We’re back from our trip:
A three-week tour of Europe
That we’d planned for nearly two years.
Here’s a brief outline of some trip highlights.
Arrival: Munich, Germany.
Hotel concierge directed us to a
Beergarden where waitstaff wore lederhosen,
And we feasted on pretzels, meat and sparkling water.
Next day, Neuschwanstein castle
Which the Disney castle is based off of, and our first
Taste of castles being at the top of a hill
You have to walk up.
Kids were troopers on a hot day.
Joe’s high school German
Bubbling to the surface, and
He as astonished as anyone that he could
Read a few signs and
Understand snippets of overheard conversations in German.
Next day: picking up the R.V.
From a company with the baffling name McRent,
And getting lost trying to leave Munich by
Relying on an offline maps app I’d downloaded.
I literally realized we were
Going the wrong direction by the
Angle of the sun.
And later that night,
As we drove into Prague at midnight,
I was using landmarks like the
Havra River and the Prague castle to navigate by.
Which were lovely at night, BTW.
Prague is magical,
Even when it is midnight and
You’re driving an R.V. down
Questionably narrow cobblestone streets with a
Car full of strung-out, jet-lagged kids.
Spent our first night in the R.V. in a
Parking lot of an apartment complex
Because our campground had
Locked its gate for the night.
Next day: Prague.
Wandering the Old Town,
Charles Bridge up to the castle.
Hot, and again,
Castle at the top of a hill.
Souvenir of the day:
Green Bay Packers Russian nesting dolls,
Number 12: Aaron Rodgers.
Lunch of pork shoulder,
Dumplings, sauerkraut in the
Catacombs of a medieval monastery.
Delicious hot shower at the campground.
Next day, I asked the campground owner to
Show me on a map
How to drive to Krakow, Poland.
I wanted highway numbers,
But he laughed and shook his head.
“Here we don’t use highway numbers.
Just follow signs to the
Then the next town,
Then the next town
Until you’re there.”
But it mostly worked.
We stopped at a Tesco hypermarket
On our way out of town to load up on groceries
We didn’t really end up eating
And got to Krakow before dark.
Joe and the kids were intrigued by the
700-year-old Wieliczka salt mine, where
Miners had, over the centuries,
Carved sculptures and cathedrals 200 feet underground,
So we went there first.
Konrad the tour guide picked us up at our
Campground and drove us there.
He informed us that
We could go home after Krakow
Because it was the best city in Poland.
The salt mine was strangely interesting,
Enough to keep the kids occupied for
2.5 hours on a guided tour.
The tour guide kept saying the miners had
Carved all these sculptures and
Underground chapels and a cathedral in their free time,
And I was surprised to think miners had
That much free time.
After the salt mine,
Konrad the tour guide
Drove us to Pod Wawelem restaurant in the
Shadow of Krakow castle where we
Feasted on pierogies,
Sauerkraut, beef tartare,
Polish mushroom soup,
Fresh fish and weinerschnitzel for a total of about
And the kids played in the
We strolled around the Krakow main market square,
Which is delightful.
Krakow, like Prague,
Was spared during the war because
Hitler didn’t consider it Slavic
As opposed to Warsaw, which was utterly destroyed–
That night at the campground,
We watched the Netherlands-Spain World Cup upset
With a bunch of Dutch campers who had
Decorated the outdoor T.V. viewing area with
Orange streamers and who
Passed around shots at
The next day, we drove to Gdansk,
Stopping at Lodz where we got
Turned around at a gas station with a
Restaurant attached that had a
Route 66 sign but which served
Chinese food from a Polish-only menu.
Joe ordered number 12
(Aaron Rodger’s number),
We spent the next day in Gdansk,
Parking the R.V. in a lot outside the Old Town and
The Old Town is lovely,
And we all bought souvenirs and
Had our second-to-last gluttonous restaurant feast
Before taking the ferry that night to Scandinavia
Where only Arab royalty and
Russian oil magnates can afford to
Feast in restaurants.
When we got back to the R.V.,
We had our only minor disaster of the trip:
Someone had tried to break into our R.V.
By jimmying the side door open.
They didn’t make it in, though.
The damage would cost us the 500 Euro deductible,
But at the time we just chuckled at the
Incompetence of the would-be thief,
And we were glad we’d brought our passports with us that day.
On our way to the ferry,
We stopped in the resort town of Sopot on the
Baltic Sea which looked like a
Communist-era resort town for
Sopot was the only place we
Drove the R.V. too deep into a
Narrow dead-end cobblestone street and had to
Slowly back it out of the trap.
It was an overnight ferry we took from Gdynia, Poland to
On the ferry, we feasted at the buffet before
Jerry-rigging Rocky’s pack-n-play between two bunks in our cabin
And passing earplugs out to Joe and the kids against the
Drunk Euroteens squealing and pinballing down the hallways.
The next morning, we drove to Gothenburg on the west coast of Sweden,
Where Victor and I lived in 2006-07.
