Share this article

print logo

Margaret McMillen: Novice travelers survived trip abroad

For our 25th anniversary, my husband and I took a trip to England, France and Holland, and handled all of the details by ourselves. No prepared tour for us; no, we brave (and perhaps foolish) travelers would do this on our own.

I started by packing two full suitcases and threw in a garment bag to boot. I needed my evening gown, didn’t I? Bob did the same, minus the evening gown. Did I mention we were novices? This was in the days before wheeled suitcases. Lesson learned, but not before we almost died toting pounds of luggage.

England was full of history. I glowed, knowing I was actually occupying places I had read about in my high school history books. Here I was, in the same Tower of London room in which Sir Walter Raleigh had been imprisoned; standing on the spot where Anne Boleyn had lost her head (literally); walking the same streets Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt had traveled, etc.

And then, to be current, we entered the Playboy Club and watched as a turbaned man bet and accumulated chips at a roulette wheel that grew into a pile worth hundreds of thousands. We gasped, politely of course, since Bob and I had never bet more than $20 total at a gambling casino.

We took a ferry across the English Channel and arrived in Paris. Mistakenly leaving my walking shoes in London, I had to buy a pair, stat. We found a shoe store on the Champs-Elysees, and when the clerk asked me what size I wore, I ignorantly told her size 8. Grim-faced and without one word, she left and returned with a pair of hush puppies that were about 3 inches long. Even Cinderella couldn’t squeeze into them. OK, another lesson learned.

Then we decided to see the Arc de Triumph, which is surrounded by numerous traffic lanes, filled with speeding, horn-blowing cars. A gendarme, standing on the corner, watched as we uninformed Americans tried to cross the lanes without getting killed. We found out later, no thanks to the gendarme, that there is an underground passage – no need to take your life into your hands.

Surviving that, we looked for a place to eat and saw a restaurant with an English name. Hooray, the menu must be in English, right? Wrong. The waiter handed us a menu in French (the nerve, eh?) and informed us he didn’t speak a word of English. What to do? Luckily there was a lady sitting next to our table who spoke both languages and she helped. We struck up a conversation and when we told her we were from Buffalo, the waiter – who could speak no English – miraculously turned into a linguist, and informed us he had married a girl from Lockport. Merci, Garcon.

In Holland, after visiting windmills and Anne Frank’s house, we went to the red light district where a sequin-gowned prostitute ignored my husband, and motioned for me to join her. (For the curious, I did not accept.)

Finally, after returning to England and before heading home, we approached a beefeater guard, standing like a stone statue in front of Kensington Palace. I asked him a question and without moving his lips, he murmured, “Nope.” His response to my second question was the same. Finally, I asked, “Are you allowed to say nope?” With a hint of a smile, he uttered through closed lips, “Nope.” What a good laugh we had, and what fond memories traveling can provide.