While I was travelling in America, I decided to take a ferry trip from Seattle to Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, Canada located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest and has retained a large number of its historic buildings. Because my trip was only to be an overnight stay I did as much as I could that first day and made sure that I saw one of its most famous landmarks – the British Columbia Parliament Building. I was duly impressed with the beautiful architecture.
However, that evening I was introduced to a handsome, young local man. We had a drink together and started chatting when he told me that at night the outline of the building is lit up by 3,500 energy efficient light bulbs. He then insisted on taking me in his car to see the sight. What a magnificent spectacle it was! The young man was clearly very proud of his city and happy to show me the sights, but I am sure he had no idea the impact his kindness would have on me, as many years later I still have the vision of that lit building clearly imprinted on my mind and feel again the joy I felt when I actually saw it.
The lesson here is that you never know how much of an impact a seemingly small act of kindness on your part, can have on someone else.
While on my working holiday in America, I spent a couple of weeks travelling in a back-packers adventure bus known as 'The Green Tortoise'. My travelling companions were a mixed bag of people of all types and nationalities. One of the young men, Dave, although nice enough, was the sort of guy who just blends into a crowd. He had no special qualities to make him stand out. That was, until we went to a nightclub in Utah which was hosting a Karaoke evening. Towards the end of the evening, Dave quietly got up and made his way to the stage where he proceeded to give the most perfect rendition of Elvis Presley's 'Suspicious Minds' that I have ever heard. Everyone was in awe of his incredible talent and he immediately gained a celebrity status within the group. Now years later, Dave is one of the few characters from that trip that stands out for me.
The lesson here is that people are always more complex than they appear on the surface. Look deeper and discover their special qualities or talents. It certainly will make life more interesting and exciting
While visiting Jerez, in southern Spain, I decided to take a tour of its biggest winery, Bodega Tio Pepe, famous for its sherry production. While on the tour we were told all about the history of sherry production in the region, shown all the major cellars of the bodega and given tiny glasses of sherry to taste. I remember it being a most interesting tour at the time, but all the facts and statistics have long since been forgotten.
What I have not forgotten, however, is the delightful story we were told about a little mouse who would visit the cellars in the quiet of the evening. The mouse would scramble up to drink the last drops of sherry still in the taps just after the wine-maker had done his tasting. Of course getting up to the taps was a struggle for the little mouse, and the wine-maker took pity on it. There in the middle of the huge cellar was a tiny barrel with a tiny ladder leaning against it – for mouse to climb up. Each evening a small glass of sherry and a piece of cheese is placed on top. I am not sure that the story is true, but it was a moving story and the story-teller created just enough doubt in our minds that we could believe it if we wanted to.
The life lesson here is that facts and statistics are easily forgotten, but a simple heart-warming story can be remembered forever. As we go through life we must not just concentrate on the facts and routines of daily life, but rather try to do something special for others that will create never-to-be-forgotten stories.
While travelling in the South of Spain, I decided to do a take the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco where I joined a tour group for a day trip in Tangier. We had wonderful day, visiting various places of interest, riding camels and enjoying a leisurely lunch of delicious Moroccan food. The whole experience was marred though by a horrible experience I had with a young man who was selling souvenir teaspoons.
We were walking down one of the narrow streets when he came up to me insisting I buy one of his teaspoons. I did not want to buy a teaspoon and told him so, but he continued to walk beside me badgering me to buy. It was unpleasant and knowing that bargaining was the ‘modus operandi’ in that town I decided that the best thing to do was to offer him a really low price in the hope that he would just go away. Of course he declined my offer, but remained walking beside me trying to bargain. When I refused to offer him anything more, he accepted it, but as he handed over the teaspoon he swore at me. I was really upset by the insult, but it did teach me a valuable life lesson.
When you say “No”, mean “No”! Be assertive - give a single, clear message that you are not interested in buying and then do not engage in any further interaction. By engaging with the teaspoon seller I gave him the message that I wanted to bargain with him and so created the problem for myself.
The Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre (the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art) is situated in Jerez, Spain and is well known for its ‘dancing stallions’. This is an institution which showcases all the classic traditions of Spanish baroque horsemanship, coach-driving and the abilities of the Andalusian horse. I attended a morning performance and was totally blown away by the precision and execution of the movements. Being a rider myself, I knew just how well schooled the horses were and how difficult the acts were to perform - each was so superbly executed and set to such beautiful emotive music that I sat watching with tears rolling down my face. It was a morning I will never forget.
