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The Teen and I: A Normandy and Berlin Trip Report

The teen and I are standing on Omaha Beach early morning at low tide on day 2 of a two-day tour of the American sector D-Day sites. Our guide Mathias is describing US forces storming the beach and facing monumental challenges as they tried to conquer this tiny piece of Normandy. I look over at the teen and notice that he is looking all over the place – the sea, the sky, the sand, the road, the buildings above the beach. Then he gets locked on something on the ground. As Mathias nears the climax of his grand tale, the teen looks at Mathias, points to a puddle, and says, “Look, a fish!” Mathias gives a funny look but then returns to his story. Matthias gets another sentence or two out before the teen enthusiastically interjects, “I’m going to save the fish!” The teen reaches down, scoops up a handful of water with a tiny fish, shows the fish to both Mathias and me, and then runs 50 yards down the beach to an area of water that is still contiguous with the sea, setting the fish free.

So went my experiment with intergenerational travel to Europe with an unrelated teen… who has ADHD… and who looked at me with mild terror in his eyes after we took our seats on our first plane of the trip and said, “I forgot to pack my medicine.”

The teen is 19. I’m in my late 40’s. I’ve known him and his family through my work for about seven years. He’s a happy, smiling, pleasant, respectful young man… and has been as long as I’ve known him. His Dad has done an amazing job raising him.

Past Travel

A shared interest in military history had resulted in the teen and I taking a prior domestic trip together. We spent a few days along the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina just before Christmas last year to attend a re-enactment of a candy drop from the Berlin Airlift and to visit some military sites. During that trip, we got along well, played a lot of chess in our spare time, and hatched a plan for me to take him to Europe this spring.

I should share a side note here. While we were in North Carolina, the teen befriended an older couple. The wife approached me on our last day in NC and told me that her husband had had a number of health issues in the last year and that their children had decided not to come home for Christmas. The couple had been steadying themselves for a bleak, lonely holiday season, but the teen’s connection with them and attention to them had turned their holiday into something special and bright. Yeah… he’s that amazing of a young man.

Planning

The teen only had 9 days for the trip (with travel). He expressed an interest in seeing Berlin, and my initial proposal was a week in Berlin. The teen looked at me with big sad eyes and said, “But I really want to see Normandy, too.” Okay, okay. Normandy and Berlin. Then he said with an enthusiastic smile, “And I know we both would like to spend a night in Warsaw!” Sorry, bud… that’s a bridge too far.

I asked the teen what sites he wanted to see; he gave me a list. I tried to pull him into contributing to itinerary construction. No success there, so I created the itinerary, trying to include everything on his list. I packed the schedule pretty tight. The overall plan: early arrival in Paris and wander the city that day, then catch a train to Bayeux for 3 nights, and then fly to Berlin for 4 nights after a stop at Versailles on the day of the flight. I had been to all the places we were visiting except the Palace of Versailles.

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A Luggage Story

I was sitting at a table in the break room at my place of employment a couple of weeks before the trip, eating some sort of microwaved frozen meal. My phone dinged. It was a text from the teen… a picture of his new spinner… that did not look carry on size. A month prior, the teen and I had discussed sticking with carry on bags to keep travel simple. The teen apparently lost that conversation. I texted that the bag looked bigger than carry-on size. He texted back, “Yeah I’ll have one checked bag and one carry on.” I think a distant family member who travels for her job helped him pick it out, foiling my instruction in the ways of light travel. Drat! I decided I was not going to set a negative tone for the trip by dying on the hill of carry-on baggage (and happily had bought tickets on intra-European flights that included a checked bag), so checked baggage for the teen it was.

The Stops

PARIS

We arrived at CDG at 6 am, bought a day pass for public transportation, and headed to Sainte Chapelle Notre Dame Station

We stored our luggage at a City Locker site a block or two from Notre Dame. The company has small storefronts near major sites that have a locked door with lockers inside. I paid online a few days before the trip for two lockers. I was e-mailed a code for the door and for the two lockers. Easy peasy and worked great.

