Travel Snippets

On a French road trip a few years ago, I was travelling from Carcassonne to Verzeille with a friend when we pulled over in a tiny spot called Pomas. We walked around for a few moments and passed by a man with a serious expression and even more serious beard. As his stare followed us while we searched in vain for an open boulangerie I said, ‘he looks like Solzhenitsyn.’ After a quick wander through the streets that netted no bread products or hot drinks, we were making our way back to the car when I saw the beard and said, ‘there’s Solzhenitsyn, staring at us again.’ Later, after we travelled through several beautiful places and forgot the name for Pomas I said, ‘you know, where we saw Solzhenitsyn.’ It became a bit of a running joke.

For the rest of our trip, as we visited an endless number of fascinating spots, I thought of what stood out about each village and jotted it down. It’s something I do now, with each journey I make. I may have always wanted to cast my eyes on Stonehenge, but it’s the chocolate and toffee coated popcorn bought at a family-run shop in Rye that I was eating in the car which I will always remember. I am certain I am the only person who walked Stonehenge with my teeth stuck together and desperate for a wet wipe, the only person who walked by both an alligator and a big black snake on a camping trip in Florida and was more afraid of the guy with the gun building a fire and drinking beer, and I am convinced I am the only person who, after three days staying in a hotel at the foot of the Himalayas in Pokhara, Nepal, woke one sunny morning, saw the mountains and said, ‘Have they always been there?’

And so, a collection from my wonderful world of travel. I hope to add to it soon.

Argentina

Buenos Aires: While taking the posh ferry to Uruguay, we snuck into first class and had Champagne. The air conditioning was bliss, and the champers not bad.

Austria

Honerau: I got chucked from the train trying to get to Prague because my papers weren’t in order and spent the night in a train station with a big guy from New York with similar paper issues and a bad case of the trots.

Vienna: I remember a park very clearly and that’s about it. Strange, as I spent four days there.

Belgium

Brussels: I liked the raspberry beer and some swinging wicker chairs outside a pub I discovered. Mostly I remember two men having a loud and long fight under my hotel window.

Ypres: Standing at the Menin Gate on the anniversary of D Day, a woman asked me if she could lean on my husband. I didn’t say, ‘he’s my friend,’ I just saw him nod and her sort of collapse, I think in sadness, against his sturdy frame. I loved him a little bit more for his kindness.

Brazil

Rio de Janiero: The place where I held hands with my best female friend as we went through some dodgy areas on our way to Carnivale. I felt nineteen. It was a ball.

Czech Republic

Karoly Vary: Famous for its thermal springs and spas. I visited one on a girl’s weekend. My masseuse asked me how long I had back issues and I said I was not aware I did. Walked out with a twinge in my back and voila, back issues. The power of suggestion in a creepy building with endless doors.

Prague: Where the waiters at a fantastic restaurant mooned us, a group of ten women on a weekend hen-do. It was brilliant.

England

Birmingham: Down the road from a huge shopping centre is an art gallery that houses a lovely collection of Edward Burns-Jones’ angels. In the other direction is a memorial to the people who died in the blitz. The positioning of these two such different elements of life always makes me think when I visit the Bull Ring.

Brackley: Beautiful village down the road form George Washington’s ancestral home and where my favourite bench in England resides.

Heptonstall: The poet Sylvia Plath is buried in a cemetery in this part of Yorkshire. After visiting her grave a man walked up to me and said, ‘Do you know where Hugh Grant’s wife is buried?’ causing his wife to bark, ‘not Hugh Grant! Ted Hughes!’

London: Where I started over and got it right.

Nottingham: After wandering around for hours looking for my car, I stopped a community police officer and asked for help, saying I had parked it next to a Hertz. I should have qualified with ‘the car rental people’ because we walked for a few moments and ended up outside a funeral home.

