I got back from a two week long holiday this Sunday – I was in New York for a week and then went to Washington, Philadelphia and Buffalo to see the Niagara Falls. As you may expect, I spent most of my Sunday unpacking, clearing out the suitcase, washing clothes, getting ready for the work week, etc.
Once I had done all this, I sat down and started to unpack my memories from the trip – mainly looking at the photos in my camera and phone and remembering what I had done while I was away. I always feel that in the first few days after a holiday, photos still carry the energy from the holiday. They carry the emotional buzz we experience when we are at the place we shot them. Some photos made me laugh, some made me cry, some made me want to go back to the moment they were taken. This experience of going through photos after the holiday is a part of my holiday-unwind ritual that I enjoy and repeat for few days after I am back.
Still in my holiday thoughts, I started to look at travel quotes and came across:
The tourist sees what he has come to see,
The traveller sees what he sees.
This made me wonder – what had I seen during the holiday that wasn’t on my travel plan? Like most tourists, I had gone to these places with a list of everything I wanted to see. I had spent hours on the Internet, got travel tips from colleagues and friends, and borrowed travel books from the library to plan the places I would like to visit during my trip. I didn’t manage to cover everything and not all days went as planned – but that is the beauty of being on holiday, you have to take some days as they come, plan random things based on what other people tell you. A holiday is about enjoying being where you are, so I am not always fussed about following a fixed schedule.
Going back to the quote, while I can easily list the places that I ticked off on my plan, what did I see and find while on holiday that wasn’t on my list? What did the holiday tell me, what did it teach me, how did it impact me? Did I remain a tourist or manage to become a traveller?
It took me some time but then I realized that there is a lot that I had gained in the last few weeks. Being away from the normal routine and atmosphere, one becomes open to new experiences and thoughts. Being far away from home gives you an opportunity to think of a new place as your home, to find new treasures, such as the ones I found:
We took a walking tour in Washington. The tour guide took us to various famous sites like the White House, World War II memorial, Vietnam War memorial, Lincoln Memorial etc. Along the way he told us various incidents that had happened in these place, how some of the recent memorials had been built and from time to time, delved into the history behind these places. As an example, when we went to the Lincoln Memorial, he showed us the spot where Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech; he read out some famous speeches of Abraham Lincoln, talked about how he had united the country during civil war, how Lincoln sitting in the memorial can be divided into two and what each of the halves signify. I found all this very interesting. I am not a fan of history; it was my least favourite subject at school. However, since I have started to travel, I have found myself interested in reading about the history of the places I visit, how cities and countries changed as a result of what happened there.
When I am asked what motivates me, my first response is learning new things. The walking tour inspired me to learn more about the history of America, its struggle for independence, Abraham Lincoln, etc. This is the reason I cherish this experience – it has sparked my interest in something I thought mundane.
Another quote I read said: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”. Well, my last few weeks of travel have enabled me to read more pages – both literally and figuratively.
Lights far away in the night:
I love watching water flow by from a distance. There is a sense of calm and soothing as you see the waves make their way and pass by. We went on the Staten Island ferry in New York during the day and saw lovely views of the New York skyline, Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty etc. A few days later, I went back mid evening as it was getting dark to experience the ferry ride. I love the night time views of water and lights in the distance. As expected, got amazing views from the ferry. It wasn’t just the views, the whole experience of being in the middle of a big body of water, of experiencing the ‘no-where-ness’ for a while is very nice. I know Manhattan is famous for its sky scrapers, busyness and hustle bustle but I didn’t connect to that. I connected to looking at it from far away, from a distance, absorbing the lights that the buildings reflected, noticing their reflection in the water. As it got darker, things became less visible, everything around was dark and I could only see some lights at a distance.
I could have been anywhere – there was a feeling of anonymity that surrounded me, which felt beautiful.
One of my friends, who I hadn’t met for almost nine years, managed to join me for some time in New York and then in Buffalo. When I had written about meeting people from the past in my previous blog Hello … from the other side … ,another friend contacted me and said that when you meet a good friend from the past, years don’t matter – you pick up from where you had left.
This is exactly what happened when I met the former friend. I didn’t give it much thought then, but looking back, there wasn’t a sense of awkwardness when we met. It was like being in a new city where you have been before in one of your past lives. You feel a connection but cant remember the exact details of your previous visit.
It is similar with people. With time, you loose the context of times gone by. When we meet someone on a regular basis, we start to play a certain role in each other’s lives. However, when you meet someone after a very long time, those old roles get forgotten, you meet like two new people who don’t need introductions, as they already know each other. I guess somewhere very quickly the mind decides whether it wants to go back to what was or just carry on with what is.
As I was travelling with a group, I didn’t get much time to catch up with this friend or have a proper chat (even though I would have liked to), but I am glad we met up and re-connected.
The last few months have been a bit difficult for me for various reasons. There were things going on that kept me on my toes and I was getting to a stage where little things were starting to impact me. These two weeks away gave me some time for myself, detached me from what was going on around me and as I have come back, I feel glad that I went away.
I now feel happier and in control of what is going on around me. I feel that I am in a state where I can make choices regarding how I react to situations, rather than things happening to me.
Someone has said: “no one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes back and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow”
I am glad to be back in my bed, with my head on my old, familiar pillow, but grateful that I made the decision to go away for a while so that I can sleep well and dream about my next travel as I rest my head on my pillow.
I planned the visit to Niagara Falls to coincide with the fireworks display at night. The night-time views of the Falls were beautiful. We saw the falls from the US side, which apparently is not as good as the view from the Canadian side, but that didn’t matter to me. Lights of various colours were illuminating the falls and once the fireworks display was over, it was dark and all you could see around you was the falls – looking beautiful as they shimmered in the lights.
It was very busy and people were queuing up to capture the best view of the falls in their cameras. I took some pictures too but more importantly, there was a sense of calm about the place. I couldn’t capture that in any photograph – all I have are thoughts and memories of those few moments when everything seemed so quiet, peaceful and beautiful. It may be true that sometimes you have to be at a very noisy place to find few moments of quietness and that is what I experienced.
The crowd didn’t matter, I loved being there and if possible, would go back to see the falls again some time.
Myself: “To travel is to take a journey into yourself”
I normally either travel myself or with one or two people. This time I was travelling with a group and responsible for organizing and making arrangements for the travel from booking flights to hotels to planning daily itineraries and coordinating schedules etc. There were times during the holiday that I felt stressed and sometimes lost my temper. I did question myself sometimes if I was over reacting but at other times felt it was necessary to keep thins going and making sure we cover everything we want to see.
I will spend some time thinking about this and see if I need to make some changes so that I can deal with these situations better.
This aside, there are many other things I learnt about myself, what makes me happy, what gives me hope, what I want for myself, thoughts on what direction to take, each new experience taught me something new.
Paulo Coelho has written in his book ‘The Pilgrimage’:
“When you travel, you experience, in a very practical way, the act of rebirth. You confront completely new situations, the day passes more slowly, and on most journeys you don’t even understand the language the people speak. So you are like a child just out of the womb. You begin to be more accessible to others because they may be able to help you in difficult situations. And you accept any small favour from the gods with great delight, as if it were an episode you would remember for the rest of your life”
This is why I love to travel, yes, I did become a traveller last two weeks, yes I saw much more that I had set out to see as a tourist and I did find treasures along the way that I will keep with me forever. And all of this inspires me to travel more, to visit new places, to learn new things, to experience the freedom of a new place, and be the ‘me’ that I can be.