Globe Syndicate

for release June 7, 2002

Another Way

by Melodie Davis

In Pursuit of Castles and Dreams

What do you make of dreams? Do they predict the future or tell you something about yourself?

For almost 30 years I had a recurring dream -- both the nighttime variety and the daytime "wouldn't it be nice" kind. I longed to return to Europe, where I spent a year as a college student in Spain. In my nightmares I always had financial or travel difficulties. I'd plan a trip, and then have no plane ticket, passport, or money. I had similar dreams at least 10 times over the years, probably enough to qualify as a mini-obsession.

My daytime dreams of a trip to Europe were hampered by child-rearing responsibilities and lack of money. I remember when my neighbor went to Germany while I stayed home nursing a child. I consoled myself that "it was not my turn." Also, my husband was not especially interested in traveling abroad; he thought you should see your own country first, where the language and getting around was easier.

As my children grew they became increasingly aware of their mother's secret passion and began giving us money towards "that trip to Europe" for Christmas and birthdays. Meanwhile, through the years our family had indeed gradually been able to visit almost half of the U.S. and some of Canada. My husband became more willing to consider a hop over the big pond.

Then our daughter decided to spend the second half of her junior year of college in Belgium, and was eager for us to travel with her during her spring break. My husband has a soft spot where his children are concerned: he may sound tough but if one of them wants him to do something, he usually finds a way to work it out.

Then my nighttime dreams took on a nightmarish reality. For a while it looked like Michelle would not be able to obtain the necessary student visa required for a student stay of over three months. Our own trip to visit her therefore hung in question, but she ended up getting everything in place about one week before her departure.

Then, two weeks after she arrived in Belgium, she went on a weekend trip to Amsterdam. Her passport and hard-won visa were promptly lifted out of her backpack! She was devastated. To her credit, she managed to do all of the paperwork necessary for reacquiring a passport and temporary Belgium residency card. So off we went to visit her and five countries in ten days by rental car.

We had a fascinating time exploring World War I and II historical sites in Belgium, Luxembourg and France, and castles in Switzerland and along the Rhine and Nectar Rivers in Germany. I liked the atmosphere and feeling of the castles more than worrying about details of who owned what, when, and fought whom for control. I took in the thick walls, towering battlements, abandoned spinning wheels, large iron kettles in fireplaces, wrought iron candelabra.

The pursuit of castles also took us off the beaten track into back country Europe. We marveled at vast vineyards with staked metal trellises going straight up hillsides. How hard would it be to hand-prune all those vines? We were intrigued by little gardens on the outskirts of French or German cities. It appeared that even urban dwellers valued garden-fresh vegetables. On the many bike and walking trails between cities, people could be seen biking, walking, or exercising the family dog.

However, hunting for hotels in back country Europe proved to be more of a challenge than I anticipated. We had four nights that we had left open with no hotel reservations to allow flexibility for last minute sightseeing decisions. We thought that we'd be safe since early April was not the height of tourist season. But we were left desperately knocking on doors for up to two hours for several frustrating evenings.

Our trip home was quite an adventure (see another column on lost luggage and delays) so when we finally got home we were mostly just grateful that our daughters (who had stayed home) were safe and sound, and that we were safe too.

That first night home I stumbled to the bathroom in the middle of the night in the mind-fogged stupor of jet lag. It was like I was half in a dream, half in reality. In my stupor the windows looked like the huge windows in a castle wall, the doors equally vast and imposing; the four posts on our bed (only about 4 feet high in real life) loomed like high posts on an old fashioned bed in a castle.

The walls seemed thick and dark, and with a start I really thought I was in a castle. This continued until I turned the light on, and saw that the castle was actually my home -- or my home was my castle, if you will. Even in that jet lag haze (or maybe because of it) the truth struck me that no one has to go to Europe in pursuit of castles and the fairy tale life: it is right in your hands if you grasp it.

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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.

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