It’s finally here! The big, ‘Grand Tour of Europe’ that I have been planning for, praying about, refining, and highly anticipating for the last 10 years has finally arrived, and it’s time to go! After a couple of ‘stopover’ days in Iceland, we fly to Paris and then it’s on to ‘riding the rails’ thru Belgium, Germany, Austria and Italy over the next month.
Eddie is trying to remain calm and cool, but as this is his first trip overseas, he is actually jumping around like a little kid with butterflies in his tummy.
I have been stressed. Seriously stressed.
Why, I’m not exactly sure. I am, after all, a seasoned European traveler – or at least I tell myself that I am! I have lived in both Belgium and Italy, and have railed through Europe 4 times since moving back to Colorado. So what is my problem?
Maybe it’s trying to define the real purpose for this trip. Eddie and I actually sat at lunch a while back, and over burritos and margaritas, went over my ‘20 Questions Before You Travel’ and ‘Traits of a Successful Traveler’ blogs (both of which you can find in the PLANNING/ITINERARIES Category on this website). We talked and laughed and that helped, but I still found myself feeling stressed.
I have probably been over-thinking this whole thing, but here’s some of the things that I have been dealing with:
As a budding (and newly published!) travel writer, I assume I will be on a constant quest for story ideas. But that wasn’t the intent for this trip when I started planning so long ago. So, what is this trip really about?
“I want to make the most out of this trip for both of us”, I shared with Eddie as he turned a few shades of pale, hitting the computer’s ‘order now’ button and purchasing our plane tickets. “Don’t worry”, he said nonchalantly. “It’ll be great.” I think he was mostly trying to wrap his head around the amount that just went on the credit card, and I was about to regret pushing this issue with him.
So I poured over our route, making sure to hit all the necessary places one needs to see on a first visit to Europe, and making sure to include a few ‘new-to-me’ spots in anticipation of some (hopefully) amazing new memories. I seriously did my ‘due diligence’ with the itinerary, so no stress here, right?
Maybe this trip needs to be all about Romance!
Being this will be my first trip across the Pond without kiddos in tow, I am looking forward to a grown up vacation, and Eddie is always up for a little romance and ‘togetherness’. So, I have researched each city on our journey for the most romantic spots, the best views, the finest points to see the sunsets, the cutest wineries, the best locations for a picnic-in-the-park, the perfect places for people watching, and the quaintest of town squares. It doesn’t get more romantic than this! But…
Maybe this trip needs to be a learning experience!
Let’s face it. If you know nothing about the art, architecture or history of a place, you’re probably not going to get much out of visiting there. So back to work I went! I am prepared with information that could give the best tour guide a run for their money. I can give you details about Louis IV, the French Revolution, the Unification of Italy, and the fundamental differences between the Baroque and Renaissance styles. By the time we get home, we’ll be able to share our favorite beaches along the Cinque Terre, the best hiking trails in the Italian Alps, why Michelangelo’s David in Florence has one hand larger than the other! Eddie, too will be able to tell you all about his favorite car in the largest antique car museum in Europe – the Brussels ‘Autoworld’. Although I’m at the risk of putting Eddie into another information coma, I am prepared to answer any question.
Wait…maybe this trip is about not coming home to realize that we’d missed something we may never get to see again!
I remember that Eddie had once told me that he’d cringed at the schedules I’d kept on my trips through Europe with the kids, and that he wanted a lot more ‘down time’ on our trips. So, on one of our first camping trips together I planned out a day in Grand Jct., CO hiking and seeing some local sights, but leaving plenty of ‘down time’. By 3pm Eddie had a fire going in 80° heat and had met everyone in our campground. After hearing him inquire as to whether or not I had ‘anything else planned?’ I realized that I had been duped. ‘Down time’ was a lie.
“We are going to have some time to just sit at a café with a glass of wine and people watch, right? I’m really looking forward to enjoying the ‘European Experience’.” Eddie remarked casually at dinner one night.
Although I’d established that ‘down time’ was indeed a lie, I revisited the itinerary anyway wanting to make sure there was a balance between not missing the important things and also having time to enjoy the ‘European Experience’.
So. Back to the research I went. As I planned out each day, I painstakingly prepared each detail, making sure not to miss anything significant, but still going at a relaxed pace. I tried to avoid ‘bored time’ without sacrificing ‘visiting with new people’ time. I selected a variety of daily events so that it wasn’t all churches and museums. I researched the out-of-the-way, off-the-wall, not-usually-recommended-in-guide books things to do and see, without neglecting the main things that we’d chosen the particular destination for. I also left some ‘wiggle room’ for squeezing in any last minuet activities that might make themselves known, or that I might hear about on a travel show. Whew!
My ‘let’s just wing it’-type friends blackballed me for the next group excursion and someone managed to slip me the business card of a good counselor. I was not, however going to be blamed for a lame trip! Eddie carefully reminded me that he considered himself a grownup and that he was capable of taking responsibility for his own enjoyment. I was actually relieved to hear that.
“I want to go to church on Sundays while we’re away”, Eddie said quietly one evening while I was rattling off the number of steps to the top of the Duomo in Florence, and wondering if my bad ankle really wanted to make the ascension…
Great. Not sure if I had actually left that much wiggle room in our already full (but not too full) itinerary, I made the now all too familiar trek up to my computer to see where we would be and what we would be doing on each of the four Sundays we’d be away. After some adjustments, deletions and re-scheduling I am happy to say that we are planning to: attend a Hillsong Church service in French, a Cathedral service in German, an Italian Mass in a Medieval Monastery, see the Chanting Monks in Florence and attend Mass at St. Peter’s in Vatican City. That should do it!
“I want us to keep God first as we take this trip”. He said.
Although I was admittedly at a breaking point, ready to throw my stacks of paperwork into the air and resign as the ‘tour guide / organizer / make-sure-that-this-is-the-perfect-trip planner’ that I had never actually been expected to be, I honestly could not argue with or be frustrated by that statement.
I quietly made my last trip up to the office, shut down my computer, put my Rick Steves books back into the bookcase, and took a deep breath. I then went for a walk visualizing all that we were going to get to experience. I allowed myself to see God’s creative nature in all of the magnificent art and architecture that we would be standing in awe of. I saw His beauty as His hands sculpted the Alps, Italy’s Lake District, the forests of Bavaria and the rugged coastline of the Ligurian Sea. I acknowledged His omniscience knowing He’s been guiding all of history to bring about His ultimate plan. I also considered how He has revealed Himself not only through creation but also through His people and His Church, and (more often than not) despite His people and His Church!
Maybe this won’t be so stressful after all. It’s time now to relax and trust. Time to anticipate and enjoy the ride. Time to reconnect with my usual self who believes that everything happens just like it’s supposed to. Ahhh….yes. I’m ready.
“One last thing….” Eddie said, “I understand that tiny trailers are really big in Europe. Don’t you think that we should check out European campgrounds as we visit different cities? That is mostly what your website is about, right?”
Uh. Is the plane here yet?