I am writing on a train to London, so this is a wordier blog than normal that does not have as many pictures. As a result, I will throw in a few shots from after our arrival before I go further.
After nine countries and 6000 miles, an unexpectedly lovely and refreshing sound reappears: English. OK, it is an odd English, but I am assured that it is spoken this way by the people of England. Did you know that they speak English too? I love those tidbits of travel trivia.
I studied in London for a year and made some great friends. One of them explained to me the different English accents: the BBC, Cockney, Midlands, Royal, etc. When I was here, I could discern roughly 8-9 different English accents as well as accents from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, South Africa and Australia. Now, I can only correctly identify 6 or 7 of the 15. The ear loses its touch.
I, however, loved the way that Kate explained the haughty royal accent:
Kate: “What do you breath?”
K: “What is another name for a rabbit?”
K: “Where does a fox live?”
K: “Now say the words together with your nose pointed up slightly.”
K: “Congratulations. You have given a royal greeting!” [Oh hello].
It is hard to grasp that we are on the final leg of our European journey. The return to English makes this realization particularly palpable. For the past 50 days, we have been pseudo-Europeans. While we might see some signs in English or find the occasional English-speaking native, we have lived in countries featuring unfamiliar tongues, histories and cultures. We stayed in 19 different apartments or hotels, or an average of 2.5 days each. My rough estimate, we have done a couple of dozen of the “1001 Things to Do” list. Here is a summary:
- Miles driven – 4500
- Miles flown – 1000
- Miles in trains - 400
- Petty arguments adjudicated - 200
- Loafs of bread eaten - 50
- Churches visited – 45
- Museums attended – 29
- Cheeses tried – 14
- Languages encountered – 10
- Children lost – 3
- Children subsequently found – also 3 (important that this number matches the previous one)
- Parking tickets – 2
- Speeding tickets - 1
- Spending 8 weeks traveling with your family? – Priceless. Wait, that is not quite right. It is, in fact, not priceless. I keep explaining to the apartment renters that “I am spending time with my family – so it is priceless, right?” They do not agree.
Here are a few observations as we ride the train through the French countryside.
- People are generally gracious and helpful. Maybe having 4 kids in tow makes us a more likely recipient of kindness, but we have been consistently delighted with people we have encountered.
- Andreas in Copenhagen who backed our Volvo into the narrowest parking place in existence
- Dagmar and George in Prague who drove us around
- The elderly woman in Budapest who took such delight in Virginia’s Hungarian folk dress
- The B&B owner in Salzburg who practically adopted Susie
- Giovanni in Rome who saw us driving in central Rome, found us a spot and guided us in
- The pharmacist-turned-hotelier in Venice who helped Susie resolve her anti-biotic issues
- Ms Lorena in Florence who gave us food and arranged reservations
- The Spaniards who patiently waited for Liam to use his Spanish skills
- The anonymous Parisian who opened the Metro doors when they closed on my backpack and locked Wiley out
- The Kenyan at the International Festival that gave each of our children a necklace or bracelet since she was delighted at such a big family
I have longed believed that “life is what you sort for”. In other words, you see what you expect to see. Coming to Europe, however, I was not exactly sure what to expect. I generally believe that people can be kind. I also know that Americans have a reputation as loud (and even rude) travellers. Would we be embraced or eschewed?
Neither really happened. We were not Americans so much as just other parents with families. The people we encountered saw us as such and treated us kindly. Language barriers might have stood between us, but we always had this common human connection.
- The kids are smarter than we assumed. They remember an exceptional amount of detail. They apply concepts learned in our lectures to paintings we see later. They exhibit fun wit and humor.
- The kids are not as smart as we assumed. They get lost. They forget the names of cities we visited days earlier. They start conversations with each other than 1) cannot possibly be resolved but 2) certainly will become an argument.
- You become numb to costs. When we arrived, we often found ourselves grasping our hearts at the expense of everything here. $5 coke? $10 beer?!? The hamburger costs what!?!?! Our first weeks featured picnics for 2 if not all 3 of our meals. We ate fruits, cheeses, sausages and bread. Of course, Sweden (our starting point) is among the most expensive places in Europe and we then went to countries boasting better values like The Czech Republic and Hungary. But as we traveled, we slowly crept back up the cost scale – Italy to Spain to Paris. Do not get me wrong, we still rely on the picnic, but we are no longer apoplectic when we take the occasional coffee at a café. $6 for a cappuccino? No problem. Heck, not all the kids need to go to college.
- Our contingency plans now have contingency plans. We know what to do if we get separated in a museum, on different subway trains, at a park, in the streets.
- Europe is beautiful in so many ways. We drove one of the most spectacular mountain drives in the world. We marveled at the Dolomites. We admired the coast of Italy and France. We saw cityscapes of legend: Paris with the Eiffel Tower, Prague with its castle, Budapest with its memorials, Rome’s ruins, the playful/funky modern architecture of Berlin and Barcelona.
- Walking is an art lost on most Americans. I love the bonding, the exercise, the reflection and the opportunity for discovery. The more we walked in Europe, the more we noticed things. I worry that we will lose this after we return (though it will clearly aid us in Asia).
- I love my wife. My mom once said that the wise person marries for disposition. If you marry for beauty, wit or passion, you can encounter disappointment. Beauty fades, wit can become sardonic and passion will pass. But a great disposition is always there. While Susie is beautiful and witty, she is ultimately pleasant and happy.
- I really adore my children. Not necessarily all at the same time, but on the whole, they are a great lot. They travel incredibly well, though each with a very different style. Liam demands responsibility and leads the charge. Terrill is supportive. Virginia is playful (as long as she is getting at least 85% of someone’s attention). And Wiley is like Samsonite luggage – he goes where you take him, but he does so with smile.
- We miss Fenway and the Champions team. With the end of this trip nearing, we are comforted by knowing that we will soon be greeted by a baying Basset Hound. We will get a chance to travel around Texas for our Yearbook reunions and see tons of our campers and counselors. We will also see Leah Ma’am, Petie Ma’am, Robyn Ma’am, Allison Ma’am, Eileen Ma’am, Moak Sir, Shirley Sir, Paul Sir, Kirksey Sir and the TOS, Site and Kitchen teams.
- Blogging has been a odd discipline. I have both loved and resented the daily routine.
- I have loved sharing our stories and my thoughts. In fact, writing has helped frame and form my thoughts about the trip. It gave me a chance each day to look over the photos and souvenirs, thus reliving the joys of that day. I have found writing a fun outlet for my (somewhat limited) creativity.
- On the flipside, on most nights, I was starting after everyone else was asleep and writing for an hour or two. The Internet-related challenges were numerous; weak connections, routers that work with iPad but not computer, non-existent connections (resulting in writing sessions in cafes or bars), inability to upload photos, etc. On at least 6 evenings, I should have punted. But I have a stubborn side. If I had already written the blog, I was going to post it, darnit!
I have really appreciated the thoughts and comments about the blog. As I write about my articles in the summer, blogging is an odd form of communication. Other modes of communication provide some form of feedback. When we talk, you respond. If I email, you email back. Text messages engender reply texts. But blogging is dropping a feather on a pillow. It goes out and makes no discernable sound.
I think that is enough depth for the day.