Sunday, March 29, 2009

Book Review: 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson + 13 of my own European memories

In a reader’s poll last month, I asked all of you which book with travel as a main element I should read next. 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES was the clear winner.

What's it about? Well, Ginny’s aunt sends her 13 envelopes that she has to open one by one, following the directions in each before she can move on to the next one. The first one tells her to fly to London. What surprises will the others hold?

I thought the novel captured the rather arbitrary nature of travel well – how mood, weather, and people you encounter end up shaping your itinerary and experiences. At first I was kind of frustrated with Ginny, how she followed her aunt’s instructions to a T, even if it meant leaving a place before she even saw much of anything. But then I just kind of went with the flow. Ginny’s aunt wouldn’t let her bring guidebooks with her so I guess she didn’t know what tourist haunts she was missing out on anyway (other than the obvious ones, of course, like the Eiffel Tower). She also wasn’t allowed to have a camera – an instruction that helped Ginny really live in the moment instead of worrying about capturing every little thing for posterity. Ultimately, most of Ginny’s journey felt quite authentic, despite a few things that seemed a bit implausible. It was an entertaining read and reminded me a lot of my own first trip to Europe.

The summer I turned 21, I went to Europe with my dad and brothers for 3 weeks, followed by a month of Eurailing with my best friend, Margaret. In honor of the 13 little blue envelopes, here are 13 of my European experiences from that trip:

1. While looking for the metro in Prague (is there a metro? I’m still not sure), we tapped some guys on the shoulder to ask directions. They turned around and were the palest, most vampire-looking guys I’ve ever seen. One guy leaned over and kissed Margaret and then both walked away. When I asked why she let him kiss her, she said “I thought he wanted to smell me”.

2. Also in Prague…we didn’t know how to get to the castle so we decided to follow a tour group. It turned out to be a youth choir from Basque Spain. They noticed us and invited us into their group so that not only did we get in all the sights free, we also got to hear them sing in a variety of locations.

3. In Salzburg, Margaret made me go on the Sound of Music tour even though I’d never seen the movie. We saw fields (“The fields where they danced!”), a tree lined avenue (“That’s where they played in the trees!”), and a gazebo (“That’s where the Nazi guy kissed the 16 going on 17 girl!”).

4. Also in Salzburg, we bought Apple Strudel and then watched as birds descended on our table and carried it away.

5. In Vienna, we arrived at midnight, without a place to stay because all the hostels were full. We decided we’d stay up all night in a bar. We quickly discovered that Vienna has no nightlife. So we thought we’d spend the night outside…until a rollerblading local asked us why we weren’t scared of getting raped. We immediately checked into a hotel, blowing our budget, and ensuring we’d be eating only bread for the next week.

6. Except that the next day, as a joke, we took a picture of a group of Asian men in front of a statue of Johann Strauss. They turned out to be high ranking officials in the Thai government and they treated us to a five star dinner.

7. In Paris, we ran up all the stairs of the Eiffel Tower and back down. Twice. Then we went to Disneyland and later slept on the floor of a church.

8. In Arhus, Denmark we stayed at the Arhus City Sleep-in (even the hostels were out of our price range) and met a host of colorful characters including a drunk who often fell off his bunk, a Russian guy who drank all our bottled water without asking, and a Danish girl who took us out on midsummer’s night eve. At some point, we ran into her ex-boyfriend, who pulled a knife on her, so we ran through the cobbled streets until we lost them.

9. In Amsterdam, we stayed with a friend and spent most of our stay bicycling around and bar hopping like locals. One evening our friend had to work, so we went to her favorite bar and were telling some guys how we didn’t feel like we were tourists. At that moment, the barkeep came over and told us there was a phone call for me. It was like a scene from a movie – and the guys were duly impressed.

10. In Rome, we met a guy at the Colesseum who told us he was a psychic and he knew we wanted to see the remains of St. Peter (which we did!). So he led us there and then mysteriously disappeared. He was like a travel angel.

11. Also in Rome, drank out of the fountain in front of the Spanish Steps. And didn’t die.

12. We joined up with a church group and became counselors for a camp in Switzerland. The hot water in the showers only worked for about 5 minutes at 5 am every morning.

13. Had my baseball cap fly off while atop the William Wallace (Braveheart) monument in Scotland. Which is just as well, since baseball caps, tennis shoes and t-shirts with slogans on them scream “Tourist!”

How about you? Any adventures you want to share?

46 comments:

Alea said...

Oh wow Lenore! I love your 13 European Memories, they are just so perfect!

Bunny B said...

WOW! Awesome list. Your trip must've been truly amazing!!! I can't wait for my Eurotrip! :)

H said...

That sounds amazing. I really want to Euro-rail around, but none of my friends seem to want to. I loved your travel stories, thanks for sharing!

Elizabeth said...

Awesome post! This makes me glad I voted for you to read this one. At least I think I did. I've been wanting to read it myself.

Beth Kephart said...

Hey, very cool. Denmark and Scotland have eluded me.

But elsewhere, we might have crossed paths, were we on different time shifts.

I love Prague, but the only two people who ever kissed me there were my husband and my son.

S. Krishna said...

Loved this post! Funnily enough, my sis and I also went on the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg!

Also, the reason you didn't die after drinking out of the Spanish Steps fountain in Rome? All the fountains in Rome have clean, purified drinking water. It's an amazing idea!

bermudaonion said...

What a fun post! You must have been in great shape to run up and down the Eiffel Tower stairs twice!

Lenore said...

