As much as I love sharing the best and more glamorous side of my travels, with breathtaking scenery and enticing food photos, I would also like to share the darker but very real side, as well.
Travel for me has always been about discovery of culture and seeing the world through the eyes of other’s – the good and the bad. You meet people, exchange ideas and grow a little. I often find myself tuning into the news of every where I go. For me, it is a critical part of the experience as well as expanding global awareness, and I find it fascinating to compare it with local news at home. In the United States, it is often very easy to stay right inside our comfortable little American bubble. It is largely in part of our somewhat isolated location, the sheer vastness of our country’s size, and being a very central part of global power and economy….why care about another country’s problems? Due to recent events, I’d like to share my travel experience because I believe it is not more important than ever to escape that bubble, and increase understanding, perspective and awareness in a very interconnected and globalised world.
When I stepped off the plane at Charles de Gaulle airport, thrilled to be visiting one of my favorite cities for a third time, I was greeted with an unfamiliar sight: large, heavy black combat boots of young men toting assault rifles, hand resting ready on the trigger. It soon became an common sight in the days I strolled through Paris streets. Some accompanied by large dogs, some in large groups, many at bag check points at almost every location. Sometimes even two bag checks. Although most were very friendly and cooperative, it can be a bit unsettling – a reminder of very possible danger looming just around the corner.
On Bastille day, or more correctly la Fête Nationale, security (by no surprise) was amplified two even three fold with long lines and double the bag checks at every entry point. We waited in line with hundreds of confused locals, waiting for the opening of the Champ de Mars. This year unlike previous years, the park was not open all day for picnicking, day drinking and revelry. The mood by the gates was tense, but as soon as they opened, much of the anxiousness melted away with liveliness and celebration. We spent the evening luckily very safe in Paris, but not to be unsettled by news of the Nice attacks.
Another jarring scene is the evidence of the refugee crisis, largely hidden from our eyes back home. There are many scenes of stranded families on the street, often very quietly asking for money or food. Although I listen to the news daily and have been informed for a while about the perpetuating crisis, to be confronted with it gave it face and humanity . Especially with the increasing number of attacks in Aleppo, as well as the increasing violence, it is more important than ever to not turn a blind eye to both Syria and the difficulty Europe faces to resettle a fleeing country.
Travel in Europe seems chaotic and scary in recent events. I, like many other travelers, have found myself questing the safety of travel. While some may simply choose to not travel, the people living there still get up every morning, face the world and carry on with their daily lives. The overall attitude I’ve seen with locals has been very open and friendly. There are many signs with “Refugees Welcome”, and scenes of others helping struggling Syrian families. Many are thankful for tourists in this current time, and express it with smiles and warm welcomes. This is why I continue to travel. We must not become oblivious to the world around us, and we cannot let fear from doing what we love. With today’s increasingly disturbing rhetoric, I believe travel is a very powerful mechanism against fighting fear and ignorance, and increasing empathy and humanity. So I encourage everyone to get out there. Talk to strangers. Exchange ideas. Increase awareness. Express solidarity for others. And see the world as others see it.