Sunday, April 26, 2015

Beautiful Europe

In the summer of 1988 I set off on a low budget backpack trip to see mainland Europe with three young postgraduate law students at the University of London. Lesley Ann was my BFF, Obi and David were classmates and great friends - at least they were at the beginning of the trip.
The overnight ferry ride from England to Amsterdam was spent on the dance floor rather than than the bunk beds in our tiny cabin. We stepped off the ferry to the charm of Amsterdam and after checking in to our cheap hotel took a boat ride on the canal, visited the infamous red light district and a discotheque where for the first time I was frisked and walked through a metal detector before being allowed to dance. Breakfast at McDonalds was a strange affair with some guys at the next table casually smoking 'pot,' which was legal in the Netherlands long before anyone dared even suggest such a thing. Cracks started appearing in our friendship with the boys as we disagreed on the quality of our tours. We left 'Sin city' on a train to Brussels where we took in sights of that city, ate Belgian chocolate and decided that we did not really like it. On the streets we met a character who asked Les and I if we wanted to act in a movie. He had our attention until we realized that his films ended up in Amsterdam's red light district at which point we fled. The next day we were in Paris and yes we took the boat ride on the Seine, visited the Latin quarter, drank good coffee at a roadside Cafe and joined the line in the Louvre to view Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. I was skeptical about the power of art until I stood before that painting. Her eyes touched me in much the same way that she has touched millions of people. My more artistic friend Lesley who was a student of art was in tears when she saw her. We climbed up the Eiffel Tower, had dinner in the restaurant at the top and marveled at the beautiful views of Paris. The following day in Madrid, we sat at tables on the street and drank wine served in carafes at a restaurant that had too many sausages and meats hanging at the counter.
It was in Spain, that the relationship with our fellow travelers, the guys, fell apart. We paid extra to dance and watch Flamenco dancers at an upmarket club. The trouble was that we were willing to splash a little more of our money and enjoy the finer culture while the guys were focussed on saving to visit more countries. When fun Spanish guys we met at the club dropped us off at the hotel where we were staying, Obi and David were no longer talking to us. They decided they were going on to Italy but Lesley and I were not done with Spain and we headed to Barcelona.
Barcelona was breathtakingly beautiful. We visited a bullfighting arena and a historic cathedral and then walked to the spot where Christopher Colombus set sail to discover the Americas. Then we proceeded to La Rambla, a touristy place with a carnival atmosphere crowded with punks and cross dressing men. We stopped to join a crowd of people looking at a man who was lying on a bed of nails and swallowing a sword. We stared in disbelief but when he was done we realized that someone had cut through my handbag and taken off with Lesley's passport and all our money. I had lost my debit card in Madrid when I failed to read the instructions at the ATM correctly. At the Police Station in Barcelona we had a light moment when we met a man holding a car radio that he had removed from his vehicle afraid it might be stolen only to find the next morning that the car itself was stolen. Lesley was a British citizen and we got help at the Embassy and started our return train journey to London. In the Netherlands we ended up on the same ferry with Obi and David and after the ordeal in Barcelona they were rather surprised at how happy we were to see them - after all we had parted in a fury. Our daytime ferry ride back to England was quiet and reflective, a real contrast to when we left.

At 50 I know that we may lose friends at an intersection in this amazing journey of life and sometimes it takes unfortunate incidents for us to realize how fortunate we are to have friends to walk with.

 — feeling wonderful.

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