By Mildred Blaisdell
I’m not a natural traveler. I don’t look forward to experiencing new toilets, strange food, even stranger smells or hikes up terrifying cliffs for a view.
My husband and I just returned from two weeks in Warsaw and Krakow, Poland, and Vienna, Austria. This trip has made me think about how my attitude about travel has changed over the years.
When we took our first European trip in 1977 to Belgium, I wanted to learn about everything. Castles, medieval art, city planning, guilds, cathedrals – they were all things to be studied. There was so much to learn, and I knew so little.
Over the years, I have learned a lot. My sister-in-law and I were proud of our ability to name any saint we found in a painting in Italy based on its iconography. Although we never did learn who the guys were with the hatchets in their heads, we always could identify St. Barbara, St. Agnes, St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, St. John and a whole host of others.
Over the years, my interests narrowed. I’d search cathedrals and art museums for annunciation scenes or statues of St. Rocco, the patron saint of my hometown in Pennsylvania, skipping most everything else. Overly ornate baroque churches made me tired. Red damask-lined walls of great houses and palaces held no joy for me. And yet, I still liked traveling.
A trip to Italy and France four years ago was a revelation to me. Rather than seeing all there was to see in a place, I started to take pleasure in just being in a place. One morning, my husband, his sister and her husband were climbing a tower in a small town. I haven’t climbed a tower since 1992. Instead, I sat on a bench in a park looking over the Provencal countryside and realized that the view I had here probably hadn’t changed in hundreds of years. Across the hills and farms, I couldn’t see a power line, a road or a vehicle. I was sitting in a place that was unchanged for centuries – and that was thrilling.
One of our hotels overlooked an Italian hill town. I could sit on the porch that opened off our room and read in the shadow of that town. That was enough. I could read, look up at the view and read some more. It was enough to be in a beautiful place that wasn’t home.
Sometimes, though, being in a place is uncomfortable. The most moving experience I had in Krakow was taking a tour through the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, a section of town made famous by “Schindler’s List.” I had no desire to see the concentration camps outside of Krakow. That would be too painful. But how bad could a drive around an old section of the city be?
As I looked around, all I could think of was the fact that 68,000 Jews had lived in this part of town at the beginning of World War II and only 3,000 had survived. I could hardly breathe because I could feel the ghosts around me. People had walked in these streets, shopped in these stores, lived in these houses and then they were gone.
What I love about traveling now is being there. While my family was visiting yet another baroque church in Vienna, I sat on a bench reading a mystery novel that took place in Vienna. The characters met in the exact spot where I was sitting and walked down the street in front of me. It was my own version of time travel. I would be a good time traveler.
Mildred Blaisdell, a retired English teacher from Williamsville East High School, likes to quilt, read, cook and travel.