European Vacation

I want to thank all of you for following my blog over past few months. Whether you read them all or just checked out a few, I truly hope you enjoyed them. I do believe it’s important not to take life too seriously or dwell on our mistakes, even if they involve our precious children. Let’s face it, we all make mistakes, so we might as well learn from them and laugh at them too. For my last few posts, I’d like to share a few of our vacations we took over the years. Believe me, there is still plenty of stupidity to come. I’ll start with a couple vacations to Europe, followed by some rugged adventure, and finally some domestic family trips to bring it home. Hopefully you can pick up some travel plans and tips too!

I had never been overseas and Pooneh had been dying to go to Europe for many years, but we wanted to wait until our kids were old enough to appreciate the culture and history. By the time they turned eleven and thirteen years old, we felt like we had waited long enough, and they seemed ready for some epic travel. For our eleven-day journey, we flew to Paris first and then on to Venice, Florence, and Rome. About halfway through the trip, we realized that perhaps we should have waited a couple more years.

They enjoyed Paris well enough, and I have to say I was totally blown away by the magnificence of the city. As soon as we checked into our hotel, we set off to see the Arc de Triomphe which was only a few blocks away, and then trudged up the countless steps of the Eiffel Tower, bumping into two of their friends from school on the observation deck of all places. (Incidentally, Kaveh also ran into my cousin at George Washington’s home during a school field trip that same year!)

Despite doing all this activity while jet-lagged, we had trouble falling asleep that first night and ended up sleeping until 11:00 am. After losing half our day and then walking about a mile to find the nearest bakery, we decided to take a cab to the Seine River and grab one of those public ferries to Notre Dame. In planning the trip, I picked out a popular spot on the map that I assumed was the location for the ferries but turned out to be a launch area for private yachts. The taxi driver even tried to tell me we should go to a different location, but I insisted since I already had it planned out and thought maybe he misunderstood me. We spent an extra hour walking to the place he told us to go which was on the other side of the Seine.

After touring the cathedral (thankfully we got to see it before the big fire), we discussed where to head next. I had a list of hot spots that I read online and one of them I really wanted to see was the Bastille district. I read a lot about the French Revolution and storming of the Bastille over the years, so I got excited when I read a post that claimed part of the historic prison was still intact. We walked about five miles to the Bastille district but didn’t see any sign of the old prison. I don’t know who the jerk was online that made this claim, but everyone we asked gave us a funny look, informing us there hasn’t been any remaining trace of it for hundreds of years. Anyhow, Kaveh and Kian actually enjoyed watching all the teenagers perform at the skatepark more than any old prison, and I can think of worse things to do than roaming the streets of Paris.

We went to the Louvre the next day, which would have been awesome if Kian hadn’t gotten into one of his funky moods, literally groaning and complaining almost the entire time.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but you really can’t appreciate the uniqueness, beauty, and history of Venice until you visit. The kids especially enjoyed the boat ride into the city and the gondola ride on the Grand Canal. The only problem was the heat and humidity. They kept making fun of me because I was always drenched in sweat all day that pretty much began the moment I stepped outside. I can remember hugging a huge bag of stinky laundry against my chest, trying to find the laundromat based off our map but getting lost its maze of walkways. My shorts kept falling down the wetter and heavier they got, so I had to keep stopping to pull them up and wipe the sweat dripping into my eyes, scowling and cussing like that day at Lake Irvine. I must have looked like one weary, pissed off tourist.

My favorite part was the Doge’s Palace. I didn’t realize how many rooms there were to see, and we ended up spending too much time in the first few areas looking at paintings and a World War I exhibit in the courtyard. After a while it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen them in the last ten minutes. I started looking around, going all the way back to the entrance but they were nowhere to be found. Figuring they must have gotten ahead of me, I went back to where I left off and breezed through the next several rooms. Still not finding them anywhere, I checked my phone and realized she texted me that she left already with the kids to get some gelato. Apparently, they had enough and dragged her out the way we came in. I told her I must be getting toward the end, but it just kept going. Passing through the Bridge of Sighs, I got stuck behind a tour group that blocked the narrow hallways while Pooneh grew increasingly bored and restless waiting for me in the hot sun. It took another half hour to pass through the prisons and weapons displays before I finally emerged. I felt really bad that she missed all the best parts and had to wait for so long, but at the same time I couldn’t understand why they all left through the entrance without even finding and telling me first.

By the time we got to Rome, Kaveh and Kian started getting tired of sight-seeing and walking through old cities every day, and they let us know it too. I practically had to drag them through the crowded streets to the Pantheon, which was worth it because it was absolutely stunning to see among the other modern buildings surrounding it, and then on to Trevi fountain, which wasn’t worth it because it was under construction when we arrived.

I’ve been fascinated by ancient Rome for most of my adult life, (Gladiator being one of my all-time favorite movies) so for me the highlight of the trip was The Roman Forum. We bought a two-day pass that included The Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Coliseum. From what I read online, most people recommended seeing Palatine Hill first because it offers an impressive overview as you descend into The Forum.

There was a lot more to see than I realized including Circus Maximus, views of the emperor’s palace, and a museum to cool off from the hot sun. We took our time walking through, despite our kids urging us along and complaining about the heat as the morning wore on. I remember telling Kian to appreciate how old and historic these buildings are, then he picked up a rock and explained his point of view. “Daddy, this rock is older than that stupid building, so why don’t you appreciate the rock? Just look at it, isn’t it cool?”

