Traveling in Europe was not new to me: I lived there for ten years. I saw many famous sites during those ten years that were not very exciting for my brother and me as children, but now never cease to astonish us.
Stonehenge, for example, was just a bunch of big rocks in a circle. God forbid we should visit yet another European cathedral or meander through one more art museum. I knew, though, that this vacation would be special. It was the last trip my family would take before moving to the United States permanently.
We traveled extensively throughout Germany and France, visiting places we had already been to before, but also seeing many things for the first time. Our first stop in Germany was the Mueller’s house, our German friends. They live in a quiet little village in Bavaria called Langenmosen.
There we enjoyed their company (laughing about the misunderstandings in our languages) and their cooking (barbequing schwenkbraten while drinking johannisbeersaft). We picked blackberries in their garden, fed the chickens, and watched Disney movies in German. We visited them so many times that their house was our second home, and it was very hard to say goodbye.
Then it was off to Berchtesgarten, a town on the border of Austria and famous for being the location of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. This mountaintop house was given to Hitler as a symbol of his power and might (even though he was afraid of heights). While staying in this picturesque mountain village my family explored the town, visited the salt mines, and hiked into neighboring Austria.
When it was time to leave we took one last look at the Alps and got in the car. We ventured through Germany and arrived in the southern part of France known as Provence. The first thing we did was visit the famous Roman aqueduct, Pont du Gard.
With a total of 52 arches in three levels spanning the Gard river, this huge aqueduct is enthralling because it was built centuries ago and is still in amazing condition. Then we took a tour of some underground caverns where they taught us a mnemonic device to remember the difference between stalactites and stalagmites. It was not a very good one because now I cannot remember which is which.
Next we visited a few castles. One was nothing but ruins, but the other was a fairy tale castle in great condition, and still used as a thriving town center. This might seem pretty exciting to a typical American child, but my brother and I had seen ten years worth of castles.
So, needless to say, that did not take very long. We stopped at a vineyard so my dad could try some local wine and then headed off to find the town of my dad’s ancestors. Mauprevoir is a tiny town in western France that means a lot to my family. This is the town that my ancestors were from.
We did not spend much time there, but we did look in the town cemetery for a familiar name. The graveyard was crowded from squeezing hundreds of years worth of graves into a small enclosed area. Shiny new granite markers were placed right next to weather-worn stones from a hundred years ago. Unfortunately, all the really old tombstones were too worn down to read.
We drove on, heading north, to the final destination of our goodbye vacation. We had visited Normandy before, but for some reason the history of the place was so intriguing that we just had to see it again. My family walked across Pegasus Bridge, played in the waves at Utah Beach, and honored the graves at the American cemetery on Omaha Beach.
We agreed that it was amazing to stand where, less than sixty years before, soldiers had fought and died to preserve our freedom. Finally it was time to go home. We got on the Chunnel to head back to our house in England. A few days later, we boarded a plane to the United States.
Saying goodbye to Europe was hard: we had grown attached to the foreign customs, food, and places. I knew that, even though as a family we would not return, I would make it my goal to go back to Europe. That is still my goal, and my farewell Europe vacation is a reminder to me of how much I love traveling on the other side of the pond.
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