We hit the Eiffel Tower (prebooked summit tickets at the earliest time of day available), Arc de Triomphe (prebooked climb-to-top tickets that we did not use), Champ Elysees, Tuileries Garden (where the teen regaled me with stories of Greek mythology related to the statues we passed), Louvre (glimpse only – closed on the day we were there), Sainte Chapelle (prebooked tickets but a super long, confusing line that nonetheless moved fairly quickly so we stuck it out and made it in), Conciergerie (prebooked combo ticket with Sainte Chapelle, no line). We finished the day with a glimpse of Notre Dame.

The teen kept his public transportation day ticket next to his ear buds which apparently de-activated the ticket (we were warned about phones potentially doing this). Long-story short, I had to jump a turnstile to help him buy a single trip ticket, which meant I had to buy a single trip ticket, too. It worked out fine, though. The teen apologized profusely. I shrugged my shoulders and said no big deal.

I fell into the pyramid at the Louvre, into the teen on the Metro when it took off, to the ground going up some stairs at Gare St Lazare, and backward into the teen when my footing got messed up on an escalator. The teen started wondering why he was in Europe with a guy who was so unsteady on his feet. He told me his grandfather did that when his sugar was off. Sigh. I was trying to avoid dad behaviors, and now I was getting compared to grandpa. I assured the teen it was just fatigue from the flight. Happily, there were no more falls during the trip.

We made our train to Bayeux without any trouble. An 8-minute noisy walk on cobblestone sidewalks brought us to our B&B, La Colline, where each of us had our own room with bathroom.

BAYEUX

We did a two-day tour of the American D-day sites. It was too much for the poor teen. His attention span ran out – not sure how it would have gone with medication. But… boy, did he love the bunkers. Pretty much any kind. The Batterie D’Azeville was a particular favorite.

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I have to admit I found the teen kind of wonderfully ADHD. At one point during tour day #2 (the same day as Omaha Beach) he started repeatedly putting “la” in front of English words… like “la cows say la moo” … our Frenchman guide was not amused. Also on the second day of the tour, I (back seat) asked the teen (front seat) while we were driving between sites what kind of pets he had had. He spent about 12 minutes naming every pet he had ever had down to lizards he had caught as a kid and a recent cricket that quickly died in a jar in which it was placed. I looked over at the Mathias; he was gnawing his wrists open. I gave the poor guy a little extra on the tip at the end of the second day.

In the evenings, we explored Bayeux. We found a macaron/sweet shop we liked and stopped in a couple of evenings. Dinner was by the seat of our pants – Döner shop one night, sit-down French place one night, and Vietnamese one night. The teen told the owner of the Vietnamese restaurant that the food was the best Vietnamese he had ever had (failing to add that it was the only Vietnamese he had ever had). The owner looked super perplexed. I guess he is not impressed with his own restaurant’s food.

A trip low point: We were sitting at breakfast at our B&B. The couple with whom we were eating breakfast encouraged the teen to try some sort of tort that was to be topped with marmalade. The tort was cut into big pieces and little pieces. The teen reached for a big piece. I said, “Maybe it would be a good idea to try a small piece first.” Doh! The teen shifted to taking a small piece without saying a word. I looked at him and said, “That was a dad thing to say, wasn’t it?” He looked at me and nodded in agreement. I apologized. But… for the record… he didn’t like the tort… and didn’t finish the small piece.

PALACE OF VERSAILLES

The palace was on the teen’s wish list. The only way to make it happen and still catch our plane that day was a 6 am departure from Bayeux with a driver. I asked the teen prior to the trip if he was willing to do that. He said yes. We both regretted that decision at about 5:30 am on the day we needed to leave. We made it to the palace though at about 8:40 or so, hopped in the short line for people who had 9 am pre-purchased tickets, and entered at 9 am sharp when the palace opened. The plan ended up working great, despite our morning reticence. I used Daytrip for the driver. It was my third experience with the company – all have been excellent.

We got the free audio guide at the palace. That lasted about 3 rooms, and then the teen never used it again. We just wandered the palace. We ran across a solo college-age young adult traveler. The teen and the college kid hit it off. I just hung back and let them do their thing until the teen decided he wanted breakfast. As we parted ways with the college kid, the teen turned to me and said, “He’s cool.” I kind of wondered how I was described when the college guy said, “Who’s the old dude?”

