Monday, January 7, 2013


As I prepare to chain myself to my desk, to forsake any life but that of the shut-in, crazed, alcohol-craving author, churning out thousands of words a day until the final version of my next book--the first in a trilogy on the birth of the female Renaissance artist--is complete, I chafe at the thought of ignoring my blog. But then, the answer finds me, in the form of a travel journal I wrote a few years ago. In a series of posts (the number as yet unknown) I will take you on that journey, one that included Paris, Normandy, Amsterdam, Belgium, and Bruges--through all its unbelievable blunders and blotches and, most important of all, all its beauty and brilliance.

(Author's Note: all the names, save those of my own family members, have been changed.)

The squeaky giggles and high-pitched, excited voices rumbled through the bus as the large tires rumbled along the bumpy roads leading out of Rhode Island. Even the deep baritones of the teenaged, almost full-grown men in the back sounded a tad higher than usual.

Across the aisle one young woman read from Culture Shock! France: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Sally Adamson Taylor, Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company, November 2005), regaling six or more girls on the proper etiquette of our first destination country, France.

“If you’re walking down the street,” she intoned, “and a man smiles at you, don’t smile back.”

A quiet pause of reflection.

“What if he’s hot?” piped up one of her enraptured listeners and the gales of laughter drowned out any more discussion.

This was the start of my first adventure to Europe, one taken with my son and my mother in the summer of 2006. As a member of his school's concert choir, my then sixteen-year-old, first-born son was availed of the opportunity to travel to Europe, to see four countries in ten days for an incredibly reasonable rate.

Since the days when both my children were very small, I have chaperoned almost every field trip and excursion they've been on, from the smells of the petting zoos to the freezing cold apple orchards to the dark confines of a movie theater with hundreds of teenagers, I’d been there. Through the loud and smelly bus rides to being called a bitch because I’d asked a girl to be quiet at a play at one of Rhode Island’s most prestigious theaters. It seemed only right that I continue the tradition. I’d earned it. Surprisingly my son didn’t object when I said I wanted in, not even when my mother, widowed the year before, also decided to jump on board.

Over the next year the excitement built, visions of walking along the Champs-Elysées in a beautiful flowing flowered dress as the caressing summer breeze stirred my hair, haunted my dreams. But reality is never as wonderful as our dreams. I did see things that took my breath away, that brought tears to my eyes and gooseflesh to my skin, but the trials and tribulations of the trip were more aptly imagined in a nightmare. At times, they made me cry or laugh—that edgy, almost hysterical laughter—from the absurdity of it all.

Did I ever stop and think about what it would be like to visit four countries in ten days in the company of almost forty teenagers?


Did I ever stop and wonder how $2,500.00 paid for such a journey, which included all airfares, ground transportation, lodging and two meals a day?


If I had the chance, would I do it again?

You bet. But hopefully better prepared and with realistic expectations, which I hope these posts will give all its readers together with the entertainment—fingers crossed—of its presentation. Alongside my personal reflections (the breathtaking, the mind-boggling, and the humorous) of the trip will be concise data, maps and pictures of the places visited and things seen--with emphasis on historical information, of course--with tips on making any educational tour experience more enjoyable.

As you read, remember, truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

The Journey

Logan International Airport is located in the heart of Boston, Massachusetts. The roads leading to the airport had been under construction since 1991, a project fondly and not so fondly known as ‘the big dig’. Just days before our July 20, 2006 departure, a heavy rain caused one part of the work, an underground tunnel, to collapse, closing the road leading directly to the airport. Our bus driver had to follow a convoluted detour path through the beautiful historic city to get to the airport. Was it a portend of things to come? My own hindsight has answered that; I leave you to discover it for yourself.

We still arrived in plenty of time, thanks to the foresight and planning of our leader, Ms. X. Ms. X, a teacher at my son's high school, led the lively contingent with a charming balance of unflinching discipline, compassionate understanding and a sharp, quick wit. Checking forty people through the airport is a time-consuming task and patience was required, but with the excitement fresh and the energy level high, it moved swiftly.

I was surprised and delighted with the help I received from two security men. They stood at their post, large, burly, and stern faced, looking like the keepers of our country’s safety. Yet once spoken to, once human connects with human, their tight lips turned up at the corners and their eyes creased with a smile. My question asked, they went out of their way to find out the answer.

Traveling…the non-committal nature of the human contact makes it so much easier, at once bringing out courtesy and kindness while in others the rudeness normally reigned in is brought out as the undeniable true self.

As we sat at the gate, all bunched together in a protective circle, staying close to those that formed the tie to the familiar home we were about to leave behind, other passengers approached us with widening eyes and ever-so-slight frowns. You could see it in their faces.

“Are all these kids on our plane?”

The man with the thinning grey hair and incongruently thick, bushy black mustache stopped in his tracks and turned away disgruntled. The elderly couple sat as far from the boisterous young people as they could.

I sat as much among them as they would let me. Their silly conversations about movies, books, television, video games, comic strips, parties peeled away my very adult cloak of responsibilities and problems and I became lighter than air.

Crossing the Atlantic
For every hour that passes an hour of time slips away.

I tried desperately to sleep, to make my internal clock fast forward and catch up with the external, but it was a futile effort. Sleeping sitting up is not easily accomplished. Shutting down the mind is even more ridiculous a notion. Visions of the places I’d see danced across my inner eye: the Eiffel Tower at night, lit up and glorious, the Mona Lisa and her secret smile, and most especially Versailles, where I, as one of my fictional characters, lived for over a year.

I looked to the left and the horizon line was growing visible once more; above it the colors of orange, pink, green, and blue as the sun teased us with its coming day. My first morning in Europe was dawning.

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