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  • Jenny

Butterfly Travels: A European Summary

It all began with a long-time dream of mine: to one day take my kids to see where I used to live in Barcelona. That dream—hatched many, many years ago when they were little—never went away. The idea that I could bring them back to the place that created me—no, released me to be who I was—felt so serendipitous and powerful.

About 5 years ago, I started playing around with the idea of how I could take them back there. Neither were really the exploring type, though my son held a little bit more interest in traveling than my daughter did.

Reflecting back on how well they fared during our two-week cross-country trip, I knew I’d have to raise the stakes and make the deal more enticing.

Enter the idea for a Disney Mediterranean cruise. It was perfect. It would take us all around a few key countries in Europe, yet still have the homerun fun of a Disney vacation all-in-one. I thought it was an ingenious idea, and so I set in motion the requested manifestation and prayed for a time that it could come to pass.

Then a few years later, right when I was ready to start making this dream a reality, COVID hit and everything stopped. The world no longer traveled frivolously, and there was no way we were going to be able to take that kind of trip anytime soon.

The upside? All that time spent not going anywhere else helped to start building the dream vacation fund for when the coast was clear.

About a year ago, when things were starting to look up, I dabbled with some vacation planning. I planted some seeds in the kids’ heads about the trip—met with a mix of curiosity and disinterest. Okay, I’ll stop kidding myself. Two teens showed complete disinterest, and yet, I was determined to make it happen anyway.

And so, the planning began and then had to be tweaked when the route I thought we would take was changed. First it was going around Spain and to France with an excursion to Disneyland Paris and a final stop in England. Perfect, except there were no Italy stops. My thinking cap considered flying to Italy beforehand then going to Barcelona to take the cruise from there.

Then when the route changed, Paris and England were off the map, but Italy and the French Riviera were on it. So then I thought—well, after the cruise, then we’ll just head to Paris and England and fly home from there. I was clear that those were the four countries we had to hit: Spain, Italy, France (particularly Paris) and England.

I had this whole elaborate itinerary that would both break my bank but hopefully satisfy all parties involved.

But then I had to make a few realistic adjustments, like cut out England. It would make the trip too long and a little more expensive, and with the COVID requirements harsher there, I was concerned about what we’d need to do to pull off only a two-day stay—would it even be possible with strict quarantining rules?

And then there were the uncertainties about port excursions…what would be possible? Aside from vaccination mandates, what kinds of multiple testing would be required, and what would happen if we tested positive in a foreign country and couldn’t get back home? What were the protocols from airport to airport and train to metro to bus and boat and back?

For a while, all I could do was put down a deposit for the cruise in the hopes that things would all work out somehow.

Thankfully, the tides turned as 2022 opened up more opportunities for traveling with less restrictions. In fact, right before our cruise, testing was eliminated (for everything but the cruise), and we could freely travel through all the countries we had planned without any complications. Talk about a miracle!

And so with that stress out of the way, the Butterfly Travelers were ready to take flight on their European adventure. We (okay, just me) were ready to begin the journey of a lifetime. I knew that if I didn’t act now, my newly-turned-18-year-old daughter would never step foot out of the country willingly. This was my only chance to have her see part of the world and experience where I used to live. Why that was so important to me, I couldn’t tell you. But it just had to happen for me.

The stage was set. We’d fly straight out to Barcelona, with only a single layover in Chicago with enough time to grab some pizza for dinner. An overnight flight would get us there the morning of the cruise, and then we’d be transported by Disney straight to the boat.

I knew (or thought I knew) that once I got the kids to the cruise ship, all their disinterest and resistance to this vacation would dissipate with a simple Mickey “Ahoy there, mateys!”

Yeah, no. That didn’t happen. I’ll leave the full details of each day for further chapters, but in summary: Sam was sick that first day, then proceeded to hate anything off of the boat. We toured Nice, France in heat with constant eyerolls. I got Bryan and I lost in a very hot Rome. Florence and Pisa were made pretty miserable by a scowling Samantha. Day at sea was great!

Debarkation in Barcelona, followed by a long walking tour—with metros in between—elicited additional scowls. An amazing son distracting his sister to make visiting my favorite home spots made day two in Barcelona bearable. A flight to Paris and hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city was meh for them, but tolerable. Ended with a day at Disneyland with all green lights and happiness before a 3-day stopover in NY with family.

Well, at least I made them happy two days for certain (in case you missed it: day at sea and Disneyland haha).

In retrospect, I should have considered their feelings a little more before embarking on such an ambitious tour of foreign countries. They don’t have the same love of travel or appreciation for culture that I have—at least my son doesn’t yet, but he has potential. My daughter just wanted to go home the whole time—except for when she was surrounded by Disney fun.

In introspect, fuck that guilt. Sure, it wasn’t what they wanted, but how many kids can say their mom took them on an experience like that? Next time, I will wait until they are old enough to actually appreciate it all, but still. They were exposed to so much more of the world than their tiny little SoCal bubble, and I’m not sorry if that was out of their comfort zone.

I’m not sorry that they accompanied me back to a place I once called home. It didn’t feel like home actually, and that realization was a tough pill to swallow for me by itself, but I made this happen. I took yet another dream of mine and made it a reality. And it doesn’t matter whether my children appreciated what I attempted to do—we still came out of it with new family memories and real quality time that we’ll always remember.

It wasn’t all bad; we had quite a few laughs and bonding moments that made our time together special.

There were amazing dinners with funny hosts and spectacular shows at night. There were breathtaking sunrises and sunsets to behold and lots of movies by the pool. There were GPS mishaps, shady characters, weird and unexpected baby fried fish with eyes, flirty old men, beach surprises for my son (lol), my misuse of languages across three countries, and lots of other laughable moments.

Those are the moments I hold onto.

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