Thursday, February 21, 2008

dead presidents and giant jackalopes.

Once again I have a million different posts swirling around in my head. I never know which one to tackle first.

I’ve been meaning to re-visit my best places on the planet list, but there’s this whole ramble about travelling I feel the need to cover first. I guess I’ll touch on it now.

The short version of the ramble is this: travel experiences are completely subjective, and as such, it doesn’t matter a rat’s ass what I think about any particular place, because I hope that it would have no effect whatsoever on what you think of that particular place.

The long version of the ramble is every self-indulgent little detail here that follows.

Let me warn you.

This is a long post.

Mostly I wrote it for me. I’m working on my memoirs and need to start writing stuff down before it’s gone for good. This post and the various lists in it are as much for my benefit as they are for yours. One of my other hobbies is genealogy. I wish my ancestors had written down their lives in more detail. Maybe someone will feel the same way about my life one day.


If you’ve only got a minute, read something shorter I’ve posted like this. Or this. If you’re at work and you don’t want to do your job then grab a cup of tea and get comfortable. I’m long-winded. But if you’ve read my blog before, you already know that.

As I’ve mentioned many times already, I used to live and work on a cruise ship. I did it for approximately two years. It consisted of three 6-7 month contracts. I was lucky enough to work in the Purser’s Department, which allowed me the privilege of a reasonable amount of shore time and plenty of free shore excursions. I went many places and saw many things in the following parts of the globe:

1. Eastern Canada
2. Eastern United States
3. The Caribbean
4. Northern parts of South America
5. Multiple transits of the Panama Canal
6. The west side of Central America and Mexico
7. Multiple ports throughout the Mediterranean
8. Multiple ports throughout the Baltic, including St. Petersburg
9. The Norwegian Fjords, including a stop at the North Cape
10. The British Isles, and;
11. Three transits of the Atlantic Ocean, twice in the north and once in the south.

I have opinions about all of it.

But under no circumstances do I think you should take my word on any of it.

In addition to working on a cruise ship for two years, I have also made the following trips:

1. Toronto to Vancouver via the Northern United States in the backseat of a 70’s Mercury Cougar with my mom, dad and brother. I have a terrible memory. That might not be the right car for the right trip, but I’m sticking with it.

Okay. I’ll stop there. I’ve forgotten the details about most of these trips, so I’ll continue in far less detail. I’ll never get through this if I don’t. I can’t even remember how we got home on the above Toronto to Vancouver trip. I assume my parents didn't just leave me in Vancouver, but I was only five or six so I don’t remember if we drove home via Canada or the US. I think it was Canada. Some of these trips jumble together in my head and only the highlights stick out in my memory.

Moving on.

As a child, my parents took my brother and I on various other trips across Canada and through parts of the United States. We did at least two trips that I can remember to Washington DC in the early 80’s. I think the purpose of the trips each time had something to do with a soccer tournament. I remember these two trips in particular because of two different photos of me, each at different ends of the National Mall. In both photos I wear the angriest scowl you’ve ever seen on a young child:

Click on the picture to get the full effect of my anger.

And here's the second photo, a year or two later:

I especially love the folded arms and the sizeable distance between my family and me (my dad is behind the camera).

Although I did finally join in...

I must have hated Washington DC. I have no idea what I was so angry about. There were a lot of stairs. I do remember that. But I also remember loving the National Air and Space Museum. I thought it was fascinating.

Other highlights from these childhood trips that stick out in my memory are:

1. Begging to be woken up to see some really long tunnel that I really wanted to see only to wake up after we had already gone through it. Damn you mom and dad.

2. Finding change in a payphone at a beautiful park in Bethesda, Maryland. I don’t remember the park. Only the change. Bethesda is one of my favourite words to this day.

3. Having my photo taken at Mount Rushmore with no idea why anyone would want to go to the trouble of carving a bunch of faces on the side of a mountain.

4. Descending into some dark drippy cave somewhere. I thought it was interesting, but scary. I’m not sure where it was.

5. Being giddy with excitement about going to Big Rock Candy Mountain, only to be massively disappointed when I found out there was no candy involved. I still love candy, but I don’t feel so loving towards big rocks.

6. Buying a postcard in Salt Lake City, Utah that had an actual little packet of salt attached to it. My brother and I must have been salt deficient or something because we sucked on those little salt packets for the rest of the trip. To this day I don’t like salty food.

7. Building up an immeasurable excitement for some out-of-the-way boondocks place called Wall Drug, South Dakota. There were signs for Wall Drug beginning hundreds of miles away. Let me tell you. When you drive across ultra flat and super uneventful South Dakota and all you see every few miles, for about a hundred miles, is a sign for some place called Wall Drug, by the time you actually get there you’re pretty darn thrilled. Great marketing. It was a big let down. In the late 70’s Wall Drug consisted of a general store and a giant Jackalope that I got to sit on with my brother and have my picture taken:

I think I wore that same dress for the whole trip.

