Notes from our very first overseas trip

April 13, 2012 12:52 pm

The joy of being a packrat comes when you run across something from a long time ago that brings back some wonderful memories. The other day I ran across one of those things — the notes from our very first overseas trip. Heather was 12 and Christian was 15 and the family was off to Europe for three weeks.

Notes: How did we happen to go to Europe in the first place? An article in the newspaper about home exchanges, a membership in a home exchange program and finally a telephone call one Monday morning from London.

We didn’t have much time to plan, but we talked to people, borrowed books, purchased books and tried to decide just what we most wanted to see. Chris was taking French and insisted that we had to go to Paris — even though people had been saying “Don’t even try to go from England to the continent on this trip” — giving expense and lack of time as reasons. But we held an open mind and listed all we wanted to do and decided that we would make decisions as opportunities came up and not have a set schedule. This was the beauty of our trip — no schedule, no specific tour plan, no guide, NO GUIDE.

On Sunday Aug. 5 we drove to Seattle, spent the night and on Monday the sixth left Seattle airport at 7:45 p.m. on British Airways bound for London via the polar route. Excitement set in and even though we’d been in the air all night we slept not one wink. What was 5:45 a.m. by our body time, we arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport at 1:45 in the afternoon.

After standing in line for customs we were finally set free in London or about 24 km (15 miles) from London. We took the Airbus (double-decker) to Paddington Station and upon arrival knew just how Paddington Bear must have felt. We needed someone to “Please look after this family.”

Up to this point we’d had a definite destination but now all of a sudden we had lots of means of getting there, but nowhere to go. It didn’t take us long (by this time it was close to 4 p.m.) to realize that we needed a place for the night. (You see our house was not available for about a week and we were well aware of this.) Since Dale and Chris were active in Boy Scouts we decided to try the Baden Powell House which has dorm type accommodations for boys and girls plus some family rooms. And the price was right. They were full but suggested some hotels in their neighborhood.

We were happy to try that and stayed our first night at the Eden Plaza Hotel. We were all very tired, but our bodies said this is not time for bed and so we experienced our first night of several with what is known as “jet lag.” Also I experienced my first toilet that I couldn’t figure out how to flush. (This I must tell you was only one of many that came up during the trip.)

Let’s see, we are now to Wednesday morning already. (Is this what happens on a lost weekend?)

Well, well our first encounter with a “proper” English breakfast. What? Did we want a cooked breakfast? What were the alternatives, “raw”? No the alternative was to have cornflakes and toast. The proper English breakfast was usually a fried egg, boiled bacon, a tomato of one sort or another and LOTS of toast (usually cold), some juice and strong tea or coffee.

Following this breakfast we packed our suitcases and headed for Victoria Station. Dale had decided it was the day to go to Paris if we were to go at all. So at 2:30 p.m. we left the station on a train for Dover. We learned quickly there was no food on the train and so by the time we were herded onto the ship to cross the channel we knew we’d better find food and find it quickly. We did and it was wonderful! Our first real fish and chips served in paper wrappings.

The crossing from Dover to Calais was about two hours and then we were herded onto a train for Paris. What we hadn’t thought about was that we would arrive in Paris about 11:30 p.m. at the Gare du Nord station and again with no hotel reservations — this time not even speaking the language. Lucky again, we looked across the nearly deserted street right at the lovely Hotel Terminus Nord. After a much embarrassing attempt to rent a room using the French language, the hotel clerk spoke to us in perfect English asking ”Do you want a room for the night?” We were given two rooms on the seventh floor. (“Sorry, the elevator is not working this evening.”)

Dale and Chris took the first room and Heather and I got the room at the end of the hall. During the night there was a fierce thunder storm and since we were right under the eaves we felt very vulnerable. The next morning our petit dejeuner (breakfast) was delivered to our room.

After a quick knock on the door, Heather diving under the blankets, and me yelling “Wait a minute” and scrambling to cover myself (I was in the process of dressing), a gentleman, who spoke no English, turned a key in the lock and entered our room with a tray of hot chocolate, croissants, and hard rolls.

It was now Thursday morning and we packed our bags once more and went to the Left Bank (Student Quarter) and found a small, but nice, hotel on the Rue des Ecoles not far from the Sorbonne, to call home for the rest of our stay in Paris. This time Chris and Dale were on one floor and Heather and I on another. But they had the same wonderful hot chocolate and croissants for breakfast.

Take a leap of faith! Enter the unknown! Enjoy the moment! Enjoy the memories!


Ginny Mammen is a La Grande resident. Reach the author at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it