Follow the Yellow Brick
I had always planned to travel. In my youth I had spent
countless hours planning every last detail of my trip.
I would eat, pray and love my way around Europe: visiting the great
galleries of Paris; laughing nonchalantly as I strolled down the esplanade in
Barcelona; cycling around the rolling hills in Tuscany. I wanted to see these
things; to smell them, to feel them. I wanted to stand in front of the Mona Lisa
and smile back at her.
But life got in the way of that dream. Married at 21, a
mother at 23, divorced with two young children at 28. My dreams gave way to play groups, scraped knees, school
lunches and mortgage repayments. Life took priority and I silently filed away
‘travel the world’ under teenage whims along with ‘marry a
prince’ and ‘live happily ever after’.
It was not until I was well into my fortieth year that the
opportunity to travel presented itself and I finally felt confident enough to
leave my two (relatively) responsible teenage boys for longer than a weekend. I
had travelled within Australia on my own for conferences and work related
activities but never for more than four days at a time. This time I was heading
to a conference in Oxford and decided to extend my trip to Barcelona, Paris and
My budget was tight so I spent hours trawling through
Internet websites looking for cheap accommodation. A word to those who are
thinking of doing the same - that quaint looking pension in Barcelona within
walking distance of La Rambla is really a cockroach-infested, damp and dingy pantry-sized room
right in the heart of the red light district.
And that charming little hotel with the romantic sounding name ‘just
outside’ of Paris is actually a 30 minute metro ride to Montmartre and its
‘le jardin’ is a haphazard collection of plastic roses that have seen better
I dusted off my dreams (decided to re-shelve ‘marry a
prince’ because that was never going to happen),
packed my bags and headed out into the big bad world. I had wrestled dirty
nappies, toilet-trained a temperamental two year old (twice in fact), survived a messy divorce
and built a successful career as an academic. Ok it wasn’t exactly world
changing stuff, but I had the kind of confidence that women of a certain age
understand. It is a different kind of confidence than I had in my twenties or
even my thirties. It is not the kind of bold, defiant, in-your-face
confidence that often causes us to do irrational things (like getting married at
21) but a quiet confidence that comes with knowing that life’s challenges are
just that – challenges. They are
meant to try us, not to break us.
I discovered I am not very good at travelling. I don’t
mind the being there so much. It’s the getting there that I find
tedious. After a gruelling 20-hour journey that included a ‘surprise’ 12-hour delay in Singapore, I finally arrived at Heathrow airport.
I collected my bags and proceeded to the bus station for the two-hour
coach ride to Oxford.