“Oh my gosh, we need to find the freeway now! We are in a bad neighborhood!” I snapped to my friend who was with me in the car. We traveled to a large city in our state. I was there to get eye surgery the next day and she was with me since Hubby couldn’t get time off work. We decided to take in a movie the night before, but we couldn’t find parking in a safe area. There were sketchy people on the dark corners and no other cars around. I wanted to get out of there fast.
My friend, who I’ve been close to for years but never traveled with, was silent. Then she said, “Wow, I’m worried now. If you’re scared, it must be bad!” She explained to me that she assumed I wasn’t afraid of anything when traveling. Mouth hanging open in astonishment, I said, “What would make you think that?”
“Because you’ve been all over the U.S. and to Europe.“
I said, “And that means…that I’m not afraid of anything when I’m there?“
She said, “Right. You seem so confident.”
Sheesh, what picture was I painting of myself to my friends who got left behind in our little town while we went abroad?
Yeah, I may seem confident when I try to conjure up new destinations. I talk about it with my friends until they get sick of me. I push my husband relentlessly to dream about it too, and I try to make him realize why we’ll just die if we don’t go to such and such a place. And then, he‘ll finally agree and we’ll set some dates and buy some tickets, and that is when all the self-assurance ends. Because at that point, my mind switches into “what-if” mode and I begin to panic. All the things that could go wrong. All the reasons why we shouldn’t have chosen that place after all.
Maybe this is because the very first time I went to France, I had rose colored glasses on in my planning phase and they only came off the morning we left for the airport. My hubby wasn’t able to go with us to France, because he was working and schooling. My 2 year old and I were joining my grandma, who bought us the tickets and my mom and my 14 year old sister.
Hubby drove us to the airport and as reality set in that I was leaving the country for the first time (and with a toddler but without my husband), my guts started twisting. After several stops along the way, we finally made it to the airport. I began to snivel and hang on to my husbands neck in the lobby like I was in some sort of 1940's black and white film, where the couple are next to the train that's about to depart, clinging to the last few lingering seconds together. Then the sobbing ensued. This was so unlike me, displaying loud, uncontrolled emotional turbulence in front of a lot of strangers in a public place! Where was this bravado I thought I had, or had so successfully portrayed to my friend?
After boarding, we flew…and flew…and flew….and flew, and I realized just how far away “across the pond” really was. I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat, I became giddy (in a bad way) when I checked the time and saw we still had hours to go. My head was beginning to sound the knell of an impending migraine, as is usually the case when anything requiring mental clarity occurs.
I remember the moment we were finally approaching Amsterdam, and I couldn’t believe that I was actually seeing Europe with my very own small town eyes. A couple of European men behind me began to talk to each other in English. They’d both been in Seattle and they were comparing notes. One said, “Could you believe the way people drink coffee there?” The other said, “All I saw were paper cups in people’s hands! It was so weird!” I thought they were weird for thinking that was weird. It wasn’t until later I found out why.
When we got off the aircraft in Amsterdam, I realized that Europe smelled different. A mixture of cigarettes, body odor, pastries, coffee…it made me feel like I was watching a movie I’d seen before, but I was suddenly transported into. I was experiencing what I’d only observed and dreamed of before. I knew I was in Europe, finally.
I never what-if’ed most of the things that happened, though. We almost missed our connecting flight to Toulouse because my grandmother had a harmonica in her purse wrapped in about 29 rubber bands. The way it was laying against the other harmonica made it look like a gun in the X-ray machine. Skipping boring but scary-to-me details, we made it to the plane anyway. I remember it was a City Hopper and I laughed every time they said it because it sounded like “See-Tee Hope Err”.
By this time, my head was in full-on-migraine, I stunk of B.O. (I now realize that this always happens to me the second I enter Europe and could anyone please tell me why???), and I was 15 hours past a nap, and in ready-to-vomit-any-second mode. I couldn’t get my seatbelt fastened (paybacks for earlier sarcastic remarks) and the perfectly-perfect flight attendant, with a perfect smile, had to lean over me to fasten it. I knew I smelled not pretty, so I turned about 5 shades of red and held my breath.
As my head bobbed up, down and around during the flight (because I was finally falling asleep) my daughter got into her backpack of surprises and opened up the Hello Kitty baby nail polishes I brought. Smelling lacquer wafting through the air, it jolted me out of my fleeting slumber, only to return again for 2 more seconds of sleep until my throbbing head bobbed and weaved and then smashed into the seat in front of me. I think this routine lasted about 2 hours. Two hours that felt like 20.
We finally arrived in Toulouse and were greeted by my uncle. I desperately needed to use the restroom to change out of my dirty, toddler defiled shorts and into my extra pants. I went to the bathroom and noticed the stall doors were solid marble. I walked into one in the center of the row of 15 vacant ones and fumbled with the latch for way too long and decided since practically no one was even in the airport anyway, I’d just prop the door closed as I changed.
Right at the moment that I was bent over, in a precarious position with one foot in the new jeans, the other foot on top of my shoe so I wouldn’t step onto the bathroom floor, a French lady came flying into the restroom and decided to shove open my door, even though there were multitudes of other stalls that were empty. She slammed the marble door into the top of my skull and when I yelped and fell backwards towards the toilet, she screamed at me, “Well why didn’t you lock it? It’s your fault, you should have locked the door!!!!” And then she said some other things I didn’t understand. Probably just as well.
So I said something I‘ve kicked myself for, for years now, “Oh je suis desolee, je suis desolee.”
So we left the airport and made the drive out into the country to my family’s house, I bathed in a tub with a shower head but no curtain, took some migraine medicine and fell fast asleep. About 4pm I awoke and decided I better call my hubby. My uncle set the call up and exited the room. When Hubby answered the phone I was bawling so hard that he couldn’t understand me. “I *gulp* want *hiccup* *gulp* to *sniff* go home *snort* *sob*!”
I turned to look at my surroundings and realized that the shutters were wide open. And everyone was sitting outside, just in front of them, having coffee. They all heard the Big Brave Traveler’s true colors.
I waited as long as I could to join them, quite mortified of my unsophisticated howling. As I went out and sat down, Uncle said, “Hey, why don’t you come with me to the cave in the village. We need to get some wine.”
That trip to the wine store, filling up our gas-can-like container with wine from a hose in the wall of the cafe, and the dinner al fresco in front of my relatives 18th century farmhouse was the recipe for my mental well-being. I was suddenly done being homesick. And I had 3 glorious weeks ahead of me.