As I write you this blog, I am sitting in seat 33J on a return flight home from Europe with my family where we have visited London, Paris, Düsseldorf, Rotterdam and Amsterdam, having started our journey just seven days after the attacks in Paris. This is the second time in my life I have had to make a choice to travel because of a few people whose goal it was to scare the world, but the third time terrorism has touched aspects of my life.
As a native New Yorker, the first time was the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the second was on September 11, 2001. Not only did I land in Newark where Flight 93 departed from early in the morning on September 11th, I was also scheduled to fly out of Newark on September 18, 2001 to launch a hair color line for a Belgium hairdresser at a resort location in France. At the time, my wife and I had a brand new, not yet even nine-month-old daughter. I can still remember the call from the International Director of Education on September 13th, letting me know the company had cancelled everyone else who was flying to Europe for a meeting (except the President of the company who was flying on a private jet), asking me if I would still go to launch the new hair color line. I remember saying to him that I would go, but I needed to ask my wife, Leah, first. As I sat with Leah, I explained to her that the only way I knew I could fight terrorism was to not live in fear and to put my butt on a plane. But with a young family, if she wanted me to stay, I would. I have always said Leah is the secret to our success, and though scared, she agreed to have me go. On September 18, 2001, after five-and-a-half hours to clear endless security checks, I flew to Europe and joined my buddy Peter Bokanowski, then both flew the second day planes were allowed to fly internationally.
I must admit, I was proud of that choice, though it was not one I thought I would have to make so directly again until November 13, 2015 happened in Paris, just seven days before our planned family trip to Europe. Ironically, the goal for our trip was to share with our daughters that their life as American girls is not normal when compared to the way young ladies grow up in the rest of the world. Our trip was planned to first stop in London, then Paris, Düsseldorf and finally Amsterdam, where I wanted them to experience what it would have been like to be a Jewish teenage girl under Nazi occupation when they visited Anne Frank’s house, a place I have visited four times.
On November 13, 2015, again as we watched in horror as a few jerks once again tried to change the world, I could see my girls ages 12 and 14 worry if this could happen to them. We sat down to talk and my youngest Claire asked, “Could this happen to us?” I answered, “Sure it could,” to which she replied, “Thanks a lot dad.” I then reassured her, “But it most likely will not.” We discussed how some people won’t fly, though it is safer than driving, and the fact that you are more likely to be in an accident close to your home more than any other place in the world. And I shared with my girls the only way I know to fight terrorism is to not live in the fear they try to create. I must say I am very proud of my family and would love to share some highlights (and how many steps walked) of our trip/whirlwind tour, or as I have hashtagged it, #NoFearTour2015.
We had two quick and very sleep deprived days landing at 10am Friday, November 20th and leaving Sunday, November 22nd. Friday (with no sleep on the plane), we visited Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, exchanged some money and then were off to Camden Town for great shopping and eating. We crashed around 8pm, staying at the Holiday Inn Vaux Hall (20,360 steps). Saturday we were up and out early to Portobello Market for more great shopping, stopped by the Unofficial Banksy Store, took a double decker bus ride through Notting Hill, had fun in Harrod’s and even walked across the Tower Of London at night (19,546 steps). Sunday we were off to Paris on Easy Jet.
We landed in Paris Sunday mid-afternoon, and after making our way to the Airbnb flat we rented, we were off at night walking throughout the beautiful city of Paris. There is a reason Paris is called the city of lights and I wanted my girls to see it, so we saw Notre Dame, The Louvre and from across the river, a peek at the Eiffel Tower (22,068 steps). Monday, November 23rd, was “dedicated” to visiting the Louvre. From the Mona Lisa to Venus de Milo and Winged Victory, we tried to see it all. When I asked our 12-year-old daughter what she thought, it was the quote of the day, “I think we are going to see a lot of boobies and wienies.” I guess in some ways this was a good prep for Amsterdam (20,068 steps). Tuesday, November 24th was a rainy cold day, so we bundled up and went out to visit The Arc de Triumph, The Champs de Elysee, shopped, saw The Eiffel Tower and walked all over trying to find a restaurant we never made it to (26,783 steps). Wednesday, it was up and off to Düsseldorf by train from Gare du Nord. Starting in Paris, we stopped at all of the terrorist hot spots along the way, including Brussels and Aachen, before reaching Düsseldorf (we all felt very safe-20,524 steps).
We were surprised at the station by the person who was the best man at our wedding who took our back packs in his truck so we could walk easier to visit a salon owner who has brought me to Germany to teach for him since I was 23, Intercoiffure member, Pierre Villageville. After a wonderful reunion with friends, we checked into our Airbnb before we returned to the Altstadt to visit the Christmas Markets. Thursday, we visited the town that our best man owns a house in, walked to a castle that sits on a nature preserve where we had a wonderful lunch, explored parts of the castle grounds, and made friends with the peacocks before heading back to Düsseldorf to see some other friends who are music producers and own a record label. The girls got to try out some DJ-ing moves on turntables with real records and got a lesson in music production before we headed out for a dinner in our honor with more friends (10,735 steps). Friday, we shopped in the Altstadt and ate lots of Reibekuchen and crepes w/Nutella and Glühwein before it was off to Rotterdam very late in the day by high speed train (19,748 steps).
In Rotterdam, we stayed with my wife’s cousin and her family who live there and we had so much fun. Saturday, it was up and off early to all the neighbors, borrowing four more bikes for our family. After some quick adjustments lowering all of the seats to accommodate our American size (the Netherlands has the tallest women in the world by average height), we were on our way. We biked through the countryside and through the city (possibly all of it from the miles we rode) to the markets downtown. We even visited a gnome holding an awkward looking thing that was hard to explain to the kids (again good prep for Amsterdam), and even stopped by to meet the Schorem Barbers of Rotterdam (six hours of biking and walking with 20+ miles on a bike).
The reality is most people who try to use fear, don’t have any good ideas to offer themselves and they want us to think that other places are scary or dangerous.
Like in Paris, we had one cold rainy day in the Netherlands and it was the day we visited Amsterdam. So again, we bundled up, and off we went and we hit it all. From shopping to eating, and walking the canals everywhere, the girls saw coffee shops from the outside, walked through the red light district with us, and most importantly, visited Anne Frank’s House (14,839 steps).
Not only did we have a great time in London, Paris, Düsseldorf, Rotterdam and Amsterdam, but my girls were able to see that being an American teenage girl is not normal, it is just one of the normals in the world. The reality is most people who try to use fear, don’t have any good ideas to offer themselves and they want us to think that other places are scary or dangerous. But the reality my girls experienced was one of joy, laughter, friendship and fun. Seeing that some things might look strange, be strange or may taste strange in comparison to what is normal to their lives at home doesn’t make it wrong, just different, and their normal. We felt safe, we felt welcomed and as we head into the holiday season, remember there are good people out there, everywhere, and just because they don’t live like us or look like us, doesn’t mean that they might not just be another friendly hairdresser like you just trying to make the world beautiful too.