It can be difficult to find new angles through which to view places you already know well. Human nature being what is, it takes a conscious effort to see anything through new eyes. We tend to see only what we’re familiar with, and what strikes our vision on the most surface levels: the old buildings, the people, the streets, the here-and-now bustle that is so easy to get caught up in. But shifting our approach is sometimes needed if we are to really appreciate all the layers and the richness any place has to offer.
As a travel writer I’m always forced to do this, and though it’s challenging, it always rewards me with a much deeper perspective of a city’s beating heart and long-hidden scars.
For example, trying to find a topic in which to write about can suddenly have me thinking thematically. In the case of Amsterdam, I was recently casting about for a theme. The picturesque canals and predictable clichés are worn out. I wanted to go deeper.
Of course, a well-deserved reputation for religious tolerance in previously intolerant times is a strong undercurrent in the city’s history, shaping its character. But everyone knows about the city’s lenient attitude towards marijuana and prostitution. The pot-selling “coffeshops” and the brightly painted brothels of the Red Light District are hard to miss, and at any rate weed and sex are not exactly major taboos anymore. So, in doing this “personality profile”, as I like to view travel writing, I decided to focus on the less well-known, more hidden-in-plain-sight landmarks that quietly but effectively tell the story of Amsterdam’s legacy of tolerance in intolerant times.
The point is, looking around the city for these things forced me to look through fresh eyes. I began to notice things I hadn’t paid much attention to before. Statues and plaques commemorating Amsterdam’s history—normally easy to pass over in the bustling, thoroughly modern city—began to emerge from the background, as if reaching out through the centuries to educate me with a silent power.
Paying attention to these small reminders eventually told a story, a long and rich narrative, of how the city’s philosophy of tolerance became a beacon for many persecuted people seeking a safe refuge from their own country’s intolerance in a way that the pot bars and sex shops could not. Small churches emerged from the urban crush and hordes of camera-toting tourists, inviting me into their quiet, solemn interior just as they’d invited minority sects whose beliefs had marked them out for discrimination. Small Catholic churches in times of Protestant intolerance (and vice versa) thrived here, as did humble little synagogues that operated without interference or malice from the city’s fathers.
Around a corner from a busy street, a small brick building in a quiet courtyard bears a faded plaque indicating that English pilgrims came here to worship before heading to the New World. They prayed here, and then boarded the Mayflower to escape persecution in their home country. They were made to feel comfortable here.
The remnants of more recent times came to the fore as well. I begin to notice the many houses bearing historical plaques indicating that the occupants courageously sheltered Jewish families during the Second Word War.
Not far away a statue of a portly, none-too-attractive dockworker seems at first glance to be a forgettable, bland post-war tribute to laborers. Look closer and you’ll find an inscription indicating that it memorializes the brave stand of the Amsterdam’s dockworkers, who staged the first strike undertaken in Occupied Europe to protest the mistreatment of the city’s Jews by the Nazis.
The strike, held a few days after 400 Jewish men were herded together on the spot where the statue now stands, was brutally put down by the SS within hours, and is remembered by few today. The statue’s rotund subject was a real-life non-Jewish dockworker who participated in the strike because he felt it was the right thing to do.
A small room in the city’s historic Dutch Theatre, once a point of assembly for Jews about to be shipped off to concentration camps, holds a humble memorial of three little stones. The memorial seems unimportant. Search for the true story, however, and you’ll find that the three stones represent a local man named Walter Suskind, his wife and small daughter. Suskind smuggled 1,200 Jewish children to safety during the war. In 1945 his work was discovered by the Nazis and he and his family were themselves sent to Auschwitz, never to return.
Soon I begin to understand how many centuries’ worth of brave Amsterdammers have risked it all to welcome and aid minorities in dark times, and that courage was common place in the face of tyranny. It underscores the strength of Amsterdam’s heritage of tolerance more than any fashionable pot bar or cheesy sex shop ever could.
My point is, the “what” that you look for isn’t nearly as important as the act of searching for new ways to connect to a city’s unique DNA. The important thing is looking from a thematic perspective, searching for that thread of history that informs its culture. This can provide the prism through which you can see through the here-and-now veneer and access the richness of a city’s historical character, forged in the crucible of time and trial.
