I thought it would be easy to wrap up my final blog relating to Europe.  I decided to give myself a few days to rest, trying hard to work through jet lag.  It was particularly bothersome because, when I arrived from L.A. to Amsterdam, I hit the ground running the following morning with very little effects of jet lag.  Man, what a trooper I was….WOO HOO!!!  Unfortunately, to this day, almost two weeks later, my inner clock…and perhaps a big piece of my heart…is still very much in Europe.

I also thought I was alone with this; that all of my tour buddies had quickly and easily returned to their lives with wonderful memories.  However, I received an email from my travel buddies and now friends, Sue and Bob, which was sent to everyone on the tour, telling us how much they missed everyone and how much fun they had.  And then a funny thing happened; the floodgates opened, with almost everybody on the tour writing back, each saying a variation of the same thing….that we were such a fun group without a bad apple (we apparently all hate bad apples!) in the group, we wrote about the wonderful memories we had made together, we grumbled about our still coping with jet lag, and that we regretted our trip ending.  Even Sandro, our bus driver, and Cary, our tour escort, chimed in, saying what a wonderful time they had…that PROVES what a fun bunch of people we were!  😉

My two-week family

I was relieved and happy knowing that I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling.

My pal, Barry, with his selfless acts of kindness, emailed me almost daily for three months helping me plan my trip.  He sent me countless photos of European details, customs, cuisine, and sights that I would encounter.  He helped me select my now beloved Fuji camera, even meeting me at Union Station in downtown L.A., not only to force me to learn the ins and outs of public transportation by having me take different Metro train routes across Southern California, but he was also there to help me learn to use my Fuji to its fullest advantage.  I didn’t want to spend much time in Paris because I had heard so many negative things about Parisians and I didn’t want anybody to spoil my trip; Barry insisted that I push forward and spend three days there.  He was right; I fell in love with the city.  He also encouraged me to visit Brussels and wrote, “You are going to Grand Place if it kills me.”  My trip would not have been the same had I missed seeing that beautiful city.  Barry felt so closely connected to my trip that, via the internet, he followed my plane flight as I traveled across to Amsterdam where I began my journey.  Barry, as we had written before, I felt your presence as I traveled through Europe and as I walked along the same streets that you once walked when you lived there many years ago.  Thank you, my friend.  My trip was made all the much better because of you.

As I read my early blogs, it was clear how frightened I was.  I was particularly fearful of missing a train, in particular, getting on the wrong one, probably because, if you read any page of my blog, it’s painfully clear that my sense of direction is SO poor.  At the beginning, I would go up to anybody and EVERYBODY at the train platforms asking, “Can you please tell me EXACTLY where to stand for my train?”  What I discovered is that with a smile, kindness, and complete gratitude and appreciation of their help, without exception, I received back a smile, kindness, and the assistance I needed.  Everything I projected was returned to me.  Most of those people would keep an eye on me, and they would nod, point, or tell me when my train was approaching.  And so, with that, I learned to move forward with confidence, knowing that people are inherently good, and I trusted that God and the good people I encountered would help me travel safely through Europe.

If you have looked at any of my photos, you will notice that they are vibrant in color.  But from the moment I first set eyes on the Netherlands when we were getting close to landing in Amsterdam,

Farm fields

to my first view when I stepped outside of Schipol Airport,

My first view in Europe

to the last city I toured before flying home from Rome,

The Field of Miracles at sunset in Pisa

whether it was raining or sunny, Europe was vibrant and colorful.

That level of vibrancy was because that was how I saw Europe in my mind’s eye.  Excuse me for my dramatics, but ALL of my senses were awakened…everything I ate, saw, and heard….everything seemed much larger and grander than what I knew my life to be prior to my visit.  I don’t want to take away what I have experienced after living the good life in Southern California, but there was a distinct and palpable richness in history and architecture, from the foods I ate and the wine I drank (uh, YUM!), to the clarity of the air, to the sights and smells of the small villages and larger cities I traveled through.

