My Adventures Touring Europe in 1982 (25) Epilogue
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This definitely was the trip of a lifetime! Thank you, Uncle Roland, for being there! You have proved that European tours are not strictly the privilege of the wealthy; they can, and should, be enjoyed by people of all ages and economic backgrounds.
Actually, the tour I took could have been done even more cheaply – I’ve read of some people getting round trip tickets for $200 and hitchhiking / backpacking / working their way through the continent - but it takes A LOT of knowledge and skill to coordinate something like that on your own. I STRONGLY recommend taking a motor coach tour first, and I will gladly state ISE as a good choice.
I stated in my Introduction chapter that it is not necessary to drink liquor to enjoy Europe. Consider how my adventure would have been without alcohol; did one Heineken beer greatly enhance my tour of Amsterdam by canal? Would my experience at Burgruine Aggstein Castle been ruined without those 2½ glasses of wine? (Incidentally, the wine led me to put the others in danger!) Would those evenings at The Plaka and on Hydra gone dead without the wine and ouzo? In Switzerland, would hot chocolate instead of beer killed things? It is possible to enjoy yourself there and stay dry. I have since met someone who seldom drinks, who toured Czechoslovakia (by that time, it had become Czech Republic) solely for its hot springs. If our tour had included it, we could have done contrast baths. It would have been my first experience at a hot spring, which would have made it REALLY special!
It’s true that Europe has the most drinkers in the world. However, it does not have the most alcoholics; South America does. I believe a large part of alcoholism is based on attitude; that’s why it doesn’t affect Europeans as much, because they’re raised to treat it with respect, rather than “forbidden fruit” to be abused in shame and secret. In fact, drunkenness is frowned upon in most European countries, and some have very harsh drunk driving laws. So if you can handle drinking, great; if not, Europe offers multiple options.
Charm bracelet. I collected the charms throughout Europe. The Virgin Mary medallion is the farthest right, and the Carlsberg Elephant is in the middle
I never did hear from the guys in Hungary and San Marino, but I corresponded with Astrid for 20 years. We have sent each other photographs and gifts. She never made it to the US, though she made several attempts. We are still in touch today; I called her on her birthday last June. It’s easy to romanticize foreign lifestyles, but people the world over deal with a heavy load. She was just as overwhelmed with life as I am, which is why she hadn’t written over the past 10 years, but she was thrilled that I had called her.
Regarding my tour group, as you can see, by far the biggest problem was the cliques. I didn’t keep in touch with any of them; in fact, when I first returned to the US, I vowed never again to go with a company. From now on, I would choose a few friends and travel with them. I understand it wasn’t just my group, but several others as well. A year later, I met someone who had gone on an ISE tour which included Moscow, and she made the same complaint. Over 10 years later, a travel agent informed me that ISE was in trouble; again, because of cliques. I felt terrible about that, because ISE provides wonderful opportunities for young people to expand their horizons, and in a setting that is safe and hassle-free. It’s a shame that so many Americans in their late teens and early twenties don’t understand the value of such experiences. Fortunately, ISE still exists. It now goes by the name Club Europa., and has tours all over the world in a variety of classes, from budget to super deluxe. Here is the link to their website:
Bracelet I was given at Tivoli Gardens. It's still functional!
I have since reconsidered my anti-tour company decision. Not only would I go again, I would even choose the same group. While writing these stories, I now realize the situation was not nearly as bad as I saw it to be back then. I notice now those cliques did not form on the bus or at mealtimes; they only existed during room assignments. I believe this happened so they could commiserate over their favorite gripe. When we stayed in Venice where I was reluctantly accepted into a room, apparently my presence prevented them from doing this. I also found out in Athens they thought I was the group whore, so that must have made them even more uncomfortable – especially when I wanted to discuss my latest “conquest” at breakfast the next morning (LOL!). All these years later, I have a much better understanding of how Americans in that age group function. While I don’t believe the cliques could have been avoided, I’m sure I would handle them a lot better today.
Here’s an experience I had a few years ago, while attending a snowboard camp where all the girls in my chalet except me were in the late teens / early 20’s age group, about half my age. We all slept in the same two bunk rooms, but I spent my free time hanging out with the pros, flirting with boys and practicing skateboarding so I could cross train in Hawaii for the few times I got to snowboard on the Mainland.
The girls didn’t deliberately ice me out; I wound up being excluded by default. One afternoon, as I was heading off with my skateboard, I overheard some of them complaining there was nothing to do at camp. I was stunned. I stopped and said, “Nothing to do? I can’t find enough time for all the things I want to do here!” They answered, “Yeah, but you’re into skateboarding and all that stuff.” It turns out they spent their afternoons talking about their relationships and complaining about how the snowboard industry is sexist. Here I was struggling to keep up with them, and trying my best not to be a total klutz in spite of my limited opportunities. Yes, the snowboarding industry is sexist, but the way I see it, if I snowboarded as good as Shaun White, and were still being discriminated against, that’s when I’d have the right to complain.
