In no particular order, allow us to present lessons we learned while we traveled this summer. Humorous? Maybe (or maybe not, you be the judge). True? We think so.
1) The Toyota Yaris is one of the worst cars ever built. We rented one for a day in Georgia (that would be the state, not the country). The steering had less feel and was more vague than a careless comment that could be either a compliment or an insult. The blind spots were larger than a Ford Expedition. The centered gauge cluster is less sensible than a drunken, raving Mel Gibson. The acres of plastic swathing the interior epitomize the notion of “cheap,” along with every other aspect of the automobile. Also it has no power.
2) The author of the CNN article “The New London, Paris and Rome” is totally wrong about Ostend. Ostend is boring and the beach unappealing–not “oddly restorative.” Besides, we got locked in a Japanese garden while there.
Ostend. Bland, forgettable, and certainly not worth visiting. Sorry Belgium. We love some of your other cities.
3) Couchsurfing is infinitely more fun than staying in a hotel. And couchsurfers are, as it turns out, not all hippies–they’re a varied group of interesting folks. We stayed with a guy who works in the Belgian steel industry, two air traffic controllers, and more. We met fellow surfers who had careers as mind-blowing as molecular modeling researcher and astrophysicist. Not kidding. The astrophysicist, a guy named Lorraine from France, is also a beekeeper. He shared a story about how he was asked to deliver a beehive to the Prime Minister (all true, mind you). He said yes, of course. “But I told them that because it is summer, if I put the beehive in the car to deliver it, it could be a problem. Because of the heat, the bees could die.” The person he was speaking to said, “No problem.” “Yes,” he said, “It would be a problem. The bees could die.” The other person reassured him–“No, no problem. You will not have to stop.” He ended up having a police escort through the center of Paris so that he didn’t have to stop and wait in traffic, and he delivered the beehive and set it up at the Prime Minister’s place.
4) Traveling with a baby is not only possible, but for the most part, quite easy (and there’s a post about that in the making). As a side note, carrying a baby in a carrier starts to hurt one’s back after a couple days (but it is notably easier than pushing a stroller all over creation).
5) We now understand our friends who told us a year ago that they were looking forward to being back in the UAE. Then, we thought they were, well, nuts. Now, we are those people, too.
6) It can be rather hard to explain to those back in the US – or the people we met during our travels – what life here is really like. It seems that there is a backstory to every story. Also, for some reason, it’s easier to tell about the negative experiences.
7) Speaking of backstories, here’s one now: just kidding. Lesson learned when telling stories to family back home–trim the backstories to the bare minimum, or your loved ones will tune out before you get to the good stuff.
8) Strangely, following the most obvious road signs from one place to another doesn’t always yield the fastest route. Take our trip to Reims from Luxembourg, for example: this should have been a short two hours, judging by Google Maps, but it took us no less than six hours of meandering secondary roads.
The French countryside somewhere along a rural road between Rheims and Luxembourg.
We found some great mountain roads between Luxembourg and Germany. This was just over the German border.
Somewhere in France…
9) That brings us to this point: enjoy being on the verge of lost or completely off track. Make it a point to simply have a great time exploring. Make the best of sore feet (an excuse to stop at that little cafe!) or winding back roads (pull over and get a photo of the picturesque mountain pass). The single best day of our trip was when we were driving, completely by accident and thanks to the road signs, the French countryside. And enjoy the crummy places you end up, too (within reason, of course), like Ostend. Where else would we have ever gotten locked in a Japanese garden? It was a memorable experience at least.
10) It’s good to come home. We already knew this. But what we didn’t expect was to grow tired of traveling, since we both love it. Still, we did. After what started to seem too long on the road, we found ourselves especially grateful to have our own space and the chance to return to our routines.