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.  



12 Replies to “A Meditation on Walls and Bridges for the New Year”

  1. Thanks Rick for the sketches and good feelings. Looks like we will all need to be better “ambassadors” in our future travels now that this country has gone to the “dark side”.

    God bless!

  2. Le voyage bâtit des liens entre les peuples. Informed traveling, the best antidote to the politics of ignorance. Let’s keep on traveling in 2017!

  3. Rick, you are so right. You must teach Americans to see outside their borders and to understand and accept another view of life, and to encourage travel to Europe. I have lived in Finland now for 3 years, after 44 years in the U.S. and I can see so clearly how blinded the American lifestyle and points of view are, I feel emotionally so liberated! I feel so free here of American life’s musts and must-nots. Moving here was the best thing I have done in my life. I am enjoying my retirement more than ever expects or dared to hope. And I can well afford to live here with my smallish pension.

  4. Thank you for these beautiful sketches. They have inspired me to sketch the bridges in Venice on my upcoming trip.

  5. Last night we had dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant in our small town, the owners are from Italy and we go often enough that we have lots of conversation. They would really like to go back and live in Italy but the tax rate for business is so high, much much higher than the US that it keeps them here. So last night (New Years Eve), the one owner came over and ask our party if he and the cook could sing for our table and we said of course! Well they sang the most beautiful Italian Aria that the whole restaurant was silent and cheered at the end. It just made us feel like maybe things won’t be so bad and just so happy to have these Italian friends in our own back yard!

  6. Just forwarded the link to Tom Rankin’s site to my sister who is visiting Rome in April. Thanks!

  7. Perfect perspective & sentiment Rick! I like in the Canary Islands of Spain (on the Island of Tenerife). We have no rivers, but we have bridges to cross ravines … and gullies (dry most of the year, but channel occasional raging torrents that are caused by flash floods). Bridges can sure connect people in the normal mundane of life … and during the cataclysmic events that arise that could erode the foundation of our understanding & empathy towards one another.

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