We had breakfast in the Tea Room. Ridiculously, ridiculously overpriced. But also pretty fun.

We ended up wandering the gardens for about 90 minutes. Total time at the palace was around 3.5 hours. We saw what we wanted to see in that time.

Then to Orly airport for a Transavia flight to Berlin.

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BERLIN

We stayed at mittendrin, increasing my tally at this establishment to 54 nights since 2016. I love this 4-bedroom B&B with an amazing breakfast and kind hostess. We each had our own bedroom but shared a hall bathroom between the two rooms.

I set up 2 days of touring with Robert Sommer, a guide with whom I keep in touch a bit between visits to Berlin. He does an online radio show called From Berlin with Love with Dr. Robert. The show intersperses reflections on the day’s news/events with punk music.

Day 1 was around 8 hours in Mitte. Once again, too much for the teen. But… we were lucky enough to be in Berlin for one of the few days the cherry blossoms were in full bloom, which was also on the teen’s list. Gorgeous. There are a handful of places to see the trees around Berlin. We chose a grove near the old Bornholmer Straße checkpoint, the first to open on Nov 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall opened. We checked out the placards describing that night at the site.

Day 2 included visiting an old Soviet military site outside Berlin that has two bunkers used to store Soviet nuclear warheads during Cold War days. We went into one of the bunkers and explored. The teen was in heaven here. The wife of the current owner of the land provided snacks – wild boar and cheese on bread, along with coffee and tea. That made a great experience even more special.

At the end of the 1st day of touring, we stopped at the Lego shop near our B&B. The teen found a Lego Bonzai tree. While looking at the box, he told me he had tried to grow two in his room but they both died. He looked at me with a grin and said, “I’m going to buy it.” I gave a nod of affirmation. He smiled broadly and said, “My Dad would make me put it back!” Hey… score one for not acting like Dad. So... we headed back to the B&B and… built a Lego bonzai tree together. I know, I know… you’re thinking, “You were in Berlin and you built Lego stuff?????????” I thought the same thing as we sat down at the table, and the teen opened the box. But I’m so glad I went with it. Best conversation of the trip.

I had told the teen from the beginning that Day 3 in Berlin was his day to plan. He demonstrated that he’s not much of a planner, but this turned out to be my favorite day. After all my days of overscheduling, I let the teen sleep in. He appreciated it. The teen bought gifts for family and friends. We had ice cream for lunch. The Otto von Bismark memorial was high on the teen’s list of things to see. As we walked to it, I pointed out the Berlin Zoo. There was a glimmer in his eye. I asked if he wanted to go to the zoo; he said yes. The impromptu trip was a lot of fun with the highlight being the teen spending a chunk of time playing with a seal. Gee, he even is super personable with animals. (Later, I remembered that the first time I met him 7 years ago, he had told me about his special interest in animals). We finally made it to the Otto von Bismark memorial after another side trip or two, and then we visited the nearby Victory Tower which has quite a bit of unrepaired war damage on it, which the teen loved.

It’s worth noting that at breakfast one day at the B&B, the teen took a large amount of a food he had not previously eaten. I held back, not wanting to be dad again. He didn’t like it and left a fair amount on his plate. The B&B owner lightly scolded him in true German form… “You take a small bit and see if you like it. ” Hah! I’m no dad.

Food: The sushi Surprise Plate for Two at 1987 Xigon (awesome), pho at some Vietnamese place (“subpar,” as the teen is inclined to say), and some German food another night (good). The teen had Vietnamese coffee our first night in Berlin and fell in love with it. We ended up having it pretty much every night in Berlin after that.

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The Return to the US

For those who post about two-ticket flights, our return trip was on two tickets. Early flight from Berlin to Frankfurt on Lufthansa. Four-hour cushion between flights. Then Delta to Atlanta and on to our local airport. Everything went smoothly.

