We left Rome on a warm and sunny evening, the red and black Frecciarossa train speeding us northwards across the Italian countryside to Milan. Looking out of the window at the passing landscape, I was reminded of one of the reasons that I love cycle touring so much. On a bike I get to really experience the environment around me using all my senses. I feel the shape of the land through my body and legs on every turn of my pedals and the gears I choose. My nose picks up the nuances of the aromas and odours of the places we travel through, I hear the wind, the animals, the passing traffic, my wheels rolling on the tarmac, and my eyes are alive with the colours and ever changing world around. On the train, I travel more less on the level, and other than seeing the landscape, I sense only the environment of the train compartment. I am left with only a vague sense of the terrain through which I have travelled. On a bike, I am left with a rich, internal memory map of the world around. I miss my bike. Travelling home without it feels like I have a bit of me missing. It was tough leaving our bikes at the Courier Office in Rome. We had wrapped them up in lots of bubble wrap ready to be boxed for the journey back to Scotland. Now we are just keeping our fingers crossed they arrive safely and we can be reunited.
Jerry is well. He is finding it a challenge to let me do all the heavy carrying. He has been given a limit of 10kg by the Italian hernia consultant, so coming home he packed just his clothes into one of my large panniers and I carried the rest in the other large pannier and our backpack.
I have the opportunity to repay him for the extra lifting he had to do when my back was sore through the Baltic States in Autumn 2015.
We had looked at various more interesting options to get back to the UK that didn’t involve flying(we try not take planes for environmental reasons), such as travelling through Switzerland on the Bernese Oberland Train, but in the end we decided to opt for simple and as cheap as possible. I discovered a sleeper train that ran from Milan to Paris and we booked two berths in a six berth couchette. Tight and cosy would be my description. We squeezed in with four rather large french guys and spent most of the time lying down. We were woken at the Swiss border for a visit by a dog searching for drugs, and at the French border by Border Police checking our passports. I’m never my best at 5am but managed to squint around the door post for a facial comparison with my passport photo and seemed to pass the test. A guy in the next compartment was not so lucky and gathered up his luggage before being taken off the train for further investigation.
Passing through Paris gave us the opportunity to catch up with our friend Aurelia and her two children, and enjoy so great home French cooking, as well as French Easter Eggs, for a few days. From Paris we took the Eurolines coach to Dover, England, having discovered that it was cheaper to go the whole way by coach, including the ferry voyage, than to pay just the ferry fare from Calais to Dover.
We have arrived in Kent at the perfect time for bluebell filled woods and blossom filled apple orchards. It’s been fun getting out on foot to explore the footpaths with my sister and her two English Springer Spaniels. Jasper is now over fifteen years old, which, my nephew has informed me, is the equivalent of 105 in human years. He still loves getting out and about, but is limited to a few hundred yards.
Kester, his younger play mate, is up for five or six mile romps and is still wagging his tail ready for more. Today we walked down around the outer Thames Estuary near Faversham and bumped into a group of birdwatchers carrying giant telescopes and tripods. They were hanging around some brackish ponds behind the high flood bank hoping to see the returning migrants, and they weren’t disappointed. Their spotters’ list included Bearded Tit, Swallows, Sedge warblers as well as a large group of Black tailed Godwits and a marsh harrier. I marvelled at how easy it is to have conversations with people here as I don’t have to translate everything.
New money has appeared in our absence, the one pound coin is no longer round and the five pound notes are now plastic. I’m slowly adapting back to driving on the left of the road and walking on the right. And after a year and a half of spending Euros, I occasionally convert a pound price to Euros to get a sense of the price of an item. We are so used to carrying our passports and health cards with us everywhere, that it is weird to not have to pick them up every time we leave the house.
I wonder how many other things have changed and how we will get on settling back into ‘every day life’, at least for a while.