The private high school I attended gave senior students the month of February to complete a Senior Project. A classmate and I arranged to do our Senior Projects in Europe. It was his first trip outside the USA, but because my family lived overseas, I had been through Europe several times before -even on my own.
We took the Icelandic Airlines $199 roundtrip flight to Luxembourg and from there began hitch-hiking our way south. About 10 days later (in the middle of February), we found ourselves making our way east along the lower part of Switzerland. We were rather short on cash. It was a Friday afternoon and it had begun to snow. We were thinking that we might buy ourselves a large sheet of plastic and spend the night in our sleeping bags in our make-shift tent when a car stopped, offering us a ride.
They were two gentlemen from Geneva on their way to Sion. I can only imagine the look they must have given eachother when they learned that we were thinking of making a tent out of plastic. We would have been insane to turn down their generous offer: come spend the night in their weekend chalet instead of camping in the Alps in the middle of the winter under a sheet of plastic.
The next morning, they asked if we would care to go skiing with them. They rented all our equipment for us, paid our slope fees, and in my case, also paid for a day's skiing lessons. Saturday night, they took us out to dinner and introduced us to some of their friends who lived in Sion. Sunday night, they had to go back since they had work on Monday. They asked if we wanted to spend the rest of the week in their chalet. They would be returning again the following weekend.
My friend and I spent the week in Sion, partly entertained by the new friends we had been introduced to, only moving on towards Italy the following Saturday after our friends from Geneva had returned for the second weekend.
Our adventures didn't end there! By this time, our plans had turned to visiting my parents, who lived in Istanbul, Turkey - without notifying them we were coming. We hitch-hiked to Venice, Italy and from there boarded the Orient Express (you couldnt hitch-hike through Yugoslavia and Bulgaria). We were flat-broke by this time. Although I had ridden this train before, I totally fogot that US citizens needed visas for both Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. The Turkish workers whom we shared our compartment with all chipped in and paid the visa costs for us at both borders in addition to sharing their food with us.
I regret that today, almost 30 years later, I have no idea of who the gentlemen from Geneva or the Turkish workers on the train were (aside from being good samaritans). What does stick with me is that my mom nearly keeled over when we walked through the door. She, of course, assumed that we were at school in the US.
Today, as the parent of a teenager, I waffle back and forth as to whether I would "allow" my child the same freedoms/opportunities my own parents afforded me. It seems to me that the world was so much more innocent then than it is now. It isn't that the basic kindness of men has changed in the ensuing 30 years; rather, it is our own awakening to certain realities. Then again, perhaps it is just old age setting in.