I loved this trip. As we boarded our final plane of the trip, the teen asked me my favorite part. I said, “You really want to know?” He replied affirmatively. “The company, of course.” Not an answer he expected. He reflected for a moment and responded, “We did have some good conversations.” I texted the teen’s dad four days after our return to let him know how much I enjoyed traveling with the teen. The teen’s dad said the teen still hadn’t stopped talking about the trip. I guess the teen liked the trip, too.

There has been some talk of another trip to Warsaw… maybe next summer. If so, (1) no early morning starts, (2) fewer and shorter tours, (3) more experiential exploration like in the nuclear bunkers, and (4) more opportunities for the teen to interact with peers.

Epilogue

I used Blurb to make a photobook for the teen about his first trip to Europe. I’ll give it to him when I get back in a couple of weeks from a 2-week trip to Bavaria and Austria. One of my favorite pics in the book? The one I snapped of the teen walking on Omaha Beach at low tide about 50 yards away from me. The sun is at his back, lighting up the clouds and the sea behind him, making him a tiny black silhouette on a massive beach. That tiny silhouette, though, is walking triumphantly… head held high… reveling in the knowledge that its decisive action saved the life of a tiny fish. I have no idea where either of us will be a year from now or whether we will travel together again. How lucky am I, though, to have been able to spend a week in Europe with such a golden-hearted young man?

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This was an epic and heartfelt trip report. Thanks for sharing your traveling with a teen experiences with us. And I think you did a great job too!

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1799 posts

I really enjoyed this!

There is something very impressionable about this age. I first took my also ADHD son to Europe when he was 20. It changed him forever, opening his eyes to the world. I have no doubt your trip with the teen will do the same.

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I loved your report, Dave! I laughed out loud when you wrote the teen started saying “la” in front of even English words! And his kind heart for the stranded fish.
This itinerary required extensive planning especially the early morning drive from Bayeux to Versailles. Impressive!
I will have to draw on your advice when I plan my trip to Berlin one of these days.
And, I suppose you both tested negative before your flight home. You tested in Berlin I assume?

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Dave, wonderful trip report and thank you for sharing your special trip - what a wonderful gift (for him, and you). I'm about to embark on a two week trip with my nephew (20 yo) - his long delayed high school graduation gift from me. It is his first trip to Europe too - and though I want it to be perfect and have forced him to plan some things, your report reminds me that I should let him guide the way.

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Dave, I always enjoy reading your trip reports but this one brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing.

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What a fun trip and what a kind person you are!

So did he use everything out of both suitcases? Would he be able to do a list of what he packed and check off what he used so he would have a foundation for next time?

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This whole trip was amazing but especially you to plan and carry it all out. Thank you for telling us about it. I hope his meds make it next time, it would be interesting to see how it changes things.

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Dave, this is incredible. I remember when you were planning this (when I mistakenly thought the teen in question was your offspring) - I remember reading of your Versailles-and-flight-from-Orly day and thinking it was crazy, but then realizing the post was from you and thus while it may be ambitious, you are someone who knows what you are doing.

Two things here : the trip itself demonstrates your profound generosity in planning, escorting, executing a trip for a non-family member (and a teenager at that !). What a gift.

And then your writing here relating the trip -- it's simply exquisite.

Thank you.

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Dave, thanks so much for such a wonderful trip report. Echoing Kim and Pam's comments about your kindness and generosity. And the teen sounds like an amazing young man. His care and concern for the North Carolina couple (and for the fish at Normandy) warmed my heart.

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Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, Dave! Just amazing to read. I’m sure he’ll remember his trip forever and maybe you’ve lit a travel spark in him!!

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I loved reading this!

My son is also a teen with some challenges. Traveling with him sure does make us look at things differently, and we have lots of those "doh!" moments as well.

I am sure you have expanded "your" teen's horizons in amazing ways, and I bet it's a two-way street. How awesome is that???

Thanks for sharing the story of your adventures!

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Dave,
I just stumbled upon this trip report and am so glad I did. I am retiring from a career in Special education in high school in the midwest and I understand the challenges of a teen with ADHD. Such a great experience for this young man. I loved your style of trip report writing!
margaret

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Great story Dave and love your ability to take the plunge and travel with a teen on a multi country trip. I'll go out on a limb and say that it will probably be a memorable trip for him for the rest of his life.

