In Europe in 1964, you could actually sleep overnight, get a decent meal and visit some museums or entertainment for $5 in American dollars a day. Honest.
I’m not going to write you a travelogue of the trips we took while stationed in Germany. I’m going to tell you about some things that happened while on these trips. After all, if you’ve been to Europe, you probably went the same places we did.
I always refer to our first trip in Europe as “our honeymoon.” By the time we got to Germany, we had been married three years and had two children. It was time for a honeymoon. We arranged for the babysitting services of Lorbach, a Bitburg Air Base medical corpsman. We figured a medical corpsman should be able to cope with two little boys, right?
With that, the two of us took off for Paris for five glorious days in the “City of Light.” In the guidebook, we found a small family place, Hotel du Suede, (yes, bathroom down the hall), friendly and quaint.
We found if we leaned over our wrought-iron balcony far enough and strained our necks to the right, we could see the breathtaking Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris — Our Lady of Paris. Yes, the one that burned. We could also see the “other” ladies, plying their age-old trade, up and down our street, the Quai St Michel.
We walked everywhere, trying to suck it all in. We just happened to turn the wrong way and stumbled across the Rodin Museum. We recognized the stone-faced guy sitting out front, pondering the state of the world, chewing on his fist. Being Rodin fans, that counted as a high point of the trip.
We spent an entire day in the Louvre, seeing a fraction of what’s there, visited the Mona Lisa but were disappointed to miss “Winged Victory,” who was out having herself re-gilded. So, here we were, at the top of the Eiffel Tower and I am clutching the center structure and trying to not look at the view, a scream bubbling up in my throat. Who knew I was afraid of heights?
At the foot of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica at Montmartre, where artists have been painting and selling the same picture for generations, I was delighted to discover the Fabric District. They supply simply everything the Paris couturier could possibly want. I thought seriously about hiding under some loaded tables so I could live there forever.
For two weeks in September, we wandered London, went to some shows in the West End, visited the silver vaults, ogled the queen’s jewels in the Tower of London, and made it to Madame Tussauds wax museum.
We were at the huge flea market when all of a sudden I was holding somebody’s monkey, all dressed up in a little coat and hat (the monkey).
Well! You can’t just dump somebody’s monkey on the ground! Of course, his owner was there to take the picture and my order. I still have the picture. It’s really good of the monkey.
Next trip: Amsterdam, where all the houses are 30 feet high and 10 feet wide and have wooden winches above their top-story windows so they can haul their household goods and furniture into the building without climbing the winding, teeny staircases. We decided to take our then-2 1/2-year-old with us.
Did we think about the fact that squirmy 2 1/2-year-olds can easily get away from you and wind up in the watery canals that are in front of those tall houses? Of course not. I spent most of that trip keeping track of the little kid and don’t remember much else.
In August, we took the train to Italy from Luxembourg, where everything is run on schedule, you’d better believe it. The train was so crowded that we had to sit in the aisle, perched on our luggage, the entire trip to Florence.
Somebody forgot to tell us you never travel in Europe the first two weeks in August. Why? Because everybody else goes on vacation the first two weeks in August. The Italians go to Germany, where it’s cooler; the Germans go to Italy, where it’s hotter; the French go to Spain; I’m not sure where the Spanish go.
Florence was pretty much closed. But, Eagle-Eyed Tom spotted the small, discrete sign for the Galileo Museum, so, while he was communing with science, I managed to purchase a lovely pair of pink lambskin gloves and a bikini that I wore twice.
Then we took the train to Rome, starting two hours late, because the engineer wasn’t in the mood to come to work that day. We were in a small compartment with a large Italian family — mom, dad, ancient grandma, three kids and a baby, all making noise.
Halfway there, Mom changes the baby’s diaper and hangs the wet one up over the luggage rack to dry. She then whips out a whole cooked chicken and proceeds to dismember it with her bare hands and pass chunks of it around, while making a salad in a huge ceramic bowl and nursing the baby. She was impressive. She should have been in our guidebook under “entertainment.”
Next time: Our selective memories. Yes, that happened; no it didn’t.
Claudia Myers is a former costume designer for The Baltimore Opera, Minnesota Ballet and has taught design and construction at the College of St. Scholastica. She is a national award-winning quilter, author and a local antique dealer, specializing in Persian rugs.