Couchsurfing likes to remind people that it’s not a dating site, but in fact, it is a place where I’ve met many of my closest friends and the woman I married.
One of the keys to mastering the art of world travel on almost nothing is learning to trust strangers and let them become friends.
World Travel on Almost Nothing Tip #4: Make strangers into friends.
One of the things that I love about Couchsurfing.com is that it relies on opening your heart and mind to the hospitality of strangers. Contrary to popular belief, most people on the planet are good and want to help you in this life. If you doubt that, look inside yourself and I’m sure you will see it is true.
I wrote a thesis about fans of the TV show LOST. One of the amazing things I found was that when fans traveled to Hawaii they often found places to stay, free guided tours, and new friends waiting for them. In that case, what brought these people together was a love of a TV show. For the world traveler, you are more likely to come together because of a love of travel.
I’ve made friends just about everywhere I’ve been and in the process I’ve managed to avoid paying for hotels, meals, and sometimes even transportation. I’m not saying you should be mercenary about seeking out and using people, I’m saying that when you open your arms to the world, you often get a hug in return.
While I’ve never been a WWOOFer or used HospitalityClub.com, I certainly have known plenty of people who have. These sorts of communities thrive on the fact that people are in general kind and good natured. If you don’t believe that, then you better keep paying for hotel rooms and guided city tours.
In 2009, I was on the verge of marriage and changing my life forever. To get a little clear headedness, I went to Luxembourg to get some coffee. While that sounds pretty extravagent, I was already in Belgium, on my way back to Morocco after going back to the USA to gather the necessary documents – so it was only a short train ride away.
Luxembourg is a parliamentary representative democracy with a constitutional monarch; it is ruled by a Grand Duke. It is the world’s only remaining sovereign Grand Duchy. The country has a highly developed economy, with the highest Gross Domestic Product per capita in the world as per IMF and WB. Its historic and strategic importance dates back to its founding as a Roman era fortress site and Frankish count’s castle site in the Early Middle Ages. It was an important bastion along the Spanish road when Spain was the principal European power influencing the whole western hemisphere and beyond in the 16th–17th centuries.
Luxembourg is a founding member of the European Union, NATO, OECD, the United Nations, Benelux, and the Western European Union, reflecting the political consensus in favour of economic, political, and military integration. The city of Luxembourg, the capital and largest city, is the seat of several institutions and agencies of the European Union.
Luxembourg lies on the cultural divide between Romance Europe and Germanic Europe, borrowing customs from each of the distinct traditions. Luxembourg is a trilingual country; German, French and Luxembourgish are official languages. Although a secular state, Luxembourg is predominantly Roman Catholic.
History of Luxembourg
The written history of Lucilinburhuc (i.e. Luxembourg) starts in the year 963, when Siegfried, Count of the Ardennes, and founder of the Luxembourg Dynasty, had a castle built on the territory of the present-day capital of Luxembourg. This castle was the origin of the establishment of a town, which later was to develop into a formidable fortress, known by the name of ‘Gibraltar of the North’. At its height, the fortress was girdled by three ring-walls studded with 24 forts, and linked underground by a 23 kilometre network of Casemates. In 1994, Luxembourg City was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.
After a long period of foreign sovereignty (Burgundian/ Spanish/ French/ Austrian / …), the Congress of Vienna settled the destiny of the country, by raising it to the rank of Grand Duchy, and by giving it as personal property to the King of the Netherlands William I of Orange-Nassau. The personal union between Luxembourg and the Netherlands lasted until 1890. During this period the political independence and autonomy were strengthened, and the democratic institutions were developed.
The 11th of May 1867 is one of the most important dates in the more recent national history: The Treaty of London reaffirmed Luxembourg’s territorial integrity, and the political autonomy which had already been granted by the Treaty of Vienna of 1839. Furthermore, Luxembourg was declared perpetually neutral, and the great powers agreed to guarantee and to protect the neutrality of the Grand Duchy.
Since 1890, when the Crown of the Grand Duchy passed to the elder branch of the House of Nassau, Luxembourg has had its own Dynasty. The present ruler, H.R.H. Grand Duke Henri, succeeded his father, Grand Duke Jean to the throne in October 2000, after having been appointed as “Lieutenant-Représentant” -the Grand Duke’s official deputy- on March 3, 1998, as provided for by Article 42 of the Luxembourg Constitution.
Grand Duke Jean’s mother, Grand Duchess Charlotte, Duchess of Nassau, Princess of Bourbon Parma, died in 1985. Grand Duke Jean and his wife Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte, the sister to Albert, King of the Belgians, have five children Henri, Jean, Guillaume, Marie-Astrid, and Margaretha. (See also The Grand-Ducal Family and especially monarchie.lu)
Executive power is in the hands of the Grand Duke and a Cabinet of 12 ministers. The legislative power rests with a Parliament (Chamber of Deputies) elected by men and women over 18, all of whom in Luxembourg have the right and duty to vote.
Despite its neutrality, Luxembourg was occupied twice by German troops during the two World Wars. The Battle of the Bulge was to a great extent fought on Luxembourg territory. In 1948, the country gave up its neutrality, to join the various economic, political, and military organisations of Europe. Already forming a close economic union with Belgium since 1921, the Grand Duchy is a founder member of the EU, and was host to the first European institutions in 1953.
There are plenty of things that make Brussels a great place and it’s probably not those stuffy EU suits going about their dull business. Instead it’s the things you don’t have to avoid in the street. Belgian waffles, great beer, and of course, the beautiful comic art murals that grace the sides of buildings that are centuries old.
I love that Brussels is so proud of it’s comic heritage that intermingled with the ancient buildings are full scale murals of famous comic strips.
The Notre Dame church is the Belgian starting point for a very famous Vagabond/Pilgrim trail that runs all the way to Santiago Spain.
The route known as the Camino de Santiago is neither a road nor a highway. It’s a walkway trod by travelers of all kinds for more than 2,000 years. Christians have traveled it for nearly 1,300 years.
Much of the route described in a 900-year old guidebook is still in use today. Some of it wends its way over the remains of pavement laid down by the Romans two millennia ago. Its a route that writer James Michener no stranger to world travel”calls the finest journey in Spain, and one of two or three in the world. He did it three times and mentions passing through landscapes of exquisite beauty. The European Union has designated it a European Heritage Route.
Christians are attracted to this remote corner of Europe because of a legend that Santiago de Compostela is the burial place of the apostle James the Greater. As such, it ranks along with Rome and Jerusalem as one of Christendoms great pilgrim destinations.
The Camino de Santiago has its origins in pre-Christian times when people of the Celtic/Iberian tribes made their way from the interior to lands end on the Atlantic coast of Galicia. For them, watching the sun set over the endless waters was a spiritual experience. As part of their conquest of Europe, the Romans occupied Iberia by 200 B.C. They built infrastructure, including a road from Bordeaux in modern France to Astorga in northwest Spain, to mine the areas gold and silver. Some of the original road remains on todays Camino.