Being a first generation American has some major advantages- the best one is having relatives in many different countries to visit. For those who don’t know about my family history, this is due to being the child of holocaust survivors and refugees. My family on both sides was destroyed or splashed all over the world by that sledgehammer; so I now have cousins in England, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, and Colombia. Through my childhood, mostly due to the fact that we could travel for free because Dad worked for the airlines, we spent time in Europe and South America. In fact, while most of my neighborhood friends explored the United States on their family vacations, we almost never went outside New York except to leave the country.
The Netherlands was then, and still is, one of my favorite places to visit. I have a lovely cousin that lives outside of Amsterdam and whenever we get together, my major complaint is that I wish we could do it more often. Holland is a unique country, very small and quite cosmopolitan. I could live on the herring and cheese and chocolate and croquetten that are so easy to find there. I have found the people to be bright and beautiful; and it’s not just my opinion-my husband concurs. Amsterdam is a city steeped in history and art, as well as the nightlife it is famous for. The Anne Frank house, which I had visited often when I was younger, knocked the wind out of my husband’s sails, making the holocaust and my family’s history feel real for the first time. The museums house amazing art displays that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. The tram system makes getting around pretty easy, but the bicycles are so prevalent it is a little scary. On our most recent visit, my husband estimated that there were several thousand bicycles locked up at the Centraal Station where the locals come in to work each day. We witnessed several near misses between bikes and trams. It was normal to see a parent with several children on one bicycle, with the kids packed into baskets and added seating. As a teenager I had free run of the city, and rode the trams to explore every chance I got. The zoo, the flower market, the parks, the canals, the Dam square…all places I roamed through and still remember fondly. Outside of Amsterdam, other towns and small cities offer great experiences as well.
Another of my favorite places to go in the world is Paris. The first time I went I was twelve, but I clearly remember every minute. Of course we had to go to all of the well-known places, to which I also took my husband on our recent trip. Paris is one of the few places that I don’t mind being a tourist- the history and beauty of its famous landmarks deserve the attention they get. The cousins we visited there were warm and welcoming; but you are not in Paris unless you have been served by a grumpy waiter on the Champs Elysees. The cheese and wine are made in heaven! A close friend (one of my Hunter girls!) now lives in Paris, so my husband and I were tourists by day and locals by night. At the end of the week, my husband decided he could live in Paris one day. Who knows?!
And then there is Colombia…a country that makes headlines for all the wrong reasons. Underneath that layer is a place that is as welcoming as coming home. My cousins there are more like the sisters I never had. Once again my biggest complaint is that we can’t do so more often. At a wedding in Cali this past winter, my son and I enjoyed experiencing daily life with the family; and he can’t wait to go back. We took him to see the store my grandparents opened when they wound up there in the 30’s. The Jewish star is still on the gate. Behind the store, I showed him the rough path my brother and I used to climb to the loma de las tres cruces.
As we raised our kids, we did not own much in the way of fancy cars or clothes. We spent any of our spare dimes on traveling and showing them the United States and the rest of the world. It gave them a perspective of life that was worth every cent. It helped them see their family as part of world history, and opened their eyes to the culture (and food of course) outside of their lives. Because of these experiences, my kids are open-minded and love to explore. If that is my legacy to them, I’m satisfied.