I'm somewhere else. I mean, I'm somewhere foreign where things aren't at all familiar. This is one of my favorite places to be.
Anyone that has a sense of wanderlust knows exactly what I mean. To be somewhere else means I can't understand a word of the language. I can't read a word on signs, maps or directions.
I am a visitor in this place. I'm trying to learn about the history and the culture in the short time I'm here.
Today, I'm in Russia. Yesterday, I was in Finland. Tomorrow, I'll be in Poland. Our Good to Go group is cruising the Viking Homelands with ports of call in eight Baltic countries.
With the DNA home testing kits so popular, it's kind of fun to think about where we came from farther back than our great-grandparents and feel a connection with another part of the world.
I grew up with leftover cartoons from the wartime era, and what the Winter Olympics gave me as a visual of these countries existing on the top of the globe.
One of the first observations has to do with numbers, as in dates. The guides are trying to give us Readers Digest versions of their history so they can even start their commentary.
As Americans, our history lesson quota is just over 200 years. Their countries have been making contributions to the world history curriculum quite a bit longer than we have. We walked past a birdbath older than our White House. It was in a park.
Another observation is the guides can recall the sieges, sagas, the take-overs, turn-overs, the throne's hits and misses, and they report it without judgement. They've let it go. We still aren't talking about the civil war without taking a side.
With all the intrigue, marriages for power and back-stabbing (literally!) that took place, the wonderful countries of our great-great ancestors have a checkered past. I know about communism what my school books and television sitcoms taught me.
Our guide had lived it. “It wasn't all bad,” she said, “ we had free food, free living space, free healthcare. The only free thing we lacked was FREEDOM.” With the revolution came loss, money that could have bought a car yesterday could only buy a loaf of bread today. She carefully chose her words to say “We have an old saying here, the only free cheese is in the mousetrap.”
A third observation I made was the importance of tourism. In Helsinki, Finland we made a tour to see a unique art sculpture in a garden. We also visited a unique church built into the landscape using the natural rock formations as an interior.
The church even had in the design a way to deal with the water that would cascade the walls when it rained. We paid an admission price that helped the church, the city’s economy and the people. It’s called tourism. People will pay to see the unique, the special. Then they go home.
Remember, it’s tourism. Not only does it bring money to an area, but in Finland and Russia, the streets were clean. We didn't see trash and litter along the roads. The locals were proud of their area and welcomed visitors in to spend money, and enjoy, and go home.
Travel gives us fresh eyes. Sure,we make quick judgements based on the tiny slice of life that we are shown, but that is the education that comes with a passport if you will let yourself get far away enough to be somewhere else.
Patti Beth Anderson has more than 20 years of experience in the group travel industry taking people all over the world. Her motto is "I return with the same number of people I left with… not necessarily the same people, but the same number nevertheless. So no 'crankpots' allowed" She may be reached at 918-786-3318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.