It was December of 2004 when I took my first Contiki trip for two weeks in Australia. On the first night I met two girls from Minnesota and that’s where the love affair with the State Fair began. For years Cara has been teaching this New Yorker about all things Minneapolis and although I’ve now been many times I was never able to hit it at the right time to take part in the festivities. It took just about a decade but I finally made it to the Minnesota State Fair.
I learned a lot from Cara. I learned about ‘Minnesota nice’, throwing my hat by the Mary Tyler Moore statue and the structural brilliance that is the Spoon and Cherry. I’ve spent time making s’mores on Lake Superior, walked across the border into Wisconsin and listened to loons at a few of the twelve thousand lakes. There has been fun at the mall, a visit to the Jolly Green Giant, photos at lock and dam number one which was a first for this ocean loving New Yorker and then a return visit for her wonderful wedding. And let’s just talk about the fabulousness that is an ice-house and an ice party-Oofdah! Minnesota is a wonderful place.
We were finally were able to schedule a trip at the end of August 2011. We were even able to catch up with another travel friend (who also lives in Minneapolis) we met two years prior in Europe. When Hurricane Irene hit our Long Beach shores and the ocean waves were quickly encroaching up the beach nearing our car park and sea wall, we were safely ensconced in the twin cities waiting for the day we would get to head to the fair and finally see the truth behind the heads carved out of butter. Ten years ago I heard of these butter heads and couldn’t come close to picturing what it would be like at all. Would I really get to meet a Dairy Princess?
We hopped a bus to the fair, got our tickets and smiled wide as we entered the gates of what could have been many, many football fields worth of fairgrounds. I guess had I been to the New York or any other state fair ever in my life, perhaps I wouldn’t have been as excited, but this was special. My Aussie husband had never been to anything like this either so it was a treat and a half for us both. For Cara, it has been a yearly event for as long as she can remember. When those ten days roll around at the end of August people from all walks of life flood into Minneapolis to take part in, work at, eat at or visit this fabulous spectacle. Concerts take place, competitions are won, farm animals are shown and dairy princesses take center stage in the dog days of summer at the fair. We went, we watched, we ate and we smiled.
First of all, this is one of the best people watching spots I’ve ever seen. Thousands of people wander the roadways and sections and the fashions of decades past forced some of us to raise a quizzical eyebrow-but it was all part of the fair. Our first stop was the Dairy pavilion. Not for my lactose intolerant friends, this is where you can get fresh ice cream & yoghurt, whole milk in abundance and here in all their glory are the butter heads. Children and adults press their faces as close to the panes of glass as possible as if New York City’s Macy’s Christmas windows had come alive. The incredible artist sculptor comes each year to create masterpieces at the fair. She’s an amazing artist and manages to take the exact likeness of these chosen Dairy Princesses and carve their features into blocks of butter. The artist and the princess she’s working on adorn puffy parkas to keep warm in the frozen tundra that encapsulates them so that the butter can stay at a temperature warm enough to carve and cold enough to keep its sculpted form. It’s a huge honour to be crowned a Dairy Princess and after the fair is over the family of the princess gets to keep the butter heads if they choose. We watched in awe of this artistry and marveled at this magical moment that could only happen here in the land of dairy. And then Cara told me that I too could get my head carved out of butter! You should have seen the look on my face! With the help of the Internet, we went to the butter head station, uploaded my photo and within minutes my face appeared as a butter imprint on a pin that I could proudly wear. After years of wondering, I finally got to see a head carved out of butter-this was a huge check off my travel list!
As with any fair, food is a huge attraction. Mat was the first to get a lesson in all food Minnesota State Fair. Cara, being an expert in all things fair steered us to her favourite pronto pup vendor. You should have seen the look on my husband’s face when she said ‘you have to have one of these’! And just like that we learned the difference between a pronto pup and a corn dog and the magical taste sensation that happens when you put anything on a stick! Her reasoning for the pronto pup was that when dipped in pancake batter the hot dog takes on a whole new flair. I photographed, he ate and all was right with the world. Me, I went in the direction of salty and sweet. First there was an oozy and gooey s’more from the S’mores truck that melted in my mouth and fingers. Next, there was the pickle (on a stick of course) that was bigger than Mt. Rushmore. Then when we wanted some French fries we were steered past about fifteen different vendors to the only one Cara said was good enough to try-and again, of course, she was right. Who could say no to a jumbo sized red bucket filled with salty chips?
