Tuesday, April 1, 2014

On April 1, 1964

Fifty years ago, my parents, siblings, and I flew from Portland, Oregon, to Frankfurt, Germany, on Pan Am. In Frankfurt we picked up a Volkswagen camper we had ordered, and started a four-month tour around Europe. It was pretty unusual at that time. My parents had to make plans ahead of time regarding money and mail – credit cards were rare – and in many places we visited we were quite the oddity. But we also met family and friends, and my dad spoke a tiny bit of German and Danish, so we weren't completely on our own.

I was seven and a half, my sister turned 12 in Rome (I remember we had cheese panini sitting in a piazza, and a street artist did sketches of us – not sure where those are now). My brother turned 9 somewhere else in Italy, and all five of us could just fit in the camper, tucked into every space longer than three feet.

our camper looked like this - source

We went through (West) Germany twice, I think, initially heading south in April to get into better weather. We went as far as Naples and Pompeii before going north again to Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Scandinavia, the Low Countries and France. Finally, we crossed the English Channel to Great Britain and saw Scotland, Wales and England. I love to imagine that I passed my future husband as a boy on a street in London – and who knows?

In August we sailed from Southampton to New York on the Queen Mary, with the camper stowed below. The crossing was about five days.

my sister and me

We drove straight through New York City, looking up at the skyscrapers, and went to Washington, DC. Then we drove across the country back to Oregon.

What do I remember? Lots really, aided by countless slide shows after we got back. Here are some highlights.

The Beatles were being played everywhere, especially "I Saw Her Standing There" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand."

Neuschwanstein Castle was every bit a fairy tale castle. We were almost the only ones there because it was April. I think that's the most significant thing that's changed – now you can't go anywhere without hordes of other tourists, at any time of year.

Northern Europe had some enchanting parks and playgrounds.
I remember standing so close to the Mona Lisa that I thought I could touch her – I would only have to reach across a rope! She's been behind glass since the 1980s.

We walked into Mount Vesuvius and held our hands in steam vents. And we couldn't have ice cream in Italy because they didn't pasteurize their milk at that time.

We walked up hundreds of steps in church towers and domes. 

We saw glass-blowing in Venice and diamond-cutting in Antwerp. Venice was fascinating - I loved taking a gondola ride!

In Copenhagen we went to Tivoli Gardens, staying into the evening to see all the lights come on. It was paradise for children. My dad's lovely, elderly cousin Helena went on the roller coaster with us.

My brother made a friend on the Queen Mary, and I tagged along as much as I could. They managed to ditch me once, and I got lost in First Class trying to find my way back to someplace familiar. I was crying when a nice officer came and took me back down into the bowels of the ship where our Tourist Class cabins were.


In the on-board cinema they were playing "What a Way to Go" with Shirley McLaine. We watched it every day, and one time my brother, his friend and I sneaked behind the screen and watched it reversed.

I remember nothing about the trip across the US – sensory overload by that time!

We sold the camper soon after returning home and got our first (of many) VW Beetles. We children had been given Pam Am flight bags, which we used to carry our toys and books around Europe, and which wore out many years ago. Damn! The slide photos that my dad took all faded, and my parents actually got rid of them several years ago (=:-O).

I still have these two pins, one from Switzerland and one from Denmark.

The trip began my appreciation of European culture and history. Although I didn't go back to Europe again for 25 years, I studied languages and the history of western European art and architecture -  and loved it! In the last 25 years I've spent months studying in Italy and then years living in England. I'm sure that early trip started it all.

Do you like to travel? Europe? Asia? Tropical paradise?



  1. What a wonderful trip, and how lucky that your parents were that adventurous! Such a lovely gift to give your children.

  2. There is a novel or at leas a memoir in here waiting to happen. Write it, Val! I'd totally buy this book! And thanks for sharing such a wonderful adventure. Pass by your future husband as a boy indeed! :)

  3. You are so fortunate to have taken such a great trip! My parents actually took us on a trip to Oregon around the same time! I love the picture of you as a little girl. You really haven't changed much. Maybe you're a little bit taller.....

