Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Oh, The Places You'll Go

My wife and I just returned from a 10 day trip to Europe.  This was our second time to go on a river cruise with the same cruise company and, just as last time, all of our expectations were met, and then some.  We had sailed up the Rhine River two years ago and this time we sailed up the Danube River.  We flew to Budapest, Hungary and then were picked up by a bus from the cruise company and taken directly to the ship where our luggage was taken to our room and our 7 day adventure began.  The ships used by this cruise lines are small in comparison to ocean cruise liners, only holding 140 passengers or so at their maximum.  My wife and I booked the least expensive room on board so we were at river level, where you could open your curtain and look out at the river at eye level.  It was great!

Budapest was not someplace where we had ever thought about going before this trip but we were very glad to be there and to begin our tour in this historic city.  We were given a guided tour of the city by a very friendly woman who pointed out all the historic and beautiful places to see.  We also visited the city market where the local farmers and merchants conduct business daily, selling cheese and sweets and meats and all manner of craft items.  We walked the streets of the city looking into churches before being taken to the castle area on a high hill overlooking the city.  There were excellent views of the city below us and we browsed in shops along the way as we made our way back to our tour bus to be taken back to our ship.  Doris bought a handmade colorful cloth for our dining table in a small shop full of handmade items produced by local persons.

That began our Danube adventure that would take us from there to Bratislava, Slovakia, to Vienna and Linz and Salzburg, all in Austria, to Dernstein and Weisshafen, also in Austria, and finally to Passau, Vilshofen, and Regensburg in Germany.  We left the ship after that and rode by bus to Prague in the Czech Republic where we spent 3 additional days and toured the Palace and St. Vitus' Cathedral before walking the streets of the old city led by a very friendly and fluent guide. We met many friendly and helpful people along the way and made several interesting conclusions based upon our travels.

One, people around the world are basically the same.   They want the same things in life and want to provide the best livings they can for their families.  The crew of the ship we traveled on all come from countries that were once behind the Iron Curtain, under Communist control until 1989.  People from Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia and many other countries worked as hard as they could to meet the needs of all the passengers of the ship.  They worked with a smile and were as friendly as they could be.  They all worked together as if they were friends or part of one giant family.  When I asked the cruise director about their lives as part of this cruise line, she told us that they had a much better life working on the ship than they would have at home trying to find work, even if it meant long absences from their families.  They choose this way of life because it meant providing for their families in a way that would not be possible if they were simply to stay in their home countries.

Two, people want to be of help to others, even to strangers whom they do not know.  The best phrase one can learn to say in other languages is, "Do you speak English?"  When we would say this to others, many times they would say, "a little" and when I would ask them for directions or information we needed to know they would use their English skills to help us time after time.  Rarely did someone refuse to help us except when they actually could speak no English at all and then they would perhaps point or try to do something to be of help.

Three, people are basically honest and want to do the right thing for others.  I know how to conduct transactions using the Euro, the Pound, and the dollar but the currency of Hungary and the Czech Republic puzzled me.   I did learn the number of their units to the dollar and try to translate it into dollars when buying things but finally had to resort to holding my hand out with their coins in it and say, "Take what you need."  Never did someone take all the coins in my hand.  They always choose the correct coins and told me what they were taking.  They probably also laughed silently at the dumb American who could not even count money, something their children could do.  They never openly ridiculed me for my lack of knowledge but would laugh with me as I told them embarrassingly that I did not know how to do the transaction well.

We were warned by guides and our ship personnel to be aware of pickpockets in Prague but not once did my pocket get picked.  I guess I was lucky and stayed away from the areas where they may operate.  It is wise to be on guard but one should also enjoy being where they are and not be overly afraid or you will not enjoy your experience.

That brings me to the topic of travel and safety.  We left on this trip about 2 weeks after the bombings in Brussels.  We decided to go ahead and go rather than cancelling out the trip because we wanted to see the things we had looked forward to.  We traveled by plane to London and then on to Budapest, by ship on the Danube, by tour bus all over Europe, and by foot everywhere we went and never once did we feel afraid or at risk.  We used wisdom and caution as we explored on our own in many large cities but we always felt safe wherever we were, with or without a guide to be with us.

Travel is the great educator and when we travel we learn more about the world around us than we ever could watching television or even reading a book about a place.  We launch out and see what it in the world around us and know that we will be well cared for by others and by the God who is always with us and will never leave us.

Bon Voyage and Bon Appetit!  Travel and eat and enjoy and be safe in the knowledge of the love of God for you and all.  

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