Monday, August 25, 2008

Let’s take the Chunnel!

Not to be outdone by my brother, my mom, Nan Rennie, wrote a guest post of her own. Here, she reflects on her past as a traveler and how it shaped her attitude toward spending two months with us in Sydney.

My earliest memories are of travel and eating. Go figure. When I was two and a half years old, my family flew from Chicago to Seattle because my father had been transferred. My sister Jill was a baby in my mother’s arms (there were no infant seats in those days) and my sister Tina was not yet on the travel scene. I mention my sisters because they play a large role in my travel story.

It wasn’t until my teenage years that I flew again. That time it was from NYC to Fort Lauderdale, Florida and the Bahamas. The airplane trip became memorable because I was old enough to be aware of the thrill of acceleration, lift off, and a sense of soaring toward adventure. We “dressed” for travel in those days. I remember the exact outfit I wore. It was a kelly green, linen sleeveless mini-dress with matching white shoes and bag. I wore the same outfit on my return along with a sassy straw hat and jewelry purchased in Nassau. For fabulous travel garb of the same era, watch the 1967 movie "Two for the Road" starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. The story followed a marriage via the couple’s travels through Europe in various vehicles showcasing great wardrobes. Audrey looked absolutely adorable in every outfit. All my female peers wanted our travel experience to be just like Audrey’s: cool, nonchalant and dressed to kill.

In my twenties and thirties, travel consisted solely of bi-coastal visits with family and in-laws. I dreamed of the Great “Trip to Europe,” though. It was a very hip thing to do in the late 1960s, after college and before real life. My husband and I married young and made plans to work for a year or two, save money and go for our budget version of “The Grande Tour.” Sadly, it was not to be. I came down with Hodgkin’s Disease the trip was put on hold and then relegated to a part of the past.

In the meantime, my sisters kicked it up a few notches. Jill was and still is a “take time to smell the roses” kind of traveler and Tina wants to “do it all”. There was a 1969 movie titled, “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium.” The title hints that the plot centers around a whirlwind tour of Europe. Tina does it with style, but she could exhaust any travel companion on five continents. We used to say she could compete in the faux-lympics in two events: endurance shopping and cross country travel.

Jill became an RN. She worked double and triple shifts, and when she had enough money in the bank, chose her next destination. She traveled with nurse friends and went to exotic Bali, New Zealand, Australia, South America and Europe. Her subsequent marriage to an art expert and museum curator took them to many European and Latin American sites. Her second daughter’s first words nearly were “not another cathedral!” Tina’s marriage to a Persian man already familiar with Iran, Italy and Switzerland, later traveled for business. This afforded her the opportunity for global excursions. They have been just about everywhere. They complement each other beautifully because they are both full of adventure, energy and wanderlust.

Many years later (in my fifties), I finally made it to Europe. My sweet daughter, blogger extraordinaire, studied abroad at the University of Edinburgh during her junior year. I applied for my first passport in order to visit her there. Proof positive that this time I was going to get to do my little version of Europe.

A few months later, I was awarded a grant from an educational foundation and traveled to Japan and Korea for three weeks. I was busy from early morning until late evening every night for three weeks. Frankly, many of the cities and incredible beauty were lost on me because of exhaustion. I have to consult my travel diary to remember big chunks of time there. It was the earlier trip though, the Edinburgh one, that prompted the phrase, “Let’s take the Chunnel!”

When planning the trip to Scotland, I mentioned to Tina that I was flying in and out of London and on the return had seven free hours. Tina immediately asked, “aren’t you seeing Paris?” She stated matter of factly, that during the layover I had enough time to take the Chunnel, have a coffee, see the Eifel Tower, Arch d’ Triomphe and return. Could I picture myself with a flip of the hair, and a wave of the hand, a la Audrey Hepburn exclaiming, “Let’s take the Chunnel, dahling!” Nah, not me. I may be terminally uncool, but I know my limitations and unsuperpower.

I am a liberal in many areas, but travel isn’t one of them. I am a conservative traveler. I tend to play it safe. I don’t enjoy long days filled to the brim. I prefer the small adventures I can take the time to savor and sit with for a while. I love it when someone else draws up the plans and I get to go along for the scenic ride.

Last year, I visited my daughter and her husband in Switzerland for a month. This year I spent eight weeks in Sydney. (Thank God for kids who have great jobs in great locations and actually want me to share time with them!) One highlight of the trip to Zurich was a two day stay at the countryside home of an employer’s mother. As women of a similar age and occupation, I had the chance to talk for hours with a British born, Swiss woman and gain insight into her daily life as a mother, teacher, wife and widow in an almost parallel universe.

This winter/summer in Sydney has helped me determine just who I am as a traveler. I love living in a place, not just visiting there. I love talking to strangers, making new friends and inquiring about their lives. I talk to everyone, be it a student waiting for a bus, a passenger on an elevator, or someone I share a lunch table with at the Bondi Junction Food Court.

I am not the Ugly American (although I have traveled with him), nor am I the woman who will “take the chunnnel” but I am the happy traveler who just might take a neighborhood walk to the food market and chat up the greengrocer during a layover.

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