Sunday, January 31, 2010
Europe Road Trip... 2 months, 30 countries, and lots of love!
This is a mini blog that I kept during a 2 month trip to Europe in 2007 that I've transferred here. We ended up going to 30 countries and travelling about 9,000 miles by car. So if anyone has any questions about travelling Europe by car, I'm sure that I can help with suggestions. The photos didn't save from the blog, but they are plenty (around 4,000) to see in my albums and here's a little slideshow of us at some of our favorite places:
June 3 - July 29th
This is our general itinerary for our summer Europe trip - 2007. We are also going to Iceland, which is not on the map. We are not necessarily sticking to any particular schedule, but this is the general idea. Right now, we are planning to go to 23 countries, which sounds crazy, but some of these countries are pretty small (ie. San Marino, Monaco). We hope this blog will be helpful for our family & friends who might be interested in where we are in the world... and perhaps it might be helpful for those who want to travel in Europe. We will try to give helpful information or tips on great places to go... or not to go. We are renting a car in Paris & camping & hostelling for the most part.
We flew into Reykjavík (KEF) & it was like landing on the moon. The island is quite volcanic, which is partly why the country is called the ´land of fire and ice´. We rented a car and immediately drove to a place called ´the Blue Lagoon´, pictured below. We were tired from our jet lag and the overnight flight and it was quite cold and rainy, so it seemed a perfect way to spend the day... and it was. The place is probably a bit of a tourist trap, but what a place to be trapped! We relaxed in the hot water and you can put these mineral masks on your face. Mom, I know you are so jealous.
The next day, (6/5) we are calling our ´waterfall day´ because we saw so many amazing waterfalls! We drove in the morning to a place called Pinvellir National Park (sp?). We also stopped along the way at the former home of the writer Haldor Laxness, who won the Nobel prize in Literature in 1955. It was still quite rainy at this point and when we got out of the car to see a waterfall we got completely drenched. We have never been that wet so quickly in our lives. It was crazy. Later, the rain cleared up though and it was quite beautiful. The country is absolutely gorgeous. I wish that I could upload every picture we took. We went to a huge waterfall next called Gullfoss. It was simply amazing!
Then we went to a place called 'Geyser´, which has, as you might guess, geysers. They were very cool. I had never seen a real one in person before. Next, we drove more and went past an area with quite a few large craters that had been formed from old volcanoes. One, called Kerid, is quite large and has water in it, which was pretty. After that, we drove south to see some more amazing waterfalls. There is one huge one that you can walk under (on a trail that is behind it). Another one, Skogar (below) was amazing because you can hike up a hill next to it & then walk along the trail next to the river. This is where we became Indiana Jones. We kept exploring & walking up the river. It was crazy because there was waterfall after waterfall. They just kept coming. It was around 11pm at this point... but you would never know in this ´land of the midnight sun´. We then drove south to a town called Vic, which is the southern most point and crashed there for the night.
The next day we drove back to Reykjavik and had some really good Icelandic fish and chips, which the owner proudly mentioned was brought in only half an hour previously. We hung out in the city for a while and then drove north to hunt for Icelands tallest waterfall. We finally found it after quite a hike. It was very pretty and very tall, but we could still only see it in the distance.
Today is our departure day. We are in the airport right now waiting for our flight to Paris... ready to embark on the rest of our journey. Its been a great start so far... only 53 days left to go!
France, Spain, & Portugal
We are finally at an internet cafe and I don´t even know where to start... it has been such an incredible trip so far. We arrived in Paris and are leasing a brand new 2007 Peugot for our trip. We drove around Paris for a bit & went to Notre Dame & saw the Eiffel tower and all that good stuff... but cities are busy and sometimes difficult to get around in... so we headed strait to the country after seeing the major sites of Paris. We went south to the Loire Valley, which is an amazing place with lots of quaint French villages and enormous castles. We went to Chambord castle, which was absolutely stunning. We next stopped in a town called Blois, which was probably our favorite french village. It was so cute, with narrow cobblestone streets, cafes, and a castle. We went to a couple more castles and towns along the way, such as Amboise and Tours, which were great. The next day we headed south to Bordeaux and some of the other towns around there, such as Bayonne. It was a beautiful day and the cities and towns are picture perfect. There was a pretty bad rain storm though that evening as we sat down to eat. It was a great meal, but we ended up being at the restaurant for like 2 hours during the heavy downpour.
