As William Shakespeare wrote in his King Henry V play, it’s ‘once more unto the breach,’ as I yet again dust off my metaphorical writer’s quill for another round of Morgan holiday updates.
For the next week, I’ll be writing up the events of our family holiday in my daily blogs. This has been a habit for me ever since our round-the-world traveling days before we had kids, so around 18 years now and counting. Each time we head off into the sunset, following our noses to embark on some wild adventure or other, I spend a couple of hours at the end of each day collecting my thoughts and retracing the events of the day. I’ll be updating our progress with the link to the daily blog entry on our website day-by-day via Facebook. Those that wish to travel vicariously with us can do so in the comfort of their own armchairs, and I look forward to your company for the ride.
One of the many reasons we chose to come back to Europe from Australia several years ago was to enjoy the fact that we are located geographically a stone’s throw from a dozen or more European countries. This makes holidaying that much more accessible and exciting – or so the theory goes. The truth is, however, that this will be the first time in 5 years we’re all going on a real holiday together as a family. This is partly due to finances (or the lack thereof) and partly because of the challenges of managing Joey. As he has grown older, the contrast between his calendar age and his mental age has become steadily more acute. A year or two ago, Joey was diagnosed with a social & emotional age of between 18 months and 7 years, depending on the category. He is essentially now a small child in the body of a man. Joey’s anxieties have also become more acute. Getting him comfortable with even leaving the house has become progressively more challenging. Any time we spend outside of the home becomes a logistical challenge in managing that situation. Besides Joey’s autism and anxieties, he is also very quickly overstimulated and frequently needs to return to the comfort of his bubble – the world in which he alone lives and is most at home with.
The decision to take a break and actually go somewhere was also a relatively last-minute one. Since starting a new job around ten months ago, it was brought to my attention recently that I’ve hardly used any of my 34 annual holidays for this year. My American friends may have their jaws open at this point – yes, 34 days a year really is quite normal for around these parts. As a chronic workaholic, it fell to the people around me to point out that I’ve been running the engine at full speed nearly constantly for quite some time now. I’ve been advised it’s perhaps a good idea to actually take some downtime – for both physical and mental health reasons. I’m always the last person to pick up on these types of signals, but I’m also not stupid. I recognise and accept that I need to take a break, so a week off seemed like a good idea. In fact, I have also planned a dozen or so long weekends between now and the end of the year. This was necessary to consume the amount of holiday time I have accrued this year.
The last-minute holiday decision was also aided by a slight change in our financial situation. One of the joys of the way many European countries are governed is the superior health and social welfare systems we enjoy here. Both our kids have had the benefit of access to a wealth of mental and physical health care support offered by the system here – and it hasn’t cost us a penny. Having lived and worked for many years in the UK, USA, and Australia, I can say with first-hand experience that the health care system here in Europe is streaks ahead of anywhere else we know of. However, it’s also not without its flaws. Which country’s system isn’t? One of the issues we’ve faced, being practically new to this particular system, is that we don’t know what we don’t know. Alas, there isn’t always someone to help you understand what the system has to offer. We ran afoul of this by unintentionally losing out on access to certain avenues of financial support. We were guided onto the right path only just recently. One of the many consequences of this is that we now have a small financial windfall that we didn’t expect. Suddenly, the prospect of a bona fide holiday was on the cards, so we’ve decided to throw caution to the wind and take advantage of the situation.
At this point, it seems that all the planets are aligning, and we are heading for a happy ending. If only it were that simple. The ravages of old(er) age, not to mention poor eating habits and insufficient exercise, have conspired against me in recent years. I’ve been suffering for some years now with a dodgy set of lower vertebrae, making exercise, walking, and even just standing, more of a challenge than it ought to be. As if that weren’t bad enough, my eyes are starting to fail me, although that’s readily addressed with spectacles, which I’m finding I need more and more of the time now. The biggest scare, however, has been the recent revelation that both my lungs and kidneys are functioning at a lower level of efficiency than the doctor is comfortable with. My lungs are working at around 77% of normal. I’m on the list to see a specialist about this. For my kidneys, I recently underwent a barrage of tests – and I really do mean a barrage. If the specialist could have looked behind the curtain or under the rug for additional data, I think he would have. We spent an hour with him this morning reviewing all the data points in minute detail. The good news is that he’s not concerned. In fact, he doesn’t believe there’s any further need to see me again. The bad news is that he wants (strongly urges) me to lose 10Kg, reduce my salt intake, and drink more. Some of those things are easily achieved. Others not so much. Can you guess which?
When we decided to bite the bullet and go away somewhere, we considered many options. We thought about Disneyland Paris. We’d been there before, so it would be something familiar for Joey. Alas, the fact that it’s a last-minute decision, and it’s high season, meant that there were no cost-effective options (at one point, their website offered me a 4-night stay for >€12,000!) I thought about renting a campervan, but we wouldn’t find anything that didn’t involve the two teenage kids having to sleep side-by-side, a sure-fire recipe for World War III, and thus defeating the purpose of what a holiday is supposed to be for. We looked at holiday parks in various countries, but couldn’t find anything that didn’t cost an arm, a leg, 1 kidney, and most of a liver. We were teetering on the point of giving up and resigning to just lounging around the house for a week. Then a colleague mentioned a theme park in Germany I had hitherto not heard of – some place called Europapark. It turns out to be one of the biggest and best theme parks in all of Europe – rivalling, and, in the view of many reviewers, surpassing that of Disneyland Paris as Europe’s premier theme park. Hmmm. That sounds interesting.
Once we had made the decision to go, I quickly fell into one of the traps I tend to fall into when organising a trip somewhere: Scope creep. We can route the journey from here to the part of Germany where Europapark is situated to pass directly through Luxembourg. This will cut the otherwise six-hour car ride into two equal halves. I mean, why wouldn’t we, right? Also, Europapark is only a couple of hours’ drive from Legoland Germany, so that’s a no-brainer and will go a long way to accommodating Joey for this trip. Also, just a short drive from where we will be staying is Zurich, Switzerland, so we could easily do that as a daytrip and I can increase my country count to 49 in the process. And then there’s Liechtenstein, Austria, Croatia – all of which are feasible from where we will be. Our initial 4-night stay soon became a 5-night stay. As of this afternoon, on the eve of departure, our stay has been extended to six nights. This all adds to the cost, I must confess, but the recent little windfall will take care of that. Actually, the addition of the 6th night was more an attempt to allow us to build in a rest day partway through the holiday, to force us to slow down a little, so we can smell the roses.
The holiday is now largely mapped out. I’ve downloaded some apps to help make our sojourn that much more convenient, such as the Europapark app that helps us with what’s what in the park, waiting times, etc. That alone confirms we’re living in a different time from when we first started taking holidays together.
Despite this being a bona fide holiday, I’ll no doubt remain tethered to my digital life throughout. I’ll keep an eye on what’s happening at work, track my book sales regularly, keep watch on any client requirements from my publishing company, and so on. And, of course, I’ll still be spending time behind a screen writing up these blogs. Who knows? Maybe I’ll still need a holiday at the end of it all.