JOURNEYS: European Tour 1957 (Part II)
In the previous month’s blog, my mother and I had just set out on our big journey. It was late October 1957 and we were on our way to visit several European countries thanks to the trip’s sponsors, WPIC and The Sharon Herald. And thanks to my dad, who believed that such a trip would open our world view beyond that of our hometown of Sharpsville, Pennsylvania.
Before leaving LaGuardia Airport for Europe, we found ourselves on an unplanned bus tour of New York City. A strike in Paris delayed our flight and there was time to kill. So, our group and others from Ohio and Michigan were packed on five buses and shown the big city for two hours. We small-towners marveled at such sights as the United Nations Building, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Radio City Music Hall, and at Rockefeller Center, the ice skaters on one of the most famous rinks in the world.
Later that afternoon, we were aboard an Air France plane and settled in for over 11 hours of flight. I wrote in my diary that we were served a fine meal of chicken, salmon and champagne, but the continuous roar of the plane and the cramped seating (what’s new?!) made for an uncomfortable night.
After a short layover at Orly Airport near Paris, we boarded another plane and flying over the mist-covered English Channel, finally arrived in London, our first destination:
I was bug-eyed as we passed through the streets of London, England. Everyone rode on bicycles, motorbikes or small black, gray or tan English cars. Saw double-decker buses and felt a bit nervous at the way they drove on the right side of the streets. And the steering wheels were on the right too!
It was at the hotel in London that I met my first of several friends on this trip, the elevator boy, Tommy W. After I had dinner and spent a few hours on homework (there was no way of escaping high school completely!), we met for a walk around the city.
Along the way, we saw “St. Somebody’s Park,” Westminster Abbey, guards at Buckingham Palace, and the Thames River. As Big Ben struck 5:00, we watched sidewalk chalk artists paint beautiful pictures and write poetry on the sidewalks. We stopped to watch a “news picture,” consisting of short subjects, news reports, and cartoons. We had fun comparing our language and his trying to make me understand him which I found difficult at times.
On another evening, after a day of sightseeing, I met with Tommy again and rode the underground with him to his hometown Southampton, “a cute little town which, like all the rest, was quiet and neat. To escape a light shower, we “stopped at a shop for fish and chips” then “walked up the dimly lit streets with their orange-yellow fog lamps and neatly arranged houses.” When the rain became heavier, we took shelter in one of those iconic red phone booths. I can still see in my mind that foggy, drizzly evening and the wet cobblestone streets and remember the time as sweet and dreamlike.
I was the youngest in a group of mostly middle-aged and retired couples who took an interest in my activities as if they were my guardians. When I was seen with the elevator boy, I was asked to write something about my time to add to the daily letters and photos that were sent back to the Herald by Mr. and Mrs. S. but I was too shy to report my personal interactions to the world!
The rest of our European trip took us sightseeing in Holland, where we visited a cheese factory and a tulip exchange and saw people wearing wooden shoes. And Lucerne, Switzerland, where Mom and I rode an aerial cablecar to the top of Mt. Pilatus. That’s where I met another friend, the son of a banker, took me out to an elegant piano bar, the first I’d ever been to. The Swiss guy, the elevator boy, and another boy in Paris (who was cute but, alas, too short for me and knew hardly a word of English) were destined to be my pen pals, a popular pastime for kids in the 1950s. We exchanged letters (the French boy’s letters were barely decipherable) for several years until each of us moved on.
Next, we traveled all day on a first-class train ride to Rome, Italy. One of the highlights in Rome was Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Pieta in the Vatican Museum, not yet enclosed in the panel of bulletproof glass installed after a person attacked it with a hammer in 1972. Another special moment was receiving a blessing from Pope Pius XII himself when he came to an open window of his summer residence to greet his admiring audience.
[Click on image to enlarge.]
I didn’t really mind the attention I got, not only from my fellow tourists but the brash young guys whom we walked passed, particularly in Italy. (That was before I was enlightened by the women’s movement that came about less than a decade later.) As my diary describes it:
Every boy and man who passed would stop, then turn around for another look when he passed us. Or they would whistle or say something in Italian, smile or say something in English like “Americano! How you, How you?! And there were a million of them, especially soldiers and sailors … It’s really fun!
The last stage of our journey involved a return to Paris for several days. I remember walking along the Champs Elysees Avenue, admiring the beautiful clothing and jewelry in shop windows (and without a thought of the terrorist attacks that prevail in current times),”The women walking the streets were dressed elegantly leading their poodles!” That, and sidewalk cafes, the palm trees, and the can-can dancing we saw at Club Lido made me feel as if I were in a 1950s movie.
As package tours became more affordable and available, they grew in number. To this day they remain similar to our 1957 trip, but there were a few signs that were specific to the 1950s, besides those already mentioned. The Europeans are rather blase about American visitors now, but in 1957 we Americans were heartily welcomed by not only those on the street but by an official in each of the cities. Maybe they were still remembering the Yankees’ part in fighting the Axis in WWII a little over ten years earlier.
In fact, repairs of war damage repairs were still on-going: The Cologne Cathedral’s had been completed only a year before. We were often presented with little gifts. I still have a little bottle of cologne and its tin container from Cologne, Germany, and the tiny silver-plated Rolex spoon from Lucerne, Switzerland. And, as I recall, the food served on those early planes was elegantly presented and delicious!
I certainly had been on a journey, introspectively as well in fact. Having been introduced to new points of view, I returned home a little less absorbed with everyday teen activities and looking more seriously at my future, just as my dad had hoped for. After all, there was so much more out there to explore and enjoy and I wanted to find a way to do that. I feel fortunate that I did manage to “find a way” and have explored and enjoyed a variety of new places throughout the 60 years since that first visit overseas.
See also: JOURNEYS: European Tour 1957, Part I
– Ann Angel Eberhardt, SHS 1958, Goodyear, Arizona, May 2017.