Bucket List

I recently saw the Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson film The Bucket List, and also read a couple of blogs about people travelling around the world ticking off bucket list items as they go. While I’m not anticipating my demise any time soon, the idea stuck with me as a way of documenting and organising my dreams and aspirations, and giving drive to my free-time activities.
So here’s the list of things I can remember at the moment. I’ll add to and update it as time goes by.

  • Sail across one of the world’s great oceans.
  • Have a book published.
  • Become fluent in a second language.
  • Climb the highest mountain on a continent (I don’t mind which continent).
  • Go parachuting.
  • Go bungee jumping.
  • Cycle the Pan-America highway.
  • Cycle the Paris-Brest-Paris.
  • Do the mongol rally.
  • Run a marathon.
  • Live for an extended time in the Netherlands or Denmark, the world’s two great cycling nations.
  • Live for an extended time in Spain or Italy, two of my favourite places in the world.
  • Be self-employed.
  • Visit over 100 countries (so far: 1. France, 2. Spain, 3. Italy, 4. Portugal, 5. Switzerland, 6. Austria, 7. Germany, 8. Ireland, 9. US, 10. Canada, 11. Netherlands, 12. Belgium, 13. Denmark, 14. Sweden, 15. Finland, 16. Estonia, 17. Latvia, 18. Czech Republic, 19. Greece, 20. Turkey, 21. Tanzania, 22. China).
  • Fill up a passport.
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Loneliness vs. Solitude

In the question and answer session after my talk at the RGS someone asked if I ever got lonely on my trip. Not having a good answer prepared, and not thinking very fast on my feet with the pressure of having 100 people staring at me, I rambled a bit saying yes but that it was a good type of loneliness that I didn’t mind.
What I meant to say is that there is a difference between loneliness and solitude, where both are the physical state of being alone, but loneliness is a negative mental state of wanting to be in the company of other people, while solitude is a positive mental state of being content and comfortable despite (or perhaps because of) being alone.

On my trip I was very rarely lonely – I tend to be much more of a solitude person.

This article sums up very eloquently my thoughts and experiences.

Aix-en-Provence – Day 3

Up about 8 for breakfast and to organise things. Everyone else gradually emerges and we miss our 9:15 planned hotel departure time by half an hour.
Look around La Ciotat which is a traditional fishing town trying to keep its heritage while attracting tourists but not losing its traditional industry. On the outskirts we look around the out of town shopping areas and the immigrant communities living in social housing.

Tass loses his bank card in an ATM that eats it and we lose an hour sorting that out. At the hotel there is a problem with payment and we lose another half hour. Now well behind schedule and we have minutes to catch 3pm bus to Cassis. Which we see pulling out of bus station as we get there. Try thinking of all sorts of plans to get to cassis including taxis (not enough in the town for all of us during the off-tourist season), boats (imagine the form filling if something went wrong) and eventually hire two minibuses.

Set off again at 5:15, then immediately one bus gets a flat tyre. Me and Tass get it changed pretty quick, but now ridiculously late. Buses have to be back in La Ciotat by 7.

Quick look around Cassis, which is a very nice seaside resort with lots of ladies carrying dogs in handbags. You know the type. Then drive to station, drop everyone off and Tass and Mike drive the buses back to La Ciotat and try to catch train from there. For once a plan works. We all end up on the same train to Marseille and get to hostel by about 8.

Now it’s 9 and we’re going out to get food and drunk. Revision will be tomorrow morning instead since we lost so much time today. I’m off to the airport at 11am tomorrow, but everyone else is staying on until the evening to see Marseille during the day.

Good fieldtrip, great group, good sights, interesting geography.

Aix-en-Provence – Day 2

Lots and lots of rain today. Started by looking around the centre of Aix at its tourist and cultural activities. Nice opera house and book museum. Also noticed how businesses in aix use the town’s name to make jokes. Orient Aixpress for instance.
Anyway, after lunch we got a minibus to go to Beureceuille, a tiny little village. Still raining and the village had two streets and no functions really. Pretty village, maybe for rich commuters to live out in the country.

Then on to Garbanne. An ancient and post industrial town. Started 4000 years ago, then had a coal mine and power station built. The mine is now closed, and the power station is mainly automatic so doesn’t employ many people. Our bus driver was very excited to tell us all about the industry, must make a change from his usual groups of tourists going to vineyards and chateaux! Garbanne is really a local town for local people. The tourist office is one room and was closed. There is an inaccessible museum that was tiny and a “Boulevard Paul Cezanne”. Apparently he visited once. But the town is trying to become part of the tourist and cultural industry of the area, but doesn’t really have a chance against the larger towns and cute villages. Maybe it should try an industrial heritage – iron bridge gorge of the provence region? Except there’s no “interesting” industry, just a coal mine and power station.

Still raining. Most people are soaked. I have an umbrella, but really not fieldtrip weather.

On to Aubagne, a town surrounded by motorways. It’s a bigger town than Garbanne with a proper tourist office and industrial parks. It’s surrounded by motorways, so obviously is a storage/distribution centre and has lots of in and out commuters to other towns and cities in the region. It feels like it has a bit more life, a bit more sustainable economic activity. On the outskirts is a historic farm open to visitors in the summer so people can see how life was long ago. Being surrounded by hills and mountains it also acts as a centre for outdoor pursuits- horse riding, climbing, mountain biking and the like. While not in the same league as Aix, Aubagne has a purpose and a role to play in the region.

On to La Ciotat where we’re spending the night and looking around tomorrow. This evening is revision session. We’ve lugged laptops and a projector with us so we can take over the lounge at the hotel and do powerpoint presentations to review the days activities. Only then can we get dinner, and might be back at the hotel by 10pm for some well earned sleep.

Aix-en-Provence – Day 1

Well since I now have the latest version of the wordpress app. for iPhone, I thought I’d see how well it works for writing long blog posts from abroad.
From the title you’ll have guessed I’m in Aix-en-Provence. It’s not a holiday, but a very serious fieldtrip for university. The students are looking at “local competitiveness, international ambitions and roles and functions” in the Aix-Marseille region. I’m a module leader, so have to be a bit in charge, but the students each have a topic they have to investigate, and are showing the rest of the group around their areas.

From my point of view, Aix is a very nice town with a lovely centre. More importantly though, there seems to be free wifi everywhere. Not provided by a big mega corporation that wants to charge for it, but just any old person not securing their networks.

I should stress to those people back home that think this is a holiday- it really isn’t. We arrived on on the plane and went straight to the hotel in Aix. Then we got on a bus to the industrial zone and looked at the different businesses and functions present and got a feel for the importance of the industrial park to the town, and the town to the region and its international ambitions. Finally we looked at the town centre and the train station to find more pieces of the jigsaw. And all this in the rain.

So really not a holiday!