Category Archives: Travel Tales

Sometimes You Stop — Simply Stop

When nothing is working, flowing, creating any joy or satisfaction in your life — sometimes it is necessary to stop — simply stop.

The past few years have been a bit like that and it reached a cymbal-crashing crescendo this year. We knew in our bones that we were never going to settle into Australia, our options seemed to be narrowing instead of expanding no matter how we tried to manifest change, and we finally gave in and realised that we needed to sell our JUST renovated Mid-Century house, downsize, and go back to Europe.

Mid-Century dining

Mid-Century dining

Amidst all of that, my darling husband Mark (and yes, he has given me permission to discuss this) began facing the facts about his chronic depression and anxiety and he began treatment. He hasn’t worked at all this past year and it’s been a real juggling act financially. But I don’t actually care about that because the charming sweetie that I met almost 23 years ago is back — well and truly back. Having the gift of time was a blessing and it brought a clarity that may not have arrived if he had been juggling work and 3+ hours per day of commuting. So hooray and then some!

The lovely house sold in 7 weeks, settled 8 weeks after that, and we had a lot of decisions to make about what to sell or donate or keep and ship overseas. None of that was easy, there were moments of frustration, but at the very last minute everything FLEW out the door — from cars to refrigerator to furniture. Hooray again!

On that last night before the movers arrived at 8 AM to put our now-reduced household items into a 20 foot shipping container, we each slept for 45 minutes at most. We stayed up all night long to make SURE that it was all packed and ready — and there was still an overlap in spite of our best plans.

Once the men had left and the house was clean and ready for the new owners, we took the train from Ballarat down to Melbourne and checked into a pre-booked apartment by the sea in our old neighbourhood — the beachside suburb of St. Kilda. Something told me that we would need a few days of decompression before we got onto a long-haul flight across the world — and that was more accurate than I could have imagined. I was shattered and on the verge of being seriously ill. But we slept and ate and walked in short bursts until I was just about back to normal after 5 days.

Sunday in St. Kilda

Sunday in St. Kilda

On Melbourne Cup Day, we headed for the airport HOURS ahead of time and eventually got onto our 25 hour flight towards London. By the time we arrived, we had been awake for over 40 hours!

Again, I knew that we would be two zombies when we arrived at Heathrow at lunch time on the 2nd of November, so I booked us a hotel nearby and we checked in and slept, slept, slept. The next day we headed to Mark’s parents’ house on the east coast of England. That’s where we are now — still resting, still recovering after 10 days, getting ready to leave here on Sunday.

We’ve slowly and carefully picked a new car, bought insurance, reopened accounts, sorted out the banking, purchased proper winter clothing, and done mundane things whilst being spoiled rotten by Mark’s darling family. We are feeling very blessed.

The new car...

The new car…

We’ve arrived about 5 weeks before Christmas and it is rather cheerful to shop for winter coats and shoes in gaily decorated malls — especially when the temperatures outside do actually feel Christmas-y!


These aren’t new ideas, but when life becomes overwhelming — sometimes you just HAVE to stop.

We HAD to stop fighting the fact that nothing was coming together in Australia and it was no longer a good fit for either of us. We had to stop avoiding the fact that Mark HAD to get himself back to a happy and healthy state with therapy. We HAD to have those necessary hotel breaks in Melbourne and London or these two over-50 (and then some in my own case!) folks would have been in a state of total collapse. We HAD to stop thinking we’d bounce back after 2-3 days here in England and be ‘right as rain’ in no time. Um — no — it’s taking a lot longer nowadays!

You’ll notice that I have hardly posted for the last 3 and 1/2 years compared to the stream of information and photography prior to that. Australia wasn’t our cup of tea on so many levels — and I’ll leave it at that.

I have a book to finish and it might be a few weeks until I get back into the groove of posting a few times a month — but keep watching this spot. There are NEW things on the horizon!

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New Book on Barcelona — Online Now!

I am very pleased to announce the publication of a SECOND book this week — Brief Bits Of Barcelona. This book is available for purchase in several formats — ebook for iPad, hardback, and softcover. Barcelona is one of the places in Europe that we would return to again and again, so I hope this book either encourages a trip there or brings back some of your own memories.




Click LINKS BELOW to purchase

Brief Bits of Barcelona in PRINT

Brief Bits of Barcelona in EBOOK

I’m already working on the NEXT book, so come back soon for the launch of yet another one (and another, and another…).


©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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SAVINGS on Europe to USA to Australia Via Euro-Trains, Multiple Planes, Cars, Amtrak & Long Haul Flights!–Part 2

Shall we call this next part Money Saving Tips For Travel? Sounds good — here goes!

Yesterday’s article listed the staggering amount of country to country travel we’re about to undertake over a 6 week period. And today’s article will share some of the sites and tips for saving money along with why we made some of the decisions regarding specific airlines or transportation options. The heavyweights cost-wise are the airline tickets and there is almost always some savings to be had on accommodations and trains and daily expenses for everything from food to museum entry.

