Heading off to the airport, bursting with excitement, my bags packed; 1 rucksack and a backpack, my stomach swirled and whirled with a mix of excitement and terror.
The journey to get to this point had been fraught with loss, anxiety, fear, hard work, worry, excitement and the thrill of setting off on an adventure to lands unknown…..loss of a job, giving up my home, fear of the unknown, the anxiety of leaving my daughter on her own (how daft am I), fear of being in foreign countries, worry of what to do when I got there, and how to get to where I had to go – the future spread before me and I had no idea of the adventures that lay ahead.
10 years ago today; 8th October 2001 = (3652 days, 87648 hours, 5258880 minutes ago) I left South Africa. The first time ever I was leaving the shores of my country of birth, I was flying across continents and seas over to Ireland to visit my little sister and to celebrate her 30th birthday with her which was the following day (and also the day I arrived in Ireland).
3 months before this day, I had come to a fork in the road of my life. The company I was working for had gone into liquidation in July, my daughter had attained the age of 21 in August (we had a fab party for that), and my sister who was living in Ireland at the time, as mentioned was due a landmark birthday in October and wanted someone from the family to join her. So, since I would have no job from the end of that September, it made perfect sense for me to go. There had of course been many forks in the road and I had gone on many a new journey in the preceeding 46years, but this was the first time I would be travelling overseas.
Getting to the point of departure was a journey of it’s own. I had to obtain a visa, arrange for my house to be sold, worry about where my daughter was to live, sell my car, pack my belongings into storage, find the money to live on while I was away and pay the bills, fight with the airline that went into liquidation 3 weeks before I was due to depart (think Swissair), talk myself onto a packed flight with South African Airways, and spare a thought or two about what I would do for a job on my return……little did I know. (and as I write those four words: ‘little did I know’ I am overwhelmed with emotion).
One of the most incredible things about being human, with a logical memory and perception is that….we can look back on events that change our lives and be amazed at the sheer wonder of it all.
My wonderful family; daughter Cémanthe, sister’s Sue & Joanne, nieces and nephews all came to see me off at the airport. I literally bounced through the airport, both terrified and excited beyond words, so much so that I could not contain myself and as I bounced along towards Customs I jumped up and down like a kangaroo, laughing and crying at the same time.
The flight was long, and overcrowded and tiring. I arrived in Zurich the next morning, absolutely terrified at finding my way to my next flight. In the event I did and as we flew over Europe I was in tears; tears of excitement, of joy, of wonder, of fear and the overiding thought was that in these very skies the 2nd WW had been fought. As a 2nd WW aficianado it was so emotional to think of those people who had lived through that time.
Next stop was London City airport. How foreign then, how familiar now. Finding my way to the tube; a time of confusion and fear. Trying to convert Rands to Pounds, thank goodness they spoke English. First a bus ride and finally onto the Piccadilly line and I was on my way, one more leg and I would be in Ireland!!! Hooray. I thrilled at the novelty of riding on a train underground, amazed that this was possible, amused at the people around me, the changing faces, the foreign languages, the suitcases and the fact that I, me, was there too! I felt as if I was in a dream.
Then suddenly we left the underground and I saw the houses of London for the first time and I was smitten. I often tell this story because it was life changing: as we left the tunnel I looked up and saw the houses and the chimneys that reminded me of Mary Poppins, and I fell in love. A love that has never waned, grown stronger and as I said to someone today…..if I had felt as much passion for my husband as what I feel for London….I would probably still be married!!! (and no offence to anyone who is happily married, but I shudder at the thought ), imagine all that I would have missed out on if I had not been single. It still amazes me today that all my life I never expressed an interest in even visiting London and now it has become my home and I can’t imagine wanting to live anywhere else in the world.
The next surprise was Heathrow. A LOT smaller than I had anticipated from the stories I had heard and then suddenly we were airborne and my excitement knew no bounds. The patchwork fields below me looked enchanting, then the Irish Sea spread before me and my excitement escalated, then suddenly the coast of Ireland started to appear!! And as we came in to land, I heard gaellic for the first time, realised why Ireland is called the ‘emerald isle’ and whoa……there below me I could see a castle! A real genuine castle, castle. Alice in Wonderland had nothing on this!!
At the time I arrived Ireland they were in the midst of an outbreak of foot & mouth disease and we had to walk through a special fluid to clean our shoes. That was quite symbolic for me as I felt like I was starting with a clean slate. (I know, I know, but it makes sense to me!). The Customs man waved me through, but I stopped and asked him to stamp my passport…..duh!!! My third stamp in 24 hours. Meeting up with my beloved sister and brother-in-law was out of this world. The joy I felt at being there, seeing them again was beyond words. My head was buzzing with all the new experiences I was having.
The next 24 hours were just beyond description….and I never went home!
