Sunday, June 22, 2008

My Lord of the Flies Summer.

I had a mini-reunion of sorts last week with a couple my old college buddies. Scott and Mike. These were the two guys I backpacked through Europe with during that summer between college graduation and the start of my grown-up real world working life. Thinking back at all the great life experiences I've been fortunate enough to partake in, I still put that summer of tramping through Europe near the top of the list. My buddies and I were barely twenty-one, young and still plenty dumb, and although I had traveled a bit with my family, the furthest I'd been was a hockey exchange to Montreal.

It's been more than a few years since that 28 cities, 14 countries in 83 days adventure, but as Scott, Mike, and I sat in the Dirty Truth and reminisced over a couple of Belgian Ales, it felt like yesterday that we were wandering through Versailles or sleeping on chairs in that scary train station in Brindisi, Italy or relaxing carefree on a Greek island beach. That trip opened my eyes to the world. It let me learn that although the language and the currency and the skintones and the streets may be unfamiliar in foreign lands, people are just that, people. People with the same wants and needs and desires as us. To be happy. To have fun. To provide for their family. To laugh with friends. I realize this may not sound like a huge revelation, but for a sheltered kid from Mansfield, Massachusetts, it was life-altering.

Traveling through Europe was like being in a giant 3-d world history book. Nowadays, you can 'google' images of the Collosseum in Rome or virtually walk through Oxford University from your I-phone, but none of that can hold an Ipod to the feeling of awe you get in your gut as you gaze across the two thousand year old structure and imagine what life must have been like in the days of gladiators, imperial empires, and Roman emperors.

My old travel buddies and I reminisced about the cool people we met. Like Pete from Michigan, who was living in Italy for that summer and interning at an Italian hospital. His nurse friends cooked us an authentic Italian dinner. Our job was to find all the ingredients in the local markets. This turned out to be a significant challenge since none of us spoke a word of Italian. We could have been holding a list of elevator parts for all we knew. Nonetheless, that was a dinner to remember.

We reflected on the amazing sites we got to experience firsthand. Like the Neuschwanstein Castle...

We didn't know what we were doing. It was a time when terrorism was just starting to go mainstream, and people were being warned not to travel abroad. If you did travel, you were advised to be careful and just try to blend in. Here's my buddy Mike in Vienna, trying to blend in...

And Scott and I doing equally as good a job not looking too touristy...

Note the book we're reading is 'Let's Go - Europe', the bible for the budget/young traveler who's willing to tolerate the rigors of hostel life and ride third class trains from Austria to Luxembourg to Italy to France. That book was indespensable.

It was great to see my old travel buddies after so many years, and equally as cool to have an excuse to reminisce about an amazing life experience, one that expanded my world view, gave me an invaluable set of first-hand history lessons, taught me how to be a grown-up and truly take care of myself (let's face it, college is a good start, but living in a dorm and walking to a dining hall every day doesn't sharpen survival skills.), and gave me a first glimpse at how good we Americans really do have it.

So what does any of this have to do with life and ice cream? If you've been here before, you've probably figured out that sometimes I lean more toward the 'diaries' than the 'ice cream'. In any event, if you'd like a moral to this little rant, I'd say it's this - although plane ticket prices are soaring right along with the price of gas these days, I hope that won't deter you from plotting and partaking in your own dream travel adventure. As a small biz owner, I don't get to travel as much as I used to, but I can certainly attest to the postitive impact it's had on my life. Two of my summer crew are off to semesters abroad at the end of the summer, and I'm certain I will send them off with a bit of envy.

Even if you can't take your vacation in Paris this summer, I still hope you are able to chart a course to someplace new and interesting. I'm certain you won't regret it.

Or as I like to say, 'Since life is a journey, why not make it one.'

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