Friday, September 23, 2022

My Travel Log

 Hello, Frankie here. 

I missed my last Friday post because I was away. For the first time since the pandemic began, I boarded a plane. For the first time in well over a decade, I went out of the country alone instead of traveling with a friend. The latter reminded me of when I was in my twenties and thirties, with a sense of adventure, and no thought at all that I might encounter a situation that I couldn't manage. Those were the days when I would eat pasta and pizza and save my money for a cheap ticket to the places with names that were like music to my ears -- a three-city airline tour to Madrid, Paris, and London. Another trip to Spain -- the Costa del Sol, with a side trip to Tangier. Jamaica, Bermuda. Aruba.  

I loved traveling alone because when I did I was detached from time and place. I met people and made friends because I was an American abroad and that was a starting point for conversation. For example, there was the African student who stopped to talk to me in the Paris metro and invited me to come home and have dinner with his brother and sister-in-law. -- and I went. That was my first opportunity to observe the legendary chic and charm of French women. His sister-in-law prepared dinner then sat on the floor nibbling from her plate, wine glass at her side, as she carried on an animated conversation in English that was much better than my almost non-existent French. Traveling alone, I was invited to come over and sit with the owner of a club in Malaga who wanted to chat about the States. I encountered a Canadian on a train who invited me to Toronto after we returned to our respective homes. As much as I enjoy traveling with friends, solitary travel allows for chance encounters. 

But I have become older and more cautious. I am now much more prone to worry about all of the things that might go wrong. To check my purse multiple times for my passport and the conversion rate for euros. To spend hours searching online for a carry-on bag because a checked suitcase might be lost. To shop for a bag at Macy's, and finally buy a roll-along attache case and a carry-on suitcase that would meet Aer Lingus requirements. And then sigh with relief when the bookseller for the festival I was attending asked me to bring along copies of my book because she had not been able to get it. Now, I had a good excuse to use my large suitcase that I would have to check. That meant packing a change of clothes in the attache case, while taking a tote bag that would hold my purse and anything else that wouldn't fit in the attache case with my laptop. But I would be able to pack everything I "might need" to be comfortable.

I took my travel agent's suggestion and flew Business Class on Aer Lingus. There was a great discount available on the trip to Europe, and I would be able to get some sleep. I had only three days in Dublin, and I wanted to see and do as much as possible. That meant not losing a day to jetlag. Aside from a short domestic upgrade, the flight from Newark to Dublin was my first experience of luxury travel -- the luxury of having comfortable seating in ones own little cocoon. That night I stretched out in a cleverly designed seat that moved forward to accommodate my legs, turned off my reading lamp, drew up my blanket and settled in wearing my socks and eye mask from the kit I had been proved. I slept so well that I almost missed breakfast. That would have been a disappointment after the dinner the night before. 

In Dublin, my hotel was in the center of the city. I ventured out on arrival to get my bearings. I signed up for a free walking tour the next day -- and missed it because I took a wrong turn on my way to the meet-up at City Hall. That was the first of the multiple times I lost my way over those three days and stopped strangers to ask for directions rather than dig out my phone to look for a map. I had the paper map that I had gotten at the hotel. But it seemed so "touristy" to pull it out there on the street.  

Too late for my tour, I struck out on my own. I spent the afternoon wandering down streets to what seemed to be the outskirts of the city. Four hours after I had left I found my way back to my hotel. I had not done the "must-dos" on my list. I'd by-passed Trinity College because I was too tired when I saw the sign. The same for the museums and galleries on my list. But my afternoon had given me a sense of the city. The next day I went on a "food tour" of Dublin. Our guide was a young woman who was getting her graduate degree in culinary studies. I divided the rest of the afternoon between the Wax Museum and the National Leprechaun Museum. 

Queen Elizabeth died while I was in Ireland. On television, the coverage of her death was continuous on BBC and most of the other networks. I had the opportunity to observe the solemn rituals for a beloved monarch from the British perspective. That was when I realized that I too felt a connection to a queen who had been there all of my lifetime.  

On that Saturday, I boarded my connecting flight to Torquay for my destination -- two days at the annual Agatha Christie Festival. I had intended to stay on for the week of events and presentations. But going to the festival via Dublin (to avoid the crush at Heathrow and a possible rail strike when I booked) meant that I had less time in Torquay. 

In the old days I would have stayed on, but now I have a dog and a cat. I thought Fergus, my bouncy Cavalier, would be fine because he getting home boarding with the owner of the his doggie daycare. He had stayed with her before. After three or four days, he might wonder why I didn't come for him when all his dog companions went home at the end of the day. But he would carry on. It was my rescue Maine Coon I was worried about. She had only one experience of  boarding a couple of days with her vet. Even though the cat sitter, who Harry (my cat before her) had loved, made a special trip to meet her, I was worried she would be confused and frightened.  

As her sitter showed me in the photos and video that she texted, Penelope, my cat who had hidden in the basement when she arrived to pick her up and required two trips to capture, was enjoying her stay. She was housed in the room reserved for one boarding cat, where she enjoyed the companionship of the sitter's husband who used the space as an office when he worked at home. She was relaxing on a carpet, snoozing on a chair, and playing with toys. Having her own vacation. 

But it was too late to change my plans. I did my presentation at the Christie festival that Sunday morning. Then that afternoon, I had my scheduled interview with the BBC crew that was filming a three-part documentary series about Christie and her works. The next day I took a taxi back to the airport, fretting unnecessarily that I would miss the only flight from Torquay back to Dublin.

In Dublin, the line through airport security and US Customs stretched endlessly -- but moved with speed and efficiency. And then I was on the plane  -- in economy for the return flight, but seated in an aisle seat beside a friendly couple with whom I coordinated restroom breaks and who ignored me as we all read and watched movies and had a not-bad meal.

I drove home the next day. In contrast to the downpours on my way down to Newark, the sun was out. I turned off the radio and spent the drive in blissful silence as I planned my writing schedule for the next year or two -- including a return to Dublin. During my four-hour walk, it had occurred to me that my characters Lizzie Stuart and John Quinn might end up in Dublin rather than Paris on their European honeymoon. But no sooner than I had the thought, then I experienced a magical moment of Irish serendipity -- a sign on a shop -- McCabe's. My protagonist in two police procedurals is named Hannah McCabe. Obviously, the universe was telling me that the book should be hers, not Lizzie's. My plot fell into place as I walked. McCabe and her father, a retired former newspaper editor, are on a trip to Ireland that will take an unexpected turn when McCabe witnesses an incident. . .

Many thanks to the International Agatha Christie Festival organizers who invited me to do the presentation, the audience who attended, and to the wonderful BBC documentary crew and Lucy Worsley, historian, curator and skilled interviewer. My time in Torquay was brief but delightful. My time in Dublin equally so. I returned home, cobwebs swept away. 


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