Friday, 24 April 2015

Lost at Sea - Part 2

This is the story - or the bits of the story, the put together recollections - of a trip across Europe I took in July 2001. I was 20, naive, resourceful, terrified, full of hope and travelling alone. You can read part one here.

I'd never been on a plane before. Growing up, our holidays were always to near-ish seaside towns never more than 90 minutes drive away - Skegness, Mablethorpe, Bridlington – and we didn’t have a car so we’d be dropped off by a relative who’d come back for us the following Saturday. There’d be me, my mum, my Nana, my cousin, a couple of aunties, and we’d stay in a flat for a week and have late 80s / early 90s fun (on the beach with our buckets and spades, bingo, slot machines, talent competitions…) Different trips and journeys to this one. 

Two things stand out about this going-on-a-plane thing. One, I was at an actual airport – a big and exciting place I’d only imagined until now - and I was at the bit where I had to be x-rayed (customs? I still don’t feel at one with the terminology). Anyways, the Security person, officer – she was female, and she asked if anyone could have put something in my bag without my knowledge. I still had it on my back – my huge big rucksack bought a month or so before by my best friends in support of my journey. They sewed my name on it too, ‘Tree’ (short for Teresa) next to a lovely big tree, rooted the ground (ironically) ‘So you don’t forget who you are’. They may not have said that. It just feels like they did.

So could anyone have put something in this massive bag without me realising?

I glanced back at it and said, ‘Um, well, I’ve been wearing it, so I can't really tell, so yeah, someone could have put something in there.’ It just seemed best to be honest about it.

Security officer customs lady sighed. ‘OK, I’m going to ask you again. Is there any chance someone could have put something in your bag without you knowing about it?’

I scrunched my face up. ‘Um…'

She gave me a look. Eyebrows as high as they could go.

I was getting it now. I had to say NO. So I said, ‘No?’

She nodded and let me through.

The second standout memory of my first-time-going-on-a-plane experience came as we took off. This was the moment where I suddenly realised what I was doing. As we speeded up along the runway, going faster than I had ever gone before, at that miraculous moment of taking off, of soaring, I filled with tears, and for the first time I asked myself why I wasn’t doing this with a friend. But it was too late. I was on my way to Amsterdam, on my own as I had insisted I wanted to be, with no booked accommodation, just a rough route I wanted to take, and a plan that I’d be in the south of France about a week and a half later.

… more soon …

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Lost at Sea - Part 1

When I was 20, I spent a month travelling across Europe on my own. Last week I started writing about it, responding to a writing prompt "Lost at Sea".  The whole trip was a bit of a mixed experience, and my expectations were so out of sync with the reality. So looking back on it is interesting, and maybe useful. I'll share some of the reflections here over the next few weeks. 

At 20 I was naive enough to tell people I was going ‘to find myself’. Luckily I had enough self awareness to deliver that phrase with sarcasm and knowing, but I did believe it on some level. I believed I would have a deep and wonderful experience. That I would meet interesting people, eat good food, drink wine in street cafes, speak French, take deep breaths on mountains, not care if I missed a train, not plan too much, be free and easy and only decide where I’d go next on a whim. I did all of those things. But what I didn’t have was peace as I did them, and so I didn’t have a deep and wonderful experience – I was sometimes lonely, even when I was with people; and I was sometimes afraid, even when I was safe.

I wasn’t scared of anything external, not really. I didn’t think anything bad would happen to me, like being mugged or kidnapped (and it didn’t) and before I went if anyone questioned my judgement (on her own, a young girl, no mobile phone, hasn’t booked her accommodation, in unknown places, etc.) I’d say ‘bad things can happen anywhere,’ and feel extra mature about my outlook. I remember a few people (Mum, Nana, Grandma etc.) asking with worried brows, ‘But can’t you get anyone to go with you?’ I was aghast – of course I could – if that was what I wanted, but I didn’t. I’d had this idea, I’d bought a couple of guidebooks, a return flight to Amsterdam, a train pass, an incredibly heavy timetable showing details of ALL trains in Europe that summer, and I went.

(... more soon...)