It’s no surprise that the fair lasts ten days since it would take us that long to be able to see every part. I sat on a tractor at the John Deere section and Mat happily adorned some paper animal hat on our way to the animal pavilion. Visions of Charlotte’s Web and the words to ‘Zuckerman’s Famous Pig’ danced through my head as we ventured into the barns to visit the pigs and goats and watched in amazement as we saw baby ducklings born right in front of us. So far, it has been even better than expected. Passing the prize winning vegetables, more rides and playing our own personal games of Frogger as we weaved in and out of crowds, we even got to have a look in the 4H pavilion taking me back to all of those special summers of my youth spent at 4H Camp in Riverhead, New York.
According to our host, no day at the fair is complete without a taste of her favourite squeaky cheese. What? She hasn’t steered us wrong yet, so with perplexed looks on both of our faces, we followed Cara and her then boyfriend (now husband), Wade, into the only food court that she liked for this mid-west delicacy. For us, this was a first. She ordered. We waited. Within minutes a small basket filled with oodles of fried goodness was upon us. Small dollops of fried cheese awaited and as Cara’s eyes lit up she watched as we took our first bite of these fried cheese curds and we all quietly listened for the squeak….and squeak it did!
We could have stayed forever. There were endless rides, countless pavilions filled with amazing sights, vendor after vendor of fried deliciousness and people as far as the eye could see. Sadly, we only had one day to spend at the Minnesota State Fair, but in that one day it far surpassed all of my expectations that started when I first heard about it on a boat in the Great Barrier Reef all those years ago. For a girl who has smiled every time I’ve landed in the dairy land, the fair was a huge success. For me, the end of the official summer season is always showcased by days at the beach listening to the ocean and saying goodbye to our friendly lifeguards-but, I always look forward to hearing Cara’s stories and reliving those moments when I got to meet a real life Dairy Princess at the Minnesota State Fair.
Have you been to the Minnesota State Fair? What’s your favourite thing about state fairs?
For more of Stacey’s travels check out her website.
Travelers are curious. Why else would they put up with the more uncomfortable bits that make up “travel”? Squatting toilets for instance or anything that has anything to do with an airline.
Many of us are so curious that we want to see it all. The whole world. At the very least, a sample of each region from the world. That “see it all” curiosity is especially true for my husband. His initial thoughts on creating an itinerary are never “I’d like to go back to….” but always “We haven’t yet seen…”.
I, on the other hand, am a very nostalgic person. In some ways, that seems like a trait that wouldn’t encourage travel but would instead put a damper on curiosity for all things novel and strange.
Believe it or not, I think nostalgia can fuel travel too. Of course a person who has traveled as a kid may feel nostalgic about returning to the places they visited or simply about travel in general. But I think there are 3 ways in which nostalgia can inspire anyone to travel, even those who never traveled before.
1.) If you think about it, the discovery of something new is inherently familiar from our childhood. When is this world more full of discovery than when we’re children, constantly exploring “firsts”? Everything from our first bike ride to our first field trip comes with that feeling of discovering something novel. In that way, even a person who never traveled as a kid may feel nostalgic about new experiences and new places.
2.) Some people travel for the nostalgic feeling of a simpler time. One of my first jobs was as a front-desk clerk in a bed & breakfast in Amish Country Ohio and I must say, most of our tourists came to remember what life was like when the world was slower. Every day I heard someone exclaim, “My grandmother used to do it that way!” or “Yes, I remember when we made bread that way too.”
My point isn’t that nostalgia inspires you to travel to Amish Country but rather that nostalgia can inspire travel to developing or remote cultures, not yet saturated with all things digital. Eastern Europe for instance reminds me of the America my grandparents tell stories about. Yes there are cars driving down dirt roads in the countryside, but there are horse-drawn carts too. And pay phones! And little bakeries run by little old women in the same plain aprons my aunts used to wear when they made homemade bread.
3.) Doesn’t the study of genealogy and family history seem to sprout from nostalgia too? Genealogy seems to inspire even the least wander-lusting types to travel back to the place of their roots. There’s something fascinating, after all, about visiting a town you’ve heard family fables about. My grandmother used to sing a song about buying shoes in “Laderbach.” Never has she seen Laderbach, but seeing the name “Laderbach” on a sign in Switzerland brought back warm memories of my her singing the songs her grandma sang to her. It was fascinating to realize that a little hint of Switzerland had trickled down through the generations in the form of a song.
