When we were sitting in Rome, sharing a bottle of Italian red, Anne brought up a good point.
“Do you ever find it kind of sad that traveling isn’t always as exciting as you imagined?”
Was she right? In a way, yes. There are those times when you are exhausted from taking a bus to a plane to a train, down a darkened Roman alley, only to arrive at a hostel that is experiencing a blackout. There are times when you are dirty, wearing scummy tennis shoes, sporting a bird’s nest on your head, and all you want is a hot bath and some nice-smelling body lotion. And, as we experienced in Italy, there are the times when you see something so mind-blowingly old, like the colosseum, and instead of really seeing it, you snap a few photos with your pocket-sized digital camera and dart back into the metro station.
I think the initial letdown comes from the realization that no matter where you are, you are still you. Turning up in Rome, Paris, Tokyo or Sydney doesn’t guarantee some sort of personal transformation. The enlightenment, the exciting part, comes from the parts that aren’t on your must-see list, or the images that are frozen in your mind instead of on your memory card.
Anne and I might not remember exactly how we felt when we threw coins into the Trevi fountain, but I won’t forget 3-year-old Francesca, who insisted on throwing her bunny puppet into our laps on the plane, then roaring with laughter. Or Mister Salvatore, a young Italian mama’s boy who tried to coerce us into the hotel’s reception area so that his silent, computer-card-playing friend could have a crack at Anne, the blonde American. Though it certainly wasn’t funny at the time, I’d like to think that Anne can now laugh at the stress of us running like graceful elephants through the Vauxhall train station so we could get the last train to Hampton Court. Then, thirty minutes later, just after we’d caught our breath, I inexplicably got off at the stop just before mine, forcing us to make the game time decision to call a taxi.
Because that’s the appeal of travel, really, as opposed to a vacation. You learn what kind of stuff you’re made of. Once you survive a wily cab ride through the streets of Cairo with a fist waving Arabic man, or a food-poisoning-related blackout on the hard linoleum of a New Zealand hostel bathroom, you realise that you’re capable of more than you thought. You learn to relax, you learn to breathe, and then you learn to really look at what’s in front of you, and understand that you’re here to see much more than you’ll ever fit into a photo album.