Stonehenge: Walking from the parking lot to the stones behind a family, I heard a young girl singing. I didn’t recognize the song but it seemed innocuous enough, so I was surprised when her father stopped dead in his tracks, wheeled around and said, ‘I’ve waited my entire life to see Stonehenge and I don’t want to hear another $^%$^& word about Justin Bieber today!’ She stopped singing. I started laughing.

Warwick: A castle, the history of the Kingmaker, a haunted alms’ house. One of my favourite villages in England.

France

Albert: Pivotal to World War I, my friend and I landed at the train station in the pouring rain only to have the employee say she had not heard of the Musee de la Somme even though it was spitting distance away. The first time in my life I said, ‘young people!’

Arras: Ninety percent destroyed during World War I, but I remember it vividly for the suicide note I found in the prayer book in the cathedral. I still feel sick about it.

Bayeux: Walking the streets I’d never seen before but which felt so familiar, I started to believe in reincarnation. I love Bayeux.

Castres: Sat in the sun in a big square and ate fries. A great day in a beautiful place. Excellent fries.

Lille: The place with the scary dinosaur baby statues.

Limoux: A big storm blew up unexpectedly while we were eating outdoors, and my friend’s salad blew away, prompting us both to laugh like fools. Moments like this let you know you’re travelling with the right person.

Mirepois: In the market I thought I’d lost my diamond earrings after trying on a simple hat that cost 99 euros and was cranky the rest of the day, only to discover I left them at the B & B.

Montsegur: After hiking straight up for what felt like days, a rude man at the top decided to inform me of the history of the place and kept saying, ‘do you understood’ while I tried to get away from him. I’m a bit discouraged by this my memory, as it was a beautiful spot with much sad history.

Narbonne: I will always remember this place as being where I had one of the best meals of my life, and the cute little jugs the wine came in. The two may be connected.

Narbonne Plage: A place where my heart opened up, and where I can’t wait to return for a nice long stretch.

Nice: A homeless guy swore at me when I gave him cold orange juice on a hot day. I think he wanted beer. What can I say? I was 21 years old at the time.

Paris: Ah, Paris. This is a long one. At a restaurant called d’Artegnan’s, on a small road called Au Pot de Feu, a German couple sat next to us and we started talking. Somehow the topic of boxing came up and the lovely gentleman ended up telling me he had lived close to Max Schmelling, my father’s favourite boxer. After the meal ended and he was leaving he said, ‘tell your father his daughter is a beautiful delight.’ I smiled but didn’t tell him my father had passed away. It was one of the best days and evenings of the year for me. And the pudding was out of this world.

Perypetuese: While reading the map the driver said to me, the navigator, ‘where is the turn?’ and me, proud as a peacock of my new map reading skills yelled, ‘right here, under my finger,’ causing said driver to pull over and gently take the map and consult it himself.

Renne le Chateau: They were filming a documentary on aliens and kept asking me not to get in the shot as I wandered around in a daze looking for my mother ship. Apparently there are a lot of UFO sightings in the area. My friend remembers it for the large hill we had to drive and how hard it was to find a parking spot.

Sete: At a dodgy bar overlooking the harbour I borrowed the bartender’s pen to write since my travel partner could not set down Sam Eastland’s The Red Coffin and pay attention to me.

St. Afrique: While walking through a market, I trod in dog poo while staring at a very beautiful man, causing my travel partner to howl with laughter.

St. Nazaire, Carcassonne: Walked into the Cathedral thinking a sound system was belting out opera only to discover four Russian opera singers performing. I still get chills thinking about it; but was too cheap to pop for the 15-euro CD they were selling.

Germany

Biberach: My first castle, my first walk through the Black Forest. Exciting stuff at 21.

Munich: Where I threw up waiting to board my flight, then started to cry. Travelling is not always easy.

Greece

Athens: At the acropolis I saw graffiti that said, ‘Hannibal was here.’ At 21 I was outraged it was defaced. Now I kind of laugh.

Santorini: Greece may have laid the foundations for all kinds of great stuff like democracy and the Olympic Games, but I remember it mostly for fabulous ice cream bars and an American couple getting engaged as a group of us watched the sunset. I really liked her sandals.

