Travel has immense power to stir our emotions—whether we laugh, cry, or do both at the same time. Sometimes, our most memorable experiences come from a place of discomfort … because that’s where we learn the most about ourselves.
Words From the Heart
My wife and I recently completed our fifth trip with O.A.T. and wanted to share this experience.
On May 15 we had chosen not to join the optional tour and were touring alone on the Via Dolorosa in Old Jerusalem. We missed one of the turns and I pulled out a map to get oriented. Almost immediately a Muslim woman (obvious by her dress) approached and offered help in perfect English. I told her our desired route and she said to follow her.
After getting back on track I said, “Thank you and Shalom.” For me, it’s tough quickly juggling the languages on a most important Christian street, in the Muslim Quarter of a Jewish city—and a vendor standing nearby let me know my error: “We are Muslims. We say ‘Salaam.’” (My wife and I differ on the tone of his voice.) I quickly looked at the woman and said, “I’m sorry, I should have said ‘Salaam.’”
Without hesitation she said, “When it comes from the heart, the pronunciation doesn’t matter.” She smiled and went on her way, and we will always remember her kindness.
Thanks to: John M. & Vannette P., 5-time travelers and 2-time Vacation Ambassadors from Spicewood, TX • Israel: The Holy Land & Timeless Cultures
A Joyful Celebration
On my O.A.T. trip to Israel a few years ago, I was very surprised that I ended up at the Western Wall on Friday night. As a Christian, I had not expected to feel that emotional, but the sight of the young girls circle dancing, the old women praying at the wall, and hearing the young boys on the men’s side also singing and dancing was a quite an experience. Despite all of the dangers Israel has endured, the people were celebrating their religion joyfully. We were handed a book in English with the evenings passages marked.
Thanks to: Ann T., 14-time traveler and 1-time Vacation Ambassador from Shepherdstown, WV • Israel: The Holy Land & Timeless Cultures
A Piece of Her History
In many years of traveling, mostly solo but in recent years with my more adventurous grandchildren, there is one place in this world that brings me to my knees with each visit: the Battlefield of Culloden. I recently visited for the fourth time and, as in the past, the sense of sadness and loss was overwhelming. The Outlander books aside, I would encourage anyone with Scottish roots to visit this sacred place. I will keep going back as long as I am able.
Thanks to: Kay A., first-time traveler from Wallingford, KY
The Greatest Sacrifice
We arrived at the military cemetery in Normandy after stopping at the museum in Caen and visualizing the devastation on the Normandy beaches, reading the names on the memorial markers and feeling the tragedy that occurred there. It was a beautiful sunny day. At noon, as we looked out on the gravestones, a carillon began to play “America the Beautiful.” My husband and I were both overwhelmed with emotion and the tears flowed.
Thanks to: Irma G., 15-time traveler and 3-time Vacation Ambassador from Smithtown, NY
My wife has not accompanied me on many of my Grand Circle trips mainly due to their length. She doesn't like being away from home more than 10 days. However, this trip that we took in 2015 to celebrate our 50th anniversary broke the spell. We spent 16 wonderful days beginning with six days in Paris. There are so many superlatives to share about all our stops in France but the two following tugged at our heart strings.
Standing on Omaha Beach left me with pride, wonderment, and virtually speechless imagining the sacrifices and loss of life our soldiers experienced liberating France. The sheer width of the beach clarified why we landed there and the mental imagine of 7,000 ships off the coast was simply astoundingly unimaginable.
On a less somber note we loved Arromanche. Tucked in between the rising cliffs with almost every store displaying World War II relics and American flags signifying the town's appreciation of and love of Americans.
Thanks to: Harrison W., 8-time traveler from Doylestown, PA • The Seine: Paris to Normandy
A Powerful Presence
During my O.A.T. adventure to Tuscany and Umbria in 2017, our Trip Experience Leader Benjamin surprised us and had our van make a stop at an American Military Cemetery. We had an opportunity to walk around and take in the beauty of the cemetery.
To our surprise we were there when the American flag was lowered for the day. They asked for six volunteers to help with the flag. I immediately volunteered. We were given instructions on how to hold the flag and then fold it. Once I had the flag in my hands and starting folding it, I could feel the presence of my dad who was a World War II veteran standing next to me and the tears began to flow.
We were allowed to have our picture taken with the folded flag, and for some reason the picture did not come out right. But even without a picture, that moment will never be erased from my mind. As we were getting back in to the van to leave, I broke down again in tears as I thanked Benjamin for the unexpected visit and told him this was the most emotional moment I've ever experienced: both sadness and pride. When I am asked from friends what the highlights of my many trips have been, this has always been my number one highlight.
