Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Let's travel around the world in one post!

Well not quite but it felt that way.  Earlier this year, Marc and I had discussed the idea of taking a trip to Europe and within a few weeks, he had found the deal of all deals for a roundtrip flight from Richmond to Amsterdam.  Within a few hours, flights were booked with no other thoughts in mind.  From then until April, we diligently made plans of where to go, what to see, where to stay, and how to get from point A to B, B to C, C to D and so on.  All the planning finally paid off a few weeks ago when we left for Europe on a whirlwind adventure.  

Here we are as we sit in the airport ready to go (look at the smiles, I was so naive to "sleeping on a plane"--spoiler, it does not happen well!)

We arrived in Amsterdam at about 7am (aka 1am East Coast Time) and surprise the hotel was not ready, so we started on our own city walking tour, canal tour of the city and went to Heineken Experience until about 2pm when we could finally get into the room (and Nap)!

Pretty Canals all over the city!
Flowers EVERYWHERE in Amsterdam!

Our front end trip to Amsterdam was short lived, we spent just one night before we were up the next day and headed to Brussels, Belgium for a day and night in that city.  My sister had suggested two things in Brussels....

Belgium waffles with Ice Cream
It was as delicious as it looks, take that back, it was better than it looks!
and to see the Manneken Pis statue (yes, we were slightly underwhelmed at this tiny little guy):

Grand Place in Brussels

After looking at the beautiful Grand Palace and having a delicious dinner, we headed back to the room for an early bedtime, two countries in two days was already wearing us out and we were headed to Paris the next day.  So we were up early, on yet another train to get to Paris.  When we arrived, we were able to go right to our room, drop off our luggage and then we decided to do the Hop on, Hop off city bus tour (I highly recommend these as a way to see the whole city and all the popular spots, however, do not expect to get there quickly, the whole route can take anywhere from 1-2.5 hours depending on the route you pick).  We decided to hop off at Sacre-Coeur Basilica and go up the millions, okay maybe hundreds of steps to see it up close and personal!

We finished our tour by Moulin Rouge and made it back to city central where we enjoyed a Nutella Crepe along the Champs Elysees!

By now, we are already at Tuesday (having left Richmond on Friday), we had big plans to go up the Eiffel Tower:

But to do that, it meant fueling up with more carbs, seriously, how do people in Paris stay so thin??

After two days in Paris, we were off again, this time to London!  We took the train (went under water!!) and arrived safely at the station, lucky for us we were able to read the underground map (cause English and all), so we were able to easily hop on to get to our hotel, where we dropped off our bags and did a little sight-seeing.  We stumbling upon Buckingham Palace right at the time of the changing of the guards so it was VERY crowded! We then found our way to St. James Park and enjoyed a lovely stroll through there.  This was the day we unmistakably walked 35,000 steps and I got a new badge on my FitBit, SCORE!  After a promise to Marc the day before, I said don't worry all this traveling will be worth it cause we can sleep in tomorrow, I forgot that I had booked us for a Day trip to Highclere Castle (of Downton Abbey fame) and we had to meet up at 7:30 am, which meant we were awake once again before 7 on VACATION!

But in my opinion, it was sooooooooo worth it!  Just look at that smile:

It was so surreal being at Downton Abbey, seeing the grand staircase, the dinning room, the library, etc. I was totally geeking out and Marc was all like "What did I marry into?"

Pictures were not allowed inside the house, so there are none of those to show, but we got plenty of time to tour it and the property and the tour we were on then made two more stops at the nearby village where a lot of the scenes were filmed (including the church used for weddings and funerals in the show) and then our last stop was at the adorable farm used for filming all those spots with Daisy's father-in-laws farm!  After our FULL day of Downton Abbey (all day Thursday), we finally got to sleep in on Friday and then made our way over to the London Eye and a bunch of our touristy sights including another hop on/hop off Bus tour to Harrod's (super overwhleming), Picadilly Circus, etc.  I managed to get us lost again walking back to our hotel, I think Marc has finally learned to not let me try to direct--no worries, I always get us back, it just often takes about 10,000 extra steps. And we ended our day with a boat tour of the city and a preview our Saturday's adventure with the Tower Bridge:

Saturday, we were up relatively early for our last day in London (we had a flight that evening), so we left our room and checked our bags at the hotel then headed over to The Tower of London, where we enjoyed a bunch of history about torture methods, where prisoners (mostly of treason) were kept, and got to see the queen's crown jewels!  In addition, we saw a bunch of armour, as I model below:

Our Saturday ended with an overcrowed Underground ride to the airport before boarding a plane for Dusseldorf, Germany, were we got in late about 10:30pm and waiting for Marc's parents, who were coming from Rome to meet up with us before renting a car and heading to Marc's great aunt and uncle's house.  By the time we got to their house it was already almost midnight and we were exhausted, but that did not seem to matter and after about two hours of talking and catching up, we were finally in bed for the night.  We woke up on Easter Sunday to a lovely breakfast and adorable chocolate bunnies, a lamb cake and so many other cute Easter things, it was a nice reminder of why its fun to spend the holidays with family!

We spent Sunday night and had a nice breakfast Monday morning with Marc's family, before we were once again on the road, this time in a rental car (If you are keeping track, so far we have used planes, trains, buses, and boats to get around, so a car was something new).  We stopped at a rest stop along the way that had a checkpoint from decades ago when you had to pass through when coming from West Germany to East Germany.  There is just so much history in this part of the trip, it was hard to remember all the details, but it was an interesting point to stop at and Marc's mom was able to remember some of this from her time there, she said she never had to go through it, but it was a big deal and people avoided it if they could because of the time involved, etc.

