Three years ago, my sweet husband and I decided to save our dough and take a big trip. I’m talking huge. Unlike the time we flew out of OAK (Oakland, CA) to Charles de Gaulle (Paris), then CDG back to OAK; I wanted a real planes, trains and automobiles vacation. So, after months of discussion we decided to fly into Edinburgh, Scotland and out of the most romantic city in the world, Paris. Everything in-between would be an adventure, no plans whatsoever. A tall order to be sure, but we had almost three weeks to roam and the money to do it this time.
The last time we vacationed in Europe was in 1996. We were just two crazy kids flitting around France for our 1-year wedding anniversary. And although the exchange rate was 5 francs to the dollar, as newlyweds, we didn’t have two nickels to rub together and ended up running out of money halfway through our trip. Of course a big chunk went towards the Corsair charter, but upon arrival we were shocked to discover that we had roughly 400 francs a day to live on, about 80 bucks American. After finding a cheap hotel at 250f a night we survived solely on crepes, spaghetti Bolognese at Don Vito’s, and love. Luckily Tony’s father, my new father-in-law, was kind enough to pay for our stay at the Hotel Studia, a great find on 51 Boulevard Saint-Germain (it’s still there; a little run-down now). Without his help it would have been another kind of trip indeed. Now we were able to afford the Metro, a day at the Louvre Museum, Monet’s Gardens in Genevieve and the extravagant train ride to Rouen, in northern France, where my husband spent lonely summers as a boy.
What a life changing trip that was for me, not to mention my first experience outside of Les États-Unis. My husband on the other hand is a man of the world. As a young lad he lived with his mother nine months out of the year, and his father during the summer. He was just seven years old when he first took a plane all by himself, to see his dad in Santa Barbara. By the time he was fourteen he was taking trips to Rouen, France, making eyes at the stewardesses, getting free Coca-Colas and peanuts.
Traveling at a young age certainly has lasting effects on a person. One thing I have always admired about my husband is his confidence. He is truly comfortable in his own skin. We can be anywhere, from the shadiest barbecue joint in Oakland to the swankiest restaurant in Paris, and he blends. While I’m awkwardly figuring out which fork to use for my salad, Tony is sitting with his back to the wall, gazing around, taking it all in. Then he’ll flash me a look and say something that melts my backbone, putting me at complete ease.
The ability to enjoy the moment and go with the flow is a wonderful trait to adopt in life, and when traveling it’s a necessity. Three weeks before our daring trip Tony, my girlfriend Evelyn and I went out to dinner at Lanesplitter’s. Over pizza and beer Ev announced that she too was going to be in Paris around the same week as us, and wanted to know if we could meet-up with her before we flew home. She had just ended an eleven-year relationship with a man I never really liked, except he had good taste in music and was a good dancer. Unfortunately, their break-up was more akin to a divorce. When it was officially over Ev was exhausted, emotionally, and wanted to do something spontaneous and fun. I warned her that our plans were not set in stone, but of course we would meet her! It was thrilling to think of the three of us in Paris, even if it was for only one or two nights.
Sometimes when you plan a big trip, it all seems so far away and dream-like. With Ev’s announcement things were starting to become exciting, and REAL. Two weeks before leaving, Tony and I had a serious discussion about luggage. In the softest, most democratic way he told me his one fear; that he would be left to carry the bags, or all of MY bags. Normally, I take three: my purse, an extra large duffle bag for my clothes, and a backpack for our arsenal of toiletries. Since we were planning to jump on and off trains, possibly travel by car through England, then take the Eurail from London to Paris, we needed to strategize. He opted for a long, OD green Army duffle bag from the surplus store. I, on the other hand, strategically chose a red roller by Sherpani that had secret zippers on the sides. When unzipped, it resembled a pregnant ladybug. C’est parfait!
The night before we left Alameda, California for Edinburgh (pronounced Ed-in-bur-ah), Scotland I spent two hours packing and unpacking to no avail. I was new at putting everything in one bag! I called Ev, and she came over and showed me how to roll-up everything. By the end, my ladybug looked like she was smuggling colorful tortillas from Ramiro’s, but everything fit. “Won’t the inspection people just undo our rolls and throw everything back?” I was proud of our pack job, and yet resented the amount of time it took. “Who cares.” Ev said, “You’re going to Europe!” “See you in Paris.” I said, then we both screamed like 12-year-old girls.
Right before we hit the hay, Tony and I made a practice run – he with his bag and me with mine. I must admit it was difficult. After clumsily rolling my suitcase down 40 stairs, out to the car, then swinging it into the trunk without any assistance from Tony, I was sweating bricks. I decided I needed to lighten the load. So, I went back inside the house and removed 6 sweaters, 5 pairs of pants, 2 jackets, 4 skirts, 9 shirts and one pair of boots.
As I drifted off to sleep, I remembered how I almost froze to death the first time I was in France, in October circa 1996. “Maybe it won’t be so…cold…this time in October.” I yawned. “No matter.” Tony whispered back. “We’re going to have a great adventure…together.” Boy was he right.