Growing up, my family travelled a lot around the US, to National Parks in particular. My dad loves a good waterfall hike and my mom loves to listen to park rangers. Traveling was fun and different, but very easy. My mom planned everything and I was along for the ride to see all of God’s gorgeous creation. And that’s what we certainly did! Just check out the family here at Yellowstone National Park (and please note my Dad’s awesome hat used for hiking):
My first two summers out of high school, my church planned overseas mission trips to work at a deaf school in Jamaica and do construction work in Costa Rica. Going on these trips opened my eyes to the world. I saw shanty towns and poverty. I tasted different food. I even went to a McDonald’s that served rice and beans for breakfast! Jaw dropping, eye opening experiences! But, in all of these travel adventures, I wasn’t completely on my own. I always had someone else planning the trip, the transportation, housing, even the food. Real adults who handled all of that stuff for me.
In 2003, one of my childhood friends moved to Switzerland to become an au pair (nanny for those of us aren’t up on French). This was it. This was my big chance to go to Europe and do it on my own… well with two other girl friends. I researched, planned, read up what my (now) favorite Rick Steves had to say, and made a color coded calendar. And yes, that is a bit OCD, but it certainly made our moms feel better about the whole thing and it helped me to see all our grand adventures planned out. We travelled around Switzerland, Germany, and Italy. Not a bad first trip to Europe at all!
Some of the highlights of my first trip to Europe:
One of our days in Switzerland, we ventured outside the city of Lucerne to the Alps. There, we took a gondola ride up to the top of Mt. Titlis to go snow tubing! My group of Florida girls kept the snow tube worker (employee? snow patrol? I’m not sure what his proper title was) entertained with all of our ridiculousness and being unfamiliar with snow.
I went sightseeing, laughed, and met some really entertaining Italian guys while in Munich. Note to travelers: When in Germany, be sure to take full advantage of the family style tables. Talk with random people, especially if they are boisterous Italians who try to get American girls to sing loudly to their newly taught song about train emergencies.
Just outside of Munich, we visited the real Cinderella’s castle, Neuschwanstein. This 19th century castle built by crazy King Ludwig II, was simply breathtaking. Those Germans certainly know a thing or two about ornate decor. Blue ceilings with stars, fancy dining halls lined with mirrors, I have yet to see a castle quite like it. It’s well worth the steep hike up the hill, even if you are out of breath when you finally are able to go inside!
One of our last nights in Europe, we had dinner next to the Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy. We were young and unaware of the higher prices/less authentic food that happens in the major tourist areas (i.e. next to the most famous bridge in Venice). I lived and I learned and didn’t eat at a sit down restaurant next to the bridge on my most recent trip to Venice!
The major things I learned:
1. Eat gelato at least once a day while in Italy.
2. The rule of proximity. Anytime you are near a certain country, their type of food in a neighbor country will be better than it is back home. i.e. Italian food in Switzerland is better than Italian food in Florida.
3. Make a planning calendar for each trip in the future. Color code it when necessary.
4. Rick Steves is my homeboy.
My first trip to Europe was so enjoyable that I decided to keep going back over the years!