8. Something about a giant goose in some place called Wawa.

9. Driving through Northern Ontario and getting seriously scolded by my mother for being culturally insensitive. The area we were cruising through was quite downtrodden and featured something that made my brother and I think that Indians lived there. I don’t know what it was that made us think that, but when we said something about Indians my-ever-politically-correct mother severely admonished us. She instructed us to stop being disrespectful about the First Nations culture and its people (although First Nations wasn’t a term used then, but my mom would have been on the cutting edge of all things appropriate). Anyway, as my mother was lecturing us on how to be respectful and culturally sensitive, as if on cue, we drove across a dilapidated metal bridge that had spray painted across it, clear as day, the words:

Well if we didn’t laugh until the pee came.

Those are the memories that stick out the most. There’s more, but I have other stuff I want to cover in this post, so I’ll move on.

Other trips I’ve taken?

In no particular order:

1. I’ve been to Hawaii more times than I can count. I love the place more than I should.

2. I flew to Los Angeles for my cruise ship job interview with a couple of girlfriends. We went to Disneyland. It was fun even though I hate amusement rides. I got the job.

3. I did a Griswold family vacation throughout Europe with my mom, dad and my brother the summer before I started university. We each got to choose one must-see destination. My brother’s was the 24h Le Mans car race. I thought I would hate it. I loved it. Mine was the Royal Henley Rowing Regatta. I thought I would love it and I did. I can’t remember what my parents wanted to do. I was selfish back then. I think it had something to do with wineries.

4. I did a two-month backpacking vacation with a girlfriend in Europe. That trip will be the subject of numerous posts in the future. It solidified my love for travel and led me to my job on the cruise ship (well that and awkward affair with a friend's boyfriend).

5. My girlfriend Caralyn won a trip to the Dominican Republic from a radio station and took me with her. She has lots of great friends. I’m still grateful to her for choosing me. We had fun and I got a job at the same radio station shortly after that.

6. Balazs and I took the train from Budapest to the Cannes Film Festival. We were robbed on the train before it even left the station. We went anyway and had a wonderful time. Balazs got to see his personal hero Johnny Depp walk down the red carpet two feet in front of us. It was amazing.

7. I took a honeymoon after my Hungarian wedding with a friend instead of my husband. I wanted to see Berlin, but Balazs didn’t, so a friend met me in Budapest and we did a five-day road trip together. We left the morning after the wedding ceremony. My husband still loves me.

On that note, I’ll stop there. I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch of trips, but it’s not totally relevant to the point of my post.

A few things to note. Although I’ve been to many places, there are far far far many more places I have not been. I can’t wait to travel again one day.

I have never been anywhere in Asia (unless you count Turkey) and I have never been anywhere in Africa (unless you count Morocco). I have also never been to Australia. I would love to go to all of these places. I have dabbled in South America and would love to go there again too.

I never want to go to India. Never.

Go ahead. Write a million comments about why I should go to India, but I’ll have a million answers as to why I don’t want to. Not the least of which is that a friend of mine from high school went to India and never came back. They still don’t know what happened to him.

I think travelling is the ultimate way to learn about yourself and others. It’s amazing. If you don’t travel, find a way. The world would be a much better place if everybody had travelled as much as I have.

I feel the same way about this as I do about restaurant servers (the gender-neutral and compositionally easier way of saying waiter/waitress). I don’t think anyone should be allowed to eat in a restaurant if you’ve never been a server. It gives you an entirely new perspective on the dining experience. I was a server once. I was horrible. It’s a difficult job. If you get good service in a restaurant, your server is a multi-talented miracle worker. Tip accordingly.

Travelling has given me the same perspective on the world as being a server gave me about dining in a restaurant. I know what’s behind the scenes. I know how hard it is to make it work. Once you have travelled and you’ve seen different countries and different cultures, you know what’s behind the scenes. You understand why things work and why things don’t in this world.

The perspective on life that travelling has given me is immeasurable.

But that’s still not the point of this post.

Here’s the point:

My opinion about one particular travel destination or another doesn’t matter. My list of the best places on the planet is meaningless. Except to me.

Read it if only to inspire you to make your own list. Don’t follow mine. It won’t be as good for you as it was for me. Guaranteed.

Every experience a traveller has is going to be different. It’s never about the place. It’s always about the traveller.

A traveller’s enjoyment of a particular destination is entirely dependent on a multitude of different factors all working in concert to provide the desired effect; whether it be pleasure or relaxation or cultural experiences or culinary experiences.

I love recounting my travel stories, but they’re mine. All mine.

