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COLUMN SIX: Bitten hard by the travel bug

Davis, centre right in blue scarf, with teaching colleagues in China. SUPPLIED PHOTO

BY LOUISE DAVIS
Special to the VOICE

I grew up in Welland, and, as a child, my family visited many places in the US and in Canada. I loved that time and I believe that the travel bug was implanted in me then, lying dormant until I was older.

The travel bug came back in 2014, when my daughter and I travelled to Italy. Italy was amazing—the food was delicious, the scenery outstanding and the people incredibly friendly. We saw so much—Rome, Positano, Venice, Florence— it was awesome. It was also an eye-opening trip that showed me there is so much to this world than just Canada. I was ready to explore as much of the world as I could on a budget.

In November 2014, I took an extraordinary leap. I quit my job and headed to Europe to get my certificate for teaching English as a foreign language. This journey took me to Prague, Czech Republic. This was the beginning of me fulfilling my dreams. I chose Prague after researching different cities. The history, the architecture, the chance of a lifetime to live in Europe. I was ready, and a little nervous, to go.

I stayed in Prague from November 2014 until June 2016. I met some wonderful people from all over the world, I gained experience as a teacher, and came to love my European lifestyle. Europe is more laid back than Canada when it comes to work. It fit me perfectly, I was so ready for the relaxed lifestyle, teaching people one-on-one, and discovering myself. It was a learning experience not just for my students but for me too. Sipping coffee, enjoying a pastry, watching people walk by, strolling through the castle grounds in the evenings, Europe was good to me. It taught me that there is more to life than work.

I was lucky to have had a chance to travel to Austria, London, and Paris, as well as visiting many little towns within the Czech Republic. I loved London— so much to see. Austria was stunning. Paris was everything I expected and more.

Due to government regulations in the Czech Republic, it was extremely difficult for me to obtain a permanent work visa, so I decided to come back to Canada for the summer of 2016, get my paperwork ready for my next country, and visit with family. In August of that year, I headed to China.

China was a completely different experience from Europe or Canada. I ended up in a “small” city of 6 million people in northeast China. It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. I had no knowledge of Mandarin, which made it quite difficult to communicate. I recall my first day in Changchun, heading to the agency I was working for. I was given a quick lesson on where to catch the bus and how to get to the agency. Here I was, a 50-plus woman with blonde hair and blue eyes, wandering through a massive city, trying to find a bus to go somewhere I didn’t know. I got stared at, pointed at, and I know they were talking about me. I took a deep breath, said to myself that I could do this, and headed into the unknown.

I ended up working at a wonderful school with the most amazing children. I fell in love with 800 Chinese students. I did not, however, fall in love with China. I found the country very noisy, too crowded, and, surprising to me, too hot. I was close to Russia and North Korea, and never dreamt it would be hot and humid in the summer. I never ventured to Beijing— Changchun was busy enough for me. I had no interest in seeing the Great Wall, or the Terra Cotta soldiers, or any of the other big tourist attractions. I went there to become a better teacher and to experience the food. The food did not disappoint—it was some of the best I’ve ever had, the dumplings, the noodle soup. I miss those things almost daily.

I did, however, get to see the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. It was incredible. This is the biggest ice and snow festival in the world and it was one reason I picked this area. I love winter and wanted to experience this. It was definitely worth going to.

China was an experience I am grateful for having and I will never forget those beautiful faces of the children I taught but, after one year, I was ready to move on.

From China, I headed to Chile for seven weeks. Seven glorious weeks in what I can only describe as one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I landed in Santiago, after 27 grueling hours of travel from Asia, and was greeted with a sunny day and a wonderful place to stay. Santiago is beautiful, with the Andes as a backdrop to the city. I explored, I ate, and I was so grateful that there were many people who spoke English so easily. A nice change after the year in China.

From Santiago, I travelled north. I went to Valparaiso on the coast, headed up to La Serena, which definitely lives up to its name. Serene, beautiful, quiet. I loved it there. Then I went further north to Antofagasta, where I enjoyed fresh fish at the market, marveled at the sea life, sea lions and pelicans so close I could touch them. The most memorable place for me was San Pedro de Atacama. Seeing the Milky Way on a clear night, conquering a fear in the desert with a group of people, and simply relaxing and enjoying the time on my own, it was heaven.

Arica, on the border with Peru, is where I ended my time in Chile. The most pristine beaches with cheap restaurants, the beautiful weather, it really was the best place to end my holiday.

This past January, I headed to Spain, Morocco and Portugal. I cannot say more than what I’ve already said—Europe is the best place in the world. Relaxing, the food is phenomenal, and the people are so friendly.

I will be heading out in a few months to more countries and to celebrate my 55th birthday. Turkey and Greece are where I’m aiming, and I can’t wait. The ancient ruins, the caves, the food. Travelling has shown me how strong and resilient I am. It’s made me more patient and more aware of how much I can do on my own. Travelling has brought a new spark—I get excited looking at other people’s vacation pictures, and it reminds me just how much there is to see and discover, including more of myself. Fifty-five is only a number, but one I am looking forward to as much as any other birthday. You are only as young as you feel.

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