|Education without Walls|
When I was 11, my mother walked me into the Silver Crescent overnight train in Baltimore Penn station for my first solo trip to Florida. I don’t remember being scared. She snagged the first colored conductor she found and pressed a folded up $100 bill in his hand, ordering, “Please watch over my daughter until she arrives in Clearwater, FL.” With a kiss on my lips, she departed into a sea of other travelers and literally within minutes, the same conductor had pulled inside the step everyone used to climb in and off the train, and we were moving.
In 2000, my husband, son and I rode on a train from Salsburg to Vienna on a freezing cold New Year’s Eve. We were to spend the millenial in Vienna. As the train pulled into the Vienna station, not only were we chilled to the bone physically, but mentally we couldn’t stop thinking of WWII and what it would been like to be on a train, Jewish, and disguised as something else, trying to keep days ahead of Hitler’s henchmen. We could picture it in that station, only partially hidden under a cavernous roof, and the cold cement floor unwelcome and full of stories it’d witnessed, most sad and horrific.
This week, I took an overnight train, not the Silver Crescent, but the Auto Train to Sanford, FL, once again by myself, but I didn’t need an escort, and my tip to the conductor was less than $20. I could have been 11 again, I was so excited, a wide eyed woman taking photos of everything – my roomette, my legs on the seat, the words Auto Train on the side of another train, my dinner table with its white tablecloth and delicious hot fudge Sundae. No TV, but lots of free wifi and an online book. Unlimited ice, opening my eyes in Rocky Mountain, NC, then Georgia, the widest state ever, and finally, Florida in the wee hours of the morning.
I’m not a timid traveler. Having had professional, working parents, I couldn’t afford to be scared to travel alone. I flew that summer when I was 11 from Clearwater, after visiting with my best friend, to Atlanta, by myself again, where I reunited with my family and then flew to Jamaica.
In my early 20’s I got wanderlust and flew by myself to Hawaii, a 2 day journey, where I traveled all over Oahu in a rented Thing. It was a one of a kind tin Jeep made by VW with a canvas roof. When it was time to come home, the airlines were on strike, and I was just thin enough to be squeezed into a mail plane that stopped in CA, NV, AZ, TX, OK, CO, OH, WVA, VA and at the end of 22 hours, MD.
Anywhere friends asked me to come, I’d go. Clearwater every spring break, Champaign, ILL, Toronto, Canada, Bermuda, NY city, Cape Cod, MA, all over PA. But the big exotic trips came in my mid 20’s. They were mostly land-sea cruises paid for by my father’s company. The Galapagos, where the captain of the ship was held up at gunpoint until he paid a bribe, to the east coast of Argentina just before its 70’s military coup, to Cancun when it was just a beautiful beach with naked natives, to see the Mayan ruins in first a Landrover Jeep, then a Russian made airplane with no air pressure or lights, so we had to be back before dark. The landing strip was the flat top of a mountain. We even crossed the Equator, running from the legendary pirate Blackbeard who was rumored to be hiding out there.
When we ran out of places to go in S. America, and had had enough of food poisoning and suede pantsuits, the humidity of the Rainforest, and raw sewage at Impanema Beach, we headed to Europe. I got to see Dubrovnik before it was torn apart and became Croatia, rode a camel in Turkey, watched my parents barter with Turkish carpet makers, and cruised over to the Greek islands. I’d taken a Conversational Greek course to meet up with a Greek officer I’d met on board another cruise ship so we had a reunion, but in the end, he broke my heart. I loved sitting in cafes in Greece and gorging on Baklava, and in Crete, tasting Squid which, if baked, was no worse than eating calamari. Switzerland was beautiful beyond belief, and if I ever got married, wouldn’t it be fun to travel all around the world?
Well, I did get married, but my husband and I honeymooned on the Cape, falling in love with the cold Atlantic Ocean. When I was pregnant, we returned to our honeymoon cottage and went sailing. I was so fat and full of baby, I nearly sank the ship!!
There were a few years when, baby in arms, and us, struggling financially, a vacation was a day trip to Ocean City, MD. I was glad then that I’d thrown caution aside and allowed myself the chance to travel the world.
I would have loved to have shown my son Turkey, Africa, Hawaii, and Australia, but it just wasn’t in the cards. When he was a teen, we broke the bank to show him the Netherlands, Austria, and, twice, Quebec. We spent 25 summers planted in a lovely cottage by the sea in Nantucket, filled with friends and family. Since my son graduated college, we travel separately. Him to CO, UT, WA, CA, TX, Scotland, Croatia, Turkey, and FL. If there was only one trait I could have passed down to him, I’m glad it’s the trait of wanderlust. You learn so much about others, but mostly you learn to be brave and toss caution aside.