Around the world with Julie and Marc: The not-so-direct journey home.
With our exciting year on the road coming to its conclusion, it was time to chart a course home—the long way round.
After all, when you spend a year exploring the various corners of the world like we have, you want to squeeze in every country (and experience) along the way as possible. Which means we did what any teacher heading home from a year of travelling around the globe on a deferred salary leave would do: book a few more extra stops along the way.
Okay, maybe more like 4 or 5 extra stops. But who’s counting?
Stop #1: Greece—opa!
More than just a stop, Greece was an experience. Taking in the historic Acropolis that sits atop the city of Athens, we were transported back to an era when ancient buildings such as the Parthenon and Temple of Athena were the modern-day skyscrapers of the time. We then jumped ahead from ancient history to the not-to-distant past—visiting the stadium that hosted the Athens 2004 Olympic Summer Games.
Next, it was off to the islands of Milos and Santorini to get away from the crowds and meet up with our son Sébastien. It was exairetikí (“great”) to see him! After our mini family reunion with Sébastien, we hit the beautiful beaches of Crète, Greece’s largest island.
Then it was “goodbye Greece” and off to satisfy our craving for a certain type of cheese…
Stop #2: Switzerland—ricola!
Some people stop by the ‘imported cheese’ section of their local supermarket when they have a craving for some Gruyere—while others drop into the small medieval town of Gruyere to get its cheese from the source. Which is exactly what we did. And just in case you were wondering, YES, it was totally worth it!
However, our reason for stopping into Switzerland wasn’t as ‘cheesy’ as it seems.
Fifteen years ago, we participated in a teacher exchange program between Switzerland and Canada where we taught in Geneva for a year. So we took the opportunity to be reunited with our Swiss colleagues-turned-friends. As luck would it have it, we arrived on the last day of school and were invited to participate in the end of school year celebrations with students, teachers, and parents. Great memories!
Stop #3: France—ooh là là!
Being so close to the Swiss-French border, we drove to Annecy, an alpine town in the southeast of France. There, we spent the day in the medieval area of town and visited Château d’Annecy, once home to the Counts of Geneva and now a spectacular museum.
We then hopped back in the car for a scenic drive up to the French Alps, with Mont Blanc (the highest mountain in the alps) in the distance. Not only are the sights spectacular, so is the local ‘country music’—the sound of cowbells ringing across the countryside. With such a breathtaking landscape around us, not to mention the free musical performance of the local cows, how could we resist taking in the scenery while enjoying a very French picnic of baguette, Brie, and pâté.
Of course the best way to experience France is to live there as if you’re a local.
That’s exactly what we did while in Provence. We rented a typical provincial stone house for a week and spent our days going on hikes and appreciating the overall quietness of the countryside and the lovely scent and colour of the lavender fields in full bloom. Plus savouring the taste of the local rosé, as well as meringues from the pâtisserie where we bought our baguette every morning were also definite highlights. Magnifigue!
Stop #4: Spain—hey, Macarena!
It was then ‘adieu’ to France and ‘hola’ to Spain, where we spent 10 days in Barcelona—a very beautiful city rich in art, music, and dance. We studied some of the great works of Gaudi, Miro, and Picasso and enjoyed flamenco dancing accompanied by Spanish guitar with an old palace setting in the background.
Of course how could we be in Spain and not spoil ourselves with Spanish food?
We indulged in our favorite tapas: berenja con miel (fried eggplant slices with honey), ham croquettes, and patatas bravas—yum! We also couldn’t wait to try the sangria in different venues, each with its original recipe.
Unfortunately we ran out of time to visit the rest of Spain, but we got a good first taste of this country and can’t wait to go back!
Stop #5: Iceland—jà jà jà!
Truth be told, Iceland wasn’t exactly on the way home—but in our defense, we found a really good deal on a flight back to Toronto with a stop in Reykjavik. So “jà”, off to Iceland we went… for a 4-day stop.
