Winter Wandering Through Europe!!!
Nov 29, 2011
|I wandered through 10 European countries on a 26 day Contiki tour!!! It was a once in a lifetime experience. I saw a ton of the "check the box" sites throughout Europe. Overall, all 10 countries were basically what I expected and day dreamed about! England, France, Spain, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, and the Netherlands were all fantastic! Italy was by far my favorite country on this tour and the French Riviera was my favorite stop on the trip. My group was average.. I had just come off a Contiki tour with the best group of people I have traveled with yet, so it was going to be hard to top. The bus was packed!! 53 people on tour meant not one spare seat on the bus!
First stop after leaving London was France. We got to Paris in the evening, so after dinner I went into the city and Paris by night is gorgeous!! I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, which was just stunning! I was so excited to see the Eiffel Tower, but the pyramids in Egypt still top the Eiffel Tower as far as sites to see and a "take your breath away moments." What a vibe in the city at night! It was magical. So romantic!! I would love to go back to Paris one day with my future husband!! You see so many lovers throughout the city and along the fence near the river and the Louvre. It's tradition for lovers to lock a lock on the fence! It is a really cool site to see. A lot of the locks have names and dates on them. Day two in Paris was my 29th Birthday!! What an amazing day I had in Paris :-) I seriously could not have had a better day- I am so blessed! I saw the sunrise and all day there was beautiful blue sky without even 1 cloud the entire day!! I saw the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, which to me is completely overrated compared to the other artwork in the museum. I walked through the Notre Dame cathedral, which was lovely, had some great French food for lunch at a cafe and walked back to the Eiffel Tower for pictures during the day! I was exhausted, but that night my group was going out to see the famous Moulin Rouge!!! I was so excited! Of course I managed to tell my entire group it was my birthday even though it was only day 2 of the tour :-) At the show I got a free bottle of wine, cake that came with a candle, and a birthday shout out on stage!! Not to mention the show was sooooo good! All in all it was one of the best birthdays I have ever had despite not opening one birthday present or getting cards in the mail, or receiving any phone calls!!! Thank you Judy for giving me a birthday card to open before my big trip started. And I have to acknowledge my awesome parents as they tried sending me mail, but it got lost somewhere in France! At least I am not lost in France!! haha Thank you to everyone that emailed or left me Facebook comments, those meant the world to me as email and Facebook are my only ways of communication! I liked Paris a lot more than I thought I would; however, I do think the people were rude.
Switzerland was the next stop. I stayed 2 nights in Lucern. It was an adorable quaint city. I took a train up to the Swiss Alps, which were so pretty. The Alps were massive. I wish I could ski down them! I rode up the world's steepest cog railway. At about 7000 feet I enjoyed the full blown views of rugged mountain ranges and lakes. The real Swiss chocolate was of course delicious! I enjoyed an authentic Swiss Fondue Lunch, which was delightful, but not as good as my Mom's famous Swiss Cheese Fondue! We also stopped in Geneva, which was beautiful and a bit larger than Lucern.
Back to France as I stayed in the wine country of France in a real castle!! Chateau Fontager!!! I thought the place was haunted!! Perfect timing since it was almost Halloween! Every room in the castle had a different theme. My room's theme was red roses!
Barcelona - I was disappointed in Barcelona. From what I have seen of Spain: Ibiza, passed through Madrid, and now Barcelona I think I am all set with Spain. People did not know much English, there were not too many sites to see and it was dirty. The famous church Gaudi's Sagrada Familia was the most beautiful church I have ever seen behind the Vatican. Seeing the 1992 Olympic Games complex was awesome. The Sangria and Tapas made Barcelona all worth it!! The nightlife in Barcelona was rocking! The clubs and bars were very fun. I went to an authentic Flamenco show which was interesting. The people take their dancing and tapping very very seriously!
Now to my favorite stop: The French Riviera!!! I traveled through Cannes to the glamourous resort town of Nice!! It was so warm, beautiful, and full of life! Nice has such great energy! I stayed in a nice hotel just a few blocks from the beach - so I easily fell in love with Nice as the beach is my favorite place on the planet! The nightlife was fun as well. I enjoyed a very cruisy day sitting on the beach and swimming, but the beaches were rocky verse sandy. Other than rude people I love France! It's up there with Italy being my favorite country on this tour.
