Tag Archives: europe

A tale of two chapters of travel

Europe Journey 2015 – 46 days, 6 countries

j&P collage2The best way to discover more about yourself is to step away from familiar surroundings and travel to new places as far away from home as you can imagine.

Our recent trip that closely followed an eight-week trip to Europe last year felt like a continuation or a second chapter of travel.

The weather was perfect during our trip last year (chapter one) and when the sun shines everything sparkles. We visited areas of Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Italy. I loved the newness and discovery of things I’d only heard about or seen in photos and felt like an excited child opening presents on Christmas morning. No matter how advanced photographic technology has become I discovered it is impossible to fully capture nature’s beauty. Printed images lack depth and appear overlaid with an unnatural filter. You need to physically experience the magnificence of nature and the world using all your senses. Standing beneath the majestic Alps in Switzerland under a cloudless sky breathing in the crisp mountain air was electrifying and woke me from a hibernation from life. During the first chapter almost everything seemed magical. On reflection this wasn’t always true but it is how it felt at the time.

During our latest trip (chapter two) we travelled around the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Austria and Germany. This time the weather was mostly gloomy and cold despite travelling at exactly the same time as last year. The first nine days it rained most days and the sky remained grey making it difficult to plan sight-seeing activities. However in Paris the sun shone in a cloudless sky for three days allowing discovery and appreciation of everything this cosmopolitan city offers.   As quickly as the sun appeared it again disappeared on the morning we left Paris and for the rest of our trip only ever appeared intermittently amongst a whole lot of rain and fog.

During chapter two we felt the tension bubbling in countries trying to limit entry of refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War. Although we don’t speak French or German we sensed this issue causing anxiety in European countries. At the border entry to Germany from Austria we sat in a traffic queue kilometres long while 10 police peered into every car and truck wanting to gain entry into Germany. The mood was somber and apprehensive.

My highlight of chapter two was seeing the Lippizan stallions perform at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, our days in Paris, visiting Salzburg and the storybook surrounding Austrian countryside. I also adored the bright floral window boxes and obvious house proudness of the Austrian and German people.

Chapter one was akin to falling in love for the first time and during chapter two it became like an old love that deepened and become more realistic. Although the level of excitement was subdued during chapter two I enjoyed the countries and places we visited more than I did on our first trip. I related to life in France more than I did in Italy and saw much more of Austria and Germany, which I adore, during chapter two.

During chapter one I felt like I was floating on air but in chapter two I thought about things on a deeper level. I imagined how the two world wars must have affected the people who lived in the places I visited. I thought about how the refugees must feel fleeing from their country to an alien land where people speak a foreign language and don’t seem to want to provide the required assistance. I thought about how living in another country is so different yet so familiar. I had more time to think about how I see myself in relation to the world. Although the two trips occurred only one year apart I feel wiser after our second chapter of European travel.

Travelling is fascinating but travelling is also hard work. It puts you outside your comfort zone and challenges you not only to cope with obstacles and disappointments but also to enjoy yourself and learn from new experiences. Travelling with my husband of almost 30 years is a joy and has strengthened our already rock solid relationship. We compliment each other like yin and yang.

Despite the contrasting nature of both trips  I’ve loved the entirety of the two chapters of our European travel. I’m proud I accepted the challenge to experience all that both trips provided. I’ve learnt much about the world but more importantly I’ve learnt much about myself. However I’m tired after travelling 46 days this trip and 44 days last year and want to return to my home and familiar life which I now have an even greater appreciation for.

Something deep down inside tells me that there will not be a chapter three but I’ve learnt that nothing is definitive and that only time will tell.

vintage travel lady

Strobl and Salzburg, Austria

Europe Journey 2015 – Day 36 to 39austria stamp2

Strobl

austria postcard2After the intensity of the large city of Vienna it was a welcome relief to arrive in the charming small quaint village of Strobl on Lake Wolfgangsee. Strobl exudes a peaceful atmosphere where people seem content to relax and enjoy a simple life. Unfortunately during our visit the weather was cold and rainy with the clouds camouflaging the mountains which restricted our sight-seeing activities. I am sure that Strobl would be picture perfect on a lovely sunny day.

