“Moveable Feast”: Our Meals-on-a-windbreaker at any railroad station throughout Europe
When my kids were 16 and 6, I took them to Europe, where we backpacked through 5 countries. The Ireland/Paris trip had been our practice run, giving me the confidence to believe I could do this.
Now, I added unfamiliarity with 4 of 5 languages and different currencies (it was before the Euro) to the list of challenges. We had a very limited budget, and it needed to last, since there were no ATM’s at the time.
We each carried our own gear (the little one had a faux backpack), but mine was a heavy, 3-decker affair, in that I carried my items, most for my little one, and those the family needed. Since I hadn’t conditioned for this type of travel, I wanted to burn my backpack one week into the trip.
Ironically, that backpack conditioned me over the next several weeks.
At the outset, we spent two days in Rome and then headed out to Bellagio and Lake Como, in the north of Italy. From there, we went to Salzburg, Austria, where we danced in the “Sound of Music” gazebo and descended deep into the salt mines.
In Switzerland, I drove over Alpine roads, past glacial lakes, reasoning: “If Hannibal could do it (with a herd of elephants), I could (with 2 girls).” Fit bikers (the pedal kind) passed us and waved.
When our Euro train tickets ran out in France, I rented a car and drove from Lyons (France’s second largest city), in the north, to Perpignan in the south, lazily touring the mid-section. There, we booked passage, by rail, to Barcelona, Spain.
On that 7-week trip, we visited the Vatican, Rome, Sienna, Milan, Austria, Switzerland, Paris, Puy-de-Dome (where Tour de France bikers ascend), Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo—to name a few.
We hiked mountaintops, studied artistic greats in museums, marveled at the grand cathedrals (with their gargoyles), basked on the beaches of Costa Brava, “Ooohed” and “Aahed” at architectural splendor.
Even more impressive: We did it all on a scaled-down budget, slept in one room in pensions and inns, and ate modest meals (one full meal, daily, along with other light meals and snacks).
All told, that 7-week trip to 5 countries, for 3 of us, cost the equivalent of two visits to Disney World.
What’s my kids’ fondest memory? Sitting along station platforms, in the warmth of a summer day, waiting for the train to our next destination. There, on a makeshift blanket of windbreakers, I’d set out chunks of crusty French bread, topped with cheese I cut with my Swiss army knife. We’d wash down lunch with bottled water.
From this trip, Biddy learned: The Wonders of the World don’t stand a chance against simple pleasures.
Mom and girls returning from 7-week, self-directed tour of 5 countries…