I was born wanderlusty in first class thanks to the most important woman in my life.
My mother worked a loveless office job for an airline for twenty-two years just so that my family could travel.
And we did.
Flying “non-revenue,” as the industry called it, my family would hop on a plane and make whatever connection was open. My brother and I would take turns picking an area of the world and we’d head in that general direction. Depending on flight availability, we’d end up in London or Zurich, Nassau or Puerto Rico. And every chance we’d get, we’d ride first class. We were very lucky kids.
In those days, first class was truly first class. I grew up eating lobster and caviar at 30,000 feet. On international flights, it was a non-stop trolley buffet the entire ride. I especially relished trips to Europe for the cheeses that were served in-flight, dozens from which to choose. I was a chubby little frequent flyer.
Travel was the best education my parents could afford. And they selflessly sacrificed to make it happen. I rode camels in Egypt, saw Mona Lisa’s smile, hammered down the Berlin Wall, and marveled at the the dragon throne in the Forbidden City all before I turned a teen.
And the food – my brother and I grew up at the table in cafes and eateries around the world. Cous cous, stinky tofu, and pickled herring. I loved it all.
My free flying benefits ended the year after I graduated from college. Months before they expired, I went on one last romp. First class to Milan, then by train to Venice, Budapest, Vienna, Prague and back to Milan, from which I returned first class to the U.S. They were two of the most memorable weeks of my life.
In the years since, I’ve been extremely blessed with more travels. And though I would be terribly ungrateful to be discontent with what I’ve already experienced, I hope for many more. Herbert Nehrlich captured this hope wonderfully in a poem about one of my favorite cities.
To See Venice and Die
I fully realise, my Lord
that I have been to Venice
but if you would not mind
please hold your horses.
I’ve yet to visit places that
you, in your generosity
have made for us during creation.
But let me tell you first
about the Rocky Mountaineer,
the Blue Train from Pretoria
to Kapstadt, oops, it is Capetown,
the Indian-Pacific goes
from Perth to Sydney and retour.
The Orient Express, from London
and here we go again, to Venice,
so I will schedule this one last
and settle in on what is known
as the Transsiberian Railway,
Beijing to Moscow, of all places.
They say that passengers must take
their living food supply like pigs,
and chickens, turkeys, even geese.
Those frequent incidents on tracks
that have seen better days and trains,
snow slides and other nice disasters
are to be figured in to any journey.
With any luck I shall be longer than expected
and then, before you call me home
there still is Venice, and after that?
This week, the woman who gave me the world as my classroom turns one year older. The last time I was in Venice, I walked the canals with her and took this twenty-first photo of the week. Happy birthday mom, and thank you for everything.