Written by Sue Webb
It’s been a big day. We’ve watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, wandered across Westminster Bridge, marvelled at the portraiture in Trafalgar Square’s National Gallery and meandered via St James’s park towards Victoria Station. My health app shows a staggering spike in my step count at 24,441 and quite frankly, I’m exhausted. As a chill dusk descends over the park, my teenage daughter darts ahead of me and does a cartwheel. She hasn’t done that since she was a kid, and it’s an impressive cartwheel; her legs form an almost perfect vee and her hair hangs in a dishevelled mess around her face.
This sudden burst of energy reminds me of her primary school days when she skipped and cartwheeled her way through life. Anyone with a daughter will know what I mean. When did the handstands and backbends stop, I wondered? I hadn’t noticed until now, when, on a canvas of impossibly green English grass, framed by the centuries old buildings that define the London skyline, her upside downness captured why this year is so important.
We’re six weeks into a family gap year which is mostly unplanned and for which we are yet to buy return flights. Taking a well-earned career break held bucket loads of appeal, but it also required getting my head around a few realities. Like taking a year off work, selling our home, withdrawing our daughter from school and heading to the other side of the world, away from family, friends, and well, pretty much everything familiar.
We’d tossed around the idea on and off, but it remained a vague ‘maybe one day’ goal until my husband landed it by saying that we could think of a hundred different reasons why we shouldn’t go, but only needed one good reason why we should. Once decided, things happened in quick succession. We sold up, packed up, and here we are living for the next few weeks in a two -story Victorian terrace home in Brighton, a stone’s throw from the Pier, with two gorgeous golden retriever tour guides called Pete and Minnie.
After first landing in Manchester, we headed north to the Yorkshire Dales, wandering under Worsdworth’s lonely clouds and over the misty moors, which for me, will always belong to the Bronte sisters. We made cheese in Wensleydale, from a recipe used by French monks who settled there in 1150. Across the Atlantic and into Portugal, we rode trams through the street- art of Lisbon, a modern tapestry set within medieval walls. We lay in the net of a catamaran as we sailed around the Portuguese Algarve with its spectacular cliffs and grottos, riding the tide into the mouth of a limestone cave.
There’s no denying that these dramatic landscapes take my breath away. Or the anticipation in each thigh burning step as I climb toward an ancient castle which sits resplendently atop an imposing hilltop.
But the truth is that while the palaces and the castles, the ancient ruins and the great cliffs of the Algarve are truly majestic, they pale in comparison to the way my heart leaps each time my not- so- little girl slips her arm through mine, something she hasn’t done for years. Nothing we’ve seen so far beats her look of disbelief when I sprinted for the train (something I hadn’t done for years) and the incredulous, ‘Geez, Mum can run,’ I heard from behind me. Or the endless conversations we’ve had time to have, and finish. Nothing’s been as much fun as dissolving into hysterics after countless takes choreographing a family photo because we couldn’t all jump together at the same time. Or the long, rainy, hot chocolate afternoons we’ve had time to waste. Nothing beats eating our meals together, not knowing what day it is and getting delightfully lost in a maze of streets that could take us anywhere.
Six weeks in, we’re finding the real joy of this trip is in the spaces between the travel guide ‘things to see and do’ list. We’re finding it in the moments between the monuments and in the simple spontaneity of a cartwheel. Because time spent together was always the plan.
About Sue Webb
Sue Webb is a local high school teacher who has lived with her family on the Sunshine Coast for 14 years and is currently six weeks into a family gap year through Europe. Aware that time was ticking, and their teenage children would soon be independent, she and her husband made a choice to do things a bit differently this year. They both took career breaks, sold their family home and travelled to the other side of the world to embark upon a family adventure which is largely unplanned and for which they are yet to book return tickets. Six weeks in, they are finding the real joy of their trip lies not in the tourist destinations that feature in travel guides, but in the spaces in between; the moments between the monuments in which time spent together was always the plan.