Early in 1959, my maiden Aunt Mildred had in mind taking an extended trip to Europe. Would I like to go, too? I had just met Sally a few months earlier and we were enjoying getting to know each other. After about five or 10 minutes of reflection on the offer, however, I jumped at the opportunity. We were to go early the next summer. I will tell you a little about the trip now.
At the same time, Mildred was approaching Christine Johnson about doing the same thing. This friend of the family was a pleasant young woman a few years younger than I was. A teacher, she was attractive, but shy and quiet, a person I had met two or three times before, but no one I was particularly interested in. Obviously, Aunt Mildred thought that Christine and I would be a good match.
Christine agreed and reservations were made for the three of us to fly from Kennedy Airport in New York to Heathrow Airport in London on a Pan Am Boeing 707. The 707 was a new model plane that was put in service only about nine months before that, so that made it an extra thrill.
The first stop of our formal tour was London. There, we saw the famous Rosetta Stone in the British Museum. I learned that the content of the Rosetta Stone is a decree issued in Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BC. The decree was written in three scripts, hieroglyphics, Demotic and ancient Greek. It enabled scholars to translate hieroglyphics into Greek, a modern language, for the first time. A French soldier discovered it during the Napoleonic occupation of Alexandria. When the British defeated the French there, they took the stone to London and it has been in the British Museum since 1802. It is the most visited artifact in the museum.
The museum also displays the Elgin Marbles, a portion of the frieze from the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. It was purchased by the British Lord Elgin, who sold it to the British Museum. British, German, French and other museums, including some in America, have been asked to return valuable artifacts to their countries of origin, but this seems unlikely to happen in the near future.
It was a new experience for me to eat the English food, such as smoked herring for breakfast and "bangers and mash" (sausages and mashed potatoes). The term "bangers" originated in World War I, when meat was scarce and the sausages had a lot of water in them. Cooking them on a hot skillet could produce a small explosion. Our breakfasts never exploded.
At the end of the London tour, we took a train to Harwich, on the Channel coast, where we took a night boat to the Hook of Holland, a town in the southwestern corner of the Netherlands. There our tour bus met us. We visited Delft where the famous blue pottery is made and shipped all around the world. A tragic event took place in the city square of Delft. Boarding the bus, I dropped a whole bag of the pottery I had purchased that morning. It was there that I learned to ship home any souvenirs that it was not practical to carry with me.
In traveling through the Low Countries of Holland and Belgium, I noticed the arable land for growing food, flowers and bulbs came to within inches of the roadway. This is, of course, to make full use of the limited amount of land they have for growing. In the cities, the church steeples were remarkable to my eye. There were so many of them and they seemed unusually tall. A symbol of Christianity is the church, but it is my understanding that few people attend services regularly in these many buildings. They are gradually becoming an anachronism. The next highlight was the American Cemetery for men who lost their lives in the Battle of the Bulge. The memorial there was beautiful, but what pathos it expresses in commemorating the horrible battle.
Aunt Mildred, Christine and I were getting along very nicely, but in Brussels, I bought a lace handkerchief to take home to Sally. Our trip continued and I will have more to tell about it in future columns.
Thomas is a Tribune Chronicle columnist. Email him at email@example.com.