My Journey to Italy – Part One

I fell in love with Italy, and especially Sicily, decades ago. 


I grew up in a family whose idea of travelling was to pack up the trailer, drive about an hour from home and set up the trailer for a week.  Yet somehow the bug for real travel was in my soul.  I was a voracious reader and my favourites were the Narnia series, The Phoenix and the Carpet, Charles Dickens and all of Joan Aiken’s books.  I had a picture in my head of England – Victorian England – and I wanted nothing more than to see it, walk the streets, drink tea and eat little finger sandwiches.  I wanted to stand outside Buckingham Palace, watch the changing of the guard and wave at the Queen.  But it was just a dream, and not one that my parents were likely to fulfill.  Or at least, so I thought.


One day, my very best friend and neighbour, Genevieve, came to tell me that she was going on a school trip to Europe, including England!  Not only that, Genevieve’s dad was on the phone with my dad right then to see if I could go too.  It seemed to good to be true! 


We went to a meeting.  Two hundred students from different schools and their parents crowded into an auditorium in North Vancouver to hear the details of the school trip.  Venice, Corfu, Sicily, Tunisia, Gibralter, Spain, and – my dream – England!  London, Southampton, Salisbury, and Stonehenge.  I sat on the edge of the hard, wooden elementary school chair.  There was a hard knot in my throat that I kept trying to swallow down.  I kept looking at my parents as they talked about the cost.  I knew that this would be the crucial factor.


The students would be flown out on a charter airline – I still remember it – Dan Air, on a DC8.  We would land in England, then fly on to Venice where we would get on a cruise ship taking us around the Mediterranean.  The P&O Line would fill their steerage bunks with students at a cheap rate and would let kids like me see places they had only dreamed of for a very inexpensive price.  I held my breath as I waited for them to announce the cost.  And there it was – $350, all inclusive, for three weeks in Europe.  I looked over at my parents afraid to hope that this was something I could really have.  I wanted it so much… I clenched my hands and screwed up my face – please, please, please – as my parents looked at each other.  Then my dad turned to me and nodded his head.  My breath came out in a rush!  I grabbed him and hugged him and said, “Oh, thank you, thank you!”  
My beautiful picture
They both laughed at my excitement.  It was 1974, I was 13 and I was poised to travel farther than either of my parents ever had and to visit the country of my grandfather’s family.


The time leading up to my adventure flew by but was punctuated with exciting moments.  My uncle took my passport photos for me and we carefully mailed in my passport application.  Soon enough, my passport arrived – the first one in my family to possess such an exciting document.  What doors it was going to open for me!  I still have that passport.  Back in those days you were allowed to smile.  When I look at that picture I see an eager, excited face, thrust forward towards the camera as if I were ready to leap out of my chair and fly to Europe by myself.
My beautiful picture
Finally, the day came and I found myself on a DC8, marked with the letters DAN AIR LONDON along with a handful of adults and every other seat taken by squirming, shouting, singing teenagers.  At the time I wondered why the stewardesses (they weren’t called flight attendants in 1974) were so grumpy.  Now, I think it quite miraculous that they didn’t throw us off the plane when we landed in Winnipeg to refuel!  By the time we took off again after refueling, the stewardesses turned out the lights and told us all we had to go to sleep.  Nap-time.  I’ve always believed that what will work with kindergarteners will work with teens if you put it the right way.  Sure enough, most of us fell asleep, exhausted by the adrenaline rush and subsequent crash (an adrenaline one, that is, and not the plane).  The rest of the trip finished much more quietly until the stewardesses turned the lights back on about 20 minutes before we landed in Gatwick Airport, just outside London. 
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