Journeys in the Mind

Travel Talk

Sometime in the 1840s – and I apologise for being vague about the date – two teenage French brothers decided they would have an adventurous holiday. One they’d remember for the rest of their lives.

Nantes from the Ile Feydeau (1829-30) by J.M.W Turner / Public domain Born on the Ile Feydeau, an artificial island in the River Loire, at Nantes, they were fascinated by the river and the craft that plied its waters, by the ebb and flow of commerce, and by the world of water that lay beyond the river’s mouth – the world of ocean going ships heading to far distant destinations.

Nantes is a little over 30 miles from the mouth of the Loire. The boys, Paul and Jules, planned to paddle a canoe all that way. Through the gloom of winter they fleshed out their plan. They made lists of the equipment and provisions they would need. Using a large scale map they plotted the distances they would cover each day, the places they would camp each night.

Day after dismal day they concentrated on the wonderful trip they would be making when Spring came. They assembled their kit and supplies. They wrote and rewrote their lists. They studied their map. They immersed themselves in every last detail of what was to be, for them, the trip of a lifetime.

But, a week before they were due to start, Jules, the older of the two by a year, told Paul that he had decided not to go, after all.  

His reason? The planning and the anticipation of the trip had given him so much pleasure and excitement, that the trip itself would be an anti-climax. It couldn’t possibly live up to the journey he had taken in his imagination.

Statue of Jules Verne, Nantes The reason I’m telling you this story is that the lad in question was Jules Verne. A boy who became the man whose fictional journeys have enthralled millions. The man who took us Around The World in Eighty Days, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, on a Journey To The Centre of The Earth. And to so many other places – in our minds.

The man who realised, when still a teenager, that the most wonderful journeys can be those we take without moving from our armchairs.

All right. I know. You can see the point I’m trying to make. Here we are, ‘self-isolating’ and ‘social distancing’ and, maybe, even scared out of our wits that we’ll never get to make a real journey ever again.  

Never re-visit that tiny island off the Dalmatian coast where the hotel had set up a beach bar, and we sampled slivovitz for the first time.   

Never return to that restaurant on the harbour front on Skiathos with weird English translations on its menu, but the finest fish that a ridiculously small number of Euros could buy. 

Skiathos Never again sit on a balcony on Barbados, rum punch in hand, watching the sun set and the pelicans diving for fish, and waiting to see the ‘green flash’.

Never again walk along the beaches of the Algarve, sit at a cafe table in St. Marks Square, gasp at the Grand Canyon, wonder at the Taj Mahal.

I won’t go on. You get my drift.

Well, you need to bear two things in mind. The first, and most important, is that you will be travelling again, and probably sooner than you think. Travelling for pleasure within the UK and abroad. Travelling to broaden the mind and appreciate the wonders of this fragile blue planet spinning through the vastness of space. Travelling because it is in your inquiring and adventurous nature to do so.

The second point is that, while you are waiting for life to get back on track, it won’t do any harm to think about the trips you would like to undertake in future. Spend time – and, let’s face it, you have plenty to spare – doing what the Verne brothers did. Get down to planning the details of that holiday you’ve always dreamed of taking. Down to the very last detail.

And you can do something else. Especially when you might be feeling a little low, which is understandable, given your present circumstances.  

You can recollect past travels and relish the experiences and memories they have provided. 

Praia da Falesia, Algarve If you are fortunate enough to be with the person who shares those experiences and memories, so much the better. And if you shared them with others who are ‘self-isolating’ elsewhere, there’s never been a better time to get in touch and say, “we’ve been thinking of you, and the good times we had”. And raise a glass to absent friends.

My last article for ‘Now and Then’ was far longer than usual, and I apologise for going on at such length. I shan’t do that now, but can’t resist mentioning that Jules Verne got the inspiration for ‘Around The World in Eighty Days’ from Thomas Cook’s 1872 Circumnavigation of the Globe inclusive holiday.  

Got it, in fact, from a Thomas Cook advertising flyer thrust into his hand as he strolled through a Paris park. Instead of throwing it away, as most people would, he read it and began a journey in his mind.

You see, it doesn’t take much to get the imagination going.   

P.S. I shan’t write about it now, because I don’t want to witter on, but I do have another ‘travelling in the mind’ idea I want to share with you. That’ll be for next time, of course.

And to help with your future travel plans, take a look at Bradt Travel Guides. They are currently offering 50% discount on many of their guides and travel books, use code DREAM50.

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John Carter

Long-time presenter of TV’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and BBC holiday programmes

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