As promised, a few words (yeah, right!) about this itinerary of mine complete with dates and a wish/to do list for each destination. To begin with, I count myself incredibly lucky to have been able to book the trip at all having left it so late to rely on frequent flyer points and even luckier still that the final itinerary looks remarkably similar to the ideal I set out in the first entry of this blog. I ended up having to book Iceland separately to the main ticket but that allowed me to add the all important ‘somewhere new’ destination of Cambodia.
That’s not to say it was easy! I spent hour after hour on the phone with the extremely patient, thorough and accommodating staff at Qantas who went above and beyond the call of duty to bring this itinerary together. Each call ended with my brain almost bleeding and the penultimate one with a total breakdown followed by me weeping to my sister, ready to pull the plug on the whole thing! But I’d already gotten mum’s hopes up and I didn’t want to let her down. I slept on it and in the calmer light of day, made the very rational decision to leave it in the hands of fate. Having spent considerable time on hold each time I called Qantas, I struck the following deal with the universe: I would given them 5 minutes – if they picked up in that time, I would book the itinerary as it stood; if they didn’t, I’d hang up and rethink the whole thing… for the first time in all my dealings with them, they picked up immediately – I didn’t even go on hold. OK Universe, I heard you! It freaked me out a bit but I made the rules so I had to play by them (seriously, as I type, I’m on hold to Qantas again with a few questions …17 mins and counting).
As soon as my itinerary was locked in, it felt like I’d let a monster loose which I now have to tame, put a saddle on and ride off into the sunset! So here’s where me and my monster will be going:
I leave Sydney on the A380 Airbus which I’m very excited about as I haven’t been on it before (if anyone of influence is reading, I accept upgrades). I’m less excited about Singapore itself but it’s a gateway stop. I arrive at 10.30pm at night and leave at 7.20am in the morning so fingers crossed I can find a cheap nights accommodation in the vicinity or even just stretch out in a friendly corner of the airport! Has anyone out there had need to assess Singapore Airport for its sleepablity?
14 February-18 February
Where to begin? Cambodia is a significant destination for me though I’ve never been before. I’m sure I’ll elaborate more when I’m there but for now I’ll just say that my last trip was meant to end there with a reunion with Matthew as friends moving forward in a new direction. As it got closer, it became apparent that my overblown sentiment and apparently naive expectations weren’t reciprocated so I changed course to go hang with the elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand instead (which turned out to be one of the most enriching experiences of my life).
It then occurred to me that I could end this trip with a visit there on my own with time to reflect and gather my wits before returning to Sydney but try as I, and half the staff at Qantas, might – there were just no reward flights to be had between North America and Asia at that time. My heart was set on going and the only way to make it happen was to make it my first stop. Initially disappointed, I’ve now decided it’s a far better thing so that I can go and make a little more peace with my past before heading off on an adventure that is more about my future.
What I have: Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of my newest friend Sarah, aka @bananaowl, who I only officially met the other day (after months of Instagram interaction), I now have the lowdown on Cambodia! I also have the loan of a guidebook, a SIM and the benefit of Sarah’s recent experience traveling around the region. I am excited and already lamenting not having enough time! Thank you Sarah. I’ve booked my side trip from Singapore and have also sent off my passport to get the necessary visa.
What I need: Accommodation, local transport between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and possibly a vaccination or two (though I’m pretty sure I’m topped up for travel shots)
19 February-27 February
Once Mum got the all-clear to travel following her surgery (scheduled for next Tuesday – please send kind thoughts), I asked her where in Europe she wanted to go other than Iceland. Her answer was quite emphatically “Florence” in a way that suggested it has been a long held dream that she didn’t quite expect to have the opportunity to fulfill. That was good enough for me despite having visited there so recently myself. I have no doubt that this experience will be so completely different that it will be like seeing it for the first time anyway with the benefit of a little familiarity (but sadly without the benefit of the world’s calmest driver and driving instructor – sorry Mum, you’re stuck with me but hopefully this time we’ll get a GPS that works!). We fly in and out of Pisa and will travel in between to Florence and throughout the Tuscan region.
What I have: I already have the guide book and a little previous experience but most amazingly, we have a nights accommodation in one of the fanciest hotels right on the Arno River in Florence courtesy of one of my oldest and dearest friends – Saint Michele. After reading my last entry, Michele called me to say that she wanted to give Mum and I a night in a posh hotel using her points and she wouldn’t take no for an answer (instead she got a torrent of grateful tears from both Mum and I)! I already owe much of my early travelling career to Michele and the support she gave Matthew and I when we first arrived in London many moons ago. To receive this on top of everything else is quite simply overwhelming. My dearest Michele, from the bottom of my heart, thank you!
What I need: The rest of the accommodation for around the way and a car with a working GPS! Any and all suggestions welcome.
