Promise.

All I am asking at this stage, is are you interested? If so…

How can you join me? Please read on…

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(My) Immigrant Song

•August 9, 2020 • 5 Comments

This week one of the UK’s most vile, selfish and contemptible politicians (I use the term in its loosest sense) posted an image on his Twitter account of a solitary rubber dinghy landing on a beach in Southern England. The singular vessel contained, if I am not mistaken seven or eight adults and maybe three or four young children. In the low-lit shot, they can be seen moving away up the beach, presumably trying to distance themselves as quickly as possible from the photographer. The photo was captioned by the comment; ‘EXCLUSIVE FOOTAGE OF BEACH LANDING BY MIGRANTS – Shocking invasion of the Kent Coast taken this morning’.

For someone as obsessed with people crossing borders, one might think the poster of this video, might know the difference between ‘migrants’ and ‘immigrants’, ‘refugees’ and asylum seekers’. Assuming they did not sail from neighbouring East Sussex or down from Essex, that would for a start make them immigrants – not migrants – and were they to prove asylum seekers, well then they are breaking no law sailing across the channel and applying for, well… asylum.

You Don’t Remember Me, But Happy Birthday…

•March 1, 2020 • 5 Comments

You don’t remember me, but I have never forgotten you.

It’s two years since you came into my life. The first I knew was a photo, sent from your mother to my phone. And I knew you existed. It was three months before we finally met, but thanks to technology I felt I knew you already.

I’ll never forget waiting by the elevator, the one at the top of Las Ramblas on the left. I had bought and was wearing a yellow t-shirt for the occasion, something bright. I thought a bright colour might be good for babies. First I saw the top of your mother’s head as the glass elevator brought you both up, then your pram and eventually your little face – you were asleep.

You don’t remember me, but you have left footprints on my heart.

I wondered how I’d feel, I was in love with your mother, but how might one feel about a child with whom one shares no blood? People adopt all the time, there are step dads, mums, brothers and sisters. I had never given much thought to such relationships.

Over the next weeks and months as we became friends, you grew to become the most important thing in my life. Flesh, blood, genes, irrelevant. All that mattered was love. I remember feeling as nervous as a father when you started kindergarden, so proud when you could put your head under water at swimming class, worried when you were sick and happy when you ate the lunch I’d make you.

You don’t remember me, but we were friends.

I admit, I was not great, perhaps not natural father material. I would report to your mother how many times you had cried during the day, when she returned from work. And when that gradually and more often, became zero, I don’t recall feeling more proud of anything before, or since.

You were the only person I think ever to enjoy my guitar playing (though I appreciate as you would grow and develop a taste, that might not have lasted). When the guitar I had just bought for you fell off the wall and broke, and I could not afford another, I was devastated.

You don’t remember me, but I was your bath buddy.

Ahh bath time. Along with my playing guitar, you are also the only person ever to smile and try to sing along to my singing. How many times did we play and sing Octopus’s Garden? I will never forget the words.

My favourite photo of you is from the house we all too briefly shared. I am on the couch and you are sitting amidst all your coloured balls on the soft letters you had. I am holding a rabbit you loved, looking down at you. With your huge eyes and mouth wide open you look up at me, listening, learning, or maybe thinking; ‘who is this crazy person?’

And today you turn two. I think you are getting a bicycle. I would have loved to see your face. But I have not seen you for many months. And I miss you. It’s hard to accept that ones dreams end, that one is powerless to do anything – that following my heart, means encountering doors that are shut.

But I will always be grateful for every moment we shared. I am very fortunate that throughout our brief time together, I knew and really felt how lucky I was each and every single day; I realised it at the time.

You don’t remember me, but I love you.

Happy Birthday little astronaut… maybe you remember this:

Still Looking For a Great 2020 Holiday?

•February 5, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Permit me to suggest one of two options; Athens followed by a customised cruise to the Greek islands with a wonderful twist, or a Land Tour to one of my personal favourites; the Dalmatian Coast.

