An Innocent Abroad (London and New York)

Dolphin Lamps long Chelsea Embankment

At a recent meeting of our local Probus Club, I was intrigued to hear one of our members talk about her first tourist impressions of London. While her husband was studying at a business college, she was left to explore her fond Monopoly Board sites of London. Being left to her own devices, she found the process an empowering experience in a place she loved to explore, and it has endured with her ever since.

It brought to mind my first empowering experience of London, too, and It was just 50 years ago this November. It occurred suddenly as I was riding home in a London cab from Phyllis’ flat in Pimlico to my digs in Earl’s Court. We had been to a ball and it was sometime after midnight. I think it was our first night out together. As the cab weaved through London’s streets whose names were so familiar and yet so new to me, I felt a bit of a dandy in my dinner suit and leaning on my umbrella as if it were a cane (I didn’t wear a top hat!). Suddenly I felt that London belonged to me, or more accurately, I belonged to London.

Another ‘owning’ experience occurred to me in New York some forty years later when I left Phyllis and daughter Karen frantically shopping at Macey’s while I decided to take a leisurely walk back along 7th Avenue through the once thriving Garment District to our hotel near Times Square. Once again I suddenly felt this experience of belonging to the city. I think it resulted from the security of having loved-ones close by, but still having the freedom to explore such a world famous city on my own.

Reminder of the once flourishing Garment District in New York


An Innocent Abroad (Japan and Russia)

To continue my jubilee quest of 50 years ago (see my previous post of 06.10.2018 – An Innocent Abroad (Hong Kong):

Stopover in Tokyo

After leaving Hong Kong I had a stopover in Japan. Unlike Hong Kong where street names signs were duplicated in English, Tokyo streets were all in Japanese. Understandably, they made no concessions to Australian tourists. Oh, how I wish that Google Translatehad been invented then! And there were no Hotels.com or Google Maps: not even an internetto share my frustrations with my Facebookfriends. So after spending two nights in Tokyo and Yokohama YMCA’s, I took the easy option and booked a bus tour to Mount Fuji and environs.

October 1968 – cone of Mt Fuji

The beautiful Japanese countryside was a welcome relief from the throngs of Tokyo and Yokohama.

Stopover in Moscow

After a rattling 10 hour flight across Siberia, the Russian Aeroflot airliner touched down in a chilly Moscow where the trees were wearing their autumn garbs, the skies were grey with clouds, the Muscovites were donned in their thick black coats, and their faces were already set grimly against the onset of winter. But it was not only the weather that was cold, for in 1968, it was still the Cold War with the West. I could still feel the excitement at arriving in an alien territory.

October 1968 – Moscow – Red Square crowds

Even so, Moscow was a beautiful city and one steeped in history. I again took the easy option and boarded a sightseeing tour.

Destination London

When I touched down at Heathrow, I immediately felt at home. I was greeted by friends who spoke Australian, and who introduced me to familiar sites that I had up until then only been able to read about in books and travel brochures. The first night I was taken to Piccadilly Circus and the statue of Eros. I have been in love with them ever since.

I hadn’t fully realized the solitude that necessarily accompanies the lone traveller. Nor the anxiety of travel: of having to deal with timetables and unfamiliar situations. It’s something the travel agent didn’t deem necessary to relate.

From the perspective of 2018, I wonder how I could have been so naive and unprepared for my journey – just throwing my clothes into a port on the morning of departure from Brisbane. No travel money, no travel books. I was focused on my destination in London. I forgot that travel, like life, is a journey not a destination. Young people today have it easy. All their travel information is online – so much so that they almost don’t need to actually travel at all.

 

An Innocent Abroad (Hong Kong)

It’s fifty years ago this month since I first ventured overseas. I was one of the many young Jet Setters taking advantage of the flight specials that were made possible by the introduction of Boeing’s 707 Jumbo Jets. My ultimate destination was London, which in 1968 was ‘the centre of the universe’ to so many of us. But it was in Hong Kong that I chose to spend the few days of my new life away from my home in Brisbane. 

Hong Kong in October 1968 – the view from Victoria Peak

The stalagmites of Hong Kong today

As you can see from these images, the place has changed a bit over the past half century: The Star ferry is no longer the only means of communication between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island (well you can’t actually see the tunnel now hiding beneath Victoria Harbour; nor the fact that Hong Kong has now passed from British control back to China.)

I have always harboured a desire to return to Hong Kong one day, but with the passing of the years, shopping is no longer on my holiday itinerary; nor is the zing of a booking into a luxury hotel; nor is the vibe of a megatropolis. My enthusiasm has waned, but if I every do make it back there, even as a stopover, I expect that Hong Kong will surprise me in some new and unexpected way.