Travel and deciding upon a destination has always been an intuitive exercise for me. I don’t so much as choose the place as it chooses me.
The first time that happened I was 19 years old, reading the Vancouver Sun newspaper, and I noticed a call to adventure appropriately named Youth on the Go. It was an exchange program with a difference — it was basically a one way adventure. Nobody else was returning to my hometown with me when my time in the chosen place was over.
Youth from all over the world could go to another country and be hosted by a family for a few months. I ended up going to Finland to stay with the Kuisma family. Aspects of that trip are as clear in my memory now (as if the 38 years that have passed since) were just five or so years ago. It was a formative experience.
Many other trips since have unfolded that way as well. I went to visit Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, New Mexico, because I was intending to go to Santa Fe for the art and had never even heard of Ghost Ranch until it popped up in Google. I poured over the words that shared the ranch’s history on my computer screen. The romanticism of how the late artist Georgia O’Keeffe first came to the ranch in 1929 or the early 1930s was so enchanting, as it has been to women the world over, that the more I read, the more I knew I must visit. And so I did. I went the first time in 2006, and loved the ranch so much, I went back the very next year taking the same photography course a second time.
My friends and family are often surprised. They won’t have even heard me refer to taking a trip and the next thing they know, I’m telling them “next week I’m going to __________ ” — insert name of place.
“Why there? Why now?” is how they react.
Sometimes it’s hard to answer. It can seem on the surface like I’m Mary Poppins, the wind just seemingly blowing in the right direction to aid in whimsical decision-making. But what actually happens is the thought of a specific place may have been lingering just below the surface for a while being mulled about. Then that feeling in my chest grows stronger until I decide that I could, I know, I should, I must, I will, I am doing it and the ticket gets bought buoyed from a feeling of rightness. Maybe that’s how it works for everyone.
I just returned from Quebec City and loved it. Five days seemed the perfect amount of time to learn more about the early history of Canada and to really understand better the uniqueness of Quebec and why they have so clung to their culture, their language, their history in the way they have, fighting for it every step of the way since Wolfe outwitted and overpowered Montcalm and all the political moves that have protected it since.
Visiting Quebec allows a Canadian (especially a life-long West Coaster) to better understand and be grateful for Quebec’s refusal to be anything but who they are, in their delicious food, in their language, their charming historic buildings and boulevards and outdoor cafes, the breeze and the scent of lilacs soothing on a hot day on the Plains of Abraham.
And you understand more about the power of the Roman Catholic Church in shaping almost everything historically in Quebec and building the infrastructure. You are awestruck by the monolithic Chateau Frontenac Hotel and its significance to the city, its enterprise and beauty as it continued to evolve over decades right up to its last addition in 1993 (spa, pool, fitness room).
You learn about nuns like Marie de L ’Incarnation, founder of the Ursuline Order in Canada, in developing and educating the local young women, Indigenous girls and the King’s daughters, referencing the approximately 800 French women who immigrated to New France between 1663 and 1673.
And how these days, Quebecers, at least in Quebec City, are not interested in churches anymore which leave boards of directors scrambling for ways to make the beautiful old buildings financially viable, as the Monastery of Augustine nuns did, by transforming their monastery into a wellness centre complete with spa treatments, guest rooms and yoga and mindfulness retreats. https://monastere.ca/en
Before I went to Quebec City, I didn’t even realize it was a designated UNESCO World Heritage Centre because of the fortification walls around the old city and the gates still standing (with some having to be recreated).
And when I toured the Assembleé Nationale du Quebec on Saturday June 15th, I didn’t realize they were debating Bill 21, when the tour guide said “the Assembleé is in session today because there are two very important bills being debated.” She didn’t mention the nature of those bills. I believe the way she phrased it was, “Quebec wants to be sure that church and state are now separate.” Too bad, if that means a racist bill that prohibits someone who is Sikh or Muslim from wearing what should be a religious and cultural right and in the end will lessen the quality of life for everyone in that city whether they see that or not.
Whenever I travel, away from routine, get a taste of freedom and new sights to revel in, I still dream of leaving it all and journeying the way many 20 years old do, for months at a time. If you have a twenty year old, and they are so inclined, don’t ever change their mind about travelling in favour of a job. There is time for routine. The twenties are the right time to explore and learn through seeing the world because as I age, I realize, there are few things (love being one of them) more important than the memories that have been made. Travel memories are happy and soothing companions.
Travel is also confidence re-affirming. When I’m able to find a destination that I wasn’t sure of or when I communicate ever so briefly in a language that isn’t English and I’m understood (with help from Google Translate) I feel so much personal mastery that the words of that old Helen Reddy song, ‘I am woman, hear me roar!’ ring through my head and bring a small smile to my heart.
I love being able to do exactly what I want or to choose not to do something in the tourist guide because I don’t care. I don’t have to wait for someone to keep up with me. I can stop to eat when I’m hungry or walk 22,000 step in one day. I can have conversations with the cute 20-something waiter who makes enough money in Quebec City in the summer to travel the rest of the year or the couple from Spain at the next table. In that way, the experience comes to life and brings me back to the liveliness of my non workday self. I become who I truly am in curiosity and energy.
And that’s another thing that travel brings to the forefront: clarity. A streamlined clearness about what is and isn’t working in my life, about what really matters to me now, and about what needs to change.
To use a phrase from 1967 uttered (some said inappropriately given his position and that he was a guest in our country) by past French President Charles de Gaulle: Vive le Quebec! And I definitely want to add to that: Vive le voyage!