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.
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.
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.