Ultimate Family Travel by train: Europe or Bust
When my grandmother died at the age of 82 she left some money to each of her children. My mom, who had just lost her mother, could have told my dad to use the money to pay the credit card bills… but she didn’t. She was determined to use that extra cash to conduct a “legacy” trip in my grandmother’s honor.
The trip she planned, with the help of a travel agent friend, coincided with my third year of college; the semester I studied in England. I had planned to use a Eurail pass and travel around Europe with a friend. My friend and I planned all sorts of adventures to countries and scheduled in dates to meet my mom and brother and sister in Rome.
Thinking back on this trip it is quite amazing. My mom is a product of the 1950’s and over the years has practiced several “old fashioned” behaviors, as well as some cutting edge, ahead of her time skills.
When she told her mother that she wanted to go to college in 1957, he mother and many of her girlfriends didn’t see the point. She could take some typing classes, get married and call it a day. She wanted to prove that she was actually quite capable and so she earned her 4 year degree while also falling in love and marrying my handsome, smart dad.
After teaching 5th grade for one year, she stayed home to raise her children. We grew up with only one car and not too much money I guess. Mom was quite the expert at sewing clothes for us and she made us meals and cleaned her own house. She even made many of the Christmas presents for relatives. She could knit and crochet but I will never forget the year that she took the record albums from the stereo cabinet, and individually melted many of them over a pot inside the oven. She called them chip bowls and mailed them to all the aunts and uncles for the holidays. I bet they hosted some awesome parties with those bowls!
When my mom’s mother died she was 42 years old. A year later she decided to go on this legacy trip. My dad opted not to go. She was going to take 2 weeks, Spring Break and an additional week which was fine with my brother and sister who were thrilled to miss school, but probably not for my dad who taught high school and college Chemistry.
So, off they flew from New York to Rome. She told us that we would be staying in a hostel near the train station and that her travel agent had told her there would be a bulletin board with lots of activities for us to do. We were excited.
In 1984 the area by the train station in Rome was not, and still is not, the best neighborhood. People approached my brother and wanted his football jacket but otherwise we survived just fine. We did a lot of walking. We threw coins in the Trevi fountain, we walked inside the Coliseum, we visited Vatican city and saw the Sistine chapel and visited the memorable Chapel Cimetiere des Capucins with all the skulls and bones.
We hopped on the Eurail train and headed for the next stop, Monte Carlo on Good Friday. A procession was taking place reenacting Jesus carrying the cross only this time the trek was towards the palace. Looking for a place to eat dinner in Monte Carlo became unreasonably expensive. We stopped in a small cafe and since mom was now treating dinner to 6 of us, 2 of my friends and me included, she asked them to make us some pasta and they did, at a reasonable price.
Our next stop was Nice on the French Riviera. My 17 year old brother really enjoyed the fact that women did not feel it necessary to wear tops on the beach.
Another train ride to Paris where we spent Easter Sunday. We walked through the cathedral of Notre Dame and had a picnic lunch by the Eiffel Tower. After a long warm day in Paris we boarded an overnight train to Norway.
My family had hosted an exchange student from Norway the previous year so we visited her family in Stavanger. They took us around to see a classic Stave church and my brother dipped his head in the North Sea, it was too cold to swim. Another train ride brought us to Bergen, a beautiful seaside town that my sister and I had fun running around and exploring on our own. We also took a boat ride up one of the beautiful fjords.
Mom packed a lot in those 2 weeks and although the photos are not too clear, we have stellar memories of that time together. Her mother’s family emigrated to the United States from Norway so this trip was very special and her first visit to Europe.
Taking family on a “legacy” trip is a wonderful way to honor a loved one. For additional ways to memorialize the loss of a spouse or family member read my blog post here: How to memorialize and honor a loved one
Mom was widowed at the young age of 61. After attending a bereavement group she met her new husband and was able to spend years traveling abroad on tours and cruises. She has had many adventures and although slowing down a little, still gets a gleam in her eye when she talks about Norway. Hopefully she will get back there again. Maybe we can all join her next time as well!
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