The next day we went to Bilbao, Spain and went to the amazing Guggenheim museum there. It was incredible! We then headed south to a wonderful town called Segovia. There is a huge ancient aqueduct there and castle. It was amazing to be there and there was an international food festival in town... which made it extremely lively and fun. Monday, we headed to a town called Avila, which is a walled-in city, and then drove toSallamanca. This city has one of the oldest universities in Spain and was incredible. (Sorry for all the superlatives, but it is hard to describe this trip in so few words!) We then drove west and stopped at a town called Ciudad de Rodriquez, which was quite a surprisingly beautiful town and we walked along the walls of the city. It was then accross the border to Portugal...which is a country that neither of us has been before!
The landscape of Portugal was very different from Spain as soon as we crossed the border. Spain was beautiful, but Portugal has its own unique beauty. We went to this amazing old castle in a town called Tomar. It was a bit in disrepair, but it was still huge and absolutely incredible. We then went to another castle called Almoural (sp?), which is in the middle of a river. There was a boat that took us around the island and then we went up to see it. It was very nice, but the best part was probably the comic relief that was given to us by the two boat drivers. We then went to the famous church in Fatima and then to another town called Batalha, which had the most amazing church I think I have ever seen. Then it was off to the little coastal town of Nazare to watch the sun set. Whew... what a day! Nazare was a very beautiful coastal town and many of the older women still wear the traditional dress, which is a skirt with seven layers to it. Today, we went to a town called Alcobalca, which has a beautiful monastary! There was also a small ruined castle at the top of the hill, which we climbed up to see the view. We are now sitting in the most picturesque town of Obidos. It is set inside a huge wall & you can walk along the top of it almost all the way. There are beautiful flowers everywhere and little cute shops. This has been an amazing trip so far, and we are only a week into it!
Hello from Italy
There is so much to write since we have not checked the internet since Portugal and we are now in Italy.
In Portugal, we went to a really amazing castle in a town called Sintra. Then we went to the western most point of the European continent - a place called Cabo de Roca for the sunset. From there, it was on to Lisbon for the day. There is an amazing monestary outside Lisbon called Jeronimo & there are a number of other interesting sites there. Other than that, Lisbon was not our favorite place. We stayed the night on the southern coast of Portugal... the Algarve, which was beautiful, and our hotel was supposedly the second nicest in all of Portugal .
From there, it was back into Spain. We stopped in Seville, which has an enormous cathedral and we also went to the palace, called the Alcazar. Then it was down to Gibralter to see the famous rock. The drive was very lovely and there are sunflower fields everywhere, which I loved since it is my favorite flower. We had a very nice time in Gibralter & there are all these monkeys just hanging around on the rock. They were so cute! The next day we went briefly to Granada. We had wanted to see the Alhambra, but the line was so long and it was about to rain, so we moved on. We spent the day at the beach instead... soaking up the sun. We also went to Barcelona, which is a beautiful city with some very Gaudi architecture. (Look up Gaudi if you dont know who he is). Anyway, from there it was up to the beautiful and very small country of Andorra, nestled in the Pyranees mountains. What a gorgeous and scary drive!
We then crossed the border back in to France and stayed in a little town called Carcasonne. There is an incredible large and beautiful castle there. It was straight out of a fairy tale. We had dinner inside the castle and breakfast again the next morning. It was then on to Provence. We went to Nimes (where denim comes from), which has an awesome Roman colleseum and temple. Close to there is also a very large aqueduct called Pont du Gard. It was beautiful and we spent some time hiking around the area. We spent the evening in Avignon, which is another quaint walled town. This used to be the center of catholocism for a short time and the palace of the pope is there. Itlooked awesome from the outside, but inside was a little dull. We then went a town called Arles, which is where Leonardo daVinci used to live and there is another colloseum there and other historic buildings. We also went to a national park nearby.
It was then on to the Cote d azur (the French Riveria). We stopped in Cannes, where the famous film festival is held. It was beautiful! We meandered down the coast and spent a little time in Nice... but our favorite part was a little village outside of Nice with a beautiful beach. We spent the day at the beach and the water was so clear! We then wentto Monaco/ Monte Carlo and there was an amazing boat show going on.
