My husband and I recently returned home from a glorious trip to Europe. It included big cities, small towns, natural attractions, boutique hotels and a beautiful cruise ship, and my mind is still processing all that we saw and did.
One idyllic afternoon, as I explored the streets of Riomaggiore (a cool Cinque Terra town), I stopped for a prosecco and pastry at a typical sidewalk cafe. As I looked over the rooftops and down toward the sea, I began to jot a few notes about what I had noticed about the European lifestyle, and what we Americans might learn from it.
Europe, after all, has been around for a lot longer than we have, and many of the places we visited had roads, walls and buildings dating back to before Christ. As a citizen of our relatively newborn nation, it’s interesting to make comparisons, consider cultural mores and revel in the differences.
The Cinque Terra area, for example, is built on steep hillsides, similar to the Amalfi Coast. Because of the lack of flat land, all hills are terraced and strategically built and planted; hundreds of steps connect one level to the next. It seems no space in town goes wasted, unadorned, unplanted or unused.
Because of the age of buildings in Europe, small living quarters are the norm, as well. Tiny balconies often hold a cafe set, full clothesline and potted plants. In Rome, the room in our lovely hotel was smaller than it was on our ship! I am always so curious to see inside the stately old buildings to get a peek into how the locals live. I wonder if their lives are simpler, though less private and luxurious perhaps. Maybe one day we’ll stay in one place for a while, and hang out with the locals.
The European schedule was to my liking: It includes late-morning starts, late lunches, often followed by a “siesta,” and late dinner times. One Saturday night in Barcelona, we enjoyed watching the children running, music playing, people dancing in the square below until nearly midnight. No strict bedtimes here, I thought!
Due to the cost of gas and general lack of open space, you may see 50 mopeds parked in a row, as people depend less on their cars and more on their feet, public transport and small vehicles.
The Mediterranean diet is all about fresh: more than 20 grades of ham, an abundance of fish, an array of fresh veggies and fruits for breakfast, olive oil everything, fresh baked goods daily. Service is slow, as meals are unhurried and leisurely, with an occasional musician or singer stopping by, entertaining for tips.
Perhaps living among ruins that are thousands of years old allows the European people a sense of calm. It’s always been here, no need to rush, take your time, life is good. I think we all have a lot to learn from each other.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”