When I travel to a new destination, one of the first things I like to do is get an overall lay of the land. A “sense of place,” if you will, to learn what makes it unique. I get out a map, walk the streets, explore different neighborhoods. And above all, I try to get to know the people who live there.
Sure, I love seeing the well-known sights that put a destination on the map. In Paris, I checked the Eiffel Tower and Louvre off my bucket list. In London, it was Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. In Ireland, hoisting a pint (or three) in a Dublin pub. Grand Canyon. “Hollywood” sign. St. Louis Arch. Statue of Liberty. Check, check, check and check. But some of my fondest travel memories come from the people I meet, not the places I see. I’ll never forget our gracious host at a B&B on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, serving us a breakfast of “beautiful haddock” and pouring more Drambuie over our oatmeal with nearly every bite.
Years ago, I spent a week traveling through Germany, exploring castles, medieval towns and the breathtaking Bavarian countryside. But the highlight of the trip was our final night in the country, when we popped in the hotel restaurant to grab a quick bite before an early flight out the next morning. The elderly owner came over to say hello and, upon learning we were from the States, sat down and shared incredible insights and stories on the place she called home. She brought out her best bottles of wine and we talked into the wee hours.
And just last month, while visiting family in Austria, we were invited to a traditional Hofkirchtag where there wasn’t another tourist in sight. At this traditional Sunday celebration, friends and family gather at a local farm to enjoy a bounty of food, drink, music and games. They welcomed us with open arms and, in a scene right out of a storybook, we sat alongside the locals – many wearing lederhosen and traditional dresses – as we dug into plates of hearty food, hoisted our mugs of local sour apple wine and enjoyed a German band playing in the large, open-air barn. And while adults kept the party going inside – more music, more beer, more most! – our three boys gathered with Austrian children in a garden outside to play well into the evening. Our little guys dressed in Old Navy, theirs wearing hunter’s hats, it didn’t matter that they spoke different languages.
Personal connections are universal. We saw many amazing sights on that trip. But none we’ll treasure more than that Sunday afternoon on the farm.