From my Journals--A trip to Europe

©Fernando Caracena 2014


The beautiful sunny morning, the second of May 1960, in the Rhine River Valley contrasted with the previous, gray, drizzly one left behind in England. I had taken the ferry from Harwich, England to the Hook of Holland the evening before, and boarded the train a short distance from the dock. Now, I was on the Lorelei Express on the way to Milan, the city where Art and I had agree to meet up after he would pick up his new, red Porsche convertible in Germany. We had planned to drive around Europe, both of us sharing automobile expenses—a deal that worked out very well for both of us.

The view of storybook castles along the Rhine was fantastic. I passed the time on the Lorelei in lively pleasant conversations with very friendly Duch people on their way to spend holidays in Italy. I found that I was treated well on my travels if I dressed up a bit. I did not feel out of place then, in a charcoal suit and red tie. At the age of twenty four, I was on top of the world. I had graduated from college with a B. S. a degree in physics; worked for a year; and saved thousands of dollars, and I was about to go to graduate school. It was a time when the dollar was king and convertible to gold and silver; and, Europeans loved Americans then.

Our trip to Europe coincided with the time of that of Art's parents. We were to be meeting up at various large cities. Since we adjusted our travel plans on the fly, we needed a way of communicating changes so that we could coordinate our travel plans. Before the era of smart phones, we found that we could do this flexibly through ordinary mail sent to and received at various American Express Offices. If mail missed us at one office, it was forwarded to us at the next one on a flexible itinerary that we maintained with them. Surprisingly, this arrangement worked very well. Indeed we had a mailbox and personal office at every European city. We even received mail from home. I kept in touch with my father in this way.


Later the afternoon of May 2, the Larelei Express crossed the Swiss border. It stopped at Olten, which was on the edge of the Alps. On impulse, I got off the train. I was Determined to pass through the scenic Swiss mountains during daylight. I went to the ticket agent to fix my ticket to continue on to Milan the following day. Checking most of my baggage at a locker, I went out looking for a place to spend the night and found one at a rooming house. The night was cold, but the bed was very comfortable because of the goose down feather beds and comforters.

True to the Swiss railroad stereotypes, the next morning the train arrive about five minutes before its scheduled departure time, and departed exactly on time at precisely 8:00 AM. I had scheduled the next segment of the trip in first class to test the suggestion of my French teacher, Mr. Bevans, that we should travel second class if we wanted to meet and interact with Europeans, but first class if we wanted to be left alone. Sure enough, first class passengers minded their own business--mostly reading newspapers and magazines. Soon I switched back to second class, and the rest of the trip was one long conversation in our compartment all the way to Milan.

Some woman on the train pointed out to me that at the base of every major peak in Switzerland, there is a lake. There were a lot of comments from the passengers. Among the six persons in our compartment were two exceptionally plain looking, blond Dutch girls,  a bit on the stocky side.

The train approached the entrance to a tunnel that would take us from the German side of Switzerland to the Italian side. At the entrance to the tunnel, the weather was drab and gray and so were the houses and town. At the other end, the train emerged into glorious, bright sun, the houses painted in beautiful, pastel shades. We were on the Italian side. The train stopped at a village. Street vendors approached the open train windows. Italian guys passing by the train began to throw wild praises at the plain Dutch girls, and the girls came alive basking in the warm light of the Italians' admiration. Italy at that time, matched my exultant mood. My heart was alive with the innocent joy and vitality of youth. I was at a great age, and I had plenty of money. I was on top of the world. The future was unlimited.


We arrived too soon in Milan, at two in the afternoon. I could have spent more time in the beautiful Alps. I got a room a with a double bed at the Hotel Aosta overlooking the square and train station. Not having eaten all day, my supper of Vitello al Forno a la Milanesa tasted heavenly, and the wine was delicious. Later, I fell into bed and went instantly to sleep.

 Art did not arrive until several days later on the fifth of May. After spending the next morning sightseeing, we departed at noon the next day for Firenze (Florence), stopping along the way at Bolognia for a lunch of two loaves of excellent Italian bread. Through a tourist service, we booked rooms at the Hotel Rapallo at Firenza on a semi pension plan at 3,000 lira a night. After a very good supper and a walk to the Ponti Vecchio returning to the Rapallo, I fell into bed in the kind of exhaustion that turns a kid's night sleep into a blink of  an eye between night and the morning sun.

 Awakening late (9:30 AM), Art and I met for a breakfast of bread, butter, marmalade, and coffee. Afterwards we spent the morning in Milan changing currency and travelers checks into Lira and doing a bit of sightseeing. At noon, we loaded up the car, and set off for Rome. We traveled in the red Porsche over the hills of Tuscany--a beautiful countryside that is what I visualize heaven to be like. The countryside corresponded perfectly with my mood. Italians of all ages cheered us as if we were race car drivers, when we roared through the narrow streets of their towns in the red sports car. After pedestrians dove for a side of the narrow streets that we barreled through, instead of being angry, they turned and waved cheerfully at the red Porsche.

 About half way between Sienna and Rome, we stopped at an Esso Station for gasoline, which seemed unattended. From up on the hill, from a restaurant half a block away came three people running: a small figure of a child, the plump figure of a middle aged woman, the figure of a younger girl. The child was a boy, and the girl, was pretty and well shaped, perhaps 15, but she looked older. The girl was simple, charming, and friendly. She gave me a gift of a postcard of her town that showed a castle. She told me that we should visit her town. After attending us, they went back up the hill, and we decided to follow them and have a cup of coffee.

We reached Rome later that night.


Every day of my month's holiday in Europe was memorable. I wrote down much of the high points of the trip in a small journal. The short entries in that journal provide me the facts that flesh out my memories as a young man in Europe.


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