I grew up in England. That’s the tiny little place in the middle of cold and murky seas. The place where we still have Queens and Kings, Princes and Princesses. Where humour was invented to get through bad weather. The land of many regional accents and builders tea. Of Wordsworth and Boris Johnson.
France has Paris and artists starving in garrets. Spain has paella and fabulous dancing. Italy has mountains that reach lakes and an entire city built on water. Holland has its broadminded people and it’s dykes and I could go on and on. England has wonderful things too but its location is not to be sniffed at. It’s in a fantastic spot to travel from.
In my very early 30s, me and the husband moved to Australia. It had been a possibility since I’d met him. I’d spent five years thinking, oh if it comes up it’ll be great. Not ever really believing it. After all the husband was a salesmen and I’d worked with salesmen. That big deal was forever on the precipice, threatening to come in but rarely doing so.
It did come in and within two months we were gone. To the other side of the world. Beautiful weather, stunning beaches, one of the wonders of the world. Great. Fantastic.
Except Australia’s location isn’t the best. I’m assuming you know where it is. Tucked away in the bottom right hand corner of the map, that’s where the Europeans have put it. And in England if you dig a hole in your back garden for long enough you will get through to Australia. In the end. In Australia if you dig that same hole, you come out at China. Apparently.
What I hadn’t factored in while I packed my case, gave away books and my winter coat, was just how far I would be from the rest of the world. Australia is massive. You can get on a plane and travel for hours and still be hovering over the same country. In the UK people walk from Land’s End to John O Groats (top end to the bottom). Not too many people do that over here. Not even using the shortest route. It’s too big, too hot, too deserty. Perth is allegedly the most remote city in the world. I went there once. I liked it but I had a bit of a panic attack realising that on one side there was nothing but desert and the other the Indian Ocean. For miles and miles and miles. I’m getting short of breath thinking about it now.
When I lived in England I hadn’t got my travel mojo working. I was never the type to backpack across Europe or go youth hostelling somewhere remote. But I wanted to see places and I would have got round to it. I mean I’d been to Scotland and Wales. The south of France, the Alps and the north. The Algarve and I’d spent a very long day in Seville after an argument with an ex. I’d been on business trips to Rotterdam and an expenses paid lunch in Amsterdam, flown in from London. I’d driven through Geneva once, had lunch at a lake there. My first fondue was in a restaurant on a mountain in Switzerland as snow began to fall. We honeymooned on the Greek Island of Thassos and I’d spent a couple of sweaty weeks in Jamaica in the early 90s.
But that’s it. Embarrassing for someone who likes to think she’s cosmopolitan. In the last 16 years I’ve not been far at all. A couple of trips to the old country, a wedding in Hong Kong, Christmas in New Zealand with family.
I have a yearning to go to Italy. I’m saving up all my spare coins in a jar. I’ve been learning the language for some years. I read Italian novels. I can’t eat the food. All those carbs go to my bum and hips. But I am a little obsessed.
I’m not comfortable being in one country all the time, not now I’m so far from anywhere else. I miss the different smells, cultures and the music of a new language being spoken around me. Down to different shaped tomatoes and the haunting sounds of a local choir. I watch foreign language films and speak aloud the different sounds. French and Italian. Spanish. And Danish of course.
My jar has a picture of the Italian flag on it with the words ‘Mum’s Italy Trip’ stamped below it. It may take me 20 years to save up, currently I have enough for a one-way bus trip to Rockhampton. But I have faith. I have to have faith. George Michael wasn’t wrong there. I can imagine myself drinking coffee in Florence, standing on one of Venice’s bridges. Looking up Salvo Montalbano in Sicily. And one day I will. I tell myself this every day as I empty my purse of shrapnel into my jar of hope.
“I ordered a coffee and a little something to eat and savored the warmth and dryness. Somewhere in the background Nat King Cole sang a perky tune. I watched the rain beat down on the road outside and told myself that one day this would be twenty years ago.”
― Bill Bryson.