Wednesday, February 01, 2006

On Traveling with moving

My thumbs are sore with internet travel. Another good way to waste a morning/afternoon/evening. I’ve developed squint lines around my eyes from spending lugubrious hours searching “Al Gore’s Invention”. I tell myself it’s for a good cause, but I know the truth. As do you…

Trying to find decent airline tickets online is a good way to ruin your stomach early in the morning. In the end, the hours you spent searching for that magically inexpensive ticket from Prague to Barcelona on Qatar Airlines proves to be worth little more than the opportunity cost spent on discovering it.

Although, it is interesting to see how the airline industry has reacted to the tourism bug throughout Europe over the last 10 years. Europe's low-fare airlines are like the public transportation systems in most of its big cities: fairly cheap, easy to use, cramped, smelly, and completely undifferentiated from one another in appearance and service. Strangely, I often find that it is even cheaper to fly to a city nearby than it is travel by bus or train. It begs the question: What does it mean to travel?

Long ago, I thought that traveling was booking a vacation with your family months in advance to some nefarious tourist trap, like Orlando, Florida (we can all guess what American Icon resides there...), or Cancun. Little did I know that an overwhelming majority of the world travels by foot, or wagon, if they're lucky. Trains, planes, and busses are a rarity for most of the Eastern Hemisphere's explosive population.

My mind skips to an exhilarating bus ride (should a bus ride be exhilarating?) from Prague to Cesky Krumlov, the beautiful and quaint medieval town near the Austrian border. Though this destination sports a hefty tourist register, most Czech people adore its preserved qualities that they can all relate to through their genetic memories; cobblestone streets and narrow passages, aged and wizened with slumbering spirits around each corner.

The ride itself, thankfully, was no preview of the destination, since our driver apparently had been snorting crack all morning and working up a healthy rage for any car not going at least twice the speed limit. Horn blaring, he passed 90% of the cars on the otherwise relaxed country road through South Bohemia, yelling what I can only assume were criticisms and profanities. His wild, bloodshot eyes were scattered and roaming. Ahhh, good times.

The luxury of travel, unknown to some people even in Prague, has become slightly exploited by this sudden availability. It's not as though I would propose to restrict travel to certain people (ok, maybe ignorant people); as if this region of the world didn't already have enough experience with restrictions. Instead, I’d have instructional videos—uh, not propaganda—playing at train and bus depots, airports, and docks, educating people how to be respectful and pleasant tourists in other lands. I remember with disgust an older Italian man with his wife in Split, Croatia throwing a handful of newspaper into the street as he walked by a garbage can. And we cannot forget that piece of whatsit that had the remarkable disrespect to throw a rock into the Astronomical Clock, Orloj, in Staromesto. Even a pacifist would have utterly obliterated that guy.

Part of the travel experience is the process of getting to your destination, preferably unscathed. When do we have the chance in a normal day to stare out the window on a dilapidated bus with leather loops hanging from the grip-bars? This daydreaming, another luxury, seems remarkably accessible during these times. Seeing the things around you amplifies your senses; smelling that dreadful mixture of onions, sweat, and pollution makes you realize that your room doesn't smell that bad after all. Traveling, most of all, offers perspective.

People are taking less busses and trains to proximate locations in the face of cheap air travel. Thus, the quality of this travel is declining quickly. I don't recommend taking a bus from Kiev to Lisbon, but why not anyway? After all, it provides some of us with interesting stories to tell upon arrival, and the exciting possibilities that await you in each new place are reason enough for the onerous, uncomfortable ride to somewhere new. For those of us that feel this newfound freedom to roam deep within our bones, take the reins, and go someplace.

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