We then crossed into Italy. The Italian Riviera was definitely not as nice as the French Riviera & it was very mountainous, so we kept driving. We went to an area called Cinque Terra (the 5 villages), which was very nice. Then it was down to Pisa to see the famous leaning tower. We spent the evening in Florence, which was very nice. The duomo, or main cathedral, is undescribably beautiful. There were fireworks that night too, which was lovely. Now we are in Tuscany, staying at a little bed and breakfast, which is beautiful. We are just taking it easy today. We have done a lot of travelling (as you can tell) and we are ready for a day of pure lazyness.
Hello from Greece!
After I wrote the last time on the blog we were in Italy. We went to the small city-country of San Marino and then it was north to Venice. The city was nice, but very touristy. We then went into Slovenia, which was beautiful. The capital, Ljubljiana, was very cute. It was then down to Croatia.. what a gorgeous drive. We spent quite a bit of time in Croatia. We went out to this island off the coast called Hvar. It is stunning, with lavendar-covered fields and amazing little coves to swim in. We rented a kayak for one day and just explored the area. There are quite a few nice little towns in Croatia and we went to Dubrovnik as well, which is an old walled city.
After that, we crossed into Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, and then down into Greece. We mostly just drove though... it is pretty backwards there...especially Albania. We had tons of laughs though driving through. I don't think we have everlaughed so hard. Its hard to explain, but you will see pictures when we get back. The people in Albania were all extremely nice though!
We are now in Greece, which is beautiful. We went to Meteora on Matt's birthday. He had been there before, but it is a very special place. It is all these monestaries perched on top of these spired rocks...very cool. We hiked among the old ruins of Delphi and Olympia and went to the beach a couple of times. We went to the Pellaponeses.. we especially like a little town called Kardamyli. It is so cute with amazing water and swimming areas. We then went on to a town called Naphlio, which was very nice. We spent the evening there.
Today is our 4th wedding anniversary! We woke up and went to some ruins in Epidavros and then it was on to Athens. We walked around a bit in the city and went up to the acropolis. It was very cool to be there... but it was extremely hot. Tomorrow morning we are off to catch a ferry to Santorini!
We spent 3 wonderful days on the Greek island of Santorini. It was a long trip by ferry, but it was worth it. The architecture of Santorini is awesome... its what you picture when you think of Greece. The island still has an active volcano, although its not like flowing lava or anything. We took a boat trip to the volcano, which is just a little ways from the main part of the island.
Bulgaria, Romania, & Serbia
After Greece, we headed north through Bulgaria. We stopped at a beautiful Rila monastary, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site. We are racking up the World Heritage Sites! Bulgaria is pretty, but definitely much poorer. The roads are not very good either. We are mostly just driving through. After Bulgaria, we went to Serbia. This wasn't in our original plan, but I didn't realize that there is not even a bridge from Bulgaria to Romania over this little river.. so we decided to take an alternate route. From Serbia, we went into Romania. (Fortunately, there was a bridge!) In our orignal itinerary, I thought we might spend quite a bit of time in Romania because I have heard great things about the castles, forests etc. Unfortunately, again, the roads are just terrible and we really don't feel like having a major hassle with the car. We've already hit a couple of really big potholes. Fortunately, no flat tires :) So, we decided to just get to Hungary as fast as we can. Romania is pretty depressing too. There are a lot of people still riding in carts pulled by horses or donkeys. The landscape is pretty though.
Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, & Czech Republic
Hungary is a beautiful country. It is nice to be back in civilization too :) The architecture is just stunning. I never realized it was so nice here. We went to the city of Szeged, which was beautiful. Then we headed to the capital of Budapest. I think I took 200 pictures of that city alone. It is great. We stayed on the "Pest" side of the Danube, but it is very easy to see the whole city. The Pest side is the "newer" part of the city, but it is still hundreds of years old. The parliament building is just amazing! I think the whole city is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The old city of Buda is awesome. Its really hard to describe so many of these things. You're just going have to see the pictures. We went to one of the famous Hungarian baths. It was so ornate. There are outside areas for swimming (cooler water) and then the hotter waters are inside the buildings. After Budapest, we went to a couple of really nice other towns...Szendentre & Esztergom. The basilica in Esztergom is the largest in Hungary. It was huge! They allow tourists to go up to the top of the dome and walk around. It was a great view, and we could see across the river into Slovakia.
