They've been so much the opposite of a European vacation that I haven't been able to find the time to write about the European vacation. But I also, crazily, haven't wanted to put our trip into words because, in some sort of magical thinking, I felt as though, if I wrote about it, it'd really be over. (Note to self: it is over.) And I think I was avoiding writing about it for another reason, too: namely, who leaves their kids and takes a two-week trip to Europe for no real reason in their mid-thirties? Isn't that what you do when you're retired empty-nesters who join a bus tour of the Netherlands?
So I'm disoriented and nostalgic and a little sheepish, I guess, is what I'm trying to say. But even though I kept a little journal while we were gone (where we ate, what we saw, what we did, etc.), I want to collect a few memories here, too.
Here's the thing: back in January of 2011, I published a fun Life List on this blog, as a culmination of some of the ideas and goals I'd been toying with as I thought about which direction I wanted my life to take. Maybe this is a normal thing to do in your mid-thirties, maybe not, but somewhere along the line, I had the realization that there was not going to be an infinite amount of time. There might be a lot of years, sure, but there might not, and I became far more aware of how I used my time and far more intentional about going to those places and doing those things that had always been hazy "someday" dreams. (I've since accomplished a bunch of things on that list, some of which I crossed off and some of which I still need to cross off, and I actually hadn't looked at it in quite a while and may want to change it. For example, the six-minute mile is possibly no longer in reach. Which is fine. It's MY list. I can change it.)
One of those dreams( though it's not exactly on the list) was to return to Vienna, Austria with Jason. We'd both gone during a college summer program, though not the same summer, and on one long road trip to Baltimore when I was pregnant with Annie, we talked about how, someday, we'd establish a scholarship fund for the Vienna Summer School program and we'd go back together. A couple years ago, we started the fund, and last summer we started planning this trip. We hoped to go back while the same dear professor was still running the program, and we weren't sure how much longer he'd be doing it. We met him for dinner. We started reading travel blogs. We checked out books from the library. We talked to grandparents about child care. We hoarded credit card points for flights. Jason spent an inordinate amount of time on Google Earth. And I started dreaming about Paris, not because I'd taken French, or had friends tell me I had to go, or seen a specific movie, but just because I have always sort of felt like I'd be sad if I didn't go to Paris with Jason at some point in my life. Seize the day, and all that.
Well, we seized it. My Life List should be proud. There was spontaneous stopping to smell the roses in a beautiful garden in Vienna. There was a run through Luxembourg Gardens in the rain in Paris. There was a picnic in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. There was a hike through cows wearing cowbells and fields of wildflowers up to snow-capped mountain peaks (we snuck in a few days in Switzerland between the two cities). There were absurd meals followed by more absurd meals. There was ice cream and croissants and curried prawns and homemade pasta and fondue and gelato and veal and foie gras and croquettes and wine and lobster and cafe creme and cheese and olives and chocolate mousse and duck and champagne and pate and olive oil and truffle salt and caramels. (What I am saying is that we did not lose weight on this trip, despite the hiking and biking and walking miles every day through the cobblestone streets.)
We had so many wonderful moments, so many unforgettable experiences. We rode bikes along the Danube in the 90-degree heat and sunshine, then finally collapsed at a little Italian cafe and drank all the beverages. We hiked up and down gorgeous mountain paths, then drank Swiss beer on a balcony overlooking a waterfall. We celebrated our fourteenth anniversary with a meal just steps from our hotel, looking out at the garden where the salad lettuce had just been picked and watching the moon rise above the mountains. We spent a night with our old professor and this year's group of Vienna Summer School students, sat in on a fascinating lecture, and toasted the group with schnapps on a picnic table in the Austrian Alps. We got on a train in Vienna, went to sleep, and woke up the next morning in Switzerland. We had dinner at the same outdoor biergarten where Jason loved to go almost twenty years ago. We took the Metro to Montmarte and tried French microbrews at a tiny bar with a bartender named Francois. We saw the Mona Lisa, the Thinker, and so many Van Goghs and Monets and Renoirs and Cezannes that we could hardly keep track. We ate three meals at restaurants where you sat down and ate whatever they brought you (ahem, razor clams, pork rilette . . .), and one meal of incredible Spanish tapas at a standing-room-only zinc bar where the chef stood just a few feet away. We watched the sun set along the Seine.
We had two weeks to get up every morning, get out the map, and wander around a gorgeous city together - eating, drinking, talking, getting a little lost, being in awe of the architecture or the natural beauty, depending. We had two weeks to miss the girls fiercely and talk about how soon we could bring them back with us. We had two weeks to be outsiders, with Jason's poor French and our train schedules and indecipherable menus and streets that change names every few blocks.
We took over a thousand pictures. We took a nap almost every day. We took trains and wore backpacks. We took home striped shirts and baby gifts, chocolates and scarves. We took one last look at Paris as our plane rose high in the sky, and I knew that the planning, saving, worrying, and spending had been worth it. It was a literally a dream come true.
It's like a distant memory now, of course. After two weeks crammed into tiny train compartments and petite hotel rooms, our house felt huge. The girls welcomed us home with cake, hugs, and much smelling of faces and stroking of arms. We piled into our bed together, opened gifts, and read books in a pre-bedtime tangle of arms and legs that night two weeks ago, and it's been non-stop togetherness ever since. The quiet conversations at cafes and the leisurely 9:00 p.m. dinners are a thing of the past, and now it's piano practice and "Mom, look!" and settling arguments and chasing fireflies and bathing suits. Which is good, too, in its own way, but also louder. Less charming. More "real."
Tucked away, though, I'll always have this trip. This absurd, impractical, romantic, magical, dreamy trip. And I'm so very glad.