When you think back on past vacations and trips there is that one memory that usually comes to mind.
It might be seeing the Eiffel Tower or some other notable “must see” tourist site. For me, those memories come when I get off the tourist path and start meeting people. After traveling for years some of the best memories I have are meeting people and learning their stories.
I spent about a month in the Czech Republic and saw lots of things, to include all the tourist sites but when I remember that trip, the thought that first comes to mind is the owner of the Patton Museum in Pilzen. This man had been collecting items since he was a child and made it his mission to make sure everyone knew the history of his town and that no one would ever forget the sacrifices made to liberate his town.
On a trip to Thessaloniki Greece I took in all the historical sites and walked the town. Thessaloniki is a beautiful town rich in history and culture and a great place to visit. My best memory comes not from a tour of the White Tower or visiting the ruins of the fortress but instead the day trip to nowhere in which I met Elena and her son Kosta. A chance meeting on a side road led to meeting a truly nice lady who showed me Greek hospitality.
Had I just visited the main tourist sites on the island of Palawan in the Philippines I never would have had the opportunity to meet the inmates of the Iwahig Prison. I would have never had the chance to speak with the prisoners, learn their stories and get a glimpse of their world. And while it is something not normally on a trip itinerary it is one of the first things that comes to mind when I remember that trip.
I had the opportunity to visit Lake Ohrid in Macedonia. Once known as the Jerusalem of the Balkans because of the many churches, it is a beautiful place. Historic old churches, cobblestone paths, an old fort, beautiful lake and atmosphere, I would recommend it to anyone. I spent days exploring the town, visiting nearby historic sites and eating and drinking in small cafés. When friends asked me about the trip I told them about all the great places and why they should visit but first I told them about my hosts, Stojna and Trajce. The trip would not have been near as memorable without my meeting and spending time with this couple. I spent mornings and evenings with them having brandy and wine and sharing stories.
I have great memories of all my trips but the ones that stick out the most are the ones where I met and spent time talking with the people that live there. They wanted to learn about me and I wanted to learn about them.
After all, learning about the places we visit is one of the reasons we travel, isn’t it?