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I think I have always loved to travel. As far back as I can remember, I enjoyed it. I know we flew a few times when I was little, but we typically drove instead. I can remember several family vacations, and I remember enjoying them all.

On our first trip to Disney World, we drove from Greenville, SC to Orlando in a small Toyota truck. The truck was just a standard bench-seat truck, and it had a topper on the back. My parents put a mattress in the bed of the truck, and my sister and I rode back there. (It’s a wonder we all survived the 80s, isn’t it?) There was a window between the cab and the covered area in the back, and Daddy had a seal he would put in the window to allow the air conditioning to make it to the bed of the truck. We were comfortable, and it was great. Until the storm. At that time, we were not Floridians, and we were not used to the fast moving thunderstorms we now are so accustomed to. As we were getting closer to Disney, a storm came up very suddenly. It was pouring, and then, lightning struck near us or struck the truck. I’m not really sure which. I remember it striking the truck, but I could be making that up. Regardless, my sister and I scurried through that window and into the front cab so quickly, it was amazing. We laughed about it later, but at the time, it was not funny.

Of course, once we were in the cab of the truck, we were crowded. Two adults and two children in a small Toyota truck do not fit nicely. My sister and I, true to tradition, began bickering and fighting. I remember my father telling us he would turn the car around and go home. What’s funny is, we actually believed him.

We made several trips in that little Toyota truck. Then, Mama and Daddy watched a safety video about seatbelts. It compared children to a carton of eggs, and it showed what happened to the precious eggs in an accident. After that, the Eggs had to wear seat belts. The days of reclining on a mattress in the back were long-gone. Stupid egg video.

When I was sixteen, my family began taking trips to Man ‘O War Cay in the Abaco Bahamas. Mr. Everything always went with us, since, by that point, he was part of our family. Seeing the beautiful water and islands only ignited my love for travel. I learned quickly that I was born to live on Caribbean time. Everything moves a little slower, and no one got stressed out. (Except my sister when she went there, but that’s a whole different story. I’m pretty sure she’d be mad if I told it. Maybe I’ll press my luck another day.)

The summer after I graduated high school, when I was seventeen, my parents sent me to Europe for 21 days. This was a group trip through the county school system. Students could earn high school credit and college credit in humanities on this trip. Of course, I could not earn high school credit since I had graduated, but I earned college credit. We saw nine countries in 21 days.

Going to Europe was hard but fun. I was such a mama’s girl, and I got homesick so easily. I think I cried in all nine countries. I went the whole time without calling home, though. I knew if I called home, I would really fall apart.

Now, twenty something years later, I remember snippets from each country, but many of my memories are blurred. I think it’s because I was sleep-deprived while I was there. We did a lot of getting up early and going to bed late. My most vivid memories are of Greece, because for that part, we were on a cruise. We got plenty of sleep, so I could refresh my brain and actually remember what I saw.

My first accomplishment of the trip was facing my fear of airplane bathrooms. I had vowed not to go for the full flight, but when you are in the air for a week and a half (or at least, it felt like that long…), at some point, you’ve got to go. I went, and I survived. Now when I fly, I’m just lucky if I can make it through the flight and only go once. Middle age is the pits.

My group spent the first night of our journey in Germany. We stayed in a little city called Rothenburg. It was the most beautiful place ever. Ever. The city had brick streets and was surrounded by a wall. Our hotel had flower boxes on the windows. There were no screens on the windows, since there were no bugs. We could just open the windows and let the breeze come it. It was amazing, especially for Florida kids.

The funniest part of my visit to Germany was I learned what a duvet was. My roommate and I had never seen one. We thought they were really fancy sleeping bags. We each unbuttoned ours and slept inside. I think that was one of the best nights of sleep I’ve ever had. The next day, we discovered we were supposed to sleep under the duvet and not in it. Oh, well. You live, you learn.

In Germany, the restaurant fed us chicken cordon bleu for dinner.

We went through Austria and then into Switzerland. There, we took a train up a mountain to the quaint little village where we stayed. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen - well, since Rothenburg, anyway. We took a train up a glacier and went to a ski resort for a day. There, they had caves and sculptures carved out of the ice. Many of the students went skiing. I drank hot chocolate. My mother was not happy with me when I got home and told her I had not skied. She said, someday, I would regret going to the Swiss Alps and not skiing. To this day, I don’t regret it. Maybe, the regret just hasn’t set in yet. When I’m 80, I may really mourn the fact that I didn’t ski. However, even at 17, I knew I’d rather be able to walk for the rest of the trip than to risk life and limb sliding down a mountain.

While we were in Switzerland, we had cheese fondue for dinner one night and chicken cordon bleu another. 

Next, we went to Italy for a few nights. While we were there, Italy won the world cup in soccer. We were in Rome when that happened, and the place was wild. The streets were packed with cars. People were honking their horns and waving flags. It almost looked like a riot in the streets. Our chaperons had us stay in and have food delivered that night. I think they were afraid to take us out. It really was a madhouse.

