SO MANY IMAGES - SO MANY MEMORIES
PEOPLE AND PLACES
It's hard to explain just what this trip meant to us. However, the contact from Paul could not have come at a better time. I had just taken an "early retirement" after nearly 23 years of good and hard work with Alabama Power Company. During that time I had accumulated the "maximum allowable" sick leave (thank goodness) and although we used what vacation time was available, we hadn't really taken a true vacation in all those years. Visits with family, travel with and for the kids, though these yielded many memorable times and trips they weren't really "vacations". At the same time, the uses we made of "vacation time" was valuable and would not be changed if we had the chance to do it over. Over the years, we have put 100's of thousands of miles on a variety of automobiles, travelled over most of the East and Central US and accumulated many more thousands of air-miles in point-to-point travel..
This trip was for "us", and someone else was "doing the driving".
TRAVEL - PLANES:
We can't say too much about the flying portion of the trip - other than it covers a lot of miles in a comparitively short time. The "old cost engineer" in me says that the cost per mile is a good value. The traveller in me says it's a necessary evil to get from point "A" to point "B". Nothing was wrong or unsatisfactory about the flight or service - provided one accepts being treated like cattle in transport. The days of air travel being a "special experience" / a part of "the trip experience" are long gone. Air travel is now no more (and no more comefortable) than a "bus in the sky"!!!
TRAVEL - TRAINS:
I had travelled, as a boy, by train and had fond memories of going from Connecticut to New York to watch the New York Yankees or the Brooklyn Dodgers play baseball. Later, in the mid 60's, I travelled from Charleston to New York by train to attend my brother's wedding. Based on these good memories of travel by train, I looked forward to our travel around Europe by train. We were not let down!!!
The 21 day Eurail pass was, perhaps, some of the best money spent for this trip. The time of year, before the summer tourist season, and the fact that Europe had a Spring that arrived about 4 or 5 weeks early in 1997 just added to the good experience. We had inquired about the need for reservations to go along with the rail pass - did not get them (with the exception of the Thalys Train to Paris which required reservations) - and did not need them. We never had any problems getting on and finding a compartment empty, six seats and luggage storage space for the four of us (lucky for us - we brought too much) or electing to ride coach.
We had made extensive use of the online scheduling system of Deutche Bahn AG (DB) for researching connections and had a very good idea ahead of time what to expect. This just added to the overall experience and was probably a contributing factor to our lack of travel problems. All of the stations and trains were clean, pleasant, and non threatening (with the possible exception of the Paris Station) and the availability of travelers aids, i.e. currency exchanges, departure and arrival schedules, train layouts, postal services, shopping, and reasonably priced eating facilities in the stations just made travel easier. On the few "longer segments", where we took advantage of the on-board dining cars, we were pleased with the prices and quality of the food and service.
All things considered, the travel by train, as well as by subway, tram, and bus was a very significant "good memory" from our trip. European public transport systems are EXCELLENT and TIMELY.
Basically, we didn't experience any, despite the many countries visited. At almost all locations visited, we were able to converse in English. Thank goodness the European Community and education system considers multi-lingual education necessary, not only to for their own benefit, but also for ours. Again, the only exception that we have to make to this lack of language barrier, has to be France. National pride is good... National arrogance is a BIG turn-off!!
Without a doubt, the great highlight of this trip was our visit to Brugge to meet Paul DeMeyer and his students - Peter "MAC" De Berdt, Tine Willems, Freike Segers, Rebecca Devriese, Pieterjan Naeyoert, and Pieter Jan Leroy. We can't thank them enough for their hospitality. Four others also stand out in our memories. Raimuld Schnegg owner/operator of The Burgtaverne, UniversitatsstraBe 28, in Innsburck. "Fast Eddy" our tour bus driver and guide for our visit to Neuschwanstein etc.- who did such a remarkable job - both in wheeling his bus thru the narrow streets and in providing commentary fluently in Italian, Korean, German, Austrian, and English. And Philippe and Poloma our hosts in Geneve who made us feel so welcome and "at home".
Everywhere we went (with the exception of Paris) people were friendly, courteous, and helpful. Again, we believe a part of this had to do with the time of our trip - early Spring - before the summer crowds arrived and people were more relaxed and not yet frazzeled or burned-out. Early Spring or possibly late Fall, between seasons, is most definately the time to visit.
As the saying goes - "Time flys when you're having fun". This could not have been more true than on this trip! It was our first trip to Europe, and some may think we covered too much territory. We don't. Being a self guided trip - rather than a "tour" we were free to create, modify, and follow our own schedule rather than a "fixed itinerary". This was a big plus to not feeling rushed. Inter-city connections were excellent, and for the most part were 3 to 4 hour rides thru beautiful countryside. The trains were as much a part of the "trip" as were the visits with people, or to places. We intended for this trip to be a "sampler" or "recon" trip. Lord willing, we will be back. We now know a few places that we might like to linger - longer, and one place that we've visited twice - the first time and the last time - Paris.
For the sake of any others who may visit these pages, planning your first visit to Europe, we offer a few words of advice.
PACK LIGHT - A single bag each - plus a small day trip / backpack for "him" and a combination camera bag / handbag for "her" is sufficient. In combination with the above tip about stay time, take advantage of the laundry services offered by the hotels.
If you can, plan your own trip rather than taking a "tour". The advance planning and the freedom to change your own plans is worth the little extra pre-planning trouble.
For North American visitors (US & Canada) the Eurail Pass is an excellent value. It offers tremendous travel freedom, frequent connections, and timely/reliable service.
Remember that Western Europe - though composed of many countries and cultures - is geographically "small", in the American travellers view. A "box" 600Km (372 miles) East-West by 800Km (496 miles) North-South would include all of our travels on this trip. Compare this to the US norm of driving 400 to 600 miles a day (or more) while on "a trip". US point-to-point travel distance and times are MUCH LONGER than the normal European point-to-point travel.
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