As members of the Travelers’ Century Club, we all enjoy adventure and travels to new destinations to add to our life experiences (and country numbers). Some of us like to thoroughly research the next destination and others like the element of surprise. Have you ever had the experience of arriving at an unexpected sight? I mean totally jaw dropping! To me these are moments of sheer delight, finding an unanticipated treasure right before my eyes. I would like to share two of these with you and look forward to hearing about yours.
After graduating college, my older daughter planned to travel with a backpack through Europe for the summer months before finding the j word (job). For two weeks I traveled with her staying in hostels and sharing my travel knowledge to give her confidence to continue on. Our final destination together was Rome, Italy. This was my first visit to Rome. Prior to arriving, we reviewed the guidebook for hostels and determined that one in the Vatican City area would meet our needs. Departing the train we were separated in the crush of pedestrians heading out at the close of the work day. Asking directions I found my way along the street in the direction of the hostel address. Wrestling with my small roller bag on the cobblestones and in the midst of crowds of people I moved with the flow of pedestrians through an archway. The view in front of me was truly a jaw-dropping experience. I, the accidental tourist, had walked into St. Peter’s Square … the massive plaza located directly in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. All I had seen in pictures was there, right before my eyes … the basilica, the obelisk, the fountains, the statues … all magnificent and found totally my accident. Knowing I would spend many hours there while in Rome, I hastened on and found my daughter waiting for me at our selected hostel. I was giddy knowing the thrill tomorrow would bring when I could enter the plaza once again and see her face when I would share that spectacular entrance into St. Peter’s Square with her.
Another experience was in Morocco. Leasing our home for a year and traveling with no itinerary in 2000 with my husband, Charlie, one of our stops along the way was Casablanca. Arriving late in the evening we looked for the one place that usually has someone who speaks English, INTERNET CAFE. Finding one, as expected, we found a person who helped us locate an available hotel. Because I enjoy an early morning run when traveling, I woke up early and set out from the hotel for my run, carefully noting my every turn to assure a safe return. I observed the day beginning in the city, shops opening, sidewalk vendors setting up their wares, coffee drinkers in the cafes (Moroccan coffee cafes are called “Mafes” for male cafes … no women). There was also the occasional rat scampering in front of me. Turning a corner I saw in the distance a minaret far exceeding the height of any building in the city. Winding through the streets of Casablanca I was on a mission to determine the source of the minaret, always aware of the importance of remembering turns and landmarks. Suddenly it was there before my eyes, Hassan II Mosque. Discovered on my early morning run. I approached the mosque from the Great Square observing this magnificent building perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The first call to worship had been before sunrise and now only a few maintenance people were there in the square at this early hour. Hassan II is the seventh largest mosque in the world with the tallest minaret in the world and a maximum of 105,000 worshippers can gather together for prayer: 25,000 inside the mosque hall and another 80,000 on the mosque’s outside grounds, and it was almost mine alone. Finding my way back to the hotel, I burst into the room to announce my discovery that had been mine that quiet morning before the city was awake. The Hasan II Mosque tour would be the priority for that first day in Casablanca.
Travel surprises can range from challenging to euphoric and all that lies between. As members we experience it all and continue onward!
“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.” — Lawrence Block
Look for my message in the next Centurian when I share my travels in North Korea and my experiences running in the Pyongyang, North Korea, Marathon.