Indonesia

Banda Aceh: A beautiful area devastated by the tsunami. After seeing the museum and the monument we went to the memorial park and saw the stone tablets thanking each country for its kindness. An emotional day in an area as hot as a blast furnace.

Pulau: While sitting on a beach outside our Gilligan’s Island style accommodations, a wild boar came tearing down the sand from out of nowhere. At one point it might have frightened me but seeing as the day before I had been aggressively chased by a monkey with huge teeth while on a motorcycle, I barely looked up from my book.

Italy

Castiglione: Saw a pair of suede boots in a store window that I still regret having left behind. I am always amazed at the wonderful shops you find in the smallest of places.

Florence: On my first visit I thought it was a large, sprawling, overwhelming city. On my second visit fifteen years later I found it compact and charming.  I also discovered I am indeed claustrophobic as I climbed the steps of the Duomo with the heart rate of a rabbit on meth.

Rome: Hotter than ten kinds of hell and worth every drop of sweat shed to see the Colosseum.

Venice: Where I finally had a Bellini at Harry’s Bar. It cost eighteen euros and wasn’t that good. I was also travelling with the wrong people so I need a do-over for Venice.

Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur: A lovely sign in the airport greets you with the information that the penalty for drug smuggling is death. Outside the airport the same thing is written on billboards the size of Wyoming. After seeing this message a few times I contemplated nipping to the loo and flushing my Tylenol. Talk about your effective deterrent to painkillers.

Morocco:

Casablanca: Where my hotel room tried to kill me. Really. Upon entering I missed the foot high mud guard type thing at the door, which was easy to do since the corridor lights were on a timer that went off and on faster than a strobe light, and I pitched headfirst into the loo. Welcome to Morocco! When I recovered, I couldn’t find the slot to put my key to get the lights to work and had to get help from the front desk. When I finally had lights I went to open the ridiculously heavy curtains and discovered where the wall facing the street should be was an open space with a balcony. I looked into the street and thought what the hell, only a superhero could get up here and I’ve never met one of them, so I crawled into bed and fell asleep.

Fez: Arrived during the Slaughter of the Sheep. Glad the tour leader told us men would be walking about with machetes and bags o’ sheep bits before I saw it with my own eyes.

Meknes: Where I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets ever and then had a young man wave at me, smile, and make a heart with his hands. All in all, the sunset was the winner.

Tondra Gorge: Checked into my hotel room and flopped onto my bed only to land on a screwdriver and some screws – that’s how new the room was. Stunning mountain view, cold swimming pool. Having lost my watch I needed a wakeup call but the room lacked phones. One of the employees knocked on my door with his own mobile and said, ‘I set it for you already.’ Nice staff. Can’t remember the name of the hotel.

Sahara Desert: Saw a shooting star as I slept on a matt on the unforgiving desert sand. Was delighted with the experience until the guide showed us sidewinder tracks where one had curled up about fifteen feet away from me overnight. Had I seen it at the time, my screams would still be echoing in the vast desert.

Essaouira: Went for a long walk on the beach with someone I met on the group tour. Thought there was a connection, the beginning of a friendship that might lead to more trips. It did not. This happens, when you travel.

Marrakesh: Lovely hotel, lovely bar in the hotel next door, lovely chocolate martini.

Scotland

Glasgow: The coolest taxi driver ever hails from Glasgow. After picking me up at my hotel and taking me to see a church designed by Charles Rennie MacIntosh, he then took me to see where the artist was born AND knocked a dead bird off a monument I wanted to photograph. Meeting him was one of the highlights of my trip, and I don’t even know his name. This happens, too, when you travel.

Edinburgh: Family legend has it my grandfather said, ‘I’ll never see Princes Street again’ just before he died. He left Scotland for a better life in Canada only to die young, his health ruined by mining. I hope he knows I thought of him as I walked Princes Street.

