86: Euro-Trip

86: Euro-Trip

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

Euro-Trip

You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.

~Desmond Tutu

I had just finished college and, like the multitudes of new grads out there, I was going on a two-month backpacking trip to Europe. The itinerary included England, France, Italy, Greece, Austria, and Germany. I spent the first three weeks with a friend and the rest of the time I was on my own. I swam in the Mediterranean Sea off the beaches of Nice and Positano. I explored the Roman Coliseum and the Vatican with friends I made at the hostel. Then it happened. After gazing at an awe-inspiring sunset in Santorini, I went to an Internet café and opened an e-mail from my mom.

The e-mail read, “Your dad and I haven’t been on a holiday in a while and we want to come meet you in Europe.”

“Oh no!” — that was my first thought. This was my trip, my independent adventure, my solo dance.

But there was no stopping my parents. My self-discovery trip of eating bread with peanut butter and meeting random strangers at the hostel was over. The one saving grace was that traveling with my parents meant I was no longer on a measly budget.

We decided to meet in Venice. I found my dad waiting for me by a flower stand in the small square near their hotel. I gave him a hug, and he pointed to the window where my mom was watching and waving anxiously. This was going to be interesting, to say the least. I couldn’t remember the last time I traveled with both my parents. I spent the last four years at school more than 5,000 miles from home.

My original plan was to head to the hills from The Sound of Music, better known as Salzburg, after being in Venice. However, Mom and Dad wanted to visit Italy and France. I would have to backtrack. Places that I thought I wouldn’t revisit for at least five years, I was going back to only three weeks after I had left. My parents’ idea of planning included printing off itineraries from guidebooks and following them. I had thrown out my guidebooks after visiting France and Italy to lighten my backpack. I was traveling without any plans or real guides. Adventure was my tour guide. But now that I was traveling with Mom and Dad, adventure had moved on.

One of my favorite places in Italy is Cinque Terre (the English translation is Five Lands, or Five Fishing Villages.) So just ten days after my first visit to Cinque Terre, I returned to the five coastal towns with my parents. We rented a villa with a kitchen where my dad could cook. On our first day, we spent two hours looking for the fish market. No fish was found, and at 3 P.M., the gelateria owner told us the fish market was already closed. We were too late. “Fish market abierto in the morning.” he said. The next day, my dad went to buy fish at dawn — I’ve never seen him so excited. We ate fish for brunch at 11 A.M.

On the beaches of Monteresso, I watched my father walk barefoot in the sand, the waves brushing over his feet. At that moment, he was more than just the guy who chauffeured me around, the guy who taught me to ride a bike, and the guy who told me to do my homework; he was a real person. I lay on the beach and talked “life” with my father. He told me not to be too cheap with my money. “Sometimes in an effort to be frugal, you may cost yourself more money in the end,” he said. My previous economical traveling diet of bread and cheese had left me with sunken cheeks. After a week with my dad eating gelato and pizza in Italy, any weight I had lost was easily (and deliciously) regained.

When I was young, my dad told me an old folktale about a man who lost his horse. The moral of the story is that what you perceive to be something bad may turn out be a blessing in disguise.

Initially, I thought my parents intruding on my Euro-trip would be a disaster. I was wrong, and my parents coming to join me was actually a precious gift. Three weeks after we returned from Europe, my dad passed away suddenly due to a heart attack. I cherish that time we had on the beach together, and the image of him walking along the waves in sheer delight will forever live in my memories.

~Sharon Cheung

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