Just a few magic moments in a trip can make it a success in your mind for the rest of your life. The moon rising over the Jungfrau...being alone at your own private Stonehenge...feeling Celtic pride well up in your non-Celtic soul after hours of traditional music in an Irish pub...meeting your "Old World" relatives for the first time. Do you have a favorite magic moment from your European experience?
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Capitalism in Russia
In 2006, I was visiting several orphanages in Russia with two ladies who used to bring badly needed supplies to the places from which they had adopted their children. Our last day was a cold February Sunday in Moscow. We were eager to visit, again, the giant outdoor market near our hotel, where we could find any trinket or fur item we could ever hope to see. Capitalism was still a new concept in Russia, and exciting examples of its lure were evident everywhere. As I was walking around this very crowded snow-burdened flee market, I squeezed my way through a large crowd at a corner and bumped right into three tall, hefty babushkas singing their hearts out for tips. I stood there clapping and smiling and trying to find a way to let them know that, not only did I enjoy their folk songs immensely, but that I was excited for them for proudly exhibiting their entrepreneurial spirit! I wish I could show all of you readers the short video I took of them. I was so proud of them, that after so many years of repressed living under communism, that they got right out there and showed everyone that they could do it too. Bravo ladies!
Santa Ynez, Califo USA 05/20/2013
Flor D'Luna in Budapest
At the end of a Mission trip to Moldova, we stopped to Budapest for a day of relaxation and tourism. We were eating dinner at an outdoor cafe, and two men with classical guitars where entertaining. They started playing the acoustic tune Moonflower by Carlos Santana. I went up to them afterwards to thank and tip them for playing the song. Alas, we could not communicate. Then one said "Flor D'Luna", and I remembered that was the real name for the song. "Yes!" I could not speak Hungarian and they could not speak English, so we came together in Spanish!
Cape Cod, MA USA 05/05/2013
While traveling with a tour, the day's stop was in Vienna. As usual, we didn't waste time unpacking but headed for the city center to see all we could before we left. We had made a rule to never stop at the American fast food places but I just needed a quick snack while we checked out the map to plan our sightseeing. There was a McDonald's near the bus stop. As we sat at a table arguing over where on the map we were, a young gentleman at the next table overheard us and pointed out our current location. Fortunately he spoke English and gave us some places that were must-sees. Pointed in the right direction, we set off to the first of many churches. We wandered around there bit. As we got back out to the street, we noticed the same guy. He was waiting for us. He was very proud of his city and knew all the history. He offered to give us a personalized tour. He took us to several sites throughout the city with the historical notes regarding each site. "These are the same streets Mozart walked, this building is where Hitler joined a political group, here is the opera house" and so on. It was wonderful! We bought him dinner at a cafe he frequented to thank him. We got back to the hotel late that night. The next day we joined our tour again and the tour guide didn't have nearly as much detail of the city and we viewed a lot from the tour bus. This was the first time fast food was good for us! Thank you Reinhart!
Chino Hills, CA USA 05/04/2013
My friend and I had been traveling for many weeks throughout England, France and Italy. While spending 3 days in Rome, we had visited the Vatican, where I purchased many postcards to send to friends and family. As my friend drove I wrote out the postcards. We were headed to the Adriatic coast to a little town where her family lived. We were driving through Tuscany and in the afternnoon had decided to stop for something to eat. We were in a very little village somewhere in Tuscany. I wish I could remember the name of the village. I decided to mail my post cards and went off to find the ufficio postale. When I arrived there I found it closed (siesta time;). An older Italian woman asked me in Italiian if she could help. In my best Italian (not great) I explained to her what I wanted to do. She told me to come with her so I followed her down the street and into a little shop. The shopowner was her daughter and she explained my situation to her. She immediately pulled ouut a bunch of stamps and handed them to me.. When I asked her how much I owed her she said, "Niente" (nothing). I tried to insist but they would not accept anything from me. I noticed her store was a small grocery. As I looked around I saw they sold wine along with bread and fresh produce so I loaded up on 10 bottles of Montepulciano wine and some bread and tomatoes. They told me that it was not necessary that I buy anything, but I told them the wine and bread was very necessary for me and my friend. We all laughed and departed after kisses and hugs. I am Italiian-American and I will still say that the Italians and the most kind, friendly and wonderful people alive.
Woodstown, N.J. USA 04/28/2013
No Gasoline at midnight in France
Sunday midnight in France, no gasoline. We were returning to our home exchange in Paris on Sunday at midnight, but we were still two hours away. My husband and I had just spent three lovely days in the Loire Valley and hadn't payed attention to the gas gauge until the car began to sputter, about 10 Kilometers from the freeway. I had remembered reading something about how it is impossible to find gasoline on weekends, and for sure not at midnight. We were a bit panicked, because we had reservations at 8 a.m. for the Eurostar from Paris to London. As we drove around this tiny town in the dark of night, we noticed a very brightly lit structure in the distance, that looked like a very large gas station, though we had never seen such a thing in France before. We held our breath as we approached it, and to our astonishment, it WAS a gas station. BUT it was a membership club which required their own credit card to run the gas pump, and it was unattended!
