Our Vantage Points

European Fantasies

E
urope is that "long ago and far away place" so removed from our reality that it is difficult to take it all in.  We tend to think of it as ginger bread houses, impregnable castles, beautiful princesses and brave and handsome princes.  It's that place of wicked witches and fairy godmothers, jealous step-sisters and glass slippers, the place where evil kings conquer but good triumphs, where dreams come true and lovers live happily ever after.

But Europe is not only a setting for fairy tales, it's the place where real history is the stuff of fables, where fact seems like fantasy.  It's where, once upon a time, men and elephants penetrated some of the highest mountains of the world to try to crush an empire. Europe is where merchants of long ago sought to trade for riches in China and India, those un-imaginably far away places.  It's where an island city with streets of water was once the capital of foreign trade.

Europe is a place where fact is sometimes derived from fantasy.  Its where gazing at the planets, watching apples fall and envying the flight of birds led from hypotheses, to formulation, and finally to applications where levers, pulleys, ramps and worm gears pump water, grind wheat, build cathedrals and print books.  It's where men fashioned flying machines in their minds and finally met the sky in a hot air balloon.

Europe is the place where our ancestors lived and struggled.  Where America was the fantasy they followed.   We are glad they did, but we still like to fantasize about what life was like for them in Europe.

Europe is not only a place where fact has been stranger than fiction; it's also occasionally been a place where fact would have been better as fiction.  It's where a cracked-pot dictator took on the "responsibility" of cleansing the world of "defective" races.  Unchallenged, he got away with it for several years until good people everywhere realized he was not just a figment of fantasy.  Untold millions had to die before the problem was fixed.  But Europe is definitely not the only venue for such depravity.  Recently, just outside of Europe, the mass graves of another tyrant's "undesirables" were revealed.

Fantasy is ok...  if it doesn't prevent us from dealing with reality in a timely manner.



Our Fantasy Materializes

On July 1, 2005, Mary and I celebrated our 50th Wedding Anniversary.  Our wonderful children, Ron and Linda and their spouses, outdid themselves by presenting us with a tour of Europe.

We like to travel.  We've been doing a lot of traveling with a camping trailer on our own North American Continent.  While traveling overseas was in our long-range plans, it was routinely deferred.  We've enjoyed basing our travels in campgrounds, always taking our dog along. Appy enjoys traveling.

The big question immediately surfaced:  On our trip to Europe, what could we do with Appy?  Visions of Appy on her leash on the plane in the economy cabin, or in a crate in the luggage compartment flitted through my mind.

Linda and Aaron and their boys, Kennan and Micah, assured us they would take care of Appy.
This was a significant part of our anniversary gift. And we knew that this could work for Appy.  Kennan and Micah were already among Appy's favorites.  The only thing left was for Appy to develop a little tolerance for Candy, their dog, and to strike a truce with Nimbus, their cat.  With only a little effort, this was accomplished.

Trip preparations went into high gear. Five thick travel guidebooks were bestowed on us for reference and study. Recommendations of what to see came from our family of seasoned travelers. We purchased maps, surfed the web, applied for passports, obtained an international driving permit and planned our itinerary. Packing began two weeks ahead of time to make sure no item was forgotten and to make sure we could live out of our "carry-ons." Even the hiker's compass proved it's worth when driving on roads that were disorienting. After verifying all hotel reservations, airline reservations and the rental car booking we were ready to go.
 

On the Ground in Germany
At 4:15 PM on Friday, September 30, 2005, we were aboard a Lufthansa flight heading northeast into the night. Just 10 hours later with one sleepless night quickly gone, we were under the mostly cloudy skies and occasional showers of a German Saturday, seeking out the Avis Rent a Car desk at the Frankfurt airport. By mid afternoon we had checked into our nearby hotel with ample time to stretch out, catnap, gather our wits, and wait for the right time to retire for a real night's sleep.

At dawn, after a bountiful buffet breakfast, we're driving our Opel Corsca onto the A-3 autobahn, negotiating our pre-planned route toward Mainz and the Rhine River. Driving the autobahn here is pretty much like driving I-205 around the south and east side of Portland. The countryside is about the same. Traffic is very light on this Sunday morning. But one thing is different. The occasional cars in the fast lane are going really fast! I am typically doing about 100 kph (62 mph) staying away from that left lane. The fast cars are probably doing about 140 kph (87mph)


The A-3 Autobahn Near the Frankfurt Airport
There's a bit more traffic showing here at 2:PM, Tuesday, Oct 18, 2005 as we were leaving.
Auto traffic on the autoban for us did not compare to auto traffic on Interstate
highways in medium-sized US cities. Trucks? Now that's another matter.






Our Ambitious Itinerary
This map describes our actual travels, October 1-18, 2005.  It was a counter-clockwise loop starting and ending at Frankfurt.  Only two sites in our original itinerary had to be skipped for lack of time. This trip concentrated on 6 major countries in Europe.  We rented a car for the entire tour to add a little flexibility and be able to see more of the countryside by stopping (almost) whenever we wanted.  Our original plan excluded Luxembourg, but as it turns out, according to the border sign, we actually drove through a small corner of Luxembourg just before entering France.  Apparently the map we had could not show that detail.  This lets us gloat just a little.  No one else in our well-traveled family has been in Luxembourg.
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