The first thing I had to do was decide what order to do things in. Once I had a clear idea of where we wanted to go country-wise and in what order, then I could start with the ferry for the English Channel booking, then the land travel portions in Europe, and finally move onto the overseas flights. After that I’d book hotels and apartments along the way.

We are taking a P&O Ferry from Dover to Calais in northern France. So I googled Promo vouchers for P&O and scrolled through the list. You have to check carefully to make sure that the codes that you will be inserting at the check-out stage of your P&O Ferry ticket purchase are still valid. I saved £12.00 with one of those codes.

Now in the overall scheme of things, a £12 savings isn’t a lot and some people can’t be bothered looking up discount codes, vouchers, and promo codes. But stick with me through this article as you start to see how it all adds up!

We needed train tickets for 3 segments in Europe — (1) Caen to Paris, (2) Paris to Brussels, (3) the Eurostar from Brussels to London. By booking through Rail Europe inserting our actual ages into the fields where passenger information is filled in (shhh!), and combining it with whatever Special Rate is on that day, I got another £36 savings. Also, ALWAYS look at the opening page of each site for the current specials. Right now Rail Europe is running a 70% off special for certain routes and our Paris to Brussels segment qualified for that discount.

Next I needed to search for reasonably priced airline fares and although I was doing these bookings a month or more in advance of departure, fares sometimes disappear, literally disappear, from the computer screen right as you are doing a booking if there is a lot of demand for a particular route.

My first searches were through Kayak and then Opodo and I input the multiple cities and countries we were travelling to. The choices were less than optimum and there were far too many connecting flights. Air travel is our LEAST favorite aspect of travelling since we travel in Economy seats and can never really get comfortable — so direct flights from point to point with no layovers is always our optimum choice. However, that kind of travel sometimes costs quite a lot more. I was crossing my fingers that I would be able to find a way around that!

Next I went to Airtreks since I had booked with them in the past quite successfully. They did offer a much better price than Kayak or Opodo, but they also included far too many stopovers. I really didn’t want to leave London and then stop in Dublin, New York, and Chicago on my way to Cincinnati! Then on the way to Australia, their only choices all departed from Seattle and had a multi-hour layover in either San Francisco or Los Angeles. That was adding hours and hours to our voyages in each segment AND the idea of having that many ‘encounters’ with the TSA in the United States was certainly not appealing! There had to be another way.

By looking at the map and thinking about where ELSE I could come into the USA from England and not be changing planes within that country, I decided to see what Canadian city was closest to Cincinnati — and that is when it all started to come together beautifully! The best international airfare from London to Toronto was with Icelandair. The flights went via a 2 hour layover in Reykjavik (so no, we won’t be seeing much of Iceland!), but it landed at a civilized dinnertime hour in Toronto and we could spend a night there and recover a bit before flying the tiny 1-1/2 hour journey on Air Canada to Cincinnati. Hooray!

Icelandair wasn’t running any specials, but Air Canada has a link right at the top of their opening page that says SPECIAL OFFERS and we saved a few £££s by going through that link, too.

I knew that Air Canada did direct non-stop flights from Vancouver to Sydney, but when I checked on that option the prices were an eye-watering £3,113 or $4,705 US dollars for the two of us going ONE WAY. The prices at Cathay Pacific were almost identical. Wow! That certainly didn’t fit into my goal of budget travel!

The L-O-N-G flight to Australia over LOTS of water!


I was beginning to think that we were going to have to just grin and bear it and deal with airplane transfers and long, long waits in California, but my final stop was a return trip to BootsnAll and a run-through with their online airfare search-and-map called “indie Multi Country Flight Finder.” What a serendipitous visit that was! Just as I was looking at possibility after possibility from either Seattle or Vancouver into either Sydney or Melbourne, a little chat screen popped up on the lower right-hand side and someone on the other end asked if there was anything they could do to help.

I typed in a response and told them that we were trying to get home to Australia without a 6 hour layover in California and I could not afford the costs with Air Canada or Cathay Pacific. A simply lovely man named Chris Heidrich at BootsnAll then sent me an email with a link to a flight that was the answer to all of our needs — a practically direct flight from Vancouver to Sydney with a tiny 2 hour layover in Auckland (in the early dawn hours — groan!) AND at the simply amazing cost that they offered for BOTH of us in US dollars saved us over $3,000!!!

That was a stunning success and I certainly recommend the folks at BootsnAll for not only excellent prices but excellent customer service. Each and every time I have had one more question, someone gets back to me in a very short time. The most I have ever waited for a response was about an hour-ish, certainly not hours and hours or days for feedback and answers.

In the next article that I post sometime between tomorrow and Tuesday, I will share how to save money on the hotels, apartments and other bits of transportation in various countries. And for travellers from countries outside of the USA who wish to go from coast to coast, I’ll share some important details of how and why each form of transportation might affect your journey.