We stood there in the cold, though we were mostly shivering because we couldn't think of what to do, as our car had chugged into the station on empty. We looked at each other with panic, then started looking around the very large structure which must have had about 20 gas pumps. We couldn't believe it, there was an old man getting gas, a few pumps over. I walked over to him with the only cash we had, a 20 euro bill. He did not speak English, nor I French. With minimal sign language, I asked if he would use his card to put gas in my car. Then I made the sign of the cross and handed him the money. He frowned a lot at first, then called out grumpily, "Momma". He was telling his old wife to get out of the car and come to check us out.
Apparently, she felt we could be trusted and they both walked over to our car. My husband pumped the gas as the old man watched closely. We went 23 cents over! I frantically searched through our car to find some change. I ran back to the old man and he smiled and waved the change away. I signed the cross again with a big smile, and we all hugged and laughed and went on our way. I swear they were heaven sent!
Santa Ynez, CA USA 04/15/2013
Cycling Races in Europe
In 2009, my husband and I went to see three of the big spring cycling classics, including the famous Paris-Roubaix Race. We trekked from our hotel in Brugges, taking several trains and walking miles along French country roads to reach the famed cobbles in the Arenberg Forest. Temporary beer tents selling Leffe beer were set up at the entrances and exits to the forest. People arrived hours early to grab the best viewing positions.
We picked a spot along the cobbles and waited for the cyclists to pass. While waiting, my husband decided to go get a couple Leffe beers from the beer tent. I stayed behind. As I was waiting, about 5-6 young Belgian men in their 20s, with Belgian flags draped over their shoulders and beers in their hands, were making their way along the pathways, singing and laughing. When they got to me, they surrounded me and started singing. They asked me a question in French and I replied in my pidgin French that I didn't speak French well. They asked if I was an American and I said yes. So, they switched to English and started asking me who I was rooting for and the pros and cons of my choice (George Hincapie). Suddenly, the men on my left and right sides threw their arms around my shoulders. All of the men then started chanting, "USA. USA. USA." We all laughed and then they moved on.
It was such a spontaneous moment that I'm sure wouldn't have happened if we had been part of a larger crowd or in a more "touristy" place. Cycling events are fascinating and I strongly recommend them for going truly "local" (much like going to a local soccer game).
While we were waiting for a train back to Brugges, we hung out with some young Basque men who travel the continent following their favorite Spanish riders.
Milwaukee, WI USA 03/12/2013
Top 3 Things I Learned from Rick Steves
I'm a big fan of Rick's travel guides. And three of my most memorable experiences in Europe have been thanks to his recommendations: dinner and a concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London, dinner on the clifftop terrace of the Foreigner's Club in Sorrento, and a stay at the Welcome Hotel in Villefranche-sur-Mer. I've shared the details and some photos in my post The Top 3 Things I Learned from Rick Steves at http://destinationfiction.blogspot.ca/2013/02/top-3-things-i-learned-from-rick-steves.html
ON Canada 02/24/2013
The kindness of a complete stranger in Italy provided us with a "Magic Moment" on our recent vacation to Cinque Terre, Italy in September 2012. We had boarded the train in La Spezia to travel to the town of Monterosso, where we were to stay for two days. The train seem to stop suddenly at the first stop. Unfortunately, we were not paying close attention to which stop this was as we had become involved in a conversation with other tourists on the train at that time. We thought this stop was our destination town, so we departed the train quickly with our bags. However, soon afterward on the platform, I became very upset when I realized that I had left my purse on the train. Thank goodness, my passport and credit card was in my moneybelt I had worn. My camera, iphone and sunglasses, etc., had been in my purse. The next morning we received a call at our hotel in Monterosso from an Italian woman who said that she had my purse that was found on the train, and wanted to return it to me. We were so happy and shocked to receive this call. She had located me through a trip iternary I had written up that was in my purse. Through my phone, she had texted my daughter in Canada to say she had my purse. We arranged to meet at the Piazza in Monterosso that afternoon. She said she knew what I looked like from the pictures on my phone. When we arrived at the Piazza, she was waving to us and i ran up and hugged her immediately. She was an Italian tour guide from Tuscany. I took her name and address and told her I was going to send her something from Canada to express my gratitude to her. She told us that was not necessary and stated that just knowing that we realize Italians are really mostly very honest people was reward enough for her. Everything was in the purse as I had left it. Even more surprising was that my purse had gone all the way on the train through the Cinque Terre towns on the seat and back to La Spezia and no one had taken it!
Moncton, NB Canada 10/07/2012
My fiance proposed to me at Sao Jorge Castle, overlooking the beautiful city of Lisbon at dusk!