Nostalgia is a mysterious feeling in this way. It seems it’s not just a love of things familiar from our past, but sometimes a love of things reminiscent of a past we’ve never even seen ourselves.
Why travel far and wide you ask
What will you perhaps find?
There’s so much here to see and do
Why go far to unwind?
So much to say – the words are hard
They make so much sense to me
Stay here to find the everyday
Or go abroad and see?
The fun, the peace and curiosity
It runs deep in my soul
Adventures to have and experiences I seek
The journey itself is the goal
In travel I find a piece of myself
I’ve yet to find at home
Truth and identity are ones that I seek
And I find it whenever I roam
It’ll never be easy or just the right time
To quit tradition or ditch the routine
Follow your dreams and go forth to find
So much learning from travel you’ll glean
Years from now what will matter more
What you did or didn’t do?
Remember you matter and you are important
And you choose what works for you
Venture out in the world there’s adventure afoot
The more you travel the more you know
Don’t wait for the right time for everyone else
If it’s right for you…JUST GO!
To read more of Stacey’s travel adventures, visit her website.
It’s an increasingly accepted as fact that, as a nation, we have allowed a work culture to develop where taking time off is seen a sign of disloyalty or lack of care, and where extended time off is more of a concept than a reality. It’s also a given that more and more data suggest that the costs of this approach in stress and lack of free time for rest, recreation and family is having a profoundly detrimental effect on our society.
Traveling in Europe always brings the difference between the US and European cultures with regard to work/life balance was illustrated in sharp relief for me. It’s one thing to hear how the Europeans put priority on the “life” side of the balance, and it is another to see it in action. As many know, the Europeans enjoy social benefits such as maternity as well as paternity leave, and up to six weeks of vacation time per year.
To see the very obvious benefits of that strategic choice for a shorter work year play out in the lives of everyday Europeans illustrates the point. Watching families strolling in the parks, laughing and chatting happily, on a weekday afternoon or visiting with friends over a drink in a café—enjoying the free time their generous benefits affords them—is to reinforce any stressed-out American’s suspicion that we are on the wrong side of the equation.
Of course, there are economic trade-offs along with such benefits. With less time focused on work and more time focused on free time, GDP is affected and taxes are high to support these benefits. Countries with a historically take-it-easy approach to life such as Italy and Spain had no trouble swapping time at work for time with friends, but how do these policies fare in the more traditionally industrious nations of the north? Does this bother many of them?
Not very much, it seems. “Everyone hates taxes of course,” a German told me, “but we willingly make the trade-off because it’s a good bargain. The time is more valuable.” Another said, “We made the conscious choice to arrange the society this way, with the emphasis on maternal and paternal leave and more vacation time. It has many positive benefits. We just do with a little less material things.”
In a surprising finding that bolsters the arguments of proponents for more European-syle work arrangements, a recent analysis from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (link to the study is here) found that workplace productivity doesn’t necessarily increase with hours worked. Workers in Greece clock 2,034 hours a year versus 1,397 in Germany, for example, but the latter’s productivity is 70 percent higher. In other words, there’s not necessarily the direct correlation that our system is predicated on.
“You Americans kill yourselves with antiquated work policies,” says a French acquaintance. “You have two weeks of vacation, if you are very lucky. We are a very prosperous, industrialized economy with a national healthcare service too. We make it all work.”
I knew it begged an inevitable question, and my friend asked it. “So why can’t you?”
That statement and its inevitable question was put to me many times, in many places. It is a question I brought back to the US with me. It stayed in my mind as my flight arced across the Atlantic and over the North American continent, remaining as an important souvenir. The issue was never about lingering in cafés or visiting the Alps, but rather the stuff of a good life: choices, time and freedom to make of it what we will. Would you be happier and more productive if you had more of these? What will it take for us as a society to finally demand it?
At the age of twelve, I visited my friend Jill’s house and tasted what I still believe to be the best barbecue sauce around. Her dad’s friend Steve brought it with him on a visit from Toronto, Canada and I have never found its equal. Today, Diana’s Sauce lives in my own cupboard and I order it by the case.
