This is the last post of a four-part series. To read the first three posts, go here, here and here.

It was summer, 1972 — exactly 45 years ago. As my grandmother Peg set out on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe, I was almost two years old and learning to talk in the U.S., and my future husband was about a year old and learning to walk in Germany. When my grandmother landed in Frankfurt at the start of her itinerary, she was just 80 miles from his house. Small world.

Coincidences and connections are everywhere in the postcards she sent home and the journal entries she wrote. Reading them now, so many years later, I’ve discovered things we had in common that I never knew before. Among them, that we shared a deep affection for Rome and if she, or I, had to choose a site in Europe that left us most awe-struck, without question we would both choose St. Peter’s Basilica.

My grandmother had a fabulous time on her solo journey to Germany, France, England, Greece, Italy and Switzerland. She made friends along the way and embraced everything unfamiliar with curiosity and grace. But she had challenging days, too. In this final post of the series, she is worn out from looking for a hotel room, worn down from battling the heat, and worn thin from trying to communicate. All of us travelers have been in her shoes, so it’s easy to understand her frustration when she gets locked in her room and also experiences a major miscommunication with a hotel manager — who speaks English!

But Peg gets back on the right foot again and leaves us with some priceless thoughts about Italian men, Italian food and that feeling we all get when — even though the trip has been amazing — we’re done living out of a suitcase and ready to go home.

Well done, Grandma. You opened your heart, blazed a trail and left me with the most endearing account of your trip in postcards and journal entries. When you wrote, “Please save the cards I send” I don’t think you had any idea how many people would eventually read them and love them, 45 years later. You’re a star! But that’s nothing new to me. I love you.

Rome, July 16th

Rome, ItalyPostcards From My Grandmother, 1972July 16
Hi! Start saving your money so you can see St. Peter’s! This is worth the whole cost of a trip to Europe. I am absolutely stunned at its splendor! Everyone just gasps as they enter. Saw the Sistine Chapel this A.M. — simply magnificent! Saw yesterday the Forum, Coliseum, so many piazzas I can’t name them. Wish I could stay 2 wks. Food is the best in Europe so far — but expensive. Italians are great — love them! Thanks for your letter. Love, Mom

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972Rome     Pleasant     Rain at 5:30
July 15 — Saturday
Went through the Vatican & Sistine Chapel this A.M. Such crowds of people it was hard to hear the guide. The Raphael tapestries were gorgeous. Of course, the Sistine Chapel was fabulous but jammed with people & had to stand an hour & 45 minutes, but it’s worth it. I am still most impressed by St. Peter’s. Its impact is just unexcelled & unrivaled by anything else.

Rome
July 16 — Sunday
Went back to St. Peter’s today & spent about 3 hours. What a stunning place. It is surely my favorite place in Europe to visit.

Florence, July 19th

Florence, ItalyPostcards From My Grandmother, 1972July 19
Hi! Haven’t seen a thing in Florence yet. Spent the day just getting here & getting a hotel room. Waited in line 1 hour for a hotel reservation. Italy is hot & humid. Walked 2 blocks down the street to see what I could find & saw the most elegant shops with marble & silver artifacts. Saw the marble eggs you gave me — big containers of them. Beautiful — in all colors. Love Italy & the people — just great! Love — Mom.

Florence, July 20th & 21st

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972Florence
July 20 Thursday
Took the Am. Express morning tour. Saw the Baptistry, the Medici Palace, Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore, the Pitti Palace, & Galleries. In the afternoon I went to see Michelangelo’s David & then walked to Uffizi Gallery & window shopped. Such elegant shops — beautiful clothes, purses, & jewelry.

Florence
July 21 — Friday
Shopping today. Bought the big platters for each family. Am not real excited about my choices — but at least it’s something from Florence. Am. Express is trying to get me reservations in Lucern & Frankfurt. The hotel got me one in Venice, thank goodness.

