In July 2012 we took off on a four week trip to spend time in the French and Italian Alps, visit some Churches and visit the eight UNESCO World Heritage sites from the 5th and 6th centuries at Ravenna in Italy.
We had been working up to this trip for some time as it was agreed as part of Extended Ministerial Development Leave; last year, for example, we went to the French Alps and back and we had been spending time camping and building up all the kit we needed. The boys too were excited about spending time in the mountains, as Chatel and Pila are rated as the two best European downhill biking venues.
Our vehicle of choice was our Land Rover Defender, a 110 TD5 which we packed to the gunnels and still had to leave stuff behind. We did have a clutch cylinder failure about a month before we set off, but made sure the car had a full service and MOT check before we got going. There were some complications as it transpired that the Tax Disc would expire whilst we were away. After some toing and froing we discovered we could buy a future dated disc at certain Post Offices, so we were legal when we got off the tunnel.
Accomodation for most of the next month was to be our lovely Khyam tent - a bit of a pig to put up on your own, but sturdy enough to have withstood a Force 7 storm on the Scilly Isles last year.
The major part of the trip in terms of time was to be family time together after a couple of difficult years in post and, despite the fact we will be moving on in the autumn, we wanted to have some quality time together. The main component in terms of Ministry Development was also to try to capture some of the essence of the Byzantine artworkin Ravenna, having been reading about Arianism, Constantine, Byzantium amongst many others. In many ways the reading around subjects finding what was stimulating was as refreshing as the trip itself, but the trip was crucial in order to be reading with a determined purpose.
In addition to the reading there was tremendous fun to be had in the planning - finding locations, routes and so forth. A couple of years ago I bought T a book of European Mountain Bike Parks, and we looked at all these wonderful places imagining what if we might be able to go - after htis trip we have now completed 10 of them. The biking phases needed about a week in each place so that we could get maximum value out of the lift passes we would need, and they would need to rest in the middle, so that was the ideal time ot fit in a mad dash across Italy to get to Ravenna and the Adriatic. I used Tripit to keep track of places and got a very orderly file together with confirmation emails and booking information, but even so was grateful for the iPad as we could make some last minute changes to break the journey back across Italy as it was a long way to drive in mad, mad traffic.
I kept a journal as blogging live was not going to be possible, although even campsites now seem to have wifi in one form or another, and most of the day to day updates are taken from there. I also took in the region of 1400 photographs, not many of them classics, but I wanted to have the visual record too as I use random photos on my Mac as my screensaver, and it is always lovely to have all these pictures appearing and reminding us of where we have been. I also love being able to use the geo-location pins on Aperture to see where we have taken photographs. Our plot got a lot fuller this year.