Travel essay as a story
|The trip occurred during an Olympic year, which made for some multicultural education. You can’t be a Nationalist hog when you’re in another country watching the Olympics.
However, Janey didn’t care about that too much. Yes, she had learned that on this trip, but there were more important things she learned. She concentrated hard. Her brow wrinkled, she frowned. There was so much to say in this essay.
“There were thousands of pigeons in St. Mark’s Square in Venice, more pigeons than people anyway…and it was high season, it was summer.”
At that point, she felt herself falling back into her memories. She remembered walking through the Bridge of Sighs and asking what it was, and was told “The Bridge of Sighs,” and thinking “Bridge of Size,” so thinking she made a mistake, she asked again. “Bridge of Sighs,” the chaperone repeated. She was confused. “Why would anyone name it the ‘Bridge of Size’?” She asked again and again with the same rather frustrated response…”Bridge of Sighs.” Then the chaperone said, “S-I-G-H-S.” Oh.
She forced herself back to the essay, she was really embarrassed but she knew that the story should be told. “We waited for the evening so we could take an evening trip on the legendary gondolas. I tried not to get into the same gondola as my chaperone. I had to show I wasn’t needy. I had a reputation as a clingy person, I admit. I didn’t succeed in finding another boat. I felt I was not wanted by my teacher/chaperone in the gondola (well who would want a student when she could have had her husband alone in the gondola with her in Venice and at night).
After the rather awkward trip it started to rain. We were staying on the Lido—an island playground for the rich, only a ferry ride off Venice. As we were waiting for our ferry, I began to sing “Singin’ in the Rain.” One of the members of our tour made fun of my voice. I was hurt. The she tried to make me feel better. It didn’t exactly work, but I was learning people acted differently, way differently, then they normally did. This was one thing, one truth I learned, people are not the same when they travel. Authenticity goes out the window.
My roommate in London was very unpopular because she said she had done things that she hadn’t. Stuff like being a professional gambler and turning down a book offer. I didn’t mind. I liked her better than my other roommates during the trip, roommates who didn’t like anyone and were stuffy and overbearing. I didn’t pay attention to roommates and authenticity during the days in London because I spent my time drinking Earl Gray tea with milk and sugar and seeing the sites on my own terms. By then, I had thrown out the rules of the trip and often went off on my own because my tour mates had no concern for history, only drinking and dancing (we were all in high school). Yes, authenticity goes out the window during travel with others (who you don’t know well). I promised myself I would be myself no matter where I was. I think I did that.
It was in Salzburg that I really learned to be independent. In high school, I was very sheltered and I wasn’t very independent. But I had enough of my roommates. I decided to ditch them (they never noticed I was gone) and go exploring on my own. I walked down the narrow streets with their gilt-edged signs. I visited Mozart’s house, I visited shops, I drunk in all the scenes as if I was dying of thirst. I loved it. I went back to the hotel and I received a lecture for my trouble. It was worth it, though. And it didn’t work. I was just as independent in Paris, choosing to forgo shopping (which was boring with my classmates, they liked totally superficial things) and take the metro and walk ‘back’ to our hotel. I loved that. I put my nose up to the window longing to get out at the Louvre stop because the metro had art (sculptures and paintings and such). But I stayed on the subway and committed the view to memory. I walked through lesser-known Parisian neighborhoods with its centuries old architecture. I only saw Parisians. I saw authentic Parisian cafés with authentic Parisians. I didn’t meet a tourist at all though I walked for a while. It was refreshing. Even our hotel was authentic. Not close to anything but Parisian houses, it was quiet and the outside looked old. Even the inside was old. But that gave it a special feeling. I liked being there than the department store meant for tourists. I also was reveling in my independence.
