(First published in Gemutlichkeit, The Travel Letter for Germany, Austria and Switzerland in 1991 at the outbreak of the Gulf War; then again after September 11, 2001.)
Among the very best days of my life was Saturday, October 6, 1973. Liz and I were in Copenhagen. It was the first day of our first trip to Europe. Her brief diary entry for that day reads, “Our room at the Royal was across the street from Tivoli Gardens which is closed now. After collapsing for a short time we walked along the Strøget and just looked. Had a beer in a small, quiet pub, walked back, had dinner and bed.”
|Liz in the French countryside, 1973|
While those few lines don’t begin to reflect the sense of excitement and discovery we both felt, they are enough to take me back to Copenhagen again for the first time. I can feel the chilly night, see the unfamiliar architecture and remember that snug, friendly pub and how good the beer tasted and how I knew immediately that traveling in Europe was for me. Next day we went on to Paris and I recall how we immediately dropped our bags at the hotel and plunged into that marvelous city. Our first walk, mouths agape, started at Palais des Congrès, down the Avenue de la Grande Armée, through the Arc de Triomphe, along the Champs Élysées, through the Place de la Concorde, ending, after numerous stops, at the Louvre: dream stuff for a kid from a Nebraska farm clan who grew up in a small lumber town on the coast of Oregon.
There have been many trips since and, while I doubt anything will ever match the first one in sheer “gee-whiz-l’m-in-Disneyland” excitement, gazing out the window on final approach to Vienna, Zürich, London, Paris, Copenhagen, Munich or Frankfurt, is still a sizable thrill. Though the main purpose of our trips these days is work rather than play, I can’t wait for the next one. I like to plan travel, talk travel, write travel and, most of all, travel.
And we don’t intend to stop now. Whatever happens in the months ahead, it seems that the word “terrorism” is one we will be seeing and hearing with great frequency. We may have to begin to regard travel to Europe the way we do other dangers in our lives; live with them. Possibly you are concerned and cautious about some other things that kill Americans every hour of every day—things like alcohol, butter, red meat and driving an automobile. But if you’re like me you haven’t given them up. Red meat once or twice a week. Olive oil instead of butter. Swissair to Zürich instead of Pan Am to Frankfurt. Caution, not abstention.
By the way, wouldn’t it be wonderful if a televised news conference by the Surgeon General could have as much effect on smokers as a few Rand Corporation terrorism experts on CNN have had on airline bookings? Cigarette companies, like airlines, would be going out of business. Also, think for a moment about all the smokers canceling plans to travel to Europe fearing they may die at the hand of a terrorist.
They can stay home, we're going. It's just too damn much fun. RHB