Els Meersschaert

Amazed to be amazed

A story told by Els Meersschaert Temse, Flanders, Belgium

Els is always on the road, with people.
Working for twenty years in youthwork, from local to international level, and social profit and cultural organisations, she got more and more convinced of the strength of making human connections and conversations between people.

Amazement. And amazement about the amazement. “Where did that come from?!”, says Els with a mixture of surprise and enthusiasm. She loves quotes and does not yet fully realise that she’s just given a brilliant one. Els is recalling the tandem cycling trip she went on in Brighton last year in May. This typical South-Eastern English town was both the starting and arrival point of a 600-km cycling trek. “My husband is an experienced cyclist and we had already done a few very nice tandem trips in our own country. Now the time had come to take our cycling holiday across the border for the first time”, says Els.

It's not about the destination, it's about the journey

However, Brighton, where the trip started and ended, is not what Els remembers the most from her holiday. It’s the physical effort of travelling 600 kilometres on a bike, enjoying the beautiful nature and the sun, the people Els and her husband met along the way. All of these things turned her cycling trip into an unforgettable experience.

‘Sorry for Brexit’

Those meetings set something in motion within her. “We were in England while everyone was going on about Brexit. We don’t usually have that much contact with the locals, but this time it was automatic”. Els recounts how the locals themselves would start the conversation. Not just because the couple looked like tandem tourism pioneers in Southern England, but mainly to apologise for Brexit. The stories started coming out. Els listened with genuine curiosity, including to the pro-Brexit arguments.

I’ve learned to take a closer look before passing judgement on things. Els Meersschaert

“Looking back now, I realise how much these conversations and mixed opinions piqued my curiosity and made me want to take a closer look before passing judgement”, says Els. “Because even when you see something as an outsider, you can’t help choosing some sort of opinion about it. And then when all of a sudden you find yourself across the channel, in the midst of where it’s happening, you start forming a more balanced view on things”.

A stimulating and amazing experience

Particularly the smell of the sea, the rich, colourful landscapes, the feel of the sun on her skin and the taste of fish and chips – with vinegar – inspired Els to be amazed about this sort of unexpected meeting and what they can lead to. “Usually on my holidays I end up in cities, but in this natural landscape all my senses felt stimulated”. Hence the amazement.

Els is beaming as she talks about her English cycling tour. “I hope I can hold on to this feeling of amazement next time I go on a holiday”, she adds. Embracing whatever comes across your holiday path with an open mind. The rest comes naturally.

Authored by Michelle Roosenbroeck Kessel