I travel a lot, cross borders and board airplanes at least once a month on average. I always have. I travel considerably more often than many people I know. Even as a child – with expat parents – I used to spend long hours in a car, on a plane or in trains.
Although these means of transport are nothing new to me, I have always been sensitive to the vaguely romantic and enchanting nature of travelling.
When I was a child, not everyone had a car. Maybe one out of three families had one. My family was among the lucky ones. And although these cars were basic and did not get up to very high-speed (100km/h was considered really fast unlike today), we used it a lot and often for very long travel. Me and my brother would play, read and sleep on the backseat – where there were no child seats and no seatbelts in those days – a blanket and two pillows at best. Mostly we would sleep, but I remember particularly enjoying driving at night, looking out of the car at the passing lights and imagining people living behind the windows. I still do that occasionally – if I am not driving of course. My memory of night drives is linked with the memory of the Habanera from Carmen playing from the tape recorder. Very romantic.
The ultimate romantic means of transport. Unfortunately I don’t get to take the train half as often as I would like to. The mythic trains I would like to take, the Orient Express, the Transsiberien, the Blue Train from the Cape to Victoria Falls… For the moment I travel mostly on the Thalys from Brussels to Paris and sometimes to the Netherlands. On occasion, I take the Eurostar for London. That is still a very enjoyable experience. Comfortable, with the regular sound of the wheels on the rails, it encourages napping, reading and philosophical conversation…
I first went on a plane when I was eleven months old. I don’t really remember. But I know that I have always enjoyed flying when younger. The excitement of the extra clean and shiny airport, the smiling uniformed staff, even the security measures, although sometimes annoying, make it a special occasion. Sometimes, the pilots took us to their cabin to show us the instruments. (Oh yes, those happy innocent days before permanent terrorism paranoia.) Flying has something magical. Although I have learned since how the flying and the airplane actually works, it still feels magical. Whoosh and we’re up in the air… and whoosh back down on the ground, hundreds of kilometers away. Flying has changed unfortunately in recent years, becoming more democratic, or “popular”. Taking the plane used to be special to people, there was a reverence that isn’t there anymore. I remember we used to dress extra carefully for flights. Today, anything goes, people fly in yoga pants or even pajamas on long haul flights, in jeans. They are rude, noisy, grumpy, fighting for more space, in a hurry to get in and out of the airplane, to be served the drink… And even the air hostesses are not the same, although some of them still manage to be civil – often they reflect the current change of atmosphere among the passengers. Some can be outright rude. Despite everything, flying is still an adventure for me. I enjoy the rituals of taking one’s seat, buckling the seatbelt, preparing for take off. I enjoy the turbulence – a reminder that this is an airplane and not a bus! – and I have to say that I also enjoy it because some people are clearly scared by it, whereas I know it for what it is, normal flying conditions, especially in warm weather.
Despite all that, there is one thing that annoys me: people clapping after landing – except if the landing was somewhat tricky or particularly smooth, buy that’s usually no the case. To me this is similar to people clapping in a cinema after a movie (and yes, that still happens). People expressing their appreciation for something they don’t understand to someone who can’t hear them. Stupid. I have to admit that I not only resent it, I despise those who do it, a little. I have never heard clapping on an airplane before the end of the nineties… Sign of the times maybe?