Salzburg
The weather was clear on the day we visited Salzburg, an Austrian city on the German border. Salzburg is famous for being the birthplace of Mozart and the setting for the film “The Sound of Music.” The city is divided by the fast flowing Salzach River, with medieval and baroque buildings of the pedestrian Altstadt (Old City) on its left bank.

Salzburg AUSTRIA 2-I found Salzburg endearing. I loved the winding cobblestone lanes with intricate black swirling wrought iron guild signs above each shop and the tidy high, narrow houses tightly nestled together.

We took the funicular to Fortress Hohensalzburg that sits above the baroque towers of the city. This castle in Salzburg is an unmistakable landmark providing the city’s world famous silhouette.

Our day in Salzburg was perfect in every way. It reminded me why we leave our homes and travel to discover the beauty of different places.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vienna – Austria

Europe Journey 2015 – Day 32 to 35vienna stamp-with-St-Stephen-s-Cathedral-and-the-word-Vienna-Austria-inside-Stock-Vectorvienna-austria_222

Day 32

We drove from Alpbach to Austria’s capital city Vienna that lies in the country’s east on the Danube River.

Day 33

Vienna austriaWe took the local tram to the heart of the city of Vienna and wandered the streets marvelling at the magesty of the historic buildings. Vienna’s Ringstrasse is 5.3 kilometers long and houses monumental buildings built during the period of Historicism in the 1860s to 1890s.

Day 34

Today we visited Schönbrunn Palace, a former Austrian empire summer residence. We wandered through the extensive gardens and saw some of the rooms of the 1,441-room Baroque palace. The decorative garden leads towards a 60-metre-high hill, which since 1775 has been crowned by a Gloriette structure. We walked to the top to see spectacular panoramic views of Vienna.

Day 35 – Spanish Riding School

The Spanish Riding School in Vienna is the only institution in the world that has practiced for nearly 450 years and continues to cultivate classical equitation in the Renaissance tradition of the Haute Ecole.

When I was a teenager girls either liked boys, rock music, ballet or horses. For me it was horses. I read novels about them, plastered my walls with posters of them and watched movies and TV shows about them. I even owned a horse for four years. As I grew to adulthood I put my obsession with horses behind me and got on with establishing a career and raising a family.

One of the reasons we visited Vienna during our trip was to see a performance of the famous Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule). Seeing the performance was by far my highlight of this trip, or perhaps any other trip. Being in the Hofburg palace in the same arena as the majestic Lipizzan stallions and their riders sent joy through my body. I imagine people who love fine art or music would derive the same pleasure should they be in the presence of the artists. Watching the horses and riders harmoniously work together to classical music cast a magical spell over me and took my breath away. It was the pinnacle of horsemanship. All my teenage dreams came true, albeit 40 years later.

Later in the day we enjoyed a behind the scenes tour and saw the beautiful Lipizzan stallions in their stables. They were so calm and peaceful; I felt such a strong connection to them.

spanska-ridskolan1 

Alpbach, Austria

austriaEurope Journey 2015 – Day 28 to 31austria stamp2innsbruck

 

 

Day 28

Today we left Switzerlnd and arrived in Albach, Austria. Our GPS couldn’t find the address where we are staying so we asked some people in a cafe if they knew the place. They gave us verbal directions that we followed but ended up at the wrong place and asked them if they knew Gitti’s farm. They kindly said they would drive and we could follow them to the place we were staying. Eventually we found our cute authentic cottage, our home for four nights.

In Alpbach the grass is glossy green, the chalets are picture perfect and the smell of cows is in the air. It is approx 1,000m above sea level. Thanks to its homogenous architectural style and lovely floral decorations Alpbach is “Austria´s most beautiful village” and also “Europe´s most beautiful flower village”.

Day 29

Today we walked to a gondola to take us to the top of the mountain and we took a brisk Austrian walk for two hours in 0 degree temperature. The cold crisp air was exhilarating. Before coming down on the gondola we enjoyed a drink in a bar on top of the mountain.

Day 30
innsbruck austria 2 sun shone and the sky was blue so we drove to Innsbruck and ventured to the top of Mount Nordkette, which resembled what I imagine it would be like on the moon. This involved riding in three cable cars to get to the peak, definitely not recommended for people squeamish with heights. Later in the day we wandered in the old town of Innsbruck and then visited the Swarovski exhibition.