Day 1 was spent touring ‘The Golden Circle’, which consists of three main areas: Thingvellir National Park (where we crossed ground that’s being torn by the continental drift and forming a large gorge); Gullfoss (or ‘Golden Waterfalls’); and the geothermal area in Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur. While Geysir has been mostly dormant for years, Strokkur’s hot springs come to life every 5 to 10 minutes, as does as its field of boiling water.
If hot springs aren’t ‘hot enough’ for you — try the local volcano on for size.
The second day of our Icelandic tour took us to a more remote part of the country—Thórsmörk Nature Reserve on the south coast. It was there we had the incredible opportunity of experiencing the 60-metre waterfall Seljalandfoss from directly behind the falls. We then travelled through the valley’s volcanic rubble surrounded by three glaciers on the cliffs where the ground is completely scorched from the 2011 volcano eruption. We felt like we had landed on the moon!
Our ‘off-world’ adventures continued at the end of the day at the Blue Lagoon, which is situated in a vast lava field and right next door to the industrial chimneys of a geothermal plant. We know what you’re thinking, “why would you possibly want to visit such a site?”
One word: heavenly.
Seriously, the view is stunning because of the steam that rises amongst the décor of lava rocks.
Now this where we feel the need to switch into ‘teacher mode’…
The reason for the rising steam is due to the outdoor pools that are fed by silica and sulfur-rich water at 37 degrees (a byproduct of the plant)—hence the steam.
Adding to the unearthly feel of our surroundings, it seemed the day would never end since in the summer, the sun sets at roughly 11pm and rises at around 4am—but the night is never completely dark. In fact, during Summer Solstice, the sun is visible for the full 24 in the Westfjords, while ‘only’ for 21 hours in Reykjavik.
So if you’re the kind of sleeper that needs complete and total darkness, it’s probably a good idea to pack a sleeping mask if you ever decide to visit Iceland in the summer.
Our last day in Iceland was spent exploring the capital city of Reykjavik—on foot.
The old town of Reykjavik is not very large, making it perfect for a walkabout (to coin a phrase from our time in Australia). We visited knitting shops, bakeries, and the famous Hallgrímskirkja church inspired by the basalt (volcanic rock) columns of the seaside.
It’s an interesting contrast to then go from the historic and rustic look of the church, to the ultra modern ‘Harpa’ building where we went to see “Icelandic Sagas: Greatest Hits”. Written in the 1200-1300’s, the play depicts the stories of Viking history told in a very humourous way.
From Iceland we boarded our 36th and final flight taken in the last 12 months. Destination: Toronto.
They say all good things must come to an end—and our yearlong adventure around the world was no exception. While we wish we could have squeezed in just ONE more destination, it was time to head home.
As we walked through the arrival gates at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, we couldn’t help but feel happiness tinged with a bit of sadness since it was exactly one year ago to the day we were walking through the departure gates of this very airport getting ready to begin our journey.
One year. 365 days. 8,760 hours. 525,600 minutes.
So many kilometres travelled and memories lived since then.
To paraphrase a lyric from the musical RENT, how do you measure a year in the life of two schoolteachers who travelled the world on a deferred salary leave?
You measure it in plane rides and boat trips and worn out pairs of shoes. You measure it in landscapes, many cultures, and unique and exotic foods. You measure it in countless snapshots, experiences, and strangers who have become friends. Most importantly, you measure it in precious memories—and the desire to do it all over again.
As we write the end to one story, a new chapter (and school year) awaits. We thank you for reading along and being a part our travels—it’s been a dream-come true. And who knows, maybe one day in the not-too-distant future you might see us pop up in your own little corner of the world.
Until the next adventure,
Julie and Marc
Did you know that Educators Financial Group helped Julie and Marc put a financial plan together to save for their yearlong global adventure?
If you have dreams of taking a deferred salary leave, contact us. We’d be happy to help you work towards taking a year away, however—and wherever—YOU want.