Going With The Flow
To me, traveling with friends is like drinking an invigorating cup of tea while watching the ripples and petals on my pond. You never know what to expect, but like the petals, you go with the flow and enjoy the fleeting moments of joy.
I remember a funny experience of a time when a friend and I went to Huangshan. It was in the early days of China’s opening to foreign visitors. Huangshan is a very famous and beautiful mountain range in China where the untouched beauty of nature has been carefully preserved by generations of nature lovers. We enjoyed the wonderful rain-washed, ink-and-wash-painting like landscape, but the hiking was tiring. When we got back to the only hotel in existence (at the time), we decided to treat ourselves to a massage.
The parlor was managed by two young men who promptly greeted us with a title equivalent to that of ‘old grandmas’. We both instinctively looked behind us. There were no one else but us, therefore we had to acknowledge that the old grandmas were supposed to be us! But we were at our stage in life living in America when we were battling aging at all costs! Who wanted to be addressed as old grandmas when we were not yet grandmas?! Later that evening, we learned that the ‘old grandma’ title was a title of honor in traditional Chinese thinking. So I guess being kicked up one level and addressed as old was not exactly bad news.
Our husbands did not go with us on that trip because they believed that at that time that China was too backwards in infrastructure to accommodate foreign visitors. After observing the beauty of Huangshan, we were able to persuade them to travel with us to China. Not long after that wonderful couples trip, my friend’s husband unexpectedly passed away with a rapidly consuming illness. Now, years later, my own husband is trying his best to nurse me back from a serious illness. The trips to China before the country rapidly changed is part of our beautiful memory.
There were also wonderful trips to Europe by car and by train. Visiting cities and countries on the eastern Aegean Sea coast, like Croatia before they open up to tourism, were fun experiences with friends who had previously backpacked across Europe several times. Once, we rented a car and it stalled before we even left town! A call into the rental company summoned a helper and we all found to our surprise that Eastern European standard shift were not the same as in the US—they have one more gear!. So my friend had been driving in low gear all along the highway.
We drove to Plitvice Lakes National Park which is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places I had ever visited. We stayed in a hotel that had been built for high ranking officials in the communist era—Croatia was part of the Soviet sphere of influence until their independence (which was quite recent at the time we visited). The hotel was 1950s “modern”. Dinner was served without a slightest touch of capitalism—sit at this table, column A or column B, and minutes later a waiter in a military looking uniform marched up with a pre-fixed, tasteless plate regardless whether it was from column A or column B.
When traveling with these same friends, we like to experience life as locals would. Normally we ask locals for the best place to eat and, usually, we are led to nice local restaurant and to gourmet meals. Many of these travels occurred before smart phones and Google or Apple Translate were born, and sometimes we didn’t know chicken from fish, pork from beef, or strange animal parts when the wait staff did not speak or understand English. We learned quickly to look up the dictionary for familiar food items before we disembarked to a country not familiar with the English language.
Another time, we asked a young music student whom we met on a train where to eat. She said that we must try ABC Restaurant because, to her, it was the best restaurant in town. We searched all over and finally arrived at ABC Restaurant. Alas! We discovered it was a place where American style hamburgers were served—no local treasures! Fortunately, there were other restaurants nearby.
When we visited Carcassonne, the taxi driver told us about their world-famous casserole (cassoulet), so we climbed the steps of a narrow, ancient street to the end. At the top of the hill stood a single grocery store. The owner was an attractive and delightful French woman. We ordered our casserole and sat under the shade of an olive tree and chatted in the caressing breeze. The time flew by as friends shared the wonderful environment. Soon, our host came smiling while carefully holding our still bubbling casserole in her hands. It was well worth the waiting—a gourmet treat we would never forget. Just as we will never forget the friendship that we shared during the trip.
All these wonderful memories are ingrained in my mind. And as I look back, I have spent much of my life striving to achieve goal after goal, but it is the going-with-the-flow moments that stood out at the end.