The big O.E. is a bit of a kiwi tradition. We seem to be fairly well travelled as a population - according to Wikipedia 75% of New Zealanders hold a passport (compared with around 70% of Australians and 42% of Americans, while approximately 5% of Americans travel outside the country (Huffington Post).I don't know how many kiwis travel overseas in any given year but I think it'd be more than 5%. Out of my family I was the only one not to travel to Europe as a young adult. I was a little bit afraid of countries where I wouldn't know the language, with customs wildly different from my own. I wasn't won over by the notion of backpacking, youth hostels and shared bathrooms. I got busy with other things, working, getting married, buying a house and then having children. Getting the 2014 University of Otago Children's Writer-in-Residence post and taking a spur of the moment jaunt across to Melbourne with my eldest for her 21st last year gave me a touch of bravado, and before it could wear off I suggested to my SO that we finally head off on the big O.E. We quietly got excited about the idea, and then we got organised...
We got back just over a week ago after nearly a month of tripping and traipsing across Western Europe. Am I glad we waited? Well I felt like a young adult. And it was jolly nice staying in hotels and having a suitcase with wheels. Lots of people spoke English which was an enormous relief as my head for other languages is the size of a pea. A shrivelled pea. I can't tell you what I missed not going thirty years ago. I imagine a lot is different. But I got to go now and it was good. Great even. Okay, fabulous.
I touched the Louvre
Looked up the Eiffel Tower's skirts
Sighed over the Venice bridges
Adored the Duomo
Wished Gaudi had found his way down under
And wondered at the whiff of modern in these 12th Century chessmen in the British Museum
I loved every monument, ruin, cobbled street and museum. I want to see it all again. I wish it wasn't all so far away but then I don't, because the effort required to get there makes everything seem even more significant and much more satisfying to experience. And in a fit of the most wonderful luck ever, and because I'd developed a willingness to queue despite the odds, I got tickets to see Benedict Cumberbatch play Hamlet at the Barbican in London, which was the perfect ending to our adventure.