Most of my winter break was spent traveling Europe. I have a friend who lives and teaches in Spain. My friends and I decided to visit him and do a mini tour (four major cities) of Europe. Although we were only there for a short time, it was a life-changing experience.
As a student who studies public relations, I can’t help but to look at the world through the lens of a PR practitioner. At its core PR is all about people. Relationships, communication, interactions and differences in culture are all in some way incorporated into PR. I could probably write a book on the things I experienced during our Euro-trip, but for this blog I decided to reflect more specifically on the people that I encountered during my recent travels across the pond.
After a long day checking out the Louvre art museum, home of the Mona Lisa, we wandered into a nearby district for lunch. Many of the cafes and restaurants looked the same and had pricey menus. Finally, we found a quaint little place with a sign outside that said, “We speak English and Hablamos Español” and the prices were reasonable for the soup du jour and quiche. We walked in and we were greeted by one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met — Paulo. After talking us through the menu and describing to us what every meal consisted of, he came over to chat with us in his second language, English. Somehow the conversation shifted to his life story. From how he graduated from university, and by the age of 25 was running a restaurant. He worked there for about 10 years before quitting. His next adventure was to take his wife and two children, ages 2 and 3, and sail around the world in a 40-foot sailboat. He spent his time visiting the Caribbean and South America, where he eventually plans to relocate. He also wrote a book about his travels and practicing photography. He did this for two and a half years until his oldest was ready to begin school. He preached how important it was to immerse yourself in different cultures to gain life experiences and find what truly makes you happy. Now he owns his own restaurant with the walls covered in pictures from his wordly travels. From all his experience he has learned, “He would rather be a slave to himself than to ever work for another man again.” If you’re ever in Paris, be sure to stop in La petite Adresse.
Prague is a beautiful, medieval city. Unlike most major cities in Europe, it was virtually untouched by the destruction of World War 2. While the original architecture gives the city a unique charm, the people we met during our time here made our stay extra special. Our Air BnB host, Tomáš, was the best host we had on our trip. He had an extremely nice apartment that he trusted six American college students to live in for three days. He printed out a cheat sheet with the Wi-Fi password, numbers to taxi services and recommendations to bars and restaurants. He even showed us how to get on the roof of the building so we could enjoy a view of the city. He went above and beyond and left us a glowing review as guests even though we forgot to take out our trash when we left.
Then there was the street vendor who took a special liking to us after we bought some hats and sweaters from her stand. Such a liking, in fact, that she bought some hot wine for one of my friends and insisted that he get in touch with her daughter on Facebook. I’m not sure if it was an arranged marriage situation or she was just a great wingman, but either way it was cool.
I didn’t know much about Vienna going into the trip. Actually, I knew nothing about it. It turns out they speak German there. With the Romance languages, (French, Spanish, and Italian) you can generally decipher what words mean by cross checking it with similar diction in the other languages. German is completely different, so navigating the city, ordering food and basic survival was a struggle. Use the time we went at an authentic Viennese restaurant with no English menus as an example. We had a waitress who spoke very little English, but tried her hardest to describe to us what was in each dish that we ordered. When one of my friends had no idea what to get, the lovely waitress offered her recommendation without hesitation. It turned out to be Mac n’ Cheese, which is loved universally! She was such a sweetheart and deserved a massive tip. We felt terrible leaving her no tip, but that is customary in most places in a Europe. Service based workers earn a salary and tipping them extra for doing their job can actually be considered offensive.
P.S. We learned ‘Wien’ is German for Vienna. Furthermore, ‘Wiener schnitzel’ translates to ‘Vienna cutlet’. It is a signature course in Austrian, breaded and pan-fried beef, usually veal. I always thought it was some sort of hot dog?
This was my number 1 seed if we’re ranking cities from this trip. Located on the Mediterranean Sea, the fresh smell of the ocean permeates throughout the city. The people here have an attitude toward life that I will forever envy. They walk around at a slow pace, arm in arm with their friends and family, always seeming to be exactly where they’re supposed to be. The people of the region speak a different dialect (Catalan) than the rest of Spain. They take pride in being independently unique from the rest of Spain. While we spent a lot of time here at bars and discos filled with people from all over the world, it was always a treat to talk to a Barcelona native. Whether it was a cab driver, waiter, bar tender or street vendor, I never got negative vibes from a single person in Barcelona. Considering the fact that I got food poisoning here and still loved it is a testament to the great people there.
For anyone who is considering a gap year, or going on some sort of extended trip outside of the United States, I would strongly encourage you to do it. This journey has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. As you transition into a full time job, it will only get more and more difficult to find the time for such endeavors. If nothing else, you learn that no matter where we’re from, or how we are segmented and labeled, we’re all still humans.
I’m writing this on my flight from Barcelona to Paris, sitting next to a woman from Columbia who sounds just as sad as I am that our trip is ending and we have to go back to the real world. It’s crazy how you can travel thousands of miles, in foreign lands, and still find connections with people. In the words of the late poet Maya Angelou, “We’re more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”