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Where are we now?

We are on the last few days of our journey round mainland Europe, on our quest to visit every country in the European Union.

Only Luxembourg and Ireland to go and we will have done the full set. We will visit Luxembourg on our way to the Rotterdam ferry and, after a few days at home catching up with our family, we will head to Ireland, exploring a bit of south-west England and Wales on the way.

Tonight we will sleep in Berlin, and tomorrow I will celebrate my birthday by sipping coffee in the café David Bowie used most days during his stay there.

We will visit the remains of the wall that divided East from West and tore families – and Europe – apart.

I, I remember
Standing by the wall
The guns shot above our heads
And we kissed as though nothing could fall
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them for ever and ever
Then we can be Heroes just for one day

And we will drink the (half) bottle of Louis Roederer champagne we bought in a Swedish off-licence, run by the state monopoly Systembolaget.

Puzzled aside: I still cannot understand why sophisticated societies such as Sweden and Finland mistrust their citizens so much that their governments strictly control the sale of alcohol. Or why their citizens accept such paternalistic prohibition.

I can hardly believe it is a year since we started on this journey, by visiting my grandfather’s birthplace in County Down.

It seems only weeks ago that we boarded the ferry at Hull to head to Bruges, excited, but a little daunted, at the prospect of criss-crossing the Europe Union.

We have learned so much that our heads sometimes hurt with all the information: the memorable dates; the stories of empires and terrible wars; and above all, the resilience of ordinary people to cope with whatever life (and ruling elites) throw at them.

We, unexpectedly, made friends, and experienced some amazing natural beauty.

Our favourite country remains Greece, but we have a soft spot for the South of France, Finland, Slovenia, the north of Spain, Poland…the list grows every time we discuss it.

And we are even more sad, and confused, than we were at the start of this journey that Britain is leaving the European Union.

But more of that later. We have a few months to write up our journey properly, while planning what to do next…but first we have to get the train from Potsdammer Platz.

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