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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Travel Tip #1: Don't Fear the Bull

While at the Yale Writers' Conference in New Haven, CT, I took every opportunity to slip away and see my surroundings. One of the first places I click-clacked down the sidewalk to was the Yale Museum of Art. I rode the elevator straight to the third floor to see the modern art collection. As soon as I stepped off, a waiting official in a blue suit inquired, "Are you the lady here to see the Salvador Dali?"

In my brief moment of pause, I flashed back to another occasion when I found myself in unfamiliar territory:

Gravel crunched under the tires of our rental car as it eased onto the narrow Shetland lane. "This is where the directions said to turn," I said from the back seat, "but where is it?" We peered out the windows that buffered us from the gusts rocking the car. Down the lane to the right, smoked spiraled from the chimney of an inhabited croft house. To the left, a stone wall patched in places by sagging barbed wire fenced off the slope of a hill.

"I think we're gonna have to get out and walk," I said, prompting the pulling on of heavy coats, gloves and hats. In Scotland, there's no such thing as trespassing. A soul can wander anywhere she likes, whether it's fenced or not. 

We marched up to the red gate. A chain looped through it and hung flaccid around a post. It feigned securing the premises. Metal clanked when I pulled it link-by-link from its position. When I swung the gate open, my brother read a sign we'd overlooked in our survey of the land. "Beware of the bull," he said. We all looked up to spot the bull charging us, its nostrils flared. 

Nothing approached but the wind.

"Y'all do what you want," my dad said. "I'll wait in the car." 

The rest of us - two of my brothers, my mother, me - entered the pasture, my mother in the lead. I glanced about, planning my escape route should the bull show. My brain was adrift in calculations when my mother shouted, "There it is!" I followed her finger point with my eyes. At the end stood Wind House - the most haunted house in Shetland - on the crest of the hill, overlooking the neighboring voe. 

 We toured ourselves in, out and around the abandoned property, ghosts and bull be damned.

Travel is about going places, seeing things, meeting locals, getting into the grit of a locale, taking in landmarks of history and pop culture. Travel requires courage. It requires steadfastness. It requires curiosity.

My number one rule of travel is Don't Fear the Bull. Folks who fear the bull only go on half the adventure. They miss the climactic a-ha moment, the pay-off part of the trip.

So when the security guard asked, "Are you the lady here to see the Salvador Dali?" I replied, "Why yes I am," and followed his lead.

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