First, it is just the thought, a fledging plan scribbled inside a notebook or a pastel image that reflects on the back of your eyelids when you close your eyes – toes digging into soft, warm sand … a deep breath in to inhale the fragrance of cold mountain air tinged with the scent of tea leaves … the tinkle of ice in a glass of pink lemonade as you sit on patchy grass watching the sun set behind a lake …
Then it’s actually living out your plans, stepping into museums you’ve read reviews about or getting lost on your way somewhere and stumbling into something new …
And finally, it’s the memories that make you smile on a gloomy Monday or while you stare out through the dusty blinds on your window, making you forget your itchy throat and your runny nose, dimming the fluey-head ache and making you think how fortunate you are to take time out for travel.
Travelling is definitely one of the best ways to spend your money –experiences are worth more and they last longer than material things that wear out or get ruined by puppies or sisters or errant washing machines.
Planning trips while reading guides and browsing AirBnb homes to strike the perfect balance between a cosy yet artistic yet not-expensive home to spend time in, and then later reliving the trip make for the perfect buns to sandwich a trip in. And there are so many different kinds of travelling – with family or friends or your significant other or just by yourself, and each kind has its own merit and I think must be experienced at least once in your life.
I went to Liverpool last week and since I was going by myself (Fahad to join later), I decided to get to the station early, picked up my tickets to ease my anxious heart and then walked down with my faithful trolley bag to pick out a coffee shop – there was a lovely one with ‘Coffee Shop’ scrawled on its window (no pretenses there), orange filament bulbs casting the perfect dreamy glow inside, stained glass windows, faint music and goat-cheese, rocket & beetroot sandwiches.
Travelling alone definitely gives you lots of time to people-watch – the perfectly-combed hair man with his Mac plugged in and his iPhone charging, an empty cup of coffee arranged as if somebody is going to snap a photograph of him and post it on Instagram immediately; the couple sitting next to the wall who appeared to be worried or fighting but then later were holding their hands over their cappuccino mugs; and the other older couple with huge backpacks and a chubby baby who nibbled on carrot cake the entire time they were in the café; and the man who snuck into the bathroom just when I wanted to go and spent enough time in there to convince me to try my luck at the toilets at the train station instead…
Liverpool was bigger than I had imagined it – with a bustling train station and all possible cuisines lined down the same road leading to a stereotypical China town with an ornate gateway, dragon statues and red paper lanterns swinging in the wind.
There are no words to describe the comforts of my cousin’s beautiful home – tucked away in a lovely neighborhood by a park and riverside walk. Two days of utter laziness and rejuvenation in which I didn’t have to worry about doing the laundry or figuring out what to cook or whether I should empty the vacuum cleaner before running it over our tiny but confoundingly quick-to-dirty apartment floors… Almost-10 year old Aleezay had generously donated her bedroom to me, complete with a selection of fuzzy stuffed toys huddled together in the middle of the bed.
Breakfast was the best part of the day – I would shuffle into the kitchen to find all three of them already there, the candle lit in the middle of the marble island sending out wafts of caramel cookies, surrounded by cereals, jams, laid out already with plates and cups. The pale morning light streamed in from large windows, the daffodils in their vase nodded a bright yellow hello to me, and then Hisham would whip up a frothy coffee from their fancy coffee machine. We played I-Spy or watched cooking shows on the small TV in the kitchen and Sadaf baji would make something delicious – cheese, olive and green onion omelets one day, pancakes the next. Afterwards, we would retire to the shaggy gray rug by the fireplace in the lounge, where the pink scrabble board was already laid out.
On Saturday, we picked up Fahad and Sharik from the train station and had a delicious dinner at the Turkish restaurant, then went to the docks.
Albert docks were probably my favorite part of the city – right by the water, surrounded by museums for anyone and everyone – from art to local history to slavery to music to maritime, and around the corner you might run into statues of sailors or the Beatles. The city may be more famous for being the Beatles’ hometown but there’s definitely more to it. It has a beautiful, romantic, sweet feel to it. Whether you want to have a cup of coffee by the pier, or just gaze at the ships and watch the sun set into a suffused golden pink sky, maybe whisper a secret and clasp on a lock on the chain-linked fenced by the bay … there is something for everyone.
Matthew Street is brilliant for a night out. It is absolutely buzzing with lights and music. And quite unlike other places, there is actually great quality music – from the 80s dance hits to soothing indie tracks in pizza shops.
The Cavern Club (the original Cavern Club where the Beatles used to play was shut down in the 70s due to construction of a railway loop that was never really built but this one is reconstructed on 75% of the same space, using as much of the original material as possible. The dingy slightly claustrophobic space was hopping with great music, including, of course, Beatles cover songs but more from the same decade and there was a diverse audience, including a younger crowd (and by younger I mean more around our age – late 20s, early 30s) to ladies with white hair braided down their backs and pot-bellied men nodding their heads along to music they must have been listening to since they were in their teens.
The last two nights were at an AirBnb, a garage/barn converted into a cozy, quaint apartment with a comfy yellow couch and one of our favorite parts about vacations –TV! After a long day out walking around, what better way to end the evening than curl up on the couch with cups of green tea, chocolate and Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
People in Liverpool were really friendly – if smiles were pennies I think I would have collected almost a dime in just one café (Leaf at Bold Street – what a scrumptious breakfast!) … the bus drivers seemed less enthusiastic than our Notts fellows but the taxi drivers were warm and friendly, or maybe it is just the singsong Liverpudlian (no, seriously, that’s what people from Liverpool call themselves!) accent which makes whatever comes out from their mouths, seem sweet.
One of our taxi drivers actually took a little detour on Sharik’s request and drove up to Strawberry Fields – which aren’t really beautiful green fields spotted with bright red fruit but instead red gates blocking entry to an overgrown yard with graffiti scribbled on the gate posts …
It’s never about just positive experiences – like the grumpy uncle who woke Fahad up and made us move on the train because he “had a reservation” and really, nobody sits according to seat numbers on that train so we had other people sitting on our seats and had to sit separately while the Grinch rolled his giant suitcase and sat it next to himself on his ‘reserved’ seat. But it is definitely an enriching experience, if you’re brave enough to take the public buses and get lost and ask others for help, or maybe trust that the taxi driver isn’t going to take you to a quiet corner and murder you but actually take you to the place that inspired the song ‘Strawberry Fields’, light a cigarette for himself and insist persistently to take a photograph of all three people smack in the middle of the red gate.
AirBnb has made travelling even more interesting, getting you to live in local homes decorated with personal touches and walk around in neighborhoods that you wouldn’t otherwise visit, and I’ve always found that sitting on a bus is a great way to see a city, its shops and people and traffic lights and corners, and a little planning never hurts as long as you’re willing to let go off the itinerary to veer into a different direction just because you like the song they’re playing on the radio…
And with that, I’m going to put my head back and visualize one of my favorite trips ever – scroll through the memories and settle on the one in which the four of us sat on the steps near the Vatican Museums on a path shaded by trees, the breeze had finally cooled a bit, and we sipped our freshly squeezed orange juice … oblivious to the next two hours that we would spend getting lost and walking uphill on a very warm day in Rome…
Travelling is definitely something to aspire to.