I was able to get a taste of the high life in the teeny tiny rich country of Monaco! I stood right outside the royal palace - home of Monaco's glamorous royal family and former residence of movie star Grace Kelly. I ate in style at one of the top restaurants and enjoyed a four course meal with local wine! I am seriously living the dream life!
Finally Italy!!! First stop Pisa! The leaning tower of Pisa is quite funny!!!! It's just what you would expect to see. It is very awkward. Pisa is in the middle of nowhere, so without the tower this town would probably dwindle away - and it's not going to be there forever! It's Halloween and I'm loving it! I was with mostly Australians and they don't really see what all the halloween hype is about, so I had a great time trying to explain it to them! I wore orange and cat ears during the day and I dressed up as a leprechaun that night! I got to Florence that evening and had a spooky night celebrating my favorite holiday! Florence means flowers and it is obvious why - as the beauty is radiant across the city. I really enjoyed the walking tour of Florence as it is definitely one of Italy's most atmospheric cities. Seeing "David" was iconic and I saw a "real" verse "fake" leather demonstration, which was quite interesting. I decided to buy my first souvenir for myself since I started my trip! I bought an authentic Italian leather jacket. It's teal and so beautiful!!! It will last forever :-) Then the next day I was off jet setting to Rome!! Possibly the best city in the world. I needed a whole week there and I only had 2 nights! I would love to go back to Rome and the beaches on the east coast of Italy someday. Being in Rome seemed surreal. I seriously had to pinch myself. I saw the famous Trevi Fountain and tossed coins over my shoulder for love and luck! I also saw the Piazza Venezia, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Colosseum and the Roman Forum in Rome. Of course St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City! I went to mass and a blessing by the Pope!!!!!! It was unbelievable. You needed a ticket to get it, which I did not have and they had reached max capacity for the service weeks ago. I swear I have the best luck of anyone on the planet! I was just walking around and taking pictures outside The Vatican and this man came up to me, he asked me if I was alone, which I was!! Then he told me he had 1 spare ticket and asked if I wanted it! I was so happy I started crying!! So I ended up going to the mass and I was blessed by the Pope!!! It took my breath away to say the least. This moment is up there with the pyramids. Listening to prayers in several different languages was extremely powerful. This particular day I felt my grandparents watching over me! I am sooo blessed! Rome the "Eternal City" is one of a kind! Next on my Italian adventure was stunning Venice. I truly enjoyed meandering through the "floating city's" alleyways and canals until I was lost and seriously had to run to the ferry so I was not left behind! Venice is enchanting to say the least. I went on a gondola ride in the Grand Canal. It was super fun sitting back watching the city open up from the canals in a gondola. I enjoyed champagne with some new friends and tried to soak in as much as possible! From magnificent palaces looming in the distance to the local's laundry strung across the backwaters- Venice has true charm! I also enjoyed a walking tour of the "floating city" as well as a lace and glass blowing demonstration! Venice was magical :-)
Austria! I rode through the Dolomite Mountains to Austria's culture capital, Vienna. Vienna's spirit literally waltzes right up out of nowhere. There is a wealth of music, cafes, parks, architecture and of course plenty of strudel to taste! Austrian heritage is rich with Mozart and Strauss. I can't forget to mention the Old Vienna Schnapps Museum! I had a very relaxing stay in Vienna! On my way out of Austria I stopped at one of the Nazi concentration camps in Austria named Mauthausen. It was a very difficult couple hours walking around the camp and watching a documentary that made the history of WWII and Hitler just seem too alive at that current moment. It gives me the chills thinking about this moment in my travels again. I could not stop crying. I felt very empty. It was bone chilling standing in the same spot as hundreds and thousands innocent human beings that were murdered. Words can not describe it. The history and events that took place in our world, which are still pretty recent history, were right there in front of me.
