IT IS one of both comforting and amazing paradoxes of the human mind that we remember our first impressions vividly but, over the years, they change, perhaps with the retelling? For example, I am sure that my first flight on a Caravelle jetliner from Tirstrup Airport, Denmark, on my honeymoon was very exciting.
It was my first flight and with my first (and only) husband after all, yet when I tell people about it today, I am highlighting the fact that nearly my entire family lined the edge of the runway to wave goodbye. In those days, there was absolutely no security at the airport, luggage was not X-rayed and passengers never frisked.
When I bought my first car, a VW Beetle, which I had spent almost a year saving up for, it was a grand and exciting moment taking delivery of the vehicle at the showroom in Oslo, Norway, and the car seemed so big!
Nowadays, we buy and sell cars fairly frequently without the same joy and anticipation – and the VW looks such a small and insignificant car, when we occasionally see the odd vintage model usually in immaculate condition in Germany, Cyprus or the UK.
When we experienced our first five-star hotel in the Far East (The Shangri-La, Bangkok) it was an occasion to write home about, with luxury chocolates on the pillows and dainty orchids in the room. Today, I still notice the niceties, but we are more interested in checking to make sure, there is internet access, wireless reception and I invariably have to ask for extra coat hangers for our clothes.
Our first foray into the Middle East was a three-year sojourn in Libya, where the Tuareg dancers and the Bedouins in their black tents in the desert were an intriguing and wondrous world to us Northern Europeans and we consumed many rolls of films.
Later in Dubai, it was the modern city, which fascinated us. Nowadays, the camera is often forgotten at home, as we wait in traffic queues alongside breathtaking new constructions, which astonish the whole world, but irritate the residents with their building clamour and clutter.
Experience has its advantages, when it comes to flying... Can you recall waiting for a blanket, which never came, as the aircraft’s temperature reminded you of Norway in the winter? Nowadays, I have a routine so that I am prepared when going on a flight – a bottle of Evian water as airlines rarely carry my favourite type of water; a warm jumper or shawl on board, as air-conditioning on the plane can bring on colds, if you do not keep warm and who needs that when you have meetings already scheduled practically on arrival at the destinations; a book or books to snuggle up with when you are weary of the mind-boggling array of films; patches or gum for those of us, who still retain the dastardly habit of smoking; a readily-available pen for the inevitable form-filling – why do cabin crew always seem reluctant to lend you their free, cheap ballpoint pen?; a mouthwash to erase that early-morning feeling; an overcoat if you are travelling northwards, a light cardigan, if you are travelling south; a city guide of your destination, if you have not previously visited the place, which you can read on the flight, etc.
In the early days of air travel, it was quite reasonable to arrive at the airport about an hour before departure time. Today, my husband always insists, we arrive so early that the check-in counters seem to be only just opening for business.
But he is right, airports today are crowded, and there is always somebody trying to get away with overweight luggage, arguing in vain with the patient check-in supervisor, who inevitably points to the excess baggage payment counter or suggests the shopping has to be divided between the other ten members of the party.... and this takes time, as such travellers never seem to notice the other people queuing behind them. In fact, let’s admit it, they couldn’t care less!
Moving through airports today requires one to be a marathon walker and it does not appear unusual to be made to walk at least two kilometres to the Departure gate. Plenty of golf buggies around, at least at Dubai International Airport, usually whizzing past you taking airport staff members on extremely important missions (coffee breaks, cigarette stops, end-of-shift, start-of-shift, but we-arrived-too-late etc, etc).
Travelling has become a young person’s realm with not much concern for the more mature passengers who, in fact, are now be coming a substantial slice of the leisure traveller’s market, as they retire earlier than previously.
However, I was talking about first impressions, which change over time. My first impression of Paris was of a romantic, gentle city of culture and sophistication. Today, I notice, the city has become very expensive, the Parisians are less friendly (maybe they are fed up with visitors) and the hotels are very ordinary, when compared to the Middle and Far East, though I can still forgive all this for the art galleries and wonderful museums.
Though my first impression of London was of a crowded, dirty, fog-bound city, today even fish swim in the Thames (I’m told), the cabbies are still the most knowledgeable and wonderful in the world, and museum for museum the Tale of Two Cities’ capitals are still neck to neck, while the West End remains a joyous festival of musicals and plays offering a unique, live audience experience.
The dictionary has several interpretations of the noun impression namely an effect produced by a force or influence or a notion/ feeling/ recollection – in my view that constitutes part of our mental make-up, which is also called memories!
How desolate our memories would be without wonderful and unique travel experiences. Sorry, must dash, I have a flight to catch!
Speaking Out Jonna Simon