A Meditation on Walls and Bridges for the New Year


So, it’s time to step into the new year. It’s a time when many of us look inward to calibrate or recalibrate our lives and loves in hopes of becoming better people. If you’ve heard my talks or read my books, you know that fundamental to our teaching at Rick Steves’ Europe is connecting people to people. When we meet people in our travels — whether across the seas or just across the tracks — we gain understanding. That journey becomes transformative in that it makes us more empathetic, happier, and less fearful. It makes us smarter, and thus makes it tougher for bad forces to sidetrack our natural good intentions.

bridgeWhen we travel in a way that connects us with real people, it makes it harder for the propaganda they live with to demonize us —and vice versa. We become bridges. The European Union, with about 400 million people and lots of competing interests, has serious challenges. And it tackles those challenges not by building walls but by building bridges. Walls are not just brick-and-mortar manifestations of fear and anger. They can be trade barriers. They can be border crossings where you need a visa. They can be parents unwilling to let their children hear a narrative other than their own. They can be fear of the unknown. The EU recognizes these challenges and that’s why it funds the Erasmus Program which pays for students and teachers to learn and teach in other countries within that family of nations. It’s not cheap, but it’s considered a great value.

The EU also had a challenge when designing its euro currency. When several hundred million diverse people will carry the same bills in their wallets, you need to decorate those bills with symbolism that can be universally embraced. The theme the chose: arches and bridges — each sources of strength and communication.


One of the most inspirational guides I’ve ever worked with is Tom Rankin (an American scholar and architect who works in Rome). Just last week Tom updated me with his plans for guided architectural walks in 2017 and shared with me a series of his watercolor sketches of bridges on Rome’s Tiber River.

To celebrate our commitment to tolerance, diversity, empathy, and the value of overcoming fear by understanding people whose life experiences give them different perspectives than you or I might have, I’d like to share Tom’s bridges with you.

This is my way of kicking off 2017 with a rousing call for solidarity among people with a broad worldview and a passion for peace with justice.

Best wishes and happy travels in 2017.




All images courtesy Tom Rankin.