The life lesson here is that you have the power to change someone’s life, inspire them to greater heights and move them emotionally, if you do something really well. Put your heart and soul into your effort and you can create a moment which will remain a memory for life!
Arizona in the south-west region of the USA has a stark beauty punctuated with an assortment of cacti. While driving through, it was at the back of my mind that the area was home to a variety of scorpions and rattlesnakes among other creatures. We decided to stop and pop into one of the stores along the way, which was filled with lots of fun stuff and touristy curiosities. Some buff-coloured envelopes which were marked in capital letters – ‘DANGER: RATTLESNAKE EGGS’ caught my eye. I opened one to peek inside and got the fright of my life! It vibrated in my hands and made a whirring noise… just like the sound of a rattle snake! I nearly dropped it! What a laugh, it was a trick! An elastic band had been twisted around a metal disc. Hysterical!
The life lesson here is that expectations ‘set you up’. I was ‘primed’ for rattle snakes with all their potential danger, so when I heard a rattle it resulted in me having the fright of my life.
It’s important to set up the right expectations – first impressions count - so pay attention to your appearance, the way you treat others and the manner in which you behave. Are they congruent with the expectation you want people to have of you?
Built of white stones from the La Turbie region of France the Cathédrale de Monaco is one place really wanted to see while visiting Monaco. This Roman-Byzantine-style building, also known as St Nicholas Cathedral, which hosted the fairytale wedding of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III on 19 April 1956 also houses their remains in the Grimaldi vault – where husband and wife lie side by side. Admission is free, and when there aren’t any services taking place, hundreds of visitors wait patiently in line to pay tribute to their beloved Princess Grace - a lady who despite her royal status remained one of the people without any airs and graces.
The life lesson here is that a position of power doesn't have to change you as a person. Princess Grace, was so loved because despite fame and fortune, she remained as graceful as her name.
Situated on a hill with a view of the city of Granada in Spain, the Alhambra is a palace which has been built over centuries to reflect ‘the very beauty of Paradise itself’. Its many construction phases (beginning in the 9th Century as a citadel; developing in the 14th Century to become a Muslim palace and ultimately, in the 16th Century, housing Charles V) have retained the ‘paradise on earth’ theme as each new section has been added. These have included column arcades, fountains with running water and pools designed to reflect the architecture. The gardens are lush with flowers and foliage. It truly is a paradise. I was struck most, however, by the genius of the Arabic architecture, engineering and design which utilised no modern technology. Even though the sun was freely admitted, the air flowed in such a way that even on the hottest days, the rooms remained cool and airy and it was as if nature and architecture were blended as one. The feeling that I had at this place was so enriching that I really didn’t want to leave.
In the hustle and bustle of life in the city, one forgets to appreciate the beauty and tranquillity of nature and the fact that it is entirely possible to incorporate the natural environment into the design of our modern buildings. In this way we can enjoy the convenience of peaceful, airy rooms without the ambient noise of modern technology. The more we integrate our lives with nature, the more enriched we are.
While backpacking through America I spent some time in New York City. This is where I had a delightful encounter with a tramp which I shall never forget.
He came up to me begging for a quarter. By that time in my travels I was fed-up with being accosted by tramps asking for money. I reluctantly handed over a quarter, while at the same time engaging him in a discussion about why I needed the money more than he did. To my surprise he listened to my story, then handed my money back, saying he agreed with me, I needed the money more than he did. With smiles and cheers we went our separate ways. I was so amazed that he took the time to listen and respond in such an unexpected manner.
The life lesson here is that if you are genuine and share your truth, people will open their hearts in return.
Before attending a conference for the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa, I took the opportunity to visit the Kruger National Park with many of the international guests who had come to South Africa for the conference. Like so many foreign tourists, all they wanted to do was see big cats – leopard, lion and cheetah. I too, have rarely seen leopard in the wild, so was as eager as they were. As luck would have it, however, we saw everything except cats! Our disappointment was compounded by a conversation I had with a young German doctor, who was with me on a walk one morning. He had seen almost nothing but cats! Three leopards, as well as lion and cheetah. But then later, when I thought about it, I realised that while my group may not have seen what we were hoping to, we had still had a wonderful time, and had seen many other magnificent animals.
The lesson here is that it’s not about having what you want, but wanting what you have. If we are always looking for something else, we may easily fail to notice and appreciate what we already have. Celebrate the here and now!