I’m quite sentimental about my trusty walking sandals.

My cousin had a pair, and recommended them for comfort and durability, so I bought them the day before I left Northern Ireland (the first time around) to head off to Estonia for my first taste of travel and adventure. They’re nothing special to look at, but they’re practical and super-comfortable. I’ve probably walked for hundreds of miles in them, wearing them through all the warmer months each year since that first Eastern European trip in 2008. From exploring along a rickety old disused railway line in Tallinn in my first week away

…to a whirlwind 1-week voyage through several Japanese cities last summer….

…and everywhere from the Hungarian countryside to ancient Roman ruins in Italy to the top of the Eiffel Tower in between.

And yes, now I’ve dusted them off once more and put them into use for their fourth year in a row, and will choose to wear them almost every day from now until the end of October. This time around, I do actually have other shoes. Pretty little girly sandals, kitten heels, summery canvas shoes, trainers (I actually typed ‘sneakers’ there), boots – a veritable treasure trove of footwear compared to what I had during the penniless freelance writer years. And yet when the warm weather hits, all I want to do is throw on some shorts and a t-shirt, and my comfy old Velcro-strapped sandals.

We’ve been through a lot together. We’ve walked uncertainly out through many, many airport arrivals gates and train/bus stations to face the unknown world on the other side. We’ve collapsed in a heap together at the top of very big hills in France and at the foot of very big mountains in Switzerland. We’ve wandered, lost and confused, through Bratislava and Keszthely and numerous other places where we didn’t know where to go or what to do. We’ve joyfully skipped along beautiful old cobbled streets, and broken-heartedly curled up outside grotty bus stations with no money, no home, and the occasional rat. We’re a team.

But now, alas, I am in a country where shoes are not welcome. At least, not indoors. Not only must you take your shoes off when you enter someone’s home, but also when you enter a restaurant, a gym, your workplace… and of course my trusty old shoes are great for this, as well, being easy to slip off and step back into in a hurry, when others are waiting behind you – unlike winter boots and complicated strappy sandals with buckles and whatnot, which always have me flustered and hopping around frantically in the restaurant doorway. However, my beloved shoes are beginning to show signs of wear and tear. No, actually, that was last year. This year, they are positively embarrassing  – but not from the outside! No, once they’re on my feet, they look relatively presentable. You know what’s so great about footwear, it’s so adaptable and actually quite rigid in some ways. You might need a guide to understand all the different specific shoes used for different reasons. Endlessly complex, like the humans making them and wearing them.

When I take them off, though…

So now I’m always trying to hide my shoes at the back of the shelf in the school hallway, and racing to get to them first when leaving someone’s house. But Korean hospitality being what it is, I am usually not allowed to keep my shoes lurking in a position of shame underneath a sparkling pair of stiletto heels. Last night in the dak galbi restaurant (no, I still cannot get enough of that stuff – the restaurant staff now treat Terri and I like family, and don’t even ask us what we want any more, just bring all our usuals. They all come over to personally greet us, and wave to us if they see us walking past.), I tried to kick them under the raised floor platform where we sat, and when I jumped down after my meal I found them laid out neatly for me, facing outwards so I could just step right into them. People do the same thing in their apartments, turning my shoes around to face the door for when I leave. It always gives me a sinking feeling of shame and horror, when I see those scruffy, overworked soles next to all the glittering, sparkly, delicate shoes, and imagine the disgust on my host’s face as she picked them up. Not that they ever let on, of course, but their politeness somehow makes it worse. I can imagine someone at home going “Look at the state o’ them there shoes doll, thon’s a disgrace!”, and I suppose I’m just more comfortable with that reaction. I don’t know how to react to polite avoidance of the subject, so I usually just put my trusty old shoes back on as hurriedly as possible, and scamper off trying to look like someone who’s actually on her way right this minute to buy some new footwear.

Sigh. I just can’t bear to let them go…


2 thoughts on “Shoes

  1. Jen says:

    You could get a pair of havaianas or other flat sandals for going out in, and save your walking sandals for days at the beach or a country where you’re not taking your shoes off constantly?

    I sympathise though – I got some DMs with roses on them a couple of years ago which I love and wear all the time, and I dread the day that they’ll be too tatty to wear out.

  2. McBouncy says:

    Wear the sandals, but just before you get to your destination take your pumps out of your bag and put them on. Grotty sandals in your bag and nice pumps to sit at the door. Win/win ;)

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