We then headed into Slovakia. We just went to the capital city of Bratislava. We thought it wan't going to be that nice because of a movie that we had seen, but it was quite nice... not as nice as Hungary though. We had a good time walking around the city. There is an artist there that made all these crazy statues around the city and it was fun to find them as we walked around.
After Slovakia, we headed into Austria. We went to the capital city of Vienna. The entire city is just GRANDIOSE! Everything was just way over the top. The picture to the lower right (with the red flowers) is city hall if that tells you anything. The one below to the left is the Hapsburg's summer palace... and this picture just shows a tiny part of the ENORMOUS estate. It even has a full zoo.
We then headed into Czech Republic. We spent the night in a cute small town just over the border. They were having a concert in the city's castle, and it was really good. We went to the city of Brno. It was nice.. but the funniest thing was that we went down a street where someguys were shaking down plums from a tree and then scooping them up with a shovel. We joined in. The guys were really nice and the fruit was delicious! We then went to Prague. What a city!! We got there just in time to see the changing of the guard at the palace. It was fun exploring the city, but the day was really hot.. I think it was over 100. So during the hottest part of the day, we just hung out in a nice shady park on the river. The whole city is top shelf. Its just so hard to describe!
Germany, Poland, Denmark, and Sweden
We next went to Germany. We went to the city of Dresden. I had known that the city had been flattened by bombings during WW2, so I didn't expect the city to be so ornate. It was beautiful though! Every building was gorgeous. I guess they figured if they had to start from scratch, they might as well make it stunning. I can't imagine what it looked like before the bombings. We also went to an area by the Czech border called Sachsische. It has these really cool rock formations and an awesome old stone ramparts that connect some of them. We also went to a really cool town called Meissen, which was north of Dresden. It had a great castle and the town was very fun to stroll around, with all kinds of little shops. We then headed north to Berlin.. but we took a side trip to Poland (just because we could). We didn't stay long, but it was fun to say we were there. Berlin was nice, although it is always a bit navigating around big cities in the car. We went to the Holocaust memorial, the Jewish museum, checkpoint charlie, and all the typical sites of attraction. We accidentally stumbled across these really cool (very long) see saws too. That was interesting. The next day we went to Potsdam, which is where the famous conference was after WW2. Potsdam is awesome! There are so many palaces. There is this one sprawling estate called Sans Souci ("without sorrow"), which we spent almost all day at. The city of Potsdam is really cute too and we did a lot of strolling around the stores. We then headed north to the city of Lubeck, which we liked a lot. The author, Gunter Grass, lives there and we went to the Gunter Grass house, which has a lot of his artwork. I never realized how good he is. Lubeck is actually pretty close to Denmark.. and since we have some extra time since we sped through Romania... we decided to go to Denmark :) The wait for the ferry was kind of long, but we talked with a lot of nice people during the wait. Danes and Swedes speak English quite well.. so it was nice to find people (besides other tourists) who we could have actual conversations with in English. We went to Copenhagen that night... what a crazy place. I don't know if it was just the moodwe were in or if it was really that crazy.. but it seemed like everything was just odd and made us laugh. Things were really expensive though.. (for example, a value meal and Burger King cost like $20 US). The next day we went to the hippy town of Christiana, which was interesting and then walked around more of Copenhagen. We saw the changing of the guard, which was a very intricate process. We then decided to go across the bridge into Sweden (again.. just because it was there). We are getting closer to our goal of touching every country in the world :) . After that, we went to the island of Mon in Denmark. It has some absolutely gorgeous white cliffs with a background of beautiful turquoise waters. They say that you can find amber along the shores... so we went digging. We didn't find any, but we did get some very cool rocks. After that, we headed back to Germany. We wanted to meet up with our friend Tina, who lives in Hannover. We got to the town, but then her phone wasn't working and we were never able to connect. That was disappointing, but we did end up going to some castles nearby, which were awesome. The whole area is where the brothers Grimm based their fairy tales.. and you can tell by some of the towns what it used to be like. We stopped at a little town on the border with the Netherlands, which also had an awesome castle.. and there was a food festival going on that night... and the band was playing American oldies songs. It was hilarious.. and very delicious. We met some great people and had a very enjoyable evening.
