What pops into my mind first about traveling overseas is Marilyn’s guitar.
In my head, that’s what began it all for me. Marilyn, just back from Mexico, all those years ago. Marilyn singing in Spanish as she strummed away on her guitar. Marilyn, my close friend Judy’s eldest sister.
I am still close with Judy and I have seen Marilyn several times over the years.
At that time, however, we were kids and they lived just around the corner from me in a suburb in New Jersey only half an hour outside of teeming New York City.
The Influences Of Foreign Languages
Marilyn was the most romantic thing going for Judy and me, as I recall. The sound of Spanish tripping off her tongue so easily entranced me.
I too had spoken a foreign language for as long as I could remember, and my mom taught English to foreign students.
So taking these factors into consideration, I was primed and ready to go.
I wasn’t that discriminate at all, I just knew in my gut that there were all those roads with all those exotic people from places I ‘had’ to see.
That Ball Of Fire At Yosemite
We had relatives living in San Francisco and Los Angeles, so living on the East Coast meant that I traveled at a young age 3,000 miles to the West Coast.
It wasn’t a foreign country, but the distance was far and the experience was memorable.
Ah, Yosemite: I remember most the huge ball of fire that the fire rangers sent down the mountain every night, and the hoots and whoops as we tourists saw it glow and burn.
Hitchhiking in Nova Scotia
Next in my travels when I was still a teenager was Canada, which was my first official trip out of my native country.
I was 18 and I went with Sherry and Laura, two close school friends. We decided to hitchhike around Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
How did our parents allow it, I now wonder. It’s a different age now, however. I think things were a good deal less dangerous back then.
So, after we took a bus ride to Portland, Maine and a ferry across to Nova Scotia, we hitchhiked all around.
I remember some slightly dicey-looking man who picked us up, looking at us provocatively.
Then there was a priest, or was it a nun? Well, someone picked us all up, and took us to a local church to sleep for the evening.
As we lay there with the tall, stain-glassed windows in a cavernous room, I recall feeling protected.
Visions Of Anne Of Green Gables
Next on our travels was Prince Edward Island. I don’t recall why we chose to go there, but I have always been smitten by the storybook character Anne from the classic “Anne of Green Gables” that was set there. So maybe that influenced our choice?
The answer to that is lost in the mist of time. However, I do recall that we went to see her house.
Who cared that it never existed except on some dog-eared page in my copy of the novel: I soaked up the vivid green countryside, the expanses with what seemed like far fewer houses than the leafy streets of our suburb.
And I had touched something associated with Anne. Such possibilities became another reason that I loved to travel – to experience the actual space where people and events that I had learned about had taken place.
The Orange-Red Earth Of Prince Edward Island
What I remember most about Prince Edward Island was that when the tide went out, the damp earth that was revealed in a shade of deep orange-red.
It took my breath away, I had never witnessed anything like it before.
Lox And Salmon That Run For Real
I took some city ways with me on my travels.
Whether it was because I had never been in the countryside that much or simply plain ignorance, the bottom line was that I didn’t know that the ‘lox’ that I ate quite frequently in New Jersey and New York City was from salmon that were most likely from Canada.
This came up in our travels, and Sherry took me to see the ‘lox’. I blushed at my own stupidity, but eventually we laughed at it all and that was that.
Who cared, after all: The fish were such a gorgeous sight to see as they raced through the icy waters there on their home turf.An American Abroad On ‘The Continent’
Several years later, I traveled through Europe with my close friend Joan.
Sadly, everywhere we went there were security people looked in our bags for possible bombs.
Reality was starting to set in.
However, the romance of traveling around ‘the Continent’ then never left me: England, Holland, Italy, Spain some years later – I adored the architecture, the foreignness of the people, the sheer differentness of it all.
I was also influenced as well by my parents who traveled to so many places.
They brought back mementos from New Zealand, Turkey, Romania, and many other places. I salivated when I heard about their travels, and I vowed that I too would hear more foreign tongues and interact with other peoples and tread on the soil of their countries.
From West To East And Back Again
Now I have lived overseas for about 15 years, including in South Korea, Israel, and here in England.
In South Korea, I adored the Asian sensibility. That included the flying rooftops of the ancient temples and palaces; the attention to detail in cultural aspects from flower arranging to how one drinks a cup of tea; and the deep, enriching friendships that I made with a good number of families.
I tried to learn a bit of the language, both to read and speak. The ways that humans create different sounds and writing systems fascinates me, and it did so even as I struggled to speak the language.
While I lived there, I also had the chance to travel to Australia, where sights like the harbor at Sydney with a glorious three-masted ship of old coming over the horizon has left a permanent slot of ‘wow, how beautiful!’ in my head.
In Japan I soaked up its difference to South Korea and marveled again at its exotic qualities, at the fabulous timbers in its buildings, the balance of its gardens, the attention to detail that I saw even in a place like a local graveyard in the middle of Tokyo.
In Israel I had the opportunity to use Hebrew which is the language that I have known and loved from very early childhood. I have been there twice in my life, and both times the blazing sun and the phenomenal blue of the waters combined with the marvelous high energy and intimate warmth of the people has stood out the most for me.
More locally here in Europe, I have been smitten several times by the glory of France. That language that oozes romance, its incredible culture and oh, its phenomenal food…
The Never-Ending Lure Of India
Then this past spring, my husband David and I spent seven weeks exploring parts of India.
India: It always occupied a hallowed space in my psyche as a place with stunning people with flashing eyes and an atmosphere with the colors of the rainbow.This time reality matched up to my imagination, and way beyond.
However, of course I also learned first hand during our travels about the country’s crippling poverty.
Similarly, I have absorbed that living day to day in a country is a far different kettle of fish than traveling there as a tourist.
Being fortunate enough to travel and live a fair bit in a number of places has been wonderful. It has also had its problems, naturally. If it hadn’t, it wouldn’t be real life.
I have also discovered places close to home that are beautiful.
Here in England, I love the beauty of the green countryside: the sheep, the cows, the horses, the deer; the hovering kites in the skies overhead; the local magpies and blackbirds; the colorful male pheasants in the hedgerows.
The pheasants always remind me of WWI pilots with their red caps on – or rather, the kind that the cartoonist Charles Schultz popularized through his beagle Snoopy whenever he sketched that crazy dog piloting one of those old aircraft.
All of this travel, be it far or near, has widened my world.
For this everlasting romance of the everyday and the exotic, I am as aware as I can be.
Though I fail at times in that no doubt, still I am eternally grateful for those moments – namely, for all those times when the little and the big have been revealed to me through travel.
This article is part of the Lonely Planet Blogsherpa travel carnival. Click the link to read more about the excitement and adventure of first-time travel.