Some of my favorite memories in life are from unexpected detours. On our last trip to France, we took an amazing route winding up the side of a massif to avoid the tunnel traffic. I think it took longer than waiting in the traffic would have, but the views were magnificent. In another escapade trying to avoid tunnel traffic about ten years ago, we were coming back from Italy and veered off the interstate to try to find a shortcut. We went up and over what turned out to be a stunning, famous pass road in the Alps that is only open for a few weeks a year. After we crossed over the pass, I saw a picturesque village high up in the mountains above the interstate. We took the next exit and worked our way up the hillside, and finally found the picture-postcard perfect alpine village where William Tell was born. We had planned to finish the slog home that day but were so charmed that we decided to stay the night. It was one of the best excursions of the whole trip.
On an earlier 2003 trip to Austria, in the days before GPS (remember maps? Paper maps?) we found ourselves driving up a gorgeous one-lane winding road through the mountains. At first there were mirrors to see around blind curves, and then there were just blind curves. It was so narrow that I remember watching the mirror on my side of the car graze the moss on the roadside retaining wall. We eventually came out just on the other side of a toll plaza and realized that this was a local shortcut to get around the tolls. And we certainly wouldn’t have seen so much of Budapest on foot had we not been desperately looking for a bank.
Casablanca — that sounds unspeakably romantic, doesn’t it? It just happens to be where we have to take a layover on our next trip. Even though it was peak ski season, I got those magical direct flight tickets to Geneva for $580 each for our last trip. Apparently that was a fluke. So this time we’re flying on Royal Moroccan Air, with a 21 hour layover in Casablanca on the return leg, for about 50% more than our last ticket prices, but still a lot cheaper than everything else that was available. I’m used to airlines jacking up ticket prices around the holidays, but what’s up with March, I wonder.
This concerns me a little, since part of this package of moving back to Europe is an extraordinary travel budget. I’ll be flying back and forth; kids will be flying back and forth. Kids’ partners will be flying back and forth. That was actually one of the criteria for selecting a restaurant — what will give us enough income to support this travel budget. Matter of fact, that may be all it supports. Now that we’ve picked a restaurant, it’s possible that this is our last trip to France before the move. Since we hired a lawyer, most things (except opening the bank account) can be done by her. The next time I book, when we move, it will be a one-way ticket.
There aren’t many things in life more significant than a literal one-way ticket — it’s like a giant sign post saying IMPORTANT SHIT HAPPENED HERE. Being an expat looks like a lot of fun, and most of the time it is. But there are downsides too. For me, the biggest one is being separated from loved ones. Of course there’s Face Time and texting and emailing, but it’s not the same. My mother was diagnosed with cancer while I was still in Germany, and I managed to get back to America just before her big surgery. That was my last one-way ticket. We landed in early March, and it snowed that night. Verizon and BB&T opened late the next morning. On day 1, we bought phones and opened a bank account. Day 2, we looked at houses and signed a lease. Day 3, Johns Hopkins. I was fortunate — she got several bonus years out of her life, as she called them, and I was able to spend a lot of time with her since we were back on the same continent. I was glad to live in Europe and then I was glad to be back. There are costs to pay for the decision to leave home. There will be separation again this time, too.
I wasn’t too upset about the layover in Casablanca. It took me about three minutes to book a hotel room in the old medina and figure out how much a taxi should cost from the airport. Here’s to unexpected detours.
Copyright 2018, Rachel Howard