Before I ever ventured out of my post-code, my mom shared my grandfather’s travel advice. “Take out half the clothes and put in twice the money”, he said. I’ve since shared his wisdom countless times, but regardless of the truth to it, no one ever said I’d need to save room in my rucksack to hold food products I learned to love along the way. And no one at all told me that if I couldn’t bring them home through customs, I would scour the Internet as soon as I returned just to find that one specific item that tempted my taste buds in my travels. It’s true, I do.
Today there are heaps of culinary tours and cooking classes in travel are all the rage. Travelers will tell you that eating local and traditional cuisine is part of truly experiencing a country or city. Why stick to KFC or McDonalds when the world of Indian curries or Vietnamese pho is so easily in your grasp? I can’t say it’s all for me, I did give the fried tarantulas a miss in Cambodia and said no to the kudu steak in Namibia-but then again, I am a vegetarian.
Having tried treats around the world there are many that are worth keeping at home reminding us of our travels. There are others that can’t be found outside of their homeland, but they are to be savored and perhaps the memories are so strong that they draw you to book that ticket once again. And there are others dishes still that although not the same, we can try to recreate to have an Australian or Argentinian-themed dinner at home in New York.
Here’s some of what’s made its way into my cupboard since I first left home:
Tim Tams: Australia
Chocolate Teddy Bears: Australia
Mint Slices: Australia
BBQ Shapes: Australia
Uncle Toby’s Oatmeal: Australia
Branston Pickle: England
Licorice All Sorts: England
Quorn Chick’n Nuggets: Hong Kong/England
Ouma Rusks: South Africa
Brai Salt: South Africa
Nandos Hot Sauce: South Africa
Jungle Oatso Easy Oatmeal: South Africa
Simba Chips: South Africa
Mrs. Balls Chutney: South Africa
Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans: Costa Rica
Lizano Sauce: Costa Rica
Chickpea Flour: India
Whole Cumin Seeds: India
Masala Munch: India
Diana’s BBQ Sauce: Canada
What products do you bring home with you? What do you continue to crave after your travels?
Although they can’t possibly taste the same-these are just some of the flavours we’ve tried to recreate at home:
Colombian Arepas: Queen Victoria Night Market, Melbourne, Australia
Burgers with the lot: Australia/New Zealand
Kumara Chips: New Zealand
Watermelon Smoothies: Phuket, Thailand
Iced Lemon Tea: Hong Kong
Aloo Jeera (Potatoes with Cumin Seeds): India
Gallo Pinto: Costa Rica
Mahi Mahi: Bora Bora, French Polynesia
What recipes do you take home with you?
To read more about Stacey’s travels visit her website.
Day 63 of our year long ‘round the world honeymoon will be forever etched in our memory. In October 2009, my husband and I had just concluded a three-week G Adventures tour of southern Africa and had a few days to spend in Livingstone, Zambia. The falls called to us. Knowing only it’s mammoth size, endless supply of rainbows and something called Devil’s Pool; we went in search of adventure but what we found was both a literal and metaphorical ‘jump’. The water rushed past us with its continual flow symbolizing the twists, turns and sometimes, jagged edges of life. How on earth did we get here?
Devil’s Pool is a natural rock pool cresting on the edge of the Zambian side of Victoria Falls (also known as The Smoke that Thunders). During the dry season, the Zambian side of the falls is low enough for visitors to attempt the adrenaline rush of Devil’s Pool. “Climb up this way” our guide David said as he gestured to a large rock that placed us just above the small pool. At the far edge of the natural pool lay the actual edge of Victoria Falls. My heart jumped. The falls rumbled. How did we get here and now what was I supposed to do?
For so long, I’d lived a sheltered life in Long Island, NY. During university I took my first international trip and each year ventured further in my travels. I found that traveling allowed me to find my true self. My comfort zone was grew and my fears lessened, but this was a jump on a totally different level. Moving in together was a risk worth taking, getting married was a leap of faith, taking a year off from a career I’d been in for over ten years was scary but this was on a much greater scale! At the time, I’m not sure I truly knew what it meant, but it was the beginning of a complete shift in attitude, confidence and total life balance.
