Leaning back on my bench, I marveled at the floodlit facade of Chartres Cathedral. Munching on my baguette with brie, I was pondering how, for centuries, nobles and peasants alike have been awestruck by this view. Then in my periphery, I noticed a bum on the next bench, reaching toward me — and offering me a swig of red wine from his battered 1.5-liter plastic water bottle. Backlit by the floodlighting and with a twinkle in his friendly eyes, he looked like a character in an over-the-top romantic painting of folk characters on sale at a French town market.
Even though we hardly talked and I politely rejected his wine, we were both there — connected, sharing the moment. It was a fleeting, yet very human, encounter — and it added to my experience of Chartres.
The essence of good travel is people. If I’m leading a tour or writing a guidebook, the mark of a job well done is how well I connect people with people. If I’m making a TV show and it doesn’t have local voices, the show will be flat. And when I’m enjoying a European vacation, my journal is more interesting when it includes stories of people I’ve met along the way.
Developing a knack for sparking such experiences is our challenge as good travelers. I like to take it a step further — to be a keen observer, connecting experiential dots that may seem random by putting them into cultural and historical context…and then learning from them. As a travel writer, that’s my challenge. And that’s my mission.
What about you? How have you connected with people in your travels? I’d love to hear about your own bum and baguette moments.