On the Move with Betsy and Greg: Vagabonding during a pandemic.
By GREG BALL
Hello everybody, sorry it has been so long since I’ve checked in.
It has been quite a year, hasn’t it? Like many of you our plans have been completely altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Frankly, it has been quite unsettling.
When we left Stephenville in 2017 we made a conscious decision to totally change our lifestyle. Our elevator speech went something like this. “We sold our house and most of our stuff and now travel Europe fulltime. To extend our travel budget we do WorkAway, WWOOF, and Trusted House Sitters. We also started a travel business, Euro Travel Coach, creating custom itineraries and leading small group trips. We spend our summer months at our family cottage in Quebec.”
Suddenly, none of that rings true anymore. The border is closed so we can’t get to our home in Canada. We’re still living out of the same suitcases we packed in September 2019. We have been couch surfing since March. Non-essential travel to Europe is shut down and all of our clients have cancelled or delayed their plans.
As unsettling as all that may be, we are blessed beyond measure with good friends and good fortune.
Here is a quick recap of the past year. After traveling in Eastern Europe, leading a small group tour in Piedmont, Italy, and tasting wine in the Mosel Valley, Germany, we came back to the States in December to help our daughter Chelsea and her husband Sam move to Madison, Wisconsin.
We spent three months with them renovating their home. The big project was gutting the kitchen and starting from scratch. I think it turned out pretty well.
At the end of February we left Madison for Barolo, Italy where we stayed with friends who run a small bed and breakfast. The plan was to help them with some renovations and work on our Italian and their English. But after a couple weeks the coronavirus was exploding and we made it back to the US just as Europe was closing around us.
Chelsea and Sam welcomed us back and the four of us quarantined for 14 days. At the end of that quarantine Madison was pretty well shut down as well. Four people, one bathroom, Sam working from home: It was tight but we made it work. We actually had a lot of fun, but I’m sure it is not what any young couple would imagine after buying their first house!
In April Chelsea and Sam made possibly the best decision of the year, to foster a dog. After two days, that turned into a foster fail, and Andy became the newest addition to the family! He makes us laugh everyday and has helped us keep our sanity.
In early summer drove to Wooster, Ohio to visit family and help my parents with some medical issues. It was very good to spend time with them.
Finally in June, our wanderlust got the best of us and we carefully embarked on a road trip, the beginning of which could be called the “Stephenville Friends Tour.” We started in Nashville and stayed with Jonathan and Debra Hooper. Jonathan is my former colleague and Tarleton Director of Bands. We have travelled far and wide with the Hooper’s and it is always good to spend time with them.
From there we landed in Bella Vista, Arkansas and stayed with Jimmy and Kimber Smith. The Smith’s had let us stay in their pool house after we sold our house quicker than expected. We had a great time biking, hiking, boating, visiting and sharing great bottles of wine.
Next up we met Mike and Jennifer Murphy at their cottage near the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado. Mike was the hospital administrator in Stephenville when the kids were young. They were only in Stephenville a couple of years but our friendship has endured. We spent a week with them and then they graciously let us stay for another few weeks. It was the first time Betsy and I had been alone since we left our cottage back in September.
During our stay Chelsea and Sam, our son David, and his girlfriend Abby came and spent a week with us. David and Abby were living in New York City at the time and it was a nice change of pace for them. It is always good to have family together.
Not all of our bucket list destinations are in Europe, so our next move was to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Spectacular! I promise to write about them in a future article.
After visiting more friends in Bozeman, Montana, running into the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally near Mount Rushmore, and driving through the Badlands, we ended up back in Madison. We spent the rest of the year bouncing between Madison and Wooster.
One of the frustrating things about not having a house is not being able to offer David a place to stay. He decided to leave New York for a while. Not much going on there right now for an actor/musician. He is now working at the ski hill in Crested Butte, Colorado. He is getting to ski as much he wants and has also found a group of musicians to play with. He has even played a couple paying gigs. Not too many musicians can say that right now.
In the fall Betsy was interviewed on air by NPR’s Here and Now. A very kind person who heard the show reached out to us and offered us the use of her house on Orcas Island off the coast of Washington. And that’s where we now. We can see Vancouver and the mountains in Canada from the deck. We take daily hikes in the State Parks on the island. The home is very isolated and a good place to hole up as the pandemic continues to rage.
Maybe being a vagabond right now is not too bad. Like I said, we are blessed beyond measure. We are looking forward to getting to our cottage and traveling again.
Greg is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group tours to Europe. In his previous life he taught Woodwinds and Jazz at the university level for 30 years. As a professor he took his bands to England, Ireland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland and England.
Since “retiring” he and his wife/ETC co-founder Betsy travel Europe nine months out of the year. Together they have visited over 40 countries and counting! He loves cooking, hiking, listening and playing music, and wine and holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.