Europe (1966)

                  Discovering Europe

In the summer of 1966, our first summer of living in Italy, Valerie and I and our three kids took a rambling drive up through England and northern Europe. One of our purposes was to drop my little sister, Janet, off at the London airport following her summer with us on the Riviera. The second was to meet Val’s brother, Denis, in London and bring him back to Italy for a brief vacation. Our trip covered some two thousand miles over a twenty-two day period.

Heading north in our 1965 Peugeot 404 sedan, our drive took us through the Mount Blanc tunnel into France and on up to Dijon outside Paris where we spent our second night in the Inn of the Savage - a quaint, 17th century carriage house, where Marnie learned to walk . . . that is, she took her first step, her tenth , her hundredth and probably a few more. The next morning it was off to the LeHavre where we caught the car ferry to Southhampton following a morning's drive along the Normandy coast exploring German bunkers still in place and menacing from World War II.

England. We drove west across England to Bude to spend a couple days with Val’s Uncle Charles and Aunt Mary in their quaint little village on the Cornish coast. We were joined there by Denis and Nana, who flew in from Canada.  Nearby was Tintagel, the presumed site of King Arthur’s castle and round table (Actually, no one knows if a King Arthur actually ever lived much less the whereabouts of his castle) but it was still fun to spend a day in "Camelot". Rob (who’s middle name is Arthur) even had a chance to pull a replica of King Arthur’s sword, Excalibre, out of a stone. Unfortunately, young Rob couldn’t budge it and thus missed out on what may have been his best opportunity to become the king of England.

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   Charles and Mary - Cornwall                                         The Sword and the Stone                                                                      Daph and Fred - Surrey

From Cornwall, we drove back upto the London airport to drop Janet off, replace her in the back seat with Denis, who had just arrived from Canada and then proceeded on to Reigate to visit Val’s Aunt Daphne and her husband, Fred, in their servant’s quarters on the grounds of a large estate in the Surrey countryside. From there it was a short drive to Hastings (where Val and Denis had lived for a year in 1947 with their mother and grandmother) to get caught up in the 900th anniversary celebration of the Battle of Hastings. All-in-all our week in England gave us a chance to meet and spend a few days with all the English relatives of whom I heard so much for the last nine years. Actually they’re all much more normal than Val had pictured them to me and the time we spent with them, although brief, was very pleasant.

We returned to the continent by channel ferry from Dover to Calais and drove to Brugges in Belgium for the night. Brugges is a beautiful old town laced with canals . . . which some call "the Venice of the North". We found a quaint, old hotel on the city square . . . put Marnie to bed . . . then went down to the hotel’s sidewalk café for a leisurely dinner. This late evening dinner (without M.J.) became the pattern we followed for most of our days on the road and was a very pleasant climax to each day. For Val and me, one of the nicest aspects of the whole trip was the chance to sample the local cuisine . . . often a picnic at noon then a more formal dinner at night in our hotel.

Denmark. Hanover was our next overnight and then we were on to Copenhagen by mid-afternoon of the following day. If the weather had prevented Val from showing me London in it’s best light, it likewise made it difficult for me to show off Copenhagen, which I had enjoyed so much thirteen years before. But, despite the rain and cold, we paid our courtesy call on the Little Mermaid . . .waiting on her little rock in the harbor . . . and then went off to show the children the famous Tivoli gardens . . . which they thoroughly enjoyed . . rides, orchestras playing, plumed soldiers marching to bugles and drums . . . and finally a dinner of Weinerschnitzel in one of the parks many restaurants.

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  Shopping for Shoes  - Brugges                                                                                                                               The Little Mermaid - Copenhagen

We left Denis to spend an extra day in Copenhagen on his own before he took the night train to Paris for a side trip while we drove up the Danish peninsula to Elsinor, the site of the Danish king’s summer palace, where Hamlet had his famous encounter with the ghost of his father on the parapets. From Elsinor, on the northern tip of Jutland, we took a half hour ferry ride to Sweden and proceeded on up the Swedish coast . . . along the left side of the road. We found Sweden to be beautiful, rolling farmland up to Gotteberg, where it began to change into a rock and pine tree scene similar to northern Minnesota. Val was driving when we crossed into Norway . . . and was taken completely by surprise by the maneuver which took us into Norway and onto the right side of the road at the same time. It was an odd and unexpected experience.

