One of the greatest gifts my parents were able to give me is world travel. By the time I was ten, I had been to England, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Austria, France, Denmark, and Switzerland. I visited Ireland at 16 and again at 18. Seeing other countries not only broadened my understanding of the world, it made me curious about other countries and their culture. It helped me see that my view is not the only view. Now I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to give that same experience to Miss O this summer when we travel to France and England.
It’s not the first time Miss O has crossed the pond. At 16 months old she boarded her first airplane for a flight to London so we could attend a family wedding. By then she’d become a fairly calm commuter, lasting through car rides of up to an hour and a half, sleeping most of the way. We knew she’d be ok in the car seat on the plane and were relieved to find she slept the entire leg of our red-eye flight to London from Boston. The time change had little to no effect on her and we were able to stick to the food and nap schedule to which she had become accustomed. If anyone was cranky on that trip, it was me. Learning to navigate London and Paris with a stroller and postpartum hormones wasn’t my ideal way to travel, but we did it and it was amazing. Miss O doesn’t remember much of it, but we do and we have fantastic photos of us under the Eiffel Tower and in front of Buckingham Palace. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Now Miss O is almost seven going on 21 and still a hearty traveler. She adores airplanes and hotels. Her curiosity about other places and people is vibrant. She’s a born wanderer.
My mother has long wanted to return to the UK and Eastern Europe to check a few places off her list before she gets beyond her capacity to travel with enjoyment, or, in her words “Before I die.” I like my description way better. In truth, she’s in her 70s and her health isn’t what it used to be. She’s still mobile and her mind is sharp, but we can both see the road ahead. Her desire to go while she can makes complete sense.
She found a river cruise through Eastern Europe that included a few spots she hadn’t visited yet. Not wanting to go alone, my mother invited Hubs, Miss O and me along for the ride. Now, I’m not sure if we could have afforded that trip or not, but when the offer was made, it came with the extremely generous addition of my mother covering the entire cost. How could we say no?
I was nervous about the boat most of all. I’m not great on boats and I’ve never been on a cruise. The thought of being trapped out at sea isn’t something that brings on a relaxing feeling for me. Even a Disney cruise holds no value for me, because if I’m spending that kind of money for Disney, there better be rides. I was also concerned about having a seven-year-old on a small boat with not a whole lot to hold her interest. Sure, there would be excursions on shore with lots of castles to wander through and some shops to visit, but what about when we weren’t on land? Even though it was a family friendly cruise and she’s an avid reader, Miss O is still a little young to expect her to spend a day reading and watching villages pass by.
The more we discussed it, the more we decided that the river wasn’t the best option for us. Besides Miss O being bored, we were worried about my mother’s balance, which was becoming an issue and while we were excited to go on the trip, the scheduled group itinerary wasn’t really doing it for any of us.
My mother ultimately decided to cancel the cruise and offered an alternative. She’d never been to Windsor Castle, aside from us missing the open hours by 5 minutes and settling for seeing the outside before we grabbed a bite to eat in the local down the street. She really wanted to see it and maybe we could go to France again, not Paris this time, but the French countryside. Would that be ok? Well, gee, I don’t know, mom…
When I was little, maybe a little older than Miss O, we went to the Loire Valley in France. It was simply beautiful. Castles, chateaus, cottages and cathedrals are everywhere. The immense gardens are stunning and the food is to die for. Even at that young age, I knew this was a special place. We didn’t just stay in hotels, we stayed in chateaus, each with unique little things that made them special. In one, my part of the room was up in a round turret and there was a little doll bed for my rabbit, Jessica. Another had a thatched roof and looked like one of the cottages in Beauty and the Beast. It had black swans in the river that ran behind it. Another had gold wallpaper and a teeny tiny bathtub. I loved them all.
Yes. This is absolutely what I want to share with Miss O. My mother found the itinerary my father created for that trip and it is now the basis for our trip. Each chateau still operating and each castle still standing. The little shop where I got a stuffed goose with a cap and apron whilst my mother shipped a gigantic gorgeous porcelain chandelier home.
We got to work filling in holes in the schedule and looking for anything we didn’t get to do before or wanted to repeat. We’ll start in France, outside Paris near Fontainebleau, then drive to Chinon, Dinard and the Normandy Coast. We’ll spend some time in Pont Audemer, then make our way over to Versailles before we go back to England, where we’ll stay in Windsor to see the castle, drive over to the Warner Bros lot to do the Harry Potter Studio Tour and perhaps a visit to Highclere castle.
I am far more excited about this trip and so is my mother. Hubs has only been to London and Paris, so this will be a new experience for him as well, one we most likely would not have been able to afford on our own just yet. It’s a wonderful gift to be able to spend that time together on a mix of revisiting favorites and discovering new experiences. Even though Miss O won’t fully understand where we’re going or what we’re doing, I know she’s going to have an amazing time. We’ll wait to tell her a little closer to the trip. She doesn’t handle waiting too well yet and I do love surprising her.
I just hope I can remember my French, alors souhaite-moi bonne chance!