Day 31
Travelling for an extended time has its ups and downs, many parts are wonderful but it can also be stressful and tiring at times. Each time I travel I feel lucky to experience a few exceptional moments that make every trip worthwhile.  Usually they happen when I least expect them, which makes them even more special.

Today we went to an Austrian restaurant to hear live music. We hoped it would be traditional music but for all we knew it could have been a punk rock band, luckily it wasn’t. The first challenge was finding the place. After several wrong roads and u-turns on narrow streets we finally found the car park for the place, but there wasn’t a restaurant in sight. We noticed lots of people walking up a mountain and thought they were going for a morning walk. After wandering around the car park a few times we saw an arrow pointing up the mountain to the restaurant with 2km walk on the sign. We thought 2km isn’t far, no problem, but it was entirely uphill, so steep it took your breath away. So up and up and up we walked until we made it to the top to a traditional beer garden with huge wooden seats and benches overlooking the valley. We were the only tourists, which made it even better. The Austrians sure know how to enjoy themselves; the giant beers and schnapps were flowing. Turns out it was traditional Austrian music too. The sun shone, the drinks flowed, the music was great and everyone clapped, cheered and danced and had a fantastic time. The only problem was when it was over we had to walk down the hill again after many beers and wines and food. We took it slowly but we made it.

 

Vitznau, Switzerland

Europe Journey 2015 switzerland passport stamps
Vitznau
Day 25

vitznau rigiWhat a thrill it was to see Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) again rekindling happy memories of our visit last year. My heart swelled as the sun shone making the lake sparkle; I felt I was greeting a dear friend. After enjoying our brief bout of nostalgia we drove on to Vitznau, a small village on Lake Lucerne where we are staying for three nights. The snow topped green mountains dotted with traditional Swiss chalets left us in no doubt that we were back in Switzerland, what a lovely place to be.

We enjoyed dinner in a restaurant right on Lake Lucerne and watched a beautiful the superb sunset on the horizon.

Day 26

No visit to Vitznau would be complete without a boat cruise around the 38 km long Lake Lucerne with rugged mountains and picturesque villages to observe as the ship gracefully moves through the water. I felt at peace.

Day 27

lucerne switzerland222This was our last of a three day stay in Switzerland and we spent it exploring the wonderful city of Lucerne. We wandered the Altstadt (Old Town) and saw the 14th-century Museggmauer city walls,

Lucerne is known for its turreted buildings and covered bridges including the iconic Kapellbrücke. It has a huge fortress wall (Musegg wall) built in 1386 that we climbed to the top of and walked along to reveal spectacular views of the city.

I’ve always felt disappointed that I was unable to climb the Great Wall when I visited China, as my knee was quite bad then. Today I was very pleased to easily climb the steep steps to the top of the turret.

Day 28

The church bells are ringing to announce 9am and I’m feeling melancholy as I realise I leave Switzerland today probably for the last time in my life. I’ll always treasure memories of the mystical presence the Swiss lakes inspire, the rolling green hills with cows grazing while their bells gently tinkle and the beautiful traditional Swiss chalets shrouded by snow topped mountains.

Sarlat and Aix-les-bains, France

Europe Journey 2015 francesarlat france1 aix-les-bain france

Sarlat- Day 19

Sarlat FranceArrived in beautiful Sarlat, a medieval town representative of 14th century France located in the Perigord Noir region, a few kilometres from the Dordogne river. I’m fascinated by the fact that the buildings in the old town are up to 700 years old.

The area is well-known for ducks, every restaurant menu offers fois gras, duck gizzards and every other French inspired duck delicacy. On Saturdays the old part of town transforms into a market, which we enjoyed strolling around. We spend the afternoon exploring the intricate maze of narrow streets that branch off like rivers from The Rue de la Republique that runs the length of the old town.

Day 20

We took a short drive to Beynac and sailed on a restored riverboat on the Dordogne river. The sun was shining making the river sparkle.  Later we walked up a steep hill to see panoramic views of the beautiful valley and landscape.  Photos are wonderful but never show the intricate detail of the scenery nor the experience of having your breath taken away.