Venice, July 22nd

Venice, ItalyPostcards From My Grandmother, 1972July 22
Am reading The Agony & The Ecstasy for obvious reasons
Hi! I’ve just loved Italy. The people are just great — so warm & so happy. The men really know how to treat a woman! Even the porters are gracious! No pinches — just consideration for a woman. I have loved the food. Our lasagna is all wrong. Must work on that when I get home. Venice is unique & colorful, but it doesn’t equal Rome or Florence. Love, Mom

Venice, July 24th

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972Venice     95°
July 24 — Monday
This has been the worst day of the whole trip. Without the Klingles I would have committed hari-kari (harakiri). Train 45 minutes late in leaving. Train like a 120° steam bath. Trip until Lake Lugano so hot & unbearable. Last 1 1/2 hours were refreshing when we got to Swiss border. Got to hotel at 10:00. Big mix-up about the room. I was starving & needed food — no water on the train, either. Washed my face & wanted to get some food. Locked in my room for 45 minutes …

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972… Nobody could unlock my door. Finally, a man was called into the case & he told me to throw my room key out the window. They finally got the room open & I ate a hamburger next door & then fell into bed — completely exhausted but loving the cool night air of Switzerland.
Hotel Cachet

Lucerne, July 25th

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972Lucerne
July 25
I was appalled at the price of this room but I do love it. Went out to find a cheaper one. Found one on the 4th, 5th or 6th floor of a hotel down the street for 30 Francs a night. Am going to have to take it. Back at the Cachet, I packed my bags but decided to wait to talk to the manager about my bill & pay her directly. She was due in at 11:00. When she came …

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972… I explained I could not pay the price she was asking. After much adding of figures I finally paid what I owed & prepared to leave. She said, “It’s a shame you don’t pay the 30 Francs still owed from now until Friday when you leave.” I was stunned. All this time she was talking about the cost of 4 nights & I was talking about the cost of one.

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972Lucerne
July 25 — Tuesday
Today I tried to recuperate from the heat. Have done nothing to exert myself. Just heavenly to have a shower and be cool. Window shopped & got mail from the Am. Express. Only one letter from Fred. Lucerne is beautiful, but I can’t see enough of the mountains. The city is so clean & the people so friendly.

Lucerne, July 27th

Lucerne, SwitzerlandPostcards From My Grandmother, 1972Hi! Will be glad to see you all. Love Lucerne. The lake is gorgeous. The food is fabulous. Having a nice rest here. I don’t think I could take another week. Love, Mom

Thank you all so much for reading and commenting on
Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972!

34 comments

  1. I found myself agonizing right along with my Mother through her room difficulties and the heat – I can hear her frustration and discomfort in her actual voice, still clear in my auditory memories. WOW! She out-traveled me in Europe that is for sure. I am so very glad she made that trip. The beautiful, colorful and fragile handmade Italian platters she tenderly cared for during her travels are still proudly displayed in my home and my sister’s. We were stunned that she had gotten them back to us without a crack, because they are much larger than a large dinner plate. Mine is prominently displayed in the kitchen as we speak. I have protected it all these years, through many moves around the country.
    My Mom was a serious and determined, strong woman most of the time – she had a great sense of humor and a love of all things historical and meaningful but I seldom saw her in awe of anything as I grew up, (except the Rocky Mtns. when we moved from Ohio to Denver) so I wish I had seen her at St. Peter’s, the Sistine Chapel and in Florence when she saw the David and all along the way of this incredible adventure she took. To have all these priceless memories recorded on WordPress for the world to see by my loving and culturally aware, extremely well-traveled daughter is a gift I cannot describe. My daughter must have gotten her wanderlust from her Grandma……love you Kelly.

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    1. Thanks Mom! So cool that you still have the platter. What a great reminder of Grandma’s trip of a lifetime. Very happy to have completed the series and shared her travels with the world. I think she would be flattered, excited, thrilled at knowing her thoughts and steps have been enjoyed by so many. Love you, too!

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  2. Your travel blogs keep me writing. When my creative spirit and enthusiasm for the craft of writing wanes, when sitting in front of my computer and opening the text file where my unfinished novel lurks feels like torture, when I’m sure there is not any hope of resurrecting the travel story and I want to give up . . . I read and reread your blogs. You are my inspiration. I know the words will come if I’m patient and persistent. You give me not only hope, but also hours of enjoyment. Thank you, Kelly!

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    1. Marsha! Wow. In all the years of writing this blog, I think your comment has touched my heart the most. I am so completely honored, flattered and happy to know that I’ve inspired someone to keep writing — and especially so because that someone is you. Writing is such a reciprocal, reflective practice — something I didn’t know until I started writing this blog. We must read in order to write, and the blogging community is an incredibly rewarding place for that to happen and flourish. It’s just SO cool to know that my words have created hope and enjoyment for you. Very inspiring. What’s your novel about? Do tell! Great to still be in touch from so many years ago in Truckee! Thanks again for the beautiful thoughts you’ve shared with me. XO, K.

