Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hey Guess What? We're Going to Europe!

I know that everyone says time goes by quickly, but I honestly think time is skipping days on me here. I can't believe that we are leaving for our trip in just six days. And I can't believe I went this long without blogging about it.

The main reason that I haven't really been effusive about this upcoming trip (to Europe, no less) is because I didn't want to come off as pretentious, or showing off, or anything like that. I might be a little sensitive to that because I have wanted to go to Europe for a really, really, really (add about 15 reallys here) long time and if someone I knew was going, I would be happy for them, tainted with a little tinge of green. I don't think of myself as a jealous person usually, but I don't know if you can help it just a teeny weeny bit when it's something that you simultaneously want very badly and are unlikely to get.

So as we were in the exploration phase of going on this trip, I didn't have a problem talking about it, because it was little more than a pipe dream. But once we started making firm plans, I felt a little bad. I mean, how many people get to fulfill a childhood dream, right?

This was the topic of a book I just listened to, "The Last Lecture." The author is dying from terminal cancer and gave a speech at his college (where he is a professor) that exhorted everyone to live out their childhood dreams. And unless I ever become an astronaut, which I guess might still be a remote possibility, for me the only other childhood dream is to learn French and go to France.

I got this dream when I was in, I think, sixth or seventh grade. My family went to a water park called Wet 'n Wild in Florida and while we were there I was in line behind two girls that were speaking French. I was captivated by it, the language sounded so beautiful and melodic that I decided right then and there that I wanted to learn to speak French. In fact, I loved hearing it so much that (okay, here comes the embarrassing preteen part that I'd love to forget I ever did) I followed them around from ride to ride so I could stand behind them and eavesdrop on their beautiful conversation about how to get rid of the stalker behind them. Good times.

So I patiently (or not) bided my time until 9th grade when I could finally take French, and man, did I love that class. I always did well in it, and I never got tired of learning it. I was disappointed when Mme Cassard quit in my senior year and was replaced by an extremely young new teacher that wouldn't let me do an independant study of French with her, which would have given me enough credits to get some kind of special recognition on my diploma. Maybe a gold star or something. Not that it matters or anything, but I'm a sucker for recognition.

Traveling to France remained an unachievable concept, especially once I married a reluctant traveler and had children. It also didn't seem like something that people like me did - none of my friends summered in the Riveria, after all - we are all more likely to go to Disneyland than Disneyland Paris. But when my parents moved to England, the world got a little smaller. All of a sudden, there were Mudgetts going to Paris. And Rome. And Munich and Amsterdam and Bruges. I mean, these are the kinds of places where you can get legal drugs and film cool indie movies. Almost by definition it should mean that Mudgetts shouldn't be there. And yet, they were. And if they could do it, so could I.

But it took 7 1/2 years to do it. Whenever Ryan had a break from work, it was because he had been laid off after a movie, and we couldn't afford to go anywhere. And when we had some money, it was because he was working, and we couldn't afford to take the time off. And every 3 years, we had another kid, prolonging the time when we would be able to afford a trip like this. This last year has kind of been like the perfect storm of travel possibilities. We had our (almost free) trip to Kuala Lumpur last year to whet our appetite, causing Ryan for the first time ever to be excited about traveling. We made enough money to be able to save up for a big trip, which is the first time we've had two nickels to rub together in a while. And then Ryan's one steady client finished their project, leaving Ryan with some honest to goodness free time. So we decided to bite the bullet and buy tickets to Europe.

And then time went warp speed until right now. I swear it feels like its been about two weeks since we decided to go, instead of the three months or so it has actually been. I've been planning and organizing and reserving and itinerizing (with just enough time left over to make up new words). I've taken us on sample road trips, sample day trips, and sample museum trips, in order to practice our travel skills before the trip that counts. I've sample packed twice. I've driven Ryan crazy with changing plans (which is not his favorite thing) and he's been extremely generous with me by allowing me to pretty much do what I want. As long as he doesn't have to try sample jet lag or sample boatsickness, that is. He does draw a line somewhere.

So where are we going, you ask? Glad you did, because here's our itinerary!