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Hi,

Thanks for the detailed and enlightening report. Yes, the Bismarck memorial and statue in Berlin, it has been years since I have seen that last, close to that of Roon and Moltke am Großen Stern. I can totally relate to the "who's the old guy" comment since the grandson is close to the teen's age and has a ready made retort just for that sort of comment.

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Hi Dave,
I always look forward to your trip reports. This story was a beautiful mix of kindness, understanding and a true bonding experience that both of you will never forget. Thank you for sharing. You made my day!

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Thanks everyone for your kind comments. The vast majority of the credit for the success of this trip goes to the teen. He never exhibited anything but kind behavior toward me and every person, animal, and fish he encountered on the trip. I aspire to be as good, kind, and warm a person as he is. Fortunately, he modeled a lot of good behaviors for me to emulate so that I can try to get close.

I will also offer that the greatest generosity in all of this by far was on the part of the teen for allowing me into his life for 9 uninterrupted days. THat was certainly something he did not have to do and was a gracious gift.

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Wonderful trip report. And wonderful you!

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Mona -- Thanks for your confidence. I definitely made some mistakes, but that's part of doing something new (and being human), I guess.

Diane -- Thanks.

BethFL -- I hope so. He loved Paris and Berlin as cities. He loved Normandy, too.

Judy B -- I have to admit that I joined in with the teen on the "la" in front of English words thing. So... I didn't help things. Yes, negative tests. There was a testing site at the end of the block on the street where my B&B is located. The place ended up not charging us anything for the test.

CL -- Enjoy your trip! I agree on letting him guide... wish I would have done that more... if there is another trip with the teen... I will let him take the lead in just about everything -- airport, walking about, etc.

Katheryine -- An unusually sentimental post for me.

TravelMom -- Thanks!

Pam -- Those are two great questions. If there was a moment's pause in our conversation, the teen would look at me and say, "What else do you want to know?" I have a "What else..." list of questions on my phone -- things that have popped into my head since the trip. Your questions have been added to the list. I will say, though, he is a very giving young man -- he used all his space coming home (and some space in my bag) for gifts for friends and family.

Luv2Travel -- I like him a lot without meds! He likes going without meds, too -- he says he is much more creative in his thinking when not on meds.

Kim-- Bayeux-Versailles-Orly is definitely crazy. As I mentioned in a previous post, not my travel style! It ended up working out, but we were very unenthusiastic when we got up that morning. The teen slept all the way from Orly to Berlin. Thanks for the kind comments about my writing -- I enjoy stretching my creative side a little to try to come up with a good read.

Sharon -- He is amazing despite a ton of adversity. I'm hoping he will give me permission to sit down with his dad and ask him what he did to end up with such an amazing son. A lot of parents need to know!

Valerie -- On travel sparks... On the evening before departure, I asked the teen if he was ready to go home. He said something like, "No way! I would love to stay longer!"

DebVT -- Definitely a two-way street.

Margaret -- Congrats on retirement! Thanks for your service in helping kids with ADHD! Glad you enjoyed the trip report!

ROB! I hope so... looking forward to your future trip reports.

Fred -- so what's the ready retort?

Janis -- Thanks!

Wray -- Glad you enjoyed the trip report. I'd say I'm kind of sort of ok.

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Love this! I'm about to embark on a 5 week trip to UK/France with my 12 year old. I can relate to so much of what you've shared ... and will use your tips! Mine wants to go to Normandy, but not quite sure what his attention span will be in reality.

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Random Thoughts about the trip:

  1. We walked 75+ miles during the 9 days of the trip.

  2. I found a magnetic mini chess set that when folded in half is only slightly bigger than an iPhone 13. It was great for playing chess on planes, on trains and of course at our B&B's.

  3. The night we arrived in Berlin, we went to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. As I talked to the teen about the church and it's history, a young couple approached us and asked me if I could tell them about the church because they did not know anything about it. Thus, my Berlin tour guide career began.

