21 Days, 22 Trains - My Family Travels

So many synonyms come to mind when I think about my summer trip to Europe … all of them opposites: exhilarating, yet exhausting; stimulating, but stinky; nice, although at times, nauseating.

     From June 10 to July 2, 2009, by brother, Ryan, my father, David and my mother, Evan and I visited six countries in three weeks. My dad was the more eager traveler and convinced the rest of the family that this was not an unreasonable itinerary. He also managed to talk us into making this trip a bargain-hunter’s dream, which meant no taxis, no rental cars, just planes, trains, buses and gondolas.

     The first stop of this three week tour was the Netherlands. We stayed in the town of Haarlem, but of course, a side trip to Amsterdam was a must with its “coffee shops” which is a kinder, gentler name for pot-smoking-pipe-selling-seed-planting markets with very, very friendly, hippy clientele. 

     From there, we took off on one of 22 trains to the small, quaint towns of Bacharach and Rothenburg, Germany. After that, the not-so-small city of Munich, where a bike ride in the rain was a major highlight.

     We left Munich in the evening to board a night train to Venice. Of course, be a cost-conscious family, we reserved a less expensive sleeping car loaded with six bunks (thinking that the porter would never allow the other two bunks to be occupied). Well, we were wrong. It’s really quite awkward to lie down within 18 inches of a total stranger and try to sleep.

     Venice greeted our sleepy eyes with a cold mist and a lazy sunrise. After two days, we boarded yet another train to Cinque Terre, Italy. This was considered the half-way point of our trip and it was also marked by a stark change in my mother’s attitude. Maybe it was the stains on the train seats or perhaps the surly proprietor at our hotel, but she was not happy. Mom called a family meeting in our cramped hotel room and declared the trip officially over. However, after a glass of local wine and glimpse of local scenery, she got back in the game.

     The next stop was a sleepy village in Switzerland that was only accessible by gondola, called Gimmelwald. Here, we met Esther, the owner of our little bed and breakfast, who was very strict about shoes in the house and seats on the toilets (boys were instructed to sit down, regardless of their toilet intentions).

     From Switzerland, we made tracks for Paris on another night train … another six-bunk sleeping car, and yes, another two strangers sleeping breath-in-the-face close.

     I have to admit that we were very ready for our final stop, London. We crowded onto a tube and I read the headlines from a passenger’s paper, “Heatwave.” Since when does the UK get hot?

     By the time we arrived home, three weeks later and three pounds lighter, we were nearly too tired to attend the neighborhood fourth of July celebration, but we rallied, feeling energized and suddenly quite patriotic. We spent the next 20 dinner hours reading to eachother from our individual travel journals. It was amazing how differently we each interpreted various events during the trip.

     I learned a lot from our European vacation. I now know more about World War II, Italian cooking and the significance of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. But, most of all, I learned that you can get a lot of bang for your buck when you travel cheap in Europe … and that sleeping with strangers is priceless.






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