Splurging on a European family vacation is not an easy decision, but I’m glad I did it. As I often tell my friends, “They can’t foreclose on your memories.” The memories we made and the family bonds we solidified are worth more than gold.
In fact, it was a great time to go to Europe with the euro trading one to one with the dollar, something that hasn’t happened for 20 years. It was no more expensive than a trip in the United States, except the airfare, which wasn’t too bad.
It had been four years since we did a family vacation, two of those caused by covid. We used to do family beach vacations when the children were younger, but that went by the wayside when the children went off to college and had their own beach plans. We were due.
Ruth was already in Spain doing Ole Miss study abroad — one of the best deals there is. Ruth got three credits for no more than the cost in Oxford. I was happy to do it, especially since sweet Ruth saved me a bundle going in state.
Wife Ginny really wanted to go see her childhood German friend who was an exchange student when Ginny was a teenager. They hadn’t seen each other in 40 years, so I sent Ginny over ahead of us and got a twofer on that flight. Now I was down to three airfares, which was manageable.
We decided to go to Paris for three nights and then southern France for seven more nights. The weather was perfect and we all agreed the trip was a 10.
I found a small under-the-radar hotel in the St. Germaine west bank of Paris for less than $100 a night per person. If you work at it and know how to use the Internet, it’s amazing what kind of deals you can get.
The whole family spent three months picking the house in southern France. We looked at every single house in a 40-mile area before picking the perfect house for less than $100 per night per person. You can’t go to South Walton Beach for that.
We booked everything through Travelocity and Expedia, which makes me a little nervous, but it all worked perfectly. A family European vacation is like golf. Everything is fine as long as you keep the ball in the fairway. But as soon as you hit it in the ditch, things get real complicated real fast. A missed flight, a sprained ankle, a lost passport can spell disaster. We prayed every day for God to keep his guardian angels with us and, miraculously, all went well.
If you’re unlucky, Paris can be really hot in July, but we got a lucky break and the highs were in the upper 70s with clear dry weather. We hiked all over the city like troopers, 15,000 steps a day. In two and a half days we had seen 15 of the top 20 things to do in Paris.
Lawrence, my 23-year-old son, was impressed by the city. “I thought I had some swag,” he told me. “But everybody here has swag and a lot more than me. I’m going to have to up my game.” By “swag” Lawrence meant “style” as we old folks would say. Indeed, there is just something stylish about Parisians in everything they do from their clothes to their food.
The outdoor cafes were everywhere. Coming from a totally auto-based society, my children were amazed by all the people on the streets and the outdoor cafes. Rue St. Germaine in July is marvelous and I am so glad I made sure my children witnessed it.
When my father returned from the Korean War he used the G.I. Bill to take my mother to Paris to study at the Sorbonne for a year. It was a defining period of their lives and my parents, especially my mother, always loved France.
I studied French in high school and college and speak fairly well, which made the trip much easier. I was pleased that the French always spoke French back to me, which was their way of complimenting me on my ability. The French are much more pleasant when you make an attempt to speak their language.
The French food was delicious and better than I recall from my last trip 20 years ago. My son John and I binged on escargot and foie gras for the first two days and paid the consequences but it was worth every bite.
Our house was at the top of a little medieval castle in Cagnes-sur-Mer. We had a beautiful view of the Cote D’Azur, or French Riviera, as Americans call it. So we got the ancient medieval feel yet could walk to trains and buses in 10 minutes and quickly get to Monaco, Cannes and Nice. There were 25 restaurants within a short walk, so we didn’t even need to rent a car, saving a bundle. Uber worked fine.
We hit the ground running and went everywhere. Even though we had big, wonderful lunches and dinners at beautiful outdoor cafes, I ended up losing weight because we walked so much.
The beaches are beautiful and the water clear. They can’t compare to the beaches of the Florida panhandle, which are probably the best in the world, but they are still wonderful, especially because of their differences. The hills and mountains rise up rapidly from the Mediterranean and quickly become the alps.
One very busy day, I got up early, rented a car for a day, and drove up into the mountains. I dropped Ginny and John off at Grasse where Ginny wanted to spend the afternoon at all the perfumeries. Then Ruth, Lawrence and I drove over scary mountain roads to the Verdon Gorge, the Grand Canyon of France.
I booked a day outing from a tiny local company in Castellane called Action Adventures, which should have been a clue. The water was too low to raft so we body rafted with wet suits, life jackets and pads to protect your body from the inevitable collisions with rocks as you shot the rapids sans raft. There was also a lot of jumping off very high cliffs.
Ruth and Lawrence absolutely loved it. I admit that it may be the most awesome spot I’ve ever been with aqua green water and steep cliffs. It was at the limit of my physical ability but I survived.
The worst part of the trip was being in the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport during a worker slowdown. Five impossibly huge lines. Total chaos, all the while you are certain you will miss your flight. But we didn’t and arrived back in Jackson, exhausted, sans luggage, 25 hours after waking up that morning.
I now have 800 photographs I can display on my big screen TV to whomever will watch. I have priceless memories with my family. We all got along so well. Our family bonds were strengthened immensely by this shared adventure. It was worth every penny.