Spain

Barcelona: Walking through one of the squares, I saw a young man fall off his skateboard and land on his shoulder. His friends fell all over the place laughing as he sat up dazed. One offered a hand and pulled him up. He didn’t get mad that they laughed. How I wished I had my youth to do over.

Madrid: As my travel partner sat sick on a park bench one early morning, I raced into a café trying to find the banos and was told to vamos by the staff.  Lovely way to start a trip. No plans to return, despite my love for the Prado Museum.

Sweden

Stockholm: The friend I was travelling with wanted to go to see a Viking ship at a museum. I had no interest but tagged along, only to find the Vasa was the highlight of the trip for me. I also had my first delicatobol – a creamy mocha coconut thing – that is out of this world and I love them to this day, which is surprising as I don’t like coconut. The things you learn when you travel. Gorgeous people and chocolate and a very cool ship. Not bad for a three-day weekend.

Thailand

Bangkok: Five minutes after landing at the airport I knew I was going to love Thailand and I was right. The people are beautiful, the food out of this world, and the weather perfection.

Chiang Mai: Walking down the street one night after sitting on a rooftop patio listening to Elvis Presley, I saw a rather inebriated tourist trip, fall into a parked car, spin around and trip over the curb, spin around again and fall over a gate into the street. It was like some sort of urban ballet and made me laugh for hours, especially when his travel companion took my arm and said, ‘watch yourself, miss’ when I was standing still and in no danger. Brilliant night.

Uruguay

Colonia: Where I had very good sangria on one of the hottest days I have ever experienced and got dizzy climbing a lighthouse. The two are not connected.

USA

Arizona

Grand Canyon: After hiking in the boiling heat all day, we pitched a tent, desperate for some sleep. Suddenly, the air was filled with the patter of paws and the howls of what I was certain were man-eating wolves. Terrified I tried desperately to wake my boyfriend at the time only for him to say, ‘Go to sleep, it’s just kids playing.’ In the morning the ranger told a sleep deprived me, ‘Oh, those were coyotes and could have been miles off. Things echo in the Canyon.’

Mesa: Where the campground caught fire and where I talked in the shower rooms to a local woman about her recent marriage for so long that her husband came in looking for her. She said, ‘come on in honey it’s just me and the Canadian from the site over’. In he came and we all got to talking, standing by the sinks. I regret to this day I did not keep in touch with them. Sonny and Dee, if you get this, please get in touch.

Phoenix: Where a Burger King employee gave me a free apple pie after a staff member really messed up my order. The manager was a man wearing blue eye shadow and I was staggered at how good it looked on him and thought about asking for makeup tips.

Winslow: Driving along I saw a sign for Winslow, Arizona and wondered why it sounded so familiar. Since this was in the dark days before smart phones I was left to ponder until I saw a sign telling me I was ‘standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona,’ and we ended up singing Eagles songs as we found a dodgy bar. I do this a lot – sing in cars and look for dodgy bars.

California

Bakersfield: In a shopping mall food court I started singing Far Away Eyes, my favourite Rolling Stones song, which mentions Bakersfield. These things are very exciting when you are twenty-three.

San Francisco: On my first trip I stayed with a friend who parked me on her sofa while she spent the weekend talking to her boyfriend in Germany. On my second trip I saw a woman urinate standing up in front of a shop in a district called the Tenderloin. I won’t tell you what I saw on my third trip. I thought it would be all flowers in your hair, but it was not. I like the Ghirardelli chocolate, though.

Florida

Key West: After three visits I still love Key West. At the Green Parrot I drank cold draft for a buck a pop, ate birthday cake someone brought in for a local, and danced to a juke box. Heaven.

Miami: Where I had my first of many mudslides.

Orlando: Mecca for us Mouseheads. The sun setting over Main Street USA is one of my favourite things to experience.

Tampa Bay: Home to my favorite beach on earth, Sunset Beach; and the live music at the local bars is out of this world.

