Love and Travel
Traveling is falling in love with different parts of the world. When I travel, I fall in love first with the idea; the planning stage, researching art museums and hostels and restaurants, and then secondly with the place itself. It’s amazing to arrive somewhere and see the places that were just dots on a map morph into living, breathing things.
A quote I read by C.S. Lewis really touched me, as he described a feeling related to travel that I have felt so keenly and so often–one of those feelings that you think only you feel until you find the same comraderie with other people or writers.
The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there. Does this mean it would be better […] not to live in the beautiful place? By no means. … if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest.
It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go–let it die away–go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow–and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time.
Everyone who’s been in love will tell you there’s a honeymoon period; when you first realise you’re in love, and you’re experiencing it for the first time with that other person. But then, the thrill dies away. You settle down to life–even if you’re still in love, you can’t keep existing on that “high” of happiness consistently. It’s always been an abstract concept for me, one that I believe exists but I haven’t experienced, until I read Lewis’ words.
I lived in Northern Ireland for a year, and after the initial shock of landing in a new place, my feelings quickly morphed into a whirlwind of exhileration, excitement, and awe. Everything was new, everywhere I turned held a new secret and a new adventure. With my best friend and our new friends from the local church, we very quickly began experiencing everything we could in Northern Ireland–having what literally was a mountaintop experience.
It doesn’t last. When you study abroad, when you travel for any length of time, the shiny exterior that makes everything look perfect gets taken away and you have to settle down to life as it is. It would have made no sense to me before I left that one day, Irish accents and castles and sparkling European cities would all seem as common and normal as my own backyard. But that was where I found the beauty of it; where I learned that I belonged, that I had a place, and that the high could not continue to exist–it was unrealistic, but even more so, it was exhausting. With real life and settling down in a new country, I saw the flaws with my corner of Ireland, and I had days where I was discontent and where I fought and cried and sometimes struggled to make it through class.
Somehow, being accustomed to everything, and recognising the familiarity of it all, and finding it to be home, was even more beautiful than I’d ever expected.
While the new students who came for the second semester were exclaiming at everything, I was walking along smiling and enjoying the familiarity. The views were still stunning, and I think I loved them more because they were home for me, because of our history–I looked fondly at the places that I knew like the back of my hand and the beach where I had done cartwheels and fallen asleep on the black volcanic rocks under the rare “Norn Iron” sun. Some days I cursed the weather, took the charming stone streets and tea shops for granted, didn’t even bat an eyelash when I was out on my run and passing an ancient castle. Other days I saw past the stone streets and castles and lived within the industrialism of a 21st century city that had a McDonalds, and construction going on, and traffic that sprayed grey slush all over the sidewalks.
Realising all this while reading the other night really made me see love in a new light. Because of my experience of traveling and falling in love with Northern Ireland, I can understand the whole honeymoon stage, but I can see the beauty of the transition to the settling down stage. Like Lewis said, you settle down, and you discover new aspects of this place–I was enjoying the rivers and farmland and Giant’s Causeway, but I didn’t realise how much I enjoyed hiking until I got to Galway.
I had ups and downs with Ireland–while I’d never ever trade that experience, contrary to the beautiful photos I have on Facebook, it wasn’t all a walk through Dublin. I can remember days of exhaustion from normal everyday life–going to classes, too much homework, walking soaked in the rain from getting groceries because I didn’t have a car–and hard nights of crying myself to sleep because I was so frustrated with the drunks yelling under my window. But it was still home and it was still so worth fighting for my place there everyday.