In 1960, the New Yorker cost only twenty-five cents and a person could tour Europe for five dollars a day. Arthur Frommer published a guidebook promising that and I believed it. When I graduated from high school in 1964, I asked my parents as a graduation gift, to take me to Europe. My mom wasn’t likely to travel even to Boston, but my dad was all for it. So, we bought Frommer’s book and it became our guide for a three-week trip during the fall of 1964, when we scheduled flights between seven countries, with 2-3 nights in each: England, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, and Portugal.
The idea was that for two people, it was possible to spend $10 a day to include food, housing and inexpensive entertainment. Sounds impossible, but we learned about tiny private hotels that were clean and safe, and that were within walking distance of public transportation. European hotels, even the smallest, then – and now – always included a simple breakfast of fresh bread, cheese, meats, fruit, and coffee. For lunch and dinner, we used our guidebook to find inexpensive restaurants that were unknown to most tourists, but carried delightful local specialties.
My first flight ever was that trip to London when I was seventeen. I was mesmerized by the sight of looking down on clouds and that fascination has never left me in my hundreds of flights since then. The meals were, to me, gourmet, and elegantly served, even in economy class, with breakable dishes and cloth napkins.
A strong memory of something nonexistent now is local currency. This was before ATMs, so we used traveler’s checks, exchanging just what we expected to spend when we arrived in a country, exchanging the checks for pounds in England, francs in France, etc. I’m not even sure my father had a credit card, so I don’t know what we would have done if we’d run out of money.
We visited for dinner with my cousin, Bobby, and his wife, Maryann, in Spain. They served us a potato frittata, eggs and potatoes, which I thought was quite elegant. I had my eighteenth birthday in Italy and chose a mohair sweater as my gift.
Other memories include being impressed that my dad remembered more French from high school decades earlier than I did from my just completed four years. I remember my first impressions of the Eiffel Tower, the Vatican, the painted roosters prominent in Portugal, a Toblerone candy bar in Switzerland, and a really strong impression of the catacombs below Appian Way, the dirt tunnel where early Christians hid.
One striking memory is of our last meal in Portugal, before our flight back to Boston. We were counting our change, our last bits of money, to be certain that we had enough to order. The waiter noticed and assured us that he would provide us with drinking water, which had to be purchased. At that time, drinking water in Europe was bottled, as water from the faucet was not safe to drink, or so we were told. My father and I were both touched by the kindness and generosity of that waiter. It remains a lasting memory.
The strongest after-effect of this trip was that I became fearless about foreign travel. I have never been intimidated by making travel plans or flying to new places and experiencing new cultures, even when it costs more than $5 a day.
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