Day 21

Every French town has a monument bearing the names of the people who lost their lives in the wars. For much of my time in France I have been thinking about how the wars must have impacted on the everyday lives of French families. I wonder how people lived in their houses for six years facing the fears and burdens that wartime in your country brings. To me home is a sanctuary, a place to feel safe.  As we drive through towns I imagine how awful it must have been with husbands and sons away fighting in the war while worrying about soldiers invading your home.

aix-les-bain france2Aix-les-bains – Days 22-24

We spent our last three days in France in Aix-les-bains at the foot of the Alps. Unfortunately the weather was against us and we couldn’t appreciate all this town has to offer. Even though the weather was rainy and overcast we took a short trip on Lake Bourget and walked along the marina.

 

Bordeaux, France

Europe Journey 2015 franceBordeaux-France

Day 16

Today we left our cottage in the Loire Valley and drove 4.5 hours to Bordeaux in southwestern France, our home for the next three nights. The weather is still cloudy with intermittent rain and we are hopeful it will soon brighten up. There is much to see in Bordeaux and we intend to experience as much as possible.

Day 17

Before coming to France I thought Bordeaux was a rural wine growing district but today I discovered how wrong I was. Bordeaux is an architecturally stunning city with unaltered buildings from the middle ages. When we arrived in the city we jumped on a sightseeing bus for a tour around the historic landmarks. We then walked around to see these amazing sites up close. There are many restaurants to choose from and we found the perfect one. Jenna had carrot soup followed by salmon and vegetables; Pierre chose steak and crème caramel. We encountered some language barriers trying to understand the menu and order so the people on the next table helped translate what we wanted to the waiter, (and they were Spanish) so the Spanish people translated our English to French for the waiter. Incredible. After a further four hours of walking and sightseeing we returned to our accommodation feeling exhausted but very appreciative for the opportunity to visit such a wonderful city.

Day 18

Even though the rain was pelting down again we stuck to our plan and drove to Arcachon, a seaside town about 50km away. Luckily the rain held eased for most of the day, except for one mad downpour, but the wind was strong and blustery. Arcachon has similarities to many seaside holiday destinations in Australia. The seaside is something we hadn’t considered as French. Before we came to France we associated it with; Paris (chic big city), vineyards, pretty rural villages, historical grand buildings and medieval townships. The seaside was a surprise addition to our knowledge of France.

We had a seafood lunch overlooking the ocean but the food was a bit disappointing. C’est la vie. Even with the gale force winds we ventured out on to the ocean in a boat for a two-hour trip that took us around the inlet, passed the oyster beds, seaside villas and the famous and largest white sand dunes of Europe, Great Dune of Pyla (white sand in Europe is unusual). We took the tour to find out more about the local area but as soon as the boat took off we realised the captain’s commentary was only in French.

Loire Valley, France

Europe Journey 2015 france

loire_central_map

Day 13

We drove from Paris to St Clement, France and are staying in a typically French cottage bordering the Levée of the Loire River. It is a beautiful old stone two storey cottage furnished with a mixture of traditional French furniture and modern comfort. There are fruits and vegetables growing in the garden.

Day 14

Unfortunately the rain has returned and the sky is overcast again. We drove to Saumur and enjoyed a delightful lunch followed by a tour of a local winery. On my first long trip last year I was far more anxious and was expecting to feel homesick, but to my surprise this didn’t happen. However this trip sometimes I feel tired and homesick but I am sure this will pass.

Day 15

On our last day in the Loire Valley it remained cool and overcast. We visited the Rochemenier village of the Troglodytique. The village consists of 250 underground rooms, excavated out of the rock. It is fascinating. Everything in the village is manmade and dates back to the end of the 17th century.

Later on we visited the Château de Brézé, a small, dry-moated castle over a thousand years old. The current structure retains medieval elements including a drawbridge and 12th-century underground living and working areas.