And the food, oh, the food!  I try not to eat bread at home because it affects me so poorly, but bread is plentiful throughout Europe and I couldn’t help but eat it.  I was shocked that it didn’t affect me negatively in Europe.  Do they not use hybridized grains the way it is force fed upon us in the U.S.?  Why did the foods taste fresher…was it because it WAS fresher and is prepared without preservatives?  I clearly remember Bob, Sue, and I climbing some steps in Riomaggiore, and having the aroma of someone cooking waft through the air as we passed their window.  I remember the cheeses….be still my heart!!!  I normally drink coffee at home sweetened and with a creamer…I could easily drink European coffee black and without sweetener.  Can I just tell you how fabulous their chocolates were???  Uh, HELLLLOOOOOO!!!

But, in the end, the people I met, whether it was a fleeting moment or longer, is what made my trip so wondrous.  Beginning and ending with my charming and gracious hosts in Amsterdam, Delft, Bruges, Brussels, and Florence; to the strangers who guided me safely from one city to another; to the people I met on my day tours and on trains; but mostly due to my tour group buds who left me with memories to last a lifetime.  In no particular order of lovability…….

CARY:  Your enthusiasm, love of travel, and good humor as our tour escort was palpable.  Thank you for your excellent guidance as we traveled through the many cities we visited, and a very special thanks for your assistance with my room challenge in Lauterbrunnen and with my credit card.  By the way, Cary, when Marco, my wonderful host in Florence after our tour ended, was giving a toast during the dinner I shared with him and his family, his final words for the toast were “Cin Cin” (or “Chin Chin,” as we would write it)!!!  I quickly mentioned that you had been corrected.  Marco looked a little puzzled, but his son, Giambattista, said that “Cin Cin” is indeed used but that “Salute” is the more formal toast.  Honestly, my preference is “Cin Cin” because, to me, that is a toast among friends.

SANDRO:  Your excellent driving skills and acute awareness of our safety while on the road was very much appreciated.  Thank you for your professionalism and for your generosity in giving up your Lauterbrunnen pink hotel room to me, complete with shower!

SUE AND BOB:  SO many memories, all of them wonderful, all of which make me laugh and smile whenever I think about the fun times we had.  Do I need to tell you how much I love you both?!?  Thank you for allowing me to share some of your trip with you…I loved every single moment of our journey together.  Sue, I feel that we are kindred spirits; you know of which I speak.  Bob, I wanted to hug you all the time…you just need to know that!  Along with the fun times we shared that I mentioned in my blog, I will never forget watching you sitting alone with your iPad Mini during our last breakfast in Monterosso, feverishly trying to reserve a fun day trip in a Rome for you and Sue in Rome so Sue wouldn’t be disappointed because nothing had been planned!  Sue nudged me to show me what you were up to.  And you were so proud to tell Sue about the tour you had arranged!  It makes me laugh to this day thinking about that…I simply adore you, mister!  To more fun adventures together in the future!

To the cutest couple!

JULIE AND STEVE:  Julie, your kind heart and childlike innocence as you experienced Europe, along with your huge smile, warmed my heart.  Steve, your sense of adventure and interest in my photography was so appreciated.  Our time together on the gondola was simply the best, wasn’t it???  Thank you both for the wonderful memories.

DICK AND CAROLYN:  You are troopers!!!  I loved your positive outlooks on life, and your travels throughout the world simply made me envious!  Dick, I will always remember how we both pushed along up that steep climb to view those gorgeous mountains in Austria on our break, my pretending that I had more energy up that hill after you stopped, only to stop five paces after you did!

RICK AND LORI:  Fondue, man!!!  What a dinner!  Thank you both for your outgoing personalities and quick smiles.  Your enthusiasm and fun personalities were contagious.  It was clear that everybody loved you.  I know that you wanted to, but how grateful was I that nobody at our table in Monterosso had a camera to take a photo of that squid dangling out of my mouth!  Cheers to both of you!

