The Worldly Wench is back from Europe! With ragged hair, crossed eyes, and a suitcase full of dirty laundry, which is par for the course.
I’d actually planned on being home from Portugal on Sunday evening, giving me Monday to deal with aforesaid laundry and write a bloglet for today, since Pat and I had swapped days. However, we missed connections in Munich when our flight from Porto was late (WARNING: when an airline says that a 40 minute connection time is adequate because flights are tied and it’s not a huge airport, they LIE!), and became guests of a Lufthansa at a nice little airport hotel in Munich and didn’t get home until Monday evening, with cascading domino effects on laundry and coherence.
It was a great trip, though, and not just because traveling in Portugal (and, briefly, Spain) stirred my imagination for Regency era stories. Lovely country, lovely people, about which more anon.
But the traveling itself was interesting. On our way over, we connected through the HUMONGOUS airport at Frankfurt, and I have distinct memories of how at an absurd hour of body time, a little electric cart carried our party of four through about ten kilometers of airport. Our driver was a good-natured woman who looked like a fashion models (I am deeply envious of those German genes), and the party included my sister, always a dangerous combination with me. As one member of the party imitated truck air horn honks, the driver called the German equivalent of “Out of the way, we’re coming through!”, my sister and I treated the airport to several choruses of “The Little Nash Rambler and the Cadillac,” and the fourth member of the party cowered on the back seat and tried to look as if she didn’t know us. <G> Strange things happen when one is jetlagged.
In contrast, cruising the Douro River came closer to the rhythms of the past. Not all the way—we were on a motorized cruise boat and sophisticated locks built into dams meant we didn’t have to shoot the rapids to get casks of wine down the river to Porto. But the pace was civilized, allowing us time to admire the terraced hills and quintas and little lonely stone buildings. From jet age to the age of river travel.
Once water was the safest and smoothest way to travel. No horrible ruts that could swallow wagons and carriages, less likelihood of getting bogged down in bad weather. It’s no accident that early civilization developed along waterways and coastlines.
In a sense, civilization is all about transport. I live in an inner suburb of the Baltimore metro area. If it’s not rush hour, I can hop on an interstate and be at the Inner Harbor in 15 or 20 minutes. Yet in the late 18th century, this area was used for summer homes of the rich (higher and cooler than the area by the harbor), and it was an eight hour journey from the city to my neighborhood. Eight long, rutted, rocking hours by carriage, and pray your axles don’t break. Horseback would presumably be faster, but still, it was once a formidable journey out here.
The late 18th and early 19th century created an explosion in transportation. Canals were built all over England. (See Loretta’s MISS WONDERFUL for what that looked like at the time.) Toll roads were built, based on the sound presumption that people will pay for the privilege of traveling faster and more safely on a better road. (IIRC, I recently read that at one point Britain had something like 7000 toll roads.) A canny Scot named MacAdam figured out how to put gooey black stuff on roads to improve the surfaces.
And of course, the king of transportation came steaming in early in the 19th century, and suddenly there were steamboats and even better, railroads. Trains made a huge difference in democratization, because average folk could travel with a fair amount of ease and affordability. In Victorian times, this led to vacations at seaside resorts for working class people. The world opened up. No longer did traveling to the colonies mean you would never be able to return home to visit family.
My great grandfather traveled to California by train and wagon train across the Great Plains. His wife and daughters sailed to Panama, were carried over the mountains by sedan chair and picked up another ship to San Francisco, while the family furniture traveled around Cape Horn in a sailing ship. Now I can fly to California to speak at a weekend conference. (For a fun view of Victorian transport, find one of the filmed versions of Jules Verne’s AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. There’s a mini-series version with Pierce Brosnan, yum!)
Now tourists can visit Europe for a week, and spend as long in the air as it used to take to travel by coach from the Baltimore harbor to a nearby village. We live in wonderful times. On the other hand, my great grandfather didn’t have to worry about jetlag, so there are always trade-offs. <g>
On Friday, when my brain is less fried, I’ll write more about Portugal and river boat cruising and my tendency to keep whistling the theme music from the Sharpe TV movies about the Peninsular Wars. In the meantime—no matter how great the trip, it’s good to be home!