St. Augustine’s: On my first trip as a small child I was taken to the Old Jail, and remember being terrified of the guillotine. On my second trip I remember passing the Old Jail and feeling that same creepy feeling, then watching porpoises play in the water. On my last trip it was so cold we sat in a British pub and I worried about the porpoises. I love Saint Augustine’s, creepy jail and all.

Georgia

Atlanta: Where Margaret Mitchell lived. As a thirteen-year-old I read Gone with the Wind and dreamed of being a Southern writer. Standing in the spot where she lived as she wrote it sort of took my breath away.

Savannah: After reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a friend and I travelled to Savannah, where they refer to it as ‘the book’. While standing in Monterey Square a local man with two different coloured eyes looked at me and said, ‘I know the house you looking for. I know the boy Jimmy done shot. Come on, I’ll show you.’ He was intoxicated and I was nervous but we followed him anyway. 

Tybee Island: Sitting on a park benchon a long pier after partaking of a few sea breezes I watched some men pulling on a fishing rod. To my delight they pulled up a shark! After he flopped around for a while (and I curled up in a ball on my travel companion’s lap) they pulled the hook out of his nose and tossed him back in. I did not set a toe in the ocean for the rest of the trip, and kept an eye on the sand, just in case.

Skidaway Island: After booking a camp site I was told to ‘watch for gators, its nesting season.’ I did not sleep for three nights. This allowed me the additional fun of discovering my travel partner slept with his eyes partially opened, leading me to believe he was stung by something and having a reaction and waking him, which did not make him happy.

Massachusetts

Boston: Weekend trips from university, shopping and history. Take out the beans and Boston is magical.

Cape Cod: Mashpee Commons shopping. Outdoor shops that feel like Main Street, USA. Wonderful stuff.

Hyannis Port: On a road trip with my mother and sister I discovered I am the only member of my family with a sense of direction, and in Hyannis Port I learned I do not like soft shell crab. My sister still laughs at my reaction to the deep-fried nightmare arriving on a bun.   

New Hampshire: In the parking lot of a liquor store about the size of the Mall of America, I watched a group of kids chuck rocks at cars, unsure of what to do. A man behind me had no such qualms and called them a few names that made both them, and me, scramble.

Nevada

Las Vegas: On my first trip I did the Stratosphere, one of the ten most intense rides in the world. On my second trip I won a teddy bear with my throwing skills at New York, New York. Anything is possible in Vegas. I love it.

New Mexico

Santa Fe: Arrived during a festival of some kind, perhaps an effort to appease some Sun God and have him turn the rays down a shade as the heat was unbelievable. I had the best lemonade ever and loved the streets and shops of Santa Fe. It is gorgeous.

North Carolina

Kill Devil Hills: Sunshine, beaches and brilliant restaurants. It has it all, but I remember it for almost drowning. Not a good time.

Rhode Island

Newport: I hear I had a good time at a jazz festival here. The photos seem to indicate that is the case

Tennessee

Columbia: Where I thought I fell in love. I was wrong, and for this I am eternally grateful.

Nashville: Home to my favourite airport bar. I have logged many hours here, waiting to be collected by Southern friends.

Washington State

Seattle: The place where I first had pesto on a slice of pizza in Pioneer Square at 2 in the morning. Great memories.

Wales

Aberystwyth: While driving along admiring the extreme landscape, a fighter jet came from out of nowhere and scared me so badly I screamed in my car. It really echoes, both fighter jets and car screams.

Cardiff: On my first visit I sat in a pub in the pouring rain and ate bad food while trying to work out the sign that said ‘toilets upstairs’ in Welsh.

Caernarvon: Castle ruins right on the water and a walled city. I expected to stumble on a dragon, or a knight, with each step.

Llandudno: At a lovely hotel overlooking the bay the staff upgraded my room when I told them the boiler was broken at my house and I hadn’t had a proper hot bath in a week. I think the tears helped as well.

Next Up:

Australia, Nepal, New Zealand, Florida and Maine.

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