I was recently lucky enough to travel to Europe with Jane for 5 weeks. It was something we had planned for a few years and it turned out to be the trip of a lifetime. We crammed as much as we could into every day and tried to learn as much as we could about each place we visited. We spent most of our time in London, then driving around Ireland and Scotland, catching up with Jane’s relatives in Holland and finishing off in Switzerland. Some of the “non-sightseeing” things we learned on our travels included:
- London was one of the busiest cities I’ve been to and we travelled via buses, trains, walking and interacted with taxis, trucks, cyclists and motorbikes. Yet, with the hundreds of thousands of people moving about the city, in all sorts of travel vehicles, we never saw even one hint of road rage or impatience.
- Ireland is possibly the friendliest place I’ve ever been, where the people we met were always keen for a chat, a song, a Guinness (or two!) or to point us in the right direction. They were also very proud of where they came from, their village, their County and their heritage, with those from the Republic displaying their Irish or County flags, whilst those in Northern Ireland displaying the Union Jack or the Ulster flag. The locals never appeared to be in a hurry, or to worry about things they couldn’t control!
- Tractors in Ireland are like cows in India, they appear to be sacred and can dominate the roadways. But everyone is patient and no-one appears to get frustrated if the farmers hold up traffic.
- There are hidden gems everywhere, you just sometimes have to get out of your comfort zone or go off the beaten track This might involve introducing yourself to someone you’ve never met, or asking a question of a local in a foreign country, it might mean admitting you’re lost and you need some help or it might just mean getting off the beaten track and taking a non-standard path. In all of these cases we encountered, we were always heartened by the help we received or the fantastic experience we had.
- In Holland, especially Amsterdam, bikes have the right of way in traffic. All cars wait for bikes (and there are tens of thousands of bikes). It appears every family has bikes, not just one each, but multiple. Many families, including Jane’s cousins who we stayed with, regularly go on biking holidays in Holland or even to other countries. Cycling is a way of life, so drivers understand the need to share the road.
- Everywhere we went, in every big city, we felt completely safe. Sure, there was tight security at all airports, but we never felt anxious at any time (other than when we picked up our hire car in Edinburgh and our GPS voice instructions were in French!).
- There is so much good in so many people. We regularly looked lost or confused, especially whilst walking around looking at a street map and people would always note our confused expressions and go out of their way to not only point us in the right direction, but help us get there.
- Did I mention Guinness tastes wonderful?
In 5 weeks full of highlights, those that couldn’t be surpassed was meeting Jane’s uncles, aunties and cousins as well as visiting where Jane’s mum grew up.
Overall , our trip reinforced how much we have to be thankful for, the importance of family, the importance of thinking of and helping others (as we were on the receiving end so many times) and the importance of patience.
We can’t wait to plan for another trip in a few years’ time!