Au Revoir 2019 – A year in which our travels were nothing like we planned

At the end of each year I like to look back on our travels, sum them up and reminisce about where we’ve been and the memories we’ve made. But 2019 has, well to put it frankly, she’s been a b*tch. And I won’t apologise for the language because it’s been a pretty crappy year all round for us as a family. So, let me share with you why I’m so glad to be saying goodbye to 2019 and why I’m hoping, beyond hope, that 2020 is far better than this year ever was, both from a personal and a travel perspective.

We rang in the New Year here in Portugal, tucked up in bed because a) we’re teetotal so are rarely ever up beyond midnight and b) we have a small child who is often up before the crack of dawn, especially in winter. We did venture out for a New Year’s Day stroll on the beach, with bare feet in the sand because we can. January passed without much trouble or events, with hubby finishing up with one client.

When the New Year came around, we had a few trips booked, which we were looking forward to. First up would be a trip East, our first as a family, to Thailand and Dubai over Easter. We’d booked it the previous June and finally, we were on the home straight. I also had a weekend and a two-week trip to Ireland with the boy planned for St Patrick’s Day and August respectively, one of which hubby might join us. I knew we’d probably have another one or two trips to squeeze in too but so far so good. And my annual girls weekend away with my sisters.

And then disaster struck our house on the 7th of February. For anyone who has been following us on Instagram or been reading my newsletters, you’ll know the story so skip on. With some free time after finishing with one client and waiting for a new contract, hubby ventured out in early February on his off-road motorbike to scout for a trip he was going to be doing during the weekend of the 16th February.

He came off his motorbike, breaking his left leg just below the knee and shattering the top of his tibia (into 7 pieces if I remember correctly). He was taken to Faro Hospital (where I wouldn’t send a horse to be put down) and after 18 agonising hours, he transferred to a private hospital which was a 5-star hotel in comparison. With what little luck we had left, he had surgery the following day to reconstruct the top of his tibia and tendons on his knee by what turned out to be the best knee surgeon in Portugal. And so started months of recovery, which still aren’t finished.

As a result, I had to reorganise our Easter plans or cancel them. I really didn’t fancy dealing with our travel insurance company, even though we had good insurance, so I set about reorganising our trip for the end of November. Thankfully, we didn’t lose any money and, despite it costing us a bit more than the original bookings to change our flights and accommodation, we had it re-booked for November, with a warning to hubby NOT to be on any motorbike from the end of July! I wasn’t going to reorganise this trip for a third time.

March rolled around and the boy and I returned to Dublin for the St Patrick’s Day weekend, minus hubby who had been booked to come with us. It was quite cold, and we decided to watch the parade from the comfort of my folks Dublin house instead of venturing out. I realised that weekend that I’ve become acclimatised to the Portuguese weather as I was cold, so cold, all weekend, not able to get the heat into me at all.

From then, our travels were extremely quiet, with hubby still in full recovery mode and physio three times a week in the local private hospital attached to the main Faro one. After four weeks completely off his leg, he started gentle weight bearing with crutches, as well as his three times a week physio sessions, which I had to bring him to as he couldn’t drive. With my folks just down the road, I set off in May for my annual girls’ weekend away with my sisters, this time returning to London for another Take That concert in the O2. Hubby started driving just before and felt confident enough for me to head off.

Boy did I need that weekend. It was great to meet up with my sisters and our honorary sister and let our hair down, do a bit of sightseeing and see a great concert. I even met Karen of Travel Mad Mum briefly, who is just lovely.

Hubby started with a new client in May and started travelling to their Frankfurt sites in June. He was mostly walking without crutches but still attending physio regularly. During May, my sister came for a holiday with my niece and shortly afterwards, my Mum returned to Ireland, on what we believed would be a short trip. Little did I know that would be the last time I saw my Mum in Portugal.

We also booked a trip to London for the end of August in June as hubby had some business meetings he needed to attend and we decided to make it a family trip, taking two days of the working week to spend time together as a family. I was looking forward to that.

