When the Travel Bug Bit
If you think about the path your life has taken, you’ll likely narrow in on serendipitous moments where a single action changed its course. Like something as simple as opening a newspaper. On a Sunday morning in May, 1976, my dad sat at our kitchen table, regarding the New York Times classifieds. He decided to respond to an ad, and to seek employment with the Aramco oil company in Saudi Arabia. A year later, at the age of seven, I found myself half-way around the world, living with my family in a trailer in the middle of a hilly piece of desert.
My vivid memories of that first night in Dhahran still invoke tears from the fear of the unknown, the uprooting from friends and family, the physical exhaustion and jet lag. That girl did not want to be there. She was not yet a traveler.
Over the next seven years, my parents, brother and I lived on a protected compound. I attended American-style schools and made friends with other westerners. It was a life resembling a normal American upbringing, like a movie filmed on a set of building façades and sand dune backdrops.
One of the best parts of my childhood living abroad was the frequent opportunity to travel with my family. We covered Europe, explored Asia, and checked quite a few U.S. states off the list as well.
Granted, as a child I resented being dragged around to see ruins and churches. I have very few specific memories of these individual sites. I do, however, remember my brother throwing my stuffed animal down the Spanish Steps in Rome, and convincing my parents to spring for room service milkshakes in Banghok!
It was the act of travel, really, which seeded my adult yearning to get out of town and explore. That was one of many gifts my parents gave me, which I hope to pass along to my children.
Interestingly, and unknowingly, I visited some of the world’s largest sites during these trips way-back-when. It’s been fun looking back at my father’s photos and hearing his memories of those sites, which included:
St. Peter’s Basilica – The world’s largest church is also one of the holiest Christian sites, as the burial place of Saint Peter, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles. Located in Vatican City, the basilica covers an area of nearly 6 acres, and has the capacity to seat 60,000 people.
Ephesus — Once an ancient Greek city, it is one of the world’s largest archaeological sites on the western coast of present-day Turkey. It was a major trading center and played an important role in early Christianity. It was also the site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Only about 15% of the ruins, which date to 6000 BC, have been excavated.
Museu Nacional dos Coches — Located in the historic Belém district of Lisbon, Portugal, this museum contains the largest and most valuable collection of coaches, as in ceremonial and promenade vehicles from the 17th to the 19th century, mostly from the Crown’s estate or private property of the Portuguese Royal House.
Catedral de Sevilla — Spain’s Cathedral of Seville is the third largest church in Europe and the largest Gothic building in Europe. It also boasts the largest – and richest – altarpiece in the world. It is the life’s work of a single craftsman, Pieter Dancart. Composed of 45 carved scenes from the life of Christ, it’s carved in wood and covered in gold.
Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile – This Parisian icon is the world’s second-largest triumphal arch (after the Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang, North Korea). Positioned at the top of the Champs-Élysées, it was built to honor those who fought for France, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. It is 160-feet high, 148-feet wide, and 72-feet deep.