Saturday, September 24, 2005


Without a doubt, 2005 has been a year of exploration and discovery for me... Many new experiences, new places, new people -- I can make it sound very romantic and adventurous... I've drank sparkling New Year's champagne in Tiffin, Ohio; sweet golden Bulmer's Cider in Dublin, Ireland; and rich red Barolo in Torino, Italy... I've eaten bowls of steaming goulash on the shores of Hungary's Lake Balaton; a rich and satisfying Continental breakfast in a forgotten corner of Strasbourg, France; and a sweet creamy piece of Pope John Paul II's favorite dessert in his native Krakow, Poland... I've ridden the train across the sweeping windmill-dotted pasturelands of Holland; driven a station wagon through the Swiss Alps; and watched the clear blue water of the Mediterranean part beneath the bow of a boat cruising off the coast of the Italian Riviera... I've lodged in the charming confines of Oliver St. John Gogarty's Hostel in the heart of Dublin's Temple Bar; stumbled across a last-minute late-night hotel in Cologne, Germany; and deepened my sense of rooting and belonging in Amsterdam, the Netherlands...

But if you want to know the truth, it's not really as glorious as all that.

I am extremely grateful that I've had the opportunity to soak up so many special experiences in so many unique places. It's always been a dream and a joy to travel and discover "new" territory -- especially throughout Europe. Thus in so many ways, 2005 has been a wonderful and fulfilling year of discovery. Yet the more I travel, the more I discover that the world -- in all its superficial variety -- is remarkable in its degree of commonality.

It can be amusing to note the different ways that different people in different parts of the world have figured out how to run electrical appliances, flush toilets, fill bellies, construct homes, and so on -- but honestly, these curiosities are just mild and insubstantial variances in means that are essentially accomplishing the same ends. The fact of the matter is that I've found the varied peoples and places of the world to be much more similar than they are different. Everywhere I've visited (which, granted, is not the widest collection of experiences) is more or less the same. Rivers and bridges... Weddings and babies... Mosquitos and motorcars... Crops and Coca-Cola... Recreation and resilience... Monuments and McDonalds... In all my travels, I've learned that very homestead, village, town, or city is home to someone; and each person is meekly (sometimes even apologetically) proud of their corner of the world... And this is how it should be.

2005 has been a great "year of exploration." And indeed, I've discovered appreciation not just for the exotic and unexpected -- but especially for the subtle nuances in the mundane and predictable... It may not the kind of thing that's going to get me hired as a travel writer for Fodor's or Frommer's, or get me my own travel show on the Discovery Channel or CNN... But when it comes to my own reality and sense of appreciation for everyday life, I'd prefer meaningful Discovery to the Discovery Channel any day.


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