 

 

 

Paris, France

Europe Journey 2015

Day 9

france paris stampSome days in your life are destined to be memorable for eternity and today was one of those days. The sky was blue and clear when we awoke and a predicted weather forecast of 24 degrees celsius made us smile after the cloudy, rainy skies we’ve seen so far on our trip.

paris-landmark-lettering-set-vintage-hand-drawn-doodle-sketchy-french-words-good-travel-hello-notre-277130300Before coming to Paris I had preconceived ideas it might be seedy, dangerous and dirty but today I discovered this was untrue. The sheer size and presence of the Eiffel Tower was breathtaking. You felt like you had to keep looking at it to believe your own eyes. A relaxed atmosphere surrounded the streets. People lay on the grass around the Eifel Tower enjoying the sunshine and the view of the famous Paris icon. We all enjoyed the day without imposing on each other’s space. It was a completely different experience to the frenetic tourist hysteria we encountered last year when visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.
The Arc de Triomphe  built in 1805 to honour those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars is an equally stunning structure. It is located at the top of the Champs Elysees, a boulevard 1.9 kilometres long and 70 metres wide. Later in the afternoon we walked to the impressive gold domed Hotel de Invalides, a hospital and the burial place of Napoleon.

Day 10

Like yesterday we set out in the brilliant sunshine and travelled to the city via the metro system. We went to Montmartre, the art district located up a steep hill that reaches a height of about 130 meters located in the north of Paris. Although a bit touristy we saw artists painting and musicians playing in the busy streets. At the bottom of the hill stands Le Moulin Rouge, a famous cabaret dance theatre located in the sleazy end of town. The price to see a show with dinner is 199 euros ($300 Australian dollars each), a bit too pricy for us so we declined to do this.

Later we visited Notre-Dame Cathedral followed by an enjoyable one-hour river cruise on the Seine taking in the sights of all the beautiful historic buildings. To conclude our day in the city we sat in and had a relaxing drink in a bar on the street.

The only down side about Paris for me is travelling on the Metro because I get a little anxious about being underground and the implied threat of any incidents. However it is the most efficient way to get to the many interesting districts of Paris. It is incredible how large the city of Paris is. The city itself is divided into 20 arrondissements (areas), each with their own style and identity, that spiral out from the center in the shape of a snail.

I love the old buildings, the boulevards and the millions of apartments all similar in Parisian style with lots of large leafy trees lining the streets. Not a skyscraper in sight, although there are some taller buildings in the heart of the business city area.

Day 11

Although leg-weary from our trips to Paris during the past two days we once again took the Metro back to the city. This time we visited the Louvre located on the right bank of the Seine, originally built as a fortress in the late 12th century. The building structure is imposing and you have to pinch yourself to believe you are standing there. Unfortunately a visit to the Louvre is on the ‘must see’ list for EVERY tourist making the inside the museum  crowded with people whose main objective is to get a photo in front of the exhibits. I couldn’t enjoy or appreciate the artworks as I became distracted with loud overbearing tourists pushing and shoving. We did get to see the Mona Lisa but the clambering of tourists trying to get a photo of it marred the experience. C’est la vie.

Later we explored the Latin Quarter situated on the left bank of the Seine, around the Sorbonne. It has a lively street atmosphere with many café’s. We enjoyed a lovely lunch, the best so far on our trip.

We strolled to the Jardin du Luxembourg, or the Luxembourg Garden, created in 1612. This exquisite garden covers 23 hectares and is known for its lawns, tree-lined promenades, flowerbeds, the model sailboats on its circular basin, and for the picturesque Medici Fountain. It was wonderful to stroll through the perfectly kept gardens and soak in the atmosphere of Parisians enjoying the open space and sunshine. We even got to hear lovely French music by a group of musicians playing in the rotunda. It was one of those surreal moments in my life where I felt I was lucky being part of something so simple yet so special.

Our four days in Paris have been outstanding and I’m sure we will remember them with great fondness forever.

arc_de_triomphe vintage-postcard-eiffel-tower-paris-france-31710099 ParisPostcard1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brussels, Belgium

belgium stampEurope Journey 2015

Day 5

We packed our belongings and moved on from our lovely farmhouse in Amsterdam and drove to Brussels, Belgium. Unfortunately the rain was still pouring down and it was a difficult three-hour drive. Our Brussels apartment is perfect with high ceilings, rustic floorboards and great facilities. It’s about 20 minutes by tram to the city. The bedroom is at the rear and has a view of surrounding trees which is peaceful. The kitchen and dining room are at the front facing the street and the lounge room is in the middle.  A group of local shops are on the corner of our street including a patisserie and delicatessen selling Belgium delicacies. Across the road there is a church and the bells ring on the hour.

