Thursday, May 31, 2012

The last time I did this, things didn’t work out very well.

I hate to be so glum and pessimistic, but that is what’s rolling around in my head all the way down to the airport in Philadelphia. The sun is setting and the night is warm—perfect, really, for an overnight flight to London Heathrow on the eve of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend. It’s just that last year’s trip didn’t go well at all. Nor, quite frankly, has the intervening year.

I was in Germany then, enjoying the Hansel and Gretel charm of Rothenburg ob der Tauber and its medieval walls and watch towers. I had moved on to Munich, with its schnitzels and convivial beer gardens when I fell suddenly and horribly ill. When no amount of rest or wishful thinking could solve the problem, I conceded defeat and returned home early, with more than half of my itinerary, and the entire country of Austria, left behind. Little did I know then that a year of misery and spiraling weight loss awaited—a year spent in a neurologist’s office where vague phrases like “dysautonomia” and “vestibular dysfunction” would become routine. It wasn’t anything life threatening, but the symptoms were nasty and the recovery slow.

Despite all of that—or perhaps because of it—I am here on a Thursday night in late May, taxiing out to the runway, ready to try it all again. Instead of the excitement I usually feel at the start of a great adventure, I feel instead a gnawing trepidation in my stomach. I’m eager to put things in motion, to get up in the sky. I want to feel normal again, but I hardly know how.

I’ve decided to rewind things this year, to go back to where I first discovered a love for travel on my inaugural trip abroad in 2006. Going back is like comfort food. I am going to London, and from there west to Bath, Oxford, Stratford-Upon-Avon, and the Cotswolds, before heading north to Edinburgh. At the center of this indulgent feast are the events surrounding Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. There is to be a giant flotilla on the Thames, a star-studded concert in St. James’s Park, a mass of thanksgiving at St. Paul’s, and a carriage procession from Westminster Hall to Buckingham Palace. I flip through my itinerary one last time and resolve to see and do as much as I can.

At the last minute, a British Airways clerk at check-in offers to switch my seat from the outer aisle in row 18 to the inner aisle of row 19 in the hope of snagging three seats across the center of the plane, perfect for sleep on an overnight flight, but alas, our plan is foiled by a middle-aged American couple who slide in beside me at the very last minute. Just behind, a young family is settling in with an energetic toddler and a crying infant. This isn’t exactly an auspicious start, and I reach for my noise-cancelling headphones and an inflatable foot rest. I won’t be lying down tonight.

I tuck into a late dinner of cheese tortellini in tomato sauce at 11:30 PM, just as we pass high over Halifax, and shortly after that a flight attendant turns on the intercom to announce that the entertainment system onboard is broken for the duration. I sigh and close my eyes, hoping in vain for a night of peaceful—if upright—slumber, and perhaps, just maybe, a change of luck in the morning. But I’ll settle for a change of scenery. A change of something is exactly what I need.

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