An Amazing 15 years

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An Amazing 15 Years

Helmut & Tammy’s 15th Anniversary Trip



            I was 22 years old working at a radio station as a producer in Phoenix.  I didn’t make much money but was having fun working in an entertainment field that I enjoyed.  I also didn’t have a very reliable car; a 1976 Ford Pinto was my ride at the time.  I had worked at this radio station for about two years when the disc jockey that I worked with came up with a contest.  Long story short, a young lady named Tammy won.  Tammy needed to come to the station to do a couple of liners that would air periodically throughout the day.  “Hi, my name is Tammy and I’m going to Hell.”  Tammy took public transportation to the bus stop nearest the station.  Tammy must have thought that I made good money as I picked her up in a 200Z.  We had only spoken on the phone before but when I got out of the car we instantly hugged each other as if we had known each other all our lives.  Or maybe it was because the station was located in a not very friendly area of town and she thought she was lost. My job was to make the arrangements for our disc jockey and Tammy to travel to Hell, Michigan to do a live morning show.  We were married in November 1988 and have two daughters.  In 2003 we celebrated 15 years as a married couple and it was time celebrate.


My wife wanted to do something big, different and exciting.  When it came to celebrating our 15th Wedding Anniversary she wanted to include all of those things.  What I didn’t realize at the time is what I ended up doing would change the way my wife’s male friends would look at me.  For them I may have set the bar a little to high.


            Tammy had to get a passport.  I already had one from a previous trip to Europe in 2002.  We weren’t necessarily heading to an international destination, but in case we ever did, we would both be prepared.


            I started planning this trip in early 2003.  How do you plan a trip when the person you are supposed to surprise is in charge of the budget?  I’ll hand it to Tammy; she has our budget planned for years in advance.  I did have to lay down the law when it actually came down to purchasing tickets of any kind.  Considering she constantly visits our bank accounts I asked her to not view them.  I trusted her not to peek because I was brainstorming something that in the end even amazed me.  I have my moments of brilliance every so often, but this turned out to be just plain awesome.  We could not go super elaborate with this trip but we did have a few thousand dollars to work with.  The hardest thing is just coming up with the idea.  After that my planning seemed easy, yet new ideas to incorporate with my original brainstorm just kept coming.


            I was lying in bed one night thinking of what I could do.  I can’t remember what I was actually thinking about.  Then it hit me…like a ton of bricks.  Hard!  Now I had my idea.  My problem now was falling asleep.  It seemed like one of those dreams that I think I’ll wake up in the morning and vividly remember but never do.  This was no dream.


            We like to watch television.  Tammy watches more reality shows than I do, but The Amazing Race is one that we both watch and enjoy.  My idea was to do an Amazing Race style trip.  I created envelopes like they do on television, put a postcard type clue inside giving just information about what was going to happen next without giving away the entire secret. 


            I went to Germany in May 2002.  From that moment on I fell in love with Europe.  I didn’t want to go to Germany again because I would really disappoint my friends and relatives if they found out that I was in their country and didn’t stop by.  I started visiting travel websites to figure out where to go and how I could maximize the short amount of time we had.  I kept thinking of new ideas and destinations and wanted to include all of them.  Pretty soon I was at the point where I just had to stop thinking and start organizing the trip and narrowed my choices.  The one airline that I started my first frequent flyer account with flew into Newark, New Jersey from Denver, Colorado.  The next obvious choices for me were London and Paris.  I wanted to go to both places, but after visiting the airline websites, I decided on flying into London.  Knowing that flying from Denver over the Atlantic Ocean to London, England in one day would be exhausting, I decided on booking two spots on the Rail Europe Express train to Paris, France. 


            Along the way Tammy would get envelopes with clues inside.  The fourth clue tells her that we’re going to Paris and when she would receive her next envelope.  In this instance, we had just arrived in London and took a train from Gatwick Airport to Waterloo Station, which houses the express train to Paris.



So, my planning was going full steam ahead.  By this time I had an idea of the length of time I wanted to spend in Europe.  I wanted this to truly be an international trip at this point.  I didn’t want to spend most of our time on trains; I wanted to enjoy the sites and sounds of the cities we were visiting.   


