At the end of my year in Sweden, there was a Rotary Club organized tour of Europe for all of the exchange students who had spent the year in Sweden. Writing this description of the tour "Rotary Club organized tour of Europe" it sounds super boring and full of rules. Because it was chaperoned by Swedish guides we had the same personal freedom during the Euro-tour that I had experienced during the entire year (don't worry we all made it home safe and sound).
Taking the tour meant that I had to leave my Swedish friends behind, and that was not easy for me. At seventeen I had formed deep bonds with my friends and was nervous about being away from them. But a bus tour of Europe sounded so exciting, it wasn't a hard decision. We traveled by train from our host towns all over Sweden to a city in the south of the country, Malmo. There we got on our bus and met our two young Swedish tour guides, who would be chaperoning us for the month. Imagine that summer job!
We did create a journal during the tour, with two students in charge of chronicling each day. While I do still have the journal I don't have it here in Mexico so I am going by memory. We were about 20 students aged 16-18 on the bus, from all over the world. Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, South Africa and Japan were all represented in my group.
Our trip took us down through Germany, into recently liberated East Germany, across to Prague, through Austria, northern Italy, Monaco, and France, then on to Luxembourg and Belgium, back into Germany and returning to Sweden. We usually spent 2-3 days in each country or city, and then traveled on our same trusty school bus between locations. If I remember correctly our breakfasts, dinners and shared hotel rooms were included, but we were free to do our own thing for lunch. In each city our guides would give us a city tour on the school bus, and in some locations a local guide would hop on our bus and share their knowledge with us. I enjoyed the tour so completely, it was such a pivotal time in European history and my own personal journey, I am ever thankful for having the opportunity to live it first hand.
I want to share one country that really left a mark on me during the tour, Prague. It had been newly liberated from the USSR and was just bustling with potential. I remember meeting artisans on the St. Charles bridge, selling their jewelry. I sat and talked to them for what seemed like hours. "You mean to say that you just travel around and sell your jewelry??" I knew right then I wanted the same experience. I loved being on that school bus and waking up to a brand new experience each day. Having a way to support myself while continuing to travel seemed idyllic to me at seventeen.
I remember other bits of the trip, the nightlife in Berlin, seeing the Sound of Music performed live in an Austrian village, a nightclub in Vienna, seeing the reality of a concentration camp in Dresden, the fashion district in Milan, feeding pigeons in Venice, swimming in the ocean in Nice, lunch in the French countryside, shoe shopping in Paris, the curving roads of Monaco, and getting my nose pierced in Belgium (which only lasted 2 days). But most of all I remember the joy of being seventeen with my whole life ahead of me.