Henley by Amy Richmond

Guest Blogger Amy Richmond

Ever since my parents took me on a plane to Disneyland when I was in the first grade–in the days when air travel was restricted primarily to businessmen in suits–I’ve been hooked. Our family took two big trips a year: one by air in the winter and a road trip in the summer. Once I got to high school (and French class), I couldn’t wait to see more.

I spent a month in Switzerland and France when I was 17. That’s when I discovered that I could branch out from the peanut butter sandwiches that were my meal staple–and that Mme. Sczarka hadn’t taught me as much as I thought she had. I couldn’t communicate past “Bonjour” and “Il fait beau.” If the sun wasn’t shining, I was in trouble. But that summer, I learned a lot about life–a good girl could get drunk and survive, an American in Brittany was a very popular entity, and communication isn’t always about words. In fact, it generally isn’t.

When I boarded the plane in Paris to go home, I had one goal. To go back.

I did.

Many, many times.

Then my international travel slowed with a career and then a gig as a stay at home mom. I packed the suitcase for my daughter and me to cross the border out of the States a few times, but it wasn’t enough. I missed my fix.

By the time my daughter was 7 or 8, my only New Year’s resolution was to leave the country at least once a year. And ever since then, I’ve fulfilled the goal quite well.

Last month work took me to Birmingham, England. We stayed at the famed Belfry and I was never more grateful for my job than when I walked the beautiful grounds. Contrary to my previous experiences in Britain, the food was delicious. What happened to turn the tide? The staff was solicitous and the people friendly. The work event was a success and then came some pure fun—A few days of girl time with a dear friend.

Kate and I hadn’t spent any concentrated time together since my daughter was 3. Her 4 children were young at the time so even though we were together for a week–and it was wonderful–I don’t know how much one on one time we actually got with 5 kids swarming about.

Kate has long lived in France–and I can take some credit for that. My broken leg from a skiing incident in the Swiss Alps maneuvered a meeting with her husband of almost 30 years. That first meeting–between 2 people whose communication was mostly nonverbal–took place on the night train from Geneva to Paris.

We were well familiar with train travel. Kate and I’d been traveling with Eurail pass in hand for almost 2 months. We hit somewhere between 10-15 countries, using the train as a frequent hotel. We made new friends, picked up additional vocabulary, and formed a life-long bond. Repeatedly sharing a miniscule sleeping compartment will do that to you.

Henley Countryside by Amy Richmond

Back on the train for a day trip in England brought back a flood of memories–and made some new. Once again we had an unlimited travel pass and we took advantage. Our first stop was Henley-in-Arden, a quaint town in Warwickshire. We had a lovely lunch in a cozy restaurant before venturing down the one main street to take it all in. We sped through the Heritage Centre after being told we’d want to be there for hours (it was tiny!), checked out the two main churches and tested out the goods at the famous ice cream shop.

And then we hopped back on the train to continue onto Stratford upon Avon. The countryside is lush and lovely. We saw cows, sheep, and lambs. My iPhone didn’t do the scenery justice, but the images are printed indelibly in my mind.

I’d been to Stratford before. We couldn’t see much this visit. By the time we arrived, most everything was shut down for the night, a surprise to this New Yorker, and even for Kate, because it wasn’t late–5 pm–but we took our cue and went back to Birmingham.

The next day we explored the city and as we navigated the streets by foot, we shared stories–current and past. We caught up on the details even though our friendship had never lagged behind. Our chance meeting with the American expat at the Town Hall nudged some talk about meeting husbands, and the long-time effects of that; the visit to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery led to a discussion about our current television viewing habits. A boat ride in the canals reminded us of our shared time in Italy. The topics wove in and out, just as our feet did the same on the cobbled streets. The one constant? A friendship we can trust. One that we appreciate.

It made me realize that these days, the best travel moments include connecting with loved friends. The location is just a bonus. But who doesn’t love a good bonus?

Amy lives in NYC–the perfect city for someone who wants to feel like they’re on vacation when they’re at home. You can follow Amy’s travels and adventures on her blog Stop Whining About Your Life. Change It.

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