The Grand Tour

While living in Portland, Maine, I took vacation time to visit Europe. I flew Icelandic Airlines, which was the popular cheap way to get to Europe in those days. The plane stopped in Reykjavík, naturally, so I had to deplane and walk to the terminal in order say I had visited Iceland! I landed in Luxembourg and began a circle trip, returning and flying back as I had come.

With a Eurail pass, my first stop was Bonn, Germany, when I had the use of a friend of a friend’s apartment for three days. I had never studied German, but I took to it easily and found my way around. Bonn struck me as a boring city, though it had some great buildings from the days when it was the capital of West Germany. A saving grace was the Beethoven museum and concert hall. I took a day to go up to Cologne to visit the cathedral.

My next stop was Amsterdam, though it was only a pass-through to Haarlem, the real reason for this tour. I had secured a place in the Haarlem International Organ Course, a big deal among organists. I studied organ works of Bach and Céasar Franck on the organ at the Bavokerk, the “cathedral” of Haarlem. This magnificent organ, the only remaining instrument of the builder, had been played by Mozart. It was a thrill to sit where Mozart had sat and to play the same instrument he had played. I then returned to Amsterdam for a few days to walk the canals, visit the Anne Frank house, and spend time in the Vincent Van Gogh Museum.

It was time to get back on the train and head to Brussels. Unfortunately, I arrived on a weekend when nothing was open, and no people were to be seen. Another boring city, but with beautiful architecture. I followed this with three days in Paris. I got by with my limited French but found people to be of no help. Pure joy for me was feeding my love for French impressionist art. I spent most of my time in the Louvre and l’Orangerie in the Tuileries gardens. I also attended Mass at the Basilica of St. Clotilde, Franck’s church.

It was now time to head home. I took the train back to Luxembourg, but I made a big mistake. When the crowd of passengers got up to go to the dining car, I decided I would wait for the second seating. Well, there was no second seating. I was absolutely starved by the time I reached Luxembourg City. To make matters worse, my plane was delayed, and I lost my connection in New York. To top this, I was very sick (food poisoning?), had to sleep on the airport floor for a night, and finally got a plane home the next day.

Still, it was a grand tour.

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