When we arrived in Paris on a late Sunday afternoon and were exhausted.  I cannot sleep on airplanes.  I do snore loudly, according to Tammy, so maybe I didn’t want to get hit upside the head by the traveler sitting next to me. I did sleep on the train a little bit but I have this fear of missing the stop if I sleep to heavily.  So I slept like I do at home, very lightly and with one eye open in case the alarm clock doesn’t go off.  We were tired but we were in Paris, France.  Yes, Paris, France.  We checked into our hotel, which was a lot smaller than I expected.  I guess for the price and the amount of time we would actually spend in the room, being a little crowded isn’t that bad.   We freshened ourselves up and went out to explore the city. 


I purposely booked a hotel near the Eiffel Tower, which was about a half mile away.  We got out our little flip fold laminated map of Paris and figured out which way was which.  We were ready to see the City of Lights.  Just around the corner from our hotel was a very nice small outdoor cafĂ©.  We decided to have a small bite, take in some of the surroundings of the city block and to people watch.  What a great way to relax.  We were there on vacation but you can tell that the locals had places to go and dinners to prepare.  Like clockwork everyday folks purchase the long and slender breads for which France is famous.  Delicious.  The French folk aren’t in the same hurry as I might be in the states.  The pace seems to be a little slower and favors family more than jobs or possessions.


When you’re not people watching it is very easy to get caught up in the architecture of the surrounding buildings and to wonder about the history of each.  I think most were office buildings and stores. 


Paris has so many tree lined streets and tall buildings.  After a few more minutes of walking, there it was, as awesome as advertised.  I remember us just standing in awe of this masterpiece before taking the seemingly forever walk to its base.  As the sun was beginning to set we took the elevator to the top and took in some of the most beautiful sights of the city.  Our timing couldn’t have been better.  You can easily lose track of time when you know that you have all the time in the world. 


Day two in Paris began after a good nights sleep.  We needed it.  Today we would take in a whirlwind tour of the city and the best way is aboard a double decker tour bus that runs very frequently.  We began near the Eiffel Tower and went around the city twice.  The first time I just took pictures and movies.  The second time around we walked around Notre-Dame Cathedral and the museum area.  It was Monday so the museum was closed.  We’re not “museum” people but we were a little disappointed that we would not be able to see the very famous art that these museums have to offer.


  There are many areas to change your money but each has a slightly different exchange rate than the one on the next corner.  It is better to exchange one large sum of money than to exchange several smaller amounts.


  After circling the city twice and doing some walking around, we visited another landmark, the Arch of Triumph.  The Arch was under renovations and was partially covered with a see through material.  Once again, like a magnet, we were drawn to the top.  What a sight!  Again it was nighttime and the timing couldn’t have been better.  The Arch of Triumph may be sitting in the center of the world’s largest roundabout.  At least eleven streets intersect at the Arch and you must drive one way around it to continue on your way.  Being at the top of the Arch and hearing horns from the cars below gives the city it’s atmosphere, similar to that of New York City.


 It is always important to understand why this landmark is here.  The description reads. “Built from 1806 to 1836 to the glory of the French Armies since November 11 1920 this monument has housed the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.”  Make sure to see the eternal flame and see the photos of history on your way to the top.


It was time to head back to the hotel so we stopped at a fast food restaurant and then walked back the rest of the way.  We only had one day left in Paris.


Day three took us to Disneyland Paris.  My wife has been to all the other Disney theme parks except this one.  For her it’s nice to say, “I’ve been to all the Disneyland parks.”  Plus, my daughter Crystal wanted a Disneyland Paris sweatshirt.  I did tell her where we were going before we left.  I knew she could keep a secret from her mom.  We got there as the park opened up.  I remember not feeling very well so I didn’t go on many rides.  Pirates of the Caribbean was almost the same as Disneyland in California and is easy to notice the differences.  There were not very many people there compared to the California park.  It was very comfortable that way, but still crowded enough that it is nearly impossible to get a good photo without someone walking through just as you snap your picture.  There are a few themed areas of the entire park and spent most of the day there including taking a tour of a movie studio back lot and visiting the shopping district.  From our hotel it took about an hour to reach Disneyland.  It is located east of the city.  It was a little to far out for my taste but definitely better than having an American theme park in the middle of Paris.   


The next day we woke up and Tammy got another envelope.  She reads that it’s time to get back on the train for London.  When we flew into London originally Tammy was very excited to be there, but we were there only to board the train to Paris.  I hoped she wasn’t disappointed not visiting London the first time, as she had no idea we would be coming back.  Any disappointment she had soon disappeared.


