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Danny's Reading - Travel

Average: 3.9 (11 votes)

I've never really understood the expression 'itchy feet'. I know what it means, of course, and for those of you who've never heard it before, itchy feet is what you get when you get the sudden urge to travel; to want to leave where you are because, suddenly, where you are is not where you want to be. I'’ve never felt like that. I've never felt the need to go out and see the world because, the way I see it, doing the job I do, the world tends to drop into my classroom and see me. So, I've never got itchy feet.

Until now.

It took me a while to realise what it was. I spent most of January waking up feeling restless, without quite knowing why. In February it dawned on me that I was bored, without quite knowing with what, which only made it worse. My life seemed to have become the existential equivalent of hanging around watching paint dry. Magnolia paint. On a magnolia wall. In a cul-de-sac.

And then, in March, I was idly surfing the net when I found, with mild surprise, that I had double-clicked my way to the local airline’s website. A twitch of a finger later, and I had purchased four flight tickets to Zurich, Switzerland. I heard a scream of shock and surprise come from my wallet, which was on the dresser in the other room. And, minutes later, having given my stunned credit card mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and some soothing words of comfort, I realised I was no longer bored and restless, and that I was grinning from ear to ear.

Itchy feet.

So...why Zurich?

Well, why not? Every journey has to start somewhere, and it’s as good a place as any. For all I know, it's better than most. And if it turns out not to be, I've already got America planned for Easter 2012. And Sweden later that year. And then Italy. And Turkey and France and Spain and...well...everywhere. And if the world ends before I'm done, as predicted by Mayans and, to be honest, morons, then I hope to have a wonderful view of it going up in flames from an airplane window.

"Switzerland is a lovely place", people who have been there tell me enthusiastically, when I tell them that that's where me, my wife and the kids are off to. "Skiing and snowboarding and..."

And then I tell them that I'm going in August, and they tail off and blink at me in confusion because they can’t think of anything worth going to Switzerland in summer for.

"If I were you", they eventually say, hesitantly so as not to upset me, and yet determinedly, in order to secure their credentials as seasoned travelers, "I would have chosen Turkey for the summer. There are some beautiful beaches in Antalya..."

Which is true because I've seen the photos. Beautiful beaches indeed - brilliant blue seas caressing golden bays embraced by dense green forests surrounded by majestic mountains. The kind of beaches where dreams, and Hollywood blockbusters with titles consisting of 'determiner + adjective + Summer'’ or 'Summer + preposition + abstract noun', are made. But here's the thing...

...I've seen the photos.

This is going to be difficult to explain, but I'll give it a go...

Nobody goes to Egypt and takes a photo of the pyramids. Nobody goes to Thailand and takes photos of elephants and waterfalls. And nobody waits for hours in a queue in the Louvre to take a photo of the Mona Lisa. And that’s because there is not a person on this planet who doesn't know what pyramids, elephants and the Mona Lisa look like. So no. They take photos of themselves standing in front of the pyramids, or sitting on the elephant, or pulling funny faces with the Mona Lisa sitting disapprovingly between them, because that proves that they were there. And when they show you their holiday snaps, they give you a long and animated running commentary with each shot. Because the visual aspect of it is not enough. What they want to share with you; what they really want you to feel, is the experience.

What I want to experience is...well...being Swiss for a couple of weeks. I want to leave Malta so far behind me that it seems like a whole new place to discover when I get back. So while I'll probably visit the Zurich Zoo, Old Town, the Rhine Falls and so on and so forth, and undoubtedly return home with a multitude of pictures of all of us grinning stupidly in front of a variety of backgrounds, what I’m really, really looking forward to doing is...


...walking through a forest with rays of sunlight sporadically penetrating the fading greens and deep browns, and imagining what it would feel like to walk that way to work every morning. Sitting by a lake and thinking of nothing other than the fact that I'm sitting by a lake, while foreign-looking birds swoop down to the water and then soar upwards again with foreign-looking fish struggling in their foreign-looking beaks. Waiting on a platform early in the morning, and watching the trains cross-stitching their way through the grey fabric of the city, noisily joining the here and now to the elsewhere and later.

Any photos I take of all this will be, I guarantee, monumentally boring. But the memories of it will remain long after the pictures of the monkeys at the zoo have faded away into the ghosts of colours that were. It may be daily routine to some, but here in Malta there are no forests, no real lakes, no trains. Here in Malta, I walk to work everyday with the sea breathing gently and infinitely not twenty metres away from me, as seagulls glide around the masts of yachts before perching and preening on technicolour fishing boats, as the sun climbs slowly over the horizon and into a halcyon cyan sky. And every now and then, I glance at it, look at it without really seeing, breathe in the sea-breeze without acknowledging it... and keep walking, thinking of a million other things.

Maybe when I come back from Zurich, I'll see it through landlocked Swiss eyes, and appreciate it a little more, take it for granted a little less. And maybe you should too, wherever you may be.

Yep, I had a feeling this would be difficult to explain. I'll leave you to figure it out for yourselves, and I'll see you next month. Unless, of course, you see me first...

By Danny, teacher at EC Malta English School