Friday, September 24, 2010


There's so much to see and do in Europe that I don't even know where to start but suffice it to say, you'll find something that interests you, whether its art and history, the solitude of nature at its best, or the vibrant life of the city. The image above, taken from Wikipedia, is of a restored castle in Alsace near the German border in eastern France. I was born in Germany and came over to Canada with my parents when I was nearing 4 years old. It was after being in the country about fifteen years that I had the first opportunity to return to Germany, and Europe in general, to see relatives on both sides of the family plus also see places that I had long been interested in seeing. I guess that seems as good a place as any to start in my story of my early experiences in Europe.

It was mid-July 1972 as we drove to the Toronto International Airport where I was to meet a charter plane that would take us to Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport (now called Amsterdam Airport Schiphol). It would also be my first time on an airplane of any kind, another first! And the first time traveling alone! There was some mix-up or problem with the plane we were to take, so we were sent off to Montreal's Dorval Airport on a DC-9 to catch a flight to Amsterdam. We were treated to hot drinks, such as coffee, as the plane rose and fell while flying on to Montreal. It was a stormy, rainy evening with sufficient turbulence that it was a chore trying to drink a cup of coffee without getting it all over my lap. I did success by taking the sip while the plane rose. Hey, we're never to early or late to learn a valuable lesson, whether 18 or 81! Once at Dorval, we changed planes and proceeded to Amsterdam without a hitch!

The CP Air plane (charter flight, you remember) approached The Netherlands by flying over Scotland and northern England before the final approach over northern Holland. I took a lot of time looking out the window at the landscape below and the ships plying the waters of the North Sea. So after being up for the day in Canada and having an overnight flight to Europe, it was morning when I finally arrived in the city of Amsterdam by bus from the airport. From there I boarded a train to Duesseldorf in Germany and then a circuitous route that would finally take me to the city of Dortmund in the Ruhr valley. That was where my uncle Anton, my father's younger brother, and aunt Erika, lived.

Because this was my first time alone on a long trip (seven weeks), having some challenges was not unknown. My aunt and uncle did get to the train station to meet me but because of the delay in my getting there, they went home. Next, I tried to find some place to exchange traveller's cheques but this was an impossibility, so I decided to walk to their place from the train station, after studying a map of the area at the station. I walked past a brewery (Dortmund had 12 of them at the time) and then found myself walking to the east on Lange Strasse. When I got to a railway bridge on the left, I was to have gone under it and then to the left. Instead, I ended up going to the right and getting way off course. I tried to ask people for directions but the women I encountered ran off without being of any help. Then an older man, retired, in his 70s I guess and on a bicycle, offered to help after I explained what had happened and where I wanted to go. I had the address with me but the map I needed was not with me. The man and I lifted my flight bag up onto his bike and we walked in the right direction toward my aunt and uncle's apartment building.

Well, we got there, my aunt Erika met us at the door, and I was dead tired after being up for such a long period. Remember, it was evening now on the first day in Europe. I thanked the gentleman for his assistance as did my aunt. Then he was off and I was inside for a bite to eat before bedtime. All this before even seeing anything!

My uncle worked for the German Federal Railways, or Deutsche Bundesbahn in German, as had his father, my grandfather. He worked in a switching station and I remember us going there to have him show off his work place. My aunt and I were there for only a short while, long enough for me to get an idea what his work involved.

So what else did I learn? I found out that a day consisted of lots of eating and drinking. First it was breakfast, then a mid-morning coffee with desserts, then lunch. then coffee and cake in the afternoon before supper (Abendbrot) before I aunt would ask me if I wanted anything else before bedtime. Wow!!!

I'll continue with the story of the first trip back soon. Consider this the first installment! I'm writing this so that others can have an idea what happens when we travel, the things we encounter and the things we learn. I do this for you as well as for Brad. I'm also hoping he contribute some of his input and reactions as this story continues. Its an adventure that we shouldn't pass up if the opportunity is there. Take it and have some fun! Next time I talk about some of the places I visited around western and northern Europe before returning home to Canada. Meantime, I hope you've enjoyed the start!!! - V

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