— Part 5 of a series —
Normandy, the Berlin Wall, the palace at Versailles, the Budapest Cave Church, Claude Monet’s home, and the FIFA Women’s World Cup were among the places one Greeneville family visited in their summer travels in Europe.
In June, both Eastern and Western Europe were the destinations for the Taylors — Jeff and Rebekah and two of their children, Eliza and Will Grant, along with Will Grant’s best friend, Kenny Kershaw, and Emily Suggs, girlfriend of their son, Lincoln.
A difference exists between traveling and vacationing, with a vacation being more about relaxation while traveling is a way to expand horizons and learn about other places, says Jeff Taylor.
What Taylor and his family did this summer definitely classifies as traveling, as they visited Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary and France.
Traveling has become a priority for Jeff and Rebekah Taylor as parents. The family has traveled all across the U.S., and their first trip abroad came with Rebekah leading an Education First group educational tour. She teaches at Doak Elementary School.
“We watch our pennies, and don’t eat out a lot to try to save money to be able to travel,” Jeff Taylor said. “I think it is one of the best things we can give our children. As a parent, I want to allow my children to experience as much of the works as they can.”
The first trip that the Taylors took internationally as a family was to Ireland when his wife was participating in an EF tour. Over the years, Taylor said he can see the impact that travel has had on his children and that it has helped them grow as people intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.
Whether traveling abroad or in the U.S., visiting other places provides an opportunity to learn about others and realize what their circumstances may be like, he said. “It gives you a better sense of what is around you.”
As each of their children have graduated, the Taylors have taken a trip in celebration of the accomplishment. This summer’s European trip was a multiple celebration, as Will Grant graduated from Greeneville High School and Rebekah earned her doctorate from East Tennessee State University.
The person who has graduated gets to choose the destination. For Will Grant, it was Eastern Europe and for Rebekah it was France, Jeff Taylor said.
In addition to those destinations, the Taylors also had the opportunity to visit two former exchange students as they began their trip in Germany, flying into Hamburg where they were able to visit with students who spent time in Greeneville in the past few years.
They visited Matthis Nicholas and his family in their home village of Lüneburg, which was spared much damage during World War II. “It is the idyllic northern Germany town,” Taylor said. “It is beautiful.”
For the Taylors, traveling means active days, and their stop in Lüneburg was no different, as they took a long bicycle ride through the countryside.
The Taylors spent a few days in Hamburg, which is Germany’s largest European seaport. “Culturally it is a beautiful city, which was a little surprising for an industrial city,” Taylor said. “The city was leveled during the war, and there is a cathedral steeple that survived the bombing. It was actually what helped guide the bombers to their targets.
Travel by train is one of the most popular modes of getting from one place to another in Europe, and it was how the Taylors traveled primarily within places within countries.
Berlin was the next stop for a couple of days to visit another exchange student, Clarisse Stöver, who showed them the special restaurants and other sites that a resident would know.
A highlight of the German capitol for Taylor was visiting the Berlin Wall and murals that now adorn sections of the wall. “It was fascinating,” he said. “It made you think about the fact that may people survived their attempts to escape.”
“We stayed in East Berlin and you can tell it was the Communist side,” Taylor continued. “The architecture is different. … But, most people do not realize how diverse Berlin is. For example, we ate at an Israeli restaurant there by accident after getting lost.”
Communicating was not difficult as most Germans spoke excellent English. “But, if you spoke any German, they wanted to talk to you in German,” he said.
VISITING PRAGUE, BUDAPEST
The next destination took the group to Eastern Europe as they headed to Prague, the Czech Republic capitol that Will Grant wanted to visit.
Prague was spared the destruction that other cities saw during World War II and the proliferation of block-style architecture that filled other cities in the communist eastern block countries.
“It is truly on of the most beautiful cities in the world,” Taylor said. “The gardens are beautiful and the architecture breathtaking. The cathedrals were magnificent.”
However, the Taylors learned in a tour of the city in an antique car, that the people there are not religious. During the drive, their driver shared interesting facts about the city and its people. “Seventy-five percent of people in Prague is not religious, he told us,” Taylor said. “It was fascinating to think about, particularly in a place where you see so many cathedrals.”
Culturally, the city is vibrant with live music and musicians everywhere, he said.
In visiting their destination cities, the Taylors mostly walked between sites, restaurants and shopping. The car tour was a welcome activity as the group had walked 13 miles that day around Prague in 90-degree heat. Taylor said that they had the fortune — or misfortune — to be traveling during a historic heatwave in Europe.
The Taylors’ next destination was a bit bigger than Prague as they flew to Budapest, the capitol of Hungary, and a cathedral there also caught their attention for a different reason.
Budapest is split by the Danube River into two parts, Buda on one side and Pest on the other. On the Buda side is Gellert Hill, where a cathedral was built into caves by monks.
However, when Hungary came under Communist rule, the church was boarded up and closed. However, after the fall of communism, the cathedral was rediscovered after the fall of communism and reopened.
Another memorable, thought-provoking place in Budapest was the “Shoes on the Danube.” This memorial to Jews who were executed by the Nazi regime on the banks of the Danube consists of about 60 pairs of shoes, made out of iron — children’s, women’s and men’s shoes.
“Something that simple was unbelievably moving,” Taylor said. “It was quite a statement.”
HISTORIC, CULTURAL SITES IN FRANCE
From Budapest, the group flew to Rebekah’s choice, Paris. There, Jeff Taylor, said they visited some of the most well known sites, such as seeing the Eiffel Tower at night.
Visiting the Latin Quarter, they had an unexpected encounter, reminding them of home. At a restaurant, they met some people from Kentucky and ended up singing a familiar song with them. “Here we were in Paris, singing Rocky Top,” he said.
While in Paris, the travelers ventured out to Normandy and visited Omaha and Utah Beaches, where the D-Day landings during World War II took place.
They missed the 75th anniversary activities by about two weeks, but found that the French people in the Normandy area are still appreciative of what the Allied Forces did to liberate France and defeat the Nazis.
“They are so thankful,” he said. “In Paris, it is such an international city, people don’t really pay attention to the fact that you are Americans. But, in Normandy, people still express their gratitude when they discover you are an American.”
There are still scars on the land at the beaches from the fighting from the war, craters created from the bombing by the Navy ships and the Nazi artillery sites. “It is sobering to see the guns and to think about the obstacles for the soldiers as they fought to maneuver inland when they landed,” he said. “Most of the servicemen were 18-19 years old, and you think about how scared they had to have been.”
Another side trip for some of the group was an excursion to Versailles. Walking around in the elaborately decorated rooms and the spectacular gardens outside, Jeff Taylor said it was not hard to understand why that at point before the French Revolution, it took 54 percent of France’s gross domestic product to supply the castle at Versailles.
“It is truly what you think of as a palace,” he said.
While in Paris, the Taylors also visited Claude Monet’s home, where another difference between America and Europe was noticeable.
The home of a founder of the impressionist movement in painting was filled with artwork. The framed paintings were stacked three or four deep along the walls, and the rooms and those walls were not cordoned off as you would find in the U.S., Taylor said.
“You had to watch,” he said. “At one point, my wife told me to be careful that I had almost knocked a priceless Picasso from the wall.”
History and culture were not all the group experienced while in Paris. They also had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch the U.S. Women’s National Team compete in the World Cup, taking place in Paris at the time.
From Paris, the Taylors flew back home. Now, they are looking forward to planning their next travel excursion — whether international or stateside.