Hello everyone. I want to say thank you to everyone who reads my blog and keeps coming back! I hope life is treating you ok, that COVID hasn’t asserted too much control on your lives, and that you’re finding all the reasons to laugh and smile.
Today I’d like to complete part two of my “The Late Applier” story about my Europe Trip. In case you missed part one, the link to that is below.
Today I want to run through what some of my most memorable moments of that trip were in terms of places we visited and the experiences I had.
Now keep in mind, I was fifteen years old on this trip, and that was eighteen years ago. The fact that I’m able to remember anything brings a smile to my face. I hope you’ll find a smile as well.
I’ll be sharing in no particular order, but I’m saving my two favorites for last.
Before arriving in Europe, one of our stops that I was most excited about was going to an authentic German tavern. The Hofbrauhaus in Munchen. Especially as a teenager, and growing up in a religious household where no alcohol was allowed, the fact that we were able to go into a tavern was thrilling.
And boy, it didn’t disappoint. Though we weren’t monitored on what we drank, I ordered a non-alcoholic beverage called a Spritzee (as I remember, anyway). It was more soda than anything else, and it was quite tasty.
But oh, the atmosphere! It was large and spacious, with beautiful wood tables and benches…walls carved and ornate with all sorts of traditional decorations and trinkets. I don’t recall what time of day we were there, but I know it wasn’t evening. Even so, a few patrons were having a drink or some food.
The whole place had such a chill and welcoming vibe to it. That aspect did catch me off guard. When I was older, back home in the States, I attended a few bars for a couple of years, and I never found a spot with the same welcoming and friendly energy. It’s like this German tavern was more than a place for drunken revelry, to pine away after one’s regrets, or get hammered. Come to find out after visiting Europe, that most of the traditional places we went to weren’t designed for that purpose.
They are places to gather with friends when no other spot is available. They became homes away from homes, full of laughter and tales and songs. I think about it in terms of the tavern found in The Shire from The Lord of the Rings.
Yeah, the Hofbrauhaus is an excellent place.
Before this trip, I’d never been to a museum, but in France, we got to visit both the Louvre and Versailles. I didn’t think much of the Eiffel Tower (though I did write my name on the wall at the top), and Paris itself wasn’t that interesting to me, but boy did I love those other two places.
Like many tour groups’ experiences, we had a limited time in the Louvre. So on the bus ride over all of us planned our routes, making sure each individual in the party could see their top two things.
I’m glad we did that because, as many other travelers have stated, this museum is enormous, and a few hours went by in a flash with barely any of it seen. My friends and I literally ran down the halls, bounding up the stairs, overjoyed at the freedom to behave so to make sure we saw it all.
The Mona Lisa, the Venus Statue, and the only other things I remember were the Egyptian artifacts they’d collected; sarcophagi, intact arches, and walls, trinkets, and containers. I barely even had time to take pictures on my disposable cameras (yep, you read that right. Google them if you’re curious). All of my photos from the museum didn’t turn out.
And Versailles…that was beyond breathtaking. I remember our tour guide took us to an open market beforehand and said, “Buy what you want for lunch, and we’ll take it with us and eat it in the gardens.” And we did.
I bought a baguette and some fruit, and they were delicious.
The golden hallway of mirrors is as stunning as you imagine it would be. But nothing compares to the gardens. Like the Louvre, we didn’t have enough time to see it all. Still, instead of running around, I found myself much more respectful and careful about my ventures.
I paid such attention to the landscaping, trees and flowers, and the fountains and pools. I was much more at home in the gardens.
After the tour, we found some grass off one of the palace wings, took out our lunches, and had a picnic in the sunshine. For me, this is one of my perfect days.
The Black Forest in Switzerland is absolutely enchanting. Upon entering the forest, our tour guide, Sasha, directed our attention to two cliffs jutting out into the valley, a statue of a stag preparing to jump erected on one side. I can’t recall the story behind it. Still, it was fitting for a magical forest, and I fell in love with it immediately.
