There are only so many ways most of us experience a place as we travel. We are usually on a schedule, with a plane or ship to board at the end of the day or week. We have to make the best of the time we have at any destination so we buy a map, take a tour, or hop on and hop off a bus that hits the highlights. What we take away is uniquely our own, but on the surface may seem similar to what any other tourist experiences.
I thought about this recently when I stepped off the Hurtigruten ship at Bergen, the final port on my cruise along the coast of Norway. Touring the city, I took the same photo a million others have taken of the Bryggen quarter, the row of colorful old buildings on the waterfront that seem to be leaning against one another. I ate fish and chips at the fish market. I climbed the Rozenkrantz Tower and looked out on the ships on the river. I shopped for souvenirs. I visited museums and monuments. But then, strolling across a wide square, someone slipped a flyer in my hand. There was to be a free performance of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra--one of the oldest in the world--on the square that night.
Excited, I made my way back at the end of the day. A large platform had been erected and the orchestra filled the stage. A large crowd had gathered and more people continued to come into the square until there were thousands of us standing shoulder to shoulder, gazing at the large screen that projected the images of the musicians and actors. I could see people in the windows and on the rooftops of apartments that overlooked the stage but on the square there were no chairs, no benches, no tables with wine and cheese.
For more than an hour, the crowd, silent and attentive, was focused on the performance. No one complained about standing on cobblestones or that anyone was blocking their view. The music, familiar and dynamic, was wonderful. The actors were compelling. The language didn’t matter. It was a come-as-you-are celebration of art and humanity and national pride.
Isn’t that what we’re really seeking when we set out to see the world, the chance to turn a corner in some foreign place and step into a moment that strikes us and burns into us like lightning?
I believe it is.
I could have missed the man with the flyer. I could have spent the evening on another side of town ignorant of the incredible performance in the square. But, as sometimes happens, I was in the right place at exactly the right time. When centuries of history and culture, music and art came together to silence the restless crowd and bring a city to life.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org