Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Globetrotting and physical links

My parents have only recently acquired passports, and having grandkids living overseas was a big factor for them. They've never had any real yearn to visit foreign places.

For as long as I can remember, I've had a list - a mile long - of places to see. Some of which are the standard destinations most people dream about, and others a little more exotic.

During my university years, I never doubted that I would head overseas as soon as possible, and a year after graduating, I had enough airfare saved up for a trip to the UK. It wasn't my original destination that I'd begun saving for, but J was keen to try and gain more experience in his chosen field. The UK had the best opportunities for him, so with working holiday visas under our belt, we said our goodbyes to Sydney on a wintery day - and a day later - stepped into a summer heat wave in London.

We had no idea how long we'd stay for. Maybe six months. Maybe a couple of years.

It ended up being nearly five years. In that time, J had managed to get work visa sponsorship, and we got hitched on a wet spring day in London. I worked - briefly - in catering at London Zoo, followed by a lengthy stint in a pub, before doing a little more study and finally moving into English language teaching.

In those five years, I managed to also visit more than twenty countries. Some were amazing, some were not so impressive. Many of these places I visited together with J, but quite a few I travelled around, solo. None were particularly exotic, but I always made sure to get off the beaten track when I could.

Package tours have never appealed to me, so the only time I ever used a travel agent was to purchase my very first flight to London. The rest of my travels were pretty much based on word of mouth and the contents from my beloved Lonely Planets and Rough Guides. While I haven't exactly been trekking through the Himalayas, I never needed anyone to hold my hand either.

I love travel. I love - literally - losing myself in another place. One of my fondest memories is of arriving in Venice, without a map, and deciding to wander around for a few hours before buying one. Hearing old church bells chime as I crossed small bridges, peeked around old cracked corners, gazed down dark green canals and inhaled the smells in the air. Not having a clue where I was. Hearing the hustle and bustle fade within just a few streets off the main tourist drags, and encountering nothing but the sound of trickling water from a fountain in a small, deserted piazza. Did I mention that I love Italy?

I may only have thirty-six hours in San Francisco coming up, but I cannot wait. I want to lose myself again.

For a long time, I wondered where I got my love of travel from. It certainly wasn't anything from my childhood. Then on a visit back to Australia, after I'd been overseas for three or four years, I learned that my grandmother had travelled extensively when she was younger.

I never knew her. Sadly, she died of breast cancer, many years before I was born, and I've only ever seen a handful of black and white photos of her. To learn that she had a love of travel was a wonderful thing to hear.

She worked her way as a nurse around the world, back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when single women rarely travelled. Australia, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka... winding up in England for a while. I now have her stamped, card membership for Hostelling International in the UK - so different from my own plastic card membership.

This yellowing piece of card is precious to me. It's the physical link to a woman I never knew.

I wonder what conversations she and I would have, if she were still alive today. What stories would we exchange and share?

I wonder just how much of her is in me.

Grand Canal, Venice - 2000


  1. Well a lot of her is in you, it seems! You really did the best thing, travelling so extensively while you were young. I know I will be encouraging mine to do the same. It is probably the best experience a person can get and a real education in so many ways.

    It's such an Australian thing too isn't it ... the urge to travel. Life is always happening somewhere else. I haven't travelled as you have but remember when I was younger looking at the road going over the hill out of our town and thinking "Some day, I'll go over that hill and I'm not coming back".

    Only managed one overseas trip but am now living at the other end of the country to where I grew up so I suppose that is an escape too of a sort.

  2. BTW I still have escape fantasies but I now recognise them as such.

    We live under the flight path for Melbourne airport. It is a daily reminder of all the fun I could be having elsewhere as opposed to fun had here, scraping muesli bar remnants off the futon.

  3. Aussies are everywhere and hard to avoid at times!

    Plenty of time ahead for you to do more travel - and you will, I'm sure.

    As for living under a flight path, I hear ya. That was us in Sydney. It's amazing just how used to it one can get. Moving here, one of the first things we noticed was the morning silence - no more roars, rattles or rumbles from overhead jumbos at 6am... bliss!

  4. Oh, I love that physical link. That stuff is THE stuff, ya know? Treasure it forever. Your girls will enjoy that story some day, too.

    I envy you all that travelling. And you totally sold Italy. Travel brochure copywriter - DO IT!

  5. Some days, I have to remind myself how lucky I am, and to be grateful.

    Of all the dreams people have - the BIG dreams - I've lived mine with travel. I'll never get to see all the places I want to (too many!) but I can't complain with what I've seen so far!