Going places

Years ago, my mother took my brother, his wife, and me on a European vacation–three countries/three cities. It wasn’t my first trip to Europe, or my last, but it was the most memorable.

We went to London first. Arriving the day after Christmas, we hustled down to Harrods, only to discover it was closed. Boxing Day, December 26, is a national holiday in Britain. Tradition has it as a day where tradespeople collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents from employers as thanks for their good service throughout the year. No worries. We went sightseeing.

We stayed for a couple of days, taking in the sights: Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, Westminster Abby,  to name a few. We even took a short trip by subway to Eton to see where Prince William attended school.

We took the high-speed Eurostar train from London to Paris through the “Chunnel,” or The Channel Tunnel, which is a 31-mile rail tunnel built beneath the English Channel at the Strait of Dover.  What a ride!

My nephew was studying abroad in Paris and met us at our hotel to take us on a stroll through the winter wonderland strip of lights and decorated storefronts along the Champs-Élysées. We visited the Eiffel Tower and people-watched.  I declined the ride to the top of the tower. The view from Sacre-Coeur was far more exhilarating as dusk gave way to evening and city lights lit the sky.

The Mussey d’Orsay, built in a former railway station, was an architectural delight. I loved this museum, which was filled with works of my favorite impressionist artists–Monet, Cezane, Renoir, and Dega. Unfortunately I missed the Louvre. I know, I know. But I was ill. (My sweetie lived in Paris for a year while working for Schlumberger. Maybe he will take me back.)

Our final stop was in Rome. History came alive for me in Rome. I was absolutely stunned by the antiquity. I remember standing outside the Colosseum. We could see where heavy chariot wheels had long ago carved track grooves in the stone. I was mesmerized. “Can you believe it?” I asked my brother. “We are standing where Julius Caesar rode his chariot?” We grabbed hands like children and ran along the ancient road till we were breathless.

I felt  almost inconsequential in the midst of the grandeur in the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. The Forum brought back memories of studying Shakespeare as a sophomore in high school. Et Tu, Brute?

We took a short trip to Florence where we viewed Michelangelo’s David and shopped for Italian leather coats and drank espresso in the Piazza della Signoria.

When I returned to work at the end of that memorable holiday, I told my girlfriends that I now knew the recipe for a Perfect Date: Dining at a French restaurant in London with an Italian man. While the comment always elicits hoots of laughter, I will tell you this in all seriousness: Nothing compares to travel for understanding culture, history, and our place in this incredible world. New cars will break down, bigger homes will cost more in upkeep, but travels to lands faraway will live forever in your memory.

The experience is priceless.