I didn't join the Army to see the world, but I did figure that as long as they stationed me in Germany, I should see as much as I could. In may of 1993 I was stationed in Grafenwohr, Germany which is in the Bavarian sector. I had been there for nine months and had seen a lot of the beautiful country but it was time to see more of Europe.
My girlfriend, Sharon, flew over from New York, for my 26th birthday, and we had plans to drive around Europe for two weeks. We had the trip mapped out and planned to hit Amsterdam, France, Belgium, Austria and Italy in our small German rental car. We weren't broke but not rich either so we stayed in hotels at our various destinations and slept in the car while enroute.
Numerous photographs stand out in my mind from that adventure. Sharon and I had been friends for eight years but lovers for only a short time so the nights were passion filled as we explored each other, but by day we explored the sites.
In Paris we saw museums and the Eiffel Tower as well as Paris' storied traffic which rivals New York for it's ferocity. We even took the Metro to EuroDisney which was brand new then. In Italy we stayed at a small resort between Florence and Pisa, visiting both cities by day. Unfortunately the Tower Of Pisa was no longer open for tourists to go inside. I most remember the scenic mountain driving in Italy and the five star meals that barely cost us anything as dinner was 70,000 Lire which translated to about $30.00.
In Belgium, I mostly remember finding the humor in being there on a Tuesday but there were also some glorious castle ruins we climbed through. The Austrian tour included a view of the old Von Trapp mansion where the real story of "The Sound Of Music" took place. Above it all, I remember Amsterdam.
There was a highly entertaining wax museum and another museum featuring the works of Rembrandt. The Anne Frank house and the boat rides also stand out. My favorite part was the Heineken Museum.
Those that know me well know how I love my Heinekens. Well, it turns out that the original factory is a Museum now. It was less than $1.00 to enter and it was fascinating. The original factory closed because it could only bottle 300,000 beers per day and this was not enough, so it was used for tours. We even stood inside the huge, old beer vats. Oh, if only they had still been full. The tour ended with an hour's worth of drinking all the free, draught Heineken you could stand and I stood a lot.
Unfortunately, what stands out most was a reminder that some things are the same everywhere. When we first arrived in Amsterdam we parked on the outskirts of the city and started walking. Our path took us through the red light district where patrons window shopped while scantily clad woman stared from inside their windows, waiting for customers. Toward the end of the day we had to find the car.
Having a keen sense of direction we were sure we could do it. At one point I suggested we cut through an alley. While holding hands as we walked through a seedier section I saw a black man sitting at a back door. He had dreadlocks and I dreaded the moment when our eyes locked. I urged Sharon on a little faster but it was to no avail. My New York instincts turned out to be right and the man popped up and started walking beside me. He spoke in a Jamaican accent.
He started with small talk and asked where I was from. Thinking of the connotation of saying New York I instead told him I was from Germany. Slowly he put his arm around me and as he did so I gave Sharon a nudge. Taking the hint she walked faster and got ahead of us. The Jamaican spoke softly and asked if I was interested in buying any drugs. Thinking of the urine test I would have to give when returning to my post I thanked him but declined.
During this short conversation I was completely on edge, every sense heightened and waiting. My thoughts drifted to all our travel money that I had foolishly kept on my person. His arm around my shoulder balled my shirt collar into it's fist and suddenly steered me toward the alley wall. I saw his other hand move into his right front pocket and knew instantly he had a knife. Immediately I ducked under his arm, grabbing it and twisting as I went under. I threw him face first into the wall and then onto the ground where he landed, dazed, in a sitting position.
I was now slightly relaxed as I had some distance and I was closer to the knife he dropped than he was. I yelled at him that he was picking on the wrong tourist and he really shouldn't try to mug a couple of New Yorkers. Then I spotted two police officers as the Jamaican started laughing from his spot on the ground, threatening to kill me. I pointed out the officers and laughed myself. Grabbing Sharon I took off quickly and left our attacker to have a chat with the police.
As I said, Amsterdam was very memorable. The sites and especially the Heinken left a taste in my mouth that I will always cherish. But the alleys left me with a taste of home I could have done without.