With summer upon us, and the members of a fresh crop of recent college graduates about to hit the road, the travelers in our forums have been talking about some of their own memories of that first European adventure. Unsurprisingly, everyone has their own special memories and lessons to share. From escaping fleabag hotels to stumbling across Venice’s deserted yet magical Piazza San Marco, Fodorites reflect on their favorite memories from a first visit to Europe.
“I recommend that you plan to not follow your plan. Backpacking in Europe is best when you take the approach of doing what you want, when you want. You may meet people or find place along the way that change your priorities. Don’t feel like you have to stick to any one plan, except to catch your flight back!” –wrldtrv (view thread)
A Watershed Moment
“I smile to remember 21-year-old me standing in a Sainsbury’s supermarket in Cambridge, having my mind quietly blown as I discovered that dishwashing liquid could come in a *straight-sided* squeeze bottle. Who knew? Who knew that the U.S.-style curvy squeeze bottle had not descended from on high as the ne plus ultra of dishwashing-liquid bottles?” –tahl (view thread)
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“Forty plus years ago on my first trip to Europe, I never called home in three months. Communication was by postcard and letter and the post was not consistent. Sometimes my family received letters out of the order in which they were mailed. I was shocked by some of the things I saw (I was from a small town and small college with curfews and rules), but mostly I was just thrilled to be seeing things I’d only seen in pictures in books or slides which a teacher/professor might have shared with a class… What a wonderful summer! My friend (another small town girl from the same college) and I still laugh about our adventures and roll our eyes at how innocent we were.” –irishface (view thread)
“In 1984, the Hotel du Commerce was, to put it charitably, a basic kind of place, with a shared toilet in a little room off the staircase and no bathing facilities that I recall, just the kind of hotel that very young people choose to save money. A couple days into my stay, I finally figured out that the itchy little welts all over me were bedbug bites.
There was a pharmacy down the street. Being in France, everything was kept behind the counter. My vocabulary not stretching to the word for ‘bedbug,’ I approached the pharmacist and in my best, slightly rusty, high school French declaimed, ‘nous avons été attaqués par des mouches!’ (Translation: ‘We have been attacked by flies!’)
The pharmacist stared at me, as well he might.
I pointed vigorously down the block in the direction of the Hotel du Commerce.
American vs. European Youth
“As someone who went to France for the summer at 17 as a rising senior (staying with a family and traveling with them)–here is something to consider: Although I loved my experience, it made my senior year in High School very challenging in unexpected ways. In France, I fell into a lovely cafe culture, and whereas European teens generally dive into juicy topics like politics, history, and philosophy, American teens, not so much. When I returned home, I found that this experience put me out-of-sync with my peers at a time I very much wanted to be ‘part of’ as a senior.” –tmagyari (view thread)
The Language Barrier
“At 13 I was sent back to France to spend the summer with granny. I was by myself this time, and my granny spoke no english, and I, still no french. My granny wrote my parents complaining all I would eat was soup, ham and ice cream. I wrote home saying all I could understand on a menu was potage, jambon, and peche melba, LOL…. My granny spent the whole 3 months taking me all around europe, showing me a great time, she even scheduled private all day tours for places like the Lourve. I was a lucky girl.”
–bozama (view thread)
“We had Eurail passes, so would buy a couchette (sp?) in a train or if it was a train that wasn’t on a busy route, just pull the two seats out to connect and then sleep on the train, headed to wherever and when we woke up, wherever, we’d try to find a room in that city or town. We happened upon some really interesting places that way that we hadn’t planned on seeing.” –Guenmai (view thread)
The World as a Classroom
“I was 17 when I first went to Europe. My dad was in the Air Force and he was stationed in Germany for my senior year in high school (1985-1986). It was a very interesting time to be there.
I traveled to as many places as I could that year. I joined every club at school (the drama club went to London, Model UN went to the Hague, etc.). I traveled all over Germany (including to East Berlin), to France, Spain, England, Italy. In fact, I was recently going through some ‘treasures’ my parents sent me and came across a note from my 12th grade history teacher informing my parents that I had missed too many days of school and that my education was bound to suffer. I don’t even remember that letter, which makes me think my parents never showed it to me. I guess they agreed with me that I was learning more history and culture in my travels than I ever would in a classroom.” –txtree (view thread)
“We just wanted to see as much as we could of Europe! I can still remember coming around a corner into St. Mark’s square in Venice late at night — the square was nearly deserted, but the lights were still on and to my eyes, it was magical! Another time some elderly gentlemen convinced us to go into their wine cellar (hmmm…probably not the smartest thing to do, girls! but their intentions were honorable) to sample some of the local vintage. Or the time we helped a French girl herd her goats (‘Allez! Allez!’)…Those memories have stayed with me a life-time and have fueled my insatiable desire to see as much of Europe as I can!” –bvholly (view thread)
The Kindness of Strangers
“I will never forget when my husband and I landed in Frankfurt, Germany and attempted to navigate the s-bahn from the airport. We were jetlagged and completely bewildered because we hadn’t taken public transit in Europe before. Someone sensing our confusion approached us, asked us if we needed help, and showed us how to read the maps, buy the tickets, and how to make the transfers. We were so grateful for that person’s help. From that point forward, we used this new skill on many subsequent trips to Europe. That one small gesture made all of the difference in how we traveled.” –misty_in_stl (view thread)
- Tell us your favorite travel experiences (Forums thread)
- Need help in Montmartre for 2 very scared confused teenagers (Forums thread)
- How old were you the first time you went? (Forums thread)