15- Summer in Europe with Connie
This story is back in sequence. It takes place the summer after I went to Europe with Rory.
Traveling in Europe had been such a great adventure, I wanted to go again. My sister Marsha was married and settled in with her husband and son, but my little sister, Connie, was just out of high school and glad to accompany me. It was 1972; I was 26 and she was 18. We planned to travel with backpacks and use public transportation. I was cavalier – “no problem, stick with me, kiddo!” I was the seasoned European traveler. She trusted me and our parents trusted me.
Transatlantic charter flights were inexpensive so that travel was affordable to the middle class. College students and hippies did not mind that the seating was crowded and cramped and that the plane was noisy and the food minimal. Everyone had their paperback copy of Europe on $5 a Day. It was a bare bones travel guide that covered the main cities of Europe listing budget-priced hotels and youth hostels, and inexpensive pubs and restaurants. There was advice about using the subways, trains, and other public transportation, as well as hints on ways to save money.
We did not make advance hotel reservations. Every day for six weeks we had the challenge of finding lodging we could afford (about $2-$3 a night). Usually it was a very small room, accessible by lugging our backpacks up several floors in a steep, narrow, often dark, stairway. Normally we shared a small bed, and most often the bathroom was down the hall, although sometimes it was on another floor. We were afraid to leave our heavy backpacks in hotels that were in poor neighborhoods, or where the clerk seemed creepy, or if we had seen mouse droppings, so we carried them around most of the major cities of Europe and wore ourselves out. But, we tried not to let anything get us down, and laughed and giggled our way across western Europe. Laughter is touted as being the best medicine, and it was!
Connie has kept a few pictures of our trip. But I really wish we had footage of:
- the French and Italian young men in tight pants who flirted with us by touching Connie’s long silky hair and making “woo woo” sounds with googoo eyes–as we hurried our steps away from them;
- our realization that the train we were on was going the opposite direction of our destination, and me sobbing loudly and inconsolably in disappointment!
- our heads together in frustration over the changing currencies every time we crossed a border! And trying to convert pounds or dollars to francs and pesetas;
- our awe at seeing historic monuments and walking on quaint village streets; gazing at miles of vineyards from our train window; and doing our own ogling at the very scantily clad bathers on the French Riviera beaches.
- our terror our first morning in Paris as we awoke to the sound of jets streaking what seemed like inches over our hotel, and finding out that we were hearing the Bastille Day celebrations. The jets were the Patrouille de France, their ‘Blue Angels’ equivalent aerobatic team.
My mom’s family history proved I was an unreliable chaperone before we even left town:
The night before they were to leave, Connie’s friend Carol called to say she was having a party. We thought Georgi would take care of Connie. Not so. We waited until after midnight for them to come home, and finally dropped off to sleep. When I went out to get the paper the next morning at 6 am they were just coming home.
We had to leave for the airport in three hours. They had finished getting their belongings into back packs the night before. We took them to the airport, and they met some young people who were going on the same plane. An announcement came over the loud speaker saying that their plane would be three hours late. They were leaving with hangovers, no sleep, and had no itinerary for us to follow.
After ten days we heard from them for the first time.
I wrote eight letters while they were gone, and never received any letters or post cards from them. Mine didn’t reach them, and they were all returned long after the girls came back home.
When they finally called again a few weeks later, it was to say that they wanted U-rail passes. I went to the travel agency on my lunch hour to pick them up. They were $250 each, so I insured and registered them. The girls never received them, and they were also returned months later.
The next time we heard from the girls was August 10th, more than a month after they left. The phone rang late at night, and a German operator put the call through. We were so relieved to hear from them.
They had put us through six weeks of worry by the time they arrived at LAX August 19th. It was hard to recognize them as they left the plane, wearing new long dresses and tennis shoes. They had each put on about twenty pounds and we looked twice to be sure they were ours.
What can I say? I was rebounding from my divorce and would not talk about it with my family or anyone else. We were self-absorbed and thoughtless. Truly, angels must have kept us safe. We were two air-head American girls who were out of our league but having a terrific time.