Just rocking up at the airport gets my heart racing with excitement. I’ve been that way since my first flight as a child (to Dublin, and on to Galway Bay, thanks for asking). When we entered cloud, I thought the engine was on fire!
My first solo trip without family was at 11 years to the Austrian lakes, where I caught chicken pox and spent the last of the three-week trip in quarantine. But not before I had the chance to whizz down a mountain-side using my jacket as a makeshift toboggan, and climbed another to a high pasture, feeling like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.
‘“What are men to rocks and mountains?”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.
The point here is that, despite a few red blisters or scary airplane moments, travelling has given me some of my most memorable moments, ones that go on giving.
You can’t beat a road trip for a sense of adventure. Rolicking around Europe in a bright red vintage Healey Silverstone, the quirky sports car drew attention wherever we went. Pulling up in San Sebastián in the Basque Country we were stunned when happy crowds of people swamped the car (with us still in it!), waving flags and cheering. It turned out it was a festival day and everyone was out and about and wearing traditional red and white Basque costume. What a welcome. Serendipituous moments like these are what makes travel so addictive.
‘One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.‘ Henry Miller, 20th century American writer .
It was the early noughties and I was rummaging in the freezer cabinet at my local supermarket one evening after work, when a friend called to ask ‘do you want to go to New York’ in two weeks? ‘Um…’ (5 second lapse)… ‘yes, please’. It was February in the Big Apple, with the temperature not unlike the aforementioned chill cabinet, but I remember the thrill of ice skating in Central Park in the winter sun. My skating skills haven’t improved one jot since but so what. What remains with me is the fit of giggles as I went down on my rear end again, and again. And the view of the Park’s sentinel buildings that evoked scenes from Barefoot in the Park (Redford and Fonda, 1967). So many magical memories were made from that one trip.
‘I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.’ Susan Sontag. American writer, filmmaker, philosopher, teacher, and political activist .
A few years ago, I spent a Christmas in Egypt on an organised solo’s holiday trip (that’s a story in itself) and made a second visit in high summer. Again I didn’t think twice. This time about quad biking through the Sinai Desert. Magical doesn’t even come close. The feel of the warm air on my skin, the soft light as the sun set on the dunes and the sheer freedom of speeding through the vast and open landscape, made it one of those ‘I’ll remember this for the rest of my life’ moments.
Living away from home
“Every island to a child is a treasure island.” P.D. James, The Lighthouse
A year on the island of Mallorca in the Balearics holds many treasures, and practically a book-ful of memories. Clockwise: 1) Puerto de Andratx, Mallorca where I lived. Tim’s Bar along on the right was our local. Bond director, Guy Hamilton, used to pop in. 2) The port and, behind, La Mola where drugs baron Howard Marks resided. His son and mine went to the same small school. 3 and 4) The magnificent Palma Cathedral.
Closer to home
‘There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort’. Jane Austen.
Of course, you don’t have to travel far and wide to make lasting memories. Last year, a trip from the south where I live, to Yorkshire in the north of England made quite an impression. It had been some time since I’d ventured up that way. Listen to me, ‘ventured, as if I was heading out to the Brazilian rainforests instead of a 250 mile journey in my home country.
We think nothing of queuing at the airport for hours to leave the UK so why not jump on a lunchtime train up to York and arrive in time for tea? Advance booking secures a good ticket deal. No waiting around noisy departure lounges (thank you Great Western Railways for a smooth and comfortable journey). Lots of leg room on the train with a reserved table seat. I wish someone would bring back elegant dining carriages but that’s a gripe for another time. I spent three days exploring on foot with my camera, taking the local bus from Gisborough to Whitby on the coast. The unrestricted views of the awesome Moors from the bus window, impossible to appreciate when you’re driving, was one of the best parts. I noticed the local passengers barely glanced out. We all tend to get complacent about our home turf.
The autumn weather, the sweeping landscapes and the historic ruins in North Yorkshire combine to make a unique atmosphere. On my early morning walks past the ruins of Gisborough Priory, the mists lingered amongst the trees until the wintry sun melted them away. Whitby Abbey high above the harbour affords stunning panoramic views of the landscape, and way out to sea. No wonder Bram Stoker was inspired by the setting to write his famous novel, Dracula. It’s also abundantly clear how the dramatic landscape produced in Emily Brontë’s imagination the wild and tortured Heathcliff.
It been way too long since I’ve explored ‘further afield at home‘. So in 2020 I’ve resolved to travel more in my own country. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up worldwide travel but I also want to discover more amazing homegrown experiences or, to put it another way, I don’t want to miss out on all the glorious places I haven’t yet made it to, in my own backyard.
How about you, what are your special travel memories? What New Year’s travel resolutions have you made?