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Take a Look

aalborg old town take a look around

Aalborg Old Town

What follows is a series of wonderful encounters that seemed rather magical to me at the time. Sure, they were all just coincidences, but as they continued I felt as though they changed me somehow.

Normally on a travel day, things are not as adventurous or amazing as on other days when I’m a bit more established in a foreign place. That’s because I’m worried about catching the train, plane, or boat, and I spend more time preparing, packing, and unpacking than anything else. However, on a recent travel day, nothing could have prepared me for the series of events that transpired.

I woke up in the morning in Aalborg, Denmark with a train to catch before noon. I debated whether I should even go out before I needed to go to the train station as I had packing to do and some online job responsibilities as well. Before getting to them, I Googled “what not to miss in Aalborg” just to see if I could easily see something cool if I were to go out for something to eat. The Google results showed me that I had completely missed the cute houses in Old Town on my bike ride through town on the only half-day I was in Aalborg, and they didn’t seem far away. So, I headed out for a pastry and to find these houses.

It was a beautiful morning—perfect temperature and few people about. The houses were getting older and cuter as I approached my destination. In a portico of sorts, an older man turned the corner and was going to pass me when I noticed his Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon” t-shirt. I said something like “great album”, and he was startled and said something in a foreign language. I asked if he could speak English, and we switched over to the normal pleasantries (Where are you from? Why are you here? etc.) in this covered alleyway. He told me about the best equipment that one must have to properly appreciate Dark Side of the Moon. We talked music, traveling solo, and purpose-of-life stuff. He was from Norway but has traveled all over the world, including time in Vietnam during the war.

What he really focused on was the phrase “take a look” which he repeated numerous times, either on its own or in relation to something he had seen in his travels. Basically, his purpose in life and advice to me was to go travel and see as much as possible because life is short, and if you spend it on your phone or doing nothing you have wasted your only chance to “take a look”.

As we parted, connected by our similar objectives, he told me to have a good life. I responded with “I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.” He laughed a good hearty laugh and said that was a good one. I could still hear his echoing laughter at my parting words when we were 20 meters away from each other walking in opposite directions. I wrote down the phrase “take a look” when I could no longer hear him laughing so I wouldn’t forget it or remember it incorrectly.

Flash forward just an hour or two later to the Aalborg train station where I was trying to pick up my train ticket that I reserved online. The machine wasn’t taking my credit card, and the lady next to me was also having trouble getting her ticket. Her train was in less than 10 minutes and mine was in about 30. She was super stressed and asked for help. I was stressed too, even though I had more time, but an event (that I won’t go into here) caused me to reevaluate my priorities and change the way I try to help others. In a nutshell, on the prior day I had determined to help others even if it meant I would miss out on something or it would cost me far more than I could ever expect in return. This was my first chance to put my resolution to work.

Instead of brushing her off, I agreed to help (which wasn’t easy because I had my luggage and I’m a foreigner as well). Ultimately, she missed her train and ended up on my train going to a different place than she had planned. She was traveling by bike, for the most part, so this was going to change her route. She didn’t have to go to her original destination that she bought the ticket for (and never received from the machine).

Once our train got moving she relaxed, and we began to talk. We found out that we had much in common, even though she is from Bulgaria. We both like to solo travel, take photos, and bike. Our life philosophies are also very similar. She described our meeting (on Instagram) as “…a very special encounter with a fellow traveler… Destiny works in unfathomable way!”. As we parted at the train station at my destination, which was her new starting point for riding, she gave me a Bulgarian coin to remember the odd way we met and our lively discussion on the train.

Not 24 hours later I was on a ferry to the Faroe Islands. The boat had a library, but every book was in Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, or Faroese except one—The Complete Illustrated Works of Hans Christian Andersen. Normally, I would not have picked it up, but I was just in Odense, his birthplace, and a weird story came up at the Metal Magic Festival about Hans Christian Andersen that tripped me out so I figured I should pick it up to see if some sort of fate or destiny wanted me to read a little H.C. Andersen.

Even though there are well over 150 stories in this book, and I was thinking I should flip to an old favorite, I decided, instead, to read the very first one—The Silver Shilling. As it turns out, this fictional tale has several of the elements of my prior two real stories from the previous day. The fable is about a coin that ends up in a foreign country and is hence worthless (similar to the Bulgarian token my new friend had just turned over to me).

Here is the quote from the story that ties my other encounters of the prior day together (including the exact phrase “take a look”, the need for adventure in foreign lands, etc.):

Several weeks had gone by, and the Shilling had traveled far out into the world without exactly knowing where he was, though he learned from the other coins that they were French or Italian. One said they were in such and such a town, another that they had reached such and such a spot; but the Shilling could form no idea of all this. He who has his head in a bag sees nothing; and this was the case with the Shilling. But one day, as he lay there, he noticed that the purse was not shut, and so he crept forward to the opening, to take a look around. He ought not to have done so; but he was inquisitive, and people often have to pay for that. He slipped out into the fob: and when the purse was taken out at night the Shilling remained behind, and was sent out into the passage with the clothes. There he fell upon the floor: no one heard it, no one saw it.

Next morning the clothes were carried back into the room; the gentleman put them on, and continued his journey, while the Shilling remained behind. The coin was found, and was required to go into service again, so he was sent out with three other coins.

“It is a pleasant thing to look about one in the world,” thought the Shilling, “and to get to know strange people and foreign customs.”

I don’t believe in fate, destiny, and all of that, but these coincidences that seem to be happening to me make me feel like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show.

Don’t forget to take a look.

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