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  3. Your grandmother’s postcards were true treasures, but your intros and comments made them all the more poignant. Your mom’s reactions were a very cool addition as well. What a great idea for a series and a wonderful way to link your three generations of strong and thoughtful women! You ladies rock!

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    1. Ah, thank you Lex! Has been really fun reflecting on my grandmother’s travels and realizing how much I know and didn’t know about her. Also fun to read my mom’s reactions and share the postcards with her again after inheriting them 15 years ago. It was almost a long, lost journey … but now it’s on the internet forever!! 🙂

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  4. I agree with Lex, your grandmother’s postcards and travel journals really were treasures! Reading this series reminds me of my six-month travel two years ago, with its own ups and downs. It’s amazing to think that in spite of all the technologies we have today, some things about traveling remain the same from almost half a century ago. Such a heartwarming series, Kelly!

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    1. Thank you so much, Bama. I wish I had more postcards! I’ve had so much fun putting these posts together and reflecting on what they mean to me — and which parts of my grandmother I see in myself. And yes, some things about traveling never change — like summer heat, a good or bad hotel room, and that insatiable thrill of being somewhere foreign. I love most of all that my grandmother embraced the foreignness of Greece and really found the charm in it. Thanks for reading the series! Hope you’re doing well.

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  5. Oh I just love seeing the three of you all tied together in this grand adventure that your grandmother took. And I can really feel her energy coming through even from these brief notes. Travel weary at the end, but also so engaged with what she was seeing and experiencing.
    I stayed in youth hostels, travelling a couple of years later, and just showed up. But of course youth hostels would not have been an option for her in those days. They really were only for youth. I think you could be no older than 26, or something like that. I can’t imagine doing what she did. Don and always had a place to stay booked ahead thanks to the internet, which makes travelling so much easier.
    Alison

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    1. Thanks, Alison!! So happy you enjoyed these posts. I’ve had such fun writing them and putting them together. I have so many questions now that, sadly, I’ll never be able to ask. But like you, I love my grandmother’s energy and spirit as the trip goes by. She seemed up for pretty much anything that came her way — an open and spontaneous side to her that I never knew and couldn’t have known without traveling with her. So the series has left me with some discoveries myself, which is always a great reward of writing. Thanks again!

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  6. I began collecting postcards in 1972 when my mother sent me one with a picture of a hula dancer on the front. She and my dad were on a trip to Hawaii while I stayed with my aunt and I was completely entranced by that postcard. I still have it — about about 3,000 more now. 🙂

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    1. Wow, that’s amazing! Love that you still have that postcard! Would love to read a post about what it means/meant to you and how it lead to 3,000 more. 🙂 It seems like the novelty and specialness of getting messages in the mail from far away never gets old. And the images on the postcards ignite our imaginations, too. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

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  7. This has been such a wonderful journey Kelly. Loved every moment of it. Your grandmother’s written words are so special and the postcards just priceless. I particularly love the Venice card today with its worn creases in the top right hand corner where it has been held and touched as it made its way from Venezia to 856 E Cornell Place. Your four posts are a work of art and are virtual treasures for the blogosphere to enjoy for years to come. BTW welcome back 🙂

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    1. Oh my gosh, Andrew. What a lovely comment! Thank you very, very much. Love that you’ve noticed such a fine “wabi-sabi” detail of the Venice postcard. How many hands must that postcard must have passed through on its journey of thousands of miles! Thanks for the welcome back, too. Summer travel is just about complete so I’m enjoying the calm after the fun. Lots of posts coming up. Hope you’re enjoying today! Thanks again, K.

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  8. I love how she writes back, “our lasagna is all wrong.” I had the same thoughts about Italian food after touring Rome, Tuscany, Venice, and Lake Como. Italian food back at home seemed grossly unlike the glorious pastas and simple salads I was devouring in Italy.

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  9. I went to Rome and Florence in ’85 and was obsessed with Michelangelo for a while after that. The Agony & The Ecstasy was my favourite novel at the time! Thank you for sharing this wonderful series Kelly. Such a beautiful tribute to your remarkable grandmother.