Two great itineraries in their different ways, two things in common; a real Mediterranean flavour and I’d be your guide on either (or both).

It’s All Greek to me; Athens And The Islands” October 2020 – guaranteed departure (Max 20 guests).

This itinerary has been put together by myself and my friend and colleague (through whose site you can book). We will take in some of the absolute iconic highlights of the Mediterranean, before doing what almost no one does; disembark for a wonderful finale with 3 nights on Santorini. ONLY 2 SPACES LEFT (due to a cancellation).

The Dalmatian Coast – Where The Balkans Meet The Mediterranean” – September 2020.

Once more I will be your guide for this adventure, but this time freelance for a fabulous agency called Discover Europe. This is the replica of a journey I took myself with an ex girlfriend years ago and we were both blown away by the beauty and off the beaten path feel of parts of the coast. Dubrovnik, Zadar (you have to hear the wave organ once in your life) and Split are fascinating to visit.

Any further questions, you can certainly email me, or if you prefer contact Lucy (for Greece) or Discover Europe (for The Dalmatian Coast). Hope to hear from you and see you out there on the Med later this year…

Bhutan – The Last Shangri-La?

•February 1, 2020 • 2 Comments

“Bring the carven image in.
Bear it to Athena,
Fit gift for the child of Zeus”

– the people of Troy on discovering the wooden horse

Those toilets will never do‘. A red mark is jotted down next to the name of whichever site on our itinerary we happen to be visiting. A note to self not to return and an almost veiled threat to our hosts that unless something is done about the plumbing, this is one attraction that will not be receiving our tourist dollar. Back in the minivan and onto the next assessment.

Bhutan, wonderful Bhutan, the last great Himalayan Kingdom, a place so shrouded in mystery, secrecy and magic even, that most of us, if we have ever given it any thought at all, have it filed away in our mind as ‘somewhere in the mountains, Tibet kind of way‘. A friend of mine comments on a photo on my instagram, ‘Wow you are in the last Shangri-La, what’s it like? I have to visit‘.

The last Shangri-La?‘ His comment strikes me and recalls the fabulous interwar novel by James Hilton, Lost Horizon, in which four Westerners end up in the mythical valley of Shangri-La. The name translates from Tibetan to mean roughly Shang Mountain Pass. Today Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise, though particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia, a permanently happy land, isolated from the world.

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What The Desert Revealed

•December 12, 2019 • 6 Comments

That is at the bottom the only courage that is demanded of us; to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That mankind has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm; the experiences that are called ‘visions’, the whole so called ‘spirit world’, death, all those things that are so close akin to us, have by daily parrying been so crowded out by life that the senses with which we could have grasped them are atrophied. – Rainer Maria Rilke

“I am so sorry, ‘Akash?’ Did you just say Akash?”

The Bangladeshi camp attendant, shocked, lowered his arm, from its position of pointing to the sky and stared at me. He looked like a child, caught red-handed in the act of something naughty. Confused, he then tried to catch the eye of his companion, seeking support.

However none was to be had from this direction. The would be back-up simply looked down at his feet on the sand. So he turned back to me nervously, as if expecting to be told off, like someone for whom this happened regularly.

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Greece, France and Spain – Last Few Spaces for 2020

•August 8, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Ladies and Gentlemen, ‘Wakey, Wakey’…

Sadly this is (still) just a blog and not me on the microphone announcing the arrival to yet another of Europe’s hidden gems. However, next year, it could be. Together with Lucy Loves Travel, I am happy to announce that two trips for 2020 are now confirmed as running.

In even better news there a just a few spaces left on both. I shall be the guide on both trips, so you are stuck with me again…

It’s All Greece To Me: Athens and The Islands. 10 – 19 October, 2020. Click here for the itinerary. This part cruise, part land tour, to Greece’s capital and her islands gives you an opportunity to compare her vibrant city life with the laid back island life. Add to that an amuse bouche of places such as Mykonos, Patmos and Rhodes accompanied by a longer stay on the idyllic island of Santorini…

Just four spaces left.

