Sunday, 4 December 2011

Right there in front of you

Like many travel fanatics, my wishlist of destinations grows ever longer. Perhaps not everyone is nerdy enough to put it in Google Doc form, but I love browsing it whenever I get the travel itch. (And while I don't condone nagging, this format makes it easy to forward the list to my boyfriend Normal Matt, as a gentle reminder that it's time we took a trip.)

I've noticed that northern France has been lingering on my list for a while - Amiens, the Somme battlefields, rain and carafes of wine in France's grittier and jollier towns. The silly part is, I spent a year living in that region and never ventured to see these places!

I taught English in a school near Lille in France in 2004, and I had the time of my life travelling around on my spare weekends and holidays. Amsterdam and Haarlem in The Netherlands, the sun-dappled fields of Provence, chilly Belgian mini-breaks (see left), day trips to Paris... I went absolutely anywhere except the attractions of that region, the Nord-Pas de Calais. I was keen to escape from my everyday life as it was then, so I didn't bother hunting out the gems on my doorstep.

A classic case of being blind to what's in front of you. But unfortunately I didn't learn from the experience: years later, I spent a period living in Brighton, England, and didn't step out to admire what was around me in East Sussex. I studied (like a madwoman), jogged by the waterfront, pronounced the pebble beaches a bit too damp to sit on, and took the train back to London at the weekends to visit my friends.

And of course, hindsight reveals this as another missed opportunity. Recently, the urge to visit East Sussex crept up on me: the dizzy views of the sea from Beachy Head, the site of the history-altering Battle of Hastings, miles of untouched countryside and some damn fine local ciders. So off I went on an East Sussex jaunt, staying at a place less than 40 minutes' drive from where I used to live. I panted my way up the Sussex downs (see left), glued an audioguide to my ear in the local museums and posed on the ramparts of the castles.

Maybe it's inevitable that routine blinds us to beauty, but it's worth fighting the grind. Be a tourist in your own city, visit somewhere a few minutes away, take a walk in that geeky museum you always pass by. Travel is a mindset and there's plenty to discover exactly where you are.

But this doesn't mean my travel wishlist is getting any shorter...

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