If I am being honest, I have to admit that what I love and dislike in equal measure about travel is just how little control I have over much of anything: departures, arrivals, food, coffee, rooms, mattresses, noise, queues, and, of course, weather. Not that I actually have control over much of anything in my everyday life either, but I have the illusion of control. I have my comfortable bed, a closet full of clothes from which to pick and choose to suit the occasion and the weather, and I have my old standby restaurants, where I know my favorite dishes will arrive hot and more or less the same each and every time I order them. I have ways to deal with whatever comes my way, good, bad, or ugly.
Most of the time I love the unpredictable aspects of travel. I like not knowing what I will find around the next corner. I don't mind getting lost or asking for directions or trying to speak a foreign language or eating a food I can't pronounce--let alone recognize. These challenges are good for the mind and the spirit, and they can lead to delicious adventures. I like to think I roll with the unpredictable tides when traveling.
And yet, there is one thing that turns me into a baby when I'm far from home. Of course, it's the same thing that wrecks me at home, too, except that when I am living out of a suitcase, this one thing seems at least a hundred times worse, and I become, yes, I'll admit it, a bit of a monster. Not a scary monster, but a pathetic, wounded, and petulant one. I have always believed that because travel is a mode of extremes, it magnifies whatever traits we possess and shows us who we really are (again with the good, the bad, and the ugly). So what brings out this whining, whinging, wailing monster in me?
The common cold.
My cold began the day we boarded the plane for England. I will say, I managed to stuff myself full of meds, drink pots and pots of tea, and generally ignore the cold for most of the trip. The weather was too lovely to lie in bed feeling sorry for myself. There were daffodils to admire, markets to troll, and crumbling cathedrals to explore. For the most part, the monster stayed in her lair, licking her paws and letting out an occasional moan.
But there came a day when we boarded the train for Cambridge. In my more self-involved moments I was certain that all the gods of travel were conspiring against me. In truth, it was simply a typically unpredictable day of travel. I happened to be at the height of my cold. The clouds happened to roll in over the sun a few miles outside of Cambridge, the temperature happened to plummet. In my drugged stupor I happened to have forgotten to wear several layers (something I always do in England, even in summer). The damp set in, my cough began, and hours of walking in the wet and cold awaited.
Mr. Magpie disappeared into King's College Library to do his research for the day, and I, although tempted to head back to London on the next train, wrapped a long scarf around my neck, bought a very grande cappuccino at Costa, and set off to do what I'd planned to do all along: wander the streets of Cambridge with my camera and notepad.
I've been to this beautiful city before, but I've never had hours to roam on my own. I'll tell the truth. The self-pitying monster in me did kick up a fuss a few times during my wanderings that day, but I was able to quell her with a second cappuccino (I who quit coffee years ago; sometimes extreme measures are called for) and a pain au chocolat.
And I was rewarded for my efforts. Maybe the travel gods had, indeed, been testing me.
I walked for miles. And while I never warmed up, I forgot the cold and simply marveled.
I ran into an off-duty tour guide who showed me a secret or two. I snuck through more than one gate, and I lost myself in fields of daffodils that Wordsworth would have envied.
And, of course, I ducked into a warm shop . . . or five. What's a trip to England without a Cath Kidston fix? Although, I will say that I can only look at so many sweet, flowery prints before the monster in me demands something a bit more more substantial--a bit more solid and imposing. I mean, Mr. Magpie was working away in his scholarly archives; really, I needed to get serious.
And so I headed back out into the cold and echoing streets, surrounded by all those brilliant ghosts. Cambridge that day was cold, indeed, but there were bare branches and snow drops and mists and ancient stones to see.
I've begun by sharing the chilliest and lowest part of my trip. We can only go up from here. I promise warmth and cheer with the next post.