  4. What a fabulous adventure! A brilliant thing to do with your kids - if only we could... I would love to travel more but finances place a barrier or two in the way. So do the kids (though your parents clearly had other ideas!) xxx

  5. Wow! What an amazing experience Val! {I breathed a little sigh of happiness that you didn't say April Fools at the end of your post.} I've traveled a little bit to Europe, but have never been with my husband, and we've been together over thirty years. We seem to find ourselves on a plane to Maui more than any other travels, although we do get back east to visit some family on occasion. It's funny...we both would like to see Great Britain and Europe, but we treasure the relaxation that comes with a tropical vacation! And I agree with Connie...you haven't changed much you cutie!

  6. What an amazing trip! Too bad you lost the sketches of you and your sister. I got to see the Mona Lisa on my one trip to the Louvre :)

  7. What an amazing trip for a child to experience. Your parent sound adventurous. You have a great memories of this time, what a gift.

    blue hue wonderland

  8. What a brilliant adventure! I think it's incredible, I really do - I love that you may have walked past your husband too, so romantic! I would love to take my lot travelling around Europe, I like the idea of a grand adventure, a map, a full tank of petrol and endless opportunity x x x

  9. What a great trip you had as a family, such wonderful memories. I remember visiting Neuwchstein, from a 1975 visit as looking like the castles in my story books as a child. Travel does indeed broaden the mind.

  10. How fantastic that your parents went through all of that effort to show their kids the world. What a brilliant experience.

    My parents also took us on trips, only in North America but thinking back on it now I have no idea how they managed.

    You know I love to travel. I think there truly is no better education.


  11. How fantastic! Your parents must have been very cool and forward thinking to take three kids on an amazing trip like that.As my Dad worked abroad he didn't consider flying somewhere a holiday as it was an every day part of his job. I was 21 before I'd saved enough money to visit another country and standing on the hill in Barcelona prior to the Olympic Stadium being built and looking out on the city awakened my lifetime wanderlust. There's never been a year in the last 26 when I haven't travelled. x

  12. Thanks Val for sharing such wonderful memories!! What an adventure!!
    My family never traveled. I've never been out of the Us!

  13. Oh wow, that is an AMAZING adventure!!!! I love travelling when I actually do it! Mostly Europe although I have of course been to Bali, Indonesia twice (once for a year, once for a month) and I'd like to go back. Apart from that, it's always been Europe!x

  14. What a fascinating story!! I love the photo on the Queen Mary - quite the adventure! I can't believe the amount of details you recall. Although I went on a lot of trips to Europe as a child, I don't recall that many details. My brother and I were laughing as we were recalling some of them just a few days ago. On that trip, we say we were the Griswolds in England and France. The trip was a disaster, but sometimes the worse the trip, the funnier the memories. Ironic!!!
    xo ~kim (and Chloe)

  15. Now wonder you're so alive and interesting. I admire your parents and the gift of travel that they gave you. I love to travel, but don't have your fabulous history as a child.

  16. What an incredible childhood experiences you had! My family traveled extensively around the states and Canada, but never took us to Europe. I love that your adventures totally inspired you at such a young age and that you've been back to study and live abroad. And how sweet it is that you still have your darling pins! I have done most of my adult travels in Mexico, as I'm enamored with their traditions, festivals, and folk art...but I do plan to make it to Europe sometime soon! great post!

  17. Dear Val,
    thank you for sharing such wonderful memories. Lucky you, having such an adventurous childhood. A trip with a camper through Europe and a part of Middle East is what I want to do when I retire. In 10 years or so.
    Sabine xxx

  18. such a fabulous experience, it has been fascinating to read your post!! I would like to travel more frequently, particularly I would love to return to London or Lisbon so many times as possible!, and visit Berlin and Copenhague and many other places through Europe before crossing any sea!


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