For Liles, European sojourn was a ‘second chance of lifetime’

by Michael Swan

The Free Press

Johnnie Liles’ recent trip to Europe was what he called the second chance of a lifetime.

Liles, longtime Hillsboro resident, was stationed for 31/2 years in Germany with the Air Force during the early 1960s-and loved being there because of his many chances to tour Europe.

Forty years later, he had the opportunity to go back-this time with his daughter, Stacey, son-in-law Gregory and grandsons Johnnie Law, 15, and Conner Leigh, 12, from Sioux Falls, S.D.

Liles revisited sites of his memories and made new memories along the way, he said.

For 28 days in June and July, Liles and his group saw eight countries at an affordable rate of $50 to 80 a day. That did not include transportation. The group took advantage of passes purchased in advance of the trip-for Eurorail, Brit Rail and the Chunnel-that cost around $1,000. Plane tickets cost another $1,000 per person.

They backpacked the whole time as they visited Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, France, Scotland and England.

Liles lauded the public transportation, including trains and subways.

“In Berlin, Paris, Rome and London, we rode the subways,” he said. “They were very good. They traveled from 80 to 100 miles per hour.”

The Chunnel is a 31-mile, high-speed-train tunnel between Europe and Britain, completed 10 years ago.

He said the only problem he had was at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, which he described as disorganized.

When stationed in Germany as part of a missile squadron, Liles would work on the base 41/2 days a week, and then was free to travel by car to 11 countries.

He was 20 when he first went over, and actually came back to the United States to get married during a six-day leave. He had not really started dating his wife, Virgielee, until after he had joined the service and they corresponded for a long time, he said. But they had known each other in high school.

His wife then joined him for three years in Europe.

Virgielee died 21/2 years ago from complications related to multiple sclerosis.

“I thought about her a lot (on this trip),” he said. “She would have loved it.”

To help make the trip so affordable, Liles said their plan included only one sit-down meal each day in a guest house or restaurant.

Their other meals would come from little local stores, he said, and included a popular hard bread, cheese, spreads, meats and fruit.

“We picnicked a lot or outside the train station during a layover,” he said.

They found it easiest to rely on credit or debit cards, which he said gave the best exchange rate. There were also ample ATMs, he added.

Their itinerary reads like quite the travelogue.

After flying into Berlin, they toured Germany, including the Berlin Wall and Trier, which Liles called the oldest city in Germany.

“It was founded by the Romans and includes Roman ruins,” he said.

They also visited where Liles had worked in Bitburg.

“I was amazed,” he said. “The abandoned missile silos were still there.”

From there it was on to Switzerland, Austria and Italy. Finding Florence booked, they went on to Rome and Pisa. They were able to take a day trip back to Florence.

The family stayed in hostels or small-family hotels.

“I enjoyed having no set itinerary,” Liles said. “We played it by ear. We had few problems and backpacked the whole way.”

From Pisa, they took Eurorail to Paris. From there they rented a car to go to Normandy and visited the beaches and cemeteries.

They also took in the sites in Paris for three days, including The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.

Then they took the Chunnel and went on to London and Scotland. Liles did a little ancestry work in while in England. The trip also included time in Blackpool on the English coast.

His grandchildren particularly enjoyed Blackpool, he said, because of a couple of amusement parks, including one on a pier.

Other English sites included Hadrian’s Wall, built in the first century A.D.

“It’s 73 miles long and has guard towers every mile,” he said. “It was built by the Romans to keep the Scots in Scotland.”

In Scotland, the groupmade it to Inverness and Loch Ness.

Editor’s note: Michael Swain teaches journalism and works with student publications at Butler County Community College in El Dorado. He wrote this article while spending a couple of days last week at the Free Press to observe our operation.

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