We finally arrived at The Forum around two in the afternoon, hungry, thirsty, hot, and exhausted. I was entranced by the sensation of finally standing right in the heart of ancient Rome and could have stayed a couple more hours, but after only about ten minutes Kian had enough and headed directly for the exit with Pooneh trailing after him. Kaveh was reading a young adult book series based on the mythology of Roman Gods and looked forward to seeing the ancient temples but was disappointed that they were in ruins.

Lunch actually sounded pretty good, so we headed out the gates to take a break and find a nearby restaurant. Since we had reservations for the Coliseum at 4:00, we decided to see the rest of The Forum the next day. But when we arrived at the gate, she told us that we had already used our tickets. I pointed out that our tickets are good for two days, but she clarified that we could have seen the Coliseum one day and then Forum/Palatine Hill the next, but we can’t see the same place both days. I tried arguing that nobody explained that to me, and I travelled halfway across the world to see The Forum most of all but she could care less. I felt scammed and wasn’t about to pay for a whole new set of tickets so we just left in disgust.

To top it all off, Kaveh and Kian weren’t being very cooperative with getting their picture taken so this is the best family picture we got from the entire trip!

A couple years later, I convinced Pooneh to take a trip to France, but without the kids this time. I wanted to visit the medieval town of Riquewihr in eastern France since I chose it for the setting of the book I was writing. The homes and buildings in Alsace look like gingerbread houses, which fits perfectly for my horror version of Hansel and Gretel. It also has a medieval prison called Thieves’ Tower, complete with a torture chamber that we can still visit—how cool is that?

We arranged a bicycle trip through a company that provided nice road bikes with Garmin trip computers, set us up in beautiful hotels, and mapped out an Alsace wine route through four different cities, starting in Strasburg and ending in Colmar. They collected our luggage in the morning and dropped it off for us at the next hotel we rode to. It’s a trip I will never forget but started off with a couple hiccups.

We flew into Paris and after checking in at the train station, I started heading toward the train until some of the people in line let me know the attendant was trying to get my attention. I turned around and heard him yell over the crowd that I left my luggage in front of the counter. I trudged back through the line of other travelers who either smirked in disbelief or expressed looks of patronizing pity at me while I muttered some excuse about being jet-lagged.

As soon as I stepped outside, Pooneh waved frantically at me to hurry up because the train had already arrived. I raced down the steps with two suitcases bumping behind me then sprinted across the concourse. I was only a few steps away, but as soon as Pooneh hopped inside, the doors slammed shut! We could only stare at each other through the window, stunned and helpless, as the train pulled away. Panicked, I looked to the attendant who suggested I wait for the next train which, fortunately, should arrive in less than ten minutes, and then meet up at the next stop.

After that, everything went smoothly the rest of the day: checking into our hotel, meeting up with the bike company, and setting everything up for the morning trek.

I connected my new GoPro camera to my helmet and got some nice videos, but the one I looked forward to seeing the most was riding through the cobblestone streets of Strasburg, teeming with jubilant soccer fans excited to watch France play in the World Cup that day. Apparently, I didn’t hit the record button when I tried to turn it on, leaving us with only the memory.

By far the worst part of the trip was when Pooneh had a bike accident that scraped her up pretty bad on the very first day of our ride. We turned into a driveway and either her wheel was too parallel and got stuck on the sharp curb, or the idiot in the car right behind her didn’t realize she slowed down and clipped her back wheel. It sucked because after riding for over thirty miles, we were nearly finished for the day. On the other hand, we were only five minutes away from our hotel in Obernai, so she didn’t have to suffer riding with fresh bleeding wounds and aching bruises all day. Knowing how miserable she felt, I offered to see if the company could drive us to the next town or even just cancel the rest of the trip altogether. She knew how badly I wanted to see Riquewihr and thought she could manage two more days on the bike.

Well, the next day included some very steep climbs, but she pushed on with sheer determination and grit. When we finally arrived at the medieval gates of Riquewihr, after pouring so much imagination into the few pictures I saw of this town, it made the whole surreal experience come alive. We walked through town, toured Thieves’ Tower and its torture chamber museum, and took well over a hundred pictures to enrich my story with fresh, accurate details of some of the major scenes for my book. We hiked to the nearby town of Kaysersberg and climbed steps to the top of its towering keep, overlooking incredible sweeping views of the nearby river, forest, hills, and vineyards. I swear I took some of the best pictures of my lifetime that day.

When we returned to the hotel that evening, I tried to share some of the pictures on Facebook, but my phone said I needed to free up space first. Whenever that message came up, I always deleted everything from my gallery since they are all backed up on Google Photos. But this time, I hadn’t connected onto the hotel wifi yet, which means none of the pictures that day were saved into Google Photos. I felt a leaden weight drop from my chest into my gut as I desperately tried to find them. I checked the trash files, installed some app to recover deleted photos, and even called the support service who literally searched in my phone; alas, they were completely and permanently obliterated. Pooneh took many nice pictures that day too but only a fraction of what I did, and only a couple in the museum. More importantly, she reminded me that our memories of the day, and of our little Tour de France, are what matters most.

After completing our bike journey in the colorful city of Colmar, also known as Little Venice, we traveled back to Paris for the final day of our trip. Free to choose what we wanted to see without kids slowing us down and knowing better where to go, we hardly took a break and probably saw more that day than all three days combined on our first visit to Paris!  

Published by swojtowich

I am a physician, story writer, husband and proud father of two sons. I enjoy travel, exercise, and reading/writing books.

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