A Grandmother and Granddaughter Share A Travel History — 125 Years Apart

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I see many similarities between my grandmother and my granddaughter, who both traveled across the ocean at 17 to seek more meaningful lives.

My grandmother Carrie was slight and smart. She crossed the Atlantic to America alone at 17, from Frankfurt, Germany at the end of the 19th century. Her journey ended in New York City, where I would be born 46 years after her arrival, and where 107 years later, my granddaughter would be born.

Grandma arrived at Castle Clinton in New York City, before Ellis Island was even there. She deeply loved this country from the moment her eyes teared at the sight of Lady Liberty, until she died at 91, in a hospital for the first time, as I held her hand.

Near the end of her life, Grandma lived in Miami Beach with her daughter and three grandchildren. I was the oldest, and shared a room with her, and as I was falling asleep, she would often tell stories of her childhood in Germany: about how she was set up with someone she didn’t want to marry, so she chose to leave for New York, a place of opportunity, where a distant relative lived. And her parents were able to follow later, well before the Nazis came to power.

Grandma enjoyed reading biographies, which I would choose for her from the library every Saturday, and I would read them too. She loved to waltz around the room, and often spoke in German (and didn’t think I understood what she was saying although I pretty much did).

She was liberal to the core and could still touch her toes at well into her 80’s. She overcooked most everything, but cooked anyway. She loved our cocker spaniel, missed New York, and kept a bottle of Ballantine’s scotch under her bed, taking a “schlook” now and then, straight from the bottle, to stay asleep.

My granddaughter, Sabrina, like my grandmother, is slight and smart. I’ve shared a room with her as well, when I’ve traveled with her, and she has asked me to tell stories of my childhood, as I had asked my grandmother.

Sabrina was born in Manhattan, where her great-great grandmother lived most of her life and where her grandmother (that would be me) was also born. She loves sweets and people, asks frank questions, and as a child especially loved biographies, just like my grandma. And I would read many of those with her, too.

Sabrina is such a New York City girl that when she was four years old and I pointed on a globe to Antarctica, where I would be traveling, she said “Grandma, that’s way downtown.”

When she was little, Sabrina and I traveled on weekly “adventures” around New York City. We’d take the subway uptown to the American Museum of Natural History to see the blue whale hanging from the ceiling, and the train to MOMAPS1 in Queens to experience interactive rainbows. Sometimes we’d just walk to a bedding display at Macy’s to dream about perfect bedrooms. There would be ice cream afterwards, or chocolate milk.

I took Sabrina on a bigger adventure, to Paris, for her tenth birthday, and we explored the city much as we had New York. She was curious and delighted in the differences she could feel. And she loved the macarons.

“We went to this yummy dessert place and the waiter took a liking to me and kept letting me have free desserts,” she remembers.

Sabrina is one of those Gen Z kids who cares about the world. She has marched for women and climate change, and has volunteered to help those in need during a summer in South America.

“I really enjoyed the service part in Peru,” Sabrina says. “I wanted to seek out people who had such different lives from me, and yet were similar in so many ways. We bonded.”

And now at 17, my grandma’s age when she traveled to America, Sabrina has just traveled across the ocean to live in Bosnia and Herzegovina for at least two years, and — who knows in this crazy world, perhaps for longer.

She will be studying in the historic city of Mostar, at one of 18 campuses of United World Colleges. whose goal is for education to be a “force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.”

“I was feeling unsatisfied and I wanted something more. I’m going to be studying with people from 90 different nations, represented by 200 students,” she says.

Like her great-great grandmother, who told me that as a young girl she heard cautionary tales of the Franco-Prussian war, Sabrina is aware of the Bosnian wars, and that Mostar is a city that knows the consequences of terrorism and bigotry.

When I traveled there to cover the 1984 Olympics, locals spoke proudly of how Muslims and Christians got along. They took me to the ancient bridge, a literal symbol of that connection that stood for 427 years, until it was destroyed in 1993 by Croat paramilitary forces during the Croat-Bosniak War.

And later, in the inevitable ebb and flow of history, the bridge was rebuilt with many of the orginal stones.

Sabrina will be walking over that new bridge, and living and learning in a country that is still dealing with the realities of keeping peace. She understands that. “Studying ethnic conflict makes you realize that all of us are people assuming ‘the others’ are different.”

Safe travels, Sabrina. Whether or not you return to live in America, or leave the country your great-great grandmother settled in to find a place of your own, may you continue to follow your dreams to help change the world for the better, among all people.

The spirit of my grandmother remains deep within you. And hopefully your great-great grandchildren living 125 years or so from now, can continue to dream big, take chances, live in peace, and travel freely in our precious, fragile world.

Listen in below and you can hear more from Sabrina herself about her travels on Episode 23 of Places I Remember with Lea Lane.)

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  • Lea Lane is an award-winning writer and communicator, author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries, and Travel Tales I Couldn't Put in the Guidebooks, available at Amazon as print and Kindle eBook. She writes for magazines, newspapers and on websites, including Forbes.com, The New York Times, Salon, and the Daily Beast. Lea's travel podcast, Places I Remember with Lea Lane, is available wherever you listen to podcasts. She interviews passionate travelers and travel experts around the world. She's authored eight books (including Solo Traveler, finalist for best travel book of the year from the North American Travel Journalists Association). She has contributed to dozens of other books, from encyclopedias to guidebooks. Lea wrote a column called "Going It Alone," for Gannett Newspapers, and was managing editor of "Travel Smart" newsletter. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Visit her web site: https://placesirememberlealane.com/ Her travel blog is forbes.com/sites/lealane Lea's travel podcast is Places I Remember: Travel Talk with Lea Lane is available wherever you listen to podcasts Like and follow: facebook.com/placesirememberbylealane Tweet her @lealane Follow her at instagram.com/travelea Read less

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