Before COVID-19 hit the headlines, an Austrian friend declared that he wanted to organize a pilgrimage to Vienna's ball season. His idea was to train up sympathetic friends and acquaintances in the mysteries of the waltz and then herd us and our formalwear onto a plane. Vienna is about 2.5 hours away from Edinburgh by air, so the scheme was doable.
But that was three years ago or more, the COVID-19 restrictions having wrecked the scheme, and the Vienna ball season has returned only now. For some reason--and I really don't know why, since I don't waltz--I asked an Austrian colleague at work when a particular Catholic institute in Vienna was having their ball this year.
"I think I sent you the save-the-date," said my colleague and sent me a link to the registration page.
The link led to information that there was an interesting conference attached to the ball, and so I inwardly committed to going---but with some hesitation. I am neither the kind of woman who makes friends easily in a new place nor one who is supremely confident that she will be asked to dance. Going to a formal ball struck me as something I always think I should enjoy, not something that I really do enjoy.
Of course, my first thought was Benedict Ambrose, who by law (surely?) has to re-learn the waltz and dance it with me. However, he said he was too busy, but that I should go, darling.
So then I contacted Polish Pretend Son to see if he were going to this conference and ball. Naturally, he knew all about it from a mutual Austrian pal.
"Are you going?" he messaged back.
There followed a lot of swithering on my part although I went ahead and registered. In the end I registered for the conference, not the ball, because now I was more interested in the conference and in spending happy hours in Viennese cafes, etc, with friends, and it occurred to me that my time might be more usefully spent babysitting my Polish goddaughter while her dance-mad parents waltzed into the wee hours. I would still like to attend a Viennese ball one day, but preferably with someone who by law (surely?) has to dance with me.
And, moreover, I purchased flights there and back, even though spending the money caused me great mental pain, pain I could only assuage by plotting out the travel spending for the whole year, and calculating how to do this without creating a cashflow problem or thwarting our short-term financial goals.
Having become, late in life, a convert to examining how every penny is spent, I have also begun very seriously to ponder how much (and if) I enjoy the things everyone seems to think are inherently enjoyable. (For example, I very much hate going to the hairdresser.) My recent (and relatively expensive) sojourn in Lublin was a mix of good and awful, and it has certainly made me rethink language learning abroad--or how to go about doing it. However, one of life's luxuries that I still believe is definitely worth the money is eating in restaurants abroad with friends.
These don't have to be fancy restaurants, either. I had two lovely, friendly meals outside a hamburger stand in Wrocław that I remember very fondly. And eating in friends' homes abroad is nice, too--if less of a treat for the hardworking host or hostess. I suppose, therefore, what I really value in travels abroad is "eating with friends" although, yes, it is also nice to explore the historical districts of great cities, and occasionally ride through some countryside on a sturdy donkey. Come to think of it, it is also nice to feel southern sun on my face and to bathe in the Mediterranean.
So the real temptations of travel (for me) are friends who live abroad and the thrill of having conversations and such mutual experiences as a meal at "Balkan Burger" with them. The exception to this is the Scottish-beach-holiday, where the whole point is to hang out with Benedict Ambrose, swim in the freezing firth, and eat delicious pastries while reading.