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Winners of the Women Inspire Women Travel Writing Contest

 

FABULOUS RUNNER-UP -- $25.00 prize

Written by: Rhoda Netburn
City: Boston, USA

After the Marriage

Recently widowed and having difficulty transitioning after 41 years of marriage, I quit my job, sold my house and car, put my belongings in storage, said goodbye to family and friends, and went off to a farmhouse in Montepulciano, Italy. Speaking little Italian and incapable of reading a map, I drove a stick-shift Fiat, no bigger than a sardine can, all over and through the hills and valleys of glorious Tuscany. Getting lost countless times didn’t seem to worry me. I was alone and free to find my way as long as it took. I wandered, and watched and smiled at strangers. I ate my meals at outdoor cafes, shopped the local markets, and delighted in the cheeses and wines. Each day I faced new challenges knowing that some unknown treasure was waiting for me -- a monastery at the top of a winding hill; walled villages hundreds of years old; wine vineyards as far as the eye could see, and the beauty … the beauty of it all! Creating this physical space where I alone existed, allowed me to open myself to the healing power of my experience. I returned home after two months feeling strengthened and better able to take the next steps.

 

FABULOUS RUNNER-UP -- $25.00 prize

Written by: Tracey-Ann Mayor
City: Nottingham, UK

She Gets Off a Bus in Beijing, Eventually

Newly in China, I’m an English teacher, alone, in sprawling Beijing. I’m heading for the best place to orientate myself: Tiananmen Square. A vast pause in the otherwise frenetic city: children fly kites; backpackers pose for photographs; pedestrians stroll.

I like to travel greenly, keeping one eye on the environment, so no taxis for me. I don’t want to dump my share of exhaust fumes onto Beijing’s already smoggy shoulders. Feeling adventurous and worthy, I board the number 2 electric bus, heading for “who knows where”, but passing Tiananmen Square on the way.

A bus is so much more real, I tell myself with pride, this is how Beijingers get around: I’m not just a visitor, I’m a local. The bus picks up more passengers. The temperature rises. The journey speed plummets. So, this is how real Beijingers spend their time, squeezed in by the busload and sweating. I soon make another discovery: a bus in Beijing can never have too many passengers.

By the time I realise we’ve already passed Tiananmen Square, the bus is so full that I can’t even move off my seat. I venture a foot into the scrum that lies beyond, but quickly withdraw. I try, twice, to get up, but it’s impossible. I’m stuck, no hope of escape, on course for “who knows where”.

I sit penned in my seat. The conductor kindly nudges me every time the bus passes through a ticket zone and I pay another 1RMB. I decide she must be a wraith, how else does she negotiate the lack of space? I stay on the bus, hoping it does a circular route but at the end of the line I am shrugged off, somewhere, an hour outside the city centre.

I don’t think foreigners make it to this part of Beijing: everyone’s stopping to stare at me. I cross the road and cars wait for me. I trace my route back until I find the bus stop. I do my fair share of staring; negotiating the pavements, chequered with the grubby blankets of makeshift vendors; smelling the burnt sweetness of roasting potatoes; grinning at the locals dozing in the sun, their bicycles casting shadows.

I watch this new-found Beijing as though I’m an explorer just stumbled upon an unknown land. She’s not just the tourist-packaged sites, but an incongruous jumble of ordinary lives. She’s stray dogs, shy smiles, street-cooked pancakes and curious glances; she’s a shifting, imperfect thing—

The bus arrives. It’s the same one that brought me here and the driver eyes me as if she can’t decide if I’m stupid or suspicious. I take my seat on the bus, primed for action and minus my foreign reserve. When I’m back at my original stop, I put my head down, growl a bit and elbow my way out. I land on the pavement buzzing with my secret glimpse of Beijing. The doors hiss shut behind me. The passengers stretch to fill the space.

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