I’ll also give you a list of all of the savings that I made with discount codes, vouchers, and promo specials. They all added up quite nicely — so stay tuned!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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A New Facebook Page to Click On LIKE

Just set up a Facebook Page for this website A Wanderful Life — Around The World and Around The Neighbourhood Travels.

So if you are already on Facebook or planning to sign up, please DO go over there and click LIKE so I can get the minimum 80 LIKES this weekend and begin being indexed. Thanks ever so much!

HERE is the link for the FACEBOOK page!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Last Minute Christmas Groceries in France

Having recovered our equilibrium after the fire two days ago, we ventured out today to do some last minute grocery shopping in St. Lo. As we approached the InterMarche, I told Mark that the parking lot was completely full. But we managed to get a spot quite quickly and in we went.

Busy shoppers at supermarket two days before Christmas in St. Lo, Normandy, France


Last minute gift shopping two days before Christmas in St. Lo, Normandy, France

The large store was bustling with purposeful activity as people purchased last minute gifts and groceries. But everyone lined up cheerfully and there was no sense of anxiety or aggravation as everyone waited politely to be served in turn. The wine aisles, meat and seafood counters, and the cheese counters were the busiest areas followed closely behind by the fresh fruit and vegetables. Quietly and competently, the French staff waited on customers, filled orders, found specific gift items, and checked out the purchases.

Last minute food shopping 2 days before Christmas in St. Lo, Normandy, France

As we left the store and drove away into the icy-cold rain and darkness, we both remarked about how calm everyone had been inside the store. It was a marked and charming contrast to the frenzied atmosphere we had felt in Great Britain, Australia, and the USA when we both dreaded it if we ever had to do any last minute shopping. We used to cringe about the fact that people routinely shopped during the week before any holiday as if they were stocking up for an invasion and the stores might never be open again. It was simply mad!

Here’s hoping that all of my readers have a happy and healthy holiday season. Blessings to all of you!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Petite Chapelle Dans Les Bois – Little Chapel In The Woods Memorial

Abruptly turning the steering wheel, he directed the van along an ever-climbing and sharply twisting road until we arrived at the top and I saw the sign. Mark had decided to surprise me with a visit to La Petite Chapelle (the little chapel) perched high on an overlook above Mortain in Normandy, France.

Walking down the gravel path through tall trees toward the Petite Chapelle in Mortain, Normandy, France

Walking down a gravel path through the fragrant pines, we reached the tiny stone chapel, built in the late 1700s and then reconstructed in the 1850s, which is now dedicated to the American forces who lost their lives defending this strategic position from the advancing German troops and tanks during World War II.

La Petite Chapelle perched high atop Mortain, Normandy, France

Two marble memorial plaques stand in commemoration of their sacrifice.

Monument to the 30th Infantry in the woods outside the Petite Chapelle in Mortain, Normandy, France


Small memorial slab commemorating the participation of the 35th Infantry at the Battle of Mortain

The 30th Infantry is particularly highlighted and honoured for their role in the staggeringly intense Battle of Mortain as related in this historical report.

When you pass through the outcropping of boulders that snug the sides of the tiny chapel and venture out to the back, a steep set of stone stairs is set into that shallow bit of remaining land behind the chapel and those stairs lead to a viewing platform.

Twisty stone stairs leading to viewing platform behind the Petite Chapelle in Mortain, Normandy, France

The chapel itself is perched rather close to the end of the summit and you only realise that when you stand on the viewing platform and look back.

Back of the Petite Chapelle in Mortain, Normandy, France from the viewing platform

As long as you are not afraid of heights, the view from the top is breathtaking. On a clear day you are able to see for miles around including the seacoast beyond and Mont St. Michel in the distance. It’s obvious from the panoramic view that the American forces which were holding this position knew how vital it was to keep this high ground so that they could not only see any German troops on the way, they could maintain an ability to rain their weapons fire down onto the Germans who were struggling up the steep terrain.

A clear view for miles all around from atop the Petite Chapelle lookout in Mortain, Normandy, France

Today the land around the chapel in the woods is a silent place, a peaceful place — but still filled with memories and echoes of the past.

Entry to La Petite Chapelle perched high atop Mortain in Normandy, France


©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Bookish Brainstorming

Ahhhh, it sounds so glamourous ‘in theory’ doesn’t it — the mid-life adventures of 2 rambling nomads who cast aside their safe and secure life in Australia to live out of a suitcase for long-term travel.

Normandy Guidebook

The reality occasionally lives up to the expectations and some of our destinations have been brilliant, scenic, and memory-making in a good way. We’ve also met so many interesting people along the way. But rather often we’ve had a gritty master class in the concept of ‘living in flow’ just so we could stay happy and sane.

Do we have any second thoughts about our intentionally chosen lifestyle? 99.9% of the time the answer is a firm no!

A small, tight, not-too-rambling book might be on the horizon — perhaps in e-book only format — perhaps also in print.

I did actually format a few pages today and I have a title. But that’s going to be a secret for awhile!

I’ll keep you posted.

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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