Well, that sounded good, so far. Memories came flooding back to Janey. She had forgotten much of this. Her brain felt full and even overwhelmed with sights, voices, scents…
She desperately wanted to think of fun things. Automatically, it seemed, her mind seemed to be waiting…she remembered…in Paris, her bus driver, drunk and surly, drove them around Paris at night. They drove up to Sacre Coeur, the white cathedral above Paris. The roads were narrow and winding. Cars were lining the sides of the roads. One car, a Volkswagen, had parked more in the street than the side. They couldn’t drive on. After consulting with the tour director, they asked for the guys in our bus to go out in the night and join them outside of the bus. When Janey looked out the window, she saw that all the guys were “bouncing” the car up and down while moving it toward the sides of the road. It was ingenious.
And here was the toughest part of the essay; she had to tell of the events that made more personality changes as a result of this trip. This was the main reason why…“Munich is one of the places I grew up in the most. No tour is complete without a trip to the Hofbrauhaus—a famous beer garden. I don’t like beer. I especially didn’t like beer back then. We sat in the garden, not the beer hall. I tried to order something other than beer. The nice man taking my order kept saying ‘No’ or ‘Nein’ becoming more frustrated by the minute. He finally threw up his arms and left. He did finally come back. This time I was ready. I ordered a liter of beer. He smiled and left. When I was waiting for my liter, I looked around and saw my fellow classmates downing their beers. When the nice man came back with my beer, I told myself if my classmates could do that, it must be easy, I could do that too. I took a deep breath, then downing the beer to a small ‘puddle,’ I looked up, proud of myself. Then it happened. The floor turned vertical. I shook my head violently—still it was vertical. Something must have shown on my face. My chaperone came up to me. She knew me better than anybody (other than my family). She knew that something was wrong and she knew what it was. She quietly said to me, ‘Walk it off.’ I looked at her incredulously. ‘Walk it off?’ I told myself. ‘Is she crazy?’ I don’t even know where the floor is!’
After ten minutes or so, the floor rotated back to normal and I tentatively walked around. I felt better. By the time we stood in the subway, I felt bad that I had messed up so badly. I made a mistake. I prided myself on being ‘good.’ But even worse, I felt like my heroes and heroines fell off their pedestals. People like classmates I looked up to and my chaperone that had also imbibed in the beer. Everyone was drunk (I was not so bad, just shook up). I stood apart from the group. I felt apart from the group and my past life. I no longer wanted to hang around these people or anyone so much as I had. I wasn’t clingy anymore. I was disappointed.
Then in Rome we were at a restaurant on a side street. Again, we had some wine. I had learned my lesson. I gave mine away and asked for water. When we were waiting to leave, while everyone packed up and came out, I saw another student, (who was just as clingy) trying to pick up on one of the adults. He had too much wine. He also didn’t care that he was clingy. He was always with the same person; you could tell he loved her. I stared transfixed. I wasn’t that bad but I also saw how bad it was. Again, I told myself, I’m not acting remotely like that anymore. I remember the dark alleyway, the scents of an old but wonderful city, and architecture like nowhere else. But I also remembered the sadness that I had wasted a part of life acting stupid. It’s now one of the things I associate with Rome, for good and for bad. But I also threw some change into the Tivoli fountain, so I now I’m going back to remake better memories.
The final straw was a walk on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. I remember the high-end shops and then walking on and being in the red-light district. My classmates were looking around in wonder. My chaperone tried to talk to me. I think she knew what had happened. I answered in grunts, still looking around. I hated it. I hated me. But as we reached the Arc de Triomphe, it changed for me. I went up to the top and looked over Paris, just as I had on the Eiffel Tower. The views were spectacular. As the monuments stood proud, so did I. I felt released.
I had grown up.
Janey was happy. She felt better, like a weight came off her. Writing often does that. She also smiled remembering the trip. Yes, it was a difficult trip but yes, she loved it. She hoped that others appreciated it. Janey went outside and imagined what people were saying about her neighborhood. Was it as interesting as Paris or Ludwigshafen, where it seemed normal, where there was a bowling alley up the street? This was a great place and she believed it was as interesting as Europe.