I haven’t been there since, and
I got a chance to spend time with my
Who had seen me through the
Scary, wondrous months of early sobriety and the
Uncertainty of divorce.
We went to a 12-step meeting at St. Andrew’s Church,
Which is where I attended my first 12-step meeting on
Oct. 1, 2006.
The next day, we drove north along the Swedish coast to
Where lives my best girl and muse,
Therese, whom I hadn’t seen in more than six years.
As we drove toward Oslo, I was telling Joe
All the parallels between Therese and me:
How we’d met and became close friends,
Working together at a magazine in Minneapolis in 1999.
Me a reporter and her a graphic designer,
When she was married to her American husband, Noah.
How we’d both moved to Scandinavia, her to her native Norway,
And me to Finland around 2003.
How we’d been pregnant at the same time with our
First babies, Victor and Milla, born in 2005.
How we’d both gotten divorced and then
Remarried to men who had two older kids.
How we’d been pregnant at the same time with our
Second babies, Rocky and Liv, born in 2012.
The highlight of my trip was
Sitting at Therese’s kitchen table
After the kids were all in bed and the
Husbands watching World Cup,
Drinking tea and talking
It’s still there:
That otherworldly connection of a
Therese, Milla and Liv
Took us around Oslo,
The largest sculpture park in the world made by one artist,
Depicting family relationships in
Joe got a picture of himself with a
Statue of a man juggling
He said wearily, his life.
We also went to the
An outdoor facility with buildings from various points in
Back to a Stave Church built around 1200.
As a history geek,
I love this kind of place,
Standing in a centuries-old farmhouse and
Imagining the daily tasks and
Worries and small joys of the long-gone inhabitants.
I could’ve spent a whole day there.
We left Oslo the next day,
An easier parting since
Therese and her family
Will be in Minnesota next summer.
We drove across Sweden to the east coast,
North of Stockholm,
Where we caught an overnight ferry to Turku, Finland.
This ferry wasn’t as fancy as the first one.
It was mostly for truck drivers.
And there was no internet,
Cass and Trey noted.
Victor had been asking through the whole trip,
“When will we get to Finland?”
And once we drove off the ferry,
He sighed, “I love Finland.”
This is where he was born,
And where he spends summers with his dad.
It’s one of his homes.
We spent that night,
At the country home of Victor’s grandparents,
Where Victor’s dad presented him with a real crossbow,
And we took our first Finnish saunas
In the beautiful sauna Victor’s grandfather had built.
The sauna is a sort of sacred,
And it’s where you bathe,
By soaping up and pouring water over yourself.
The best is to get really steamed up and
Then go stand outside to cool off.
It’s not for everyone.
Cassidy was a good sport
And tried it out
But it wasn’t her thing.
Joe, Trey and Rocky liked it.
The next day we went to a
Railroad museum where you can
Rent the two-man train cars you move by
Pumping with your arms.
We went to my cousin’s summer cottage and
Had a sauna there
And jumped naked in the cold lake.
We had a delicious meal of
Smoked fish, vegetables and small, Finnish strawberries.
And watched World Cup soccer with my cousins.
Next day was the family gathering at another cousin’s house where I
Got to see my Finnish cousins and good friends,
Katri and Jenni,
Whom I first met in 1997
When they came to Minnesota during their trip to America.
I got to meet some new cousins, and was
Treated to my cousin’s Iina’s lovely hospitality.
That night back at Tapio’s parents’ country house,
Victor, Trey and Tapio played army in the woods
In the late night dusk
Before taking one last Finnish sauna.
The next day we spent in Helsinki with Riikka,
Victor’s aunt, and we went to Suomenlinna, an island fortress
Off the coast of Helsinki
We said good-bye to Victor for the summer–
Always hard and sad.
And then me, Joe, Cass, Trey and Rocky got on our last ferry ride
From Helsinki to Germany,
30 hours through the Baltic Sea,
I was ready for a break from touring
And it was nice to sleep in and nap in the
Ferry in our room,
And take a long sauna, and watch World Cup.
When we arrived in Germany, we drove through the night to
Rothenburg, a medieval, walled town
Where we spent our last full day of the trip
Wandering cobblestone streets,
Everyone but me was ready to go home,
And Trey got a little homesick.
We spent the night in an R.V. parking lot
Just outside the walled down where we saw a
Huge R.V. with a Florida license plate.
A little foretaste of home.
The next day we returned the R.V. and
Flew home where
Rocky waited until we were in line at
Customs and immigration to have his only
Epic meltdown of the trip.
Overall, the trip was lovely.
I loved seeing the sights and
Eating the food and the twice-daily ice cream.
But as I’d hoped,
The best part was the
Quality family time.
So we had to interact,
And it was fun to come up with inside jokes:
“Is that a bird up there?”
“Suomi in my belly.”
I had never spent that much time with my
Stepkids and I enjoyed having these new experiences with them.
It was gratifying to know that we could
Make this happen
With some planning and saving,
And I’m inspired to do something like this again,
Now that we all have our passports…