Treasures and pleasures of travel

By Jan Wheatcroft

I treasure the memories of my various trips, holidays and vacations that have played a major part in my life. I chose to live a relatively simple life, saving every penny for traveling. I choose to travel the way that fits my way of life, not wanting to stay in fancy luxury but to live simply at the local level. Sure, this has saved me money but that is not the reason for it. I travel to get the feeling of local life, the color, the adventure that comes from not arranging everything in advance and to let chance take me where it will.

That is a great part of the adventure. I don’t just go to museums and monuments (I do visit some of them of course, who would want to miss the Louvre or the Van Gogh exhibit or eating snails in the restaurant up on the Eiffel Tower?), but I like to explore and see what happens by chance. I have traveled twice in a group; one time it was successful, while the other time the people wanted to live their lives as they did at home, eating food that was familiar to them and not wanting to explore. Instead I remember being in India and wandering through gardens and chatting with young people who wanted photos of themselves with us and enjoyed sharing part of their lives with us. Another time there was a wedding in our small hotel and we were asked to be in the photographs with the bride and groom. We laughed about that later on, thinking about this young couple coming across photos of their wedding with these strangers smiling with them.

I have been by myself in Nigeria, Israel, Greece, India and Japan, as well as a few other places, but for 20 years I traveled with my dearest friend, Frances, whom I met while on the island of Skyros where I went for a two-week stay at a center for personal development. The experience was so intense and so amazing that I went back every year in the summer for nine years. I made many great friends there and continue to see them whenever I go to England.

Frances was there and we seemed to be on the same wavelength as far as travel, and many months later we met up in Thailand to travel for about a month. She was more adventurous than I and I learned to feel comfortable taking travel chances from there. We traveled all around the country, having adventures on trains, boats and buses. It was great and we kept on traveling for 20 years, visiting Europe, South East Asia and India together. We always tried to take local transportation. I loved the trains the most with the beds that folded down, the tradesmen who clamored on when the train stopped in a local station and they sold their hot teas and snacks. It was a beautiful sight to sit by the window and watch the local life as we passed by. Sometimes we hired a car and driver and sometimes we went by bus, but we did as little as possible by airplane. Now travel is harder for me, but I do try to spend time in England and Sweden staying with dear friends.

It was on these travels that I began to keep journals. I would pack a journal with plain, unlined paper, an ink pen, colored pencils and a bottle of glue. I took photographs with my camera and took the roll of film to a one hour developing shop (they existed in every country) and then I drew, wrote and pasted in photos of wherever I was seeing and I was able to keep a colorful and a personal record of my trips and all the things I loved and did. Frances did it too, and now that travel has been so limited we can re-enjoy our travels and pleasures.

We loved traveling simply and meeting many local people who were kind and offered to show us places or tell us what to see or even take us to their favorite places. We were often treated to home-cooked meals or told where to go for good local food. In India we met a puppet maker who lived on the street in a huge tent with his family, and he invited us to watch a puppet show on the porch of a neighbor’s house. Once I insisted on going to a town in France because I wanted to see the huge mechanical elephant and ride inside of him. What fun that was. Once Frances and I decided to binge on raw oysters I and we went to a small town and did just that. We drank lovely cold white wine and slurped those beauties down. So yes, traveling is also food. But shopping plays a big part, too. Open Saturday markets and antique sales are wonderful places to browse through and to discover all sorts of treasures laid out on cobblestones or tables.

I lived in Israel for a year and was even lucky to join an archaeological dig at Masada in the Negev desert. I also lived with my two sons on a Greek Island for nearly seven years. Great adventures both.

I will be speaking at the Claremont Forum in the Packing House on Wednesday, October 27 at 7 p.m. The talk is free to all. I will bring many of my journals to share, and plan to show some photos of various trips as well. I also have much more to share with you. I hope to see some of you that night.

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