By Samantha Lund, Columnist

I have never been more excited than when I got the chance to take a trip to Europe in high school. Not because I know any of the languages or because I like the food or could even tell you about European culture.

The only reason I was excited was because a tiny piece of Europe was Paris. The city of love and wonder that every romantic comedy I had ever watched ended in. I wanted to see the Eiffel tower and the “Mona Lisa,” and that was all I could think about.

What people do not talk about as much are the smaller cities and towns that are everywhere. On my trip, I spent many days in smaller cities in France, Germany and Spain, and I found most of my memories in them. At the same time, the smaller towns were just stepping stones until I got to Paris.

Then I got there. Oh boy.

It was crowded, nobody cared to help me find my way around and I got lost, a lot. Paris was beautiful and made for some really good pictures, but at the end of the trip, I had more fun in the smaller towns.

At one point in my travels I ran into another family from America, and we helped each other find where we were supposed to be. We were all staying in Heidelberg, Germany.

Once we got there we were greeted with friendly faces, and we all ended up getting lunch together. The people who lived in the city were kind and made sure we all had a good time. We were even invited to a party. It seemed like strangers wanted to make us feel at home.

That night, we went to a house party in Heidelberg. It was nothing too big, but there were plenty of people and we mingled, practiced our German and tried plenty of German beers and foods. These were people we had never met before, but they greeted us with open arms as “The Americans.”

In Germany, the guests always have to take the first drink of their beer before the party can begin. In small towns, people will teach you the customs and want you to have a good time. And with us, they did.

Small towns usually have less traffic, are less crowded and you get the chance to take a step back, breathe and look at the world around you without having to be constantly moving.

That night, I took a step back, looked at where I was, and I realized that even though it was not my dream of Paris, it was much, much better.

The big cities like Barcelona, Paris and London are all beautiful and worth the trip. But the smaller cities should not be looked over. Small cities are where I met the most people.

Most in a small town are willing to sit there as you fumble through your phrase book to ask where the nearest ATM is. A friendly face is really something special when you are that far from home.

The next day, we were walking through town and saw many of the same people we had seen that night. It helped that they all lived in a one-block radius of our hotel, and it was nice. It made us feel at home in another country, and it gave us the opportunity to soak in the culture rather than worrying about seeing all the sites.

The culture comes from the everyday people and their lives, not from looking at a big building or a painting. Those things are wonderful too, but they are not the true culture. That would be like someone from Germany coming to America and visiting New York and saying that is the culture.

Excuse me, but no. We are not all thin models who live in small apartments. We are not all working on our “big break.” We do not all spend our time in the Empire State Building. Just like the French do not spend all their time staring at the “Mona Lisa.”

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The Mast often publishes new and unique content from guest writers. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of Mast Media or Pacific Lutheran University.