A few weeks ago I wrote about an article to be featured in Woman's Weekly about my around the world without flying Oz-Bus trip . Well here it is and for those of you who can't buy the magazine here is what it says. That's Davy and me in the bottom right hand corner!
It was Christmas Day and the house was filled with love, laughter and family. As Ann and Davy‘s children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren played Secret Santa downstairs, Davy slept upstairs, the sound of laughter wafting up from below.
‘The house was packed! My grand-son-in- law said it was like being in The Waltons,‘ laughs Ann. ‘Even the district nurse said she’d never seen such a large family, but it was good to have life in the house again, after so much sadness.’
The last three months had been incredibly difficult for Ann and Davy. After 27 years together, the last two spent fighting cancer, Davy was dying, and Ann was determined that he should have his final wish; to die at home. With help from Marie Cure nurses, ’ our angels‘ as Ann described them, they’d somehow pulled it off.
But now, Christmas Day 2009, it was clear that their time together was running out.
‘Davy was fading, but he could hear everything, including the children's laughter,’ says Ann. Everyone had time to sit with him and say goodbye. Our newest great-grandchild Leyton, who was only five days old, visited too, which was perfect because Davy adored his grandchildren.’
He also adored Ann. The first time they met, in a pub, Davy, who was a bricklayer, had impressed her by spouting passages from Homer’s Illiad, in between pints. ’ It was love at first sight!‘ says Ann, who was a secretary. ‘He knew how to woe a lady!
‘We had both recently come out of a failed marriage with four children between us, Davy had a son and daughter in Scotland and I had two daughters living with me, times were hard but we both believed in seizing each day by the throat!‘
In 1989, Ann had an idea to start her own business; a hotel information service. ‘I thought Davy would think it was daft but he didn’t, he encouraged me to do it. He always had more faith in me than I ever had in myself,’ she says.
Ann’s business Infotel became a phenomenal success, and Davy was soon working alongside her. 'Over the years we laughed, fought and cried but most of all we thanked God that we had found each other. He used to say that we were two people who made one whole person. I think that just about summed it up.’
Upbeat to the end, Davy learnt to rollerblade just a few months before he died, and told Ann she too must continue to, ‘seize every day’ after he’d gone. ‘Davy knew I’d always wanted to travel. He told me I should see the world but I couldn’t bear to think ahead …‘.
On Boxing Day morning, while Ann and her daughter Sara sat with him, Davy passed away.
‘I don’t remember much about the next few weeks, it was surreal,’ says Ann. ‘But I remember dividing out the £2 coins Davy had been saving for the grandchildren, he’d wanted us to share them out at Christmas. I knew I had to honour the wish.’
After Davy’s funeral (attended by 350 people) Ann felt utterly lost. ‘The family were wonderful of course; my granddaughter Georgina, her husband and four children (including baby Leyton) even moved in with me. It was absolute chaos - just what I needed! But it couldn’t last forever.’
Then nine months later, remembering Davy’s wish that she should have the trip of a lifetime, Ann heard, quite by chance, about a coach trip - with a difference.
‘A friend told me about it and it sounded so exciting,’ says Ann.
Without hesitating, Ann paid a deposit, then allowed herself to panic. ‘I got terrible cold feet,‘ she admits. ‘I thought, ‘I’m far too old for this! It’s ridiculous! Part of me hoped that not enough people would sign up, and it might be cancelled.’
Anne’s worries were understandable. For the ‘coach trip’ she’d just booked wasn’t your average two week tour of the UK, or Europe. It would last three months and take her round the world starting in London, finishing in New York and visiting 16 countries in total - including Russia and China!
Nor would it be luxurious. To keep costs down, sleeping accommodation was in hostel dormitories, under canvas, or on the coach itself! As for what to take, Ann would only be allowed one rucksack, and it had to be light enough for her to carry herself.
On paper, it certainly sounded like a trip for someone a few decades younger…
‘The idea of roughing it did not appeal. But the idea of seeing all these places I’d never be able to see otherwise, definitely did. So I tried not to think too much about the other stuff.‘
She also decided to ask people to sponsor her, so she could raise money for those Marie Cure ‘angels’ who had helped Davy so much.
Were her family horrified? ‘Not at all,‘ Ann laughs. ‘They know what I’m like once I have an idea, and were probably glad to see the back of me!’ Or maybe they were simply relieved to see that Ann was feeling more like herself again.
After a surprise farewell party, thrown by her step-daughter Kimberly, Ann’s adventure began. On March 27 she boarded the a coach in London, along with 21 other passengers, feeling ‘numb with nerves.’
Fortunately the coach was spacious enough to allow each of them a double seat each, and for the first few days at least Ann relished the solitude. ‘It became my own personal space, a place to sit and think.’
Of course her thoughts were never far away from Davy. ‘He was never out of my head,’ she says simply. ‘It was as if he was travelling with me. But he would have absolutely hated the first part of the trip. I remember arriving at our second hostel in Heidelberg, Germany, dragging my rucksack up three flights of stairs to a cramped dormitory and wondering, what am I doing ? I knew exactly how Davy would have met this first ‘challenge’ - with an airline ticket straight back to Britain! Davy liked sleeping in his own bed and would never have tolerated it!’
But Ann was made of sterner stuff. Besides, although the accommodation was sometimes grim (especially the filthy, freezing hostels in the Baltic states) her fellow travellers were anything but. Very quickly, they became as close as any family.
‘I formed great friendships with Sirin, a 34 year old German woman, Johnny from London and Jono from Australia.’
Ann had take a laptop with her and kept a daily blog so that family and friends could see she was
fine. ‘I called my blog Retired and Crazy because that’s exactly how I felt!‘
Ann’s 92 day trip tested her in many ways. As well as seeing all the places she’d dreamed of - Red Square, the Great Wall of China, Terracotta Warriors, Niagara Falls - she also experienced nine night on the Siberian Express, endured ‘pit toilets’ (simply a hole in the ground) and camped in Yellowstone National Park, USA, renowned for its grizzly bears. She also discovered it was quite possible to wear the same three sets of clothes for three months…
But by far her most memorable and poignant moment was crossing Lake Baikal in Siberia, the world’s oldest and deepest lake. ‘We’d intended to drive over it, which is perfectly safe in winter when temperatures reach minus 19! But we arrived at the wrong time of year, the ice was starting to thaw, and we had no choice but to walk,’ says Ann.
‘I slipped and slid my way across, feeling afraid, but the solitude was magical. I felt so close to Davy and so at peace with the world. On the way back, the ice was even thinner and my friend Jono held my hand all the way, to stop me falling. Davy would definitely have approved of that.’
Her trip ended in New York, where Ann had an emotional reunion with step-daughter Kimberly and granddaughter Georgina who had flown over to meet her. ‘They told me I was glowing with happiness, which is just how I felt.’
‘I didn’t go on the trip to escape,’ Ann adds. ‘I went because it was something that Davy encouraged me to do. It certainly was the trip of a lifetime and I loved it, but it made me realise that I also love the life that I have here. Davy taught me how to live, and I’m not going to give up on that.’
Ann crossed 16 countries, three continents, 14 US states…without a single flight!
She travelled by coach through Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Siberia, Mongolia, China . From China she sailed to Alaska, (with visits to South Korea and Japan) then travelled by coach again into Canada and the USA where she visited Seattle, Yellowstone Park, Chicago, The Great Lakes, Niagra Falls and New York.
The total trip cost £6,999.
Ann is raising money for Marie Cure Cancer. To find out more go to her blog http://www.retiredandcrazy.com/
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