By Randy Moore
Visiting other places in the world is a transformative experience, not only because we see new vistas and meet interesting people. Stepping away from our daily routines also makes it easier to be reflective about our lives, relationships, and future choices.
I recently pondered this as my son Bryan and I returned from an amazing vacation to Europe. We visited Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic, and Holland for 18 days of exploration and fun. Our itinerary included Copenhagen, Berlin, Prague, Munich, Rothenberg ob der Tauber, Cologne, and Amsterdam. These experiences added to the treasury of memories we started building during three weeks spent in Switzerland and Italy on vacation in 2010.
So many reminiscences, and here are some highlights. Copenhagen is a gem that often gets overlooked by tourists. It’s beautiful and interesting. Christiania, a counterculture squatters’ colony in the heart of the city, was especially memorable. In 1971, when I was a junior in high school, 700 Danish citizens established squatter’s rights at an abandoned military barracks. The police tried to expel them, but the people fought back. The majority of Danish people supported the rights of the squatters and the government backed down. Today, Christiania features a mix of former hippies, idealists, non-materialists, and lots of happy children. You can also purchase marijuana openly, which helps explains why Christiania has become the third most popular attraction in Copenhagen.
Amsterdam is another city comfortable with visitors smoking pot at numerous coffee houses. We also visited the famous red light district to exchange smiles with hundreds of prostitutes selling sex. I asked a restaurant owner her opinion about the permissiveness toward recreation drugs and prostitution. She told me she supported the openness because it reduced crime and venereal diseases, while helping the economy.
Berlin was the largest city we visited, and the museums and monuments were impressive. Bryan and I got caught in a major downpour our second evening; the iconic Brandenburg Gate became an unforgettable umbrella on our dash to the metro. Prague was appealing visually, which we expected, but Rothenberg in central Germany was a pleasant surprise. It’s Germany’s best-preserved medieval walled town and a visual masterpiece. Although it’s popular with tourists (2.5 million visitors annually), Rothenberg retains its old world charm, especially at the end of the day when most of the tourists have departed. Bryan and I walked much of the wall surrounding the city at sunset, which was a delight for a history buff like me.
We only missed one train, and it happened on our way from Denmark into Germany. We were a second too late in boarding as the doors locked and the train began driving off the large ferry. Fortunately, the train stopped about 200 meters on shore which gave Bryan and me an opportunity to practice sprinting. I enjoyed a can of champagne and piece of chocolate to celebrate the continuation of our trip.
When we arrived in Cologne on the Rhine River, we were initially surprised to see so many same sex couples walking together holding hands. We learned later that Cologne was hosting Europe’s largest gay pride event. Most Europeans are ambivalent about gay lifestyles and many are also disinterested in conventional religion. That’s easy to understand given their history.
The best part of Europe is experiencing so much history and culture spanning thousands of years. I also enjoy seeing the contrast between classical and modern architecture and art.
We saw bikes, trams, and trains everywhere we traveled. More than 39 percent of workers in Copenhagen commute to work on two wheels. A gentleman in Amsterdam told us children begin riding bikes as early as three or four. The skill we witnessed watching thousands of bikers of all ages riding through busy traffic was impressive. Now imagine the value to your health if you spent several decades riding a bike almost daily. It was difficult for us to spot anyone that was seriously overweight during our entire vacation.
We also saw wind turbines everywhere and not just as demonstration projects. Our own nation was built on automobiles and petroleum, which explains why we continue to live the paradigm of dirty energy and oil dependency. Many of the European nations are more serious and innovative about alternative energy.
It’s disappointing to hear politicians decry Europe as a “failure” because of the financial difficulties being faced by some of the nations there. The people we encountered appeared content and less stressed compared to people in the United States, for example. Some critics here are afraid of the European example where governments feel compelled to support their larger population. The odd bashing of European sensibilities and assertions about “the evils of socialism” is mostly an effort to discourage our own transformation.
On a lighter note, here are a few travel tips:
- Buy your airfare three months in advance to save money.
- The online travel websites are convenient, but don’t trust their best rate.
- Use Google to source out your own hotels instead of third-party websites.
- Most of our trip included private rooms at popular hostels.
- Prioritize the attractions you want to visit and budget time to rest and explore with no agenda.
- Find out where the locals eat and drink instead of going to the more expensive restaurants and pubs in the tourist areas.
- And finally, be sure to visit the national museums to learn more about a region’s history and culture.
Bryan and I are already planning our next few trips, and I hope I have inspired you to consider doing the same. Bryan might play a disc golf tournament in Copenhagen next year, and that could be an opportunity to explore more of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. We are also interested in taking a trip from Vienna through Budapest, the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, and Greece, with a final leg in Istanbul.
My longer-term goal is to visit most of the countries and major cities in Europe over the next decade and perhaps retire to a castle or cabin in the old country. Our dreams are limited only by our field of vision, and the best way to expand that panorama is through experience. If we learn to grow through the journeys of life, there is no telling how far our roots may eventually spread.
Randy Moore owns Triple 3 Marketing. He’s a long term advocate for positive change, having owned community magazines since 1999. Randy sold Positive Change Media in April 2009 and took a year off before launching Triple 3 Marketing. In addition to helping business owners, he also provides private coaching. Randy has a masters degree in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin at Madison where he studied persuasion and attitude change. Contact Randy at email@example.com.