Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On travel: In search of making friends

We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls. ~ Anaïs Nin

Grand Place / The Grote Markt in the heart of central Brussels
 is the focal point of the city.

Last Thursday, I returned home from a 12-day European holiday in which I visited Belgium, France and the Netherlands. It was my sixth visit to Europe this decade ~ the first since 2007. I am happy to say that, overall, it was a positive experience for me and my wife. There was plenty of urban adventure as well as some open spaces to enjoy, too.

Our holiday afforded us a chance to relax, release and enjoy a change of routine ~ not to mention, it reacquainted ourselves with the Euro. (I like the 2 Euro coins very much.)

The Eiffel Tour in Paris
In each of the major cities we visited ~ Brussels, Paris and Amsterdam ~ we enjoyed getting outside in the fresh, spring air and walking each day. I am happy to say that each of these cities also had efficient and affordable local mass transit systems that we availed ourselves to often in our daily journeys from A to B. Plus, it was nice to be able to take advantage of long-distance rail service, such as Thalys, which enabled us to visit Paris for a day while staying in Brussels. Imagine, all there is to see and do in the City of Lights ~ the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre ~ on both the Left and Right Bank. We only had eight hours to do it, but it was worth every minute.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris
Additionally, our holiday gave us an opportunity to visit and absorb some very beautiful sacred spaces such as the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral in Brussels, and the Oude Kerk (Old Church) in Amsterdam.

Each one, in its own way, was inspiring to see and to absorb its history. After all, there's many centuries of history worth learning about in each of these holy cathedrals and churches.

In Amsterdam, the ordinary bicycle was the preferred method of
transportation used by locals to navigate the city's narrow streets.

In Amsterdam, I marveled at the abundance of bicycles. They were everywhere, numbering in the thousands ~ not 10-speeds or mountain bikes, mind you, like you would normally see in the U.S. ~ just ordinary two-wheelers, most equipped with simple hand brakes, a bell, lights, a comfortable seat and a dependable padlock. The bicycle was the most common form of transportation seen navigating the narrow, cobblestone streets lining the canals of the city's centrum, greater in number than automobiles. It was a very refreshing sight to see.

Lovely and colorful Dutch tulips
 adorned the Floriade 2012
site in Venlo, Netherlands.
Another refreshing sight to see was Floriade 2012, a world horticultural event that is held once every ten years in the Netherlands ~ and the impetus for our visiting Europe now. This year's festival, which began in April and continues into August, brought us to Venlo, in the southeastern Netherlands.

I am happy to report that were many acres of lovely and colorful Dutch tulips to admire even if the weather was less than ideal on the day of our recent visit.

A Belgian waffle treat near
 the Grand Place in Brussels
was enjoyable and affordable.
Finally, we embraced the opportunity to speak a little French and Dutch in our daily interactions in restaurants and bakeries, at newsstands and in grocery markets. It's amazing the amount of kindness and goodwill that can be generated by simply knowing how to say "hello", "goodbye", "please" and "thank you" in the local language of the country you are visiting ~ especially among the French in Paris. Indeed, making an effort to speak a foreign language means all the difference in the world ~ and, it makes one's journey more enjoyable, too.

Amsterdam at night / Looking across the street
at the Concert-Gebouw from the Museumplein.

In closing, here's a thought about travel that comes from the American poet Maya Angelou. It sums up my feelings about my recent travel experience:

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. 

All photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment