It had been about 20 years since I last talked to her. She sounded the same, but I had forgotten her particular diction, prefacing each question with an insistent “Celia!” as if she was interrupting me talking to someone else at a cocktail party, even if it was solely she and I on the phone.
I’d just visited Nancy’s sister in Brussels a couple of weeks ago, and she was planning to visit Brussels for the first time later this summer. So she called me to compare notes. What airlines, what city to fly into, etc. Nancy had never traveled abrd, so her concerns were understandable. It reminded me of what it would feel like to be in the shoes of a newbie traveler; I’ve traveled so much that I’m quite jaded, and take much about it for granted.
But the more we talked, the more I realized this wasn’t so much a research call, as a quest for reassurance. Her husband had done his research, but she didn’t quite seem to trust his homework.
I smiled wryly when the lightbulb flickered on. I’ve done the same thing to Joe. “You don’t believe when I tell you something, but when someone offers you the same advice, you simply accept it unquestioningly!” Touché. It felt a bit awkward. Not only was I probably going to be the subject of Nancy’s husband’s “See I told you so,” indignation, but when the dispute stemmed from someone doing travel research and planning, I felt more guilty, even as an disinterested bystander.
“Oh, Nancy actually doesn’t want to go,” said Nancy’s cousin who had provided my phone number to Nancy. “She’s scared and intimidated by traveling.”
Again, to be in the shoes of someone who . . . doesn’t want to travel. I can’t quite understand it, but I acknowledge that it takes all sorts to make up the diversity of the human race, and that would include people have the resources, but not the desire to travel.
I’ve been kind of worried that I’m losing my ability to feel joy and wonder while traveling. On this most recent trip (which included the visit to Nancy’s sister to Brussels), I felt like it took me way too long regain my travel ‘sea-legs’. I kept getting lost, which was shock to my innate ability to navigate by instinct or by map or landmarks. I didn’t take enough photos. I was stressed out and impatient. I had slackened off on trip planning arrangements, which meant I paid a bit more than I needed to for train tickets, and subjected poor Joe and Biker to the unnecessary burden of biking 80 km on 3-speed bicycles, instead of 7 speed ones; and rushed to White Hart Lane straight from the airport, only to find out that match had been moved to the next day.
But it was OK, by the end I’d mostly come around. I ate jellied eels, and swam in the Serpentine, where I lasted ten strokes before fizzing out like a melting cube of champagne (It was about 30 degrees F outdoors. At least it was five strokes longer than I lasted in Crater Lake.) We Velibed along the Seine. I didn’t get to put my name down as ‘Albert Heijn’ when wait-listing for a restaurant table in Amsterdam, but at least I remembered to take a photo of the chocolate- and rainbow-colored sprinkles which I discovered that the Dutch sprinkle on toast as part of their nutritionally complete breakfast (After all cold cuts, cheese and bread can only get you so far)!
The small ‘aha’ moment of the sprinkles was as exciting to me as the first whiff of skunk was to Biker’s 9-year-old son three weeks later, as we were driving along the Central California coast. “Let’s roll down the windows, I want to smell more skunk!” (They don’t have skunks in Thailand, where they live.)
It’s wonderful to see kids amazed by the first time they smell skunk and relive that moment from your childhood; it’s an incredible relief that as an adult I haven’t completely lost that capacity for being amazed by the little things you only learn about when you travel. If Nancy goes, I hope she finds out that you are never too old to discover the joy of travel.