Twenty years ago tonight, I was winging my way on an Aer Lingus jet to Dublin for my first ever trip out of the country. With that trip came a new passion for exploring the world, learning more about myself and broadening my world view. And there doesn't seem to be an end in sight to this little obsession of mine.
I traveled with a girlfriend from college and two pen pals I'd met through a U2 fanzine. We met in Dublin for the last two shows of U2's European tour on their home turf. The shows were, of course, amazing. I survived general admission crowds in a European football stadium. That's nothing to sniff at. But I laugh now when I think of that first trip to Dublin. We were only gone for 7 days, but I packed enough clothes, indeed, a complete clean, new outfit, for every day, and then some. My suitcase was massive. I'd not even take it now on a 2 week trip. We were silly naïve ignorant tourists, who didn't know that just because your room wasn't ready at your hotel when you arrived off a red eye flight, that you didn't have to sit in the lobby and wait. You can, and should, go out and see the sights until your room is ready. But we didn't. We sat, with all the other newly arrived U2 fans, and waited. And wasted our first morning in Dublin. Nearly 10 more trips to Ireland would follow, with three of those being on successive U2 tours. And so it began...
Twenty-seven foreign trips, seventeen countries on four continents and three passports later, I'm still completely infected with the travel bug. I'd like to think I've become a more savvy traveler: someone who packs more efficiently and can squeeze every last usable minute out of a day. Someone who knows enough to try the local food and not be too afraid to admit that I like it (Haggis? LOVE IT!) I still get jumpy at in-flight turbulence and will always hold my breath until my luggage drops down on to the carousel at my destination. I'm still disappointed that I can't bring my three bottles of frozen spring water from home on the plane after 9/11, but I've adjusted. Somehow. But as my confidence as a world traveler has grown, so too have my experiences.
So what exactly has all this travel gotten me? Let me count the ways, as they say.....I learned quickly the overwhelming surge of joy at a long-overdue "hello" and the utter sadness and regret of an airport good-bye. I've seen wild horses running on a Dublin strand, poppies in bloom in the Tuscan countryside, and 21 lions staring back at me from under a shade tree in Africa. I've learned there is nothing more melodic than a Irish accent and nothing more heart-melting than Irish eyes. And there is nothing smoother than a fresh Bailey's over two ice cubes served up in Ireland.
I've been extremely fortunate to have seen the best art in the world: rooms full of Rembrandts in St. Petersburg, Amsterdam and New York, Michelangelos in Florence, Picasso's Guernica, American Gothic, Whistler's Mother, Mona Lisa, hundreds upon hundreds of Monets in one weekend in Paris, Caravaggios in situ in Rome, a Degas to die for in Moscow, glorious Vermeers in Holland, London, Berlin, and nature's own display of art and beauty: tulip season in Amsterdam.
I've held a panda (twice!), fed a giraffe and petted a rhino. I watched Lipizaner stallions rehearse in Vienna and have seen the Changing of the Guard in London twice. Two elderly men generously made me their date for a rare stage performance by Liam Neeson, and we were front row! I've seen Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Nicole Kidman and Brian Dennehy in Broadway shows. I've seen U2 in 3 countries and five states.
I've tasted Haggis, Borscht, Jenever with gold dust, Serrano ham, Lechón, Cocido, Frikadel, Profertjes, Caviar, Pici, Sacher Torte, Croque Madame, Bangers and Mash, Berliners, Peking Duck and hot pot in their home countries and I loved them all. I've eaten on the porch of a local Tuscan family, imbibing in the fresh pasta, crushed tomato, house wine and homemade lemon gelato all sourced right on their property. There are days I'd kill for a good Irish fry or even just a Crunchie. I adopted Dutch coffee with sweetened, condensed milk as my caffeine of choice. It's been my duty, no, obligation, to sample as many gelato flavors as I can in Italy; I think the trip record is 30-something...
My feet have taken me up Paris' Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame towers, Florence's campanile, Rome's Vatican Dome, Edinburgh's Scott Monument and China's Great Wall and I've plunged down a road on a bike at 30 miles an hour in the hills of Pisa. I've walked in Red Square, Trafalgar Square, Times Square, Dam Square, Grafton Street, Plaza Mayor, Kufurstendam. I've run up Edinburgh's Royal Mile while chasing the sound of bagpipes.
I've seen nature's miracles...wildebeest births in the Serengeti, amazing sunrises, sunsets and thunderstorms coloring up Tanzania's sky, the awe-inspiring burial ground Newgrange, Pike's Peak, Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, Giant's Causeway. I've seen man-made miracles...the Rosetta Stone, Xi'an's Terracotta Warriors, the Endeavor Space Shuttle, the Great Wall. I have also seen how man can go terribly wrong at the Anne Frank House, Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and the US National Holocaust Museum.
Lucky I was to share trips to England, France and Italy with my Mom. It was the sweetest pleasure to share with her Paris, the chateaux of the Loire, Mont St. Michel, London, Sorrento, Amalfi Coast, Florence and Rome. Her knack for attracting stray dogs (Pompeii) and partying young Spanish men(Florence) can't be underestimated. I then got to break my sister in in Europe with fabulous trips to the Netherlands and Cologne and Paris and Vienna before taking on our own United States of America in sisterly fashion.
I caught a vile intestinal parasite in Spain that took two weeks of antibiotics to cure and got scammed of $200 cash just to get on my plane home from Tanzania. I've had a head cold from hell in Spain, a fever of 102 in Ireland (first trip, it was a doozie) and fought my way through China with a herniated disc in my neck that I didn't know I had. I've had my credit card rejected in a leather shop in Florence, which, well, may not have been such a bad thing. So see, not all the trips were flawless but I've enjoyed the heck out of all of them.
What you read is more than just a laundry list, at least to me. These are slide shows of memories and smiles and tears and joy and fears that I can and do play back in my head all the time. I've been questioned more than a little about my travel habits and why I do what I do. I say it often, but I truly work to feed this travel monster of mine, but completely without regret. If this blog is even the slightest hint of what the next twenty years of travel holds for me, I'll consider myself incredibly blessed indeed. Looking back to that flight 20 years ago tonight and how much I've grown and changed with every trip, I'm reminded that "a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step."