Dear Kelly and Joe,
I was elated when I heard about your honeymoon plans in Europe – my former “stomping grounds”! My first reaction was to supply you with several single-spaced lists of places to visit, but the wiser part of me prevailed when I realized this would be your adventure, your time to follow the road as it opened before you.
Speaking of roads, I admired your decision to drive most everywhere. In all my travels around Europe, I never once drove a car: it was that shifting gears thing. Fortunately, I loved train travel and became pretty proficient at herding teenagers on and off streetcars and subways.
I must say, too, that I was wowed by your itinerary, complete with hotel confirmation numbers and lists of possible indoor and outdoor activities at each destination. Of course, my trips between 1969 and 2001 predated websites and apps. I depended on a topnotch AAA travel agent for reservations and whatever guidebooks I could scrounge up for sightseeing tips. In fact, for a long time I relied on Arthur Frommer’s Europe on Five Dollars a Day – even when he upped it to $10!
When your photos began popping up on Facebook, I turned green with envy even as recollections filled my mind. Yes, I suffered a few pangs of jealousy that you were there – and I was not. But as I scrutinized each picture, memories flooded back.
If there is a city in the world to begin a European tour, it must be Paris: City of Love, City of Light. Paris is one of the grand capitals of the continent, featuring relics of history that have become iconic landmarks instantly recognizable everywhere.
As I saw you standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, I recalled my visits to the humongous iron lattice, remainder of the 1889 World’s Fair. In the early 70’s my fellow travelers and I came to understand its true scale as we walked across Paris to view up close the once-controversial-now-beloved monument. Every stretch of street geography, while seeming to place us almost there, tired our legs a little more – La Tour Eiffel remaining a distant goal.
I also enjoyed your pictures of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Of all the churches and chapels I have visited, however, my favorite view of this centuries-old Gothic structure has always been from a distance, its flying buttresses, gargoyles, and rose window on display.
From the sparkle of glass behind you, I anticipated your picture of a picture: the Mona Lisa. My visits to the Louvre, home of the famous painting, occurred before the construction of the glass pyramid serving as the museum’s current entrance. Like you, I worked my way through a throng of tourists to stand before the portrait of the lady with the enigmatic smile. Would you agree that for all the fame of this painting, at 2 feet by 1 foot it seemed relatively small?
I had to reach deep into my recollections to focus on your stop in Venice. My long-ago summer sojourn in northern Italy has been reduced to dim impressions of the city with canals in place of streets.
I can remember crowds of tourists whenever I crossed bridges or strolled along waterways. There was grand architecture to observe and a plethora of water buses, water taxis, and gondolas. The treat of Venice: soft scoops of creamy strawberry gelato at an outdoor café – delizioso!
Equally abbreviated are my memories of your next destination: Salzburg, where I once spent an afternoon with some group of students on some summer trip. I vaguely recall that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born there.
I think, however, that we probably equally prefer the picturesque landscape surrounding the Austrian city, with breathtaking vistas provided by the Alps. And what a beautiful setting for your tour of the locations used in the filming of The Sound of Music: the gazebo, the monastery, the fountain, the church where the von Trapp family sang and danced.
I do have quite the collection of memories from multiple visits to Munich. For me, Germany’s third largest city always had the feel of a much smaller town. You, my students, and I had our choice of interesting churches to visit as well as the main square – Marienplatz – dominated by the court house and its glockenspiel. And, yes, occasionally we stopped at the gigantic Hofbräuhaus filled with tourists and noise and oompah music – and, well, beer!
Munich was often my on-the-scene classroom where my students received their introduction to being surrounded by all-things-German before meeting their exchange partners. The Bavarian capital also served as a base from which we ventured out to the nearby Dachau Concentration Camp and the more-distant Neuschwanstein Castle.
Of course, honeymoons and exchange trips all eventually come to an end; and we return to busy lives in familiar surroundings. But we will forever have our memories of traipsing through distant places different enough to remember for years to come.
When you reach my age – in forty years or so – I hope you will understand my ultimate description of travel as stated by Greek poet, C.P. Cavafy: When you start on your journey, then pray that the road is long, full of adventure, full of knowledge; that the summer mornings are many; that you will enter ports seen for the first time with such pleasure, with such joy!