Norway. With a bit of strange luck, John-Eric found us at a service station in downtown Oslo at about 6 p.m. We had stopped to call his home for directions and he had seen our car there as he was driving home from work. After putting the kids to bed (the Stenbergs have a two-bedroom apartment quite a bit smaller than ours and thus it was quite an imposition with the five of us) . . . we snacked on Norwegian waffles and jam and chatted into the wee hours.

Since John and Solveig both work, we had the apartment to ourselves during the days . . . which was a treat. Val had a chance to do some washing and Jill and Rob played with the neighboring children. I continue to be amazed at how comfortably they introduce themselves to new groups and work right in . . . by the end of the first day they were running with the pack despite the lack of a common language. The strange part was that they insisted on speaking Italian to the Norwegian kids when their English didn’t get them anywhere . . . a reflex sort of thing that I found myself doing on various occasions on the trip as well.

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   Marnie's First Steps                                                                  Viking Ship - Oslo                                                    Norwegian Puppet Show

So during the days we toured Oslo on our own . . . and there’s quite a bit to see. First the panorama of the city itself from one of the many surrounding hills . . . then the Viking ship museum with two Viking ships perfectly preserved . . . just as they were excavated from the burial grounds of the long, departed Viking kings . . . then the modern day Viking-type adventure ship, the Kon-Tiki . . . now set up in its own museum with pictures and artifacts of Thor Hyerdahl’s memorable voyage across the Pacific . . . and finally shopping jaunts, which loaded us up with an eight-place setting of Norwegian-designed stainless, clothes for the kids and finally a variety of foods which we don’t find here in Italy.

As for the evenings, on Tuesday John and I took his boat out into the fjords where we braved some pretty heavy winds for a while . . . finally putting into a sheltered cove where we snacked on the herring and beer which we’d brought along. Picked up our wives at about nine and went out to the airport (the best restaurant in town) for full-scale Norwegian dinner. I had poached salmon. Val had another fish and it was a real treat.

The second night, after putting the younguns to bed, we dined at home by candlelight on white wine and fresh shrimp which are sold on the Oslo docks each morning . . . having been caught the night before in the fjord and boiled in salt during the return voyage. Another treat.

The third night we all went together to the top of the Hommokollen ski mountain overlooking Oslo, where we had our farewell dinner . . . pickled herring and boiled potatoes . . . prior to boarding the ferry for the overnight trip down the fjord to Denmark. The ferry was first class with a fine cabin for the five of us. The trip took ten hours and cost less than $ 40 for everything.

That day we drove through Denmark to Hannover to the same motel we had used on the way up and liked. We stopped in the "Old Town" in Aahrus . . . where I had been on my first trip and showed the family the sights. One of the big pleasures of travelling in Denmark were the breads and pastries . . . we sort of munched our way from bakery to bakery.

Germany, Switzerland and Home. The next day (we’re now up to the 20th day on the road) we met Denis in Frankfort . . . a feat which was the programational highlight of the trip. We drove up in front of a downtown hotel, we’d agreed to meet at one minute to one. Val went in to look for him and, as she came out shaking her head, the airport bus pulled up behind our car and out stepped Denis. He had had a nice five days of strolling around Paris, saw a lot . . . but, I think, was happy to be in our company once again.

That night we stayed just inside the German border near Basel in a road side inn. . . which, among other things, featured piano in our large bedroom. If you notice that I’m not saying much about Germany proper, it’s because about all we saw of Germany was the Autobahns . . which made the travelling very easy but precluded our getting to know Germany very well . . except at 70 m.p.h.

On Sunday, instead of driving on home, we decided to swing over to the eastern part of Switzerland in order to see Zurich, Luzern and to cross the famed San Gotthard pass. Luzern is a very charming city with an old section and many covered bridges crossing the river on which it is situated. The weather and traffic were both pretty bad that afternoon so we didn’t enjoy the Gotthard as much as we might have.

We spend Sunday night in Lugano . . . although still in Switzerland, Lugano is Italian-speaking so we felt like we were almost home. Then Monday we drove down through the Lake Como region . . . Milan . . . and finally home . . . and so ended out 22 day, 2,000 mile odyssey.

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