The Serendipity of Travel

Life is blessed with serendipity and, for me, travel brings out the best of it.  While away from the routines of daily life, we are more open to surprises.  We let life deliver the unexpected.  When something interests us, or sounds good, we are not too preoccupied to pursue it.  On vacation or out there exploring, we are less driven by our schedules and the expectations of others.  We take the time.
The wonderful luck that came with my first travel adventures, fresh out of college, is probably a big factor in making me an enthusiastic life-long traveler.  Shortly after graduation, I took all the savings I’d accumulated while working part time and flew to Paris to meet a boyfriend.  The relationship proved short-term but in the three weeks we spent together that summer,
Dave taught me the essentials of being a happy traveler.
“I’ll show you how to hitchhike like a pro,” Dave declared as we got off the urban bus at the edge of Paris.  “Always make sure there’s a good, safe place for a driver to pull off.”  I swung my rucksack onto my back and followed him down the road.
By sunset, we’d had four very short rides, and stood hopeful just beyond the edge of the developed area.  “This is NOT working out,” I griped.  I was hungry and nowhere did I see a place we could spend the night.
“You have to keep your spirits up,” Dave said.  “Someone will come along.” A little Citroen rolled toward us.  I said a prayer.  The driver stopped.  I was overjoyed.  We ran toward the car.  Dave asked where the middle-aged farmer was going.  Just up the road.  My heart sank.  Dave’s French was better than mine, so he grasped the invitation I’d missed.  “The guy wants to give us dinner and a place to sleep.”
The man took us to an old estate.  We entered down a long lane through the forest.  He was the gamekeeper and lived with his young wife and two small children in a comfortable house adjacent to the stables.  The food was abundant and tasty.  I missed most of the conversation and by ten was too tired to hide my yawns.
“Time for bed,” said our host.  “Come with me.  You can sleep in a special place, since the baron is not in residence.”  He led us by flashlight to the chateau, which had been partially hidden behind the outbuildings.  When the lights came on in the grand entry hall, I was taken aback by the gold, the gorgeous wrought iron rails, the white marble floors. Huge Chinese urns and vases stood on rococo tables.  Mirrors gleamed everywhere. The place was a palace.  We followed, up the curved staircase and down the wide hall.
“Here is your room.”  It was out of a dream, royal splendor from the high courts of France.  “Enjoy your sleep.”
I kicked off my shoes and dug my toes into the thick, brilliantly colored Persian carpets.  “Can you believe this? It’s the royal suite.”
“There’s even a modern bathroom,” Dave called.  “You should treat yourself to a long hot bath.”  While I soaked in the oversized tub, Dave checked out the room and its décor.  We didn’t get a lot of sleep that night but rose happy the next morning.
I stood at the windows, looking down a mile-long alley of lawn with a perfectly straight line of trees on each side.  A small lake gleamed at the far end.  Soon our host appeared.  “Time for breakfast.”  We enjoyed farm fresh eggs, home made muffins and sweet creamy coffee before hopping in the little Citroen for the ride back to the road.
Now THAT was serendipity.   Once in a lifetime, you say?  Never again?  Severally equally amazing experiences occurred during the next year, when I was exploring the world on a minimal budget, picking up new friends along the way and learning far more than I had in any classroom.
With an English friend, I was the guest of the former president in a mansion on the outskirts of Baghdad. We walked the ruins of Babylon and had a private tour of the museum of antiquities, but that’s another story.  More tales could be told of a week spent following a New York travel writer, fluent in Turkish, around that fascinating country.  A Greek student fell in love with me aboard a steamer to Mikonos. Tagging along with a couple of gorgeous Australian beauticians, I enjoyed some of the finest hospitality in Italy.
Wherever I go, I meet remarkable people and discover things I hardly knew exisited.  Just a few months ago, a detour down a gravel road led to the studio of a native Tlingit artist on an island off coastal Alaska.  Not long ago, a courageous push through a doorway left ajar led to the unmarked Paris model agency where some of the most glamorous people alive can be found.
I’ve been seeking serendipity a long time.  The night at the chateau was in the 60s.  In the 70s, a note on a bulletin board led to a cooking job on a little freighter that docked all over the Caribbean.  In the 80s, a personal ad got me a date with a world famous mountaineer who danced like a dream come true.  None of these surprises pointed to a plush life or great career.  In fact, my life has been a bit short on career moves.
My mother said, “I’d hardly call you a success, but you’ve certainly had an interesting life.”  But mom, that’s what I wanted, an interesting life.
I’m not rich, not famous, not brilliant, not the most lovable wife on the planet nor the best mother.  But I have fine husband now, grown children, wonderful friends, and I will always believe in serendipity.   The upcoming trip to Yucatan will be another opportunity to stay open and see what happens.


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