My wife and I recently traveled to Europe, our first trip on foreign soil — unless you count a family visit to Toronto and a Blue Jays baseball game.
During our recent 17-day European excursion — to Germany (Munich); Austria (Vienna); the Czech Republic (Prague); Slovakia (Bratislava), and Hungary (Budapest) — we were part of a 35-member tour group.
We visited castles and concentration camps. We viewed amazing and historical art in museums, churches and synagogues. We took in the 1972 Summer Olympics Games venue in Munich, where Israeli athletes were despicably murdered.
And, of course, we diligently explored the cuisine of central Europe, including its tasty hot and cold beverages.
We returned home exhausted from full days of walking eight to 12 miles up and down paths, stairways, roads, hills and even a cave-turned-World War II hospital that since has been converted into a museum in Budapest. And we generated memories to last forever.
In pondering how blessed we were to view and experience such first-time sights, I got to thinking how much of our greater Northwest Indiana region I have been negligent in experiencing and appreciating of late.
Our Region gets a bad rap for what we are perceived to be or, for that matter, what we are not. The Indiana Dunes is a nationally recognized lakeshore, suitable for natural enjoyment in countless ways. It’s been awhile since I last hiked, jogged, swam or merely took in the dunes experience.
As a melting pot of America that once attracted U.S. citizens and immigrants alike to well-paying, readily-available manufacturing jobs, Northwest Indiana became a 20th century destination for countless individuals and families. Times obviously have changed, but I cannot recall the last time I took a nostalgic drive to East Chicago and Whiting to remind me of our glorious industrial past.
Some NWI change, of course, has been for the better if we just pay attention to it. During my years working at what is now Purdue University Northwest, I frequently found myself attempting to update the mindset of many a Northwest Indiana resident who failed to take note of years of university progress. Such progress includes the emergence of what is now Indiana’s fifth largest public university, attended by students from across our region, nation and world — many of whom come from countries we regionites go off to visit.
During my recent overseas trip, I was in awe of breathtaking architecture and the impeccable detail of murals painted by gifted artists centuries ago on the expansive ceilings of Czech castles. I was impressed with friendly native residents, most of whom, it seemed, spoke English. I appreciated the rich, flavorful taste of a cup of European coffee in Vienna and marveled at an outdoor beer garden with seating accommodations for some 6,500 customers in Munich.
I also brought home a mind full of indelibly sober memories from the devastating impact of World War II.
Back home again in Northwest Indiana, I have come to the conclusion it may have taken a trip halfway across the globe to broaden my horizons and also realize there is far too much that I — perhaps many of us — take for granted here in the Region.