Sunday, June 22, 2008
Most of us enjoy travel. We carefully ponder our destination, consider our schedule and budget then book the trip. I took my daughter to Europe to celebrate her college graduation a couple weeks ago. This wasn’t the first time abroad for either of us but it was the first trip there alone together. What I have decided is that travel is a great revealer of true character.
Charles de Gaulle Airport in France, our first stop, is quite a distance from central Paris so rather than spending a small fortune on a taxi we took a train. Being from Arizona, we have no experience with mass transportation—and oddly enough all the signs and announcements were in French, a language neither of us speaks. As we pulled, pushed and carried our luggage along to board the train (nearly falling down on the escalator) some French men swept up behind us and took our luggage on board, disappearing to their seats after a friendly wave and smile. We were getting a bit frustrated and that kindness, in addition to another passenger who directed us to the correct stop, eased our minds and moods.
The hotel staff spoke clear English but was much less helpful than our fellow passengers on the train. They would barely give us directions, let alone any helpful tips. If you saw Meg Ryan in French Kiss you’ll get the picture.
We wandered on our own to the Bastille District and enjoyed the food and conversation of the owners of a little Mexican restaurant (you can take the girls out of the Southwest but you can’t take the Southwest out of the girls). The proprietor escorted us and a businessman from Mexico City to a Cuban club a few doors down where he instructed the manager to take good care of us. We listened to music and had interesting conversation about family, religion and challenges with illegal immigration. The warmth of these people made us feel less lost.
A few days later, on the Chunnel train to London, we repeated the laborious effort with our luggage on board where a woman shoved past my daughter, knocking her into the lap of a stranger and never looked back. The English people she landed on were huffy and ungracious adding to her embarrassment.
There were many kind people in London however, some more so than others. Most we encountered were very interested in visiting with us—asking our opinions, especially about our upcoming presidential election. They seemed to be much more aware of our current events than we are of theirs, although they are limited to what the BBC tells them.
On the flight home there was a family seated directly behind us that was loud, inconsiderate and pounded our seat-backs for eight of the 10 hour flight—telling us they couldn’t help it because they had no room to move. I guess they thought other passengers were assigned to more spacious seats!
Over-all the trip was spectacular. We ate and drank in wonderful places, hit all the tourist attractions from the Eiffel Tower to the London Eye, saw a fabulous production of Wicked, danced with some of cast of Lion King and met some very interesting people… and (almost) never even disagreed on anything. It created a mother-daughter memory that will last forever. And it was a study in peoples’ character.
Are you a “good” traveler? Do you get anxious and impatient? Do you prefer a clearly defined agenda or do you like to go with the flow of the day? Do you like to interact with strangers or would you rather rely on professional tour guides and concierges? Share your memorable travel stories—especially of Europe!