Arthur Frommer taught us that it could be done. He led us to a life of travel even though we already had two little kids, and no money. We, too, could still be jetsetters. We could take those kids, put them on our passports (as was done in the 1960s), and fly around the world. We could even do it when their numbers increased to three and then to four. And yes, once even with a dog on a leash, if not on a passport.
Arthur Frommer wrote a book. I won’t be sacrilegious and call it a bible but we referenced it a lot. A real lot! His book was called Europe on $5 a Day. Since then he has written plenty more but this was our grand entree into cheap travel and I owe him my thanks. It worked and we did it and we have no regrets!
When I look back, it really was crazy to do what we did. After all, on that first trip in 1968, we had a toddler, not even two years old, and a big girl who was approaching four. We had a huge mortgage on a house we could barely afford, and we were off to Europe. Up up and away, as they used to say.
In essence we changed our lives. We added excitement and adventure and always expectations of something different, challenging perhaps, but usually broadening in a way that only travel could be. And for the rest of our lives we’ve been traipsing through this beautiful world.
Now that we are old, our dreams are more restrained. Feet don’t go as far or as fast. Endurance is clearly not what it was. Life happened to us! But, had we delayed or not been always on planes heading for newer places and more excitement, and had we said we’ll go here or there when we are ready, when whatever the goal post ahead of us indicated, chances are we wouldn’t have left New Jersey very often. We would have grown old and suddenly realized it was too late. How sad that would have been!
You should know that it took a lot of guts, but, if not then, when? It was our introduction to world travel and since then we have never looked back with regret. And, the icing on the cake is that we succeeded in making all of our children inveterate travelers, and they’ve carried the torch to our grandchildren and even our three little great-grandsons have already become international jetsetters!
Practical people wouldn’t have done what we did. After all, those kids would need tuition, not to mention food and clothing. We should have been saving and budgeting. Instead we were off. We were going places, lots of places. We were irresponsible parents indeed, and we remain proud of that fact!
That first trip was to Europe, with thanks to Mr. Frommer. There was no internet to guide us and help us with reviews. It was strictly Arthur, and he never let us down. We went to five different countries and the kids were a wonderful ice-breaker wherever we set down. We met other parents in playgrounds and on strolls. We saw slices of Spain, Switzerland, England, Italy and Holland and people befriended us along the way. We even met a doctor in Roma when our little one was diagnosed with pneumonia! She overcame it. Not so sure about me!
In the end we all caught the travel bug and none of us await the right time to take a trip. It never comes. It’s always the right time.
I admit that COVID-19 has been a bit of a deterrent, especially for us two ancients. Nonetheless we’ve still been flying around, albeit less, but the excitement is always palpable. When I look at a map of the world I can tick off the many, many places we’ve been, but, truthfully, there are still many more where we haven’t been. And to be realistic, I’m 83, he’s 84, how much travel still awaits us? Not enough for sure.
We’ve touched down on all the continents except Antarctica. We’ve been to countless countries, especially in Europe, starting in the very south in Malta up to Finland and twice east to Russia, west many times to Great Britain. We’ve been to more obscure places like Georgia where the cows kindly share the highways with the vehicles and sometimes the pigs. We’ve been to Slovenia, Croatia and tiny Monaco, Romania and Estonia and twice to Latvia. We still await our trip to Iceland. We’ve been multiple times to Turkey, France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Spain, Greece, Belgium Hungary, Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Austria and Holland. We have been to Luxenberg and Montenegro. We made a brief visit to Bosnia.
We never forget who we are and how each place treated our people. We seek out synagogues that are, and synagogues that were, and cemeteries with overturned gravestones and those that are still pristine.
In Krakow one day we were walking to the Remu shul on Shabbat and we were lost. We heard the voice of Englishmen and we sought out their help. They too were heading to the same place. And as often, in adventure, as we chatted, we learned that they were dear friends of our London machetanim (the Jewish world is ever so small). Once we arrived at shul we found, completely serendipitously, an old friend of my sister’s, Connie and her husband Jonathan, who founded a Jewish museum in Krakow and invited us to their little flat for cholent. Travel is for unexpected moments, even more than for an organized itinerary.
Driving through Romania we came to a roofless shul. It had been destroyed and there were no more Jews left to rebuild it. It no longer was home to a congregation of Jews. It now housed a congregation of pigeons, busily flying to and fro and using the women’s section as their own. It was haunting and unforgettable. Since that moment I often think of the high hopes of those who built that holy sanctuary and what became of them. What became of their grand plans and their meetings with architects? What became of their Torahs and all the artifacts that make a building into a shul? Were there numerous board meetings before they approved the design, and fundraising for the new shul?
In Istanbul we were struck by how elegant the women were. I’ve never seen such a collection of magnificently attired women. It was a Bar Mitzvah Shabbat and clearly these ladies were in their finery, putting their best feet forward. They sat, perfectly still, not a Siddur to be seen, but without a sound, when the shamash rapped his hand on his own Siddur and looking up from the main sanctuary, gazed at the women, and, in Ladino, calling them senoras, ordered the women to be quiet. This was clearly a technique to quiet the men who were, in fact, chatting away.
The previous day, Friday, we had heard of a Jewish bookstore. We headed there, with no obvious signs that we were Jews except for my magen david necklace. We tried to draw out the owner but he was having nothing to do with us and our Jew search, even when we asked him specifically for books about the Jews of Turkey. Not taking our bait at all, we started to leave when he acknowledged our departure with one simple word, “Shalom.”
Who would not be struck with tearful emotion in Berlin and Vienna where brass plates are embedded in the sidewalks in the front of houses bearing the names, and dates of deportation of Jews who had lived there?
We have attended shul where the communities are still vibrant, and been struck by the need for tight security in Europe. Now that the ugly wave has reached our American shores, we have become accustomed to seeing security at our own American synagogues.
We have driven through the beautiful Europe, places like Alsace and Provence and Scotland and Ireland, green places often bedecked with perfect flowers. And we have bought reminders in markets and fairs. On one trip to France our luggage never arrived. Wow! Did we shop!
We’ve been to many spots in Latin America, Australia, Morocco in Northern Africa, and the Far East. We went to shul in Casablanca and the old Moroccans totally ignored us. We saw the Shanghai ghetto and its remarkable Jewish museum and dined on kosher McDonald’s in Buenos Aires. We davened in a shul in Hong Kong where the auctions for aliyot began at $10,000. US, and this was years ago. By now, it’s probably double!
We’ve visited 48 states in our USA. We bumped into a group of USYers (United Synagogue Youth) on Wheels on July 3, 1976 in a small town in South Dakota. We joined them in celebrating the brilliant and successful Entebbe raid, and mourned the loss of Yonatan Netanyahu. We have been to Alaska twice and Hawaii twice and they are both beautiful additions to our formerly 48. In Anchorage we met up with Peggy, my FB friend from my breast cancer group. In the Chabad shul in Oahu we made a new friend. We still need to round off the count by journeying to North Dakota and Kansas.
Naturally our best and most favorite spot is Israel. But Israel is not a trip. Israel is home. When we arrive in Israel we never feel like visitors or tourists. But, what is so very sad is that Israel is in the midst of a region where our travel is so restricted. We long to visit Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran. We’ve been to Jordan but the other countries are so near and yet so far. Cyprus is on our radar. Egypt remains available but somehow not the top of the list.
Yet, when we search the globe there are so many choices, so many places where we haven’t set down our suitcases and walked the hidden pathways. The world is huge and we started too late to see it all!
Wouldn’t it be nice to fly around on Air Force One? People imagine and dream about lots of things. For me it’s a year with Air Force One. Did you ever notice when the presidents get off that plane, no matter how many hours they’ve been aloft, they’re fresh, showered, rested, and well fed. Is life fair? Is it fair that we fly Coach (sometimes Business) and the presidents have this flying house with all the amenities? They don’t sit squished between strangers. They don’t eat the miserable food that airlines serve. If we have only one life, which I know is all we get, why can’t we fly on Air Force One? I know. It ain’t gonna happen. Sad emoji!
But, on the other hand, let me count the ways that travel has brought excitement to our lives. It has brought adventure, beauty, understanding and enticement. When another trip is on the horizon, the planning alone is sufficient to make us feel like we’ve already been there. Booking hotels these days is a far cry from those we stayed in when we were reading Mr. Frommer’s book and hearing the merits of bathrooms down the hall, but in the same building or the hotel with the coin operated shower. When the meter counted down and out, the hot water stopped!.That’s called instant cold. These days we pay more, and we attain comfort, at a minimum, and often luxury. Our next planned trip is a mini to Florida but any travel is always enough for a happy emoji.