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?