*Pardon quality of photographs as they are scans of old originals. Special thanks to my mum for scanning and sending them to me!*
When I was eight we left our home in Africa and returned to the United States. Our tickets took us back by way of the Netherlands, and so my parents decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to stop and explore Europe. So, they planned a two week stop over in which we would drive through seven European countries in a VW camper van. We had been living as volunteers in Tanzania for seven years and so money was definitely tight. This was budget travel at its best, which meant that there was no staying anywhere but the camper van and that we spent the whole time doing covert camping so we wouldn't be saddled with campground fees. Also, my grandmother, who flew over to join us on our adventure, brought food so that we wouldn't have to eat out. I love my grandmother, but I'm not sure what her thought process was because pretty much the only things she brought were instant noodles, Fig Newtons, and instant oatmeal. To this day I still can't eat Fig Newtons.
We began our grand adventure with a night in the international airport in Amsterdam, in which we slept on a single open sleeping bag on the floor draped with jackets - and in my case a towel. To say we garnered some strange looks is an understatement. In the morning we collected our van and hit the road. During the next two weeks we drove through the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, and then back through Germany to the Netherlands to catch our flight out. It was quite the marathon.
Having a strong Dutch ancestry made starting our journey in the Netherlands particularly fitting. We watched cheese be made by hand, took in the windmills and canals, and watched artists paint delft dish ware. By the time we got back to the Netherlands to fly out, my sister and I had managed to come down with Typhoid fever, which made for an even more memorable trip!
In Germany we cursed the gutlessness of our van while on the Autobahn, and visited Neuschwanstein, which has to be the ultimate fairy-tale style castle. That same day we visited the Dachau concentration camp. Even as a kid it was an intense and somber experience, especially after having just seen the opulence and luxury of Neuschwanstein. We wrapped things up with a visit to the Guttenberg printing press museum. What stands out for me the most from there was seeing a Bible (probably only a few books or maybe just the New Testament) that was the size of a match stick head, which had been placed beside it for comparison. This was so that it could be sewed into clothing and so forth during times of persecution, and was read by the carrier via a magnifying glass.
In Switzerland we drove through the Alps, where I remember taking a hike that ended with my sister and I being surrounded by a group of spunky goats who tried to eat the buttons off of our sweaters. Our wanderings often led us past pastures of cows with tinkling bells around their necks. The sound of those bells left a big impression on me. From Switzerland, we made a quick dash to the tiny country of Liechtenstein (it only covers 62 square miles) just to be able to say we'd been. Finally, we drove from Switzerland to Italy via the Great St. Bernard Pass, where we stopped at the St. Bernard Hospice (a monastery) which was famous in olden days for its use of St. Bernard dogs for mountain rescue missions. This dog breed was actually created at this monastery by cross-breeding other dogs, with affirmation as a new breed in 1709.
In Italy, we skirted around the main tourist attractions and headed to the Waldensian Valley, where we visited ancient churches and schools established by the Waldensian people. One of my clearest memories from there is my mum making us wash our hair in a freezing, cold watering trough. Yeah, she's pretty hardcore.
After Italy came Austria, which for us meant visiting sites from The Sound of Music which was filmed in Salzburg and the surrounding areas. We also visited Mozart's home, and marveled over giant rounds of cheese sold by merchants in the Salzburg square.
Last but not least, we headed to the Czech Republic. This particular border crossing was a big deal to my parents, who didn't think it would be open to travelers in their lifetime as it was a communist nation until 1989. As soon as we crossed the border there was a stark difference, with the Czech Republic appearing quite dingy compared to the vibrance of Austria. However, Prague was truly spectacular. At least that's what my parents say, but my sister and I have few memories from our time there as that is when we became extremely sick with Typhoid fever, which lasted up through our departure from the Netherlands.
And that sums up our trip through Europe. It wasn't all fun and games due to illness and having hardly any money, and yet I'm so glad that my parents chose to seize the opportunity, and that they were hardy enough to tackle this epic trip with two kids and a grandma. They are truly my original travel inspiration.