Monday, October 8, 2012


Language barriers were the biggest in France. Really surprising but true for us! In Greece, while their average word seems to be about thirteen letters, most of their signs had English subtitles (very helpful). Barcelona was the grimiest of the cities we visited - although we thoroughly enjoyed their beautiful new beaches.

One thing that really stuck me was the general manner out on the streets at night. Whether in Athens, Rome, Nice, or Barcelona, people enjoyed the warm nights for outdoor dining and strolling but no one misbehaved - not once did I see the routine drunkenness I see in our towns, particularly with young adults. In every city we visited, people were out - sitting on steps or by a fountain, just chatting, laughing, maybe having a wine or a gelato - but zero aggression and no intimidation.

On our way home now, and the comparisons are inevitable. Of course we don't have the evidence of an ancient history, nor the beautiful Mediterranean. But we have some real opportunities, too, and traveling reminds me about why I am a proud American and that I'm a citizen of the world. Besides the biggest advantage of travel (that it is, as Andrew McCarthy has pointed out, fatal to bigotry), it is so fun to discover our sameness, our common humanity: we equally hate long lines and delays, we love a bargain and our families, good food and drink help a celebration, and the human spirit is basically good.

European things we liked (in no particular order): safety in the streets (never once did we feel vulnerable to thugs the way we have in big US cities on occasion), beer sales at McDonald's (we confess to a late night run for fries - once!), strong coffee with a culture of "having a good chat" that accompanies it, their high-speed rail, a more laid-back approach to almost everything, flaky and fresh and cheap croissants and fresh fruit stands on most street corners, amazing olives and cheeses, a kind respect, by and large, for America.

European things we didn't like: pay toilets and their scarcity, high smoking tolerance almost everywhere, the dirt and grime that come with ancient civilizations, really old electrical wiring (I blew fuses on two occasions trying to use my universal hair dryer).

Signing off from Barcelona - next stop, Cedar Rapids!

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