Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - August 5, 2016

Not in the guide books

When traveling for fun, guidebooks, Internet sites like TripAdvisor or tips from the locals once you arrive can be extremely helpful. But frequently, the most memorable moments we've had depend on a large dose of serendipity.

During a recent trip, husband Art, daughters Mariya and Katie, Mariya's girlfriend Miriam and I were staying in Metz, France when we decided a day trip to nearby Trier, Germany sounded like fun. We had been there before, but had spent much of that day in the home where Karl Marx had been born. With Katie doing most of the research, the focus this time was to be on what was once the most important Roman settlement north of the Alps. The city still has remains of Roman walls, imperial baths, and an amphitheater as well as its iconic Porta Nigra or Black Gate. To start things out right, we began with several hours in the archaeological museum.

The museum and the intended sights were all that we hoped they would be. Still, I think we will recall as fondly the drive there and back along the Moselle River. We stopped to take pictures of a field of sunflowers, watched the occasional ship and enjoyed the rows and rows and rows of grapevines along the river, beside the roadway and on up into the hills as far as the eye could see.

Another moment to remember occurred just after we had visited the impressive cathedral and the attached parish church. The sun was shining when we went in, but when Art and I stepped outside, the lone dark cloud in the otherwise bright sky began sprinkling on us. We took shelter under a nearby tree for this momentary turn of events and soon the three girls emerged from the cathedral and joined us.

But suddenly the wind started blowing and the skies opened up. The tree was no longer sufficient protection. Art spotted a nearby telephone booth. He went in first, I followed and one by one, the girls joined us. The irony was not lost on us when Art took a smart phone "selfie" in the tiny shelter that housed a telephone of a type now practically obsolete.

Near the end of the day, we walked about a mile from the Porta Nigra to the site of the Roman baths. The earlier rain had left the air muggy and we were all frazzled and so somewhat testy when we arrived. But as we were getting ready to return, someone spotted a pair of ducks and their spotted ducklings heading toward a nearby pool. Our crankiness dissolved as we watched the protective pair calling out to their little ones and quacking warnings to dogs and people that got too close.

During a visit to Berlin that coincided with the first day of summer, local musicians did pop-up street performances in celebration of the season change. In the middle of the one we watched, one of the band members proposed to his girl who had been watching in the crowd that had gathered.

And our time in Metz included a four-day festival. We attended three music events - all free - a tribute to legendary American singer Ella Fitzgerald held next to the magnificent St. Stephens Cathedral, a concert by the National Orchestra of Lorraine presented in the group's home concert hall and a performance by the Municipal Band of Metz.

Another non-guidebook moment developed completely without our being aware of it at the time. After a couple in Riquewihr, France asked me to take a picture of them, they offered to take one of us. But it wasn't until we looked at the result that we realized we had been photo-bombed by their son practicing his dance moves nearby. He continued down the street, dancing as if his life depended upon it, apparently listening to some music only he could hear.

As well as being receptive to the moment, when several people are traveling together, it is important to realize that different tastes will come to the fore. Mariya likes wandering through picturesque villages, finding little markets, eating food from street vendors and checking out shoe stores. Miriam is fascinated with bees and so enjoyed wandering through parks where bees were swarming around brightly-colored flowers. Katie enjoys people watching and getting to know the locals. One morning I came to the living room in the home we were renting to find Art, the early riser, watching a bird frustrated in its attempt to make a meal of the moth that was fluttering about on the inside of the window.

Perhaps Katie's words say it best:

You need to leave yourself open to random things happening that are just as fun, if not more, than the things you planned. I also like finding the perfect souvenirs for people back home and making sure to experience early mornings and late nights while traveling to get different perspectives on where you're staying.

Travel guides and other information sources are certainly useful in planning any trip. But as we've discovered repeatedly, as often as not it's the things not found there that make our trips memorable.

Top-left: Duck parents watching over their brood; bottom-left: being photo-bombed by a young man dancing his heart out; bottom-center: Superman had nothing on us as we jammed into a phone booth to avoid a cloudburst; right: Miriam "capturing" a bee looking for pollen.

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