To recap my last two weeks: I got a roaring case of shingles the week before our trip in the worst possible place I could get it: the back of my upper thigh, aka my butt, and spent ten hours sitting on airplanes both going to Europe and coming home. And if you know anything about shingles, it takes about a month to get over so it was my constant companion in Europe where they have probably the tiniest and most uncomfortable chairs on the planet. I lost my iphone the second day of the trip and shattered my ipad glass on the fourth day. Well, I didn't actually lose it. I left it on the ticket counter at the Ecole Militaire station of the Paris Metro. I'm sure it didn't last 30 seconds until it belonged to someone else.
In spite of these obstacles this was probably the best trip we ever took. I ate bread, pastries and gelato anytime the opportunity presented itself, walked my legs off until my ankles swelled yet came home weighing a pound less than when I started. I may have discovered a new health regime.
Last week’s blog was a great segue into one of my favorite themes: Birds of a Feather Flock Together. Our tour started out as 28 strangers who had only one thing in common—a love for travel-- and ended up with the group calling ourselves the Love Tour.
Beaven and I enjoy travel but especially we love the Rick Steves travel philosophy. You may have seen him on public television. He has a travel show with the underlying theory that the best travel is when you stay close to the ground and become “temporary locals.” His tours are called Europe Through the Back Door because he doesn’t call for a lot of money spent on amenities, rather using local transportation, mom and pop hotels and small restaurants. He insists on a no nonsense atmosphere.
The big rule on a Rick Steves tour is that you can’t be grumpy. The tour is quite plain about this up front: no grumps allowed. You have to be physically fit and smart enough to find your way around by yourself. You have to be willing and able to do things like carry your own bags up four flights of stairs, be able to keep up with a fast pace and find your way if you get lost. You gotta show up on time, pay attention and keep up with the group. This gets harder as I age but I also think it’s a great way to keep the brain synapses snapping.
In return, you get far more out of the trip than you ever dreamed, not only in terms of learning about Europe but in becoming a confident traveler, able to do it on your own. Beaven and I have now advanced to the level of those who can buy their airline tickets (as we did) from an outfit called “Cheap O Air” and drive to the airport with confidence, bags packed assuming you can handle any obstacle in our path.
I like being around other people who are like that and for two weeks these folks were my companions. We faced the four flights of stairs and reminded ourselves that we knew what we were getting into when we signed on. We were curious without being stupid, on time, alert, and engaged in getting as much out of the 14-day trip as we could. The things I learned are way too numerous to list and far more than I suspect I even realize. And I came home with about 24 new friends.
The bonus I never anticipated was becoming part of what we ended up calling “The Love Tour.”
A week or so before we left I found a post on one of the blogs I check every day. It’s called 366 Days of Random Acts of Kindness and I’ve had a link to Ryan Garcia’s blog at the side of my own blog since January. You may have noticed it, stopped by to read his stuff and fallen in love with his idea as I have.
A couple of weeks before we left on our trip Ryan posted a note to his facebook page that he was looking for people in different parts of the world who would be willing to be part of a Random Act of Kindness. When I noticed he had specifically included Europe it occurred to me that I would be there.
I think this is how it happened. Truthfully, I don’t know how I got interested enough to answer his request with my own note. But he replied with instructions: His plan for a random act of kindness was to get the whole world to sing a song together.
“The plan is to have each of you record yourself (either alone or in a group) singing The Beatles song "All You Need Is Love" near a landmark or area that you feel represents where you are from.”He wanted us to video this and send it to him no later than Sept 30th. Sounded like a cool project so I signed us up. I got the tune off iTunes and copied the lyrics.
The first thing I noticed is that I really didn’t remember any of the lyrics except the “All you need is love part.” Whatever. The Beatles did a lot of “yeah, yeah, yeah” anyway. I packed it all up and headed to the airport.
A couple of days into our tour I talked to Stephanie, our tour guide, and suggested this video as a fun project. We had to work around a few restrictions. Our schedule was packed and we wouldn’t be able to select the time of day or place. So we had to jump in whenever we could whether the plaza was noisy and crowded or not. A couple of times we had to bail on the idea when the crowds were too big.
Our first attempt in Munich was pitiful. We didn’t know the words. We didn’t even recognize that there were two parts of the song. We needed a Musical Director.
I hold to the theory that a leader will emerge in most cases. Music certainly isn’t one of my skills. Besides I knew how I wanted to frame the shot and needed to be behind the camera. By this time I had already considered coming out of retirement to persue a career as a movie director. Fortunately, Jenny emerged as our musical director right on time when she had the strongest opinion on how it could be done. She whipped the group into shape in no time and we were off and running.
But the most interesting thing happened in Munich. And it happened in Florence. And again in Rome. We would gather, turn on the music and start singing. And people applauded after we finished. While we had only thought of how much fun it was going to be to be part of a video on the internet, we had forgotten our main goal: to perform an act of kindness. And the applause told us we had made someone’s day a bit brighter.
The Beatles are like that.
Beaven and I went to Mexico for our honeymoon. We took a side trip one day and shared the trip with two other couples on their own honeymoons. One couple was from Colombia and the other from Italy. None of us spoke the others’ languages. So we ended up in a big taxi on a day trip unable to talk to each other. So we spent the entire day singing Beatles songs. They are a universal language all their own.
I don’t have the videos we took on Elizabeth’s camera yet. And I’m not sure when Ryan will have his video finished. But I can show you our dinner one evening after the song had become our Love Tor Anthem.
We may not have been the most accomplished singing group ever but we sure had fun. All you need is love.
More Europe stories in the coming weeks.