A Season of Change - My Family Travels

As a well seasoned cruiser at the age of 17, I hardly expected to embark upon the adventure of a lifetime as I began my journey aboard the Jewel of the Seas. The Royal Caribbean liner was scheduled to set sail from Harwich, England for a 12 day voyage that would take us through a cornucopia of countries, cultures, and oddities; ranging from the rather quiet, café-lined streets of Copenhagen to the ancient architecture and aging castle fortresses of Estonia. I realized that my travels would be remarkable; however, I never could have guessed just how far this journey would take me.

            I was a teenager plagued with a dire case of senioritis, tired of my parent’s continual, overbearing, presence and ready to leave the nest. As can be imagined, I was hardly thrilled to be spending almost 2 weeks with my folks, cooped up in a 200 sq. ft. room. Aboard our plane I sat brooding, glaring out the window at the gloomy North Carolina sky, hardly looking forward to the 8 hour flight beside my mother that would bring us to Harwich.

            The first several days came as no surprise; as usual, nominal arguments with my parents and general boredom. The ship’s activities were geared towards an older generation; I had no interest in shuffleboard or bridge tournaments. It was not until our arrival in Copenhagen that my transformation truly began.

            I alighted from the gangway, camera in hand, the sun warming my skin in the chilly air. As we walked towards the center of town I could not understand my excitement over each new sight, a windmill set in green hills overcast by purple blossoms, a rustic church, grandiose fountains, and magnificent statues. I was overcome by the indescribable beauty of the city. That first day brought about a small reconnection with my parents. For the first time in months, I seemed to enjoy their company.

            Over the next few days visiting port after port my ease only grew. I no longer felt that I was being held captive, bored beyond belief. With each new city, the walls I had so carefully and painstakingly constructed to keep my parents out began to fall apart. The final stride in my journey occurred during our visit to St. Petersburg, Russia. I hardly knew what to expect. I was of course aware of Russia’s incredibly tumultuous history, but I had little idea of how this would be translated in real life.

Perhaps the most prominent feature of the city was the incredibly stark contrast between wealth and poverty. I was met by streets lined with armed military personnel, a façade of protectorates covering the reality of bribery, robbery, and crime. Grey faced communist era buildings, gutted, with broken windows, graffiti, and grime, straddled the most magnificent palaces, churches, and private homes I had ever seen. I was startled to learn that many residents live in communal flats, where 6 families, each with their own bedroom, will share 1 kitchen and 1 bathroom. In order to be accepted into a university or even to receive anesthetic at the dentist one is expected to offer a bribe. I felt incredibly awed by the splendor of the old nobility, yet walking down the grim streets I felt humbled and oppressed with gloom.

            This visit completely changed my perspective. Living in the U.S. where luxuries are so easily at hand to the multitudes, it is easy to forget the horrors others are forced to go through. I had never before appreciated my home or the selflessness of my parents as much as I did following that day. Once aboard the flight that would return us to America, I again sat by the window. It was a familiar situation, yet everything had changed. During those 2 weeks I had grown more than I ever thought possible. As the plane prepared for take off, I relaxed into my seat, content. I gave one last look out the window, at the journey and the girl, I was leaving behind.


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