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.