The Grand Tour by
(59 Stories)

Prompted By Spring Break

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My mother had a very privileged upbringing.  As a result, she still believed that families should take "The Grand Tour(s)" of Europe (hereinafter, "TGT") when my brother and I were growing up, even though this was already a bit of an anachronism.

My mother had a very privileged upbringing.  As a result, she still believed that families should take “The Grand Tour(s)” of Europe (hereinafter, “TGT”) when my brother and I were growing up, even though this was already a bit of an anachronism.

Consequently, and despite having taken TGT just three years previously  — eight weeks, two ocean liners, five countries, the whole deal — she announced that we were off for another TGT the summer before my junior year in high school and right before by brother was to go off to college. This was going to consist of two families (very close and also well-traveled friends), three generations (i.e., one grandmother on each side included), and four weeks each in Italy and Greece (including cruises on the Adriatic and through the Greek isles), followed by a week where we could all split up and go where we wanted — including us kids by ourselves (my mother was liberated to a fault in this regard).

I grumbled that it would totally ruin my summer plans, including trying out for the title role in “The King and I” in my high school’s summer theater program (hint: not Anna).  The only saving grace, as far as I could see, was that my girlfriend (of “Betrayal” fame) was going to be in France all summer with a Putney School group, and I figured I could use my last week to pay her a visit.  My brother Tom was equally bummed, despite the fact that his best friend Richard was the younger brother in the other family (who was equally equally bummed about having to go).

I will not go into any of the many adventures from that  trip other than to say that it was marvelous in all respects and for all concerned; it could not have worked out more perfectly.  And the last week, when I was allowed to go solo to Paris, was amazing, with ridiculous coincidences playing no small part.  I found a $2/night hotel on the Left Bank, somehow found the hostel where my girlfriend was staying and then was allowed to attach myself to the Putney folks — as hip and laid back, students and faculty both, as I had been led to believe — for their remaining time in Paris before they headed off to the south of France two days before I was scheduled to fly home.  And in those two days, I first bumped into old family friends from my small hometown — who, of course, then treated me to a lovely dinner out — and then, on my last day in Paris, bumped into, of all people,  Richard. He had gone to London to seek out old pals from when he had lived there for a year during his father’s sabbatical, but, finding them all on holiday, decided to fly to Paris.  He was not looking for me and, indeed, had no idea where I was staying, but somehow we were on the same street at the same time going in opposite directions.  So we had (another) great dinner together our last night in Paris and then shared a cab to Orly the next morning.  Richard had an earlier flight so, with a hearty, pseudo-sophisticated “See you in New York, old chap,” I wished him off and killed a few hours reading until my flight took off.

As planned, everyone arrived at JFK at some point that day and we rendezvoused.  My mother and grandmother had gone to Israel, my brother to Austria; I forget where the other family members went, save for my last night’s dinner companion.

On the was back to Connecticut in a van, my mother turned to all of us and asked, “So, how did everyone like the trip?”  Despite the rhetorical intent of the question, we all went on and on about how it was the most amazing trip ever and owned up to her being absolutely right in “making” us go.  She then responded, much to our surprise, “Great; because that is the last family trip we’ll ever take.”  We kids were stunned and protested mightily.  She then added, “Don’t get me wrong; I would love for all of us to do this again.  But all of you are or soon will be going off to college and you are likely never going to want to take another such trip with your parents.  Just take your own families when your kids are old enough.”  And she was absolutely right.  And we absolutely didn’t and we absolutely did.


p.s. I realize the prompt is “Spring Break” and this was a summer trip.  Poetic license, OK?

p.p.s.  When I originally posted this story, I could not find any pictures from TGT in my own files and was mightily peeved at myself.  Fortunately, my brother came to the rescue and sent along a few later on, which I have now inserted.  The featured image was taken at a lovely villa on the Greek coast on the evening of my birthday. Everyone is in it except for the older brother of the other family (Pete), who took the picture.  Starting at the left, I’m the cool dude on the far left, my mother is two to the right, brother Tom is two to the right of her, my grandmother (Tootsie) is next on Tom’s right and Richard is on the far right.  As to the picture at the top of the text, that was taken in our hotel bathroom in Rome.  If you are three teenage guys sharing a room, what else do you do with a bidet but fill it with cold water to chill your supply of Cokes?

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin

Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    John, great story, so we’ll forgive you for writing about a summer trip on the prompt Spring Break. Love that your mother just let you go off on your own for the last week, and that it worked out so well for you. Surprised that everyone had different flights home – did you work that out in advance? I look forward to seeing the pictures when you find them.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Suzy, and thanks for your forgiveness. And yes; even my own friends were surprised that my mother had let a 16 year old kid go to Paris by himself for a week. We had different flights because we were all coming from different places. Though, as I recall, my mother and grandmother may have flown back from Tel Aviv to Rome and then gotten on the same flight from Rome to NY as some of the others did.
      Now, back to looking for those damn pictures….
      Stop the presses! My brother found some pix of TGT and sent them along and they now adorn the story, complete with brilliant explanations. My work here is done.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Wow, what a completely sophisticated family you come from! Grand Tour, indeed! Sounds wonderful and enchanting that you wrote about it, even if it’s not a Spring Break. Very cool that, as a 16 year old, you went off by yourself for a week in Paris! And meeting up with two friends randomly on the streets. The world truly is small (and much safer back then). Glad your brother found those photos to add to your story.

    When I was 19, I took my first overseas trip – to Israel to visit my brother, who I hadn’t seen in 2 years, then stopped for 3 days in London. I didn’t come from a worldly family like yours and didn’t have the grand experience like you did (also had damn Israelis harassing me on the street in Tel Aviv when I went alone to make my flight arrangements to London…it was the era of hot pants, long hair and no bra; long before MeToo)!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Betsy. In fact, I was nearly mugged returning to my hotel one night in Paris. But I — probably stupidly — started yelling loudly at the potential assailant and he scooted away, presumably to find more compliant prey. I don’t think I mentioned it to my mother until six months later. And, unlike you, I avoided being sexually harassed, despite also not wearing a bra. Go figure.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Poetic license accepted. I love this story. My husband and I used all of our wedding money to take TGT for eight weeks (on $5/day) and it was the most wonderful trip ever. Like you, we ran into random people in Paris who we had no idea were there. There is something special about that last family trip. I treasure the one we took to Costa Rica when our kids were in college/high school.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Laurie. And yes; that was exactly the lesson my mother imparted on us. We really had no choice in the matter — she was going on TGT and she sure wasn’t leaving us home for eight weeks — but I am glad we eventually bought into it too.

  4. Risa Nye says:

    What an amazing experience! And your mother was right to lay it out for you: no more of these, pal. As someone who would have been too intimidated to do anything like this at that age, I can truly appreciated your spirit of adventure.

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