Since that day I have travelled the length and breadth of Ireland, visited and stayed in hundreds of villages, dozens of towns and many cities of England, Scotland & Wales, visited dozens of islands and 2 continents, been to America (3 times), Venice, Verona and Sirmione, Paris and Versailles, Amsterdam & Gouda, Bruges & Damme, Gibraltar and been on a cruise to the Bahamas. I have explored medieaval forts and towers, meandered through Castles, Abbeys, Cathedrals, Churches, world-famous Universities and two Roman amphitheatre’s. Walked on a Roman road in the crypt of a church, visited many other crypts and a 5,000 year old burial mound, the sites of significant historical battles, a medieaval Tower and Palaces, seen the Queen of England (a live one!), walked in the footsteps of a beloved Princess, Winston Churchill, Christopher Wren, Oscar Wilde, Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, Kings and Queens, Dukes and Duchesses, and watched the Royal Wedding of a future King and Queen from close proximity on The Mall in London. I have participated in and watched ancient parades and ceremonies, waded barefoot in the Irish Sea, the English Channel, the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic ocean on the other side of the world, seen the Crown jewels of England, the crow’s nest of Shackleton’s ship, and sat on the seat where Alexander Pope rested and Walter Raleigh planned his round the world trips. Seen the Atlas mountains, the Swiss Alps, the Sahara desert, and the Grand Canyon from the air, walked on fire, tramped along jurassic cliffs and historic tunnels, clambered through caves and grottos, travelled on planes, trains, boats and a barge, the Eurostar, a limosine and a horse & carriage in New York, in a soft-top Cadillac in Paris, a riverboat steamer, a ferry in Ireland, a gondola in Venice and a ship across the Caribbean sea, walked across historical bridges, been rock-wall climbing, para-sailing, climbed a 60′ pole and then bungeed off, had a white christmas, built a snowman in Hyde Park, and went sledding at Alexander Palace, had a cruise on the Seine and rowed on the Thames, been to the top of the Empire State Building, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Eiffel Tower, heard the bells of Big Ben in London, St Marks Cathedral in Venice, Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Southwark Cathedral and St Paul’s in London, St David’s in Wales, the Notre Dame in Paris, and listened to the sirens of WW2. Stood on the most central spot of New York, Paris, London and Dublin, I’ve seen amazing sunsets in 8 countries and many more counties, and very few sunrises in any!! I have seen world-famous paintings by VanGogh, Monet, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Rubens and others, ancient pottery and artefacts 1,000′s of years BC, medieval art and dwellings, stood on the spot where artists like Bellini, Canneletto, Carravagio, Titian and Tintoretto stood as they splashed their paint onto church walls in Italy that still stand today. I’ve walked through the red-light district of Amsterdam, along the decking of Horatio Nelson’s ship, through the house where Shakespeare was born, the Tower where Sir Walter Raleigh was incarcerated, seen the bed where Queen Mary was born, sat on the couch where Keats lay dying, had tea in a cafe where Princess Diana once did, walked up steps that have seen the feet of Saint Patrick, pilgrims, monks, and travellers of old, walked through ancient Monasteries and woodlands, a Masonic Temple, stood on the Meridian line and the spot where 3 English Queens were beheaded. I’ve seen red deer, hares and foxes, painted ladies and for the first time heard a robin, a cuckoo and a blackbird sing. I have eaten key lime pie and conch fritters in America, crepes in France, pizza in Italy, chocolate in Belgium, cheese in Amsterdam, soda bread in Ireland, Cornish ice-cream and fish and chips with mushy peas in quintessential English seaside resorts.
In these 10years I have become an aunty again for the 4th time, a great-aunt 3 times over, been to 3 weddings and one funeral (non family), lost a dearly beloved (almost) father-in-law, travelled to South Africa as a ‘visitor’ 5 times, slept in airports in 3 countries I haven’t visited, started a business and learned about MLM, internet marketing, spread betting (still haven’t figured it out), learned about personal development, the universe and being in your flow, listened to world-famous speakers and bullshitters, been on courses that have altered my perceptions and learned about values and beliefs, read ancient manuscripts and The Book of Kells, had my daughter join me in London for a holiday and end up staying made many new friends and lost a few, fell in and out of love and almost moved to America, lived in cottages, apartments, flats, houses, mansions, a loft, a boat and a gypsy caravan (none of which were my own) and slept in a tent on The Mall. I’ve learned how to use a mobile phone, send text messages, use a phone in a foreign country (Italy), edit photos on my computer, to blog and to tweet, written 2 books, had 3 poems and a book of photos published, I have stood up in front of a room full of people and done a presentation and yet just 10 years ago my sister in Ireland had to coach me on how overcome my fear and to speak to people I didn’t know Now I can and do speak to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
From one rucksack and a backpack when I left my home shores, I have during the last 10 years accumulated so much that I now have 12 suitcases, 30 boxes filled to the brim, a chest of drawers, a rebounder, books by the dozen and mementoes galore, a postcard collection to rival any other and so much stuff that I now need a storage unit to store it all. And in my heart I have stored some of the most amazing sights, sounds, memories and experiences.
I have done more in the last 10 years than I did in the preceeding 46, and as I write I marvel at the journey it took to reach this anniversary, and dream with anticipation of the possible journeys that still lie ahead.
I am one of the luckiest people in the world. Long may the journey and the adventures continue.