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  • dianajyoti79


As we fly home on July 4 from our epic 18 days of travel through Central Europe—6 countries, 10 cities, 8 flats—I reflect on our travels.

First, I never once felt unsafe. A little lost sometimes - yes. But never anxious. Everyone we met was so helpful and kind. Even the Austrian “spa coach” who yelled at us—for not being naked enough in the wet saunas, and then again for being too naked in the dry saunas—was smiley about it. The only moment when my fiance Jordan panicked a bit was when a couple of sketchy Turkish-Hungarian mafia-looking brothers clearly overcharged us for a taxi ride in Budapest and Jordan refused to pay. Oh, and on the train from Amsterdam to Berlin, we sat next to a 6 year old who was traveling alone. It is legal and apparently safe there. And families place small children in buckets on the front/back of bikes to get around. Bike lanes abound.

Jordan and I have been together 18 days straight, with exception of an hour apart here and there. We are both strong personalities, but we discovered we travel really well together. We are both flexible, love people, love new experiences, know when to step up and when to take a back seat, and both share a sense of wonder, curiosity, humor, and playfulness. Being nurses (both) has probably helped toward cultivating that. We had a couple of small “spats” and exhaustion “tantrums” here and there, but nothing that we couldn’t resolve quickly through understanding and humility. It’s really difficult to stay mad at Jordan when I’m laughing because he’s rubbing tomato on my sunburn in a restaurant or singing Julie Andrews songs in falsetto to me. The days were packed with explorations and touring, and the evenings packed with night life on the town. This was our true test of compatibility. After all of the intense travel, we are coming back still engaged! I actually have more respect and love for him than ever. I felt safe and cherished.

We met, dined, drank, played music, danced, swam, cruised, toured, and commuted with people from all over the world. I learned so much from the locals. Jordan is an ambassador of fun, friendliness and fine music in any country, but seemed to be particularly loved by the Slovakians who were mystified by his Viking look and rhythmic charm. I seem to have affinity with travelers from the UK, granted likely due to my name and our common language. I am continually impressed by how Europeans know so many languages, and Americans generally know so few. I cringed every time someone apologized for their less-than-perfect English, especially since I know only one other language half-assed.

The landscapes and architecture in Europe are beautiful. The cities are clean. The mass transit infrastructure is incredible. And I never saw a single big box store! Not in cities, nor from the train in rural areas. The one thing that was annoying was having to pay a small fee to use most public bathrooms, especially when we really had to go and couldn’t find a coin. In Austria, every bathroom had a lady whose only job was to collect money and sanitize the toilet after every use, and you would not believe how delightful they were in disposition.

My very favorite experiences were: 1) the Aquadome natural hot springs and saunas complex in the Austrian Alps; 2) the 5-course medieval dinner in Prague with unlimited beer/wine and the most bad-ass half-naked bagpipe player and bellydancers ever; 3) biking through Amsterdam and the farmer’s market with friend Linda; 4) dancing crazy with locals to live music in a bar under “Michael’s gate” in Bratislava 5) Elbow live in concert at the Ziggy Dome in Amsterdam; and 6) making out with Jordan in a private corner on the banks of the Berlin river at night, right next to the yellow house where the Nazi finance minister used to live during communist occupation of the city. The house is now owned by 4 gay men btw. I imagined our love radiating out and healing all fascist, violent, traumatized, disassociated men the world over, and also healing the land where so much unnecessary blood has been shed.

My favorite cities I will take my girls back to someday are Amsterdam and Prague, but I most enjoyed the company and being hosted by friends in Berlin and their family. They were amazing insider tour guides and hosts. Their daughter makes money as a DJ at age 19 in addition to college. Their 15 year old son is a music producer with popular beats on the internet. Their family has been active in hosting 6 Ukrainian refugee families in their home. Rather than being embroiled with bullshit like gun laws and abortion rights, Europeans are actively engaged in civic duty, civil society and advanced politics concerning things like climate change and sustainability. We saw a protest campout for climate change in the main square of downtown Salzburg. I saw many, many windmills and solar panels all over the lands. Europe is so far ahead of us in sustainable energy sourcing. And the water was pure enough to drink from the tap everywhere.

One of the saddest thing I encountered was my conversation with a Filipino massage woman who masterfully rubbed my feet in Prague. It came out through our time together that she was on a two year contract to do Thai massage in Prague for tourists. She worked 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week to make money to send back to her three children in the Phillipines who were cared for by her mother (the husband had abandoned). She had not seen her children (ages 8 to 13) in a year, and wouldn’t see them again for another year. The look of sadness in her eyes as she tried to hold back tears was poignant. I have been struggling with not seeing my children in 18 days, and can’t imagine her pain in having so few choices. My privilege is so clear! I gave her a tip of 50 Euros for whatever little it’s worth.

Also extremely sad were the museums and monuments devoted to Jewish history. In Bratislava, the Nazi’s disposed of 30,000 people of Jewish faith to concentration camps. Only 3000 of those people returned after the war, traumatized, starved, and most often to nothing. Their land and property had been taken. Everything had been taken. In Berlin we stood in a mock gas chamber, and it was chilling.

I can’t wait to get home and hug my girls!!! But I’m also sad to come home to a country where their sovereignty over their own reproductive organs is no longer guaranteed, and where family values play face to deep religious, right wing zealotry and power-hungry political/financial interests. In Europe over 95% of women of reproductive age have access to abortion on request (most often free up to 20-22 weeks or so), with the only exceptions being Poland and Malta. Every European I talked with was horrified by the overturn of RvW. Others were shocked to hear that Americans don’t have universal access to health care. They just assumed we had it since we are supposedly the “most wealthy country in the world”. As a whole, America can do so much better. Freedom does not mean extreme individualism, unfettered capitalism or entitled righteousness. It means the power to look out for your highest good AND the highest good of your neighbors, and to be held accountable to your own Higher Self and society when not doing so.

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