We watched a group of travelers in front of us and they lived. “Are we really doing this?” I asked my husband of nearly two months. “Absolutely-there’s no turning back now!” David (the guide) stood on the rocks on the left, the cliff’s edge was in front of us with another guide standing ready to catch our hands if necessary and we waited our turn. These guys literally walked on the world’s edge every day-I wonder what their mothers said about their job? I imagine their life was as balanced as could be. Water was everywhere. David said ‘jump’, and insanely, I listened. Landing safely in the pool my smile may have actually surpassed my ears! The rush was inexplicable. Mathew and I sat, as so many did before us, on the edge leaning back to see the falls rushing over the side and watched as a double rainbow appeared before our eyes. Incredible doesn’t do it justice!
After the jump, excitement replaced fear and our appetites returned. It wasn’t just the desire to devour the delicious eggs benedict and scones offered to jumpers after their plunge. Now, after successfully looking fear in the eye, jumping and more than just surviving-I wanted more. This wasn’t just an incredible day or travel story to retell; this was a life-changing experience whose effect was far greater than I ever could have imagined.
Three years after that jump, the feelings hadn’t lessened. We’d returned, gone through a hurricane that nearly decimated our community and the desire for more was still there. The entire jump from the giant rock into the pool at the top of Victoria Falls took all of ten seconds. The journey to reach the top of that rock took well over thirty years and was comprised of as many bumps, tumbles and magic as the waterfall herself. The interesting thing was that the magnitude of the jump was not in those ten seconds as I had first thought but instead it was the aftermath that held the greatest significance.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined spending time traveling the world or ever having the courage to take that leap at one of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls. That leap led to more as I finally began to believe that some form of net truly would appear. Perhaps those first few nets of my family, my husband and the pool at the top of the Victoria Falls led to finally believing that even I could be my own net. By four years after the jump, we’d taken more time off from work and gone traveling again facing new challenges and taking greater risks than I ever before would take. I finally felt that I could be my travel self, that true self at home or abroad. The ‘world’s greatest sheet of falling water’ (according to UNESCO) taught me about courage, fear, wonder, risk, encouragement, balance and joy.
I’m no longer afraid to jump. In fact, there are times that I look forward to those jumps and find them far more exciting than nerve-wracking; the complete opposite of life prior to Day 63. I’m not sure she knows what she gave me in those ten seconds but because of her, I know that the possibilities are endless and that the risk is without question, worth the reward.
Thank you, Victoria Falls.
To see more of Stacey’s travels check out her website at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com.
This week I returned from a month and a half overseas working as a tour guide, helping to lead two different groups on an epic Best-of-Europe grand tour. The experience was a new one for me; after years of exploring the continent’s cobbled backstreets and ancient cities as a solo travel writer, I found myself with the unique opportunity of being a guide for one of America’s most well-respected touring companies.
A couple of concerns dogged me as I flew over the Arctic Circle, the plane making its slow path from my home base of Seattle to the tour departure point of Amsterdam. Questions like, how would I be able to handle a large group as we steam across the continent day in and day out? And, how will the mechanics of moving groups from one site to the other in an efficient way work? But these concerns paled next to the most significant challenge: Helping the scores of American travelers connect to the history and culture of the places they came so far to experience.
Staring out my window at the endless expanse of the north Atlantic, I began to feel the weight of the responsibility settle into my gut. How do I curate this experience for our flock? I’d always done it for myself just fine; teaching others how to appreciate the richness of Europe was something I’d never needed to do beyond my writing. It was easy enough to crank out articles about the places I’d visited and about the treasures—the food, the history, the people, all the things that make up the culture—those places had to offer. Would I be able to help our travelers connect to them and appreciate them in the same way that I did?
The teaching I’d done before—giving free travel talks at public libraries to would-be travelers who were interested in learning how to create their own independent European adventure—was indispensable. The classes I’d taught had given me a sense of what tickled a traveler’s fancy and what common-sense issues they worried about. This gave me the advantage of being able to anticipate questions and concerns, sometime before the group members even knew they had them.
The true challenge was facilitating the tour member’s experience of the culture. It was in trying to cast new food experiences as a part of good travel, as “sightseeing for your palate”. It was in helping them fend off museum overload by urging them to see the art of the Louvre and the Accademia with their hearts rather than their mind. It was in not rushing through another “check the box” locale (don’t rush through St. Mark’s square, I counseled, just take your time and find your own way to relate to the space). And it was in fending off cathedral overload by teaching that architecture was art we walk through—art that took generations of devoted believers and craftsman to create—rather than just another drafty old building.
