So, on good days, I get to have a chat online with my friend Goofball. She's a total delight, and I think we've learned a great deal from each other over the past several months. It's a deep hope that I get to meet her some day soon!
Yesterday we were discussing summer plans, and she said, "Well, you know, Belgium is the Festival Country."
No, I didn't know. What did she mean?
Well, she proceeded to reel off a huge list of festivals that take place almost nonstop, both in her home town of Leuven, and in various other cities through Belgium. I wish I could remember them all, but they have everything from traditional street fairs, to music festivals that put Bonnaroo to shame, to specific festivals that celebrate specific things.
Well, I'm sure Belgians know, and probably most citizens of Northern Europe, or maybe it's just me that didn't know.
This is the thing that I love about visiting new places - especially in person, but vicariously, as well, if "in person" is impractical.
Another experience I remember from years ago was taking part in a U.S./Soviet Peace Walk in 1988. 450 U.S. peace activists walked across stretches of the U.S. with 250 Soviet citizens from every walk of life. We walked anywhere from 7 - 15 miles/day, and stopped at festivals, towns, etc., to promote cross-cultural understanding. The itinerary had us walking from D.C. to Philly via Baltimore, bussing to Pittsburgh, walking through Pittsburgh, bussing to Rockford, IL, walking from Rockford to Des Moines, Iowa, where the founders of the Peace Walk movement lived, flying to L.A., and walking and bussing up the California coast to finally walk across the Golden Gate Bridge in SF as our finale.
We started from the Capitol Building, as I recall, or maybe from the Mall, and we had great festivals in D.C., Baltimore, and especially Philly. We got to lie on the beach in Santa Monica, go to Disneyland, have brunch in Monterey and be part of a fabulous music fest in Schenley Park in Pittsburgh.
So what was, hands down, the best part of the trip?
Iowa. Iowa. Iowa.
Iowa was experiencing the drought from Hell that summer. It was so bad that we passed horses that had dropped dead from heat as we walked past field after field.
Despite this, at every single place we stopped the locals welcomed us with open arms. We'd arrive to a one-stoplight town and the streets would be lined with cheering people, everyone had taken the day off from work, tables were groaning with home-baked goods and pitchers of lemonade, people hosted us in their homes every night.
Many of the Soviets were high ranking in their various fields. We had Communist Party officials, rock stars, opera singers, surgeons, cosmonauts, Olympic champions, etc.
This was a sophisticated crowd.
Despite this, we all loved Iowa best.
So, what cross-cultural, or similar type of experience, has surprised you in your travels or adventures? Where have you been totally taken aback? Where have your stereotypes been shattered?