No more trundling my suitcase noisily behind me along cobbled, continental streets. No more scanning train timetables or distant, foreign horizons. No more wondering what the next hotel is going to be like as I gaze out of train windows at unfamiliar scenery.
For the moment at least, there are no more friendly strangers anxious to practise their English on me - and defeated because of my anxiety to flex my linguistic muscles on them. For the time being, there are no more trams, buses and metros heading for strange-sounding destinations and no more streets, avenues and boulevards named after noble statesmen from Our Great National History.
To the many people whose paths I crossed, I am now just a memory - as they are to me.
To them, I am the weird, ageing Englishman who spoke the worst conceivable German and - despite considerable effort from several quarters - never learned any Dutch at all.
To me, they are smiles and broken English learned at school and handshaking and wine-glasses; they are fingers pointing me to the metro, the right street, the train I’m trying to catch. They are the kind laughter of natives hearing their language mangled as never before.
And, over all the infectious bustle of big cities - of the delights to be found in their exploration - lies the gentle birdsong and quiet Spring sunshine of Munster, the diamond at the heart of this journey.
Two years ago, the depth of my feelings of ‘deflation’ and melancholy at the end of my Grand Tour took me by surprise; so I ought to have been much better prepared this time round.
But I wasn’t. Once again, my head teems with memories of anticipation and excitement that will keep my sleep fitful for many nights. Which is, I suppose, exactly the way it should be.
I did make one attempt to pre-empt this strange sadness that lingers at the end of a great adventure. I wrote myself a postcard from Hamburg. This is what it said…
OK - you’re home again and feeling sorry for yourself. BUT just remember the cold, the wind and the SLEET in Hamburg and you’ll be fine.
Here’s to the next time
It arrived this morning, amidst the cold, the wind and the sleet. I’d brought Hamburg home with me.
The hotel I stayed in in Hamburg has fostered close links with that city's 'House of Literature' and each guest is given a rolled, beribboned parchment with a quotation written on it. I have mine in front of me now.
'Is it true that every beginning contains a little magic?
For me, the magic is in the journey and each arrival in a new place relieves me of the burden of permanence. Here, I will not stay forever, or even for very long, and I need not pretend otherwise. Instead I can live in the temporary and the provisional, my true home, in so many ways. And even when the clock overtakes me - the next train, the next taxi, the next plane - I know I am travelling on to another place much like this one - a place with its own magic, its own shifts and slants of being.
Now that the clock is calling, I carry away another memory of home - the home from home....'
Here are some more quotations about travelling and travellers. Somewhere in here are the reasons I love it so much - and why I’ll be starting to plan the next one very soon.
The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page - St Augustine
There are no foreign lands. It is only the traveller who is foreign - Robert Louis Stevenson
All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it - Samuel Johnson
For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move - Robert Louis Stevenson
One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things - Henry Miller
When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in - DH Lawrence
To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world - Dame Freya Stark
Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover - Mark Twain
All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware - Martin Buber
Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going - Paul Theroux
To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted - Bill Bryson
If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might as well stay at home - James Michener
A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles - Tim Cahill
Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey - Pat Conroy
Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen - Disraeli
Travel and change of place impart new vigour to the mind - Seneca
What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re travelling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road - anon
To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries - Aldous Huxley
When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable - anon
Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realise that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white - Mark Jenkins
Not all those who wander are lost.
Here’s to the next time….
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