Thanks to: Kathleen F., 5-time traveler and 1-time Vacation Ambassador from Saint Louis, MO • Tuscany & Umbria: Rustic Beauty in the Italian Heartland
A Two-Way Street
Travel's great value is in broadening perspectives of the traveler. I will never forget my first trip to Russia on O.A.T.’s Baltic Capitals trip in September 2012. Although I eagerly looked forward to seeing St. Petersburg and Moscow, I know I was also a bit apprehensive about being in this notorious country known for its past oppression.
Our pleasant local Russian guide in St. Petersburg (or was it Moscow?) was briefly discussing the Cold War and U.S.-Soviet relations during the 1950s and 60s. Riding in the bus with my fellow O.A.T. travelers, I raised my hand to comment on that topic.
I shared that as a child growing up in the U.S. during that tense era, we were "taught" to fear Russia and Russian people... Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet Union, Kremlin, communism. Our guide who was around my age listened and then quietly commented that as a child growing up in Russia, she also had feared the U.S. and Americans.
Her comment made such an impression on me. Here I had been only seeing past history from my perspective as an American. It made me truly realize that I needed to consider the effects of history as a "two-way street," not only the impact felt by us in the U.S., but how it also had affected Soviet children.
That simple sharing of feelings between a Russian tour guide and me, an American traveler, really hit me. It revealed a different perspective that, I believe, helps to open minds and hearts and perhaps also contributes more towards global understanding and world peace.
I appreciate O.A.T.'s Baltics and Russia trip for this awakening!
Thanks to: Geraldine C., 4-time traveler and 4-time Vacation Ambassador from Honolulu, HI • The Baltic Captial & St. Petersburg
On a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, I was very moved by the Killing Fields. It was a very sobering experience and of course I cried. Seeing the remains of clothing, etc., made me tearful. It is the same experience as viewing Yad Vashem in Israel, or both the American cemetery in Normandy or our own Arlington cemetery. Man's inhumanity to man is sadly continuing.
Thanks to: Sandra W., 12-time traveler and 2-time Vacation Ambassador from Santa Monica, CA
Kolfinna Takes Flight
We were in Iceland on the Untamed Iceland trip and took the pre-trip extension to the Westman Islands. While there, it was time for the young Atlantic puffins to take off and fly out to sea. As they often get confused by the lights of the town and fly the wrong direction, they are picked up by locals—especially schoolchildren—and then taken to the post office to be weighed. Then they are released by whoever has saved them.
Our guide, Kolfinna, found a puffin one evening, so the next morning our whole group headed to the post office where our puffin, named little Kolfinna, was weighed. We then all went to a nearby cliff area where Kolfinna, cheered on by our O.A.T. group of travelers, sent our darling girl on her way out to sea to feed and be free.
We all shed a few tears as we watched that beautiful little bird take off for her new life! None of us in that group will ever forget the tug on our hearts!
P.S.: They do not acquire their red markings until they mature!
Thanks to: Mark & Gay T., 8-time travelers and 4-time Vacation Ambassadors from Fort Bragg, CA • Untamed Iceland
Women Rise Above
I didn’t have to think for more than a second to answer this question: Sheroes’ Hangout in Agra, India came immediately to mind. After visiting the Taj Mahal, our trip leader, Raj, asked if we would like to visit this cafe operated by victims of acid attacks. He said it could be a difficult experience and we should feel free to skip it if we wanted to.
The whole group went and as we had tea and snacks, the women shared their experiences with us. The tears flowed freely around that table as we tried to absorb the horror of their experiences and their courage, not only to be out in public where “disfigured” women were not always welcome, but to run a successful business.
These women hugged and comforted us! It was an extraordinary experience.
Thanks to: Elizabeth L., 8-time traveler from Brunswick, ME • Heart of India
Learn about women’s issues in India and the struggle to overcome them during Heart of India.
In Love with India
In 1999, I took O.A.T.’s Heart of India trip and fell in love with India! It is one of the most wildly stimulating places I have ever been. The roads and streets are totally chaotic, cars, buses with people hanging off them, rickshaws, bicycles, motor bikes, cows, dogs, camel carts even in some places, all going at breakneck pace. But the people, and even the animals, navigate the chaos with an amazing calm that is hard to imagine. Somehow, people and animals don’t come to harm in the midst of all this mayhem.
And, the women’s saris create a complete riot of color everywhere you go. Seeing groups of them walking beside the road, carrying sticks and bundles atop their heads in hot pink, yellow, red, blue, every color imaginable saris, is just so incredibly beautiful. Everywhere you look there is a photo opportunity! In any landscape, there is gorgeous color from the ladies’ saris.
And the architecture is just so full of thought and purpose. We learned about the reasons fountains were situated in certain areas of a maharajah’s palace, and why sleeping rooms were placed in specific parts of these sprawling buildings. Everything was designed to make the occupants more comfortable during every kind of weather. So much planning went into their building and execution. I was completely amazed each time we visited a new palace or even fort.
