I don’t remember when it first hit me. Maybe it was when the sun was on my face and I was hearing the splatter of fountain water in the gardens by the Louvre; maybe it hit me watching Sam pick through stones and shells on the beige beaches of Soulac; or maybe it was way earlier than that – sitting at a café by the canals eating poffertjes and drinking dark coffee, Dutch Coffee, feeling inspired and enthused from our visit to the Rijksmuseum. In any case, it hit me like – not like a brick wall, although it was sudden, but more like something pleasant and wonderful. It hit me like tickle, I suppose, when the hairs on your arms stand up and your stomach tingles and your palms prickle. It hit me like that and the notion was that my life is good. You get a feeling like that occasionally, and it is fleeting just like all feelings, but that’s what makes it good. And on a trip like this you keep track of those moments and when you get home you will always be able to remember everything about them. The smell and the sounds. The ambience. The feeling on your skin and inside of your skin. This is why travel is important.
I also remember the scary moments, and the stressful moments, and those moments will stay with me forever too, and they’re just as important because contrast is the most beautiful thing in the world. But for now let’s focus on the good.
At the beginning of last month, Sam and I flew to Europe. We were going to visit Holland and France with a day in Brussels, Belgium, and maybe swing by Switzerland depending on how long we intended on staying in any given place. We booked nothing, no trains or hostels, with the intent of traveling with as little restriction as possible. Only 2 things were certain; we would see my grandmother in France and meet up with my mother in Holland, and then again in France.
This was Sam’s first time out of the country and my first time out there alone, as an adult, no longer the Dutch child I once was but now more American and far hungrier to explore and to experience life as I’d remembered it and, undoubtedly, romanticized it. Because of this, I didn’t want to plan the trip around family – it was too tame, too familiar, and I wanted adventure – I wanted that backpacking experience that broadens horizons and shakes up your soul.
It was two weeks of figuring our train routes and tram lines and learning about French culture (Dutch culture wasn’t much different) and hunting for wifi and vegetarian food and, above all, beautiful places to take mediocre photos of. That’s the physical aspect of it. Emotionally it was two weeks of challenging ideals and fine-tuning our plans for the future and just talking, endlessly over coffee or tea or beer or wine (always with a drink, I’m saying), endlessly discussing options and laughing at each other, endlessly having time for each other, and occasionally bickering and making up and laughing at each other again. Because that’s the other thing about travel, is finally getting to be with each other 24/7, and you never get that chance at home so you have to indulge in it like a good wine.
And it’s nice to kiss someone you love and then look up and see the Eiffel Tower behind them, you know?
But after all of that, after the long days of walking and eating and catching last minute trains and all that European adventuring, every night we returned home to a piece of my family. And that’s unique, and bizarre, because I didn’t want that and I would’ve worked hard to avoid that originally, but it ended up becoming a part of the trip I cherished most.
Family reached out to me when they found out we would be in town and worked around their schedule to meet with us. To take care of us and to share a piece of their life, a shard of their culture with us. It was family I hadn’t seen in 10-15 years, yet felt oddly close, comfortingly familiar.
And out of the 2 weeks we were in Europe, we ended up only booking one hotel, a bed and breakfast in Bordeaux, while the rest was spent in the company of Kiefts. It broadened my horizon in different ways – reminding me that there is goodness in company, that going out of your way for someone else can be rewarding and that being alone isn’t always the best way to enjoy things. A difficult pill for a writer to swallow.
Anyway, the summary of experience is that life was good, is good still, but was really good there and then, and in more moments than I can count but moments that we will write about here.
We’ll share more detailed posts soon, and if you’ve been to Europe you might relate, or maybe tell us what we missed so we might catch it next time we go, and if you haven’t gone maybe this will convince you to go; everyone ought to.
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