We planned our "Trip of a Lifetime" over a year before we actually took it and it happened kind of accidentally. It started when I asked Beaven to do a chore around the house. It was something ordinary that he normally does quite readily--like cutting a tree down. But this time he declared that he was "too old" to do it. Then he went into a whole list of things that he's now "too old" to do. And one of the things on his list that he is now "too old" to do is travel. When he got to the part about not being able to travel to Europe anymore because he's "too old" I stopped him. Wait....I'm not too old. Do you care if I go without you? Given his blessing I suddenly wanted to go to Europe with a passion I had never felt before. So I called Elizabeth, the only daughter with the money and the vacation time to make it happen. "Sure!" she said. So we started planning a trip. It would be so easy. Elizabeth and I travel well together.
Then once we got to looking at the ideas, I noticed that our favorite tour group had one for families. I called her up, "Hey! Wanna take the girls with us?" "Sure!" So now we were taking my granddaughters. Easy enough. We would just split the costs in half. It would be so much fun to show them the world. They are the prime age for this.
And, of course, once Beaven got wind of this, suddenly he wasn't so "old" anymore. But as luck would have it, I couldn't remember the chore I had asked him to do for me that started this whole thing. But it did bring more energy to him. And for that alone I think the whole thing was worth it.
Now, my theory about vacations is that it really doesn't matter where you go. You can plan it all out to every last gas station if you want.
But the real purpose of a vacation is just hanging out together. All the rest of it is just scenery. According to my theory you could just rent a van and cram the whole family into it and drive around town for a day or two, stopping once in a while for snacks and lunch, maybe stopping in at a motel for the night. Everything valuable, all the memories--most of them, anyhow, the inside jokes, the laughs, are made while you're "getting where you're going." A vacation to Europe is just better scenery with a little history thrown in. Most of the stories we told when we got home were of standing in lines at airports and what happened on the Metro, not what we saw at the museums.
It's been over a month since this vacation and I haven't posted anything. You have my cousin Ann to thank for this. She has gotten impatient for news and she doesn't do facebook. Neither does Linda Terpstra. Thank them both.
I thought I might have better luck just moving the stuff I posted on facebook to the blog to describe our trip since I posted a lot about our trip on facebook, with the theory of one picture is worth a thousand words. And it turns out there are very little words and a whole lot of pictures on facebook.
Still, I didn't take a lot of conventional photos. This is one of the few of them.
This is one of the first photos I took once we landed in London. It turned out to be the morning they had a huge parade for the Queen's 90th birthday--which we hadn't a clue about. And the only thing we knew about was that when we checked into our hotel we found out it was across the street from the Lord's Cricket Grounds and there was a huge cricket match going on. This made for boisterous noise and spirit all over the hotel so we assumed that was all that was going on in London that day. When there was a red, white and blue fly-over with military jets as we walked down the street we thought it was the cricket matches. The girls couldn't understand why England was doing a fly-over with the USA colors until we explained it was their colors before we stole them.
We enjoyed a good walk around London.
The next day we took a ride on the London Eye which gives you a great view of London. While I was waxing glorious about how the east end is more modern because it was where the docks were and was bombed into smithereens during WWII and thus re-built recently their eyes glazed over and I knew we weren't going to learn any European history this week. Still, it made for some good photos.
We knew going into this that food would be a challenge. Sarah won't eat anything more foreign than a hamburger with catsup. I sent out a challenge to both of them to try new things. They did pretty good. Both girls tasted duck. Essie declared it tasted like beef. Sarah said it was nasty. Essie was a lot more adventurous and tried several new things, though both girls drew the line at snails.
But once we discovered a Five Guys Burgers and Fries in London Sarah was in heaven. I think we ate there twice if not three times. There may have even been one in Paris. They kind of blur together. We also found a Hard Rock Café in Rome and, of course, MacDonalds were everywhere. Once Sarah tried the chicken nuggets at MacDonalds I asked her if they were different from the ones in the US and she declared they were a LOT better. When I asked why, she thought for a minute and declared with quiet suspicion, "I think they are made with real chicken."
Beaven hates taking cabs and loves the public transportation system in Europe. We bought city passes for London and Paris before we even left home. We could get on any bus or subway car we wanted with just our card. The girls picked up a knowledge of the maps like they had been taught it in first grade. We moved around faster than above ground and I found myself feeling sorry for the Queen until Elizabeth pointed out they stop traffic for her. Still, we got to go a lot faster than I'll bet the Queen travels. And we met people I'll bet the Queen NEVER meets.
