Have you checked the expiry date on your passport recently? In case you were wondering, no, you will not be allowed to travel with your expired passport, even if you pack your bag, check-in online and turn up at the airport ready for your birthday-treat short break in Berlin, with hotel booked and Pearl Jam gig tickets in hand. You are not leaving the country anytime soon!
My partner was devastated on discovering her passport was invalid – especially as the whole trip was planned for my birthday and I’d been excited about the holiday and about seeing Pearl Jam play live for months. On top of that I was run-down and exhausted from the final year of my PhD studies, and was desperately anticipating this trip as a much-needed break. Yes – there were tears, but they didn’t really change the situation, as we stood forlorn in Liverpool John Lennon Airport. The only sensible thing to do was to say ‘hey – we have time booked off work, we have a bag packed with clothes – lets go somewhere else!’ A quick scan of the internet to find places accessible by train and within a 3 hour radius of home, and we were off and traveling again – on our way to a short break in York.
The Dalai Lama once said “remember that not always getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck”.
My disappointment about Berlin was a direct result of unmet expectations about what I thought I was going to be doing that week – I had denied the possibility of there being circumstances that I couldn’t control. My visit to York however was unexpected, and therefore unanticipated – how could it disappoint? There were no expectations or preconceived ideas about what we would find, what we ‘should’ do while we were there and no planned itinerary to stick to.
We could discover the city as it unfolded before us. We were free to decide where to go and what to do from one minute to the next. When we arrived off the train, tired and hungry, with no idea of where to find the city’s main restaurants, we discovered quite by accident the best curry we’ve ever eaten outside India. The Kings Ransom curry house wasn’t flashy or expensive, but impressed with its soft fluffy naan bread, fragrant pilau rice and their willingness to make a vegetarian version of any dish on the menu (I’m reliably informed their Rajasthani Tikka Gosht was pretty special too). Actually that is the only bowl of rice that I have ever wanted to eat completely on its own, just to enjoy the flavours and spices skilfully woven into it.
When the heavens opened, we dashed into the nearest pub for shelter, enjoying a spontaneous pint in what turned out to be Guy Fawkes’s birthplace (although I recommend the pub we found in similar drizzly circumstances the following day – the friendly Three-Legged Mare with its fantastic selection of real ales). I had time to settle down with a (non-academic) book for the first time in months, and made the most of the browsing opportunities in the multitude of bookshops we stumbled upon.
The next day we couldn’t get a seat in the first cafe we chose – so continued up a quiet street only to discover the most amazing deli stocked wall to wall with barrels full of every type of olive oil and balsamic vinegar imaginable. We squeezed into the last available table in their tiny back room cafe. If that first cafe hadn’t disappointed us with its overcrowding, we’d never have discovered the gastronomic delights served up at the Hairy Fig – one of the most satisfying lunches I’ve ever enjoyed!
One of the highlights of the trip was the moment the sun came out – after weeks of incessant rain and heavy flooding in that part of the UK. We simply sat in a park, determined to make the most of it. That hour of people-watching and sky-gazing was the most relaxed I’d felt in weeks. And I know myself well enough to realise I don’t ever ‘plan’ to do ‘nothing’ – so I wouldn’t have enjoyed that sunshine break had I been consciously trying to pack the most into my trip.
It turns out that York, England is quite a different place from Berlin, Germany. But its independent shops, foodie-delights, real ale pubs, bookshops, city walls walks and medieval streets offered something new to discover on every corner. You just need to be open to enjoying the moment, rather than missing something you never had. I could have got angry with my partner about the passport or I could have spent days moping around feeling sorry for myself because I missed out on the trip I’d been expecting. I preferred to enjoy time together in a new place, seeing new things, and remembering what holidays are actually for – relaxing! The sky over York was filled with clouds that week, but they definitely shone brightly with their silver linings. If you ever happen to find yourself without passport but wanting a nice weekend away – I would recommend York without hesitation!