Back in May, I mentioned a little bit about the European vacation that my parents and I took back in 2006 in one of my posts. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime trip and I was ecstatic to have taken it with two of the most important people in my life. I think I took close to 1500 photos on that trip and I journaled daily to try and document as many of the highlights as I could. When we returned home, I began printing and sorting the plethora of pictures into albums, but I lost steam about half-way through when day-to-day life became too busy. I regret not finishing the albums, but I do have compact discs (for those of you who remember what those are) which house the rest of the memories that were captured. And maybe one day, I will get back to finishing them. I really should.
What surprised me the most about our trip was how much the history of Europe ended up fascinating me. I am not a social studies girl at all, never have been. It probably should interest me more than it does, but it one of those subjects that I’ve just always found to be ultra boring. Maybe it was the way in which it has been presented to me or maybe, I just don’t like it. Plain and simple. What I do know is that I am terrible at geography (stick me in a box and I’m not sure that I can tell you which direction ‘up’ is) and history can stay in the past where it belongs as far I’m concerned. I know, I know… if we don’t want history to repeat itself in certain instances, it’s important to know where we came from and what all happened and that’s true; although, it appears as a human race we have some work to do on that one still, don’t we?! Anyway, I’m sure that you get the point by now.
Our vacation began with a cousin and her family in Scotland, followed by a stay in England to visit high school friends of mine. Seeing my dad get back to his roots and learn more about his dad and his dad’s side of the family was definitely interesting simply because that kind of history has personal meaning. Of course, the many castles, Loch Ness, and the war memorial in Elgin where my grandpa’s uncle’s name possibly lies were all a good introduction to some dates as far back as 638 AD. Mind-blowing, really. In England, the old cobblestone streets immediately caught my attention. Imagine my truck on those?! Except that it would never fit between the narrow lanes. While there with my friends, we took in some cathedrals, another castle and of course, some good old-fashioned pubs which likely housed some really juicy archives of their own within each of their four walls.
Once we landed in Italy to begin our guided bus tour (highly recommended by the way, even though I myself thought, a bus–oh no!), we were immediately struck by the crazy traffic and mopeds which appeared everywhere and anywhere. My dad was super thankful that we had a driver since it is likely that all three of us would have become history in the making right then and there. And, we thought our drivers here in Canada were nuts. I’ve never heard so many horns at one time in all of my life and lanes are pretty much non-existent, or at least no one cared to follow them. Our host made clear that pedestrians do NOT have any sort of right of way there either, and we smartly chose not to test out his theory. Italy, Rome specifically, was probably by and large my favourite from a historic standpoint.
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Square were quite something and I was particularly taken with Michelangelo’s work, later finished by Porta and Fontana as dictated in my notes. The sculptures were breath-taking. Of course, the Vatican was everything that I might have thought it would have been and more–way more! The tiny mosaic tiles were so detailed and the paintings on the ceiling?! Never in my life could I have imagined anything more beautiful. Yes, that is me saying that about historic pieces of work. History? Beautiful?! It sure was though. In fact, it was so incredible that I purchased three books (silly me to add more weight and bulk to my already-exploding luggage) on that leg of the trip to bring home and peruse further. Admittedly, I never did read them all from cover to cover, but they do make great showpieces in our curio cabinet which has become a proud display of our travels. The biggest takeaway that I am able to remember to this day, without the help of my journal as previously referenced, is that it took Michelangelo four years to paint the ceiling al fresco in the Sistine Chapel. Four years of lying on his back on scaffolding would have been a feat in and of itself, never mind all of the superior and intricate paintings that he produced while doing so. Gees, I can’t even lie on my back in bed for more than a few hours without getting all decrepit, so to not admire all of his physical sacrifices, let alone his artistry would have just seemed plain wrong.
As our leg in Rome continued, we saw tombs over 2100 years old (crazy!), the Roman Forum and the Corinthian Columns dating back to the first or second century AD as well as my personal favourite, The Colosseum. I’m not sure what it is about it that drew me in so deeply, but I was completely and totally awestruck as I stood amidst its crumbling structure taking in every possible tidbit that I could from the guide who told us about the seating and the matches which had ensued in the ring. Then, there was the Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Embassy and Steps, and the Pantheon each offering up age-old stories of their own. Following Rome, we went on to visit Florence where the Statue of David took on a story of its own, and Venice was exquisite with all of its beautiful canals, where we took in St. Mark’s Square and the Byzantine Basilica. Then, my albums stop. Without looking up information separately, I cannot tell you much more about either place other than the fact that each was certainly beautiful and hot! Very hot!! Especially Venice. Needless to say, the food was incredible throughout all of our Italian travels. I gained ten pounds in the few days that we were there. Ten pounds of bread, pasta, wine and dessert undoubtedly. Good thing there were some more walking tours scheduled after that.
Following Italy, we spent a few days each in Switzerland and France. What I remember most about Switzerland is its clean, mountainy feel whose natural beauty surprised all three of us for some reason. We knew that it was mountainous, but its setting was well beyond picturesque in many respects. Initially, upon booking our trip, we weren’t convinced that we would care for Switzerland as much as the other destinations on our tour, but it quickly turned into a ‘If I could come back, I’d definitely come back here’ spot. I honestly don’t recall much about the individual places that we explored while there, but I do remember our bus ride through the gorgeous Alps as well as all of the well-kept shops next to Lake Lucerne. Of course, the Eiffel Tower, the streets of Montmartre, the Champs-Elysees, the Notre Dame Cathedral, Arc de Triomphe and the Palace of Versailles were all visited in our rather brief Paris stop–too brief actually, but at least we took in some of the main attractions. We would have taken in the Louvre as well, except that it was closed while we were there unfortunately.
The train ride on the Eurostar from Paris to London through the English Channel was quite extraordinary in that we were travelling underwater for 32 miles without even realizing it necessarily. How can one not marvel at its brilliant engineering, which was literally ground, or shall I say, water-breaking! With two of us being non-swimmers and a bit claustrophobic, I will admit that it was a bit of a daunting endeavour at first, but once we took our seats, there was no looking back, and you’d have never known where we were. We were beyond impressed with its speed and smooth ride. London, England turned out to be our last overseas stop and it obviously held all of the royal history which I had followed to some extent thanks to my teenaged/young adult fascination with Princess Diana. There was just something about her for many of us, I think. Likely, it was that ‘je ne sais quoi’ factor that she brought to the table which suddenly made the Royals more tangible and relatable. The People’s Princess she was indeed. To this day, I vividly remember Diana’s untimely death, the news headlines and all that surrounded the investigation and her funeral, but I digress.
I think it’s safe to say that our European vacation really is the highlight of all of my travels thus far. It turned out to be a combination of history explored, history made in terms of our visit there and history revisited, as I just recounted with you right now. Maybe there is hope for me yet in the field of social studies. Maybe. Let’s just say that I would happily go back exploring if given the opportunity. For now, I have 1500 photos to reflect on and perhaps finish sorting out. One day.