Not all of the travelling that I write about involves a ticket and a passport. For me it goes much deeper. To travel is to incite change. A journey can simply mean personal growth. Whilst my childhood family travels encouraged the desire for future cultural exploration, I am quite sure that my personal experiences in life greatly informed the desire to seek connection in difference or solace in contemplation. I always stress to those that comment on my life journey that my life is no better or worse than others’. I hate to think that the events I have lived through, and the tales that grow from them, would make my hardships any different or more important than those of other folk. But they have certainly had a massive impact on my view of the world. Today, a drive along a road from my past triggered contemplation of the paths we take and what we take from the journeys.
It seems only right to start this new ‘journey’ with an introduction and with a touch of introspection. At the ripe old age of eight, my parents decided to take a year out from our Sydney-based family life and give their children the privilege of an incredible opportunity to see the world. Along with my 17 yr old sister & my 15 yr old brother, the five of us packed our bags and headed for a year of life in the UK. It wasn’t your average trip. Mum hated to fly – white knuckles abounded – so we did as much as possible to stay grounded. First jump was to Japan, where we travelled for 8 days. Next thing, we were on a boat to Nakhodka. From there we started a 9 day long trail across the wide, cold, white spaces that were Russia. It was early December! After a pause in Moscow we trained on to Leningrad (it was still Leningrad back then!) from where we flew via Sweden to London to establish a home for the next 12 months.
Last week I took the opportunity to drive north to Yorkshire and pay a flying visit to Scarborough to spend time with a friend. In my 13 years of living in the UK, I have never ventured beyond Lincolnshire, despite having spent 6mths in Yorkshire back in my travelling days. So this was a return to a former ‘stomping ground’ of sorts along with a chance to further explore somewhere I had only fleetingly visited some 15 years ago.
As a traveller with an eye for a good image, I find myself naturally drawn to the visual evidence of patterns within each culture that I meet. With possibly millions of images tucked in the cloud after all these years of journeys, I realise that I am invariably following certain threads in my observations.
I love a good doorknob – I am entranced by a French entrance! My eye is caught by the style of font that is found in a city on signs and house numbers – Helsinki has a love of a spidery, hipster font and the apartment numbers are austere illuminated boxes whilst Art Deco lettering is all about. Post boxes in national colours, street signs on enamel or wood. The patina of peeling paint on an Rajasthani palace wall – soft, dusky pink.
Back in 1999, as I started to stretch my restless hummingbird wings and yearn to travel, I took a trip. I was heading to Europe for 6 months – France in particular – to challenge my solitude after a divorce and I wanted a means to commencing the journey with a hand to hold. In discussion over caffe lattes at a local cafe, a new acquaintance and I discovered a mutual desire to explore the Tuscan hills. Frances Mayes’ book , “Bella Tuscany” had whetted our appetites. Before we knew it, we had booked a 3 week tour which would see the two of us walking together in glorious Spring sunshine amongst villages and vineyards across almost 200km. It remains one of my favourite holidays ever; a perfect combination of laughter and new friendship and beauty and movement. Throughout it all, I kept prodigious journals. Here is an excerpt from a particularly memorable day as we rested from the trail in a Castello which dates from the Middle Ages. Set high above surrounding countryside between Montalcino & Pienza, it is still owned and inhabited by the Contessa and her family – descendants of the owners from 1438….
For me, there is a distinct type of landscape that always swells my chest with emotion and inspiration.
This is part of a piece I wrote in 2014 on a visit home to Australia – a time of reassessment & contemplation:
I am back in the mountains that are blue after 10 years away. It is a very different visit to the last. That one was short and filled to the brim with people and food and fanfare and society. It was warm and inclusive like a long-missed hug from a distant love. It was a celebration of all the wonderful connections that I have in my world. This time, I have arrived back to a more contemplative space. Circumstance on arrival has left me with time to myself where I had planned to be busy with people and things. More space, less people; much more time just spent with me for a while. It feels like my solitary travelling days before the move. And it is good for me.
I have had 10 years of a world filled with noise and people: living & working in a pub where people flood through the door 12 hours a day and noise rises through my floorboards even when I am not at work. Now I am in gentle mountains silence. In a simple space with only music & books to keep me company unless I choose otherwise… and long blissful sleeps. I see that I miss it.