2005 Trip to Europe

Our trip in 2005 was to eight different nations in Europe.  We started off in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.  This is a gorgeous destination.  Scenic waterways abound throughout the city.  Many of the buildings have an old-town charm to them rarely seen in modern cities.  We visited many museums, including a Rembrandt museum.  We also saw a great concert by pianist Alba Ventura.  The music was wonderful.  Another of our visits was to a cheese farm down in the countryside.  I was impressed with the giant windmills, beautiful farm animals, and lovely green scenery.  The weather consisted of a nice refreshing breeze as well.

Our next destination was Copenhagen, Denmark.  Here, we visited the grand Tivoli Gardens, and saw beautiful gardens in addition to some very tall rides.  Denmark is the birthplace of amazing writer Hans Christian Andersen.  In the nighttime, we walked around the main square of the city, which is filled with bright lights and signs, nice restaurants, and nifty shops.  A major thing we did during the day was board a large cruise ship in order to set sail across the Baltic Sea.  It was on this cruise that we visited six more nations.

One destination was Stockholm, Sweden.  There were a lot of tall buildings here in addition to some older-looking facades.  We visited a museum called the Royal Armoury that housed many interesting artifacts dating from the Renaissance.  There were horse-drawn carriages as well as many armored pieces of clothing that the knights used to wear.  We also visited the Vasa Museum, which houses a ship from the Seventeenth Century.  In addition to these museums, we toured some churches that had ornamental windows and paintings.

Our next stop was Helsinki, Finland.  This charming city has plenty of friendly, welcoming people.  I thoroughly enjoyed the sweeping views of the sea from the local harbor.  There were lots of ships at bay, and many marine birds flying around.  We ate at a nice restaurant with patio umbrellas.  From there we toured a church built into solid rock, and that was quite interesting.  We also saw the Sibelius Monument, which was tall and surrounded by green hills.

The next stop was St. Petersburg, Russia.  I instantly became very impressed with this lovely location.  A musical band greeted us as we stepped off of the ship.  Our first tour took us to the beautiful Neva River.  Here we boarded a boat and sailed among the peaceful waves, seeing the green trees and stately building in the background.  There were many attractive bridges over the river as well.  From there we toured the Hermitage Museum.  The building itself is impressive, looking like a palace.  The inside is remarkable and highly decorated with regal-looking staircases and candelabras.  We saw beautiful horse-drawn carriages and Madonna paintings.  Many paintings make great use of chiaroscuro and highlight the natural pleasantness of everyday life.  From there we ate a wonderful restaurant where a talented harpist played great music for us.  Then we visited the Church of the Spilled Blood, which is one of the main landmarks of St. Petersburg as well as Russia in general.  Here, we noted the incredible architecture of the ceilings and prayer booths.  The ceilings are richly painted, with much influence from Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox culture.  There are also many chandeliers and lovely mosaics.  The next day, which was also spent in St. Petersburg, we toured the regal Peterhof Palace and gardens.  This is just extraordinary.  I fell in love with the beauty of the gardens, which were mesmerizing and filled with fountains, colorful flowers, and prominent statuettes.  The weather was sunny and with crisp breeze.  It seriously seemed like I was in paradise.  From there we visited the Peter and Paul Cathedral.  This building dates to the Baroque Era, and demonstrates the ornate qualities of that time period.  The ceilings are high and painted in rich golden and emerald colors.  From there, we went temporarily back to the ship in order to change into our dress clothing for the night’s ballet.  It was the Russian Ballet performing Swan Lake, and it was marvelous.  The music is fabulous and very romantic.  The dancers were graceful, talented, and full of expressive emotional qualities.  The story of Princess Odette and Prince Siegfried itself is beautiful, tragic, and reminiscent of Nineteenth Century ideals of romanticism.

The next stop was Tallinn, Estonia.  This city is full of remarkable views of the harbor from an idyllic countryside and town setting.  We visited several quaint and pretty churches, making sure to kneel for prayer.  We walked along the cobblestone streets and visited a few shops as well.  Many of the buildings here look like they have existed from the time of the Renaissance.  It’s a pleasant and peaceful city.

Our next stop on the cruise was Gdansk, Poland.  We had a lot of fun here.  This city has many exciting shops and restaurants among the various street-ways and town corners.  Some of the buildings actually date from the Renaissance.  It really is beautiful looking at them.  The people and tourists here are also very interesting.  There were even some pets walking along the streets with us.  There was definitely a friendly atmosphere.  We ate at a nice restaurant before hopping back on the cruise.

The next stop was Berlin, Germany.  I noticed that Berlin definitely seemed to be more modernized than a lot of the towns we had seen in the area.  The highlight of this visit was going to the Berlin Wall (what’s left of it, at least).  It was fun seeing the different-colored sections of the wall, much of them with symbols from the previous era of a separated Germany.  We then visited the Allied Museum, which was nice and had lots of artifacts.  From there we went back on the cruise and actually finished back at Copenhagen, Denmark.  It was interesting seeing the colorful buildings of this city again.  We checked in to our hotel and rested for a bit.  Then, we visited a beautiful statue of the Little Mermaid, inspired by one of Hans Christian Andersen’s written works.  That concluded our vacation for the year.

