Watch Out Griswald’s, the Fry’s Are the Next International Travel Experts

Laughing in the rain

We just touched down from our escapades across France and London and the Griswalds’ European Vacation seems like a leisurely stroll in comparison. Our secret? We thrive on chaos! While others might see travel as a chance to kick back and relax, we treat it like an extreme sport and make the best of any circumstance. This trip did not disappoint.

We learned our travel skills from the movie, “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium”. For us, travel is not some leisurely respite filled with afternoon siestas and long days on the beach. If we had a family anthem, it would be, “Challenge accepted.” Six countries in eight days – done. London in one day – no problem. Seven hours in a car followed by dinner and evening plans – why not?

But, when things do come up – and they do – we have to be willing to call an audible and change plans on the fly. That happened to us on our last trip. First, our adventure started with a full-day delay getting out of Boston due to plane issues. So, instead of a car tour of Paris followed by an afternoon at the Lourve and fancy dinner, we punted. We rescheduled the van, changed the Lourve tickets, explained to our friends who flew in Vienna that they’d have to enjoy Paris on their own, and rescheduled the dog sitter.

We arrived in Paris to our new driver and his luxury van, grabbed our luggage, and headed to the hotel. We had the most amazing dinner filled with course after course of a five-star tasting menu. Around course four, Liam (my 12-year-old nephew) faded and had to go back to the hotel to sleep. But, we carried on with French toast with sardine sauce, blood sausage with apples and apple peel powder, melt-in-your-mouth veal, meringues and a log filled with tiny, scrumptious desserts. We shared stories of watching “The Bear” with the chefs after dinner as it felt like we were living out the Michelin star experience. 

The next morning, we took on the challenge of Paris in a day. Our friends, Sabine and Michael, were great sports and met us for dinner and a tour. An hour of waiting and our tour still hadn’t shown up. So, we all jumped into action. Calls were made, websites consulted, concierges engaged. Within 30 minutes, Renee managed to talk to our driver from the airport who was to bring the luxury van and pick us up and the six of us on an all-day tour. Unfortunately, something got lost in translation and instead, his buddy (who spoke no English) showed up for a station wagon. It was cold and pouring, so we all piled in the car and headed to Montmartre. Ten minutes in and poor Michael was getting leg cramps and we couldn’t see out the windows as we had some many large bodies squeezed in such a little place.

We left our friends at the beautiful white church as they smartly opted for public transportation to a restaurant they wanted to try before flying back to Vienna. Meanwhile, the four of us piled back in the car and used Google translate to direct our driver as to where to go. 

Our driver was so proud of himself to take us right by things like the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe, or the Musée de l’Orangerie. He would drive us past a landmark, pull over and ask if we wanted to get out and take pictures. Without hesitation, we’d all answer, “No, drive on.” It was way too cold and rainy and we were way too jetlagged to enjoy it. A few of the passengers may have been asleep for a majority of the tour.

We finished the driving tour and hopped out at the Louvre, which was amazing. When we got there, my handicap parking permit let us bypass all the lines and allowed me to borrow a wheelchair. Liam may be my favorite travel partner ever. He pushed me through the entire Louvre like he was training as a Paris Olympic speed walker. From the Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians to the Islamic and Renaissance masters, we made through the world’s largest museum like we were being chased by Winged Victory. Plus, when you’re in a wheelchair wearing a mask announcing, “Pardon us, excuse me!” it’s amazing how many people will get out of the way.

The staff at the Louvre was amazing and even let Liam and Renee push me right past the crowds and in front of the Mona Lisa. Next up, a boat tour of the Siene, the Eiffel Tower and dinner in a café. Thank you to the nice French people who helped Renee get help as she was getting so frustrated by the others viewing the Mona Lisa that she was about to go all American on them and get me to the front, no holds barred.

We had planned on renting an electric van, but Ryan (my brother-in-law) upgraded us to a massive gas-powered van. (When I write massive, I mean massive.) On the way out of town, Liam got to be the DJ and chose the US National Anthem. Ever the die-hard Americans, we left Paris behind with our hands on our hearts busting out the National Anthem for all to hear.

Seven hours later, we arrived in Lourdes, France. We sat down to dinner and the woman next to us had a flaming pizza. Oh yeah, I needed that. You could tell we were not in the US because it arrived with a two-foot flame. It may have tasted a little bit like kerosene, but it was totally worth it. Until that night that is.

We stayed at a fabulous hotel that overlooked the Lourdes Chapel. They had a 40EU breakfast, 150EU manicure, and 95EU soap. They didn’t have a single coupon, so we forwent those luxuries. Other than that, it was the perfect hotel. It was the perfect hotel; which was great as I got super sick that night and didn’t leave my bed except to head to the bathroom for three days.

I was so thankful I had Gentreo! Before I left, I had updated my digital vault with my latest medical information and a copy of my international health insurance card. I’m doing active cancer treatment and on a good day am dehydrated. Two days in and I reached out to my doctors who gave me one day to get better or get to experience the French hospital system. 72 Hours later and I was able to leave the hotel and visit Lourdes.

Gentreo ad part – If you are traveling, you need Gentreo as without it, I wouldn’t have been able just to click to be able to share my medications, doctors information and more. Nothing like being in a country where you can’t speak the language and need to explain everything.

Thankfully, we rented a double scooter to take us around Lourdes. Once I could make it upright, Liam became my driver and off we zoomed. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Lourdes, do it! It was stunningly beautiful and a transcendent experience. 

Mary appeared to St. Bernadette and told her to dig in the ground and soon a spring appeared. The waters have been proven to provide miracles and millions flock there for healing and blessings. While we were there, we had the opportunity to go to confession, attend Mass, light candles, pray for our own healing and those of our friends and loved ones. Plus, we washed ourselves in the waters, immersed religious medals in the waters and collected gallons to bring back with us. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

Unfortunately, just as I was getting better Ryan got sick and was out for the count for two days as well. He was so sick, he even let me drive back to Paris. On the way, we took a few hours to stop by the wine museum in Bordeaux. It was at least one thing we could check off our list as we had to cancel things like Versailles and staying in a hotel in a cave as we were getting sick and didn’t get to leave the hotel.

On the way home, we had a day layover and did all of London in a day. From the changing of the guard and the London Eye to the best Turkish meal I’ve had and a drive over the London Bridge and through the landmarks, we accomplished more in one day than most people do in a week. We arrived back in the US happy to be home to a dog that was so happy to see us, she went to the bathroom all over herself and ran throughout the house getting poop everywhere.

So, after changing her three beds, washing rugs, mopping, and disinfecting, we finally got to take a vacation from our vacation. That weekend, we all stayed in our PJ’s and spent $4 to rent the movie European vacation. While it was hysterical, I’m sure that we had more fun and made more memories on our real-life adventure than the Griswald’s ever had. Our journey? Now that’s comedy gold.


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