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Sunday, 4 November 2012

World Travel - How I Loved It!

Last week, after completing and publishing my last blog, Science Plus Faith - A Potential Mix, my wife and I went to my elderly parent's home to spend the rest of the day. With us was my brother and his two daughters, my nieces. I was talking to the younger one, and asked her if she still reads my blogs. Her reply was that the constant theme on religion bores her, and then suggested a blog about my travels.

The idea of having two separate pages on this site, the other dedicated to secular issues such as Travel had crossed my mind before now. But having last travelled (in the proper sense of the word) in 1998, which was to New York and Boston Massachusetts, I don't believe I can supply sufficient material to feed such a page, therefore I'll include the subject of Travel within this page. Not that this is the first time either. On the 29th April 2011, I wrote Vagabond, where I described some ins and outs about solo backpacking. Also in 2011, I wrote three other blogs - Hiking - Stress-Free Travel (23rd Jan), A Stone Bible (1st Feb) and Jerusalem - Peace To You (13th Feb). All of these blogs touched on my experience as a backpacker. However, I feel it's okay to write about one of my favourite activities here, because I have never separated travelling from faith in God, as the two are intrinsically linked.

So where do I begin? Perhaps from my schooldays in the mid to late 1960s when Dad used to drive our car to Torino in northern Italy from our home near London to spend three weeks with our maternal grandparents, or Nonni. As the crow flies, the distance covered was in the region of 600 miles, 970 km. but the car journey must have been closer to 1,000 miles 1620 km. which was completed in three days. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey itself. It was after arriving at the home of Nonni that boredom began to set in. The main reason for this onset of boredom was the language barrier - neither gran were able to speak English and I couldn't speak or understand Italian, together with the fact that Torino is an inland city with a large industrial complex, the car makers Fiat Mirafiori, where Nonno used to work during his younger days. However, on one of these holidays, just Dad and I set off to Rome to stay with my Aunt, Dad's older sister who spoke some English. Thanks to the superb motorway (or Freeway) system, the Autostrada del Solo connecting Milan to Rome made the 300 mile 486 km. journey complete in a day.

It was in 1972 that I enjoyed our first package holiday in Spain without my parents. Instead I shared the experience with my college mate Andrew, giving us both a taste of foreign independence. As a nineteen year old, this was also my first time ever inside an aeroplane, of the now non-existent airline Dan Air. From London Gatwick Airport the two hour flight to Girona, close to the Costa Brava, made such an exhilarating experience. This was because Dad felt averse to flying and loved his steering wheel, putting him in full control of the vehicle. I believe this had set the pace to my own travels as I grew older - backpacking, together with the sights of Rome, including the Colosseum and the Circa Maxima had also put into my being the desire to travel.

Colosseum of Roma

That what I call backpacking, which is simply travelling from one destination to another as opposed to the package holiday (or vacation) like the one in Spain, where we spent the entire break at a single hotel. For me, backpacking involved hosteling, staying at a hostel where I slept in a shared dormitory and buying and cooking my own meals, in itself a threefold blessing - enhancing independence, making friends and doing wonders to the budget. My experience at a hostel range from just one night to that of 27 nights, as was the case with the New Swedish Hostel, Jerusalem, in 1994. In between, I have spent many "single nighters" including those in the UK when I, along with my mate Gareth, cycled from one end of the entire UK to the other in 1990.

As a single person (I didn't marry until 1999) there was ample time to travel. This was one of the great advantage of being self-employed. It meant that during the 1990s, I worked hard, saved hard and travelled extensively, closing the business and taking "sabbaticals" - long holidays - covering four principal destinations outside the Mediterranean: North America, Middle East, Singapore and Australia.

My first of five transatlantic flights to North America was in 1977, which included the Greyhound Bus journey across Canada, taking in the whole of the Trans-Canadian Highway from Vancouver to Toronto, spending a few days at Calgary and Winnipeg, as well as standing by the magnificent Niagara Falls. The other four transatlantic trips were in 1978, 1995, 1997 and 1998. During both the 1978 and 1995 trips, I found myself hiking the Bright Angel Trail of the Grand Canyon. Spending the night at the bottom of the Canyon, next to where the Bright Angel Creek flows to join the Colorado River and gazing at the countless stars in the night sky was so exhilarating - and so surprising too, as the night sky had never appeared like this over the UK. And how I loved San Diego with its Zoo, Sea World, Balboa Park with all the museums, the Old Town with its Old West feel, and Mission Beach. Little further north is the resort of La Jolla, with its caves and to the south, the city of Tijuana over the Mexican border. Thus, San Diego to me was one of America's most intriguing stops.

At the Grand Canyon in 1995.

Travelling across the North American continent, I used the Greyhound Bus Ameripass ticket, sold only to foreign visitors. The one I carried was valid for a month, and with it I had unlimited access to every corner of the United States. As for hostels, as described in my blog, Vagabond, there were good hostels as well as not so good. But in every one, I always bought and cooked my own meals, socialised and slept in a dormitory, normally single-sex. In the States, the average stay was about three days before boarding the bus for the next leg of the journey. However in San Diego I stayed for five days in 1995, ten days in 1997. During my first of the two visits, the hostel was at a building shared with the YMCA, and its kitchen was accessible 24 hours a day, making this the very best hostel I ever stayed at. By the time I called back two years later, it had moved to a new building at Market Street, and had introduced a kitchen night curfew, normal in most other hostels.

