I’ve been away for some time now, and as refreshing as it is to get away for a while, I’m very happy to be home again. By ‘home,’ I suppose I mean ‘back in my own country,’ since being any more specific than that gets complicated—I tend to move around a lot. But wherever home is (even if it changes with the season), there’s always no place like it…
Which I suppose is just a different way of saying that even if you’re not exactly sure where home is, you’ll always know when you’re there.
I’ve found that I had long been misinterpreting that old saying, “Home is where the heart is.” I always thought that it meant that no matter where you go, you always leave your heart at home. And of course that’s true, at least to some extent. But spending the past week and a half trekking around the British Isles has shown me that another interpretation is also possible: Home is not a place, but a state of mind. Wherever your heart is drawn to most, there your home is also.
I have the satisfaction of knowing what this means for me, and my recent travels have made it more clear than ever before. I hope the same is true for you.
In the spirit of educational travel, here are a few other things I learned along the way:
Don’t forget to wash behind your ears!
Frequently, even nice hotels in Ireland do not feature washcloths. If you’re heading over to the Emerald Isle, be smart like my uncle (who traveled with me) and bring your own!
The most important meal of the day…
With the possible exception of our rural American farmers, the UK has our great nation sorely beat when it comes to the notion of breakfast. I have seen (and consumed) breakfasts in the last ten days that would make some of the NFL’s finest players blanch. And a significant increase in my waistline will bear testimony to that!
Anti-Americanism, I hardly knew ye!
At least in my limited experience, reports of hatred for Americans abroad have been highly exaggerated. Comparatively speaking, I think the people of Northern Ireland are friendlier than the people of the Republic of Ireland to the south, and the people of Scotland are friendlier than both. However, my American-ness was quite clear throughout my trip, and all the locals I encountered were more than happy to chat, learn something about my country, and tell me something about theirs. Which leads me to…
Taking public transit? Make an international friend.
I’ve mentioned this one before, but it seems even more applicable when traveling on local trains or buses in a foreign country. On the train from Dublin to Belfast, for example, we met Maura, an older woman from central Ireland. She was over seventy years old and still full of fire. Upon hearing that we were traveling to Belfast, her immediate response was, “For what?” The conversation only got better from there. Locals know the best pubs with the best prices, and are always good for a story or two to add color to your trip. In the rare event that they don’t want to talk, they’ll make it clear. Otherwise, take the chance and converse! You’ll be very glad you did.
Practice what you preach.
On a sadder note, conflict and enmity do not have to be international, and religion may be perverted for foul purposes in places much closer than the Middle East. In Belfast, Northern Ireland, a huge wall separates the city for three and a half miles. It is the only such wall in the world that was not imposed by a government but was instead requested by the city residents themselves. In addition, 59 huge metal gates divide various neighborhoods in the city. Every night since the early 1970s, the British Army has closed each gate at six o’clock; they remain closed until six o’clock the next morning. Every night, the Catholics and Protestants of Belfast must rest easier knowing that Christ’s command to love one another only extends as far as people who believe exactly what they do—that is, as far as the nearest gate.
For the beauty of creation…
There are vistas that can take your breath away and make you love the world and everyone in it just because of what you see. For me, the skyline of Edinburgh was one such view. A small valley divides the old city from the new, and looking across to the medieval skyline of the still-thriving city is like watching a fairy tale come true. Climbing up the ancient cobblestone street to the castle at the top of the hill, you begin to understand the true meaning of the word majesty. And an hour to the south, in the foothills of the Scottish Borderlands, viewing the miles-wide panorama as you feel the wild wind forcing its way across everything in sight is a lesson in humility. We really are so small!
Never take communication for granted.
While one of the major draws of a vacation is the ability to walk away from your laptop, Blackberry, cell phone, or other communication device, this can also make it significantly difficult to communicate when you want to. Perhaps I should have settled down a bit and been alright with being out of contact for eleven days, but at least this time around, I just couldn’t do it. Unable to pick up the phone and call when I wanted to, I was frequently frustrated and felt disconnected. Maybe I need to learn to “unplug,” it’s true… but there are some communications I don’t ever want to go without. Which brings us back to another old cliché:
Absence makes the heart grow fonder!
I know it’s better to express myself in my own words, but there’s a reason that we tend to hold on to old phrases like that one: more frequently than not, they’re true! Of course, as you anticipate a vacation, all you can think about is getting away. But at some point after you’ve left, the excitement wears away, and you realize that you miss home. More than that, you miss the people who make home what it is, and you understand why a temporary change of scenery should be… just that.
Which is why round-trip tickets are such a capital idea!