Day 6

Thankfully the rain finally stopped when we woke this morning. We took a local tram towards Brussels city but forgot to get off at the right stop so had to get off and travel back on another tram. We ended up in the worst part of town. There were crowds of people everywhere and the streets were dirty with litter and graffiti on every available surface. Not so nice.

Using the GPS on the phone we found our way to Grand Place, the central square of the City of Brussels. All over the world it is known for its decorative and aesthetic buildings built in the 14th century. It is incredible to imagine how these lavish huge buildings with external gold trimmings were constructed in this era.

belgium brusselsI don’t think the historic centre of Brussels is as nice as Amsterdam however I loved the majestic historical buildings in the city square. Unfortunately there was a beer festival in white marquees in the middle of the square and so we didn’t get the feeling of the vast open space. I wish we’d seen the flower festival but this only happens every two years and it is not this year.

Day 7

We took a day trip to Brugge known for its canals, cobbled streets and medieval buildings. Brugge has an old world feel that is peaceful and refreshing. I am attracted to old-fashioned things, not a big city girl at all. We enjoyed a wonderful day strolling around the medieval historic settlement, where original Gothic constructions form part of the town’s identity. We travelled the canals by boat and saw the famous dog Fidel in the window. He is a golden Labrador and he sleepily hangs out in a canal side gable window and is oblivious to the hoards of people who photograph him daily. We tried all the things that Belgium is famous for; beer, waffles and chocolates.

Tomorrow we pack up and drive to Paris, France.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Europe Journey 2015 Amsterdam-Retro-Drawing

Day 1

Felt relieved to step on the ground in Amsterdam thirty–two hours after leaving home in Australia. Collected our car. Not as daunting driving on the other side of the road this time but took a lot of concentration nonetheless.

Day 2

Staying in the cutest farmhouse with chickens roaming free and livestock grazing on the lush grass. Riding is the preferred mode of transport so I immediately jumped on a bike and started peddling off down the road before I could talk myself out of it. Everyday I want to do something I wouldn’t normally do.

Rode over to Zaanse Schans, a small historical village with windmills, barns and houses built in the typical Dutch wooden architectural style. Apart from a few near misses of walking tourists and a couple of wobbly moments on the edge of the road I managed the bike well.

Day 3

Travelled by local train to Amsterdam city centre, one of the prettiest cities I’ve seen. Traditional narrow fronted Dutch houses line streets of beautiful tree-lined canals for as far as the eye can see. Contrary to popular belief a marijuana smoke haze doesn’t permeate the whole city but occasionally wafts in the air. Although not knowledgeable art appreciators we enjoyed visiting the Rijks Museum with originals by Dutch artists including Rembrandt and Van Gogh. Missed seeing Anne Frank’s house because the wait time for tickets was four hours.

Day 4

Woke to the sound of heavy rain on the roof. Took a drive to Edam and walked along the famous dike of Volendam. Had a relaxing lunch at Lands End overlooking the vast North sea. It truly feels like the edge of the earth.

Day 5

Heavy rain continued on our last day in Amsterdam. Took the train back to the city for more sightseeing. Walked through Red Light District, although I think it’s degrading to women. Prostitution has a long tradition of tolerance in Amsterdam. Scantily clad women looking like Barbie Dolls in boxes, stand in red-lit windows along narrow streets for customers to browse. Plenty of sex shops, peep shows, brothels and a sex museum. I’d never walk through this district at night when it is most populated.

Walked to Dam Square and saw Royal Palace and Nieuwe Kerk. Strolled the endless city streets admiring quaint laneways with cafes and shops. Ate Dutch profiteroles while watching the people go by at the flower market. Enjoyed dinner at La Storia.


We loved our brief visit to Amsterdam; it is a beautiful and fascinating city with lovely green fields only 20 minutes out of the city. Love the housing style and architecture. Adored staying in our little farmhouse and will treasure fond memories for years to come.