RICHARD AND CHERYL:  I didn’t get to know you well, but you always had a quick smile and a warm welcome for me whenever I saw you.  Thank you for that!  We are now buds on Facebook so I hope to get to know you better there.

ANN AND LINDA:  Could the two of you be any more adorable as a couple?  Both of you were super sweet; I love your devotion to each other, and I was SUPER stoked that you enjoyed my recommendation of the Croque Monsieur in Paris, Ann….whew!

Linda and Ann

MARGARET AND GARY:  Margaret, you are the official gelato queen….I don’t know where you put it!  And as Margaret wrote, Gary, you are the consummate tour guide.  It was nice getting to know both of you, both with your quiet, gentle ways.  I always enjoy watching couples clearly devoted to each other…that was definitely the case with you both.

JOLENE, JULIE, AND DENISE:  To my buds who took me in, particularly in Munich, you are consummate shoppers!  We sure showed Munich who the real beer drinkers were as we tried to polish off our Radlers, didn’t we?!?  😉  And, of course, due to our wily ways and the sultry looks we gave the old waiters at Ratskeller, we had no challenges being seated immediately!  Thank you all for your friendship.

JUDY ANN AND MADELINE:  To the chicest mother-daughter team on the trip…I swear, I didn’t see you wear the same outfit twice!  Thank you for not telling anyone that, not only did I eat the delicious Florentine cookie in Beaune, but I had polished off three macarons as well prior to that!  (Of course, I only ate three because I wasn’t smart enough to buy more!)

SUE AND KATHY:  To my good buds.  You graciously allowed me to join you on a few excursions, the memories of which will be with me forever.  To our many delicious and crazy meals that we shared, to the fun times we had in Rome…thank you both so much for your friendship, the laughter, and the confidences that we shared.  I sincerely loved getting to know the two of you.

Kathy and Sue

Sue and Julie

If you will notice, I have a picture of their wives together above, but I don’t have photo of Bob and Steve together, even though they were sitting next to each other.  Why, might you ask?  Because, after I took this photo of Sue and Julie, I turned to Bob with my camera.  Bob was sitting next to Steve and he obviously knew what I was going to do.  Bob quickly told me, “I’m sorry, Sharon, but men do NOT put their heads together to take a photo!”  Bummer.

VALERIE AND SANDY, ALICE AND RANDY:  I didn’t know you as well as I would have liked, but only because you were a very tight-knit foursome who sat at the back of the bus while I was in the front, and also because the four of you always skedaddled out early as you hiked your way through Europe!

DIANE AND PAUL:  How can I forget our meaningful glances on the bus every day?  Eyeball to eyeball, man!  You were the first couple I met as we sat across from each other during our meet-and-greet in Paris at the beginning of our tour.  How I enjoyed our journey together up to Schilthorn….we were troopers! And did we score on the price of the gondola tickets or what?!?  Your personalities were delightful but the light you were standing under in these photos below was terrible!

Diane and Paul

And just know that I’m still lovin’ your puka shells, Paul!  😉

Paul

Paul, just promise me that you’ll never hug a pole again…at least in public, okay?!?  😉

To those of you on the tour, please do not feel slighted that I omitted one-on-one photos of you.  I seem to have it together with my landscape shots, but I’m pretty much a sorry excuse for a photographer when it comes to portraits.  Consider yourselves the lucky ones!

But also, and most importantly, a great big hug of thanks to Steve, Andee, Brian, Kelly, and my parents for your support in so many ways.  All of you helped make this trip become a dream come true for me.  It was obviously a trip of a lifetime.

To all of my family and newfound friends who followed me on this blog….a big giant thank you for your well wishes when I was in Europe.  I hope my obvious love for Europe was palpable as I remained mesmerized by each and every sight, sound, aroma, and memory of Europe.  I persevered with my blog because of you, even though it was much delayed due to inconsistent wifi and pure and wonderful exhaustion at the end of every perfect day in Europe.

I already know that this is the first of what I hope to be many future travels to Europe and beyond.  There’s no stopping me now!

I love you all!