Two cups of coffee, a few magazines, and an iphone. Is it break time at the office? An evening at the bookstore? No, it’s our first full meal in Europe — a couple of paninis with coffee for 105 Kroner — we were in Copenhagen, Denmark. And it was magical, with those first few hours seeming like we were in dream land. We had imagined ourselves in Europe for years, and it had finally happened.

Copenhagen was a logical city to start as it held a special place for us. Our daughter and son-in-law had lived there, twice. We had friends there we hadn’t seen for over seven years since our time together in South Florida. And now we were there. It was enchanting, exhilarating, disorienting in that wonderful way that waking up in a new and strange place can do to you. We were hooked. It was the beginning of 10 of the best days of our lives, so far. It was us opening the door to feelings and experiences we could only have fantasized about till then.

The city seemed so foreign, yet somewhat familiar. We had studied it for years. We talked with, and got to know people who’d lived there. The locals, while speaking a language we didn’t understand, were able to switch from Danish to English from one sentence to the next. Put another way, there was no language barrier to hurdle. We were so far away, farther than any place I had ever been before. And there was barely any adjustment to make.

And so after those coffees, and several more coffees over the next two days, we explored, entirely on foot. The historical core of the city is where the bulk of the sights are located, and I made sure our accommodations gave us convenient access to the sights we were interested in seeing. From our North American perspective, even our Airbnb apartment was in a historical building built in the 1700s. We were immersed in history. And the culture, while more difficult to access, was there. We could see it walking around and through the Danish parliament. We could see and hear it at the University of Copenhagen. And we certainly could experience it through the architecture and the food. Best of all though, we soaked it up hour after hour, and plateful after plateful when our previously mentioned Danish friends took us to a local eatery for a traditional Danish Holiday meal.

We travel to explore new places. We travel to see the sights, which can mean museums, castles, cathedrals, ruins, food — whatever floats your boat. But to truly experience a place, you have to slow down long enough to have those coffees, maybe some wine, or a few beers, maybe share a meal, and hope you’re blessed enough to be able to do so with good friends, or some friendly locals who are as curious about you as you are about them.

These experiences with the locals was the difference between our trip simply being great, and the life changing experience it turned out to be.