It seems like forever ago, and yet just like yesterday that we were all sweating together in Sri Lanka – a group of quirky VSO volunteers. We came not knowing what to expect out of Sri Lanka and through all the adventures, we helped each other deal with the perceived insanity. Our collective experience brought us close together despite our differences. Upon departing Sri Lanka, Shaun and I promised we would visit in Summer 2014 . Before we knew it, summer was upon us, many of our VSO friends were back in their respective homelands and we could finally afford to travel to Europe thanks to the art of freeloading.
First up, there are Marjorie and Richard- the quintessential British couple. They speak proper English (Marjorie even flutters her eyes when doing so), love tea and cake and say everything is “brilliant” (but they can’t understand why we say everything is “awesome”). Marjorie and Richard live near the magical land of Hebden Bridge. After a couple years of Marj’s vivid descriptions of the place I expected unicorns, and I must say it didn’t disappoint. Okay, there were no unicorns, but there was the Tour de France passing through and lots of fireworks. Former volunteer Texas Bill also joined in on the festivities, and he is not the quintessential Texan. He did not wear a cowboy hat or bring a concealed weapon to the party.
Then it was off to see Mark and Vindy (aka Sewandi ). Shaun was the best man at their wedding in Sri Lanka and you may recall posts about the big event. The happy couple had just moved into a new flat a few days before and we were their first house guests – a big honour. This meant we were force feed copious amounts of rice and curry. No oil lamp was lit, but this too was a truly auspicious gathering. I only was able to stay the one night but Shaun stayed on and got the star treatment as the couple guided him through many tourist destinations. Mark was prepared as always when they arrived off the first bus to pouring rain and had no umbrellas or rain coats. He did however have 50lbs of books and journals with him!
In the meantime, I was off to Italy to meet, Sonalee and go on a cycle tour of Tuscany. I taught with Sonalee in Sri Lanka, and we became good friends over spin classes and margaritas so it seemed a natural fit to meet for a cycling tour that included vigorous climbs with frequent breaks for cappucino, gelato and/or wine. The scenery was amazing, the weather was hot and the conversations were fantastic.
Shaun met up with me at the end of the cycle trip to hike through some of the most picturesque parts of the Italian Riveria. This was only after hanging out with VSO Beth and Jo for a week. There he was beat in golf, trapped like a beached whale on the shore of Brighton (he couldn’t walk to the others because the beach was too stony and he’d lost his shoes) and called to BBQ duty. After bragging about his Canadian barbequing expertise and agreeing to cue up a meal for a large party of guests, Shaun met his match as the barbecue used briquettes. The night was saved by an oven and booze – lots of booze.
Next up was Amsterdam, the home of Hans and Els. There we partook in all traditional Dutch customs such as touring windmills, riding bicycles everywhere, eating piles of BBQ at a Suriname festival and being cheap. Hans and Els tried their best to get us into all the museums for free by giving us their passes. It was going very well until the Van Gogh museum where the lady at the counter foiled our entire plan by asking Shaun his birthday. Shaun couldn’t remember Han’s birthday except that he was born in “the hell of 63″ a reference to a Dutch film we all saw together at the foreign film festival in Colombo (long story). When the counter lady (who didn’t seem to bat an eye that Shaun would be born in 63) asked,”What day sir?” A flustered Shaun replied, “I don’t know,” as we quickly retrieved the cards and slunk away.
London was the next stop. We played the role of the stereotypical tourists snapping selfies in front of key landmarks. A highlight was meeting up with Beth, Jo and Joao at a Sri Lankan restaurant. The restaurant did not disappoint as it provided the authentic Sri Lankan experience. Most of the menu items were not available, the waiter was completely confused by our requests, the room was hot and humid and they had giant cold Lion beers. It was easy to feel like we were right back in Sri Lanka. The atmosphere was complete when Shaun and Beth shared an earlier recording they had made entitled “The Sounds of Sri Lanka”.
We finished up the grand tour back with Kamal and Ed. They are a couple we met in Sri Lanka who now live in Manchester. They were our first stop when we arrived and were our last stop before we flew out. Our time with Kamal and Ed culminated by taking in the production of War Horse. The show was great. We just hope that one day Ed will be able to fulfill his new dream of being a master of life size animal puppetry. Dream big Ed, dream big!
I’ll leave you with a photo montage.