Expectations…. where do they come from, and how do they affect our emotions? I have been looking forward to this ‘gap year’ since I first started to think about travelling in my late teens, but my life turned down another path and so, to be here on my ‘seniors gap year’, 30 years on, my expectations are high, perhaps too high. For the first 3 months we travelled in organised small group tours and once we had decided which trips to go on the rest was easy, no decisions to make, we just followed the crowd. Now as we move from our initial base in Costa Blanca, there are decisions to be made about where to go next and what we want to do when we get there. However, in the week we spend in Roses (pronounced Rusas) near the French border and Adge (like edge but with an a) I struggle with trying to make the ‘right decisions’ and this challenges what I’m expecting from the next part of my trip. As you are all aware, a lot of the time reality can be quite different from what we expect. In Roses I’d expected sunshine and blue sky, but instead we got rain, strong winds and mainly dull, even cold (11 degrees) days. I’d spent hours pondering over the lonely planet guide book, planning a boat trip from Roses to Cadaqués, a cycle along the canal du Midi in Adge and canoeing on the Gorges du Tarn. Great, that’s a plan, I’ve made a decision! I’ve always struggled making decisions, possibly because I want to make the most of every moment and don’t want to miss out on anything. However, things don’t always go to plan. Our boat trip in Roses gets cancelled because of the weather and a visit to the Gorges du Tarn is out of the question after one of the wettest Easter weekends in decades.
I have theory, a formula that seems to influence my happiness, and perhaps others too. The formula is: happiness equals experience divided by expectation. So, if I score my expectation and experience of a certain event out of 10, there’s an overall score for happiness ranging from 0-10. Let’s say my expectation of visiting Roses was 8, but my experience was 2 (cold, wet, windy and I couldn’t do anything I’d planned to do), then using the formula my happiness score is ¼ or 0.25. However, on our last day in Roses which was cold and windy, John planned a bike ride, something which wasn’t on the itinerary. My expectations were low (1) and it took a lot of coaxing to get me out of the van, but it was surprisingly enjoyable. We cycled through a nature reserve which was sheltered from the wind and watching the house martins dip and dive in front of the bikes was a real treat. I’d give the experience a 6, so my overall happiness score for the bike ride was a 6.
And so, as the week goes on and we settle into our next campsite in Adge, I try and work out how I can get the best out of my gap year. We plan another boat trip but it’s cancelled again, this time because of the strong mistral winds. We console ourselves and go out for our first proper French meal. The menu is in French of course, and the waiters speak very little English, so I keep safe and order salmon and crème caramel. John’s been practising his French and fancies some veal (expectation 9). However, when his plate arrives there is a roll of fat with something pinkish in the middle. He nudges it around his plate and disappointment was written on his face – he couldn’t eat it. It wasn’t until we translated the menu on the way out that we noticed the dish he’d ordered was Tête de Veau, a local French delicacy consisting of calf’s brain…. happiness score 0. The next day we cycle to the Cape d’Adge aquarium and spend an afternoon gazing at the tropical fish. I’d forgotten how much I love aquariums. The tropical fish gawp back, full of colour and character and I easily slip into a scene from Finding Nemo, vowing to watch the sequel, Finding Dory soon. The visit to the aquarium gets a 7 on the happiness scale, it was an unexpected enjoyable afternoon.
After the second day of strong wind (still no boats running), we make a snap decision and take the train to Montpelier. Feeling rather grumpy on this day that felt more like a cold blustery Autumn, rather than a Spring day, and not expecting much, we walked into the open square of Place de la Comédie, dominated by the opera house and was blown away by the cities 17th century architecture. We pick up a great map of the city from the tourist information centre and work out our own walking route around the cities old quarter. We walk along the plane-tree lined narrow streets past many grand hótels particuliers (private mansions in their day, but now many are hotels or museums), the neoclassical courthouse, the Cathédrale Saint- Pierre and La Faculté de Médecine, which in its day (late 12th century) was one of the first operating medical schools in the western world. Montpelier even has an Arc de Triomphe, a copy of the gates from Paris erected in honour of Louis XIV, an Aqueduct (Saint-Clément) and many parcs, green spaces and a fabulous esplanade. And let’s not forget the artsy shops and workshops; puppet makers, old book repairers, carpet weavers and potters, and amazing cafes and restaurants. At the end of our tour of the old quarter we find a Moroccan tea house, unremarkable from the outside, but with an incredible tea menu (I’m in heaven) and delicious crepes …. I give our day out in Montpellier an 8!
The old town in Montpellier
So, I’m still trying to work out how to manage my expectations on this trip and I’m confused as to which way to go. Should I expect nothing and sometimes be surprised…. “Blessed is he who expects nothing, as he shall never be disappointed” (Alexander Pope) or expect everything and often be disappointed. Perhaps there’s a middle ground and that is to accept that all experiences good, bad, happy and sad have value and are to be treasured. And as a wise old sage keeps reminding me…. “We have a choice whether to be happy or not (most of the time) in whatever we are doing. By choosing to be happy we will have more positive experiences, no matter what our expectations are” (John Renfrew).