How did I become a Citizen of the World? Why do I have these itchy feet? Where does this greed for exploring come from? Why this fascination with foreign customs’n’cultures? Was there a specific moment? Or did I get injected this yearning for travel in homeopathic doses?
I’ve put together five anecdotes about my earliest – and most impressive – travel memories that might explain a thing or two.
It’s really amazing what my brain remembers, how these trips sank in and anchored in my mind and soul.
When I Was Two
I’m on a beach, it’s late at night, it’s pitch dark, there is a weak campfire and someone is playing guitar.
I can see this scene before me like looking through a veil. And I see it in black and white. Maybe because it’s so dark that the eye cannot distinguish colors so that everything appears in shades of softening grey.
Or maybe it’s because this scene is so old that there are only pictures in black and white from that time.
It must have been in the mid-60s. We were living in Czechoslovakia. Socialist Czechoslovakia.
Behind the proverbial iron curtain, travelling was very limited.
I had just outgrown the toddler age. My mother and I had gone by train from Prague to a country which at that time was Yugoslavia.
General Tito’s Yugoslavia.
A socialist country, but open to the west. Mentally, metaphorically, and literally.
Here, the reliable communist who would not take advantage of open borders were able to spend their vacation side by side with vacationers from the west who enjoyed Yugoslavia’s cultural and natural beauty at a pretty cheap price.
In return, they were ready to lower their sights when it came to supply and service.
However, later, my mother always claimed that I had some sickness that needed to be cured under the Yugoslavian sun.
I think this was a legend to make things more interesting.
I don’t remember having been sick.
All I remember is this black and white moment late at night on a beach.
I must have been two or three years old.
When I Was Five
‘Hush’, barks the coyote, ‘I hear armed soldiers!’ Our little group ducks in the high grass close to the electric fence. From far we can hear a shot and then a dog is barking fiercely. Suddenly the beam of a flashlight points in my face….
Yeah, no, it was nothing like that when our little family migrated in 1968 and left Czechoslovakia for Germany – technically illegally.
In August, the troops of the Warsaw Pact had come on a visit to free the Czech people from the danger of western capitalism.
Since January 1968, Alexander Dubček had been in power and things had changed a lot.
Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of…
Many things that were quite normal on the other side of the iron curtain were slowly installed. They proved to the other Eastern Block countries that socialism with a little freedom here and there was possible and quite pleasant.
The government in Moscow strongly disagreed, so that on August 21, 1968, I woke up, looked out of the window, and knew that something was on. Usually, there was no tank in front of the small supermarket across the street. But now it was.
Since I was five, I don’t know when my parents decided to leave Czechoslovakia, neither do I remember since when I knew it. I have the feeling that I knew it all along, but that cannot be right, it would have been far too dangerous to bring a five-year-old blabbermouth into the loop of a plan that could have led to a little something like 20 years of prison.
The Land of Milk And Honey
So one day in October, we took the train. My mother and I that is. My father had to work one more day. He would join us 24 hours later.
Waiting at the station for the connecting train, we did some window shopping.
Yes, it was the exciting, sparkling West.
In one window, probably advertising for a toy store, was a play store raising every small child’s desire.
The store was run by hedgehogs.
Their customers were hedgehogs, too.
Actually, the hedgehog-thing gave the whole scenery a surreal glamour.
But my covetousness was the shop.
Man, it must be paradise to run your own shop.
Even if your customers are only hedgehogs.
‘Will I get one like that?’, I asked my mother. ‘We will see’, she smiled, probably knowing our financial situation and uncertain future in this new, strange country.
Of course, I would get one like that, we were in Germany, after all, now we could get everything we wanted.
That’s why we had come here, right?!
Of course, I would get one like that.
The next day, my father joined us safely in Hamburg.
I never got the play store.
When I Was Six
Hours and hours and hours in the back seat of an old light blue Simca.
One of the things my parents wanted to enjoy after they’d made it to Germany was getting to know places; the more, the better. Certainly understandable – many years later their daughter became a travel blogger, after all.
But they did it in a quite obsessed way.
With the help of his big Shell Atlas, my father determined the route. Then, he calculated the length of the individual legs.
How soon we would get there provided there were no jams on the Autobahn.
Would get there, not could.
Our home was the start and the goal of a merciless race.
So I basically spent three weeks in the backseat of this old car my parents had bought as soon as we arrived in Germany.
Them, obviously, in the front seats, smoking one cigarette after another.
In lucky moments, my mother rolled down the window a teeny bit.
Why All The Rush?
My father’s precisely scheduled itinerary had some flaws.
Besides not considering all the other families driving down South at the same time and causing jams, he hadn’t considered that I was a seven-year-old with a bladder the same age.
Hence, I needed to empty it somewhere on the road between Northern Germany and Southern France.
