Saturday, February 25, 2006

Best things in life are cheap

Best things in life are…cheap if you know where to look.

I do believe that best things in life may be free, but what is not free is getting to where they are and putting yourself in the situations where you are more likely to find them.
Too many of us are simply short of both time and money to be able to travel to places where such things are free.

Some twenty odd years ago I had a dream to fall in love with a French girl, and to have her say to me: ”Je t’aime”. It did happen, but not in Paris. Since I had no money to go to France, I decided to take a train from New York to Montreal, and then, on to Quebec City. This is about as close to France culturally as you can get. I had only $800 at my disposal which I changed to Canadian money and it became something like $1200 in their dollars- quite a big factor in giving me more breathing space while on the trip. I rented a room in a student boarding house, and spent one month hanging around the Gothic, Celtic and very French city of Quebec- a strange, out of place town which, in my opinion, simply does not belong in North America as we know it. It has an old section of town behind a mediaeval wall, and many castles, courtyards, and quite European-looking shadowy alleys which make you feel like you are, in fact, living in France.

I started frequenting a café in the town where people were friendly and where I met a local girl. We fell in love and, one day, we both stood in front of St. Lawrence River with the huge Frontenac Castle behind us, and she murmured as she looked straight at me. “Je t’aime”.

This memory is so precious and so intense that up until today I cannot forget the solemn, ice-bound watercourse to the right of me, the crisp air around us, the oblique winter sun, the shadow of the somber castle hanging over us, and the words “ I love you” uttered in French, the most beautiful language on Earth.

I think that for some, an experience like that may be worth many years of work and struggle, but it cost me only $800. It was one of the greatest highlights of my entire life. It wasn’t costly, but it wasn’t free, either. I still had to spend money to get to Quebec City and to take buses around it, feed my girlfriend, etc. It was money well-spent, though.

I also did something that not many people do. Since I was very poor at that time, I was able to take ‘French courses’ by becoming an “auditor’ at LaVal University’- the biggest institution of higher learning in that town. I attended many classes, met quite a few people, all without paying a dime. I asked the university staff if I had to pay for classes if I did not take them for credit, and all said “‘No’, just talk to the teacher, and if the teacher says ‘it’s OK’, then just go ahead and sit in the class”.

All this was done in just thirty days, but the amount of experience was tremendous. Many months have come and go, each one so much like the other, but that was probably the best month in that period of my life. It was not free, but it was like so many other best things in life- inexpensive.

So, since then, I have dedicated a lot of time to studying where I could get quality time and meet quality people, enjoy great beaches and sunsets, fall in love, dance, make great friends for as little money as possible. And it is very doable if one sits down and does his homework. The thing is, one simply needs to pick a destination which contains unusually concentrated amounts of a certain thing one likes, be it great beaches, great people or great food, but it has to be a bit off the beaten path where most people do not go. Like Quebec City. This way, you will be able to enjoy the best things in life cheaply because best things in life are relatively cheap.

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