De-Stress Your Travels: Notes from the Frontline

By Sally Ross

The princes were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” Thus did Horace Walpole coin the word “serendipity” in a 1754 letter to Horace Mann explaining his discovery of the Persian fairy tale, “The Three Princes of Serendip.” We delight in serendipity when we encounter a fortunate happenstance or a pleasant surprise.

My husband and I finished 18 holes of golf in Minnesota when one of our foursome commented on his buddy, “Not bad for a Pulitzer Prize winner and famous novelist, is he?” And we learned we had been playing with John Sandford, author of dozens of Prey mystery novels!

We were matched in another round of golf with Charlie Scalzi in the Barossa Valley, near Adelaide, Australia. We had not seen kangaroos in the wild, so Charlie took us home for a homemade Italian dinner, stopping to see a hillside of kangaroo grazing at dusk, as prolific as deer in Georgia. All of that after he gave us a tour of God’s Hill, his boutique vineyard.

In Dornoch, Scotland, we joined a pilgrimage to tiny Croik Church where 80 crofters were forced from their land. In a window, they carved still-haunting messages: “Glencalvie people was in the churchyard here May 24 1845.” A quiet walk and special worship service introduced us to friends we still hold dear, and to a place I visit every year.

Last summer on a Vienna street corner, Marilyn and I encountered Matt and Dana searching for a restaurant serving pork, which they couldn’t get living in Saudi Arabia. They joined us for a fine meal at Zwoelf-apostelkeller, and we said our goodbyes. Until we ran into them a week later at Castle Hill in Prague and learned that Matt and Marilyn would be on the same plane the next day!

Serendipitous travel stories often begin with “the time when.” There was the time when I sat amongst Michelangelo’s Prisoners for an ancient harpsichord concert in front of his David statue, all because I picked up a random brochure that day. Or the time when my friends and I were disappointed that Moscow’s Red Square was closed off to prepare for Victory Day. But we got to watch the practice march of hundreds of soldiers from inside a GUM department store restaurant. And later that week, we observed the full military parade in St. Petersburg from the top of our hotel overlooking the Hermitage. (Luckily, Victory Day celebrates the end of World War II, so we were all on the same side for that one!)

My traveling heart is full of fortuitous views as well: a dramatic rainbow across the Darwin Range in Ushuaia, at the tip of South America; Royal Air Force jets flying beneath us as we made it to the top of Struie Hill in Scotland, or over us as Georgia friends and I played St. Andrews golf; Zion National Park buried in 12 inches of new snow under a full moon when we were the only people hiking in the park.

If serendipity has found you in your travels, you will understand this quote from David Levithan, “I am a firm believer in serendipity- all the random pieces coming together in one wonderful moment, when suddenly you see what their purpose was all along.”

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