Thoughts from a Scrapbook: Europe Through the Eyes of a Child
We all sat in the Swiss tram, looking out the big windows at the markedly neat town unfolding around us. As we rounded the corner we could see the lake at the bottom of the hill. It was a glassy turquoise, and with the surrounding little red and white houses it looked like a Christmas-market model. As we turned the next corner my youngest sister went back to her brand of scrapbooking: drawing a red tulip that we saw in Vienna with her pastels. How could I ever live up to this brand of nonchalant originality? I looked out the window again, trying to remember everything I saw so that I could later recount it in epic detail in my scrapbook.
‘How to Backpack Through Europe, With Kids’ (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/18/travel/travel-with-kids-backpacking.html) made me think back to the European trip I took with my parents when my two sisters and I (we were 13, 9 and 12 respectively) were taken out of school before the beginning of the April holidays. The negative comments that the article generated made me think, Did we appreciate travelling through Europe as children? Or was this a wasted experience, better left until we were older?
Great writing is sometimes identified as that which is able to evoke a powerful sense of place or an instinctive response. Powerful childhood memories often have this same ability — to preserve a moment in time through the combined remembrance of the sights, sounds, and smells in that particular moment. Childhood thus seems to be an important memory-making stage where experiences are remembered and given a significant status. If I think back now about Zurich, Vienna, Lech and Venice I can recall a series of beloved moments.
In Vienna I remember a flaxen-haired pony pulling a cart loaded with a single barrel of beer, the white façade and gardens of the Belvedere, the contours and insane mosaics of the Hundertwasser Haus and entering warm wood-interiored restaurants filled with cigar-smokers. But what stands out most is not the beautiful city, but being inside a massive white circus tent and being awed not by the trapeze artists or the slapstick clown-routine, but by a fox pushing a pram with a duck in it.
In Lech I saw my first snow and remember trying to see the different patterns in the tiny snowflakes that gathered on my gloves. We took a ride in a horse-drawn carriage and I let the huge black Friesian carthorse snuffle my leopard-patterned Polar Tec beanie (I thought it was smashingly stylish with my purple ski jacket and red corduroy pants). We ate apple strudel and drank hot chocolate with a tower of whipped cream on top. I had my first delicious cheese fondue after we all got lost in the snow and thought I looked great once again in yet another of my Gap polo necks. Back at our rooms we were all confused by Frau Stephanie’s stomping about in anger, her comments about how we flushed the toilet too much or that we shouldn’t wash our ski socks with Sunlight soap in our bath. But we were equally delighted by the bleached-white perfectly boiled eggs that she served at breakfast accompanied by hot toast and creamy white butter. On Easter we woke up to a rabbit made out of dense vanilla sponge and dusted with icing sugar, and had a small hunt for tiny eggs around her house. In ski school we met our first British friends, who said “mi gluves and glahsses” in their hilarious accents, and learned to avoid drunken Austrian adults on the ski slopes after lunch.
In Venice we looked on admiringly at St Mark’s Basilica and chased the pigeons on the Square. We were delighted by the rich Italian hot chocolate that we were served from a silver pot in an over decorated café. At lunch we had incredible pizzas and laughed at my dad’s black teeth after his squid ink pasta. In the square where we lived we could see cats sleeping in the windows of other buildings and could hear people speaking Italian. We tried to watch Scooby Doo in Italian and enjoyed using the hotel’s shoeshine machine a bit too much. I remember my older sister standing under a pink magnolia tree wearing a light-wash denim jacket that I really wished was mine. We stood on the Bridge of Sighs and watched the gondolas come gliding past, and then took a boat ride to the most exciting part of the trip: watching men blow glass in Murano. The glass was white-hot and the man tapped at it with his tools until it hardened into a perfect clear glass bird. I was so impressed that I spent a lot of my carefully saved gift-buying money on a family of tiny clear pink glass pigs and a handful of glass sweets. On Burano we went into a church and played with some cats while my mom agonised over some lace tablecloths.
Travelling through parts of Europe as a child has given me a trove of joyful memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Experiencing beautiful places and elements of ‘high culture’ (such as museums, historical buildings and exceptional food) which are usually the realm of adults as a child also allows you to look back as an adult on how you perceived this blur of exceptional experiences. This gives you insight into a perspective like no other: how to see life through the eyes of a child.
Originally published at englishbreakfast.co on November 11, 2015.