S. Krishna - Yeah, I found that out afterward, but while I was drinking I felt pretty daring, ha!

Kathy - All those long days running at the track came in handy.

Amee said...

Wow, what an awesome trip! I'd definitely have to go on the Sound of Music tour! haha

Tiqa Khairi said...

Your trip sounds really interesting. And it must be really fun going there with your best friend.

I love 13 Little Blue Envelopes! :)

Amy said...

Lenore, I was cracking up reading your 13 things,what a fun way to do this post! And I'm jealous of some of you experiences!

Donna said...

Your points remind me of my own European travels. I got all nostalgic reading them! Thanks for sharing!

Reader Rabbit said...

Those 13 Memories are awesome :) I definetely have to go on a trip like that one day =p

Reader Rabbit said...

Those 13 Memories are awesome :) I definetely have to go on a trip like that one day =p

Linda J said...

As promised, I read this book too Lenore...I enjoyed it - probably because I've never gotten to travel like that. I enjoyed reading your 13 things too. Learned a lot!

KB said...

Good post, Lenore. I love how you tied your memories into the post making the review personal. We read this for our YA book group and Maureen Johnson actually sent us 10 free hardcover copies of the book!!! She is nerd-tastic.

Genevieve said...

I love your 13 memories! I also was worried about drinking the water in front of the Spanish Steps. I even emailed my best friend (who is half Italian and lives half of her time in Southern CA and the other half in Rome) and asked if it was OK to drink the water. It was only after she said it was fine I went and filled my water bottle up.

Insert Book Title Here said...

I would love to go to Europe! This book sounds pretty good.

NotNessie said...

Wow.. you had a fun trip! I wouldn't drink fountain water, though. Icky.

Mari said...

That was great. Thanks for sharing your memories. Sounds like you had a wonderful trip.

Taren said...

That was such a great list! How have you not written a book yet?

stargirlreads said...

love that book :)

Staci said...

Your post had me screaming with laughter...forget about the book, I was in love with your experiences you had with your friend!!! When she said she thought the vampire looking guy was just smelling her and ended up kissing....tears were pouring down my face!! That sounds like such an awesome experience and thanks so much for sharing it. I'm going to send a link to this post to my son Mitch. He's 17 and next year after he graduates he wants to wander Europe for a month or two...he'll love this!!

rebelangel333 said...

Sounds like you had loads of fun. I'm so jealous!

Sadako said...

This one looks really cool! I liked your review a lot.

Kristen M. said...

You made my day with this post. So hilarious and exciting! I'm severely jealous.

violetcrush said...

I month of eurorailing? Wow...now that is something. Looks like you had lots of fun. I wish I had done more place hoping while still in college, now one month off would be a dream come true...

Christina Farley said...

What a post! So many crazy memories. I'm amazed at your guts to try all those fun things. And I loved how you tied it into the book.

Blodeuedd said...

Sounded fun :)
And yes there is a metro in Prague, took it several times, I still remember our end station...the only "word" in Czech I remember

Ladytink_534 said...

This is on my want to read list. I would love to go to Europe but I think I'd much rather visit the British Isles.

Janssen said...

Very very cool. Must get a copy of this book. Your memories are awesome :)

Fyrefly said...

I've got this book on my TBR pile, and was thinking of breaking it out during the read-a-thon, and now you've convinced me. What a fun post!

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

Love your list!! I would kill to take a trip like that. :)

L.Fitz said...

I'm so jealous of your Europe trip. I love traveling and I hope when I finally do go there I have stories as funny and interesting as yours.

Dar said...

I love your 13 memories Lenore. What a great post!

Lorin said...

Great post! It made me laugh, because it reminded me of my crazy adventures in Europe, trying to not seem like a tourist. Which always backfired when someone tried to speak to me in the local language, and I only speak English (and a very little French and Danish).

Ali said...

I Eurailed at about the same age, with my boyfriend (now husband). One of the best experiences of my life!

Ms. Yingling said...

Loved this book. Glad it sparked some fun memories for you.

Lenore said...

I am glad you all enjoyed my 13 memories. Maybe I'll have to post more at some point. Because...yeah I have more. Or maybe I should take Taren's advice and save them for a book!

Alexa said...

This book sounds great. I love your memories of Europe they reminded me of my own inter railing trip. It was such fun but I can't imagine doing it now, sleeping where ever and eating bread and cheese and Milka chocolate of days on end!

Mrs. Magoo said...

I love the title of this novel- it really makes me want to read it!!

avisannschild said...

This is a fantastic post, Lenore; I love your 13 memories! I travelled in Europe with my best friend at around the same age (23 in my case), but our adventures were a bit tamer than yours!

Jen said...

Wow that sounds like an awesome trip ^_^ Wish I had a travel angel

dissectingperfection said...

LOL I adore your 13 memories! Three things:

1. LOL at vampire dudes. How positively Edward of them!

2. Yay for free five-star dinners! hahaha - did you act like you knew them all along? ;)

3. Yay also for not dying after sip from fountain. We can't have that!

#extra entry

Book Sp(l)ot said...

You sound like you've had some really fun-and interesting-travels! Makes me want to go on a trip somewhere!

and it's really good to hear that this book isn't full of the crazy, never-would-happen type of travel that some roap trip/other travel books are like---realistic ones will be more fun to read. I own this one and I think I'll have to read it soon as I'm missing my trip to London!

#extra entry

KayLynn said...

Awesome post! Sounded like you had a fun time with your parents[: Oh I loved the book as well :P

#extra entry