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Dave,
Where did you go? I thought we'd meet eventually! Hopefully you're still flying from GSP!
Celeste from TR

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Dave, this is the very best trip report I have read in ages, Reading your beautifully written and especially insightful summary of your trip actually brought tears to my eyes as I have taught kids with special needs and have two granddaughters that live with that particular diagnosis. What a beautiful thing you have done for this young man in gifting him new experiences and introducing him to a whole new world. Your conclusions are absolutely spot on and I sincerely hope with all my heart that the two of you are able to travel together again.

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Celeste -- As you probably know, I sent a PM.

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espabets -- I think Normandy has enough to keep a 12-year-old busy.

andi -- Thanks for the kind words, but again most of the credit goes to the teen for making this successful. I hope he and I get to travel together again, too!

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One clarification. I have to admit that I don't really think of the teen as having special needs. As part of my job, I interact with a lot of struggling kids and teens. I tell every one of them that they are a whole, complete person with a list of strengths and a list of weaknesses -- just like everybody else. I also tell them they will make their lives out of their strengths, but they have to work hard to keep their weaknesses from dragging them down. I see this teen as a very bright, working-class "kid" who kept adversity from dragging him down. He came out on the other side as a young adult with one of the kindest souls of anyone I know. He's going to do great in life.

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Dave, this was one of the best TRs I've read in a long time. Hope our paths cross in Atlanta some day. Tschuss!

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Dave, I loved your trip report, but I had to laugh at your description of Mathias gnawing his wrists open while he drove you around Normandy. I know that your life has been changed by this trip and the teen’s life has been enriched by his contact with you. How have you managed so many trips (54) to the Berlin area? It’s great that you had such good guide contacts. I hope you get to travel with the teen again.

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Ruth — Thanks for the kind comment. I need to make it back to the Atlanta RS travel group meeting sometime!

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Janet —

My life was definitely changed. He connects with „strangers“ in a way this anxious introvert has never been able to do but would love to do. So… I‘m emulating him — pushing myself to smile at people and talk to people I don’t know. The reception has been uniformly positive. It’s been kind of life changing, to be honest — both at home and in Europe. I‘m back in Europe now — in Austria at the moment — and have had some great conversations with „strangers.“ it‘s 9 am, and I‘ve already had 2 German conversations — one with a guy at Mirabelle Garden and one with a lady at breakfast at the Gästehaus.

I‘ve spent 54 nights in Berlin over 10 or so trips since 2016.

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Imorenus -- Thanks!

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When I first saw your trip report, I didn’t have time to read it. I’m so glad it popped up again.

This is the best trip report I’ve ever read. You had me laughing and crying. Just delightful. Thanks so much for sharing such a wonderful trip and engaging young man with all of us. Many travel and life lessons here.

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Update for anyone interested...

I gave the teen the Blurb photobook. I could not have dreamed of a better response. With a mixture of surprise and amazement, he flipped through the book looking at pictures, repeatedly saying, "This is cool!" In addition to the photos, the book contains some short bits of text that talk about what we saw and did. He slowed his flipping and read a bit of the text. Finding it heavily sprinkled with humor, he ended up reading most of the text aloud as we laughed together and reminisced about the trip for about 30-45 minutes. Really nice.

Final thoughts:
1. If you have the time, means, and opportunity to invest in a young person's life, do it. Not that it's motivation for doing it, but you will probably find it more rewarding than the young person.
2. If you have kids, think about creating a book about your trip. It's a really nice memento and much better than having a bunch of pictures on a hard drive.

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13026 posts

Yes ! Exactly, a photo book showing various places on the various Europe trips certainly contributes as a visual, ie, an annotated photo book.

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WOW! This is wonderful, amazing, inspiring, heartwarming...
Thanks for sharing this with all of us.

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Dave,
I just stumbled on to this fabulous trip report. Nothing but pure enjoyment reading about your incredible nine days. I laughed out loud and also became teary eyed. I am truly inspired by your generosity and patience.
Thanks for sharing this beautiful story. You are a gifted writer!

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317 posts

Dave, thank you for sharing this wonderful trip report! I agree with so many others- I really loved reading about your interactions and experiences with your teen companion. I am sure that you’ll both remember so much from that trip for years to come…and the photo book is a wonderful way to keep those memories fresh. Thanks again for sharing such a delightful trip report with us!

Laurie😊