By Carol Bechtel, Becketwood Member
I am in the midst of an obsession right now. If you peered into my apartment, you might not be able to tell, because here I am with journal, phone, or book—but really, I am in England. I am on an imaginary trip to England, which is mostly a reliving of the trip I took one year ago, along with a wistful look at where I was supposed to be this year. Today I was to leave home; as I write I would have been on a plane to Philadelphia, to take an overnight flight to London Heathrow tonight.
I always spend a lot of time planning my trips, and since late March I have spent some time planning this vicarious trip. I had to marshal some resources, like two books—How England Made the English, and England: 1000 Things You Need to Know; my book of British maps (AA Large Scale Road Atlas, 2019) bought for 4 pounds at the weekly market in Settle, North Yorkshire, last year; my copied-off-the-internet rail network maps of Wales and England; and my itineraries—the one taken last year and the one not being taken this year.
I began my “trip” on May 9, the day I left Minneapolis last year. Each day I read in my journal the details of where I was and what I did one year ago. My memory back one year is quite good; I could tell you where I was and a lot of the day’s events without reading the journal. But there are details I only remember because I wrote them down at the time. And that is why I always write a travel journal, a gift to myself.
Yesterday I relived my trip from Tenby, Wales to Porthmadog, Wales, which consisted of one train ride and two bus rides, south to north in the west of Wales. It was a beautiful sunny day to look out the window at the bright greens of field and forest, small towns with surprisingly healthy-looking business districts, flowers everywhere—azaleas, rhododendrons in colors I had never seen before, clematis climbing everywhere and, in eye-popping array, many others I couldn’t identify. The landscape was not wild but seemed as manicured as a David Hockney painting. The hilly terrain and all the curved lines blessed by the sunshine brought gladness into my heart. Plus that wow! feeling that I am so lucky to be here!
A captive audience on the bus, I watched with mouth almost hanging open, as we passed through two towns in particular where I longed to get off and explore. The first was Aberaeron, where we traversed a perfect rectangle of attached houses, all painted in vivid colors accented by white—with the sea behind them. The second was Dolgellau, in a valley, a maze of two and three-story stone buildings lining twisting, narrow streets, making the bus feel too big for the space. Both towns looked pristine and both were so unlike anything one could see in the U.S. that I thought, “yummy.”
Actually I ate the leftovers from my Welsh breakfast as my lunch on the bus. Yesterday in the real world of home, I fixed myself an English sandwich of cheese and pickles on multigrain bread. It’s no secret that I travel on my stomach, duly noting what I have eaten in my journal. I try to go native as much as I can without completely throwing out my vegetarian diet. So when there is a vegetarian version of a dish, I will have that, but when I’m in a seaside, fish-specialty place, I will have fish. Tonight I am to be treated by my daughter and son-in-law to take-out fish ‘n chips on their deck. Lovely that they are aiding and abetting my obsession.
England is not my first travel obsession. It all started when I was a kid, riding behind my parents in the family Chevy as we drove the two-lane roads from home in Battle Creek, Michigan to my grandparents in Sioux County, Iowa. I could get excited just because the hills of northern Illinois and the cornfields of Iowa did not look like southern Michigan, and I had a home-made booklet all set to record our stops, our meals, and where we spent the night. Which I kept, of course, so that I could enjoy the trips many times. Then there was Vienna in 1959; dreams of visiting every baroque pilgrimage church in Southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria; Caribbean and Bahamian Islands; all fifty states….
Will I ever get back to Wales and walk through Aberaeron and Dolgellau? Who knows, but I do know that I remember places. In 1989 my husband and I were on a train between Harrogate and York in North Yorkshire. The train stopped at Knaresborough, right after we had crossed over a high viaduct and I got a glimpse of the highs and lows of an old, stony town…. In 2017 I spent a day there, satisfying that long-retained curiosity. Travel obsessions have served me well.