Having parents who travel a lot, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t. My dad worked on international train routes, so he had an ability to speak ‘any language.’ By the time I was eighteen, I had a whole list of countries under my traveler’s belt: Eastern Germany (many times), Hungary, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia (all during the Iron Curtain years); Austria, Greece and Italy quickly after the revolution.
Traveling was so normal in my family that I was stunned when I met a fifteen year old girl who had never seen the sea. Only then did I realize what an advantage my parents gave me by saving money each year to take me someplace interesting.
On My Own
My first big trip on my own was a European tour with a busload of young people. We camped along the way, visited cities, mountains, beaches. As a low-budget start, it was perfect: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, Monaco and back. I’m not partial to mountain climbing, jungle expeditions or wild water rafting, although all these sound intriguing. Being a pale-skinned natural blond, I also can’t lie on a beach for long. So I had to find something to suit my explorer nature. All this was solved when I met my husband Jim, who feels the same way and … conveniently owned a motorcycle. I soon fell in love – with both.
We first explored the Czech Republic, actually a novelty in my life. Since 1995, we’ve marked out all our trips on a map and the resulting spider-web now covers the entire country – interesting towns, countryside villages, castles, mountains, nature reserves… I came to understand that my own country has the best package of diverse and interesting sites within the smallest possible area. I love it.
Our first motorcycle trip abroad was to Salzburg, Austria, close on the other side of the border. It wasn’t a long trip, but being a huge Mozart fan, it was meaningful to me. In 1995 we also took our first big bike-trip across the Alps to Florence, Italy and back. Florence had always been dream destination and proved to meet all expectations – magical, with lot of spectacular architecture, great art, delicious food and friendly people. But the trip also tested our relationship with unbelievable amounts of rain. The following year, we motorcycled to Croatia with a stop in Slovenia on the way. We spent time on the Croatian island of Krk, just enjoying the beach and being tourists.
In 1997 we took a longer motorcycle trip to Benelux – Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg. Three tiny countries with much to offer and being able to criss-cross the countryside, as well as visit great cities was the way to go. The highlights of that trip were (perhaps unexpectedly) Bremen in Germany and Bruges in Belgium. Our (so-far) last big motorcycle trip was to Sicily. We are both simply in love with Italy and wanted to see everything all the way to the ‘tip of the boot.’ If I didn’t live in the Czech Republic, I would be in Italy. Amen.
At the end of 1996 we made our first trip to Asia, the first such trip for both of us and my first flight. We traveled three weeks in Thailand, the first ten days on the beaches of Koh Samui Island, the second in the mountain region near Chiang Mai in the North. We ran into our friend Ken Nash on New Year’s Eve in the crowded night-market of Chiang Mai and spent the next three days traveling together. There are no accidents, right? Ken was meant to be there. I feel lucky to have seen Thailand in times of peace and prosperity, but before the boom of tourism ruined some of it.
More Road Trips
Friends played a major role in our next two road trips. In 1998, soon-to-be Captain Noah Barnes came back to the Czech Republic for some conference or another and we decided to visit his sister in London by car. Our (then London-based) friend Tim Simmonds gave us a personal tour and on the way back we stopped briefly in Paris for a baguette. In 1998 we went to see our friend Morgan Sowden in post-war Sarajevo, Bosnia, then extending the trip down to Dubrovnik and back up the Adriatic coast. At the time, Sarajevo was still far from cleaned up and repaired, with many areas still mined or just de-mined and the visit was sobering. Jim had been there four years earlier, when the only way in and out was by ferry, all the bridges having been blown and UN armed checkpoints every few miles.
The US Grand Tour
In 1999 my husband’s play won a competition and was produced in Pennsylvania. It gave us the excuse to go to the US although, at the time, I had little interest. But as we began to plan and realized we have friends all over the country, I got excited. We marked all the dots on the map of places to stay with friends and family, campgrounds along the way and national parks scattered between. We drove 27,000 miles in three months, spanning 31 states, 16 national parks and most major cities. So if I talk about America, I mean something more than a quick trip to New York. On the other hand, I realize that we saw the US in the times it was prosperous and fun and, unfortunately, the same trip today might feel much different.
More Road Trips Around Europe
In 2001 I had the opportunity to join a busload of film students and their arts teacher on their school trip to Paris. My friend Daniel and I spent a few days in museums, tourist sites, cafes and even saw the Cathedral at Charters. It was a great way to see Paris, if not a romantic weekend with a partner. It was a crash course on art and history and I loved it. We also spent time admiring modern architecture and saw a great pop-art exhibition.
In the winter of 2005, my husband and I went to visit our friend Elvia in Ventimiglia, Italy. Our initial intention to help her harvest olives from the family orchard didn’t work out due to weather, but we had great time gardening with her in a time when our own garden was under a meter of snow. This was by far the best trip that allowed me to see how people live in Italy. We did ordinary things – fixed the gardening equipment, trimmed trees, took the debris to a local dump, shopped, made dinner, played cards. A perfect holiday for me, really – away from the computer and loving it. Anyone out there who needs gardening help? Will work for food… that is, if you can cook as well as Elvia.
If you are interested in reading more about some of these trips, you can visit Jim’s travelogue section of the Praguewriter.com site. He kept excellent travel journals that may help you plan your own trips.