While lockdown continues, while Covid-19 is still spreading, and in this time where we cannot go away anywhere, travel (if you’re not an essential worker) means walking those same streets that surround your house; those same streets you’ve probably already walked many times already. I’m taking some time month to reflect on trips of the past, and to look forward with thoughts about where I would go sometime in the future where we can travel again.
Chisinau, Moldova: You’re not going to get the best impression of any city when you visit it in the middle of winter, when temperatures are below freezing, when the ice-covered footpaths make you wish you had skates instead of shoes, when the city is wrapped in a covering of white and grey and brown. And yet… and yet…
I could see there was some beauty to Chisinau. So many buildings had vines growing up the front of them, and there were so many trees, I could imagine in the summertime this city would be green and leafy and pleasantly shaded. And that big main square that was now hidden under so much snow would be a great place to walk and have an ice cream.
I went to Chisinau on a work trip. It was the first of a series of work trips involving small disasters. On our departure day, fog rolled in, and kept on rolling in, until it was thick enough to prevent the landing of the flight from Frankfurt that was meant to be our departure plane. (But not all is a disaster, because while sitting at the airport waiting to get our flights rebooked, I got to talk to a fellow traveller about music, and hence was introduced to the joys of fado and Nigel Hawthorne). Curiously, the flight from Frankfurt was able to land around midnight, once the good burghers of Chisinau had gone to bed and there was more power in the grid to brighten up the airport landing lights (true story!). But we were all put up in a hotel by this time, albeit with a 4am alarm call to go back to the airport for our 12-hours-delayed flight.
I’ve always meant to go back again in the summertime and take that walk through Stefan cel Mare park with an ice cream in my hand instead of ice underfoot. And I hope that one day I will.
Cairo, Egypt: One of the toughest trips I’ve ever done was Egypt with Husband-then-boyfriend and another (male) friend of ours. We went to Egypt for 10 or 12 days, not on a tour, just the three of us with a guidebook and good intentions. We soon found out the guidebook was rubbish, after all it was written by people who had lived in Egypt for so many years and spoke fluent Arabic; they were always going to be quoting better prices than us non-resident non-Arabic speaking souls could negotiate.
Cairo is noise and chaos and probably some more noise laid on top. It’s traffic and people and call to prayer five times a day but also a surprising number of churches and the Nile stretching through the centre of town and although you’re hot and tired did I mention THAT’S THE RIVER NILE OVER THERE? And there are Pyramids that are thousands of years old you can go visit but don’t pay attention to the guys who want to hustle you onto a camel ride and after you see the pyramids you can eat in the KFC with a view of the Sphinx and the Pyramids but don’t have the burger with lettuce because you might get sick like our friend did and you must also visit the Egyptian Museum because – WOW! – so much history but be careful there because my friend got groped in that museum, seriously some guy just grabbed at her breast while she was admiring the historical artefacts and he didn’t even react when she shouted at him, but while we were there in Cairo we ate kushari which is a dish of lentils, chipeas, pasta, rice and tomato sauce and I remember the guy putting our takeaway together blew into the plastic bags to open them up and we were thinking, “Ugh” but we ate it anyway, and we also ate at a place that only had menus in Arabic so we had to point at food from other people’s tables and we visited another KFC that was run entirely by deaf people and you had to order by pointing at things which was great for us non-Arabic speakers and I wondered why they don’t have these kinds of places in other countries and on Husband-then-boyfriend’s birthday we ate at a Chinese restaurant where the staff were all Egyptian and they were playing heavy gangsta rap of the “Gonna shoot you up M***a F***a” kind and the restaurant was not very busy and we were maybe the only customers so the music was turned up loud so the staff could enjoy it and the whole experience was so bizarre that we still laugh about it now.
Colombia: One of my friends taught in Colombia some years ago, and I think that was what first hatched some thought in my head that this country was a place I wanted to go. Her descriptions made Bogota sound great. And of course who doesn’t want to visit Cartagena? And after seeing a programme about Medellin and its public art and cable car, that city was also on my list. And of course the country is famous for its coffee, so a visit to a coffee plantation must be on the list. Also, you can do paintball in Pablo Escobar’s old mansion! I would have no interest in paintball as a thing normally, but that I think I could do. One day Colombia, one day.