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May 7, 2004

Letter to Friends

I've done a pretty elaborate Christmas letter for the last several years. Our friends and family members are probably tired of hearing about our vacations! I decided to do a "letter to friends" to let everyone know the details of our trip and how to contact us. I thought I'd start my "blog" with this letter, as it provides a bit of info about us and the background of our trip...

Dear Friends,

It may seem strange to get a letter from us at a time other than Christmas, but we wanted to tell you about a big adventure that?s ahead for our family. We are leaving on June 11th on our version of the Grand Tour of Europe-- a trip that will last 14 months.

You all know we feel a very strong connection to Europe. We've vacationed there eight times since we were married in 1992. Kelly (almost 11) has been to Europe seven times. Our vacations have been wonderful, but also somewhat stressful... so much to see and do in just a week or two. We found ourselves increasingly wanting more. For a long time we thought we would spend a year overseas when Kelly was in college, perhaps while she was spending her junior year abroad and the three of us could do some traveling together. This was our ten-year plan... a retirement plan we would pursue as we approached ages 60 and 70. After our trip to France last summer, we began to question these faraway dreams. We realized we wanted this experience much sooner, and-- most importantly-- we wanted to share it with Kelly, as a family. We also wanted to live in Europe-- not just travel about as tourists.

And so, we have decided to pursue this adventure now... when we can go as a family, when our health is good, when we have the energy and financial resources to really enjoy it. Kathy submitted her resignation at ImagePoint earlier this year and will leave on June 4th. After almost 10 years as VP of Human Resources at a company she's been so committed to, this is a bittersweet decision. She's working now to hire her replacement. Kathy is looking forward to a personal sabbatical-- she'll re-launch her career when we return and is open to new possibilities. Charley is putting his home renovation business on hold. Kelly will step out of the Webb School for her sixth grade year. The people at Webb agree this the best time for her to miss a year of school, and we'll work with her to ensure she keeps up with her classmates. Webb is holding her spot in the seventh grade when we return. We've got our house up for rent and are trying to sell Kathy's car. We're taking years of accumulated stuff to Goodwill or selling it on e-bay. We've made arrangements for finances and health insurance. And we just learned that the French government has approved our long-stay visas so we can spend an extended period in France. We do plan to return to Knoxville.

We've included an overview of our itinerary so you can see where we'll be during our 14 month adventure. We begin in England, a country we've visited three times before. For most of our trip we'll stay in rental apartments or cottages, all of which Kathy has located on the internet. This is more economical and comfortable than staying in hotels. We'll spend two weeks in London, a week in a fishing village on the Cornwall coast, a week on a farm south of Bath, a week in the Cotswolds in the village of Blockley, and a week on an estate in Yorkshire. Then we'll drive to Scotland-- our first time there. We have a beautiful place right on Loch Ness for a week and then a cottage near Edinburgh the following week. In early August we'll have one of the peak experiences of our trip-- we're going to walk across England from coast to coast! This is a self-guided tour of 190 miles, extending over 18 days. We'll take a couple of rest days along the way but will actually walk on 14 days. The route takes us from St. Bees Head on the Irish Sea through three national parks (the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dale, and the North York Moors) to Robin Hood's Bay on the North Sea.

At the end of August we'll take an overnight ferry to Bruges, Belgium for a few days and then a train to France. We'll spend two weeks in Paris, a week in Burgundy, and two weeks near the Dordogne. Beginning October 2nd we'll begin our experience of "living" in Europe. We've rented a 17th century, four-bedroom farmhouse on four acres in Provence, not far from Avignon. The house is big enough for us to have company while we are there, and several friends and family members are planning to join us. (If you want to see our house, there's information and lots of photos at this website.) We'll be about ten miles from Saignon where we vacationed last summer. This is an area that has truly captured our hearts and is a great base to explore southeastern France. We'll do some overnight trips-- perhaps to Aix-on-Provence, the French Riviera and Barcelona, Spain. We hope Kelly can attend the village school. That would be a wonderful experience for her... to make friends and improve her French language skills. We've been taking a weekly French lesson as a family since the beginning of the year.

After our long stay in Provence, we'll "travel" for the rest of our trip-- Italy, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. We're especially excited about visiting Italy for the first time. We'll spend a week each on Lake Como, in Rome and Venice, and on the Amalfi Coast; two weeks in Umbria; and a full month in a small village near Siena in southern Tuscany. Near the end of the trip we plan to do another long-distance walk-- 100 miles in the Swiss Alps. We'll finish our trip in Munich, one of our favorite cities.

Our big trip is now just a month away. We've started organizing our packing and working on the final details. (We are taking just one suitcase and a backpack each!) We're all very excited about our upcoming adventure. Kelly's response has been tremendous-- her only real concern is leaving her dog Milly behind, and we're fortunate that Charley's oldest daughter Angie loves Milly dearly and will keep her for us.

We'd love to stay in touch with what's happening with each of you during the year we're away. We'll stay in contact primarily through e-mail at kdcwood@aol.com. It would be great if you could send us your e-mail address now so we can add it to our contact list. We plan to check e-mail at least weekly, probably from internet cafes, so please drop us an occasional message! Kathy will also keep a web diary (a "blog") at http://www.slowtrav.com/blog/kaydee. We will also post some photos on this site. From October 2, 2004 until April 16, 2005, you can write us in Provence at: La Bastide Vieille, 84480 Bonnieux, France.

We wish all of you good health and much happiness in the year ahead. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers! À l’année prochaine! (See you next year!)

Kathy, Charley & Kelly

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Our Grand Tour of Europe in the Overview category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Italy 2005 is the previous category.

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