For those of you who followed my Facebook updates, you have a sense of where I have been and what I have had the privilege of seeing and experiencing in Europe for the past two months. In any case, here is a bit of a recap:

After Spain, I was back in Glasgow, Scotland at my sister’s flat where we spent the early part of April catching up and settling into a bit of a routine (that included me making dinner, something I quickly learned to love).

Soon after I was onboard a motor coach to London. It was an eight-hour one-way trip that offered an opportunity to see United Kingdom countryside and catch up on old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy using my iPod. Upon arrival at the Heathrow Airport Hotel, I checked-in and waited for Brad to arrive from Alaska. Following great conversation and a good night’s rest, we were off on what would be a whirlwind three-week adventure.

First stop, Paris . The weather was gorgeous during our entire stay, and coming from the States where we talk about things with pride that are decades, or maybe hundreds of years old, suddenly we were seeing and hearing things that were constructed thousands of years ago. This deep sense of and appreciation for history were literally overwhelming at times and something we both acknowledged and were grateful for throughout our entire stay.

Throughout this entire first week together I was communicating with my brother, Adam, who is an Air Force pilot. The chances were quite good that we could meet him in Germany for Easter so Brad and I decided to forego our plans to Nice (France) and instead, took a northern train route going into Brugge, Belgium for three days and Amsterdam, Netherlands for one day.

As it turned out, Adam’s flight plan was re-routed and we did not see him but we had the most amazing time on the way to and in Brugge. Before we boarded the train for the four-hour trip, we stopped at a tiny market for a freshly baked baguette, some assorted local cheeses and a mix of olives. Such little things gave us great pleasure! During moments like this, we often said to one another, smiling, “We’re here…in Europe…”

I’m nostalgic just thinking about it now… Our adventures were numerous. Among them, we literally booked hotels/hostels the night before we stayed in a new city and generally approached transportation the same way. Some days we flew; other times, we took a train and often and in between, we walked for miles at a time.

The twisty, cobble streets and old architecture of Brugge, coupled with swans gingerly accepting torn pieces of bread from tourists and locals alike made it a place to remember. One friend, commenting on a picture posted on Facebook said it looked just like Disneyland. Having been there at that moment, it was a lot like the magic of visiting Disneyland as a kid for the first time.

Brugge, Belgium

Amsterdam was really just a stop-over on the way to Italy. We found it surprisingly difficult to get a hotel room the first night as it was Good Friday. Who would have guessed that tourists flock to this city for Easter, making it an exceptionally busy time?

We flew out of Amsterdam and into Milan, Italy, to celebrate Easter. We woke early that morning and took the trolley near our hotel to the Duomo, easily one of the most beautiful architectural sights my eyes have ever seen. Mass was celebrated entirely in Italian and the church was full. It was simply breathtaking inside and out.
After mass, Brad and I were hungry and sought a nice restaurant to celebrate the holiday but nothing seemed to be open. Around 4 p.m., we settled for a kebab shop – the only thing we could find. I dined on a kebab and he had pizza. Both were remarkably different from the giant ham and multitude of side dishes I’m sure my mother prepared for my dad and family friends but I am equally sure it was a meal I’ll reflect upon next year around this time.

After a couple of days in Milan, Brad easily persuaded me to go to La Spezia. Here, the weather was magnificent. (I even had to buy sunscreen!) We spent the majority of our time hiking along the coast of the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre. This is the “Classic Italy” that I’d conjured in my mind’s eye…rugged terrain, blue ocean and skies to match, rustic orange and pale yellow homes dotting the landscape in and around the five villages we visited.

Along the Cinque Terre (2)

Brad and I realized then that we had stumbled upon the perfect vacation plan – several days in a large city surrounded by an astonishing amount of history followed by a more laid back stay that brought us into smaller towns, helped us to connect better with locals and gave us time to take in the natural wonders around us. It was just the right balance.

Then, we were off to Florence for two days and one night. It rained the entire time but given our good fortune until this point, we had little for which to complain. The Duomo here again, was uniquely beautiful with shades of pink decorating the masterpiece.

We took advantage of our first full-day in Rome by touring Vatican City. We were led by a wonderful guide, originally from California, who married an Italian man. Maria would tell stories of Roman and Catholic history with each fact followed by an, “Interesting, huh?” or a “Neat, huh?” with a smile and slight pitch in her voice that trailed each “huh?” She was so cute, Brad and I both commented afterward that she could have just as easily been a kindergarten teacher with the amount of knowledge she possessed and the level of enthusiasm that she shared it. We spent the next couple of days in the drizzling rain touring other notable sites, including the Colosseum and Pantheon.

Our next stop on the train was Venice. Our expectations were high here. Everyone we had talked to and everything we read said, “You’ll just LOVE Venice.” Perhaps it was the incessant rain, the unfortunate experience at the laundromat where we spent more than $20 trying and several hours to do one load of laundry, the man at the bus station who gave us wrong information and lead to an interesting adventure to get to the airport on-time, or the extra baggage fee (that totaled almost as much as the cost of both our air tickets combined) but we were a bit let down. Yes, Venice is beautiful. Murano is beautiful as well. I would go again in a heartbeat and I need to. Venice deserves more of my attention…in the sunshine.

The adventure with Brad wrapped up back in London where we spent the final days touring the city from Houses of Parliament to Big Ben to London Bridge to the London Eye to Westminster Abbey. We took an excellent free walking tour and felt confident in our underground navigational abilities. Of course, London is known for its nightlife so we also took in an impromptu comedy show and in our final day together, wanting something of a different pace, we checked out the London Zoo. I realized only later, after taking so many pictures of historic buildings, I went a bit crazy with the camera at the zoo. Seriously. I think I took 26 pictures of giraffes. There have got to be close to 100 photos of monkeys and even more of spiders and creepy crawly things (I don’t like creepy, crawly things!)

The next morning as Brad and I said our goodbyes outside the hotel luck would have it that we would meet a couple from Anchorage. (We recognized them by their coats donning the logo of a local business). Home was already closer than we’d realized.

As Brad made the trek back to Alaska, I flew again to Scotland where I spent the last 10-days with my sister and her husband. It was the perfect way to end this two-month whirlwind European adventure and I promise to write more about this later but I would like to hear from you. Among many of the things I discovered is how much I love the big cities but how I crave the great outdoors. What have you learned about your own travelling habits and what advice could you give to others who might be taking an extended vacation? Have your travelling habits changed in light of the current economic situation? If so, how?

In the next several posts I would like to respond to some of the questions I have gotten from you while I was away. Now that I’m back in Anchorage, I will be replying to some of the previous posts on this site, sharing tips I’ve learned, and I’ll bring you along the next adventure, whatever that might be.

(New pictures posted in the Flickr photo stream on the left side of your screen.)

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