The ‘B’s Knees: Bordeaux, Basque Country and Barcelona. 10 – 22 September 2020. Click here for the itinerary. From the fabulous cite du vin in Bordeaux, where you can learn about the long history of the region’s wine making, to the Rioja region of Spain with a visit to the Guggenheim, this trip is about indulging in the very best that Northern Spain and Southern France have to offer. What better than to finish off in fabulous Barcelona.

Some space left.

Both trips will be maxed at 20 guests, as we are determined to show you special places as well as stay in smaller hotels and eat in local restaurants, places big tour buses simply cannot reach.

If you are keen to experience either of these two unique tours (no other agency is offering this) please get in touch with Lucy via email at lucy@lucylovestravel.com

I really look forward to seeing you in Athens or Bordeaux and to beginning our adventure together.

Safe travels

Waiting for Akash…

•June 24, 2019 • 16 Comments

Open space, sky. That’s the meaning of your name my son.

To me it still feels like that’s exactly from where your journey began. It was more than a year ago you set off, announcing your departure in a dream planted in the mind of your mother. Now, a little over 38 weeks old, your journey from ether through womb is nearly complete. It’s soon time for you to join me.

As such you now know your mum better than anyone – afteral you, and not I, have heard what her heart sounds like from the inside. A week ago, I heard your heartbeat again. Regular and strong. Any day now we will all be together. Then it will be my turn to begin to get to know you as your mum already does.

I know you just a little already. I know you move a lot. When asked, your mum will laugh and say, when do you ever not move. I know you asked to be called Akash, seemingly one of the few things we agreed upon. I have seen your profile on scans, your hands and forehead. But as a father, at this stage, that is about as much as I can know.

Last week was ‘Father’s Day’. It doesn’t really count for me yet. But it will do. And though celebreated or acknowledged only once a year, every day for me will soon be father’s day. I am nervous. I am excited and I am scared. But I know none of these feelings are unique to me. All imminent dads must feel that.

Not long ago, whilst working in Portugal I had somewhat of an epiphany. I suddenly felt an overwhelming and total understanding for all fathers who have to travel. Whilst growing up, I recall my parents only going away once or twice and how much I hated when they did. I judged parents of school friends harshly for ‘always’ being away. Whilst I was abroad, reluctantly away from all I love, working close to twenty hour days for nearly a month, it became clear to me I had been wrong all those years ago.

Why was I here? Why was I working? Whichever way I phrased the question, the answer was always the same; for you, for our family. Always. Every time. Every minute and hour I worked. And now, as you will one day discover, for various reasons it looks like I will have to continue not being around as much as I wanted. And this worries me; will you still love me, will you understand, will we even speak the same language… I fear for the bond that I dreamt of establishing with you. Will you forgive me?

In a small village somewhere outside Barcelona, next to my bed lies a business card for a 24 hour taxi service. My phone is with me constantly. Every occasion it makes a noise, makes my heart jump; Could this be it? My pulse races, then settles; false alarm. I am ready. My overnight bag, as instructed, is ready. I can’t wait. Occasionally I get an update; a few more contractions… Your mother tells me she is very tired. This is a good sign she also tells me; it means you are nearly ready. True, this is not how I expected these final days to be. Somewhere between the dream of your mother and mine, something was lost in translation…

Akash, you will soon be born into a world of love. My experience of which has been mostly all too fleeting. But what I can promise you awaits out here is unconditional love. You have a wonderful big brother in Jai from whom you can learn so much, a dog who you will together no doubt drive to despair and a mother… A mother with whom I have been fortunate enough to share nearly a year of my life. I have watched (sometimes too close to the sidelines sadly) how she has looked after and loved your brother and I know how lucky you are… Treasure her.

Then Akash, as much as you want and I can be, you will always have, me… your Dad.