The End

ďThis is the end, Beautiful friend
This is the end, My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I'll never look into your eyes...again
Can you picture what will be, So limitless and free
Desperately in need...of some...stranger's hand
In a...desperate land
Lost in a Roman...wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane, All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain, yeahĒ

-Jim Morrison, The Doors

Iíve written so much about this trip. I only met Jane because I used to write and direct plays for children. I keep telling myself that this story has to have some kind of climax. The Sheppard family should stumble across a cure for disease, or solve the strained relations between France and the US.

Is just returning home safely enough? I guess it has to be.

We learned some things that I want to remember when I travel abroad again. Here they are in no particular orderÖ

1. Save and travel with cash instead of credit if you can. We saved $50.00 per week for six years. We did use our credit cards for convenience, but when the bills came in it was great to be able to write a check and pay them in full. It sounds like a long time to save, but we wanted to take five people along. Do the math, and it is easy to adjust.

2. Buy Travel Insurance. It is cheap and it protects you in ways that you wouldnít expect. We paid less than $100 per person. Donít put a major amount of money out on plane or cruise tickets without getting travel insurance. We purchased ours from Travelguard at http://www.travelguard.com.

3. Never trust a travel agent with cash or a check. If you are going to use an agency, pay via credit card. This protects you if you donít get what you paid for. When the MinOtel agent demanded a check, I should have cut her off right there and we would have eliminated a major source of stress on this vacation.

4. Apartments. If you are traveling with kids, consider renting a private apartment rather than getting two hotel rooms. Ours in Rome cost only Ä130.00  per night, and was big enough for five people. We had our own kitchen and bought some groceries for breakfast and light meals rather than spending money three times a day in restaurants. We rented our apartment from a website at http://www.rentalinrome.com.  They accept credit card payments via PayPal.

5. Make reservations to see major attractions if they are available. In some cases it allowed us to not stand in line, in others without a reservation we would not have been able to see certain attractions.

6. Get a Eurail Pass. It allows you to jump on any train and go virtually anywhere in first class (if available). There are a lot of options and different passes available. The site we bought ours from was RailEurope.  You MUST purchase your pass BEFORE leaving home!  They do not sell them in Europe.

7. Pack light. Before going we read tips from a website for people going to Europe. The guy writing it said that nobody comes back from Europe saying that they wish they had packed more stuff. If you are going to be mobile like we were, think about a backpack. We had larger rolling cases that we bought at Costco that could be put on our backs, but they were so packed it would kill you if you tried. Consider doing laundry more often so you can carry less, itís actually kind of fun and you end up meeting people you would not otherwise. Donít take a bunch of gadgets. Absolutely do not take your laptop. Access to the Internet and computers is cheap and easy to find.  One experienced Europe traveler told me that he would rather take extra money to buy stuff he might need than take stuff he might not use.

8. Cell Phone. I just said to forget the gadgets, but having a cell phone saved us several times. Your phone from the US will probably not work in Europe. But, your cell provider may have a rental solution. I have Nextel, and I was able to rent a phone that rang in Europe by simply calling my L.A. number. Nobody ever called me on it, but it was handy in a pinch when we were lost on dark rainy nights and needed a cab.  If anything, I'd rent two of them so if Jane and I got separated (like on the train in Paris) we could find each other.

9. Spend at least two nights at each location. Except for Milan, we wished we had not booked one day stays in any of the towns. You usually donít get into town before noon. Then you have to find the hotel, unpack, and find food. By that time itís afternoon and you are in a rush to see things before night. Then you have to get up in the morning and leave for the next destination. Iíll never book one night stays again.

10. Read travel logs like this one, or reviews from regular people before you go. Travel agents, books and magazines all want to sell you something. I have nothing to sell. Iím just telling you my experience. When I have hyperlinked a site, it's because that product or service worked well for me as a consumer. There are a lot of websites out there where people will give you their honest opinion. You might not agree. The most helpful things I learned in advance were from reading things that regular people wrote on the net.

11. Write about your travel experience and publish it somewhere online. You may not write like a pro, but what you learned will help someone else. If you learned anything from what Iíve written, return the favor and write about your experience.

