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September 28, 2010
Home-Hosted visits: Bringing a lot to the table
When Grand Circle travelers tell me what they enjoyed most about exploring the world with us, they often count our Home-Hosted Visits among the highlights. This is especially gratifying to hear, since we work hard to include opportunities like these—where travelers join a local family in their home for a traditional meal—on every Grand Circle vacation. But they enjoy more than home-cooked cuisine; these unique encounters give travelers a glimpse into the everyday lives and traditions of people in other cultures.
Such was the case for Val Maass, a Senior Copywriter in Grand Circle’s marketing department, who took The Great Rivers of Europe River Cruise earlier this year—and later recalled her experience for me. One afternoon, Val’s group was invited to join a Home-Hosted Kaffeeklatsch (coffee and cake) with a family in the Bavarian town of Kelheim. And as she described it to me, Val came away with insight into more than contemporary, German family life.
Their hosts, Karolina and Heinrich Peter, greeted the group enthusiastically as the bus pulled up to their house, but it was the onlookers—“two friendly looking donkeys in a small yard, and an older gentleman wearing a U.S. Air Force cap,” that Val says immediately caught her attention. I was intrigued, as well … the pet donkeys—Willie and Fritzy—were Heinrich’s wedding gift to Karolina when they married years before (certainly an original gift!), and Georg (the older gentleman) was a family friend who often joined the Peters’ Home-Hosted Visits because “he enjoyed meeting Americans.”
After a guided tour of the property, Val and her seven fellow travelers were invited inside the tidy home for coffee and cake. “That’s when Georg really came alive,” she said. With Karolina’s help (he didn’t speak English fluently), Georg proudly shared details of his past with the travelers. As it turned out, he fought in Normandy during World War II—in which he lost his best friend, was wounded and, eventually, was held prisoner by the French for three years. Needless to say, the 87-years-old’s story was astounding to hear—especially to Val, who explained, “I’d never met anyone before who’d gone through what Georg did.”
Val admitted that it really didn’t hit her until the next morning: Georg was German. “He was so eager to connect with us [Americans], and I felt such empathy for him, that his fighting for what the U.S. then (and some Americans still) considered ‘the enemy,’ seemed almost irrelevant. After all,” she said, “He’s a German veteran of World War II, and I’m the daughter of an Austrian Jew who escaped from the Nazis—but that day, we were just people sharing a table.”
Val’s story reinforced one of my favorite aspects of traveling: the value of connecting with people we wouldn’t otherwise meet. And I realized that, just like in Val’s case, making those connections can ultimately help us transcend our differences—whether cultural, political, religious, or generational.
During your own travels, have you ever met someone who challenged your preconceived notions about a country or culture—or even about yourself? If so, I’d love to hear more about it. You can share your thoughts with others by posting your comments below this Journal entry, or you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be spotlighting our vacations in China, France, and Mexico. If you’ve explored any—or all!—of these fascinating destinations with Grand Circle, I hope you’ll send your stories and pictures to me at email@example.com.