Europe: Land of the Lucky Punch

Michelle and I were on a train on our way to Neuschwanstein Castle just outside Munich, Germany.  As the train car glided past fields and cows and mountains and our new friend and tour guide laughed at the photos on our cameras from the previous night’s “beer challenge,” I pulled out a bag of Dove dark chocolates and opened up a piece.  Inside, the foil wrapper read, “You are exactly where you are supposed to be.”

Neuschwanstein Castle

Me & Michelle at Neuschwanstein Castle

“It’s a sign!” Michelle and I squealed.  “Add it to the list!”

Even before we’d left on our European adventure, Michelle spotted a license plate on our way to O’Hare International Airport that read, “UK USA OK.”  From that moment on, we started keeping a list of signs.  Some were kind of dumb but funny, like the fact that Michelle’s sneeze in London sounded a lot like the word “tea” or that Justin Bieber had been in Cologne just the day before us (and our German friends would randomly break out into choruses of “baby, baby, baby oooooo”).

Lucky Punch List

Page one of lucky punches

But some were undeniable and gave us chills, like the message on the chocolate foil on the trip through the German countryside, or the numerous times we lucked out with the last room in a hostel (a private room for a dorm price) or the last two seats on a train (the seat numbers corresponding with our respective birth years).

When I had trouble at the UK border, a nice guy named Chance (yes, Chance!) helped me out.  When we were in Brussels, it turns out our German friends just happened to be in Cologne, less than two hours away by train.  We were able to see the first German Euro Cup soccer match in Germany (which they won!  Deutschland!), be in Barcelona for the Sant Joan Festival, and run into a good friend of Michelle’s from college in a Parisian Metro stop.

When we were sick, we were blessed with a private, air-conditioned room in Rome.  When our spirits were low, a group of Swiss guys sat next to us on the train and sang songs and played their ukulele.  And when we needed a little taste of home, our friend Stefan invited us to his village in Germany where he and his mom cooked for us and where we got to see some familiar faces.

I’m not saying all this to brag.  Okay, maybe a little bit of bragging…(we spent the Fourth of July in a $10 million penthouse apartment in Paris that overlooked the Eiffel Tower).  But the point I want to make is that we kept our arms open to new experiences.  I think because we kept our eyes peeled for signs, we found more things to interpret as such.  We ended up in cool situations we never could have planned otherwise.  And because we maintained a positive outlook, everyone was nice and every situation had a positive bent to it.

On the second day of our journey, in St. Pancras Station in London, we spotted a notecard tucked away in the shadows of a statue:

“Observation is about finding something interesting in ordinary places.  I’ve found that it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with how you see them.”  –E. Erwitt

St. Pancras Statue

The statue where we found the postcard. Can you spot it?

So whether you want to call them signs, as we did, or “God nods” as my mom calls them, or “lucky punches” like our German friends, I think they were a direct result of our searching them out.  We chose to see Europe as an endless opportunity of adventures filled with kind people, and it became just that for us.

It was fairly easy to do since each experience was brand new in a foreign country where everything was unfamiliar and each one of our senses were on high alert.  The challenge, now, is how to bring that attitude back to the U.S. where everything is routine for us.  How can we remain positive and open to new experiences when we’re back in the daily grind?  I haven’t quite figured that out.  Does anyone have any advice on that front?

In the meantime, I encourage everyone to go travel.  Keep your eyes open for a lucky punch or two, and I guarantee that if you’re actively looking for it, you’ll find it.


3 thoughts on “Europe: Land of the Lucky Punch

  1. I opened that same foil-wrapper-message during my first year of grad school, when I was privately in the throes of my vocational freakout — wondering what it would mean to not get my PhD and not be a professor, wondering what I was even doing in Indiana if this path I was on wasn’t going where I’d expected. I magnet-ed the wrapper to my fridge for a long time, and I think I eventually pasted it into my journal. A sign right here at home.

    A couple of weeks ago I met with my now-spiritual director for the first time (woo! exciting!), and I used an anecdote to illustrate a point I was making, because, well, I make sense of things with stories. She said, “Oh, so that was a sign for you.” Oh. Well, YEAH, but that had totally not even occurred to me. So I went straight home and made a whole list of signs in my journal. Advice? Ha: I’m as daily ground as anyone. I miss all kinds of signs. Cultivating a prayer life has definitely helped me on my journey, and writing and spiritual direction are part of that. Let me know if you figure out the secret! 🙂

  2. I’ve only gotten to travel overseas once to Israel, but it definitely was life-changing experience in many ways. I wrote and wrote and wrote about it afterwards…but my computer crashed and I lost all my files. 😦 But it did change me. There is something about seeing another part of the world and knowing you are part of this vast tapestry of people and places. It gives a great perspective. Plus, the world is just beautiful.
    I do believe we can open our eyes to everyday “signs” as you’d call them. It does take a little practice. But God is everywhere all the time even in the mundane moments of our lives. A few years back, I began to really consciously look for these God moments (“God nods,” as your mom would call them!). It’s like seeing with a different kind of sight. I used to get grumpy about everything. Yet now, I’m constantly on the look out for how God is working out a situation. I’m constantly seeing HIs grace and beauty in even the painful or mundane or hard times. It gives life a great joy and depth.
    I do think sometimes we miss these things for several reasons: 1) We are looking for things to go OUR way, so of course we miss it when things don’t go OUR way. God is always working, it’s just hard to be flexible and see Him working when it’s not exactly how we wanted it. 2) We are too busy, we don’t take the time to stop and think and reflect on things in our hectic lives. Maybe traveling helped you see that because you had time to reflect as you traveled. It takes a lot more work to see things in the chaos of life. Which is why we have to develop that trait of quietness and thinking and taking the time to step back from our lives.
    Yes, God is indeed near. If only we’ll truly stop to look.

  3. Pingback: Three Terrible Things to Say to a Traveler | The Get-a-Life Project

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