For a few hours each day my husband and I sit in front of the TV set traveling to Europe with an American tour guide named Rick Steves. One day my husband invited me. “Watch this,” Loy said. “I would like to take you on a cruise someday.”
First, Rick Steves prepared for boarding and introduced us to the parts of the boat. With him we went on sightseeing tours, told we could go by bus or hire a tour guide and a car. This would be more expensive but better because you went with someone who knew a lot about the place, its delicacies, and move around faster so maybe you could see more.
“Do we really have to go on a cruise?” I asked my husband. “We see the scenes better on TV.” Since then we have been traveling through Europe for a few hours every day.
I studied in Lausanne, in the French quarter of Switzerland, after high school. I was very young then. Then, we received instructions from our parents to take the train to Barcelona, Spain, to meet up with an uncle who was coming to spend Christmas with his children, his nieces, and the children of his friends. We were a big group of 10. We had a lot of fun staying at a hotel on a hilltop. The only boy among us then was Tony Hwang. He received champoy from his parents. I loved needling him for some. From there we went to Madrid. We fell in love with Madrid.
But that is how I enjoy traveling. In the end it should make you enjoy life in another place.
Spain has a lot more soul than Switzerland. People show their feelings more in Spain. We, being still young and foolish, were really into feelings then. So we stayed in Spain.
Many years later I would travel to Europe with my husband. Two to three days in one place. Living a tourist’s life out of a suitcase. Walking or shopping around while he was in business meetings. Being a tourist by day and going to plays at night. I really did not enjoy those trips very much. It was then I realized that tourism just was not my thing. Sure, I could look and take in the sights, but after a while, I forgot them. I have been to the Eiffel Tower. Did it change my life?
But when I was studying in Switzerland, I knew what it felt like to take the tram into town on Tuesdays and Fridays, to buy marrons glaces with my small allowance because I loved those big chestnuts. I remembered our tiny old teacher who always wore a black hat, gloves and coat to go to class and one day I, too, wore a mock fur hat to keep my head warm, gloves to keep my hands warm, layers of winter underwear, sweaters and coat, a thick scarf to keep my face warm, and lined boots to keep my feet warm. It was so darn cold in Switzerland in November and December.
In Spain I learned what it felt like to walk 14 blocks to school, how quickly cobblestones wore out shoes. I learned how to fight off the Spanish piropos, those statements the young men made at you, saying how flat your nose is, how beautiful you are, “Hola, chatita, mona.” They would offer you candies. In Madrid every day we would go to Café Iowa, locally pronounced “eee-yow-wah,” to order Cuba Libres, which were made with Coca-Cola and gin and tasted quite awful but you got used to it.
There I learned to eat boquerones, small fish in vinegar, absolutely delicious; and pulpo, a giant boiled squid’s tentacle cut crosswise with a pair of big scissors then seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper. There I learned how to speak Spanish and when I came home, happy to visit my grandmother and speak to her in Spanish, she replied to me in Tagalog. She never spoke Spanish to me again because my accent was different.
But that is how I enjoy traveling. In the end it should make you enjoy life in another place. It gets you walking down the main streets and the little back streets. It gives you the singular experience of learning a language. It teaches you how to make guttural sounds in your throat to pronounce the French “r” and the Spanish “j.” It teaches you not to pronounce “h” in Spain. That is what traveling means to me. It means experiencing life elsewhere. It means staying at least a month.
Sightseeing is best done on TV where you can see a river photographed from all angles, where the night lights twinkle near or far, where even the gargoyles on cathedrals are horrifyingly viewed close-up.
And let’s face it: We — my husband and I — are too old to really travel again, but we are young enough to sightsee on TV.
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