Reflections of a journey

travel quote in Cully

Flying from Melbourne Australia to Frankfurt airport then driving around Europe for seven weeks is the most daring and exhilarating thing my husband and I have done. As my first time traveling to Europe I loved feeling free while exploring the complete unknown. Our Europe trip awakened my senses, swept the cobwebs from my mind and made me feel alive which surprised me because initially I was reluctant to go. Breaking away from my routine life took courage as I was apprehensive about leaving my loved ones and fearful of uncertainty.

After 22 hours flying plus a three-hour layover in Hong Kong we staggered out of the plane at unimpressive Frankfurt airport. With minimal instruction we collected the car and were on our way. It felt like being in a car rally with wrong turns, dead ends and misinterpreted instructions from the unfamiliar GPS system. Miraculously and triumphantly we found our way to Sankt Goar our first destination.

One of my most vivid travel memories happened on the first day while enjoying a celebratory arrival drink on a balcony overlooking the Rhine River. As I sipped my glass of wine a wave of emotion washed over me with a mixture of exhaustion, bewilderment and exhilaration knowing I’d faced and conquered my trepidation.

Travel is about savoring unique moments that take your breath away. My favourite travel recollections consist of emotions, vulnerabilities, challenges and brief moments of clarity. The aim for tourists I saw visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa was a posed photo of themselves rather than appreciating the phenomenon of the building which I thought was disappointing. A famous icon I hold dear in my travel recollections is Michelangelo’s David that cast a mysterious spell and captivated my imagination at the Accademia Gallery in Florence. For an instant the world stopped as I stood transfixed and drawn to David’s majesty and light.

Switzerland was my favourite country on our trip as it appeals to my sense of beauty and tranquility. Her snow-topped Alps watching over the valleys, her endless rolling grassy hills, her widespread ordered vineyards,  her picture perfect houses with blooming  flower boxes and the serenity of her lakes make Switzerland a perfect place to relax and enjoy nature. It comforts me to know that whatever else is going on in the world the cows in Switzerland nonchalantly keep munching grass and their cowbells never stop tinkling.

It was in Switzerland I faced physical challenge and proved to myself that a change of attitude can change an outcome. After a long-term knee injury and subsequent operation I’d become tentative about taking part in strenuous exercise. At Grindalwald I decided to hike a 10km mountain trek and resolved to face whatever the terrain presented. The surrounding scenery was spectacular and it’s beauty breathtaking. I was in awe of the imposing Alps standing proud in the sunny blue sky and believed anything was possible in such a magnificent setting. The track was uneven, steep and often precarious but my determination remained strong to the last step. Never did I doubt I would complete the trek. I went on to complete several other strenuous hikes and climbs on our trip but none are as memorable as the first conquest. Grindalwald will always remain my Everest.

Italy remains dear to me for its culture, rugged landscape, history and delicious food. We gained a wide-ranging perspective of Italy by driving and staying in the Lombardy, Piedmont, Liguria, Tuscany and Lazio regions. I loved the vitality of Lake Como, the tranquility of the wine region, the history surrounding the medieval towns, the rarity of the rugged towns carved into rock at Cinque Terre and discovering city life in Como, Florence, Sienna and Rome.

Two waterside towns in Italy remain prominent in my travel highlights. The first is Lake Como where we caught the ferryboat from Cernobbio to Bellagio on a sunny day making the lake sparkle with life. It was a simple and perfect day spent taking in the splendor of the scenery, enjoying a delicious unhurried meal at a table right beside the lake in Bellagio then leisurely strolling through the town and returning on the ferryboat in the late afternoon. My heart swells with happiness knowing we shared this magical day together. The second waterside town I remember tenderly is Portavenere where we spent three glorious days exploring the Mediterranean seaside towns of Cinque Terre.

Traveling to Europe provided the chance to disconnect from regular life and shape an alternate mindset about the world and my life. During our adventures we shared many special moments that bind my husband and I even closer together than when we set out. I loved how traveling made us feel young and vulnerable again.

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Not surprisingly everything on the home front continued to run smoothly while we were away and upon our return it felt like time had stood still. It took some time to settle back into everyday life because I did not come back the same person that walked out the door.

arrows on central_europe_map CROP

 

Our trip 2014