Spring break is enlightening journey

It happens all the time: Some well-meaning soul gushes and raves about something ad nauseam, and it just turns me off. No matter how intrinsically wonderful or popular, if something gets too much praise, I’ll avoid it.
Remember when “Titanic” hit theaters? Never went to see it. And no thank you, I don’t care to see Tina and the B-Sides live.
So when planning a spring break getaway this year — probably the last one upon which I will ever embark — I could only cringe when my (wonderful) girlfriend coyly suggested Paris.
A few years back, a friend of mine did the standard college student European tour — complete with rail passes, backpacks, redoubtable youth-hostel experiences and hundreds of pictures. For two years I had the pleasure of listening to her unendingly rhapsodize the virtues of the elder continent, its people, its cultures and its sights.
I got real sick of it, real fast. Every time the photo album came out, you could hear my skin crawling. Too much stuff to see in America, I would say. What does Europe have that we don’t — at least to the degree that I had to hear about it every damn day? Besides, European travel is expensive and such a clichÇ: You graduate from college, save a little money, head off to Europe and bum around.
I wanted no part of it. Give me two tickets to Vegas and a dry Belvedere Gibson, up. Or how about a frozen Daiquiri on a quiet beach in Anywhere, Mexico? Now that’s spring break. Did that make me a closed-minded boob? Maybe.
But when my girlfriend’s resplendent visage radiated hopefulness as she told me we could fly to London for less than $300 round-trip, I was finished. It was time to swallow that big ol’ lump of contempt and acquiesce. We were going to Europe. No beach, no blackjack, no vodka, no fear and no loathing.
Well, it’s been less than a week since our return from an 11-day whirlwind European tour that included three days in London, two in Amsterdam, two in Cologne and four in Paris.
Consider me an open-minded boob.
One can only be bah-humbug for so long amid the gallantry of London’s ubiquitous old-world architecture, the spaciousness and splendor of its lush parks and the efficiency of its clean and friendly subway system.
So in less than an hour — despite the throes of fatiguing jet-lag — I fell in love with London. And we hadn’t been to any of the tourist spots yet. By the end of the first day, I could tell that even my girlfriend was tired of my nonstop admissions of, “I want to move here.”
After a few days exploring buildings, statues and monuments more rich with history than the entire American eastern seaboard put together, I didn’t want to leave. Sure, I’d seen pictures of the Tower of London, the London Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, et al. But the pictures do a lousy job of illustrating their majesty — a coruscant collection of human achievements unmatched by any American city.
And I couldn’t help but think of the cantina scene in “Star Wars” every time we rode the rails or quaffed a pint in a pub; so many languages, so many colors, so many types of people — truly, London is a world city — seemingly the very center of civilization.
Alas, our stay was short. I knew we had barely scratched the surface of London, but it was time to experience some rampant hedonism in Amsterdam.
Expecting said debauchery to be nestled amid picturesque canals, gingerbread-house Dutch architecture and working windmills, we were a mite taken aback by Amsterdam’s gritty feel. An undercurrent of seediness permeates even the reputable establishments in Amsterdam, while public acceptance of the ignominious brings anyone’s epicurean curiosity to the surface.
In other words, there’s no shame in looking at the pornography. It’s just about everywhere. We spent $2.50 to enter the Sex Museum on the main drag — about the best $2.50 we spent in Amsterdam — with the possible exception of the $1 we spent to take the Heineken brewery tour. The tour, a gratuitous 20-minute walk-through of Heineken’s obsolete facility, culminated in the real reason they invite guests: 45 minutes of free Heineken in the huge beer hall, all-you-can-drink. With a healthy mid-afternoon beer buzz, we knew we were definitely not in the States.
Having done Amsterdam (or Amsterdam having done us) we wearily headed off to Cologne, Germany — home of what certainly must be one of Europe’s most ridiculously gargantuan cathedrals. At 750 years in the making and with spires to rival Minneapolis’ tallest buildings, it’s an impressive sight. Without it, Cologne is just a big, noisy German city on the Rhine, seemingly under ceaseless construction.
We made the best of it, having found an out-of-the-way Roman-style thermal hot spring bath. Soaking our weary bodies in the tepid, salty baths restored our energies after the lascivious activities of Amsterdam. But we were aching to get to Paris. Ahh, Paris.
If my cynicism were to flare up anywhere, it would be in Paris; I’ve always sneered disdainfully at French language and culture. Whenever my well-traveled friends cooed sentimentally about Paris, my hackles slapped the ceiling. This would be a test.
A few hours in Paris swiftly transformed me into that which I had previously loathed. With the clean, cosmopolitan feel of London and an equally slick subway system, Paris comes with an idealistic twist — an air of reverence, simplicity and romantic love swirled about every street corner, from the most humble bread shop to the top of the dizzyingly colossal Eiffel Tower. Never mind that we were as American as Mousketeers in a sea of effortlessly sheik, darkly-clad Parisians. Our eyes ravenously feasted on the wondrous artistry in the sightly city on the Seine.
Touching down in the States, we had no idea how we would get home from the airport. No fast train or convenient subway waited to whisk us away. We had traveled through four European countries in almost two weeks and hadn’t needed a single car — now we stood waiting for an unsuspecting friend to drive half an hour to pick us up. I would’ve preferred the 20-minute train ride and walking a couple of blocks to his back seat.
I’ll spare you the rest of my ebullient European endorsement — hell, three weeks ago, I would have disgustedly stopped reading this by now. But if you made it this far, I’ll simply leave you with this:
Beg, borrow, cheat, steal, lie, gamble, cajole, dupe or otherwise hornswoggle your way to Europe. It will change your attitude, widen your worldview and sweeten your life. I guarantee it. Do it soon.

Josh Dickey’s column appears on Tuesdays. He welcomes comments by e-mail to [email protected]