Australia was very similar to the USA where travel was concerned. Here too I had a Greyhound Bus pass ticket, also valid for a month but restricted to the Pacific Highway, from Cairns in North Queensland to Sydney. The hostels I stayed at in Australia were very much the same as in the USA, with Sydney City Hostel, across the road from the terminal station, having two large kitchens and a grand dining room, and also a rooftop sauna suite. On the places to see, two main highlights in Australia I had found exhilarating: The Great Barrier Reef and Blue Mountains National Park. It was at Green Island, just off Cairns, where I learned to snorkel for the first time in my life. The sea surrounding Low Isles, off Port Douglas, was deeper, making the coral there more richer and greater in size and depth. Likewise at Heron Island, one of the Whitsundays, I was able to identify the famous Brain Coral while I was snorkeling there. At the Blue Mountains NP, the dense forest of eucalyptus trees emit a blue haze which hovers over the valley, hence the name. Various waterfalls cascading down the deep, cliffed valley brought out the sheer delight.

Sydney Harbour in 1997

Blue Mountains N.P. 1997.

Where around the world it was both nature as well as good planning which lifted my spirits in admiration, in Israel it was history, particularly connected with the life of Jesus Christ. But even here, at Eilat, coral grows at the Red Sea, a finger of the Indian Ocean protruding well into the Middle East region. This was the one holiday where Alex and I did some backpacking in the year 2000 as a couple. Jerusalem had always been extra special to me. This was the city God had chosen to put his name there, all the ancient kings from David onwards reigned from this city, and it was where Jesus was crucified, died, buried and Resurrected. As such, Jerusalem for me is the most important destination of all the places visited worldwide.

Jerusalem 1994.

What I have found in being a lone backpacker was that on two separate occasions I was referred to as brave. The first was back in 1978 when I was still an employee at British Aerospace, when a fellow employee called me that, after spotting me in New Orleans while he was also travelling, but with a companion. The second occasion was on a flight from London to New York in 1995, by an air hostess, while I was explaining to her about the freedom of U.S. travel using the Greyhound Ameripass. I had never considered myself brave, this was reserved for soldiers out fighting, firemen rescuing victims from a blazing building, or any dangerous task undergone to save a life or change circumstances. But to tell the truth, while sitting in the 'plane for Toronto in 1977 and to New York a year later, to calm my apprehensions, I spent time in prayer, asking God to protect me from all evil whilst abroad. On both occasions, in privacy during the in-flight meal, I took bread, broke it and declared it the Body of Christ. Then I took the glass of wine I had, and declared that as the Blood of Christ and drank that. It was literally a self-made Holy Communion. The Catholic Church might have condemned me to Hell for taking the Holy Sacrament without authority, but all I felt was the peace, protection and pleasure of God in my life.

Travel has been a demonstration of God's love and grace in my life. Sure enough, there are times, especially in the winter, when I feel that I'm at the low end of the scale - poorly educated at school, condemned to a life of manual labour, working in the cold and damp, watching university grads fulfill much richer and meaningful lives, and of one case in my church, having someone with a university education practically boasting of his third trip to Uganda this year alone. But I have come to learn that God loves everyone, especially believers, whose eternal inheritance will outshine even the very best of travel experience.

"Whoever comes to me," Jesus once cried out, "out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water."
Travel is just another option with a return ticket. By contrast, salvation will never end.


  1. Wow, Frank -- you're quite the world traveler! Sounds like you've had some amazing experiences! I love your illustration of travel as a demonstration of God's mercy and grace.

    Our salvation begins with a single step of faith, and the journey that God takes us on thereafter never ceases to amaze me! Even the unsaved must have faith when they travel -- if not in God, than in the airplane pilot and in the safety of travel by modern technology.

    God's mercy protects us from known and unseen dangers when traveling, and with each step we take on our journey of faith as well. His grace rewards us with unexpected and unmerited blessings -- a breathtaking view, new but delicious food, hospitality from a stranger, the joy of meeting new friends and perhaps even bringing them to Christ or encouraging one another in our Christian walk. All this can happen while traveling across the globe or even in our own back yard.

    Thanks as always for the excellent post. May you have a blessed week in Him,

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  3. So often we get so familiar with what we see daily we accept it without considering where it came from or what it means. For those who pay attention, travel can open entire new vistas and appreciation. Unfortunately some people only seek out what they are used to and never experience anything really new.

  4. Hi Frank this is really nice, and thanks for including me in your story.
    Great work once again.

  5. Well Frank,
    I think if you put each of your travel experiences on a single page you would fill a book. You have had a wonderful traveling life and I think that wherever a person visits, whether it is in this country or abroad, it is pleasurable just to get out and meet different people. We too have enjoyed travelling and living in other countries, and on one occasion took two cats and a motorbike with us to Australia, doing most things 'on a shoe string' believe it or not. As long as you can look back and think 'I enjoyed my life as much as I was able to', then that is good.

  6. I love travelling myself, and if not travelling I love reading about travelling. I've been all over Italy, North Italy that is, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I love North Wales too and Spain. Everywhere you go people are different and yet all the same. What's nice about travelling for me is meeting new people and making new friends and trying out new foods; I'm a sucker for that! I love Italian food and one day also have a dream of going to southern Spain and trying some proper tapas after visiting the Alhambra. You should think about writing a book of your travels and interweaving it with your Christian faith; it would be very interesting to many people.