I spent eight months in the hospital when I was 10. I missed a whole school year of classes because my parents could not afford a private tutor, but I had plenty of time to study on my own. When I was not building model planes and battle ships from WWII or miniature versions of the latest automobiles, I read everything I could find on Europe. Don't ask me why that part of the world has always fascinated me. Al I know is that I made myself a promise that if the doctors and nurses ever let me go home for good, I'd see as many of the places I'd read about as I could.
My time to see the other side of "the pond" came in the fall of 1976. Armed with a three month railpass and a bright-colored aluminium framed backpack with an America flag sewn on the back panel, I boarded an Icelandic flight bound for Luxembourg City with a re-fueling stop at the airport in Reykjavik. All the passengers were ordered to run across the tarmac under a dark sky of icy blots of rain just for the chance to wander around a sleepy souvenir shop in the terminal that was awaken at one in the morning for the possibility of lining its cash register with U.S. dollars, or any other kind of spendable currency.
This would be my first opportunity to sample a long list of ridiculous items masquerading as souvenirs I've seen in my travels around the world, a list that includes brightly painted wooden roosters in Portugal to a German beer stein that stood the length of my elbow to the tip of my fingers. What would you do with any of that junk I asked myself but use them as dust collectors? I knew I wanted to be different, to somehow be able to use my imagination. I'd always been frugal with my money too, and there was also the problem of the limited space an already full backpack offers.
So on the first trip I began to search for little patches I could sew on the outside of my backpack. The patches were a small form of an insignia that often were the coat of arms for a European city. Even small towns many times had their own coat of arms representing the privilege of their place on a map. The patches were cheap and colorful and could be sewn on with thread I'd brought along with me from home.
By the time I saved up enough money to make my second trip across "the pond", this time beginning in London, I decided to concentrate on collecting transit stubs and tourist brochures which often times were works of art in themselves. I bought a plastic folder I could store them in and then slide them down into one side of my luggage, which I used that trip. Most of the places I stayed were youth hostels which offered cheap beds in a dorm-like setting, and I found the hostel receipts and business cards with their logo on them was a perfect way to recall stops along the way.
There would be two more trips across the Atlantic, one in which I would live and work in Europe as a freelance photographer for nearly a decade, based in Germany, and one in which my life-long dream of traveling around the world would become reality when I boarded a plane in '95 bound for Frankfurt. Some of my most memorable "souvenirs" come from the world trip and include a chip off the Great Pyramids of Giza, a greeting card from the former prison in Stockholm that now serves as a youth hostel, complete with iron bars, a tiny brown pebble from Ayers Rock in Australia that was blessed by the head of the Aboriginal Movement there, and all three airline tickets for that trip around planet Earth. I suppose the ultimate souvenir though, is my American passport with entry and exit stamps from nearly all of the 37 countries I've traveled to.
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After almost a decade of working as a freelance photographer in Europe, Maurice Oliver returned to America in 1990. Then, in 1995, he made a life-long dream reality by traveling around the world for eight months. But instead of taking pictures, he recorded the experience in a journal which eventually became poems. And so began his desire to be a poet. His poetry has appeared in numerous national and international publications and literary websites including Potomac Journal, Pebble Lake Review,
Frigg Magazine, Dandelion Magazine, (Canada), Stride Magazine (UK), Cha Asian Literary Journal, (Hong Kong), Kritya (India), Blueprint Review, (Germany) and Arabesques Review (Algeria). His forth chapbook was One Remedy Is Travel (Origami Condom, 2007). He edits the literary ezine Eye Socket Journal at: http://eyesocketjournal.blogspot.com . He is currently putting the final touches on his memoir. He lives in Portland, OR, where he works as a private tutor.