12. At least try to speak some of the local language.  Learn basic word and phrases like: Please, Thank You, Pardon Me, You're Welcome, Sir, Miss, Yes, No, etc.  It's not that hard and when they see you are trying will become more helpful.  Do not demand that service people speak to you in English.  Be flexible, and remember you are a guest.  Imagine how you would feel if someone came up to you in your home town and started barking orders to you in a foreign language, and got mad when you didn't instantly understand.

13. If something goes wrong, donít take ďNOĒ for an answer. The way MinOtel responded to our problem with the agent stealing our money was unacceptable. I pushed them until they did the right thing. As of this writing, I have been generously compensated for what happened.  They paid all the cost of the rooms I didn't get, plus all of the extra expense that we incurred when we had to get new rooms at the last minute.  They also kicked in some extra money for our inconvenience, and have offered us free rooms at their hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland next time we go to Europe.

I would like to thank the following:

My Daughter Casey (10). We never traveled abroad when I was a kid. Casey is our ďbonus babyĒ. We thought we were finished having kids, and she came along by surprise. She is sixteen years younger than her brother, and ten years younger than her sister. She had nobody her age on the trip. She kept up with us and had a really great time. I know that she will never forget this trip.

My Daughter Erin (20). She turned 20 on this trip while we were in Venice. Itís hard to be this age and traveling with Mom and Dad, plus helping with her younger sister. Erin jumped in and had a good time regardless. Iím sorry that she lost her masques on the train. Iím still looking for a way to replace them.  Now she says she would rather wait until she returns to Verona.

My Son, Christian (26). Christian is Janeís son from her first marriage. He was born in Verona, Italy. I met him when he was about 10 months old after Jane returned to the US after breaking up with his father. I adopted Christian when he was still a little boy. Now he is a grown man. He had to quit his job in order to get enough time off to do this trip. Luckily, he was hired back when we returned. But, it was a real sacrifice in order to spend this time with his parents and siblings. This trip would not have been the same without him.

My Wife, Jane. I would have never left North America had it not been for her. In 26 years, she never once gave up encouraging me to go to Europe. We planned this many times, and for different reasons put it off. Most recently, 9-11. If it had been up to me, after 9-11, I would have definitely never gotten on a plane to Europe. She never surrendered. I only took this trip to make her happy. I felt I owed it to her. In return, I received much more than I ever dreamed. Something I didn't really cover in my story is that she and I were on vastly different trips. I was on a vacation, seeing these things for the first time.  When Jane lived in Europe 26 years ago, she was a member of a religious cult.  Of course, she had no idea she was in a cult at the time, she believed that the group she joined was a legitimate Christian missionary organization.  For Jane, the return to Europe had some good memories, and some painful ones.  Few people realize how damaging these groups are to the people who get involved with them.  For Jane, I believe this trip provided some healing and closure on the situation that she found herself in over a quarter of a century ago, when she was about the age Erin is now.  Jane is an amazing woman.  Her accomplishments include climbing Mount Whitney, up and down,  in less than 24 hours, and completing the grueling Tevis Cup cross-country endurance horse race (100 miles in less than 24 hours). You can read about Jane's adventures on her website at http://www.tevispony.com.

Epilogue:

Soon after the trip ended, so did we as a five-member family unit. We all held it together long enough to accomplish our dream vacation together. Itís not likely that we will have the opportunity to travel like this again as Mom and Dad, Sisters and Brother. We couldn't do this trip when they were all kids, because they weren't kids at the same time.  Six weeks from the day we arrived in Fougeres, Erin moved out into her own apartment.  Christian had been on his own for years, and only moved back temporarily.

When I think back to my time at home, growing up, the memories I hold most fond are the ones when we traveled together.   I asked Casey a year or two ago what she liked the most.  Without hesitation she said, "When we go on vacations together".

It was an adventure, and though it was a long time coming, we did it together as a family. Iíll never forget it, and either will they.  This trip changed our lives at a time when our lives were just about to change.

Imagine our youngest child, Casey at the age of sixty, in Europe with her grandchildren. She is  tells them stories about how she came here back in '04.  Where they climbed things like  Mount Vesuvius, The Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Eiffel Tower. And, how their great grandfather, on his first trip to France, hopped on the RER to Paris just before the door slammed, and ended up disappearing in a blur, as she yelled out ďDADDY!Ē

[Back] - [Home]