Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Curious Meandering

When I was forty-seven, I liquidated my assets to take a year to travel. Four of those months, from April to August 1999, I toured Western Europe by train.

I had planned nothing in advance, except my point of entry, leaving the rest to chance. Once I landed in Western Europe's oldest city of Lisbon, I began my serendipitous journey, selecting destinations, hotels and restaurants as I went. Sometimes, with a vague direction in mind, I would strike up a casual conversation with a local who spoke some English, and ask what they would recommend. Surprisingly, this turned out to be one of the best ways to go. Combined with my pocket travel guide describing each region, local knowledge led me to marvelous discoveries and delightful encounters.

From Alfama to Amalfi, the first half of my journey was enriched by ancient architecture, dramatic landscapes and rich, authentic culture. The influence of the Phoenicians, Romans, Celts and Iberians emanated from the complex cultures, cuisines and cadences that enveloped me. The unique ambience of locales like Arles and Cauterets put pale to more commercial touristic enclaves. Wandering at leisure without bother was a luxury I treasured, knowing all I had to do was ask if I relished something more invigorating.

Having sampled Iberia and the Mediterranean, with a brief pause in the Alps and Paris, I extended my journey to the British Isles, foregoing London for Penzance, followed by a curious meandering through Ireland's Counties Cork, Kerry and Clare. Had I not been exhausted, I might have then ventured to Scandinavia, but alas, that will have to wait for another window of opportunity.

For now it is enough to extract what was vital from my first great adventure. Then, maybe in a few years, I'll see if I can muster the energy and resources to try it again.

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