2003 Trip to Europe

This trip began with us traveling to London, UK for a quick overnight stay.  I remember liking the hotel and watching a bit of TV.  We then flew to Munich, Germany.  This city I found to be remarkably similar to American cities.  Our hotel was quite nice, and was surrounded by nice shops and benches.  The weather was good and sunny.  Our first tour took us through the scenery of wild Germany.  I was impressed with the glorious mountains, which were filled with green, tall trees.  The tour guide was an upbeat and funny woman.  We eventually made our way to Neuschwanstein Castle.  This incredible castle is the inspiration behind many of Disney’s fairy tale castles, and understandably so, I quickly realized.  It is so beautiful, standing up on a hill, with glistening towers and bright blue rooftops.  We made sure to take plenty of serene, wonderful photos.  The tour led us to the front of the castle and onward inside.  We learned about the incredible Prince Ludwig, who I consider one of my icons.  I was impressed with the large, ancient-looking rooms and somewhat mysterious atmosphere.  When we walked out of the castle I remember it being very hot; I believe I wanted some sort of beverage.  Our tour concluded with us traveling again through the idyllic mountains.

Our next stop was Vienna, Austria.  We had to take a train from Munich to Vienna.  It is so beautiful looking at the countryside as one travels by train here.  When we arrived, I was instantly taken by surprise just how friendly so many of the nationals are.  It was really something to behold.  One of our first visits was to St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  This picturesque cathedral has really high ceilings, lovely windows, and an amazingly tall staircase.  We decided to take the audio-tour here.  The tour involved us going up the stairs, witnessing the illustrious views of the city, and learning about the history of the cathedral.  Another of our visits was to a great Strauss concert.  Here, they played the beautiful and romantic Blue Danube Waltz.  I have always loved this famous piece, as it makes me imagine lovers dancing the ballroom night away.  The next day, we walked through an interesting Dali art exhibit.  The theme was, of course, Dali’s amazing surrealism.  I am still impressed with Dali’s unashamed embrace of the dreamy, surreal nature of the world.  We then walked among various shops, and actually recognized some of the musicians from the previous night’s concert walking around.  One of our visits was to a grand hall in which several ballet dancers impressed us with their fluid, graceful motions.  I also remember Vienna has a lovely river running through town.

Our next destination was Zurich, Switzerland.  This really is a beautiful, extraordinary city.  I noticed how hilly much of the landscape is here.  The weather was fantastic.  We went on a small cruise on a local river, where we had some great dessert.  I enjoyed the views of the hills surrounding the river, as well as the crisp, fresh look of the long river.  I actually believe this was one of my first times on a cruise.  We also visited several of the local Swatch shops.  Switzerland is known for their colorful, elegant watches.

Our last destination was London, UK.  Here, we visited Westminster Abbey, which is large, majestic, and filled with decorative spires.  We also visited the Tower of London, which has plenty of dark, mysterious hallways and a relatively morbid history.  We made sure to visit Piccadilly Circus.  This place is quite colorful and often jam-packed with tourists.  We also went to Madame Tussauds and the Chamber of Horrors again, and I was once more impressed with the darkness.  Our trip ended with another visit to London Bridge, as well as Wimbledon.

2002 Trip to Europe

Our 2002 trip to Europe was incredible.  This trip was mainly in London, UK and Dublin, Ireland.  While in London, one of our visits was to Madame Tussauds.  This is a wax museum with many statues of famous people that are completely made in wax.  We took plenty of funny photos.  I was amazed at how lifelike some of the figures were.  We also went through the Chamber of Horrors, which was dark, scary, and awesome.  I thoroughly enjoyed the mysterious and haunted vibe of the place.  Another of our visits was of course Big Ben.  This is an impressive clock tower that has been featured in quite a few movies and books.  We also visited Buckingham Palace, which is the home of UK royalty.  It is quite large, with tall columns and many gates.  While we were there, we saw the changing of the guards.  There were a bunch of tourists there seeing it as well.  It was a wonderful spectacle, with the guards marching in a regal and orderly procession.  We made sure to visit London Bridge.  This long bridge is built above the River Thames, and though it’s not quite the original from the Medieval era, it is still very impressive.  There are also many alleyways filled with shops throughout the city, so we visited some of those.  London has great food as well, with a diversity of options spanning cuisines inspired from locales around the world.  We also went aboard the London Eye, which is a really large Ferris wheel with cabins that have windows surrounding them.  The views are great from the top.

