MISSY GOES TO EUROPE
As we pulled up in front of the London Hard Rock Cafe and saw the long line waiting to get in, our taxi driver said, "You'll have to wait an hour or so. Want to give up and go someplace else?"
We didn't. We got in line and our teenage granddaughter, Missy, went up in front to ask how long it would be. The young man seating people took one look at Missy and discreetly found seats for us right away. We discovered there are countless advantages of traveling with an attractive teenage girl. Hailing a taxi during rush hours was never a problem and smiling, attentive service in hotels and restaurants was another bonus.
When a Caribbean cruise with our ten year old granddaughter, Missy, proved to be such a success, we promised her we three would take a trip to Europe when she reached sixteen. Each year on her birthday she reminded us of our promise. Six months before her 16th birthday she announced she was ready and expecting her trip. Frankly, we were flattered this beautiful young lady still wanted to travel with us. She even had taken an art history course to learn about works of art she hoped to see.
We felt Missy's first trip to Europe should include highlights of some of the important cities. We also decided an escorted tour would accomplish this goal with less of our time spent on handling baggage and other details.
American Express Vacations offered exactly the tour we wanted. Their 17-day tour would visit England, France, Switzerland and Italy with three nights each in London, Paris and Rome and two nights each in Lucerne, Venice and Florence. The important attractions in each city were included and there was free time to pursue our own interests. We would fly from London to Paris and take a train from Paris to Basle, Switzerland. An air-conditioned bus would furnish the balance of our transportation.
The wisdom of choosing a tour which included all baggage handling was confirmed on our departure day when Missy's bag weighed in at 55 pounds. How could jeans, shorts, tee shirts and mini skirts weigh so much?
A half day bus tour of London our first day introduced us to our tour group and director. We were delighted to count ten young people between the age of ten and twenty-four. To her dismay, the tour director announced to the group it was Missy’s 16th birthday. She would have preferred to try to pass for 18.
After our morning tour featuring Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, we gave Missy her choice of going to the British Museum or the London Hard Rock Cafe. Of course, she chose the Cafe. The first day set the pattern we tried to follow throughout the trip. Part of each day was devoted to educational things and the remainder was spent on personal interests.
St. Ermin's, our London hotel, was charming and the public rooms were old worldly elegant. As we checked out, Missy said she would like to spend her honeymoon there.
One morning in Paris was spent at Versailles and an afternoon tour included the Eiffel Tower, Napoleon's Tomb and Notre Dame Cathedral. Another morning was spent at the Louvre Museum where Missy was thrilled to see the originals of some of the art treasures she had studied. However, Leonardo Da Vinci's painting of Mona Lisa did not interest her as much as a copy of Mona Lisa being sketched in charcoal on the sidewalk outside the Louvre by a handsome young student.
By the time our tour left Paris the young people had bonded into a congenial group. They always drifted to the rear of the bus where there was a steady buzz of conversation, giggles and the rustle of restless movement. Missy developed a friendship with 17 year old Alice from Washington, D.C. and 18 year old Alex from Mexico.
Earphones to their Walkman tape players were always in place on their heads. All three had brought their favorite music tapes that they delighted in sharing.
Our tour guide suggested we take advantage of our good luck in having a clear day in Lucerne, Switzerland by taking a trip to the top of Mt. Pilatus. We went up by gondola, down the other side by cog railway and back to Lucerne by boat. The scenery was breathtaking and this trip was the teenagers' favorite.
In Venice, Missy and Alice loved to sit at an outdoor cafe table in St. Mark's Square. Before long, other young people would stop to exchange names, experiences and ideas. In the evening, they would sit on the steps of a canal bridge outside the front entrance of our hotel. We will always remember our night time gondola ride through the quiet, dark canals of Venice and the gondolier who lost his footing and tumbled into the water as he was disembarking his passengers.
Soon after our arrival in Florence, we hurried to the Uffizi Art Gallery, where artists were setting up their easels in the square near the entrance. In the gallery we lingered awhile in the room dedicated to Botticelli to enjoy his Birth of Venus, Allegory of Spring and other paintings Missy had studied. She may not remember the other works of art she saw in the Uffizi Gallery that day, but she will always remember the young man in the square outside who sketched her portrait.
In Rome, we spent time in St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum. Missy especially enjoyed a drive through the countryside to the town of Tivoli outside Rome. There our group visited the gardens of Villa D'Este where a walk among the waterfalls erupted in a free-for-all water fight among the young people.
We had almost forgotten that teenagers are always hungry. Missy's lunches consisted of a snack at every available opportunity. The Croque Monsieur, a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, and the Croque Madame, a grilled chicken and cheese, were her favorite French fast foods. Instead of the traditional onion soup, her snack at the Cafe de la Paix was a croissant and three scoops of strawberry sorbet. We also learned that a "Big Mac Attack" can be relieved at 13 locations in Paris. In Switzerland, she tried fondue followed by three scoops of ice cream. In Italy, her favorite snack was a dish of pasta and, of course, gelato.
The escorted tour package was perfect for our situation. Our good luck in having other young people on our tour enhanced the trip for Missy. We were also fortunate to have an experienced and professional tour guide whose expertise kept every thing running smoothly and our group in good humor.
This trip with our granddaughter remains a special memory we three will never forget.
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