Having had the opportunity to travel the globe extensively, I've also had many opportunities to meet people from around the globe. I've been to most of Eastern Europe, including Russia, Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Poland. In Central Europe I've visited Italy, Greece, Croatia, France, Austria, Lichtenstein and Switzerland. On several different occasians, I was able to go to Great Britain, except for Ireland, but just going to England it takes more than a few trips to see all of the different regions and experience the sub-cultures. In all of the afore-mentioned places, with the exception of Great Britain, I didn't speak the language and that can be a very frustrating experience, especially if you have no idea where you are or how you're going to get where you are going.
There are many stories I can and eventually will tell. But today I'm going to tell you about a single experience I had with my oldest daughter, Joy, back in 2003. She had graduated from high school in Colorado, where we were living at the time and had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. So, we began to look at options that would be both educational and enlightening for her to do. Money wasn't an object so she literally had the world at her feet. Back when I was in college, I wanted to go to a place called L'Abrie in Huemoz (pronounced way-mo), Switzerland. It was founded by Francis and Edith Schaeffer as a sort of refuge for any seeking to know Truth. Even though they were Christians, they passed no judgement on those who were not or those who were but were searching for the "meaning of life." She went for an entire semester, with no credits gained toward any school. But, knowing that she was a fragile bird lost in the storms of life, both her dad and I supported her going. Her dad took her over and at mid-term, I went for a week just so that we could visit.
We were well aware that she would have a mid-term break and told her she could choose where she wanted to go during that break. Initially she wanted to go to Rome and I was fine with that, although I had been and it wasn't my first choice. But then, this trip wasn't about me. As she got settled into the lifestyle of living in small quarters with about twenty other people on the same mission, she changed her mind and decided she wanted to go to Auschwitz and Birkenau to see the Nazi death camps. Her world had gone from a free-spirit wanting to just have fun and meander the streets of Rome, to desiring to see a place where some of the most heinous crimes ever committed against mankind and a particular race were embedded the hearts and minds of anyone who knows and cares for those who have sufffered for their beliefs.
I flew into Lucerne and rented a car, driving around the North side of Lake Lucerne to Hueumoz (pronounced way-mo), where I found her in a small chalet in a room she shared with a roomate that wasn't much bigger than her closet at home. It literally overlooked overlooked Evian, France, also part of the Alps. She was happy and that made me happy. We didn't stay long and began the drive that would take us across the Alps and the entirety of Switzerland. It took several days to get to Lichtenstein, but who cared? We were in the Swiss Alps and it was breathtakingly beautiful. We stayed at some amazing small hotels along the way and met the most amazing people. (The people of any place are what define that place, but if one realizes that all people have the same basic needs, it's not quite as hard to communicate even with a language barrier). By the time we arrived in Salzburg, I was ready to not be the driver anymore. We stayed at the Golden Hirsch (deer) in the town center. Before dark, we walked the streets and, as always, I found an inexpensive work of street art just as it started to rain.
We had dinner at the hotel and the next afternoon boarded the train to go across the Czech Republic and on into Poland. I had never traveled at night on a train and slept in a car with eight other people who I did not know. That wasn't as disconcerting as the fact that the Boarder Guards banged on the door at least a half a dozen times during the night to see our passports. Perestroika had occured almost ten years before and one would think Communisn was dead. I was in Russia just after Perestroika and I never experienced anything like that night. We got off the train in Prague to spend a day and such a contrast one side of the city compared to the other side of the city was to behold. The "tourist" side was beautiful with all the old architecture restored and nice hotels with good places to eat. They were beginning to understand capitalism. When we got on the bus to head back to our hotel, we looked at the map attempting to read and try to figure out what our stop was and how it would sound. We missed it altogether and made several trips around the City before figuring out what we needed to do. That was an experience seeing the "rehabbed" side and the still-ravaged-by Communism side. We made it back to the hotel so that we would be ready to get on the train and head to Krakow the next morning.
We traveled all day, it was late evening and we were running out of stops. Not a soul spoke English and we were on the last car of the train. We stoppe in some little town and it seemed everyone got off the train but we never heard them announce our stop. So, we walked around the platform trying to figure it out and about the time I realized that we should have gotten on the other train, it took off. I tend to not travel lightly and have to smile at myself for thinking I may need five or six pairs of shoes on this trip, or any trip for that matter. Joy was trying to get my bags off the train when the train started moving. Good grief! What to do now? I had found out this was the end of the line and this train was not going anywhere except to be cleaned. About the time I was going to panic, the cleaning ladies speaking very excitedly in Polish came back to where we were in the rear of the train. Somehow they made it very clear that regardless of anything, we had to get off of the train. I was pulling my big suitcase and Joy was carrying her backpack and another bag for me walking down the railroad tracks, which were quite overgrown with weeds. We were truly a site to see! When all of a sudden one of those rail cars that move other rail cars pulled up going back towards the platform, stopped and motioned for us to get on. He helped with the bags and the three of us were crammed in that little car heading toward the platform that was only a couple of hundred yards away.
There was one last train going to Krakow, which we got on and met an incredible young woman going to University in Krakow. I learned as much from her in regards to global politics as I've ever learned from anyone, just listening to her speak of what the younger generation dreamed of, i.e., capitalism and freedom, and how her parents and grandparents wanted to go back to making light bulbs just to have the security of what a Communist regime could bring. We made it to Krakow and our hotel and found, of all things, a pizza place in the middle of the square. We both laughed at ourselves and each other and were thankful that we had made it that far.
.....to be continued