When we got to Paris the Eurocup was playing. This meant several things: they were EXPECTING a terrorist attack and there was a military presence like I've never seen before. Once we needed to cross through the fan zone (which was free) and found it wasn't quite a walk in the park. The fan zone was surrounded by (1) metal riot fencing forming a ring around the fan zone (2) Gendarmes, which is the French military police. They had Humvees parked bumper to bumper in a circle around the fan zone and two Gendarmes stationed at each Humvee. Outside this ring was (3) the Paris city police with their police cars parked bumper to bumper and policemen stationed at each car. To get past this corridor you had to be frisked. I've never been frisked so thoroughly before.
There were people from all over Europe crammed into Paris. You could drink to your heart's content on the Metro since you weren't operating a motor vehicle. The people from all over Europe who were drinking to their heart's content were on the Metro with us.
At 10:30 A.M. That's right: Ante Meridiem
.....BEFORE noon..... we got on the Metro in Paris with a group of English guys who were supporting their team in a soccer match that day. The game had not even started. Yet they were already in the "spirit" of the game. Each guy had a plastic sack with a six pack of beer. And the instant they got on the car and the car started they each opened a can of beer. They were loud and boisterous but with an English accent which sounded SO PROPER that they almost didn't sound drunk. But they were still obnoxious so we were glad--everyone on the car was glad-- when they got off.
We went to Europe as part of a Rick Steve's tour. I can't say enough good things about the Rick Steve's tours. For our family it's the perfect blend of doing things on your own with just the right amount of having a tour guide drive you places and explain things to you. Our guide was fantastic. The tour left us with lots of time on our own. One of the things the tour didn't cover that we did on our own was going to the Eiffel Tower.....We marked our calendar six months ahead and made our reservations on the first opportunity you could get them because they sell out so fast. It's one of those tourists Must Do" things that we didn't want the girls to miss. Plus they got fantastic photos of the Eurocup game below the tower. We had several discussions over whether this was the actual game site but we do know this was also the site of the Fan Zone. The Fan Zone was free and anyone could go. There was a huge TV screen so you could see all the action--probably better than if you were at the actual game. The ground was muddy. Remember how full of spirit our friends on the Metro were? I heard a sighting of one guy with mud all over the front of his shirt and muddy footprints on the back of his shirt.
And the girls have a picture of themselves atop the Eiffel Tower. There's about three levels. To get to the top you have to climb stairs. They actually went to the top. I didn't. I don't do heights.
Because this was a Family Tour there were some unusual activities for kids. One that we enjoyed in Paris was learning to play Petanque, which is a lot like the British game of Boule.........maybe more like bowling in America. It means in French, literally, "put your ankle" and you throw a heavy ball trying to hit another ball without doing something.....I got cloudy on the rules once they brought out French pastries to nibble on while we played. I nibbled more than I played. Beaven kept his British hat and cut a very Continental pose. I was distracted by knowing there were pastries on the bench right behind me.
A day earlier some madman n Orlando, Florida had attacked a bunch of people at a gay nightclub and killed a lot of people. We were feeling very sad and disconnected. Then we saw the Paris municipal office with the rainbow flag on display in solidarity. We would later see this same thing in Florence and Rome.
We went to the Louvre and saw all the standard stuff like the Mona Lisa and such. The biggest attraction for the Els family, however, was the bathroom at the Louvre. Notably, (thanks to our guide's advice) the Japanese Spa treatment for an extra Euro payment. For this extra payment you get not just the regular clean bathroom but an "extra" clean and "sanitized" bathroom plus a built-in bidet which was much better than the ones the bathrooms had. (And by the end of the trip we were experts on bidets.) You could also buy colored toilet paper there--which Essie did, and later found out it was also scented. OK, yes, we go to the most famous art museum in the world and bring home toilet paper.
We split up once which only meant that I got lost and it took them an hour to find me. But I had some great moments with Michaelangelo's Prisoners.
After Paris We traveled to Burgundy to a villa for a couple of days.
For dinner that evening our guide wanted everyone to get to know each other so she encouraged all to dance. She brought in a local accordionist to play for us and later that evening a guy came and played the Alpenhorn.
I can't add the video of the alpenhorn or the accordion yet. I'll have to do it later.
Then we went to Switzerland.
Believe it or not this is the ONLY photo we got of all five of us together. We're not very good tourists. This was before we went inside the Trummelbach Falls--a waterfall inside a mountain.
I can't get the video of inside the waterfall inside a mountain to post......and I'm only half-way through the vacation and this blog already posted accidentally. So I'll fix the typos and let you have it. Then I'll post the second half of the vacation later. Stay tuned.