What a Trip is a new feature in which our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.
Who: Linda Couch and her husband, Don Stewart, and their children Coco, 10, and Henry, 9, of Mount Rainier. (This account is by Couch.)
Where, when, why: My employer’s sabbatical policy allowed us to home-school our children for three months across seven countries in Europe in the fall of 2012. We spent quality time in Paris; Rotterdam and Amsterdam; Dragor and Copenhagen; Berlin; Prague; Vienna; Florence and Rome. It was one amazement after another. We did so many wonderful things together, the best of which was being together 24/7.
Highlights and high points: We rented an apartment in Paris for a month. We were all shocked and so happy to discover that Paris has a trampoline park for kids. I can’t imagine finding a trampoline at a public park in Washington. We also saw a lot of old-school tools in use: street cleaners using grass brooms, a knife-sharpener using his bicycle to power his sharpening stone, lots of wooden pushcarts at markets. It struck us repeatedly that the old ways might still be the best ways.
Cultural connection or disconnect: We’d been in Paris, Rotterdam and Amsterdam before we went to Berlin, so the kids had learned about World War II, Hitler and Nazism. We had many serious talks, and they knew the history of Berlin being divided into East and West Berlin. Even so, I was caught completely off guard when we were in front of a part of the Berlin Wall for the first time. I cried. It was just so powerful, and it struck me that I never thought I’d be there, in Germany, in Berlin, at the Wall. And there we were, all learning together the power of world history. I’ll never forget that moment.
Biggest laugh or cry: We were crossing a street on our way to dinner in Florence. I let go of Henry’s hand once we’d passed a car stopped at a stop sign. And just like that, a moped zoomed up the tiny space between that car and the sidewalk, and struck Henry. Henry fell into the street. I screamed. Coco’s Girl Scout intuition kicked in, and she helped me get Henry out of the street. The moped driver stopped (thank you!) and, once we’d determined that Henry had just been sideswiped a bit, he asked sweetly for my permission to leave. We all sat on a bench for a few minutes to regain our composure and wipe our tears of fear and relief away. Dinner that night was delicious.
How unexpected: I was convinced that I would have to find things to explore in Rome that weren’t ancient ruins or really, really old. I didn’t think I was all that interested in that kind of thing. Wow, was I wrong. I joined the kids and my husband in sopping up as much ancient, old and ruinous stuff as we possibly could. We stayed in the Jewish Ghetto, and just from the name of it, you know that it’s steeped in history. We toured Ostia Antica, an ancient port city just outside Rome, and as much of Rome as we possibly could, and found ourselves eager for more. This realization, that I do love ancient history, was a wonderful surprise.
Fondest memento or memory: The greatest gift we came back with is a better understanding that the world is a very small place and that we are capable of exploring it! My biggest insight is that you should plan, plan, plan for such a big trip but expect that things might change, and that there’s adventure in all of it. My proudest memory is of my kids’ eagerness to go just one more block, look inside just one more church and walk for miles for the pure excitement of finding out what lies ahead.