Celebrating Charley (Kathy’s Reflections)
It’s a time of transition for European Experiences. Charley and I led our first tours in the Luberon in September 2006, and now, as we approach the end of 2019, Charley is preparing to retire. He’ll co-lead our Christmas trip this December and our two Cornwall Experience trips in 2020— and of course will continue to help behind the scenes, but after 14 seasons and hosting 119 European Experiences groups (so far), he wants to spend more time at home and has other projects he wants to focus on.
I’m grateful Charley has joined me enthusiastically in creating and growing our little company, and I’m happy he’ll now have the time to pursue his own dreams. We’ll continue to travel together for pleasure, in the USA and Europe, including spending time at our second home in the village of Bonnieux in Provence.
I’m 10 years younger, I love what I’m doing, and I’m not ready to retire. So I’m continuing to carry on with European Experiences, working with a team of new co-leaders, each of whom brings something special to our groups. (Learn more about our team here.) I’ll miss having my husband by my side, but it’s been wonderful to work together 24/7 for so many years and to share our own incredible European experiences.
I think Charley and I have been a great team these years. We’ve developed an easy way of working together and balancing each other, sharing the various tasks associated with hosting a small group of travelers in another country for a week or more. Of course there were the practical day-to-day activities including driving a van, ordering wine, fueling and washing vans, and making sure we had plenty of water for the group. But far more importantly, Charley brought a caring sense of humor to our groups that has always been very special. I’m known for being organized and task-oriented… very essential in our small group tours… but Charley brought a comforting soul. We would joke about Charley having a cafe in every village, but that really represents many of his most special qualities. He relates easily to our travelers and encourages them to relax and enjoy the moment. His playful side (and his stories!) have always made our group fun. He offers a helping hand to others. He connects genuinely with local people. He has a kind word, a soft touch, a true caring for others.
We’ve wrapped up 12 of our 13 trips in 2019, with just our European Christmas Experience trip to look forward to in December. We’ve had Charley’s last tours in Chianti, the Périgord, Alsace, the Cotswolds, and finally— in September— his last tours in our beloved Luberon. We appreciate all our travelers who joined us during Charley’s last year. They’ve shared in a year of “Charley celebrations,” as we had special gatherings in Chianti, the Cotswolds, and the Luberon to thank our local friends and partners for their support and give them an opportunity to recognize Charley.
In Chianti we hosted a three-hour Sunday lunch for 14 close local friends who support our Chianti Experience week. We loved this leisurely afternoon with friends at our favorite restaurant, Ristoro di Lamole, high in the Chianti hills.
In the Cotswolds, during our special Return to the Cotswolds group, we invited 14 local friends to join our group at another favorite—The Fleece Inn in Bretforton— for a fun evening that included Morris dancers.
Our last Luberon group– which ended just nine days ago– was a special “Luberon Celebration” week. This group was a real contrast to our first group back in 2006, when we hosted just three people for a week in Provence. For Charley’s last Luberon tour, we welcomed 21 good friends (most of whom we’ve met through European Experiences) to Bonnieux for a special week of new experiences. One highlight was a big “apero” party at Le Clos du Buis on Thursday evening. Our group was joined by over 50 of our local friends for a retirement celebration for Charley. There was music, delicious food from a food truck, local wine from Chateau la Canorgue and the Cave de Bonnieux, and a few speeches in French and English. (We were especially honored that the mayor of Bonnieux was one of the speakers, recognizing our work with the elementary school and our impact on the village.) Surrounded by friends from France, the USA, Canada and Australia, it was an evening we’ll always remember.
Traveling slowly in beautiful places, forming friendships, pursuing unique experiences, enjoying great food and wine… all this is what we’ve most enjoyed in our European travels over our 27 years of marriage and what we’ve hoped to share with others through our European Experiences trips. It’s been an honor for me to celebrate my wonderful Charley this year and to thank him for the happiness and memories he’s given me and so many others.
And now we’ll hear from Charley…
The Thing Ended (Charley’s Reflections)
Celebrating retirement in general is an appealing thought but retiring from European Experiences also carries a sad note, a bitter-sweet connotation.
