Leiden, a picturesque quiet town in Netherlands is surrounded by century old bridges that interconnect the entire town and international universities. Leiden is perfect for families and solo travelers. Everyone has something to discover. It’s a paradise for foodies, organic produce, fashionistas, photographers, scholars, night clubbers, artists and trippers (Marijuana is legal you’all – inserting Southern drawl country singer style). Besides the air being crispy clean and friendly chatter on the streets one can easily get lost with the familiarity of the canals, brick bridges and the brick paved streets. Yes, I’m not kidding!! Leiden is one of the oldest towns in the Netherlands where people walk and ride bicycles. Once you get off the train station all you do is walk and if you dare – rent a bicycle. However, BEWARE as a tourist your bike riding skills should be compatible with the locals – no kidding – you will get bumped, shoved, run over and you will fall - while the locals will continue with a polite head nod – I swear this happened to my friend!
What did I do in Leiden? Great question, I walked like my feet were possessed. There was no stopping them. My mind yelled exhaustion but my feet kept moving as if it had a life of its own. Mind you, I had prepared for this trip by joining the gym one month prior to my trip. I walked the treadmill each day so that I could be able to carry my own weight along with the 35 lbs weight of my travel bag – yes in Leiden one carries their own luggage to their destination especially if one lives within the rustic town, in my case it was so – De Volharding (inserting content grin – like a cat drinking milk and licking its creamy lips). You think I’m exaggerating? Heck no! Living in the United States has taught me one thing – driving a car to each destination can augment hips and thighs and I’m not talking sultry Beyoncé curves here (inserting guilty face – like caught with my hand in a cookie jar).
Well during one of my possessed walks from an international counseling conference to my apartment in the hot European summer afternoon sun – did I mention dressed in business attire with high heels looking chic and nerdy - confidently walking towards my destination during the lunch break where I had to encourage my peer, who was nursing a migraine, to join the conference, which was the main purpose of the trip to the Netherlands.? Also, that I have to cover up 3 miles each way walking on the ancient paved bricks? BTW, I was rocking it, until my scarf came off, then my jacket, then the buttons of my shirt (now now let’ keep this PG 13), then off came my high heels. By the way, maintaining a positive attitude while walking barefoot on a hot pavement needs skills – which I’m trained for as a mindfulness wellness coach. Anyways, I’ve been in Leiden for a week now right? I got this. By one week I feel like a local.
When I begin to see trees, lots of huge trees I realized my tourist ego had played a trick on me. Unaware I walked over 3 miles and I had reached a park located on the outskirts of the town. Being a tech savvy gal I immediately reached into my pocket for my cell phone – only to discover my cell phone was on my bed in my apartment (inserting palm on my face with “WTF” expression). Scanning my smartwatch – the smartwatch that wasn’t so smart due to lack of international data plan - indicated I had 30 minutes to get back to the conference. Several attempts communicating with locals failed due to language barrier. Fighting tears of helplessness and mentally arguing with the immature part of my ego I reluctantly approached a woman with a stroller – or was that my inner child reaching out to a mother? Fighting back my tears I acknowledged “I’m lost and I need direction. Please help!” Overtly expressing myself was a huge sense of relief. My tears instantly dried as I was greeted by an English speaking Crystal with a welcoming smile and an accent. Crystal, a mother of an infant was on her afternoon walk gently rocking her daughter to sleep in her stroller. Crystal assured me that getting lost in Leiden is ‘a thing’ even for the locals. The familiarity and the monotonous pattern of the town have a meditative impact on the soul. One can easily lose track of time and purpose. Being a resident for 6 years had still not trained Crystal’s neuropathways and she too occasionally gets lost in Leiden. Instead of being defeated by the ancient hypnotic paths she decided to create a documentary detailing each street and corners of the old historical town. Lucky me, my wrong path brought me to Crystal, who unaware enlightened me that defeat is not an option, it’s only a state of mind.
She then graciously walked me towards a bridge… a bridge that unbelievably crossed over directly to my apartment. You see all this while I was walking parallel to my designated path unaware, when I lost confidence and was led by my ego I lost track of self. It took me Crystal, a stranger who was my guide when I was lost, to help me reach my destination. All I had to do was ask … and I received a lesson of a lifetime. Little things mean a lot!
At that moment I was in awe of the raw beauty of Leiden and the Universe! With mindful awareness I allowed my inner child to cross one of those amazing century old bridges to get home.
Caroline Fernandes is a holistic integrative psychotherapist & a wellness life coach.