At the end of June my Dad returned to Ireland and a few days later we got the devastating news that Mum had stage 4 lung cancer. To say it rocked our family to the core would be an understatement. Unbeknownst to us, she had attended the doctors a few times, telling us she had a chest “infection” and it wasn’t until my Dad returned to Ireland that the real story came out.

After blood tests and MRI scans, cancer was confirmed in the lungs and it was stage 4. My Mum also had tumours in her brain, liver and kidneys and it was the one in the brain that the doctors were most concerned about. Unfortunately, the lung tumour could not be operated on as it had spread outside the lungs and the fluid on her lungs was also cancerous. The best that could be done would be radiotherapy and chemotherapy to try and slow it down, but the lungs couldn’t be tackled before the brain.

She was all set to start radiotherapy for the tumour on her brain when she took a turn for the worse on Monday 29th of July. The boy and I were booked to fly home on Friday 2nd August for our two-weeks Ireland adventure, but a frantic call from my sisters on the Tuesday saw us flying home on the Wednesday and heading straight to the hospital. And the worst thing was hubby was in Shanghai with work and not due back to Portugal until Sunday the 4th. He felt helpless being so far away.

I cancelled our trip to the West of Ireland, not knowing if my Mum would recover enough to come out of hospital or not. The AirBnB hosts were very understanding and I was so grateful for that. Everything was up in the air so I felt we shouldn’t leave Dublin. I tried as best I could to keep things as normal for our son, but it was hard in between visits to the hospital, somewhere I didn’t take him after the first day as we didn’t feel it was a great environment for him.

We all took it in turns to sit with Mum, Dad not leaving her side very often. He also stayed every night in the hospital and by Saturday refused to leave at all except for an hour at the most in the morning when one of us girls (I have three sisters) were with my Mum so he could go home and shower. Two of my sisters work in the hospital and to say the staff both on the ward, and those my sisters work with were stars would be an understatement.

A week after myself and the boy arrived home, it was clear Mum was not doing well. By Tuesday she wasn’t able to do much for herself and it was heart-breaking seeing her like that. I did bring the boy in to see her that day and she recognised him immediately, asking for her other grandchildren. The next morning, I arrived at the hospital early, leaving our son with one of his aunts, in the hopes we could get my Dad to rest. But Mum was unconscious and completely unresponsive, so Dad wasn’t going anywhere. A member of the chaplaincy service came in before 9am to say some prayers with Mum. Mum was a devout Roman Catholic and her faith was always strong. My eldest sister and my nephew arrived just as the lady was finishing up and shortly after, at 9.20am, my beautiful Mum passed away with the four of us with her.

Happy times in Portugal eating churros
Getting a hug from my Mum on my wedding day

Watching your parent take their last breaths and pass away before your eyes is something you cannot imagine and it’s hard to put words to it. In a way I was relieved she was no longer suffering and could be at peace. But at the same time, I’d just lost my Mum. My husband was devastated as he had not long returned to Portugal after his China work trip, had seen his consultant the previous afternoon and was booked to return to Dublin on the Friday. He got a flight later that day but was devastated he hadn’t been in Dublin with us. I felt extremely guilty as I’d been the one telling him not to hurry, that we didn’t know how long it would be.

Now came the task for my Dad of organising my Mum’s funeral, which would be on the Saturday. Going into organising mode was his way of coping. Mum’s funeral was lovely, and I was blown away by how many work colleagues attended. I knew she was respected in MABS (her line of work in Ireland) but it really came home just how much that Saturday. Her last remaining siblings attended, devastated as you can imagine losing their youngest sibling at just 66 years of age.

As part of our original travel plans, I had booked a lodge at Waterford Castle for the three of us for the week following my Mum’s passing and funeral. We decided to go anyway, trying to keep things as normal as possible for our son. We would also end our time in Ireland in Kildare, near my sister-in-law’s house. It did us good to get away and be together.

Returning to Portugal was so hard, because it was my parents retiring there that was one of the reasons we chose to emigrate there. Passing my parents village was the hardest. I had no idea if my Dad would ever come back.

August ended with our week in London. It was a good trip, busy and the boy and I had lots of fun while Daddy worked. We did get some time together though.