On one night there, we had chicken cordon bleu for dinner.

During our time in Italy, we went to Rome and saw the ruins there. We also went to Vatican City. I wanted to see the pope, but he did not come out to greet me. So rude.

After a few days in Italy, we boarded a cruise ship in the Aegean Sea. We were on the cruise for 7 days, I think. During those days, we discovered that European luxury and American luxury were two different things. We were not allowed to flush toilet paper at all in our room. There was a special trash can to put it in. I don’t want to talk about it. I also don’t want to talk about the fact that my two roommates and I were all having our periods at the same time. Really. Let’s not talk about it.

Our stops while on the cruise included Athens and Mikonos in Greece. We also went to Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. There, the street venders followed my roommate and me through the streets saying, “American? American? American?” We wondered how they knew. Now, thinking back, I’m pretty sure we might as well have been wearing t-shirts that said, “American.” When we did not answer, they started saying, “Sprechen sie Deutsch?”

Tugboats pulled our cruise ship through the Corinth Canal. Then, we went to Ephesus in Turkey, where we say the ancient ruins of Ephesus from Bible days. That was fascinating, and I wanted more time there.

We got back to the ship and had chicken cordon bleu for dinner.

My funniest memory from the whole trip happened during the cruise. Our curfew was 11:00 PM. One night, we crossed a time zone, so 10:00 PM suddenly became 11:00 PM. Our chaperons insisted we had to be in our rooms by 11:00 (10:00). I’m pretty sure they just needed a few minutes without us. Anyway, my roommates and I, being the straight-A student rebels that we were, attempted to refuse to go to our rooms. We were told we had to go. We insisted this was a violation of our civil liberties, since it was 10:00 somewhere. I’m pretty sure I heard one of the chaperons say, “Yeah, well, it’s 5:00 somewhere, too.” I had no idea what she meant, but I thought maybe she wanted to spend extra time with us. Anywho, we were told, no, forced, against our will, to go to our rooms. Oh, the injustice. Therefore, as a united front to show Power to the People, we stood with one foot inside our room and one foot outside the door. We stood that way for an hour, until it was, indeed, 11:00. There. That showed them.

After we left the cruise ship, we went to France. There, we saw Versailles. I did not enjoy that at the time, as it was yet another museum in a sea of museums. However, now, I would love to go back and see it again.

We went to Paris and visited museums. The highlight for us, the American teenagers in Paris, was to eat at Burger King. We were outraged to find out they charged more if we wanted to eat in the dining room, so we opted to sit on the curb outside and eat.

While in Paris, we had dinner in the Eiffel Tower. It was chicken cordon bleu. We also took a cruise down the Seine River.

Our final stop on our 21 day tour was England. We visited Canterbury and stayed in London. I can’t say I was all that impressed with London. It was just a big city that was busy and dirty and crowded. I almost got run over by a Ferrari in front of the Hard Rock Café. The boys in our group were much more excited about that than the chaperons were.

One night when we took the subway, also known as the tube, in London, I could not get my ticket to work. I stopped a man who worked there and asked for his help. He acted as though he could not understand me. Meanwhile, my group was leaving me. I said again, “My ticket won’t work.” He said he could not help me until I spoke proper English. The man actually made me use the Queen’s English before he would assist me. This was a challenge for my southern self, but I finally channeled my inner Brit and made it through. I resisted the urge to give him a good English punch in the nose.

As we were walking back to the subway station in London, we saw a large group of paparazzi and onlookers outside what looked like a theater. We walked over to see what was going on. We arrived just in time to see Princess Diana get out of a limousine and walk inside. I did not know at the time how significant and special it was that I got to see her in person, but I did. She was beautiful. And I’m pretty sure she waved at me.

On the day we saw Big Ben and Parliament, I was so tired, I could no longer hold my eyes open. I remember my friends waking me up and saying, “Look! It’s Big Ben.” I looked out the window, said, “Yep,” and fell back asleep.

That night, we had, you guessed it, chicken cordon bleu.

By the time the trip was over, I was so happy to be home. I never wanted chicken cordon bleu again. At the same time, I was sad to leave all the beauties and wonders of Europe. I saw things and experienced things there I will probably never get to see in person again. It was a magical place, and I’m thankful my parents found it important to send me there.

I definitely learned a lot about humanities while I was there. (Though I protested every time I had to take a test. I still say, who makes you take a test when you are riding in a bus, going up a mountain? Seriously! There is no amount of Dramamine strong enough for that!) I also grew my love of travel. Since then, I have looked for any opportunity possible to take a trip. Where are we going? Orlando? Tennessee? Antigua? I don’t care where…. I have a suitcase, and I’m ready to go!   -Al