I told them what I thought, and the following year, the girls in general and my counselor in particular were very nice and helpful. In fact, the camp owners told the best friend of one of the pros that I was the person to be seen with!
Crystal earrings I bought in the cave in Salzburg
Looking back on my European tour, there was one evening when I did something similar. The weather in Switzerland was the worst ever; I have no idea how many people were disappointed that we weren’t able to hike or even take good pictures. I cheered them up by playing my guitar and leading a sing-a-long. Since I was nearly halfway around the world in a country I’d wanted to visit all my life, I was determined to enjoy it at any cost. At least I got to explore that adorable little town. What matters most are the memories made in a place.
While I could not have prevented the cliques, I think I would have been much better accepted if I’d reached out to everyone in the group. I probably would have had to form a clique myself; it would have included Agnes, Cindy, and Maybel. As far as I know, they were excluded too, so I would have joined them and we could have compared notes about being minorities in Europe. Did any locals take their pictures, as they did with me? I’ll never know now.
If I had to do it again, I would have done these things.
1. Learn everyone’s name, and something about them. I would have written it in my diary.
2. Taken lots of pictures of them and myself in every country. Scenery pictures are nice, but anyone can buy post cards. With yourself and people you know in the photos, it makes it much more personal.
3. Made a much greater effort to include them on my sojourns. The only time I remember really trying was when I went into East Berlin. The rest of the time, I’d just go off by myself without asking anyone. Sure, they most likely would have declined, but I still should have made the effort. Such adventures are much more enjoyable when shared, especially since you can discuss it at bedtime and in the next country.
4. Kept in touch with all of them. Though I have joined ISE’s site on FaceBook, during the 2½ months it took me to write these memoirs, only one person has gotten in touch with me, and he was the Austrian accordion player in Venice. Did we all hate each other that much? Or are they mad at me because I didn’t show them in the most flattering light? Perhaps they’ve had so many subsequent trips to Europe, they forgot all about that one?
Jewelry box I bought in Naples Italy
5. I would have gone earlier in my college career, so I could have chosen a country in which to study overseas. This answers Bad Point #2 in my note to Uncle Roland. There’s no way to slow up a tour, but you can always choose places where you want to spend more time, and return there.
6. Get lots of rest before the trip. Tours are extremely exhausting!
7. Study phrase books in languages of all the countries I visit. That means I would have had to learn to communicate in 11 of them. But hey – that would make me multilingual! Studying overseas would lead me to become fluent in that language – and perhaps another one as well. This would have helped with all the times I got lost, too. It’s a good thing I always carried the hotel address with me, but if I hadn’t run into Bruce in Munich, my ghost could be wandering there today (though I can think of worse fates).
8. Read up on all the sites I will visit. I have since learned some facts about the Meteora Monasteries, and realize I missed out on how holy the place is. There are six of them, and they were a refuge for Christians during the Roman persecution era, which is why they’re in such an isolated and hard-to-reach place. I would have appreciated that visit much better if I’d known that before going. Reading up on all the sites also would have helped me plan my souvenir purchases better, so I could have bought a Swiss watch in Lucerne and Dom Perignon champagne in France. As you see by my photos, I still have quite a number of items I bought in Europe, but some of them – like the cheap earrings I bought in Sweden (not pictured) – I could have done without.
9. Also, the more skills you have, the easier it is to enjoy yourself. I learned to ballroom dance a few years after my European tour; I took lessons at Stanford University. If only I’d learned that before going! Still, I should have tried it at the Waltz Palace anyway. Also, I figured out a way to improve my skiing skills without being able to go often; it is through cross-training, especially bicycling. I learned to swim even later; I was one of those kids who had a lot of lessons, but just couldn’t learn. I had to become older and wiser to figure out what I was doing wrong (it had nothing to do with my inability to float well; it was simply not being able to breathe through my mouth). Now, if I were to go back to Hydra, I could race the catamaran out to sea and back! Case in point: ignorance is NOT bliss!
Ring Case from Florence, Italy
I wish to conclude by emphasizing how important it is to open yourself up to other cultures. This world, which consists of 196,939,900 square miles, currently contains over 7 billion people spread out over 7 continents and thousands of islands, who are members of 248 countries and speak about 6500 languages. Each culture has some special knowledge to offer. The wise person makes the effort to learn from as many as possible; in fact, in spite of racism, this is the secret to America’s success.
IN THIS WIDE WONDERFUL WORLD OF OURS, THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY TO EXPERIENCE THINGS!!!
Now, for my next adventure…
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© 2013 Yoleen Lucas