I find myself asking questions I’ve barely had time to consider before, at least in a deliberate and thoughtful way. This thing I’ve done, this time in my life, this accomplishment or that goal achieved… now I can stop and reflect. Was it worth it? Could I have done it better? Did I make a positive difference for those I encountered along the way? What important life lessons did I learn? What dumb mistakes did I make? It’s very likely that I’ve procrastinated answering these questions before because of the daunting nature of such personal reflection and examination.
But think about it I must and answer if I can. The answers to such questions haven’t come easily or quickly, but I find that going through the process is of considerable value and gain additional worth when the end of one thing is the beginning of another. For me at this point of life, the end of one thing is hopefully the beginning of another, and asking the right questions and finding the best answers is important to both the thing ended and the new thing begun… perhaps even more important to the latter.
By “the thing ended,” I refer of course to my active role with European Experiences. Kathy’s carrying on and will take the company in new and exciting directions. But after 14 seasons of traveling to Europe’s most beautiful places and meeting hundreds and hundreds of interesting travelers from around the world, it’s now time for me to call it a day and begin this process of deciding what it’s been all about and what it means to me as I go on from here.
The best and only place to begin is with my partner in this wonderful adventure. Kathy conceived of the idea of starting a travel business after our experiences of a sabbatical abroad and has poured her heart, soul and incredible energies into making what National Geographic Traveler called one of the 50 best tours in the world in 2012.
I’ve tried to match her enthusiasm and energy—not always successfully—and hope that I’ve been a good supporting cast to the real star. Has it been worth it? The answer is a resounding yes. We now have friends scattered around the world, we’ve seen places and done things we could only have dreamed of before, and had so many of those unexpected, serendipitous moments that are the icing on the cake of life.
And to ask, “could I have done it better” brings a bit of sober evaluation to the process. The answer to that is, of course, yes. I could have done it better and given another chance, I’d try much harder to do it better. That’s why this kind of reflection can be valuable. Knowing—admitting—that I could have done something better is the first step to doing things better as I look toward my future plans.
Whether I have made a difference to anyone I’ve met along the way, I hope so. I like this quote by a young Belgian writer, Lauren Klarfeld: “People are guests in our life story and we are guests in theirs.” I just hope I’ve been a good guest in the hundreds of stories I’ve appeared in.
And when I ask myself what dumb mistakes I’ve made, I have to pull up short and remind myself that this is supposed to be a short article not a book-length piece. So I’ll reserve that bit of self-examination for later and move on to what important lessons I learned. I could repeat over and over the joy of working with Kathy and all the things I’ve learned from her. She’s made me a better person than I could ever have been on my own.
But insofar as trying to offer up a useful idea from experience, there are many, but one stands out above the rest. The great takeaway from travel is not the places you go or the things you do, it is the people you meet. No matter what piece of geography you call home, what slice of society you fall into, what economic and educational level you occupy, we all share the same concerns. We worry about health, safety, family and friends, home and jobs. We aspire to do and be better and improve our lot in life. We are all fellow passengers on this big spinning globe and realize that the strangers on the other side are remarkably just like us.
So, as I prepare for my life after European Experiences, I must say that 14 years of hosting groups in beautiful places and meeting so many other travelers has been a wonderful experience. It’s definitely made me something of an optimist and believer in people, a great asset to carry with me as I look forward to the future.
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You might enjoy these related blog posts:
My New Definition of Retirement – a post by Charley (April 2013)
Happiness (Bonheur) in Bonnieux – a post by Kathy (February 2013)
Living the Life I Imagined – a post by Kathy (November 2010)
Kathy and Charley Wood founded European Experiences in 2006, offering week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe. Their trips include The Luberon Experience in Provence, France, named one of the top 50 tours in the world by National Geographic Traveler magazine.
Kathy has now personally hosted over 130 Experience groups. She hosts Experience weeks in the Luberon, the Chianti region of Tuscany, Puglia, Alsace, the Dordogne, and the Cotswolds. Charley is now mostly retired but continues to co-host two longer tours with Kathy: The European Christmas Experience (12 days) and The Cornwall Experience in southwest England (10 days).
Kathy has been traveling in Europe for 30+ years and loves sharing her special places in Europe with other travelers. The Woods have a second home in their beloved village of Bonnieux in the Luberon. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.