Netherlands, Belgium, & Luxembourg
We have had such perfect weather almost this entire two month trip, but the Netherlands was quite rainy. We went to Amsterdam, but because it was rainy, we didn't really see as much as we wanted to. Its a cool city though. There are so many bicycles! Copenhagen also had a ton of bicyces.. but it seems like Amsterdam had even more! We went to the town of Harlem, outside of the city. It was really cute, but most things were closed because it was Sunday. As a country as a whole, there are very few people who practice any kind of religion.. so it was a bit surprising to see so many things closed... especially when you consider that almost everything is open on Sundays in the US (a "Christian" nation). The coffee shops were open though... thats all that matters :) We've gotten into a nice routine of just sitting in cafes and drinking coffee pretty much everywhere we go in Europe. I think thats one of the things I'll miss the most. Everyone is so laid back here. In the US, coffee is something you get at the drive through on your way to work and no one savors it.. maybe because most American coffee is horrible in comparison. Anyway, I digress. We also went to this little town on the water called Zandvoort. We had the best thing to eat called "Turkse pizza". Now we keep looking for it again wherever we go. The next day we went to an awesome thing called the Alsmeer flower auction. It is the world's largest warehouse and millions of flowers are bought and sold there every day. It was quite interesting (and beautiful). Next we went to Den Hague (the Hague), which was cool and then south to Rotterdam. We ended up just checking early to a hotel that day because it was raining so hard and we were just tired. It was funny though because there was a special on one of the Discovery channel about Rotterdam... so we got to learn about the city even though we didn't really get to see much of it.
We then headed into Belgium. I was very surprised by how much I liked Belgium... it was fantastic! We went to Antwerp, which is a great city. The guilded halls are awesome. We ran into some Hare Krishnas dancing around too, which is always pretty interesting to watch. Matt tried to join in :) We then went to the amazing towns of Brugge and Gent. The architecture is awesome and it seems like every house is perfectly landscaped. Both Brugge and Gent have a lot of canals and lots of flowers. Give me these towns over Venice any day! The bad thing about Belgium is the food... it is so good! We had been very good about our diets on this trip and have been losing weight with all the walking that we do. But there is chocolate everywhere!! .. and genuine Belgian waffles topped with every sweet goodness imaginable. It is just too tempting - especially when there are free samples :) . We next went to Brussels. The city was large and there was definitely a lot of poorer sections, but the "Grand Square" was grand indeed, and there were a lot of nice areas. After we left Brussels, we headed towards Lumembourg and stopped at a lot of cute little towns along the way.
Luxembourg was ok, but it was not as nice as I thought it would be. It was just so small. There wasn't much to see and it was quite expensive. There were a lot of stores to browse around though.
The home stretch!
After Luxembourg, we headed back into France. We went through the Champagne valley, which was really pretty... and had our fair share of its riches :) There was a really cool forest there too that has all these crazy crooked trees. No one could explain why they are like that. We then headed back to Paris. We went to Versailles, which was nice, but very touristy! I had been there when I was 16, but it was fun to now go with Matt! We went to Marie Antionette's palace, which was my favorite part. It was like a little village preserved from times past. I think all the little houses were where the hired help lived. There were great gardens and there was even a working farm... but with the weirdest four horned goat.. it was so strange! We also went to the Eiffel tower and around there. The line in the evening was so long... I guess everyone else thought it would a romantic thing to do on a Saturday night too! We ended up going up the next day. I had beenthere before, but, again, it was nice doing it together. Unfortunately, it was kind of stormy and rain showers kept coming periodically. The weather kind of reminded me of our first day in Iceland... but now it was our last day (two months later). Fortunately, I had brought a pack of cards.. so we hung out on one of the cafes and played. We have gotten into the habit of playing cards during down times of this trip. Its something we never get to do at home and it has been pretty fun. Its so simple. Anyway, later that day, we were just hanging out, waiting for our flight later that day.. and we realized that there was some kind of weird parade going on.. and then I thought I caught the words "Tour de France". It turns out that we were there for the last day of the Tour de France. How awesome is that. We had been watching it periodically on the television, but hadn't realized that it was ending that day.. or that we would be at the finish line :) What a great way to end our trip. This whole trip has been such a great experience. Its hard to believe it is over, but in some ways we were ready to go home. Our final milage was 16,292 kilometers (around 9,000 miles ... thats like going across the US 3 times)... and Matt drove every kilometer of the trip. What a great graduation gift!