“HE LOOKS LIKE A SQUIRREL!” my sister yells in between fits of hysterical laughter. I had to agree with that statement; here I was with my mom and sister in a closet sized compartment on the TGV train departing for Paris. Some how all three of us fit against the window to look down at my dad, because he was doing the most entertaining impersonation of a squirrel I had ever seen. Of course an incident like this would never be funny until someone had spent the last two weeks going to bed late, waking up early, carrying all their personal belongings on their back across cities to catch the next train, and ordering food at random; not being able to eat it half the time. In other words my story would never be funny until you have backpacked through Europe.
That summer my family and I went on one of the most amazing trips. We started our month-long adventure touring the Rhine River Valley; taking a ferry down the river for almost a week and sleeping in picturesque castles on cliffs over-looking the surrounding vineyards. Since this was the first time my family had been to Europe, the first week was the most stressful. Every street performer looked like a pick –pocket and every bystander HAD to be talking about us; about those silly Americans plaguing their country.
That was the first week, shuffling from castle to castle, hostel to hostel, snapping pictures as fast as I could and then moving on with my head down. If you hadn’t noticed the problem in this method of travel; know that there is one. A very large problem, maybe because of my age, was that I was trying to be as submissive as possible to avoid attention from the locals. This attempt to blend in with my surroundings prevented me from enjoying the first third of my vacation. It didn’t really matter that I tried to blend in either; I was wearing a backpack that was almost as large as me! That was my first lesson in traveling; learning to be myself and ignore the French guy that blows cigarette smoke at you. When I learned to do this, I finally started my vacation.
By this time, however, my family and I were in Denmark to visit an old foreign exchange student we had the year before. We moved from Copenhagen on a train ferry into Sweden to visit relatives my mom has in the country. This second week could be called “crazy”. I didn’t spend more than three days in any country before my family left Europe. We took, boats, trains, and planes from Copenhagen to Stockholm to Hell (Norway) to Oslo to Amsterdam to Brussels to Paris, and finally to London.
The second week of the trip was my favorite. The sheer method to the madness was really funny. My family could walk from a train station, to visit a museum and then walk to another train station across the city to catch the next connection that day, and go over in detail what we saw and did that day.
It was because of walking the backstreets and alleyways that I really felt like I had been to Europe and experienced it. Disney World describes this feeling, “Experience the Magic”, not “Visit the Magic, look around, buy a shirt, and leave”. A tourist may just skim through a place and buy a shirt, but after my trip to Europe I can say that I’ve learned to be more than a tourist.
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