My sister Dorothy wrote to me that she’d like to bring her family (husband, Rex and two teen-age kids, Wayne and Glenda) to visit us in Europe.  I thought that was a great idea, since we’d had no visitors.  I wrote and asked her where they would like to go.  She wrote back, and said “Wherever…you live there; you decide.”  I wrote back and said, “But I’ve already been lots of places and would like to know what your family would like to do.”

These types of letters went back and forth for months (mail was slow).  We seemed to be at a standstill, because I didn’t want to plan a trip for them in a vacuum.  Then I got THE LETTER. 

Dorothy said she had finally insisted that the four of them sit down one Sunday afternoon and make a list of what they wanted to do in Europe.  They looked through lots of National Geographic Magazines from the library.  So I received 4 wish lists.  I got out a map of Europe and put a pushpin on every item on every list.  It would have taken months to go from the northernmost tip of Norway to the southernmost tip of Greece!  And Rex wanted to spend a week at The Louvre in Paris (that was the only item on his list).

They were coming for two weeks, so I decided to try and get as many things on the list covered as I could.  It turned out to be a wonderful trip, but the planning of it was quite stressful (people pleaser that I am).  I had calculated how many days we would be in each country, made hotel reservations, and put each country’s currency into envelopes to hand to Dorothy when they arrived.

We obviously started in Germany.  We rented a mini-van, because that was the only choice for 6 people and luggage.  We drove down the “romantiche strasse” (romantic road) from the airport to Munich.  The highlight of the trip (besides the pretty countryside) was the beautiful, quaint, old-world German town, Rothenburg.    We also spent our first night in a castle.

My sister wanted to stop at every cathedral.  I had not allowed for any spantaneous side trips, because we were on an extremely tight itinerary.  She wasn’t happy, but I stuck to my guns.

Interior of Church that Dorothy never got to see

Besides, I had already seen so many cathedrals – they all began to look alike.  I promised her that, after two weeks, she would see many cathedrals.

In Munich, we turned in the rental van and joined a bus tour that would take us through Austria, Italy and Switzerland.   We barely made it (because of a “seeing cathedral” argument and Rex turning in the rental car.)  It soon became obvious that Rex had the flu.  Thankfully, it only lasted 1 or 2 days, but passed to each person in our family, along the way.  I was the last to get it, after we were back in Germany.

This was an 8-day bus tour, run by American Express, and they did a superb job.  It included every major tourist attaction along the route.  We spent 6 days in Italy – visiting Venice, Pisa, Rome, Sorrento, the Isle of Capri, Florence, and Milan, as major stops.  It was aptly named the Michelangelo tour, because we were fortunate to see each of his most famous works of art.  I was especially awestruck by the statue of David and the Cistine Chapel.

When I stepped into St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, I felt so small and it seemed as big as an entire city.  It was gorgeous, and I didn’t care if I ever saw another cathedral.  They had lines on the floor that marked the sizes of the other “large” cathedrals in the world.  We had to walk halfway to the front to come to the line for the 2nd largest cathedral.

Then our tour guide rushed over to us and said a group from Poland had cancelled, so we could get a papal audience.   I had envisioned this as an intimate, fireside chat with The Pope…  Wrong.  We, along with thousands of others, swarmed into a huge auditorium.  The Pope, Pope Paul VI, in case you’re interested, was carried in on a raised dais, on the shoulders of elegantly-clad Swiss guards.

When he arrived at the stage, he began his long speech – with a greeting in at least a dozen languages.  I was impressed and mesmerized.  I wished that my Catholic friends could be there.  I will also point out, that traveling through the very poor countryside of Italy, it was obvious that the Catholic church was quite wealthy, with grandiose domes and the highest (and most beautiful) building in each village.

My second favorite stop in Italy was the Isle of Capri and the Blue Grotto.  Exquisite…and a place I never thought a small-town Kansas girl would ever see.

The bus tour ended in Switzerland and we rented another mini-van to drive into France and then back to Germany.  Rex was crushed when he had learned that we were only going to spend 2 days in Paris, but he was even more devastated to learn that the Mona Lisa painting was on tour.

When you travel with people, you really get to know them.  I was thrilled that I had someone to talk to on this trip.  Dorothy was 14 years older than me, so I don’t think I had really gotten to know her until this trip.  Although somewhat annoying, I can laugh about it now.  The first thing that happened was that she handed me back all of the money envelopes when we crossed into Austria from Germany.  This was obviously before the Euro, and she just didn’t want to be bothered with the complexity of currency exchange.  She only wanted to see cathedrals.  She said, “You just pay for everything and we’ll ask you for money if we need to.”

I also learned that she had a couple of phobias.  She wouldn’t ride in elevators if there were more than 6 people (so anyone in addition to us).  She had a true phobia about it, and would immediately get off, if anyone else got on the elevator.  Rex, rolling his eyes, would get off with her, saying “If I know what’s good for me, I’ll walk down the steps with her.”  The rest of us spent a lot of time waiting for them on the ground floor of buildings.

Dorothy also would not flush a toilet unless she could be standing pretty far away from the toilet.  She had a strong fear of any toilet running over and the water possibly touching her feet.  I wish I had some pictures of her trying to flush toilets while standing outside in the hallway!  In my opinion, if the toilet looked like it was going to overflow, there was plenty of time to get out of the way.  Oh well.  To my knowledge, no toilets on the entire trip overflowed.

She constantly complained about how much I was rushing her – it would be impossible to count the number of times we almost missed the bus.  The tour guide had made it very clear that he was not afraid to leave anyone behind who wasn’t on time for the departure.   I told her she shouldn’t have given me 4 lists that had 159 items on them.  My goal was to see as many of those as possible!

Dorothy also never let me forget about one cathedral (in the middle of nowhere) that I drove right by.   She insisted, for approximately 20 years, that she had probably missed out on seeing the most beautiful one in all of Europe.  (I know it was no St. Peter’s!)

My impression of my niece and nephew, on that trip, was that all they wanted to do was lay by a pool and get suntans.  Wasn’t that what people did on vacation?  A few years ago, I had a discussion with my niece, Glenda, about the trip.  I was amazed about how much she remembered (and also what kinds of things she and her brother had done after we all went to bed.)

Approximately 13 years later, Rex died as a result of his third heart attack and then 12 years after that, Dorothy died from a long battle with breast cancer.   That whirlwind trip through Europe is my very favorite memory of spending time with them.

I also must give Dorothy credit for igniting my passion for planning trips; especially on bargain budgets/an extra challenge!  I have become the family (and select friends’) travel planner.   I even saved one of my employers $30,000 by scheduling all of the airfare online for the national sales meeting (instead of using the company’s travel agency.)

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