27 February-4 March
This is it – the heart of the trip – our chance to see the Northern Lights! In the first entry, I laid out the best options for viewing opportunities around the world. As it happened, I couldn’t actually use my points to get to any of those destinations so I inevitably had to pay for side trip to somewhere. So why Reykjavik? In three words: I love it!!! This will be my sixth visit but aside from unmitigated favouritism, I reasoned that there are no guarantees with nature – we could go all the way there and not see the Northern Lights (I refer you to my visit to Niagra Falls). As devastating as that would be, it would be infinitely worse to be somewhere where the only thing to see was the Northern Lights! At least this way, we’ll be somewhere where there’s so much more to see and do. Besides, as surely as I wanted my Mum to see Bruges, I have similarly thought of her each time I’ve visited the Blue Lagoon – she is going to bloody love it!!!
What I have: A passion for the destination and a small handful of friends – mostly through Instagram – including the lovely Inga at Tiny Iceland who invited me to guest blog for their website (coming soon) and who will no doubt will ply me with great ideas and local insight.
What I need: Like my Mum, I have champagne taste on a beer budget. I love Iceland but it doesn’t come cheap (though it’s still a damn sight more affordable than it was when I first visited) so I’m on the lookout for affordable accommodation and I think car hire for a couple of days. I’d also love to hear from locals about how to best hunt down the Northern Lights and also make the most of our time in and a
4 March-12 March
Boy howdy, is this going to be a tight squeeze! I sometimes wonder if I have more peeps in London than I do in Sydney. I could easily spend this amount of time with each of you, never mind all of you! I’m already feeling anxious about how I’m going to manage it. Seriously, since I was last there just over a year ago, the number of loved ones has doubled with new people being born, others met around the way and still more exported from home! None the less, I’ll happily take all I can and remember that I can sleep when I’m dead!
What I have: So many people who I can’t wait to see!
What I need: More time!!! Also since I last left ‘home’, my old room has been given away to a baby! I’ve only met her via Skype but I suppose she’s way cuter than me so whatever! Anyway, that means I’m looking for a place or places to crash. I know a few of you have already offered but I just thought I’d put it out there again in case you were just being nice when you thought it wasn’t going to happen. Now that it is, consider this a fresh request!
NEW YORK, NEW YORK, USA
12 March-16 March
It’s New York! Enough said! I had a nightmare recently that I was in New York for only a few days and I panicked because I couldn’t fit everything in – I’ll never be so happy to have a nightmare come true! I think this is also my sixth or seventh visit to the Big Apple though so it’s just a quick hello and genuinely an opportunity to pick up some cheap jeans!
What I have: a lay of the land and a modest shopping list.
What I need: Cheap accommodation! Also, despite my many visits, I don’t actually have any contacts in New York but would love to meet some like-minded locals to show me their New York, or even just make recommendations for budget-conscious things to see and do. If anyone happens to be in touch with Jake Gyllenhaal for example, please feel free to pass on my details and let him know I’ll be in town. Maggie is welcome to join us.
17 March-24 March
My spiritual homeland! As I said above, I had intended for Cambodia to be my last port of call on this trip imagining that I’d need some downtime after my adventure, including from Vancouver which always has a profound effect on me. But fate saw fit to turn my itinerary upside down and I think I can now decipher a wisdom in it (or at least retell the story in my head to make it fit the change in plans!).
When I returned to Sydney after my Fool’s Journey, it was as though I experienced the trauma of my loss all over again. Of all the scenarios I had imagined, not once had I considered the possibility that Matthew and I wouldn’t be friends. In many ways, this rejection was even harder to take than the loss of the relationship which I could at least rationalise and understand despite the grief of it. To be so excluded however made no sense at all and still doesn’t. I expect it never will. Despite this and with tremendous and exceptional support from the world’s best family and friends, I have continued to heal, grow and evolve but it’s purely by the good grace of those around me that I have made it from the last trip to this one.
Anyone who’s seen the Northern Lights will tell you that it’s like the sky has opened up to reveal a gateway to another dimension (or maybe just the sci-fi nerds amongst us) and perhaps that’s what this trip is truly about – stepping through this rift to fully accept an alternative reality. It’s no longer about what’s on this side but what awaits on the other side.
Cast it in that light, the purpose of this journey and the way I’m seeking to go about it is to see what I can create and bring into my life by trading pity for pride and grief for glory and in realising that monster I’ve released is my own true power. I can think of no greater spot on the planet to set this new course from than Vancouver. So saddle up people, let’s see take this beast out for a spin and see what she can do!
What I have: Everything!
What I need: That’s exactly what I expect to discover in Vancouver!
Naomi Doyle, aka Patches McGee is a writer, traveller and phone-ographer in desperate need of your help to make her next trip to see the Northern Lights a reality. Join the journey here by subscribing to this blog, on Facebook at Patches McGee, Twitter @patches_mcgee and Instagram @patches_mcgee