When I visited Rome, in Italy, I expected to see a beautiful city – after all Italy is known for its beautiful architecture, art, clothes and people. What I did not expect was to be made to feel beautiful. But that’s what happened. Everywhere I went the Italian men would call out a compliment, or whistle, as they sped past on their motor scooters. Although I was under no illusions – they did the same to all the women – I loved it and felt like the most beautiful woman in the world!
I was staying in a backpackers lodge at the time and one evening an American girl came in angrily complaining about the Italian men and how they were “awful and always trying to come on to you!” I tried to explain that it was just the Italian way and absolutely no harm or offence was meant, but she was having none of it. While I had a wonderful time in Italy, she must have had a miserable time.
The lesson here is it worth learning how to accept a compliment graciously. Not only does it give you a real boost, it also inspires the giver to continue giving compliments – and the world would certainly be a better place if we were more complimentary to each other.
While travelling in Italy I visited the magnificent St Peter’s Basilica located in the Vatican City. Inside is a larger-than-life bronze statue of St. Peter — his right hand extended to confer a blessing, while his left hand clutches the keys of the Kingdom. The statue is mounted on a tall alabaster pedestal, so that the feet are at eye-level. In medieval times pilgrims would fervently kiss or at least rub the right foot, which was extended forward from the pedestal, at the same time offering a prayer to St. Peter to be merciful and open the heavenly gates for them, if they should die while on the pilgrimage. Over the years the bronze toes have been worn smooth.
While watching the people, I was fascinated to see that almost every one of them reached out to rub the foot. Although most of the tourists were neither Catholic nor pilgrims, they still ‘followed the crowd’.
The lesson I learnt is that following the crowd is a survival instinct. Across the generations, people have learned that survival depends on banding together and working as a group. There is safety in numbers. All humans have inherited this legacy and it is shown in the security we feel when we ‘follow the crowd’.
While travelling in America with a friend, we decided to visit Los Angeles. We took a Greyhound bus from San Diego and on arrival in Los Angeles the plan was to be picked up by mini-van and taken to the accommodation where we would be staying.
The mini-van was unavailable and we were advised by a local to walk to a bus stop a couple of blocks away and catch another bus. As we walked out of the Greyhound station an LAPD police car pulled up in front of us and two huge policemen jumped out and asked us where we were going - it was like something out of a Hollywood movie! The policemen were horrified that we were going to be walking around in a dangerous area and they told us that my friend, being a white male, would have made it only half a block before being murdered and that I would have made it one block before being raped and then murdered! They were totally serious. The policemen kindly drove us in their patrol car across town to a safer area to catch our bus. We finally arrived safely at our destination, but I was very shaken by the experience.
The lesson I learnt is that we are ultimately responsible for our own safety. It is up to us to make sure of this and not put all our trust in other people or we may find ourselves in trouble. We must know where we are and what we are about –We can never be complacent about our personal safety.
I once had the great pleasure of spending a day at Disneyland in Paris, outside of tourist season. It was a real pleasure not to have the place packed with crowds, but what really stood out for me was the relatively low number of children there compared to adults. The fact that the atmosphere was still electric with energy, fun and laughter was not lost on me – I was reminded of the fact that we humans retain our juvenile sense of enjoyment and pleasure right into adulthood.
The life lesson here is that human beings are playful creatures – no other species pursues so many activities simply for amusement or spends so much time enjoying themselves – and we need to be this way. As George Bernard Shaw said, “We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."
While travelling through New York State, a friend and I spent some time in New York City, where we went to see Miss Saigon showing on Broadway. It was a superb show but also very emotional, so after the performance we decided we would walk for a bit before catching a taxi to take us ‘home’. We walked quite a long way thinking that it would have the double benefit of not only allowing us time to get our emotions in check, but also save us on taxi fare. Finally, we hailed a taxi - only to discover that we had been walking in the wrong direction and had in fact increased our taxi journey substantially!
The lesson I learnt was a worthwhile one – To get ahead you need to move in the right direction!
While working in Keystone Ski Resort in the Rocky Mountains, I would on occasion visit Denver, Colorado for the day. I would always enjoy my time in the big city, shopping, seeing the sights and so on, but one of the novelties that really made me stop and look was the squirrels in the parks. I would watch them for long periods of time, enjoying the antics of these little creatures and of course appreciating the parks too. These little forays into nature in the big city gave me much pleasure.
