Red Pleather

Words by Kaitlyn Plyley

Pictures by Tilly Hutchison

Published on December 6, 2013

Kaitlyn _lrg

My parents love to travel. Even now, they’re somewhere in the Gulf of Carpenteria, swiping flies and uploading photos of their campsite. Overseas travel was a major feature of my childhood. And I chronicled it all in this journal, given to me by my grandpa before he died. It’s red pleather and has embossed on the front, in gold, ‘Travels Abroad’. To childhood me, it was the classiest thing I owned. It has everything: itinerary, world map, even a section for noting down cafés and restaurants you visit. This is what 10-year-old me wrote in there:

Biggle’s Café

The Beach Café

Wendy’s

Taco Bell

Pizza Hut

Margerita’s

Charo’s

The Watercourt Café

McDonald’s (bad one)

On The Rocks (Good one)

Yanee’s Restaurant

Ole Ole

The Asian Café

The Japanese Restaurant

When I was thirteen, my mum asked me and my brother if, one day, we would like to go on a trip to Europe. I asked, will I have to miss school? I was a bit worried about that. Year Nine is a crucial year. Mum said, don’t worry, you can take your homework with you. Then she said, we leave next week and we’re pulling you out of school for three months, go and pack your summer clothes.

As a kid, I was a big fan of nineteenth century literature. I loved Robert Louis Stevenson, E. Nesbit, Enid Blyton, and I was getting really into the Brontes. I’d also been reading a lot of Lonely Planet and was convinced I was going to be a travel writer. When Mum announced the big trip around Europe, I thought, this is my chance. I immediately bought Charles Dickens’ travel memoir Pictures of Italy and read it for tone and style. As a result of this, and being a very enthusiastic thirteen-year-old, my travel journal is written in a kind of crazily cheery, instructive tone, as of the experienced traveller imparting useful tips.

Date: 14thJuly 2000

Place: London, England

Landed 6am after 14 hour flight. Absolutely no jetlag, so we set off exploring immediately. Big Bus tours — hop on, hop off — are the only way to see London. Stress less, and take the bus. Commentary, & you get a pass so you can get off, walk around & get back on whenever. Must see St Paul’s Cathedral — views from top fantastic, but no photos inside! Tower Bridge is nice. Buckingham not too special.

Riveting travelogue so far. If you remember, I advised that St Paul’s is a “must see”. What I didn’t write in my journal was that, when my brother and I had finally climbed to the top of the cathedral and stood looking out over the city of London, I got overexcited when I saw a telephone tower in the distance and started shouting, “IT’S THE EIFFEL TOWER! I CAN SEE FRANCE!” I was a great English student, but failing geography.

Date: 19thJuly 2000

Place: Devon & Cornwall

Oh! What words could ever describe such beauty? [Um, yeah, I was a fan of the Romantics, too.] The lush, green, rolling hills, the sleek ponies with their adorable colts, and the view, by jingo, the view! [Remember, the newest books I was reading were from the 1800s.] If driving, use small car, ’cause they’re practically one-way streets! Hedged up, so get out and look around. Polperro boat trips are wonderful! Bath — Roman baths interesting, great playground. [I was a precocious tween, but in other ways, very young.]


Date: 3 August 2000

Place: Paris, Disneyland

Disneyland worth the trip – charming as always! DON’T go on Indiana Jones unless you like being bruised black & blue! [You have to remember, I was convinced that one day someone would read this journal and take it as a snapshot of a moment in history, a la Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’.] Shows are good. Rockets great fun! [So, not quite Hemingway then.] Make sure you’re in excellent condition because one day walking around Disneyland & you’re beat for the next 3 days! We didn’t come to Paris for the scenery this time, but we will come back for the Tower! [The Tower that I’ve now realised is not visible from London.]


Date: 18 August 2000

Place: Matterhorn, Switzerland

Yodel-oldel-lay-eehoooo! … Although not as green as Wilderswill and First, it had a rugged, snowy beauty, and was a very pleasant trip. Although there were restaurants up there, we took sandwiches & a bottle of iced tea, [I’m sensing the Enid Blyton influence here]and it was very comfortable sitting on the rocky hillside. We splurged and stayed in a hotel last night, and had fun watching Jumanji in French on TV. [This is where a bit of human drama finally enters my travelogue.] Ah, TV! I missed you so. Unfortunately there was no English channel. D’oh! Oh well, it was very, very fun!


Date: 26 August 2000

Place: Florence (Firenze)

[Added caption:] Without the statues, it’s just a town.

Michelangelo. Leonardo. No, it’s not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s the Galleria Dell’ Accademia, in Firenze (pronounced ‘Florence’ for English speakers). … See it! It’s great!


Words from Kaitlyn Plyley. You can find her at kaitlynplyley.com.

Illustration from Tilly Hutchison. See more of her work at tillydrawspictures.tumblr.com.