Finally I got my first taste of Germany in Munich. Munich was a clean city with good shopping and mostly famous for Oktoberfest, which I unfortunately missed by a couple weeks. However, I got my fair share of the excitement at Munich's largest beer hall, Hofbrauhaus. If you are a pork and beer lover than you will love Germany!!! I love beer; however, pork is not my favorite especially when it is served as pork knuckle! Yuck!
Czech Republic - Prague!!! One reason why I chose this Contiki tour was because it went to Prague!! Most tours do not make it to Prague.. And Prague has been at the top of my list of places to visit for sometime now! Needless to say, I was very excited to arrive in this medieval city. Many people claim Prague is the most beautiful city in Europe. I would not doubt it! Although at this point in my trip it was getting cold, so I have to admit I was day dreaming about Dubai and southeast Asia!! The shopping was excellent as well as the nightlife. Beer was a bargain in Prague compared to the rest of Europe. I went on a lunchtime cruise up the River Vlatva, which was a cool perspective of the city!
Back to Germany! Now I was in route to historical Berlin. I went on a captivating walking tour of the city that lasted for several hours. There is so much history in Berlin it's crazy! Discovering the 20th century of Berlin is almost creepy as I stood in front of Hitler's headquarters', his underground bunker, and the spot where he committed suicide. Seeing part of the Berlin Wall and learning about East German communism including a visit to the Holocaust Memorial was all very sobering.. That night I went on a "Eye Spy Berlin" pub-crawl. It was not your typical pub-crawl. It was an evening packed with uncovering the background on the Stasi- the East German secret police. I visited the once secret Tunnel 57 and the death strip! Berlin was absolutely freezing - 32 degrees in mid Nov.. For me that is way too cold unless I am skiing down a mountain! Thus I was ready to leave as soon as I got there.
Amsterdam! My final stop in Europe!!! What a beautiful city!! I have never ever seen as many bikes as I did in Amsterdam. Bikes rule the city. They have their own lane that is painted red and trust me - stay out! I was walking behind friends and I had friends behind me and I still got hit by a bike! Luckily it was not a big deal, but scary for sure! Even though I heard all about the "red light district" in Amsterdam it was still shocking!!!! The girls in the windows were young, old, beautiful, fat, and ugly all just standing in high heels waiting to prostitute themselves off. This world was unknown to me! Apparently most charge 50 euros for 20 minutes. When their curtain was down they were "busy." It was unreal. On another note, I really enjoyed the Anne Frank Museum. It was sad, strange and amazing all at the same time. After visiting Berlin and the concentration camp in Austria seeing Anne Frank's house brought WWII history full circle for me. I really enjoyed the Heineken Brewery as well and similar to the Guinness Brewery I actually liked the fresh Heineken. I was really enjoying the ice cold Heineken as I was thinking how jealous my Dad would be of me at that current moment! I also saw a really strange parade that happens every Sunday in mid November. Hundreds of white people paint themselves black and dance in celebration up and down the streets of Amsterdam and the parade concludes with Santa Clause! It was the Dutch form of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade I suppose! But white people painting themselves black would definitely not be accepted in America. Apparently the concept is that all of Santa's helpers have been very busy all year long and have been covered in chimney "soot" getting ready for Christmas! Strange - I know!!! It was bizzare but a cultural experience. Amsterdam reminded me of a Venice and Copenhagen mix!!
I really have enjoyed wandering through Europe as I have been yearning to go since summer of 2005, but I am ready to move East! My favorite countries so far are Ireland, Australia (I visited the land down under in Jan/Feb of this year), and Italy - not necessarily in that order! Pyramids are still my number one moment with seeing the Pope right there as well! Nice is my favorite spot in Europe. With that being said- I am Europed out but not traveled out!! I get asked all the time if I am homesick or tired of traveling and the answer is no!! I have met some amazing people on my journey of a lifetime and luckily with Skype I have met my nephew Jack!!! I Skype with my sister Julie and Jack at least once a week if not more and same with my parents. I literally have had internet everywhere, so it's been refreshing still feeling connected to home. I could not be more blessed with my family and most of my good friends supporting and emailing me! Thank-you!!! Bring on the palm trees, beach, and camels of the middle east! Dubai here I come :)