On a grey day like today, when my spirit is low, I often think of Ireland and the gifts it offers to mood shifts. Every day brings its own colors in which to pleasantly lose one’s thoughts. Thank you, Ireland, for your very rich and nourishing green.
Of all the pre-trip anxieties I listed in my earlier post, only one occurred, and it’s included among the realities that greet me on returning home: mounds of bills and laundry, an overgrown yard, lack of motivation to resume exercise in spite of extra pounds, no food in the refrigerator, hours of time warp with broken sleep patterns and the dreaded respiratory revenge of travel (which now requires steroids and antibiotics, thanks to those coughing seat mates I was anxious about). Having been away nearly a month, there is a price to pay to be sure. I do not enjoy this re-entry period.
When I resurface, a few kind friends will ask if we enjoyed the trip, and of course the answer is yes. They will ask about the weather (unusually wonderful for traditionally rainy Scotland and Ireland), what we enjoyed most (Scotland) and would I recommend the tour company (for some things). After I sort through the several thousand photos I shot and reduce them to a coffee table book for use in the nursing home when I need to be prodded to remember things in a few years, all will fade and I’ll return to “normal” life and routine. But I have to say I’ve been marked by the experience.
Tours are challenging. They are slightly less expensive and less trouble than travel on one’s own (particularly in countries such as Ireland and Scotland where driving is done on the left side of the road in cars in which the driver sits in the right front seat…I found it constantly disconcerting to see the person in the left front seat blissfully asleep or reading as we passed by.) Good tour guides offer a great deal more wonderful information about the history and current culture of a country than I would ever assimilate through guide books, and our Scottish tour director was sensational. In between offering history lessons and fables and “it’s absolutely true” stories (most of which were wonderful myths), she shared local music on our long bus rides which told the tales with even more clarity and poignancy. It was enriching to ride with her.
But tours are exhausting. Up at 6 am, suitcases out at 7, leave at 8 for a long day, often including an evening event. In 14 days on the road with the tour, only two stops included two nights in the same hotel. Even if the busses are “luxury”, with great leg room as ours was, the rides can be tiresome, and they don’t stop where and when I might like them to. And I am inevitably sitting on the “wrong” side of the bus for the best sights of the day… it got to be a joke with us, and frustrated me immensely.
Tours also mean spending a lot of time with total strangers, of all ages and nationalities. It takes at least a week to “settle in” with a group and sort out the comfort zones (which requires some effort), but it’s interesting that it really does occur, and by the second week a level of relaxation and enjoyable silliness asserts itself and becomes quite pleasant. New best friends, probably not; but we have had it happen!
In this post travel trough, I ask myself if it was “worth it”, but don’t have to think about it for long. There are lots of great cities throughout the world, magnificent cathedrals to see, crumbling castles, vivid history brought to life and echoes of courage to hear. How else can one witness the blood-soaked highlands of Scotland on a perfect day when the hills are covered in blooming heather and gorse if one doesn’t leave the house?