This realization annoyed my ambitious father to the max. But he solved the problem; by buying a plastic bucket which should enable me to empty my meanwhile irritable bladder.
Since then, no human desideratum impaired his personal schedule anymore.
When I Was Eight
And then Christmas was over and my mother held a very well-paid job. And not only did my parents trade the used sky blue Simca for a brand new dark blue Chrysler. They also had this incredible idea to go on vacation….by plane!
Over the incessant cruises across Europe, no more peeing in a bucket on the backseat while my parents argued in the front seats, smoking like chimneys.
At that time, flying was a huge deal. I think I didn’t know anybody that had ever taken a plane – especially not going on a family trip. Well, since we weren’t the only people on that flight, my mother was, obviously, not the only regular person with a well-paid job. But anyway….big deal!
There is proof that I’m not exaggerating: Coming down the gangway, there was a photographer taking a picture of each and every passenger – like on a cruise ship.
Come on, they certainly don’t do that today on Ryan Air Flights.
So….big, big deal.
We spent a vacation that nowadays for me would be torture: At an all-inclusive hotel, laying on lounge chairs around pools. The sand on the beach was black lava sand – definitely not the epitome of a dream beach.
However, we went on walks on those black beaches, and one day a guy stepped out of nowhere and made my parents a very tempting offer: Gold watches!
Not A Good Deal
If you now expect me to describe how my mother laughed on top of her lungs and my father threatened to punch him, you’ll be disappointed. These two, both academics, decisive people who had made it to Germany to seek political asylum, will say not very moronic at first glance, took those watches, examined those watches. Asked the shady guy about twenty times if they were real gold for real, examined them again and again. And since the guy swore on someone important’s life,…..they finally bought those watches!
They bought watches on a lava beach somewhere on Tenerife believing they were gold! And man, were they surprised when the Austrian watchmaker, who shared our all-inclusive table at the terrible tourist trap hotel, disclosed that, yes, those were watches, indeed. But no, neither made of gold nor of very good quality.
Although the trip at that time must have cost close to a fortune, Tenerife was not that big of a success.
When I Was Seventeen
Come to think of it, it’s quite surprising that after having suffered various Summers from my parents’ road trips crisscross Europe, I got a hang of tripping myself.
Actually, at the tender age of 17, I quit high school, packed a canvas bag, my boyfriend and we joined the Interail bandwagon.
Today, I wonder a bit that I had no difficulties travelling across Europe before reaching legal age, but somehow nobody really cared.
In Amsterdam, we had problems finding a hostel – it was Summer and many underaged couples had the same idea of travelling; but in the end, it did work out somehow.
In Rotterdam, I finally found the hard-boiled eggs I had packed a couple of days ago as a snack for our trip. Found them somewhere deep in my bag between some T-shirts. It was a hot Summer – I tossed them in the trash. I was grateful for having packed them in a tight plastic bag.
In Paris, my wallet got stolen by a group of little girls whose ethnicity I withhold in favor of political correctness.
Eventually, the adventurous idea of sleeping on the lawn under the Eiffel tower turned out to be not as adventurous as going to the North Pole. But in the wee hours equally cold.
Switzerland was Swiss – beautiful, but not very exciting.
A Disenchanting Finale
In the beginning, Italy was not so bad until in Marina di Massa, I broke to my boyfriend that I wanted to break up; he was heartbroken.
In Pisa, he drowned his pain in lots of beer and some wine. He got sick. Since his vomit was very red, I got worried and called the ambulance.
As the Paramedics mumbled something like vino rosso, I remembered that we had eaten spaghetti with tomato sauce.
I was too embarrassed to clarify the source of the red vomit.
The paramedics took us to a hospital.
He spent the night in a comfy hospital bed, I spent it on a mattress on the floor of an exam room.
In the morning, the paramedics gave me black coffee with sugar; that was very sweet – metaphorically and literally. I couldn’t drink it. I hate sweet hot beverages and I need milk in my coffee.
As we left, we had to promise to come back in the evening for the results of the blood tests.
We knew that the result was tomato sauce.
After Pisa, we decided to return home.
It’s Not Over Yet
In Milan, however, we had to get off the train.
Someone had stolen my now ex-boyfriend’s wallet while we were sleeping. Actually, I’m pretty sure that we had become victims of one of these train sleeping gas attacks.
However, the German embassy in Milan gave him a train ticket home and some money for the day.
I thought it was a brilliant idea to spend that money on a big plate of small assorted sandwiches. They had mayonnaise on them.
It was still a hot Summer. In Italy.
In the afternoon, I scraped the rancid mayonnaise off.
Then, we ate what was left.
Waiting for the train back home at a park, I noticed some guy jerking off on a park bench while watching us playing cards.
Actually, it is very, very surprising that I still got a hang of road trips.
And now it’s your turn: What are your first, most profound travel stories? Share them with me and my readers below in the comment section.
I’m looking so much forward to reading them!
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