Our next visit was Dublin, Ireland.  I immediately became entranced with the beauty of Ireland.  Everything about the landscape is so green, lush, and welcoming.  On the way from the airport I noticed that there were many hills as well.  Clontarf Castle is the place where we kept our luggages and slept.  This wonderful castle has an amazing history, spanning times ever since the Medieval era.  It felt incredible staying here, knowing its past and admiring its current beauty.  There are many beautiful tapestries about the walls of the interior.  I remember hearing some great piano music there as well.  One of the tours we went on focused on three fantastic locales.  The first was an ancient graveyard with roots from the Medieval era, called the Reefert ruins.  I was impressed with the gothic beauty of this place.  Large stones could be seen at every corner, the scenery was quite green, and the hills were large and majestic.  There was even a mist covering some of the stones.  The next locale was at the foot of a beautiful lake in Wicklow.  This place was like an absolute magical dream.  Surrounding the lake were mountains of tall trees.  A lovely breeze was blowing and the water rippled passionately.  We walked around the landscape and admired the serene quality.  The view of the trees and water was unlike anything I had seen before.  The next locale was at the top of a cliff overlooking Lough Tay.  This is another wonderful place, with views of a grand lake surrounded by green scenery and tall cliffs.  It was quite cold up here, so I put on my jacket.  I then started frolicking around, because everything seemed so nice and welcoming.  On the tour bus, the tour guide played a CD of the Dubliners.  We were all enjoying ourselves on the bus to this music, and there was a general sense of camaraderie.  We learned about the term “slainte”, meaning “good health”.  One of the tour members asked if there were goats in the countryside, and the tour guide replied “yes, there be plenty goats down there”.  On another day, we walked around some shops in Dublin, and noticed how very friendly everyone was.  I got a piece of the Blarney Stone as well.  Another tour we went on led us to Trinity College, and there we saw some interesting Medieval manuscripts, and an Ogham stone.  The next stop on the tour was St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which is absolutely stunning.  The stained glass is beautiful.  Our last stop on the tour was Guinness brewery, which was fascinating.

2000 Trip to Europe

This was my first trip overseas.  Our first stop was in Rome, Italy.  Glancing out the airplane I noticed that there were a lot of fields.  When we arrived at our hotel, the Sofitel, I was impressed with its luxury.  The luxuriousness of hotels is something that continued to impress me in future vacations to destinations overseas.  We took a taxi to the Sistine Chapel.  I noticed how majestic and ancient-looking all the buildings were.  We toured the large, amazing complex filled with religious, revered works of art.  The paintings are unquestionably beautiful.  Once we finished, we walked around the area, noticing the diversity of all the tourists/people who were there as well.  We continued to walk among various shops and scenic bridges, until we noticed that we were quite lost.  It must have been about a full hour we were lost, and then a taxi finally saved us.  The next day was the Colosseum.  This ancient building has an amazing and sometimes tragic history.  We walked around it, and there were also a lot of tourists there.  We then ambled our way through bustling shops.  I noticed much of the music I heard was a cool new techno sound.  The next day we visited the glorious Trevi Fountain.  It is absolutely romantic.  People were making wishes and tossing coins into the giant fountain.  There were plenty of professional photographers taking pictures of couples in love standing in front of it.  The statues among the fountain are also quite extraordinary and heroic-looking.

The next day, we flew to Barcelona, Spain.  The hotel was Avenida Suites.  I noticed how friendly most of the people around the area were.  We toured a Gaudi museum filled with the eccentric artist’s masterpieces.  Then we took a taxi to a wonderful park inspired by the works of Gaudi.  The park was hilly and colorful.  The next day, we visited a Medieval monastery.  The ride to the monastery was filled with beautiful landscapes and lush fields.  The monastery had impressive architecture, plenty of dark, large rooms, and gorgeous gardens.  From there we went on to visit the Sagrada Familia, which I have heard is still in the process of being constructed.  This incredible church has been in the process of construction since the early Twentieth Century.  It is designed with strong attention to detail.  The next day we toured an ancient fort and visited a nice beach close to the fort.

The day after that, we flew to Paris, France.  This is an amazing and romantic city.  Our hotel was the Louvre Hotel.  We took a pleasant stroll around the area and did some people-watching.  I remember seeing such incredibly beautiful cafes filled with fragrant flowers hanging among windows and fabulous desserts.  There were really nice gardens.  It seemed so much like a dream.  That same day we took a taxi to the Eiffel Tower.  On the tower there was a sign celebrating the new millennium.  I remember noticing that the tower was taller than I had expected it to be.  The next day, we toured the giant, impressive Louvre museum.  Of course, the main attraction there is the Mona Lisa.  Security was heavy (as it should be), and there were throngs of tourists trying to catch a peek at the famous painting.  When I saw it, I remember believing it was somewhat smaller than I had expected it to be.  It was still very spectacular.  There were also other amazing works of art at the museum.  The next day, we visited the Notre Dame Cathedral.  When we walked in, there were a choir singing, candles lit, and extremely high ceilings.  It really is a lovely cathedral.  We proceeded to walk around the area, seeing shops as well as the Seine River.  This was our trip to Europe that year.