But, the place that moved me to tears was the sublime Taj Mahal. I will never forget standing in front of it for the very first time, seeing its regal beauty reflected in the pools before it. It was a moment in time for me and I actually remember thinking, “Here I am, little Elena from Ellicott City, Maryland, standing in front of the Taj Mahal.” A timeless travel icon. I am actually here! It just moved me to tears, it was such an awesome moment for me.
Thanks to: Elena C., 15-time traveler and 3-time Vacation Ambassador from Palm Coast, FL • Heart of India
Regarding your new Question of the Month, I wish to let you know about places that truly moved me. These have to be from my trip to Tanzania in May 2018. My first goal was achieved in seeing many beautiful animals on our excursions to the Serengeti, Tarangire National Park, and Ngorongoro Crater. I could not have asked for more!
However, the most moving experiences (sometimes bringing tears to my eyes) included our visit with the Ayalabe Primary School children in Karatu, visiting the pottery shop where the ceramic clean water filters are made in Arusha (Safe Water Ceramics of East Africa)—and then distributing them to local tribes we encountered—and visiting the Albino Peacemakers. This is not to slight other experiences, such as the Karatu markets, a Maasai village, the Karatu Lutheran Church Choir, the Leakey Olduvai Gorge, Shanga River House, coffee plantations, shopping, and even a moonshine business! Everything was wonderful, and I learned so much!
Our tour leader, Goodluck Kombe, was amazing, as were our other drivers/guides, Zabu and Ronald.
Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity to see, experience, and learn!
Thanks to: Rebecca B., 2-time traveler from San Rafael, CA • Safari Serengeti: Tanzania Lodge & Tented Safari
The Rose of Sarajevo
I stood over what appeared to be a big splash of red paint, a kind of blood stain, in the middle of the major pedestrian street of Sarajevo. It was the Rose of Sarajevo, which represented the exact bloody spot where 22 people lost their lives in a single instant when a mortar hit a line of people waiting to buy bread during the almost four-year siege of the city in the Bosnian war. It was the longest siege in modern history, from April, 1992 to February, 1996 = 1425 days. The Serbs bombarded the city with mortars in different neighborhoods every day; there was no way of guessing which area would be hit next. There was little food, no electricity and the only running water had to be collected from the spring running under the local brewery. People had to cross the river on bridges that exposed them to sniper fire every time they made their water trips.
I had just finished reading The Cellist of Sarajevo, which told the story of Vedran Smajlovic, a professional musician who braved the sniper fire to honor the dead of the bread line massacre by playing Albinoni’s Adagio for Strings for 22 straight days in the midst of the rubble. I know that piece well; it evokes a sadness that is deep, soulful. The melody swirled around my brain as I stared at the Rose of Sarajevo. And I wept. The cellist’s bravery brought hope to the citizens of Sarajevo. The rose was painted on the street as a reminder to all who pass of what had happened there, how people had endured, and that even with the city’s current struggles, there is hope.
Thanks to: Judy M., 15-time traveler and 10-time Vacation Ambassador from Sacramento, CA • Enhanced! Crossroads of the Adriatic: Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Slovenia
No Words Needed
Last September we took an O.A.T. trip to Thailand, truly a country of smiling people. We visited a school where a third grade class was working on a list of body parts in English. As an educator, I was asked to assist in the pronunciation of the words. As we were walking back to the bus, a little boy ran up to me, grabbed my hand, and held it until I reached the bus. As said goodbye, he hugged me. It was a very special moment.
Thanks to: Betsy R., 5-time traveler from Midlothian, VA
Not Over Till It’s Over
My husband and I took your Ultimate Africa trip in April and loved, loved, loved it! We were lucky to be with a compatible group of curious, adventurous people.
Half of our group was ending a game drive in our Land Cruiser with our faithful tour director Obrian and guide Custard. As we were returning to our bush camp, we saw ahead a couple of adult females and baby elephants. Custard stopped and we waited for them to walk into the bush. He then continued forward slowly as we had to turn right where the elephants had been standing.
As we approached the turn, we suddenly were “treated” to a VERY loud elephant trumpet to our immediate left. The riders on the left practically jumped into the laps of the riders in the center as we all leaned to the extreme right in case the protective mama elephant decided to get closer! Custard rounded the corner and stepped on the gas. We laughed hysterically all the way back to the camp, cracking jokes about our reaction to the surprise.
Our mantra for the trip became “it isn’t over until it’s over.” You never know what’s going to happen!
Thanks to: Paulette W., first-time O.A.T. traveler from Tucson, AZ • Ultimate Africa: Botswana, Zambia & Zimbabwe Safari
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