My husband and I recently took a trip of a lifetime to celebrate the 20th anniversary of my company The Watershed Group and our 37th wedding anniversary. Starting in a small alpine village in the Austrian Alps,
then journeying to north of the Arctic circle to the Lofoten Islands off the coast of northern Norway.
We were in search of beauty and peace, tonic for our souls.
As so often happens in travel, we found much more than we were looking for. Beyond the majesty of the Alps and the wild, wind-swept beauty of Norway’s scattered islands, it was the people that we met who shine brightest in our memories of the trip; random strangers who reached out to connect with us, human to human.
There was the young customs agent from the island of Jersey who chatted with us while we waited an hour for our rental car in the Munich airport. We listened, enraptured, to his stories of life on a tiny island in the English Channel and his quest to achieve his triathlon dream in Nuremberg, Germany.
The Middle-Eastern waiter at the beautiful terrace restaurant overlooking the lake in Zell am See, Austria brought us unasked-for dessert – a sweet surprise. The lovely woman in the room next to ours peeked at us across her terrace balcony with a shy smile, her long, strikingly beautiful black hair wafting around her shoulders. Later, when I saw her come out into the hall, her burka covered every inch of her – but I knew the smile was still there, behind the curtain.
The co-owner and server at the restaurant Kraft Werks greeted us like long-lost friends, delighting us with a parade of unexpected culinary delights. A genuine five-star experience, from her warm welcoming smile to the pleasure she clearly took from sharing her beautiful creations, her joy and pride were palpable.
Delay, usually the bane of a traveler’s existence, turned out to be an opportunity in disguise when what should have been a 20-minute hop to Bodo turned into 90 minutes of circling the airport there waiting for the fog to lift. When it didn’t, we landed in tiny Evenes, Norway to refuel, only to return to Oslo 3 hours later at midnight. But that delay meant we saw something we’d not have otherwise seen; the midnight sun over the North Sea.
The next day we met the most delightful flight attendant ever, Sissel from Wideroe Airlines, who told us the small island of Anna Maria in Florida near us was her happy place.
And there was Eric, at the restaurant in Svolvaer that his family had run for nearly 100 years, who shared insights about Norway’s culture and the intoxicatingly beautiful islands, and the young couple who sat with us for pizza, told about their life in Oslo and described the hikes they’d taken together through the mountains.
At breakfast, we sat with an 82-year-old husband and wife, both German physicians. We discussed life and healthcare in our respective countries and agreed that Norwegian cod liver oil would keep us all going strong for many years
Vacations are more than a break from our everyday routines. They’re an opportunity to get back in touch with our best selves – our questing, open-hearted, open-minded selves that stress, busyness, and sameness can stifle. Being a stranger in a strange land pushes us out of our comfort zones, and into contact with people we’d never otherwise know. It’s good to be reminded of how much we share – our aspirations, our pride, our laughter - and how much more alike than different we are, no matter where we are. Go enjoy a vacation!