I’ve recorded nearly 500 hours of my weekly radio program, Travel with Rick Steves. And one of the smartest people I’ve had the honor of interviewing was Lord John Alderdice, a Northern Ireland politician who sits in the House of Lords.
Lord Alderdice, a psychiatrist, famously approached the two sectarian sides in Ireland’s “Troubles” as if they were spouses who needed counseling. This approach contributed hugely to the hard-won peace…so much so, that Lord Alderdice is now dedicating his energy to other conflicts, including Colombia and the Palestine/Israel challenge. (To hear Lord Alderdice’s wisdom, listen to our interview.) We clicked during the interview, and I had a longstanding invitation to have dinner with him at “The Lords” — the exclusive Peers’ Dining Room of the upper house of the UK Parliament.
I finally had a free evening in London, so we set a date (along with my partner, Trish — who happened to be in London preparing to guide an upcoming tour departure). Of course, packing as light as I do, I needed to buy a suit jacket, trousers, and a tie.
All dressed up, Trish and I reported to the floodlit Houses of Parliament and, after tight security, were greeted by Lord Alderdice. It was way after hours, and it felt as if he owned the place. He took us on a private tour of the Palace of Westminster. Walking quietly through these hallowed halls of Britain’s government with a real-life lord as our private guide, I gained an appreciation for the value of the House of Lords (which many naively consider just a gab session of rubber-stamp aristocrats).
The Peers’ Dining Room is a wonderful place for conversation: great service, classic dishes, fine wine and port, strictly no photos, and surrounded by hushed conversations under portraits of British luminaries who had similarly hushed conversations at these same tables two or three centuries ago. And what made the dinner tastiest of all was the company of such a wise statesman.
The more I travel, the more value I put on good governance — and the more I understand that that work is best done by caring people who understand the art of compromise, rather than by bull-headed, ham-fisted ideologues. Of course, the grassroots are also important. But countries can rise and fall on how they are blessed or cursed with their political leadership. And they are girded and protected by the strength of the institutions of their democracies.
Lord Alderdice, thank you for an unforgettable evening…and for a lifetime of high-minded service. (I’ll share highlights of our conversation in tomorrow’s post.)
This spring I promised you 100 posts from Europe in 100 days. I’m afraid I lied. Today is Day 100, and it’s looking more like it will be 130 posts in 130 days. Please stick around for the ride as my travels take me through Germany’s Black Forest, France’s Alsace, and the great Swiss cities. Then, after a few days at home (got to wash those clothes!), I return to Europe with our TV crew to film a Mediterranean cruise. I just can’t stop traveling and I’m so glad you’re joining me here on my blog and via Facebook. Thanks — and stay tuned for lots more!