Our hotel was near Hyde Park and was much more roomy than in Paris.  The Channel Tunnel joins Paris and London by rail but at the same time what a difference two hundred miles make.  Yes they are two different cities in two different countries, but since they are so close together you might think they would be more alike.  Why might I think that?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s because the taxis look different or maybe the side of the road that drivers use. 


We only had a few days in London too.  Like Paris, we found that you can’t do London justice in three days. We walked around Hyde Park and again people watched.  Afterwards hopped aboard the double decker bus again and took a quick tour of the city.  I am again taking photos.  Snapping pictures is my job; it’s what I do.  You can never have too many.  Having said that, in London, I didn’t take as many as I wanted. 


It so happens that we were there the same time illusionist/magician David Blaine was dangled above the River Thames in a clear box.  I’m not certain how long he there before we got there.  It was long enough that extra security had to be called as people were climbing the crane that was suspending Blaine and messing with his airflow tubes.  A crowd had gathered to watch him pretty much do nothing. 


We got off the bus at Picadilly Circus, which is similar to New York’s Times Square and theatre district complete with large digital billboards, plenty of shopping and museums.  We also found out that Mamma Mia was playing in a nearby theatre so we found two tickets for the next day’s performance. 


Today was laundry day.  There was a laundromat a couple of blocks down from our hotel.  I don’t frequent laundromats often but you can really tell the pride that this owner took in their business.  This owner was personally washing down the machines, mopping the floor and just making his business very clean.  We were starving but wanted to do the laundry before eating dinner.  Earlier in the day we spotted this steak house and I couldn’t wait to stuff myself at dinnertime.  The sun was down for quite some time before our laundry was done and then we dragging our suitcases to this steak house for dinner.  It was well worth the wait.  The steak was good and the people and patrons were very friendly.


We woke up the next morning to get ready for a very busy day.  When in London, you have to visit Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards.  We thought we got there in plenty of time to get a good view, but as it turns out not soon enough.  Maybe a thousand people there by the time we arrived.  There is much pomp and tradition to watching this event.  A parade complete with band, military and horses arrive like clockwork.  The changing of the guard goes on as planned.  It took a little while but my wife and I finally got to have our picture taken at the gates. 


You also have to be careful as pickpockets frequent this area full of tourists.  Undercover Bobbies and those on horses keep an eye out for known thieves.  They have very good eyes and arrested a thief or two while we were there.  Still had all my money.


We lost our sense of direction trying to leave and ended up doing a little bit of walking before finding The Underground or “Tube” subway station. We found our way onto a river cruise taking in the sights like the Tower Bridge, The London Eye, The Tower of London and more.  Now we had to go to Picadilly Circus to pick up our Mamma Mia tickets.  We purchased them from a broker and had to claim them by a certain time.  We got our tickets.  I had become a little under the weather and had a few sniffles.  We saw the show and had a great time.


            Our trip to Europe was exhausting.  Combined with the flight over the Atlantic, loosing time doing so, a trip to Paris and back to London on a train is a little much in just seven days.  If I could do the same trip again I would definitely do things differently.


            Tammy opens a new envelope today.  She reads that we are going to the airport and heading back to New York City.  There are a few positives going back to New York.  First, time is gained going the other way.  Secondly, we are only traveling a little more than half way back home.  Thirdly, I know that the rest of the trip is not as hectic as the first part, Tammy doesn’t.


            New York City is one of my favorite places.  As a tourist you can’t help but be amazed at the vastness of this city, the population of the city and it’s history.  We have three days to spend here.  We do all the usual stuff that all the tourists do, visit the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Central Park, and the World Trade Center Site.  Riding the subway is an interesting experience.  I am concerned with looking like a tourist in any city.  I travel with a digital camera and a video camera with both camera cases hanging over my chest, with the strap practically cutting of my air supply as I am trying to make my cameras less easy for a thief to take it away. 



Spending three days in NYC was fun but I knew it would be time to move on.  My wife and I have always wanted to visit Niagara Falls.  Easy enough.  On the way we drove into upstate New York toward Ballston Spa.  The company we work for has a regional office there.  This was a good excuse to drive by and see the office.  No doubt about it this is a very pretty area.


To be continued…

emmllerg says:
Enjoy your next vacation to Paris
Posted on: Jun 02, 2013
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photo by: lasersurge