After arriving in Berlin later that afternoon, it was about 6.5 hours including our stops to Berlin, we dropped off the car and our bags at our hotel and decided to explore all we could while it was still light outside.  By the way, in case I have not said it yet, if you are planning a trip to Europe, I highly recommend going during the spring, you get sunlight until almost 8pm so it allows more time for sightseeing along the way.
Reichstag Building

Brandenburg Gate

Mr. & Mrs. Berlin

Ampelmannchen (Literally translate to little light traffic man), these are on the cross walks and in Berlin the traffic lights that have these were in former East Berlin, while the cross walks in West Berlin did not have them.  It is an interesting piece of history still left from the days of the Berlin Wall, but now more of a city icon.
On our first full day in Berlin, the weather was calling for rain, so we decided we would plan to go to the concentration camp the next day and attempt to spend more of the day indoors, so we first went to Charlottenburg Palace, the home of King Fredrick of Prussia.  The beautiful architecture was amazing to see and we were able to go in many rooms of the house with an English guided audio tour for only about $12 a person, so I would highly recommend this (the $12 includes three other buildings on site which we will get to in a moment and also one photographer pass--which I got to be):

Inside Charlottenburg

The biggest appeal of the tour was that Karl Friedrich Schinkel was the architect of one of the house on property (as well as a number of the pieces of furniture inside the houses):

House that Schinkel Built

After leaving Charlottenburg, we had the afternoon free to explore the city some more and ended up finding another building Schinkel designed, a church called Friedrichswerder Church, which is now under construction and is actually no longer used as a church, but rather a gallery and was closed during the construction so we could not go inside.

We ended the day with a walk by a part of the Berlin Wall still standing and seeing Checkpoint Charlie.

 Since the weather was supposed to be raining on Tuesday (it never rained), we postponed our trip to the concentration camp until Wednesday, which ended up being a day full of freezing temperatures and SNOW!  But we headed on anyway since it was the last day we were going to be in Berlin, Sachsenhausen Concentraion Camp is located just about 45 minutes outside Berlin.  Because of its close proximity to the central area of the Nazi party, Berlin, this camp was often used as the model camp for videos and brochures the Nazi's used to show the "great" conditions of the camp.  As is clear now, only a few areas were in those "nicer" conditions while torture and death were still a daily part of the life at Sachsenhausen.  This camp was mostly used for political prisoners, And once the camps were liberated, the Soviets took over and continued to use it as a concentration camp for years following the end of the war, so many of the buildings were destroyed to hide what was done during the Nazi occupation.

Art that is on display now that the camp is a museum

the outline of the old prisioners cells

guard tower

the medical area, which seemed to cause more harm than helping with all kinds of medical experimentation happening here. 
Sachensausen, though hard to see, was a harsh look into the evil that can be present, so I highly recommend a stop there if you can manage, maybe try to avoid the snowy days as it gets very cold.  

After driving back to Berlin, the weather started clearing up and we got back about 4pm, since the Berlin Zoo was a short walk from our hotel, we decided to head over there for the rest of the day.  We mostly had the zoo to ourselves and many of the animals were inside but we still got plenty of time to see some of them. 


Sheep--this one would keep bahhing for food

feeding and petting the goats

My goat friend!
Our time in Berlin was great, as was the trip as a whole.  We spent Thursday, driving back to Marc's great aunt and uncle's house, where we grabbed our other bag and headed to the train station for our train to take us back to Amsterdam and our last day and a half in Europe.  We arrived at our last hotel around dinner time on Thursday night and dropped our bags and enjoyed the last few bits of sunlight while picking out a spot to eat close to the hotel.  Friday, we got moving somewhat early and actually enjoyed a sit-down breakfast before making our way to the Anne Frank house for our 1:30 tour time.  Along the way we tasted gouda cheese and explored the flower market.  We spent about an hour in the house, then grabbed a quick lunch while making our way to the Maritime Museum via the red light district (when in Amsterdam...) And finished off our last day in Europe explore the history of Maritime explorers and packing up our bags for our SUPER early flight the next day (we had to be up at 4am on Saturday).  All in all, it was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime trip.  We learned lots about each other and traveling along the way, including but not limited to the fact that neither of us enjoys getting up at 5:30 on vacation and that maybe trying to see 4 countries in 5 days is a bit much!  But the memories are amazing and will last forever and now we can better plan for our next European vacation!

A few fast facts:
Favorite City: London
Favorite Thing: how about 3: Downton Abbey, Anne Frank House, petting animals at the zoo
Favorite Food: Belgium Waffles!!!!
Favorite Hotel; St. Ermin's in London
Favorite Fact: The Eiffel Tower was only supposed to be up for about 5 years but it is still standing today--this might be the scariest fact too, as we were told it once we were already on the Eiffel Tower!  EEK

Least Favorite City: Amsterdam
Least Favorite Thing: Hmmm maybe the Heineken Experience, not too bad, just don't love Heineken!
Least Favorite Food: Fish and Chips, but I knew that going into the trip since I dont love Fish
Least Favorite Hotel: Best Western Folkstone Opera in Paris (cause someone came into our room in the middle of the night using their key card with our deadbolt lock on--scary!!!)