I love Europe just as many Westerners have a fondness for Asia. If Asia is rich with
mysteries and unique culture, Europe to me is just brimming with history and romantic legends across time. From the vast, majestic castles over the hills to the scenery which ranged from imperious mountains to lush flatlands, everything in Europe fascinated me.
Which was why, one of the things I did the moment I found a job after graduation was to save money for a long European trip. Originally, I would have liked to go alone, but as my parents refused point blank to let me loose in a foreign country on my own, I decided to team up with my aunt, her best friend and sister. The plan was to go to Wales for a few days, before spending the weekend in Spain, and then my aunt and me would go sightseeing in Paris before meeting with our two comrades in London. We chose to go somewhere mid-September 2011, when autumn was slowly coming while there was still the debris of summer scattered amid the continent.
Country-hopping like this was a first for me, who up until then had never been to more than one place at a time. So for the first time, I had to learn how to travel light for a 14-day journey. We were sleeping in different hotels most of the time, and for a part had to travel aboard trains in order to reach our hotels, so having to lug around heavy baggage was simply not practical. There were the endless flights of stairs if you’re going aboard underground trains, as I had done in London and Paris, plus if it was your first time there, dragging around the bags while desperately trying to find the right address of your hotel is a far cry from a picnic. Plus, there was the baggage limits for flights. Since we’re traveling low budget and I was determined to spend my cash for souvenirs and other unforeseen circumstances (which turned out right, by the way) instead of excess baggage fees, I decided to only fill half of my suitcase with the essentials- toiletries and clothes.
Indeed the only thing I was concerned with was my camera, as many good tourists do. As long as my camera is working I’d be the happiest person in the world. Imagine seeing a particularly scenic view or a memorable moment and the turning around… only to find that your camera is not functioning. Epic nightmare.
Country-hopping meant that I spent some time in different flights, be it the long 12-hour journey from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Heathrow, or the shorter one aboard between United Kingdom, Spain and France. A reflection that I had regarding this was that I have more respect and appreciation for people who travel for a living- flight attendants, business people, journalists, etc. While I love flying and I would rather travel by plane than a boat, it does get rather uncomfortable if one consistently does it. Economy seats can be unsettling after a while, and when you’ve been sitting there for a good portion of your 12hour journey, you’d wish that you are a yoga expert. Plus those who were less fortunate among us might have to endure the in-flight tortures- screaming and crying children, super-friendly neighbours and the occasional bad food.
Uncomfortable trips aside, I love airports. To me, airports served a unique purpose, not just as a port for planes to land and drop off passengers before taking off with another load to another place. Airports is point zero, the fine line between entering a country and not entering it. Being there means that you’re already on the country’s soil, but you’re not quite in the country yet.
Contrary to what many others would feel, I find the whole airport routine enjoyable. Probably because I am a Muslim, and there is still a considerable amount of suspicion towards Muslims and Islamophobia in many countries, I do find it funny when an airport official look me up and down as if he could scan through my clothes for something dangerous just with his eyes. I was actually ‘selected’ for a surprise inspection at Heathrow while waiting for my flight home to Malaysia. The look on the airport security guy as he came and explained it to me was amusing- it was clear that he expected some sort of friction or protest. Maybe a look of contempt at the very least. But the whole process went very smoothly and of course I was found to be terrorist-free. He gave me an enigmatic smile when I said thank you cheerfully and went on my happy way. That was definitely an experience to remember.
In short, traveling around during my European experience was an adventure in itself just as being in those countries had been. Lugging around heavy bags while trying to catch a plane or getting to hotels are by no means funny, but when you think back, trust me, it will make you smile.