Well, we’re back!
The idea of spending 32 days away from home was initially a little daunting, and I was afraid Eddie would spend the last week away wishing that this trip was over. But a few trains, a couple of pictures and 2 blinks of the eye and we were on a plane from Iceland bound for home.
I can’t believe how fast this trip went!
Now that I’m home and recovering from a head cold, jet lag, and a bit of ‘let down’, I’m now having some time to look at our pictures, plan for the next trip, and reflect on this one. I want to share that reflection with you.
A Quick Summary of where we went looks like this: Iceland, Paris, Belgium, Rhine Valley, Bavaria, Alps, Italian Lake District, Verona, Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence, Assisi and Rome.
Whew! Lots of ground, trains, cathedrals, art, history and Bread! Each day stood as its own trip, and now that Eddie has had an ‘overview’ of Europe, we can decide where we’d like to return to and spend more time.
After having lived in Europe for years and enjoying 4 trips back since moving back to the states, I thought there would be very few surprises on this trip.
I was wrong. And humbled.
What remains the same is my love for Europe and that feeling of ‘coming home’ each time I go back. There is always some familiarity and a sense of belonging. There is always the joy of eating outside at a café and enjoying being the ‘’temporary local’ that Rick Steves urges us to be. There is always the serenity of Northern Belgium, the ‘time-travel’ that Germany’s castles offer, and the opulence of Paris. The Alps will always take my breath away, and Italy’s Lake District will always embrace me and make me want to stay. Verona continues to remind me why Shakespeare penned the words, “There is no world without Verona walls”, Venice will always show off her crazy gondoliers fighting for ‘paddling space’ and driving on Roman streets will never cease to be an adventure.
But it’s been years since I’d been back to Europe, and there were definitely more than a few surprises that awaited me! Here are a few:
First and worst were the CROWDS! Holy Cow! All the major areas, sites, and reasons to visit are crammed with tourists – much more so than I remembered. I had parked myself in the front of a vaporetto (public transit boat) in Venice with my Rick Steves ‘Joy Ride down the Grand Canal’ info in hand waiting to identify and photograph some significant buildings. Instead, I viewed tourists from every angle who stepped into each of my photos and whacked me with their bags. By the time we reached San Marco Square, I was happy that I’d managed to hold on to my camera and NOT end up swimming the Grand Canal! Eddie and I adjusted our itineraries to seeing a major site first thing as it opened and / or last thing before closing time. We found interesting things to do in the middle of the day while the cruise ships were in port, waited until evening to go into the historic squares, and simply tried to stay away from the crowds. This was emotionally hard. Really hard. If you’re not careful, tourists can ruin a trip. Our next trip will probably be in off-season.
This trip was more spiritual than I had expected it to be. Eddie made a commitment to spend some time in prayer in each and every church, cathedral or monastery that we wandered into. We also attended Mass at multiple places and in multiple languages. Not being Catholic myself, I did find my eyes wandering to the beautiful art that adorns these places and wondering about their stories. Eddie kept me in line, though as he is more familiar with the structure of the Mass. We also enjoyed feeling more connected to God through learning some Church history and enjoying the art and architecture of the sacred places we visited.
We were definitely surprised at how much we enjoyed Belgium! I had lived in Mons (about 45 min from Brussels) and remember Belgium being mostly farmland with not too much to see or do, and I don’t remember thinking that Brussels was any big deal. But we visited Brussels anyway, along with Ghent and Bruges. What a pleasure! Brussels was busy, but it was manageable and there is so much to see. It also has the most beautiful Grand Place Historic Center! Ghent and Bruges were small-town friendly, quaint and so lovely. We are definitely going back. Next time maybe we’ll stay with our new friends, Bernard and Amb (that’s Dutch for Ann) who live near Ghent.
The trains have become considerably more complicated! No more just hopping on a train and showing up at your destination. Now there are so many trains and so many connections, as well as the schedules, rules and reservations that make your head spin and your pocketbook groan. Eddie (who remains the ultimate ‘car guy’) really didn’t love the trains and they stressed him out. I continued to remind him that trying to drive around was not only considerably more expensive, but wayyyyy more stressful. On the upside, trains in Europe are now non-smoking!
My knees are not what they used to be. We averaged 6-7 miles on foot each day of this trip. I was disappointed (and baffled) that I didn’t lose weight, but I was reminded that walking was why Europeans can still eat so much bread! I don’t remember struggling so much with all the stairs, and the uphill/downhill trekking that we did. I returned with a new commitment to add more walking into my life!
Paying to use the restroom doesn’t guarantee that they are clean. Yep. In Europe you pay-to-tinkle in most all public places. That used to mean that someone was cleaning up after you and making sure that there was toilet paper. Not so much anymore. You still pay, and there’s still attendants, but I think the massive amounts of tourists have worn these poor people down. I don’t judge…I wouldn’t want that job.
So many people now speak English. Eddie would visit with a stump. And meeting new people is one of his favorite things about travel, so I was concerned that the language barrier would be a problem. Not so. Despite my efforts to brush up on what French, German and Italian that I knew, everywhere we went we connected with people that we could talk to – even if it was some work (and charades) to do so! We met, had meals with, hiked with, and visited with people from all over the world. It made us a little embarrassed to admit that we only speak one language…
I’ll never consider myself a tourist, but I must admit that I’m not the expert on European Travel that I thought I was. Nope. I’ll never think of myself as a tourist. I am a traveler and there is a difference. I am however, humbled at how much technology and accessibility have impacted travel and how much there is to still learn! It’s time for me to put ego aside, stop dwelling on how things ‘used to be’ and jump into the ‘here and now’ of overseas travel. Some things are more difficult, but some things are better! It’s all about perspective and having a ‘can-do’ attitude that makes it possible to adjust, work through challenges and keep on finding the reasons I love to travel.
So now we are back and back at our normal crazy life – which we love…
But we are sure looking forward to our next venture ‘Across the Pond’!