Boston, MA USA 07/20/2012
Paris on Wheels
Several years ago my 16 year old daughter and I spent 3 weeks traveling through Ireland, Scotland, England, and France. Nearing the end of our trip, we found ourselves in Paris. We had planned an evening ride with Fat Tire Bicycle Tours. We were to meet at the south pillar of the Eiffel Tower. How would we know which one that was? They're marked. :-) It was a balmy June evening as we took off on our 9 mile ride through the City of Lights. We rode through the courtyard of the Louvre and stopped for ice cream in the shadow of Notre Dame. Our tour took us to the banks of the Seine, where we parked our bikes and hopped on a boat to cruise the river to see the beautiful city at night. Not long into our cruise the tour guide produced several bottles of wine from his saddle bag. He passed out plastic cups and splashed some vino into each one. My daughter asked me if she could have a cup of wine too. After thinking only a second, I gave my permission. After about an hour, we docked, grabbed our bikes and returned them to the shop. It was about 11:30. We hurried back to Eiffel Tower where the line for the elevator was longer than what the midnite closing time would allow. Not wanting to miss the opportunity, we ran the stairs of the Eiffel Tower making our mark in time. What a view and a spectacular evening in Paris with my daughter...priceless.
Edgewood, WA USA 04/02/2012
The Kindness of Romans
My Magic moment was when my cousin was on a tour of Europe and visited my family living in Wiesbaden, Germany where my father was the Chief Ground Safety Engineer for the US Air force in Europe. I fell in love with her traveling companion, a beautiful brunette and so i took the opportunity to intercept with them in Rome whan my parents were on vacation on the Adriatic.
I had just enough for a round trip train and few nites in a youth hostle. I also had enugh money to take the tour of Rome with the girls and fell in love with the history of the Catacombs and the Vatican and all. The second day, I had only enough money for a glace' and was standing there enjoying it as I watched my cousin and her friend board the bus for a second day of seeing Rome. The Lady who was our tour guide asked me why i was not gettng on the bus?
I told her that I had ran out of money and had only enough for this glace'. "Well. I won't let you miss this! Get on the bus anyway!" said she. And I got to see the rest of the tour!
That night, I was visiting with my lady friends when the Head Waiter asked me to "Please come with me sir. The Manager would like to speak to you."
The manager was very upset with me and said: "I can't believe you Amaricans! You come here. twice a day, and sit at my table, eat my bread and drink my water and never order a meal! You stay at your fancy hotel and eat at fine restaurants and don't even have the respect to sample my food!" or something to that effect. After all, it was in 1956!
So I explained to him that I was actually staying all the way across Rome at a youth hostile and would have sampled his food except I didn't have the money to. I aplolgized for abusing his hospitality and explained that I only did so in order to visit with the ladies while they were still in Rome.
The Manager in turn apologized to me saying that he had never met an American without lots of money and let me go back to my visit with the ladies... Until the Head Waiter again appeared... with the beginning of a seven course meal and a different Chianti for each course, followed by a key to the smallest room in the hotel, under the stairs: "So you won't have to walk all the way to the youth hostile, way across Rome."!
Nashville, TH USA 04/02/2012
It's the simple things
Last April, my wife and I had spent two weeks visiting my brother and his family in Germany, and had an absolute blast. During this trip we visited cathedrals, castles, palaces, the country side, small villages and even the Alps - side trip to Garmisch, but there's one moment in particular sticks out in my mind. It was on our last full day in Germany, and my brother had left early for a half day of work, so my wife and I decided to take some time to ourselves and went for a walk around the neighborhood.
While on our walk we passed a pastry shop and decided to stop for something to eat, but rather than eat it at one of the tables in the pastry shop, we left and went to a park we had passed earlier in our walk. We found a park bench next to a Roman Column, sat down ate our breakfast and watched the kids from a local elementary school play in the park. It wasn't a romantic setting, or very adventurous, but at the moment it was what we needed, and therefore, special.
Cotuit, MA USA 03/29/2012
London Tube Song
After a long day of sightseeing in London, we headed back to our hotel quite late. Walking down a lonely tube corridor to our train, we could hear singing in the distance. The closer we got, we recognized the Beatle tune, "Let it Be". Rounding the corner, we came upon a man singing his heart out with no other accompaniment but his accordian. We just stood there for a moment listening to his beautiful voice echoing a beautiful song. To this day, I cannot believe that we were seeminging the only people there in that tube station. Wow, it must have been really late!!
Guthrie, OK USA 03/20/2012
INNSBRUCK SKI TRIP
We once visited the Axamer Lizum ski area, which had the Olympic Ladies Downhill run. After a fantastic morning of skiing, we ate lunch at the top of the mountain overlooking the valley and Innsbruck 5000' below us. The day was completely clear and brisk. All of a sudden OomPah music stopped, and CNN radio came on with news from the U.S. And the place was full of the young Clemson University alumni association members that lived where I lived in Atlanta. It was a great day.
Florence, AL USA 02/25/2012