Two years ago I went on a Mediterranean cruise as part of a study abroad experience with three of my faculty colleagues and about 25 students from my university. We boarded a very small cruise ship of only 250 passengers and went from Venice, Italy to Nice, France with stops at Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia, the Greek island of Corfu, Taormina, Sicily, and along the west coast of Italy.
Every year when graduation ends and I take my summer trip to Europe, I’m drawn back to the same places that I have grown to love so much: always Italy, usually Paris and Greece, Britain or Ireland. But I also try to add a new place to the mix that I’ve never seen before. Last year was Portugal, which I adored. This year I decided to visit Budapest, Hungary.
After a week in Europe, the first rain of my trip came on the day I was driving from Lisbon to the Algarve region in the southwestern part of Portugal. It was the perfect day to be in a car, as I could only imagine myself slipping and sliding up and down Lisbon’s precarious hills on slick, unevenly tiled sidewalks.
I grew up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, a city where 30% of the residents are of Portuguese descent. I grew up with many Portuguese friends, my favorite pizza was covered with linguica, a Portuguese sausage, and every Easter morning my mom would stand in a long line at the bakery to pick up the Portuguese sweet bread that she’d ordered weeks in advance. Ironically, while I have traveled across Europe from Iceland to Turkey and Finland to Spain, I had missed Portugal, so this summer I decided it was time to make my first visit. After a few days in England, I flew into Lisbon and got my first taste, literally and figuratively, of Portugal.
I think SuperShuttle has a vendetta against me. Last May, as I was heading off to Europe, I waited patiently in front of my building for the familiar blue van to pull up and whisk me off to the airport, but it never materialized. I kept getting texts from them saying they were outside my apartment waiting for me, but they were simply not there. I kept telling them I was in front of my building. They kept telling me I was simply not there. And then they said they had waited long enough and had to get their other passengers to the airport and were leaving. How do you leave if you’ve never arrived?
One of my dearest friends in the world is Maggi, an 86-year old woman I met back in 1976 in my Freshman English class at college. A housewife and mother of two, Maggi was born in Belfast, Northern Island and moved to Massachusetts when she married an American in the 1950s. Maggi is a rather famous storyteller who shares traditional folk tales, sentimental and thought-provoking reminiscences of her childhood in Belfast, and traditional folk songs and rhymes. She has performed all across the U.S. and in Britain, has won many prestigious awards in the folk world and recently published a book of her stories, Belfast Girl.
My first visit to Scotland had been a brief trip with my dear friend Carol in 1986 during which we drove up from London to see Yorkshire and the Lake District of northern England, and then crossed Hadrian’s Wall to see a bit of southern Scotland. Though brief, that trip held memories of rolling green hills, rainbows, more sheep than you could shake a stick at, afternoon teas and a hospitable people with a wonderful sense of humor and irony.
For years I’ve wanted to visit the French island of Corsica, intrigued by stories of its incredible natural beauty. I’ve been to 10 of the Greek islands and to Sicily and Sardinia in Italy, and have loved the scenery and amazing beaches to be found on all of them, but people assured me that Corsica trumps them all. Corsican culture is a mixture of Italian and French influences and so I assumed that I would feel right at home there, so I was eagerly anticipating my 5 day visit to this Mediterranean paradise.
After a whirlwind first leg of my European travels in early November, which took me through Wales, England, Finland and Italy, I raced home to New England to grab some Thanksgiving turkey and a whole lot of birthday cake and spend the week seeing all friends and family, along with practical things like doing laundry and planning for Europe Part II in December.
In June of 2008 I realized another of my travel dreams by capping off a stay in Europe with a visit to a place I’d always longed to see: Iceland. I’d already seen Norway and Sweden, and while both were beautiful and offered many adventures, Iceland sounded more wild and more exotic. And given my fascination for volcanoes and hot springs, Iceland seemed to have the edge over its quieter Scandinavian neighbors to the east.