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My travel tree

Many, many moons ago, in an effort to cure myself of the habit of buying touristy tat when I travelled, I hit on the idea of a travel tree (along the lines of my travel bracelet). Before I can buy anything else, I have to buy a silver charm and a Christmas tree ornament (a challenge in non-Christian countries). The search for both usually uses up all of my shopping energy and takes care of that on-holiday-need-to-buy affliction that hits when the plane lands or the train draws into the station.

I’ve been doing this for years but have never gotten around to getting said Christmas tree, the thoughts of taking it down always a lot worse, on balance, that the idea of putting it up. The one year I seriously flitted with the idea, BZs showed up for breakfast sans car and put paid to that. The closest I’ve come is a white metal stand with hooks for ornaments that resembles a tree. But it doesn’t smell.

20161210_150212_resized20161210_150240_resized20161211_192443_resizedThis year, though, with visitors due mid-holiday and himself the antithesis of my do-I-have-to-be-happier-just-because-it’s-Christmas Scrooginess, we got a tree. A real, live tree (well, now dying but you get the gist). And it comes from our part of the countryside, too. I hadn’t realised that there are so many different kinds but thankfully, it was cold, I was in pain, I didn’t have time to dither. I picked the first one that spoke to me. A tad ungainly but it has character.

I dug out my boxes of ornaments, all carefully catalogued over the years, and began to relive my travels. I had to think on some of them, finding it hard to remember whom I was with and why I was there and what had taken me to Smithfield, Virginia in the first place. But as we dressed the tree and swapped stories, it came alive. Admittedly, thoughts of the hassle I was going to have repacking everything threatened to intrude and ruin the moment,  but I managed to get through it.

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20161213_163613_resized20161213_163802_resized20161213_163742_resizedlori-001-800x552One of my all time favourite ornaments though, was one I got when I was in San Francisco shortly after my bestie Lori died. That brought back a wealth of memories. The day after I got the news, I’d planted a tree in her name at an orphanage outside Budapest. It all seemed somewhat fitting. As I revisited the trips I’d taken and the places I’d been, I was at home with thoughts of friendship and travel – two of a long list of what I value in life.

Life changes – all the time. Things simply don’t stay the same. Managing that change and making the most of what we’re dealt is our challenge. Putting up a tree – that’s a start.

Finally … a decision

BZs came to breakfast. I told myself that if he drove, I’d ask him to take me to get a Christmas tree. One of the first things he said when he arrived was ‘Hey, I took public transport for once!’ The tree gods were telling me something. But still I was hankering. KG offered me hers as they are leaving for the holidays. But along with the hankering was the need for immediate gratification. I couldn’t wait till the weekend. I wanted it now. A quick check on Kika’s website showed me one that would do nicely – only thing was, I couldn’t be sure where it was made. Would I go there only to find it was made in China?

IMG_1281 (768x1024)The tree gods were talking to me again. I went. There was one big one left. On sale. And it was made in Poland. [Tip: If you want the world to look at you, carry a 1.5 metre metal tree on the tram and the metro.]

Going through my boxes of ornaments would have been everything I’d hoped it would be had I not been rushing to get a bus to Belgrade.  With time pressing, it was like a whirlwind tour of my life – with ornaments from all over the USA, from Alaska to Louisiana and beyond: a lobster from Maine, Santa on an alligator from Louisiana, cable cars from San Francisco.  Hungary is well represented too, with quite a collection of hand-painted bells, and cornhusk cribs. I have a miniature violin from Strasbourg, a lemon from Modica, a felt angel from Mongolia, and a gorgeous set of carvings from Bethlehem that I can’t place at all.

IMG_1274 (1024x768)Best of all though, I have been cataloguing these ornaments since 1994 – nearly 20 years! I have a record of where each one came from, where I was, when I was there, who I was with, or who brought it back from somewhere. People I knew (and still know), places I visited, places I have yet to visit , birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, births, deaths, marriages – all represented on my trees (yes, I bought two, little and large).

IMG_1237 (800x588)So what brought about this change of heart and mind? Well, I ‘did the markets’ at the weekend. I tried blood sausage in Obuda and was surprised that what I thought was a cranberry … wasn’t. But I survived. In the company of the lovely BS, we figured the safest course of action was to drown the bugs in mulled wine. It worked. We hit the food fair at Hold utca market where I capped off a wild mushroom soup with a rather expensive macaroon. From there we went for some better cake at the Bedő Ház.  On Sunday, we tried hot beer at WAMP and won’t be doing that again in a hurry.

IMG_1249 (800x600)All this wandering about, and seeing the city dressed for the festivities, put a longing on me. I’ve made a note in my diary to stay in Budapest next December for as long as possible. The weather is great – cold dry days with the occasional blue sky. The type of cold that makes me feel alive. [Easy for me to say, I know, when I’m dressed for it – not so nice for those who are not.] It’s that time of year when goodwill abounds – people give to strangers, do good deeds, and generally are a lot nicer to their fellow-man. Dare I say it … I’m getting in the mood! ‘Tis Christmas!!!!

PS: Today is the 12th day of the 12th month in 2012 so at 12 minutes past 12 noon, make a wish.

Grateful 33

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move. So said Robert Louis Stevenson light years ago and methinks the man has a point. I like to drive. My hand is first up when volunteers are sought to drive from A to B. I have fond memories of driving over 300 miles to play 36 holes of golf while living in Valdez, Alaska. When I’m in Ireland and have access to a car, I’d happily spend the time chauffeuring just about anyone. No reason necessary. I had high ambitions as a teen to be a long-distance trucker and crossing the States on Route 66 is on my bucket list.

I like to travel by train.  I can get up, move around, choose whether or not to engage in conversation. Looking out the window is like watching a giant movie screen – no better example of life imitating art. I like to travel by plane, too, and would like it even more if it wasn’t for the baggage-related angst and the heightened sense of loneliness that occasionaly hits when it seems that everyone else is being met off the plane but me.

I wonder though, if the best bit about travel is coming home. Putting my key in the front door. Dumping my bags. Hoping the fridge fairy has been to stock up. Checking on my girls and being glad that they’re all still alive. Making a cuppa. And looking forward to getting between the sheets of my bed.

This week, as so many people the world over face another night on a cardboard mattress wondering when and if they’ll see another cup of coffee,  I give silent and fervent thanks for having some place to come home to. I realise that home is a state of mind  and that part of me still qualifies Ireland as ‘home home’… yet this is serious: I’m actually thinking of a Hungarian Christmas tree this year (and it’s only May!)

(Note: to read the concept behind the Grateful Series – check out Grateful 52)