Strangers helping strangers is something you often see – from taking photos for each other to giving directions, bonding with fellow travelers and kind locals is one of the very best parts of traveling.
One of my fondest memories of Belgium was arriving late from Paris. I had taken the train in. It was raining and pretty cold for a girl from South Florida. I was in line shivering and a man asked me if I was okay. I told him I was cold and kind of made fun of myself for being a wimp when it came to anything below 21ºC (That’s 70ºF for my stateside friends). He immediately took me up to the front of the line and exclaimed, “This is a guest in our country! We must make sure gets back safely and that she is comfortable!” It was actually quite regal. Everyone insisted I get in front of them and they put me in a taxi immediately. I still can’t believe that happened.
Then there was the man who insisted I dine for free in his restaurant located in Grand Place on Christmas Day, requesting I join his family at their table. I still kick myself for not taking a photograph with them. BUT I will always remember the incredible dessert:
Brochettes fruits exotiques flambées au rhum sur coulis
Last year, while on the bike back from Las Vegas to San Diego my husband and I ran into some Belgians from the Belgium HOG (Harley Owners Group) Chapter in Calico Ghost Town. They didn’t speak English very well and my French is terrible, but we got on famously and I helped them out a bit when making their purchases in a gift shop.
I will never forget these instances and it is probably why I can’t help but love the Belgians so much.
Hanging with some funny and wonderful Belgian HOGgers before my best was full of pins and patches!
Another instance comes to mind, and that is the time I was coming back from the Oprah Winfrey Show (Oprah used to be a client in another life). There was a myriad of equipment I used to have travel with back then as the technology was not as streamlined as it is today. All of the components added up to a combined weight of hundreds of pounds and though I was in shape, there were those days I struggled.
The line at the airport check-in was OUTRAGEOUS and the skycap line wasn’t looking anymore promising. I had what felt like a ton of equipment on a smart carte and it all almost toppled over. I was mentally exhausted. A woman walked over and helped me re-position it all onto my cart, then called a skycap over to help me bypass the line. It’s not usually something I would take advantage of, but I did tip him well and it was one of those days I really needed a break. Thanks to that woman, I retained what little sanity I had left that day. When I went to thank her, she said to me, “No, don’t. I’ve been there,” and then when I was finished with getting checked in, she was nowhere to be found so I could thank her again (even though she told me not to).
The Oprah days…they were not glamorous. Just a small glimpse into all the equipment.
A short time later, I got off an incredibly long flight that was about three hours late arriving. I was tired and I wanted nothing more than to get home to my own bed. It was then that I spotted an elderly couple who had been diverted to Tampa International Airport and overheard them talking to an indifferent gate agent about how they had no idea how to get to their car at St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport (PIE) without taking a pricey cab. Although I was tired, I could feel their stress. They had been traveling for days, literally, and the airlines kept bouncing them around due to canceled flights. I walked up to them and offered them a ride. I took them over the bridge and directly to their car in the parking lot at PIE. They thanked me profusely. And then I was the stranger helping some else.
To paraphrase William Butler Yeats, [In Travel] “there are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.”
If only we could treat all of our travels this way. One can hope.