It is really thanks to my teaching a professional development course that I have been able to take so many international trips. When I look back over the journeys aboard I have taken since I first taught over 20 years ago, I count that I have been to Europe 40 times—including five times in a single year when I started teaching a new course.
Even though it was 22 years ago this month, I can still picture in my mind’s eye looking out the window of the 747 as we descended into Amsterdam for my first time and thinking that in just a few moments, I would be stepping out onto the ground on another continent. I know that may not seem like much of a significant milestone but for me, it was most exciting. I was in my mid-thirties at the time with not a lot of air travel under my belt; little did I know that this would be the beginning of so many international trips for me.
Exchanging money for my first time, Dollars to Guilders, proved easy enough in Schiphol and fortunately the hotel where I was teaching was an easy walk from the train station.
I know for the first few days, I was almost in a daze as I walked around seeing things no one else in my family had ever seen. I tried to take in as much as I could—even snapping a prohibited photo inside the famous Concertgebouw orchestra hall during a lunchtime concert—to share with my family upon my return.
Since that first visit, I have returned to Amsterdam many times—a city founded in 1275—and had many wonderful opportunities to explore the many fascinating sites of their small country. There is a saying that in the US, we consider a 100 years a long time and in Europe, they can consider 100 miles a long way. Given our country was founded 500 years after Amsterdam; all of my European travels have exposed me to sights amazingly old.
The first full year of me teaching this new course, I traveled to Europe five times starting out with a trip in January to Amsterdam. For three of these European trips that year, I was fortunate that my wife was able to accompany me.
Together, we ventured outside Amsterdam for the first time and visited a site that I would return to multiple times, Madurodam (Holland in miniature).
In April, we travelled to Copenhagen, Denmark where we found it was a bit more difficult to use mass transit. I remember seeing signage in the train station in two different languages, neither of which was in English. In spite of the challenges, we had two memorable experiences, visiting the Louisiana museum overlooking Sweden and Tivoli Gardens in the center of Copenhagen.
In May, I was in Turku, Finland. Since it was such a long trip and time was limited, my wife did not accompany me, as there was only one day for sightseeing. But on that one day, I had my first experience touring a castle that was over 700 years old. I remember thinking it was more than three times as old as the United States, a milestone I considered significant when the US turned 200 years old in 1976.
In June, my wife and youngest son accompanied me to Lugano, Switzerland, which is close to the Italian border. It was absolutely beautiful! On this trip, we did have some extra time for sightseeing and took a train through the Swiss Alps to Lucerne, a city over 1200 years old. We also got to tour a chocolate factory that we literally found by following our noses from the train station.
For my fifth trip to Europe that year, I returned to Holland but this time went to Rotterdam. The highlight of this visit was finding a museum that had a special exhibit celebrating the 100th birthday of M.C. Escher, the most famous graphic artist known for his impossible drawings.
In January the following year, I found myself teaching in Lisbon Portugal, actually a side trip following another Amsterdam trip. For this visit, we actually had someone serve as our chauffeur and tour guide. Again, I was amazed at seeing structures so old, one a church from the 4th century.
In November of that year, we were teaching in Caesarea, Israel. Again, I only had one day for sightseeing but we made the most of it. We took a bus to Bethlehem to see the church of the Nativity, built on the sight of where Jesus was born.
Here also I was amazed at how old the structure was. There was one section of the mosaic flooring that dated to the original building from 384 AD.
We also got to tour old Jerusalem and as we walked the old street, I was overwhelmed when I realized that the roman numerals on the sides of some of the buildings marked the actual “stations of the cross” that Jesus walked on that first Good Friday over 2000 years ago, a journey that many Catholics make in their own church each year during Lent. The culmination of this walk was a chance to place our hand into the hole where stood the cross that Jesus was crucified on and to see the tomb where he was laid. It was an extremely moving and emotional experience, one I will never forget.
Not long after that trip, we were actually asked to come back to teach but we declined due to the increased violence in the country. We were glad we did as we found out shortly after the request that the bus we had caught to ride to Bethlehem had been bombed.
A few years later, we went to Dublin, Ireland for the first of five trips to that country. We found that it too, was not as easy to get around as it always was in Amsterdam and they drive on the wrong side of the road. But in spite of the more difficult mass transit, there are a number of wonderful museums in Ireland, many of them free. But one of the most impressive things to see was the Book of Kells at Trinity College. For those unfamiliar with this artifact, it is an illuminated manuscript of the four gospels written in Latin circa 800 AD. The colorful pages are beautiful and it is a marvel to stare at a book that was written over 1200 years ago.
And most recently, I was asked to teach in Istanbul, Turkey, ironically a destination my daughter and son-in-law had just visited a few months before. While the establishment of modern Turkey is fairly new (October 1923), Istanbul is multiple centuries old having been founded in 660 BC as Byzantium (later to become Constantinople in 330 AD). Fortunately for this trip, my wife traveled with me and we were pleased at the many sites we were able to visit in our too short trip.
And interspersed throughout these wonderful European excursions, were a total of 26 trips to Amsterdam, a city I now venture out without a map since I know it so well.
While all of these trips were “working vacations” for me, were it not for the work purpose of the trip, we would not have been able to visit so many European locations.
And there is still, literally a world of other international destinations we would love to travel to. Hopefully in the years ahead, my wife and I will be able to make many of those trips. But I feel most fortunate that I have gotten to travel to as many European destinations as I have in just a little over 20 years. And speaking of travelling, I need to get packing for my 27th visit to Amsterdam, this time being accompanied by my three siblings for our first ever SIBSAB-Amsterdam!