I observed that the local people in Denver would rush by seeming not to even notice the squirrels. Although I was aware that they were not a novelty to them, it occurred to me how much we can miss when we take for granted the beautiful nature around us as we rush by.
The lesson here is to take notice of the world – observe it. No matter what you're doing, notice the moments that surround you – the beauty of nature, the outline of a bridge, or a view of the sunrise behind the city buildings. Look at the way the light reflects off the buildings, the tree line, and the birds that manage to nest in the branches and the animals that live in the parks. The simple act of tilting your chin can give you a whole new perspective on the place you live.
While travelling in Spain I visited the popular Balcon De Europa, which literally means ‘Balcony of Europe’. Located in the centre of Nerja's historic part of town, a tree lined promenade called the Paseo Balcon de Europa takes you to the balcon – a semi-circular viewpoint jutting out to the sea with breath-taking views of the Mediterranean Sea, Sierra Almijara mountain range and the local beaches.
While the views are indeed magnificent, it was not the views that caught my attention, but the people – meeting, greeting, walking, talking and sitting together! It is without doubt the town’s meeting place and nearby you can find all sorts of cafés, bars, restaurants, ice-cream shops and hotels. It is a favourite spot with both locals and visitors alike and becomes very crowded.
The lesson learned (or perhaps just reinforced on this occasion) is that human beings are innately social. We need to feel love and acceptance from social groups. We are drawn to each other and the psychobiological drive to belong is entrenched. Being left out or ostracised is extremely hurtful. Contrary to popular belief, solitary confinement and not the death penalty is the worst possible punishment.
I had an opportunity of visiting the ancient Roman city of Pompeii while working on a luxury private yacht in the Mediterranean.
Most people know that Pompeii was buried under a thick carpet of volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., but contrary to popular belief, not everyone in the city perished. At the time of the eruption the city had a population of some 20 000, but only 2000 people died. Most people left the city of Pompeii and escaped the burning heat, poisonous fumes and ash. Only those who chose to remain perished.
The irony of some graffiti text written in 1811 on the walls of the Basilica – “A small problem gets larger if you ignore it” – was not lost on me.
The lesson here is that when you are confronted with a challenge, it does not help to wait until it goes away. Rather face it and take decisive action.
Many of us are familiar with Michelangelo’s statue of David, an iconic symbol of Italy, and so of course, when the opportunity presented itself while visiting Florence, I made sure that I went to the Accademia Gallery where the famous statue is housed. The 5.17-metre (17.0 ft) statue, weighing more than 6-tons is magnificent and I spent a long time walking around and around the statue just admiring its beauty. The thing that struck me when I did this was that it was the first time I had actually seen the back view of David. Every image I had ever seen previously had been from the front. I was entranced with the way the sling fell down the length of David’s muscular back, the impressive gluteus maximus muscle and the hamstrings as well as the cleverly designed tree stump support. The statue came alive for me for the very first time when I was able to view it in its entirety.
How often do we only pay attention to part of a picture or story? The lesson I learnt is that it is vital to consider the whole issue to get the best perspective. Taking all the angles into account can bring a whole new dimension to your understanding.
When we think of tourist attractions huge icons like the Eiffel Tower, Great Wall of China or Table Mountain come to mind, but certainly not little doughnuts! And yet in the Vieux Carré (French Quarter) - the oldest neighborhood in the city of New Orleans - is the Café du Monde, famous for its beignets. The café du Monde is open 24 hours a day every day except for Christmas and during hurricanes and beignets have been made and served there continuously for over 200 years.
A Beignet (ben yay) is like a square doughnut without a hole. It is lighter and is sprinkled with powdered sugar. It is a custom to blow the powdered sugar of a beignet to anyone visiting the café' du Monde for the first time, and to make a wish.
While I was visiting New Orleans I visited the Café du Monde a number of times for the delicious beignets, but no matter what time of day there was always a long queue of people waiting patiently for this little delight. It is one of the greatest tourist attractions in the Vieux Carré.
The lesson here is never under-estimate the power of the little things in life. One beignet can fit into the palm of my hand and yet people queued for them like they queue to visit the greatest of our tourist attractions!