Wednesday, June 12, 2019

My First Big Trip

My grandparents wanted to send me to Israel.  My mom said my older cousin had to go first.  Of all the grandkids, we were the only two to benefit from their largesse; I don't know why the others were left out of their generosity.

My cousin and her parents found a Teen Tour; my parents sent me on the same one.  We probably should have investigated the situation more thoroughly.  The introductory meeting was held in a close room, on folding chairs.  No effort was made to have us meet our fellow travelers; we sat with our parents, listened to the lecture, then left.

The tour leaders had never been to Europe before.  They were a young married couple who were fighting out their early struggles in full view of 20 or so teenagers.  Not an easy situation for anyone, their behavior compounded by the fact that they weren't very smart people.

They let our Israeli tour guides take us on an all day hike without telling us where we were going.  I'd have worn sneakers instead of floppy sandals had I known that we'd be mountain climbing.

They let us roam freely through Amsterdam and Rome and Florence and Milan, free to be chased by young men through alleys, free to get lost and wander aimlessly through sketchy neighborhoods, free to go to discotheques with young men we'd met in a cafe.

It was freedom.  It was terrifying.  

We stayed together in Athens, seeing the sights with no guide to explain things.  The leaders were supposed to be explaining things, but they were arguing and didn't seem to have much time for us.  I soaked in the sights and the smells, but never got to taste the real food.  The leaders were not adventurous eaters; we spent most of our mealtimes in pre-arranged hotel dining rooms, eating bland copies of American dishes.

One thing we didn't do was drink the water.  Coca Cola was my liquid refreshment all summer long except in Israel where orange juice was the preferred beverage.  There were fruits everywhere in The Holy Land; my digestion worked overtime.  I became closely acquainted with a variety of rest rooms; few of them resembling anything I'd been used to at home.

We traveled through Israel on public buses, reminded to keep our hands and arms inside the windows at all times.  This was good advice since the oncoming traffic passed mere inches from us. There were soldiers on every street corner, our bags were checked when we entered most every establishment,  yet three of us on a Scavenger Hunt managed to talk our way in to Teddy Kollek's office.  There we chatted with Jerusalem's mayor, interrupting his pastrami on rye lunchtime.  He gave us lots of souvenirs, encouraged us to Make Aliyah (move to our homeland), and sent us on our way with a handful of nuts.  

I saw the art in Italy and the red light district in Amsterdam.  I communed with the Greeks and sailed on the Mediterranean.  I missed my boyfriend terribly.

It was a Big Trip, which got swallowed up in the rush to go to college two weeks after I returned.  Somewhere, there is a box of memorabilia, but I don't really need it to remember those days.  I took 30 something rolls of film, and there are two shots of me - one in the train station in Karlsruhe, Germany and one in an unidentified airport.

The evidence may not prove it, but I really was there.

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