Serendipity is the act of finding something valuable or delightful when you are not looking for it.
To get that ‘isn’t that sweet’ moment out of the way, it was serendipity that brought Gordon and I together. Despite our paths having crossed for many years through university and our kids attending the same school, we did not meet until 12 years ago, though he claims to remember some cute little red head (I think that’s what he said). I did not even know of his existence. Go figure. So it was serendipity that brought us together, and it seems to be working out very well.
It was also serendipity that brought us into the travel writing industry.
Serendipity and Travel
It is serendipity that has made our travels so enjoyable and unexpected. It was Gordon who got me to embrace these unexpected discoveries as opposed to being the born organizer that I was. In my own defence, I was a teacher and a single mother, and perhaps maybe, just a little bit of a control freak… just a little. So now we just go with the flow, and it is amazing what we discover and learn, purely by accident. So if we get lost, take a wrong train, big deal .. We tend to find something that we were not looking for, and that ends up being remarkable.
But serendipity didn’t start with us and nor will it end with us.
Origin of the Word Serendipity
An Englishman, an avid letter writer named Horace Walpole, coined the term. In 1754, he wrote this word ‘serendipity’ to Horace Mann. He says that is due to a “silly fairy tale” he once read called ‘The Three Princes of Serendip’.
According to this tale, three Persian princes sailed off to make their fortunes in the “land of silk”, an island called Serendip, which is now Sri Lanka. The princes, much like us, just wandered around discovering things, not on their list of must do’s. One of the princes claimed that a mule that was blind in his right eye had just walked the same route as they were doing. His deduction was that the grass was only eaten on the left side of the road. They were delighted. There seem to be other additions to the story as it was a camel, and it was carrying a pregnant woman, but this is where you get the stories within a story that make travelling so special. So there are stories to be found or created on the road especially when you don’t plan it, and just embrace the things that happen.
Other Serendipity Moments
“Eureka”, was Archimedes famous cry when he realized that the water he displaced meant something to do with buoyancy (I am so not scientific) and he ran naked into the street because he was now able to tell whether the gold crown that the king was given was real gold or not. That was serendipity; fat man gets in the bath, water overflows and he discovers something special and important. He hadn’t intended to; it just was happy coincidence, serendipity.
Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered fungus was growing on culture and now by sheer luck we have penicillin and antibiotics. Apparently Velcro, Vaseline and Teflon were also accidental discoveries – serendipity, and probably totally useless information but I thought some people may be interested in that trivia.
We have had some interesting moments that you would have to call serendipity. Finding an obscure reference to the Dosojin fire festival in Japan led us to our beloved second home, Nozawa Onsen in Japan. Wandering into a bar in Kandy, Sri Lanka (Serendip) and getting into an active discussion with some Americans over the better wines – Australian or American (no brainer!), we made some lovely friends. Gordon driving to work and watching the sun rise and deciding that he wanted to see an eclipse of the sun got us to Turkey (ok, he’s odd).
Wandering around Takayama, we got lost and happened upon a parade. This was the fire brigades big day out, and it was incredible and colourful and not mentioned on any guidebooks. Nearly taking the wrong train in Ghent because it said Gand wouldn’t have mattered. Finding that elusive little café in a back street of Venice where only locals go, or following a family from St Peters Square to Trastevere in Rome on Easter Sunday and eating a big meal with a lot of Catholic families was serendipity, despite the headaches the next day.
Now I am going to get all philosophical because I am slightly better at that than science but isn’t travel all about serendipity, or as the Dutch call it, ‘geluk big een ongeluk’, happiness by accident.
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