September brought a return to preschool for a week before the boy and I headed to Bluestone in Wales. This trip was tinged with sadness as my Mum was due to come with us. I had been so looking forward to bringing my Mum as she’d often heard us talking about how much we loved Bluestone and West Wales.

The trip was also not without its problems thanks to a Ryanair strike on the day we were to return to Portugal, meaning we needed to fly from Bristol, and not Cardiff as originally planned.

November saw my attend a travel conference, again in London and I was wrecked by the end of it. But, I met some lovely bloggers including Susy from Our Tribe Travels, Anna from Twins and Travels and Keven from The Wandering Wagars.

And, our wait to finally go East as a family was over. On Saturday 30th November, we started our 24-hour trek from Lisbon to Ao Nang in Thailand. 2 days after we arrived, the boy started with a temperature. This meant we spent most of our time at our villa and NOT sightseeing or taking any trips we’d hoped to take. We did island hop on our last day before heading to Bangkok for two days but after another night of fighting a temperature we decided enough was enough and found a doctor open on a Sunday.

Influenza A was the diagnosis, most likely picked up on one of the planes and his temperature was dangerously high in the doctor’s surgery. He also had a chest infection, so we got antibiotics and Tamiflu for him. If he didn’t start improving the next day we were advised to head to A&E. Our year of crappy luck was continuing.

Thankfully, we didn’t need to attend A&E and managed to visit one temple before he was tired. We moved on the next day to Dubai and despite having three full days in the city, we only did about half the things we’d planned as our son was still very tired. And I actually started to view people travelling with face masks on planes in a completely different light on that trip.

Returning to Portugal was a relief and I’ve been looking forward to saying goodbye to one of the worst years of my life. Starting with hubby’s motorbike accident, then losing my Mum and (shortly before we left for the East) my godfather passed away as well so, all-round, it’s been a pretty sh*tty year.

Yes, we’ve had some good trips in between and even in Ireland we managed to enjoy our time in Waterford, but travel did not have as many joys and highlights this year as we’d hope when 2019 started. The whole year has felt like one long struggle.

One thing I am extremely grateful for is finding a great kennels less than an hour away from us for our dog. We had viewed and booked one near us in Tavira, but when they let us down for the trip home, to say goodbye to my Mum, the most important one, we had to scramble to find another during what is one of the busiest times of the year for kennels, the summer months of July and August.

We didn’t meet the people of this new kennels before I dropped our dog off for the rush home, but they accommodated us at a moment’s notice, and we’ve been using them ever since. My Mum and Dad had been taking our dog for us while we travelled up until then, but things have changed. To say they’ve been outstanding would be an understatement. Merrylegs, thank you for everything this year.

And so, with one chapter closing, it is time to look to a new one. We do not have many trips booked yet, although we have two trips in mind for 2020. They depend on my hubby receiving his new car (via his company) and also him securing a new client, having finished with his Frankfurt one at the end of November.

But so far, it’s just a few weekend trips we’ve got planned. My girls weekend away with my sister may be simply to Ireland. We have tickets booked for the last weekend of June for a huge disco festival and I need to book my flights and get that sorted. But we might try sneak in another weekend. We’re off to Liverpool at the end of January to bring the boy to his first ever football match.

Hubby has also booked concert tickets for Lisbon in May so we will return to the city as a family for a long weekend, and we’re trying to convince my Dad to come too. But so far, nothing is set in stone. And, we will be constrained by school holidays from September when the boy starts primary.

And that’s not even as easy as the UK or Ireland as Portugal does not have mid-term breaks. School kids get two weeks off for Christmas, two weeks off at Easter and then 12 weeks in the summer, so from 2021, most of our travel will need to be during the summertime. But we’ll cross that hurdle when we come to it.

All that’s left to say it au revoir 2019. I’ve not enjoyed this year like I had hoped, and things have been pretty crappy. My blog grew and then fell like a lead balloon in November thanks to a Google algorithm update and the festive season but I’ll soldier on in the early part of 2020, in the hopes I can get it back to where it was in the summer and beyond.

I just thank all my readers who have stuck with me this year and I do hope you’ll stay with me in 2020. Happy New Year to you all and here’s hoping 2020 is a vast improvement over 2019.

Cath x

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