Deep in the forest, we stopped at a Cuckoo Clock Shop (I think it’s called the Cuckoo – Palace), filled with the most stunning displays of craftsmanship I’ve ever seen. Not to mention the world’s biggest cuckoo clock, which takes up an entire wall of the store on the outside.
I remember walking through and wishing I could afford one of those clocks. I never even looked at price tags because I knew it would either exhaust everything I’d brought for the trip or exceed it. One of my future goals is to revisit this store, find me a clock, ship it home, and enjoy it every day after that.
I miss Switzerland as a whole. The Alps took my breath away, and the air was so clean and crisp. Having such a sensitive sniffer, I often pine for the air up in those mountains.
One of my favorite experiences also came in Switzerland, and it was after we’d retired to the hotel for the evening. A few of us wanted to go back into town and buy some things, so after getting permission from the chaperones, we approached the tour guide and bus driver to see if they’d take us.
Without hesitation, they said yes, and we were off. As we got on the bus, the driver, Charlie, looked back and asked if any of us would like to drive the bus. My friends and I were flabbergasted, and after exchanging surprised looks, I got up the courage to say, “Yeah. Sure! I’ll try it.”
Charlie brought me up into the seat, standing off to the side, and walked me through driving a manual pink Mercedes bus. I had no idea what I was doing, but he let me drive it down the frontage road to where it connected with another street. Maybe like a hundred yards. (The fact that the road we were on had no other vehicles and wasn’t heavily traveled contributed to his willingness to let a fifteen-year-old drive his bus).
It was a simple act on Charlie’s part, and I did about as well as a dumb teenager with no experience could, but it’s been a highlight of my life. So freaking cool.
And the last significant experience came when we visited one of the Nazi Concentration Camps. To this day I still think we went to Auschwitz, but Poland wasn’t in our itinerary, so I’m not sure. I do remember that there was a giant sculpture by the entrance: a hollow ball made of people in various poses touching hands and legs.
We got to see the bunks. We visited the furnaces. We saw the various signs of respect from those peoples and religions donated after the fall of the Third Reich. And everywhere we went, there were plaques with facts and quotes from the guards and jailers as well as the inmates.
My last name is Hess, and that is common in the German, Swiss, and Polish areas. As I walked around, I was surprised at how many quotes or facts were attributed to those with the same last name.
Now, what I’m about to share, I confess, began with ulterior motives. But it turned into a genuine moment of sobriety for me.
There was a young lady in our group that I liked, and I wanted to impress her. She was sitting a couple rows up and across the aisle, so I started talking to my seat-mate about finding so many Hess’s recorded on the walls in an effort to somehow show off to her. Looking back, I have no idea how my plan was supposed to succeed in that.
As I kept talking, though, I soon found myself honestly emotional, and I even started crying. Before I knew it, the tour guide had appeared and was sitting next to, listening with as much care and attentiveness as I’ve ever received. I found how much I cared about the atrocities of that camp, especially knowing that somewhere down in my history, some men and women participated in making them a reality.
As a young man, suddenly recognizing that horrible things are not separate from our lives just because we didn’t personally experience them brought me to tears.
When I consciously accepted my reaction to all this, I threw out any desire to “impress this girl” and let myself feel, talk, and listen. And Sasha (the tour guide) was a fantastic listener. I’m sure he offered words of comfort and provided some adept advice once I finished sharing my thoughts, but I’ve long forgotten what they would be.
I will never forget the profound moment of connection, though, when I had a real, sobering interaction with myself and the brutal history of that camp. It showed me how magnificent such honest approaches to life can be, and I’ve had many of these since. But none compare to the power of the first.
Honestly, it’s impossible to compare much to the awe and terror of a concentration camp. Especially when you’ve been there in the flesh, felt what remains, seen the instruments, and partaken in the facts.
Talk about a dose of reality for a young boy from Salt Lake City, Utah.
Reaching the end of my tales, I realize there will have to be a part three to this adventure. Because the trip home was equally as fun, unique, and worthy of mentioning.