Our epic trip to Europe, recounted for your reading pleasure

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.

P1040210

Trey, Joe and Victor feasting at a Munich beergarden.

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

P1040248

Cassidy, Trey and Victor with Neuschwanstein castle in the Bavarian Alps.

Taste of castles being at the top of a hill

You have to walk up.

Kids were troopers on a hot day.

Germany surprise:

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.

-10

The R.V.

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,

Postcard

Postcard of Prague at 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.

P1040328

Us on the Charles Bridge, Prague.

Wandering the Old Town,

Charles Bridge up to the castle.

Hot, and again,

Castle at the top of a hill.

Kids troopers.

Souvenir of the day:

Green Bay Packers Russian nesting dolls,

Number 12: Aaron Rodgers.

P1040318

Rocky, Cassidy, me, Trey and Victor having lunch in the catacombs of a Prague monastery.

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

Next town,

Then the next town,

Then the next town

Until you’re there.”

Huh.

Quaint.

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.

Krakow!

P1040386

Cassidy, Trey and Victor in Wieliczka Salt Mine in Krakow, Poland. Chandelier and floor and everything is made of salt.

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,

P1040374

Sculpture of the seven dwarfs carved of salt in the Wieliczka Salt Mine, Krakow, Poland.

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

P1040408

Cassidy and Trey about to dig into their massive fish platter at Pod Wawelem restaurant in Krakow, Poland.

Feasted on pierogies,

Sauerkraut, beef tartare,

Polish mushroom soup,

Fresh fish and weinerschnitzel for a total of about

$80,

P1040413

The two-floor kids play area at Pod Wawelem restaurant in Krakow.

And the kids played in the

Two-floor indoor play area.

After that,

We strolled around the Krakow main market square,

P1040423

Main market square in Krakow, Poland.

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–

And rebuilt.

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

Every goal.

The next day, we drove to Gdansk,

Stopping at Lodz where we got

Turned around at a gas station with a

P1040438

Chinese restaurant with Route 66 sign at a gas station in Lodz, Poland.

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),

P1040467

Trey, Cassidy, Rocky, me and Victor in Gdansk, Poland.

We spent the next day in Gdansk,

Parking the R.V. in a lot outside the Old Town and

Walking in.

The Old Town is lovely,

And we all bought souvenirs and

P1040506

Cassidy feasting in Gdansk, Poland.

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:

P1040521

Attempted R.V. break-in in Gdansk, Poland.

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,

P1040527

Victor, Trey, Rocky and Cassidy frolicking on the Baltic Sea beach in Sopot, Poland.

We stopped in the resort town of Sopot on the

Baltic Sea which looked like a

Communist-era resort town for

Party higher-ups.

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

Karlskrona, Sweden,

P1040536

Buffet feast on the overnight ferry from Poland to Sweden.

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

P1040556

Caroline and me in front of St. Andrew’s church in Gothenburg, Sweden.

I got a chance to spend time with my

Dear friend-of-Bill’s

Caroline,

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

Oslo, Norway,

P1040599

Therese and me.

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

-8

Milla (wearing a Minnesota Rollergirls cap) and Victor, both born in 2005.

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

-9

Liv, wearing her American (and Norwegian) colors in honor of our visit, with Rocky. Both born in 2012.

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

Truths.

It’s still there:

That otherworldly connection of a

Good friend.

Therese, Milla and Liv

Took us around Oslo,

P1040600

Vigeland Sculpture Park, Oslo, Norway.

To Vigeland Sculpture Park,

The largest sculpture park in the world made by one artist,

Depicting family relationships in

Various forms.

P1040593

Rocky, Joe, Trey, Victor and Cassidy in front of Joe’s favorite statue at Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo, Norway.

Joe got a picture of himself with a

Statue of a man juggling

Four babies,

Summing up,

He said wearily, his life.

(Poor guy).

P1040625

Trey and Cassidy with a 16th century Norwegian barn at the Norwegian Folk Museum in Oslo, Norway.

We also went to the

Norwegian Folk Museum

An outdoor facility with buildings from various points in

Norwegian history,

Back to a Stave Church built around 1200.

P1040629

Cassidy and Trey with a Stave church built around 1200 at the Norwegian Folk Museum in Oslo.

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,

P1040653

Victor, Rocky, me, Therese, Liv and Milla about to say good-bye in Oslo.

An easier parting since

Therese and her family

Will be in Minnesota next summer.

Excited!

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.

P1040684

Entering Finland!

Then, Finland!

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.

P1040689

Victor, Rocky and Trey and Victor’s grandparents’ country home in southern Finland.

We spent that night,

Midsummer Eve,

At the country home of Victor’s grandparents,

Where Victor’s dad presented him with a real crossbow,

-1

Cassidy and Rocky in the sauna.

And we took our first Finnish saunas

In the beautiful sauna Victor’s grandfather had built.

In Finland,

The sauna is a sort of sacred,

Meditative place,

-7

Joe in the sauna.

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

Joe, Victor, Tapio, Cassidy and Trey taking a break from pumping along the tracks in southern Finland.

Rent the two-man train cars you move by

Pumping with your arms.

That evening,

We went to my cousin’s summer cottage and

Had a sauna there

-1

Joe taking the native sauna plunge in southern Finland.

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

-1

Katri, me and Jenni , cousins, in Turku, Finland.

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.

-1

Midnight in southern Finland in late June.

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.

-2

Me, Riikka and Victor with the Helsinki cathedral.

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

-2

Victor and me in Helsinki, about to say good-bye for the summer.

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,

-3

Rocky on the ferry from Finland to Germany.

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

-4

Cassidy, Trey, Rocky and me in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany.

Rothenburg, a medieval, walled town

Where we spent our last full day of the trip

Wandering cobblestone streets,

Feasting and

Buying souvenirs.

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

-5

Everyone on the ferry to Suomenlinna in Helsinki.

Quality family time.

No devices,

So we had to interact,

And it was fun to come up with inside jokes:

“Is that a bird up there?”

“Crockery!”

“Parkour!”

“Crabby card.”

“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,

-6

Keep those passports handy.

Now that we all have our passports…

 

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