Remember the time we almost got arrested? (That’s happened to me. Twice. Once that I’ll talk about and once that I won’t.)

Remember the time I thought I was going to die of food poisoning? (That also happened to me. Not to mention many other unpleasant gastro-intestinal ailments.)

Remember the time we got robbed on the train? (As mentioned above.)

Remember the time we ran like mad dogs for ten blocks through Athens with 50-pound backpacks to catch a train, only to watch it pull out of the station without us? (Yup. We did that too.)

My point?

All of the bad stuff makes for great stories in the end, but good or bad; you’ll never have the same stories as me.

I love telling my almost-got-arrested-in-Rome-story (but not the almost-got-arrested-in-Mexico-story).

I remember that the food poisoning event was preceded by only a few days (and was not the cause of the food poisoning) by one of the greatest meals I’ve ever had in my entire life.

The robbery ended with an up-close and personal Johnny Depp experience.

The missed train ended with four luxurious hours of sun tanning on the train platform, only to be joined by a couple of super fun guys who travelled with us for the next two weeks.

Some of the things I thought I would hate the most (Le Mans), ended up being some of the things I enjoyed the most.

One particular example of this stands out from when my friend and I were backpacking through Europe. As we headed from Greece towards Italy, everybody told us that the port town of Brindsi in Italy was a horrible cesspool and that we should transit through it as quickly and efficiently as possible. We kept that in mind as we cruised towards Brindsi one early evening. Get in. Get out. Got it.

Only our train wasn’t leaving for three hours.

Well I guess our advisers who hated Brindsi had never been there at 8pm on a Friday evening because as far as I’m concerned, it was one of the most charming and quintessentially Italian places I have ever been. Families were out strolling the streets dressed in their fineries. People were sitting in cafes sipping cappuccinos and double-kissing each other on cheeks. My friends and I found this adorable mom-and-pop restaurant close to the train station that was complete with red-check tablecloths and incredible homemade Italian food. We were treated like kings and ate until we were ready to pop. We left Brindsi with a smile on our face that couldn’t be denied.

To this day I still don’t know why everyone we talked to hated Brindsi so much. Perhaps in the daylight the grimy port town didn’t seem so sweet. I don’t care. I loved it.


This ridiculously long and self-indulgent post is coming to a close.

The reason I wrote all of the above is to say this: I love to write about my travel experiences and I’m naturally inclined to create lists and post my favourites.

But this is by no means an endorsement for any of them because there is no way that Roma will be playing their arch rival Cagliari at the Olympic stadium in Rome when you’re there. And the home team of Roma will most certainly not score the winning goal in the last five seconds of the game in front of 82,000 hysterical fans.

I’m also sure my in-laws in Budapest are not going to let you stay at their cottage.

And the fact that Stockholm was the first place I went ashore with my future husband isn’t going to make you love it as much as I do.

There’s no way that you are going to love any of the places I love as much as I do and for the same reasons.

So go travel.

Find out for yourself.

Make your own lists.

The only thing I love almost as much as my own travel stories are your travel stories. So have fun and tell me your stories when you get back.

Oh. And don’t eat the ham and cheese sandwich you bought at that nasty train station in Genoa. Trust me. Just don’t eat it.


Jan said...

This was a travel log. You have gotten around. I love to travel but have very limited chances. I want to go to Norway too. Thats where my people are from. And yes, I have people.

Kimberly said...

Lovely post! I've still yet to leave the North American continent. ~sigh~

Corey~living and loving said...

WOW...someone who can write a longer post than me. :)

I have traveled very little. I almost like it that way...almost.

Thank you for the really beautiful comment you left me yesterday. I had such worries over posting that, but overwhelmingly the comments are supportive. I have no idea what those that haven't commented thought, but at least no one got ugly.

My daughter, like yours, is the most wonderful person I know. That makes me feel like I am really doing something right.
have a great weekend.

The Rotten Correspondent said...

I am so jealous I can almost not feel the keys on my keyboard. Travel is a big thing for me, but since kids hasn't happened nearly as much as I would like.

Your Rushmore picture made me laugh, because I have an almost identical picture of my kids and the looks on faces is very similar. And I'm willing to bet the drippy cave you remember is right in that area, because South Dakota is loaded with them. Ugh. I hate caves.

I'm looking forward to more of your travel stories. Jealously, of course.

the mother of this lot said...

What a beautiful mom! And she isn't bribing you on the one where you're smiling - if you look closely you can't see her hand. She's obviously got your neck in one of those 'I'm warning you' holds!

ciara said...

i love this are fortunate you got to do a lot of traveling. me? not so much, but i would love to. just need to find a way to make it happen. of course money factors in now and again lol

i think somewhere in my mom's photo albums are photos of me with that same scowl. would post them, but they moved to the philippines so i think it would be a bit hard to get them now lol