ME AND…being a stranger in a strange land

Traveling to new places is is wonderful. The first thing I notice is a sharper awareness of my surroundings. (Familiar places tend to become a fuzzy background to my day.) Sights, sounds, and smells vie for my attention. They tell me immediately that I’m out of my comfort zone. I find that stimulating and a bit intimidating. But going forward into the unknown is good for me.

Last spring, my sister Sheila and I booked a tour of Spain and Italy through her grand daughter Mackenzie’s high school Spanish class. Language barriers, cultural differences, and foreign money be damned! Our group was paired with another group of high school kids. My friends shook their heads and rolled their eyes and said there was no way they’d travel with about fifty “selfie” absorbed, overly hormonal teenagers. They’re not well read and their music sucks. They’ll ruin your trip. I hadn’t thought of that.

“It’ll be okay,” I told them, “Sheila and I aren’t chaperones. Except for traveling out and back from hotels and getting into places we’re going to tour, we don’t have to hang out with them.”

Since I was going to be my own porter, packing for the trip was a real challenge, a balancing act between what I needed and what I could realistically manage. We were going to be gone fourteen days! Doubly difficult for me because I have a very bad back. The only way I can walk or stand for any length of time is by using a walker. No way I could push that and pull a big, heavy suitcase on wheels. I ended up packing in two smaller suitcases and my walker turned out to be a blessing, my very own luggage cart.

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The other blessing was all of those teenagers. From the outset to the very last moments we were together, one or the other of them, guys and gals, stepped up to help me, as did Sheila, Mackenzie, our tour guide, and the bus drivers. They took my my walker, stowed it under the bus, retrieved, and brought it to me as I stepped down onto the sidewalk. Stairs to reach lunch tables or to get to a park? Someone showed up at my side and away went my walker so I could use the handrail. When we gathered at a spot to listen to our guide, the kids made way for me so I could sit in front and see. Those famous Roam roads (now sidewalks) were almost my undoing. The pavers are very uneven and have gaps between them. Two guys stepped up. One carried my walker. The other escorted me, groomsman-at-a-wedding style, as we walked along listening to the guide.

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It is my intention to write separate blogs about touring Madrid, Barcelona, and Rome, but I feel compelled to write about ann experience I had in each of those places.

Madrid, Spain: There was one group tour I had to skip because it involved walking over rough terrain and climbing lots of steps. As I wandered the streets on my own, I notice many elderly couples walking along with their arms linked or holding hands. The women were dressed in Channel type suits and the men wore fedora hats to compliment their business attire. Very retro. And very romantic.

Barcelona, Spain: Cooking demonstration six flights up – no elevator.  Again on my own, I discovered a huge, underground archaeological excavation site of a village that dated back to the time before Christ. An area under two square blocks of the city had been exposed and signs in English did a great job of explaining what daily life was like for the people who had lived in the village.

Rome, Italy: I couldn’t do the catacombs. I wandered the side streets, away from the “tourist traps.” I discovered the glory of a typical neighborhood. The ground floor of city block sized apartment buildings is given to shops. Clothes, small food markets, and cafes. I did a lot of window shopping and enjoyed an outdoor lunch. I could get used to that kind of life in a heart beat.

I loved all of the usual things people talk about when they come back from Spain and Italy, but the afternoons on my own are a favorite memory. The other is those teenagers. Yes, they were amazingly helpful. But they were also very bright and a lot of fun. We had great conversations over lunches and dinners. Especially about movies, one of my passions. They were well schooled in the elements of story telling. And they taught me a thing or two about CGI’s. (Computer Generated Images) I suppose the biggest surprise was that they were well informed in a wide range of subjects. Actually more than I had been at their age. Between video games and weekly comedy/drama programs, their TV’s seem to be tuned to the History and Discovery channels, NatGeo, and PBS’s Nova. No matter that they’re not “well read.”

That trip was my first to Europe. I plan to do more. I hope with Sheila. I wish I could do them with “my” teenagers, too. They were very different from what my friends thought they’d be and what I had come to fear they would be. I’m so glad I had an opportunity to visit their world, keeping in mind that it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.  My friends were right, though, about their music. It sucks. Thank God kids today use earbuds!

Carpe diem.

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