Monday, September 6, 2010

When people ask me why I am traveling right now, I tell them that this trip is a gift to myself. One could argue that I don’t have enough money, that this trip was not in my budget, or that I should be more productive with my time and energy. I argue that there is no experience apart from traveling the world that gives me so much happiness. If this isn’t enough reason to have left home again, then someone had better correct me with a reason to stay in one place. This trip is a gift because I know that it isn’t entirely necessary, but that my feet would feel more comfortable on different soil. It started with a plan to visit the United Kingdom for a week, and then it expanded to a month-long excursion in four countries. When I had the UK planned, I couldn’t just stop there since I was already going to be across the Atlantic. I decided to add Spain, Morocco and Tunisia to my itinerary. A week before I was scheduled to depart, my travel companion found out she could not accompany me. With everything originally booked in doubles, it had turned out to be a solo expedition. It is always fun to travel with a friend, but traveling by yourself gives you an excellent sense of how much you can handle on your own—a test of strength, will, courage and patience.

But the one thing I really dislike about traveling by myself is going to the bathroom when I have all of my luggage. It is so much nicer when one person can sit with the bags while the other goes to the restroom, and then switch. Traveling with a carry on backpack I have to angle my body around the door, scooting inch by inch closer to the toilet, leaning over the toilet without touching my legs to the seat in order to get myself and my backpack in the stall. The useful hooks that used to be inside bathroom stalls have all been removed and this leaves me with the choice of either 1.) putting all my bags on the floor or 2.) precariously squatting and hovering with a backpack and my messenger bag. The first option ends up with who knows what on the bottom of my bag and the latter ends up with me getting a thigh workout and hoping my balance is pretty good that day. I usually opt for the second option which makes me feel like an accomplished traveler who has all kinds of tricks up her sleeve. I high kick the flusher with the bottom of my shoe, and reverse angle myself back around the door to exit. What people see emerging first from the stall is a backpack followed by a girl who looks as though she is a slave to the backpack.

I visited the UK often as a child, but this was the first time that I had gone on my own accord. And apart from the UK and Ireland, I had never traveled in Western Europe. I focused much of my travel on lesser known destinations, specifically choosing countries that were still developing and changing quickly. In my opinion, I knew Western Europe would be there in a decade; it would be probably much the same with updated technology and the same throngs of tourists from all over the world, walking around with money belts under their shirts and camera lenses pointed at the spires and towers of some famous cathedral or castle. I have always thought of taking wine tours in France and gondola rides in Italy, but I never wanted to see Europe on a “shoestring.” I wanted to do it right. Basically, I needed enough money to afford it. This time I had enough money to fit in two European countries, but that was the limit. Sorry, no October Fest this year (but every Aussie I have met is headed there).

Going to the UK always feels like going home for me. I can easily feel my mother there, and the life that she came from. I can remember the numerous trips to see my Gran when she lived out in little villages here and there. Her streets always had cute names, and there were baby bunnies hopping around her yard, nibbling grass—stuff from a child’s dream. For Easter she would hide giant Cadbury eggs, big enough for a stuffed animal to be placed inside and make us Queen’s Pudding in a crystal bowl. I also remember the time my sister and I were taking a stroll on the path across from her house, looking for the bunnies, but all we ever came across was a man relieving himself into the nearby brush. Most of it was out of a fairytale. Now, as an adult, things aren’t quite as picturesque as through a child’s eyes, but I still greatly appreciate the rolling green fields separated by mossy stone walls, overflowing hanging baskets of flowers, and tiny corner bakeries selling pastries with funny names like Flapjack and Eccelscake. My mother’s childhood town of Brewood (pronounced Brewd) was a quaint as any village I have seen. Cobblestone streets took you past the barbershop to the Jubilee Hall where my Gran used to star in local theatrical productions. Down the hill, behind the mossy church and gravestones was the local pub. Brewood Convent School for Girls was now masquerading as St. Dominic’s, but strong faith or strong architecture had kept it standing even through the difficult students like my mum, who was twice threatened with expulsion. In order to get to school everyday, my mum would ride her bike through the country lanes up to the village. Life back then seemed so carefree and relaxed compared to a child’s life today. The parents never had to fear for their children’s safety, and this allowed my mum and her brothers to bike miles away to see friends or have a swim in the lake. I suppose that my childhood memories of England compare to my mum’s upbringing—the same freedom in small town, rural England.

Google Earth image of Brewood

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