Finally I kept the old teacher’s maxim close to my heart: “The task of the teacher is to honor the integrity of fact while at the same time igniting the student’s imagination.”
Over the course of the following weeks I’d work on striking that balance, always trying to bring long-ago stories and long-dead people to Technicolor life. Success for the tour guide also means the tourists returning home knowing that the struggles, the tragedies and triumphs of those who inhabited the majestic castles and cobbled city streets so long ago set the stage for the world as we know it today.
The trick to achieving that was helping them forge an emotional connection to the events a given site had witnessed; that its history was not just a collection of faceless dates and facts, but human beings with hopes and dreams who lived in similarly dramatic times of war, economic uncertainty and dramatic social change. Those folks tried to make the best of it, and somehow got through it. We can too. But more than just the appreciation of history, it’s the appreciation of the culture that really informs a successful travel experience. My hope is that the tour members came away with a renewed perspective on how Europe’s endlessly varied tapestry of cultures, while wonderfully diverse, are similar to our own in the most fundamentally human ways.
If you ever find yourself in the trying but satisfying role as tour guide, I think you’ll find that those lessons are your tour members’ best souvenirs.
From the very first time I ever went on a trip, I never wanted to leave. Friends used to tell me they thought I feared reality and wanted to live in a permanent state of holiday. ‘What’s so wrong with that’, I’d reply. It has only gotten worse with age, I’m afraid. I used to think it was because I didn’t have to handle any chores at that time. Since then I’ve gotten sick while traveling, have had to pay bills while on the road and deal with other disheartening realities, but, even to this day, I never want it to end. How do I transfer those travel feelings to the everyday?
Free. Unencumbered. Happy. At Ease. These are just a few of the terms that travelers often use to describe how they feel when in their happy place. On the road we can be ourselves, be the person we always want to be and not feel as if we have to fit into any specific boxes or deal with any expectations. We can change direction with the wind, be spontaneous or try new things that we’d rarely do in our ‘normal’ setting. Go to the beach on a weekday, hike that mountain you were once afraid of or eat ice cream twice a day-all of these special things take place when we leave the nest. Things are only part of it, but more significant are the changes within that we discover. A different perspective arises, new hobbies take shape, varied taste buds develop and a whole new world opens up that perhaps we never knew-how do we harness those feelings and bring them back ‘to reality’?
There’s not always time or money to go on that much desired adventure. If we can find a way to bring the happiness found in travel to the daily routines of life-the everyday can sometimes feel like a holiday! Happy travels.
For more of Stacey’s writings visit her website at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com.
We’d been dating long distance for over three years. We got engaged in Australia in January of 2009 when I was still in New York and he in Melbourne. We’d traveled overseas together on every holiday break we could and loved it. We knew we wanted to share the same space for more than a few weeks together and thought long and hard about how to do it in perhaps a non-traditional way. We decided to take a ten-month honeymoon after we got married and travel around the world. A couple of years later, we did it again for a few months. We looked forward to the job hiatus, an apartment on hold, the joy of not knowing where we’d be or what we’d do on any given day, nothing pulling us in a specific direction and constant adventure ahead. The scariest part was that at some point, we had to tell people what we were doing. Of course, some responses were positive, ‘that’s awesome, take the opportunity and enjoy’ from those who were happy for us. But, let’s just say that the traditional path was not the one on which we traveled.
There were many interesting questions that came from the thoughts of others, but mostly we got…’you’re doing what?’
Here are some of the questions we got when we ditched the traditional path for a while.
Why would you do that?
What about health insurance?
What about your jobs?
What about your career?
What about your apartment?
What will you do for money?
Do you have a trust fund I don’t know about?
How can you do that?
Where will you live?
Did you get an apartment already?
Do you know where you’re staying?
You’re planning on traveling WHERE?
Don’t you know there are diseases and crazy dangers there?
Why would you want to go THERE?
What will you do with all of your STUFF?
Are you insane?
Are you ever coming back?
What about your family?
Can I come too?
You’re doing what?
How did people react when you shared your travel plans?
What’s the most memorable question you heard when you headed off on your journey?
To read more of Stacey’s travels check out her blog at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com