Day 1 - Leave for England
Day 2 - Arrive in England. Yes, the flight is that long. Recuperate and try to stay awake for my brother Tim's graduation.
Day 3 - See what really happens in my parent's town. Eat at the infamous Strike Zone. Have tea and scones at a British tea house.
Day 4 - Day trip to York.
Day 5 - Go to church at my parents ward.
Day 6 - Ryan and I take Darcey and Zack to Milan, Italy, while my parents take Brad and Noah to Berlin for a granparents weekend.
Day 7 - Assuming we can figure out how to get from the airport to our hotel in Milan, we spend the day looking around and eating as much gelato as our stomachs can hold.
Day 8 - We take a bus tour of Milan, including a visit to see the Last Supper and Milan's gorgeous Duomo. More gelato.
Day 9 - Leave Milan and take a train to Switzerland, where the rest of the family will meet us in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, south of Interlaken and smack in the middle of the Alps. Have some cheese.
Day 10 - Take a train up the North Face of the Eiger to the top of Jungfrau, a 10,000 foot mountain. At the top, we can ski, sled, take a dogsled ride, see the largest glacier in Europe.
Day 11 - Explore small mountain town of Gimmelwald and also Murren. Eat fondue.
Day 12 - Either bike ride or train into Interlaken to visit an open air folk museum, the St. Beatus Hohlen caves, and take a boat ride on the lakes. Also, possibly go to church in Thun, on the far west side of Interlaken.
Day 13 - Long train ride from Lauterbrunnen to Paris. We'll get to our campground at 3:30 pm, so we'll probably go into the city to do the Arc de Triomphe and possibly stroll down the Champs Elysees. I can't believe I'm actually saying that sentence - I'm going to be strolling down the freaking Champs-Elysees!!!!
Day 14 - Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle cathedrals and historic Paris walk. Rest time in the Luxembourg Gardens. Drink chocolat at Angelina's on Rue de Rivoli.
Day 15 - Orsay Museum, which is regarded as better than the Louvre, then rest time in the Tuileries (more gardens). Afternoon, Sacre Coeur cathedral and see the street artists in Montmartre. Then, my mom and Tim and I take a pastry class by a French chef.
Day 16 - Theme park day, either Disneyland Paris (closer and more expensive) or Parc Asterix, a less touristy, more French park. My parents are going to Reims for some WWII history for my dad.
Day 17 - Versailles day trip. Visit the Louvre, which is open late.
Day 18 - Eiffel Tower, then rest time in the Champs de Mars. Walk down Rue Cler.
Day 19 - Possibly church, followed by a walk through the Marais section of Paris. Afternoon, some streets are closed for rollerbladers, so the boys are going to bring their ripsticks (like skateboards) to skate with everyone else.
Day 20 - Leave bright and early for the airport. Get home very late that night.

One night I want to leave the kids with my parents and do a night boat tour on the Seine, and see the Eiffel Tower and everything all lit up. The nice thing is that my parents have pretty much done the touristy stuff before, so they don't care if they miss the Louvre, say, because a baby is crying.

Ryan is most excited about Switzerland and beautiful scenery in general. Also, museums.
The boys are most excited about skating on the streets of Paris. Literally, it's top on their list. Which stinks because they are not the easiest thing to pack, but I'm going to have to suck that up. They also want to buy their friends Eiffel Tower keychains.
Zack is most excited about bringing his new Lego Indiana Jones toy, which means I'm going to spend 20 days searching for Indy's 1/2 inch diameter hat that is always popping off.
Darcey is most excited about skipping naps, eating unfamiliar food, being in a stroller for hours on end, and getting carted to a bunch of places she won't remember. But she's not complaining about any of it.

Here's my list of what I'm most excited about:
Taking pictures
Being in Paris
Eating crepes and fondue and scones and all the other delicious food that Europe is famous for
Things that are older than, say, three or four hundred years, which is about the maximum (non-Native) American history
Seeing things that I've always read about
Figuring out what makes a famous piece of art famous
Beautiful scenery, too
Speaking French to actual French people
Taking a cooking class in Paris
Sitting in a park on a lovely afternoon, watching children skip and hold hands and sing Frere Jacques (my parents sold me on that one, they've done it before although the song may not have been Frere Jacques)

I'm sure I have a thousand other things that I am looking forward to that I can't articulate. Most of all, I just want to be there. To be somewhere different and new and beautiful. I am so thrilled that we get to do this, and don't worry, I'll keep you updated on our travels!

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