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    1. Thank you again, Madhu! Great comment. Every traveler I know has been deeply touched by Italy in some way. Such a special place — as all of us, including my grandmother, agree. Thanks for reading this postcard series!

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  10. I just love your grandmother’s adventuresome spirit! I can see you in her and also in her insightful comments.
    Two peas in a pod. How fun!

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    1. Yvonne! GREAT to hear from you! Thanks so much for your comment and for reading these posts. I’m flattered you see me in the adventuresome spirit of my grandmother. Her postcards and journal entries have shown me a side of her I didn’t know as a young kid — spontaneous, risk-taking and up for whatever came her way. Thanks again for reading and sharing your thoughts! xo, K.

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  11. Loved reading this Kelly – it made me miss her so much (tho i always do). You probably didn’t know, but i took the same flight deal 3 years before (offered by Denver public schools) by myself (1868) when i was 19. She told me to keep a journal of my trip which i did, and then gave to her because i didn’t ever want Tom to read it! She returned it to me after we’d been married 25 years and felt it’d be ok Wasn’t she the best?!!! Reading your blog took me back to times with her – always so much fun and something new to learn. Wow. Thank you for all the time you put into this and for writing so beautifully and so lovingly. This is a treasure. Xoxo

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    1. Thank you, Vicki! Happy to hear you enjoyed the postcard series. Priceless advice from Grandma to you to keep a journal of your trip! And how great to have it back so many years later! I bet there are some great memories in that journal! 🙂 Thanks again! Hope you’re enjoying the weekend.

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  12. There is nothing better than being able to dive in the past, letters and stories capture the imagination. What a treasure those postcards must be. History is fascinating, but it is made more special when it is a grandparent or ancestor you can learn from, and begin to piece together life then versus life now. Wonderful writing Kelly, I can see there is a lot of your Grandmother in you.

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    1. Dalo! I’ve missed you! How’s life? Where are you these days? Thanks for your thoughts about the postcard series. I don’t think I realized how truly adventurous my grandmother was until I put this whole thing together, and that her spirit definitely carries through the family. Thanks so much for stopping by. Hope all’s well in your part of the world. x, K.

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      1. Life is doing well 🙂 It is amazing how much I missed being out of touch. It is really something else to imagine how our parents and grandparents were when they were young…I remember my Dad telling me a story of his youth and my crying out “that was even more stupid than the things you yelled at me for!” 🙂 Nothing quite like family. I hope you are doing well, I am back in Seattle for a couple more weeks and then with my Czech work permit approved, likely back there in September for a couple more months. Wishing you continued adventures and to build on your grandma’s spirit 😉

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  13. Two thoughts come to mind when reading this wonderful post about your grandmothers postcards:

    The first thought is that I (Ben) remember growing up in France, and in 1972 I was 13 years old. My favorite activity bar none was to go in Paris from the animal market to the stamps and postcard market on the river Seine. There, collectors would trade postcards from years and decades past. While the connection such as the one you have with your grandmother did not exist, reading through anonymous postcards about travel adventures was a wonderful activity for me as a young boy.

    Thought number two, is that in the age of hyper digital communication, facebook, emails, instagram and twitter, I wonder how much of that universe of content will be read forty five years from now? It is the nature of the written word on paper that makes it safe guard able, transportable, in a way that digital communication simply will not be because there will be so many technological revolutions over the next forty five years, that any insight or wisdom such as that passed on by your grandmother will likely not survive. There is much to be said for the back of a postcard!

    What an incredible idea for a series and what a tribute to your grandmother for being a solo adventurer!

    Bravo!
    Ben (& Peta)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, thank you so much Ben! Love all the thoughts you’ve shared here. What an amazing childhood memory you have of Paris, from animal market to stamps and postcard market! You were probably reading the postcards while my grandmother was there writing them. Doing this series has actually made me consider starting a second blog with found or collected antique postcards, then sharing them with either what’s really written on the back OR some creative storytelling of my own. I think it could be really cool. : : Your second thought here is also really thought provoking! Thoughts on paper are getting more rare and special with every passing day. More reason to write them, collect them, cherish them. Handwritten thank you notes are such a lost art! I try to keep that tradition alive whenever I have the opportunity because I know, myself, how special it is to receive one. : : Thank you so much for reading my grandmother’s postcards and journal entries. She would be so thrilled to know that worldly adventurers like you and Peta have found enjoyment in them. Thanks again! ~Kelly

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