In all my travels, whether at home or abroad, I have often found myself wanting to wander off the beaten path.
I mean, yes, I buy the tickets for the tours that guidebooks and travel websites suggest, and I have never been sorry to explore a castle or gaze at a famous painting. I know that there are sights in every city and country that demand my attention, and I would have regretted missing the Colosseum or the Tower of London while I was in Rome and London. They simply had to be visited, and that was that.
But my most poignant and powerful travel experiences have been the small moments I was graced with that showed me the heart of a place; bursting in on my imagination with a true sense of the history or the comfort of a place, those times took my breath away and left me with a desire to continue trying to capture travel experiences in such small and precious snapshots.
On a walk through Vedbaek, Denmark, while listening to the silky thresh of breezes on tall grasses and red poppies, I heard a cuckoo bird. I was stunned, because, while I had heard that call all my life in the chiming of a German cuckoo clock in my parents’ kitchen, I had never known that the cuckoo bird truly made that sound. I stopped in my tracks to listen while all around me were the cool woods, soft pastures and orderly fences of the Danish countryside, enthralled. What if I had taken the train that day?
On the Isle of Capri, my traveling companions and I, having ogled the Gucci and Valentino boutiques, oohed and aahed over the magnificent jewelry in the shop windows near the plaza, and having been stung by jellyfish in the Mediterranean all while feeling oh-so sophisticated, decided to take a detour and stroll down a small residential street that no tourists were paying any attention to. Much too small for a car, and even for more than two people to walk abreast, we journeyed down the twisting little stone path, past dentist’s offices and hair salons, their doors standing open to catch a breeze, peopled by shopkeepers visiting with their patrons. We caught bewitching glimpses of courtyards filled with flowers and vegetables; every home had a lovely terracotta name plaque at the gate, and every path to each door beckoned us, tantalizing us with thoughts of those who were lucky enough to live there, the scent of lemons and salt air and roses washing over them both day and night. We saw Capri that day in a very personal and intimate way, as a place one could call home even after the summer crowds had dissipated. That day we found the heart of the place by turning left instead of right.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry that I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…”
Robert Frost, in his poem “The Road Not Taken” that I have cited above, says it perfectly. I find myself when traveling standing at the divergence of two roads, wishing I could visit them both and remain one traveler. But when I am given the choice, I, like Mr. Frost, will always choose the road less traveled.