European Vacation: Part 1


I have always been a huge fan of the National Lampoon Vacation series of movies. The original movie has a special place in my heart because my family often took road trips around the US, and especially to Walt Disney World in Florida. But the European Vacation movie is far and away my favorite movie of the bunch, because it took me to the magical land of Western Europe.

In a park across the street from the Louvre, there is a ferris wheel and a nice view of the Eiffel Tower.

It was a land of castles, Stonehenge, and the Eiffel Tower, among other wondrous sights. My parents say our family European Vacation, which we took around the same time the movie came out, had similar misadventures such as my dad trying to drive a right-hand drive, stick-shift car on the correct side of the road (and into oncoming traffic) in England.

That is why I was so excited when I booked a trip for my then-girlfriend and me to go to Germany the summer before I moved overseas in 2003. It was supposed to be a romantic getaway that I won in an online auction through the Luxury Link website (which still has some auctions, but nothing like the package I won for an absolute steal of a deal…after reading this article you’ll probably understand why!).

Unfortunately, my girlfriend wasn’t able to go and I was left with almost a week in a 5 star resort in Germany and no one to go with. But lucky for me my younger brother had just graduated from high school, and I was able to convince him to accompany me on my own European Vacation, which we would extend to include more of Europe than just Germany.

Disneyland Paris by Christopher Allen

So if you are looking for a serious travel article where I tell you the best places to eat and things to see, this isn’t it. But if you’d like to read about how two fairly young and inexperienced world travelers tackled Europe, then this is the article for you.

To be honest, my brother wasn’t exactly keen to go. He didn’t want to leave his then-girlfriend (who had just come back from her own overseas trip) for two weeks. But reluctantly he accepted the Delta Buddy Pass a family friend gave him, and we packed our bags for two weeks of exploring a decent chunk of Western Europe.

The itinerary was to fly into Amsterdam (because that was the cheapest flight from Atlanta…I didn’t get a Buddy Pass and had to buy my own ticket), spend a couple of days there, then take the train to Paris. We would spend a couple of days in Paris doing the normal touristy things, but we would also make our first visit to Disneyland Paris. This was a big draw for both of us, as our family members are definitely Disneyholics, and we had never visited an overseas park before.

From there we would take the train to Stuttgart to visit a former foreign exchange student of mine who lived there. After a night there we would finally head to Munich, which was just north of the resort I had booked. Then after several days there, we would work our way back to Amsterdam, with a stop in Luxembourg for a night (to add to the total number of countries we had visited, as well as say we had been in one of the smallest nations in the world). It was going to be great!

by Altair 78 via wikimedia commons

Well, the National Lampooness of the trip started almost right away. My brother (he who didn’t even really want to go) got put into First Class because of his Buddy Pass, while I was back in Economy with the cows and chickens. At one point I tried to go up to speak with him for a minute and was met by a very stern flight attendant who informed me that I was not allowed in the sacred First Class area.

I tried to explain that I just wanted to speak with my brother, who I could see from the doorway and pointed to. She told me that if he wanted to speak with me, he could come back to where I was, but I could definitely not come up to speak with him. I was shocked! I actually paid for my plane ticket (even if it was in Economy) and he got his as a gift! Whatever…I went back to my cramped seat to stew over this for a few more hours before landing in Amsterdam.

Anne Frank Bookshelf by Christopher Allen

After getting off of the plane, I met up with my brother and told him my tales of woe. In response, he laughed and told me that he had a lovely time. They made him an ice cream sundae at his seat, kept asking him if he wanted champagne (he didn’t drink at that time, so he politely told them no) and enjoyed the comfort of his spacious seat and in-flight entertainment…Again, I paid for my seat and he didn’t, and he didn’t even want to be there!!!

Regardless, we set off to find our hotel. We enjoyed the Dutch words on all of the signage in the airport and attached train station (man they are long!) and we laughed over and over at each other as we gave very bad impressions from the Austin Powers movie Goldmember, where the main villain is supposedly a Dutchman.

Our hotel was in a lovely neighborhood and we went about hitting the tourist trail. There are two things that I especially remember from our time there.

The first was our trip to Anne Frank’s house. I was shocked at how modern they had made the outside of it (all glass and steel), but the most moving part was when we opened the bookshelf and walked up the stairs to the attic where she and her family hid. I can’t describe the feeling I had, as I don’t know if I have ever had it before or since, but I was hit with an emotion or feeling throughout my body that was, for lack of a better word, deep. It wasn’t sadness, anticipation, or nervousness. As I said, I don’t know how to describe it, but just thinking about it has my heart racing. It was very moving.

by Bjarki Sgursveinsson via WikiMedia Commons

The other memory is skimming the more sketchy areas of town close to the red light district. We were walking along, minding our own business, when a guy on the street asked us if we wanted any drugs.

We just kept walking, not responding to him or even really acknowledging him. He then became aggressive, yelling, “Hey, I know you can hear me! Hey, don’t walk away from me!” and other things that led to an emotion I definitely understood…FEAR! Needless to say, we sped up and got away from there as quickly as we could.

Welcome to Europe!  Check back next week for part 2 of the story.

Next: Beijing's 798 Art District

More from TripSided