Tag Archives: Europe Trip

A Month in Europe: What to Bring

One major challenge in spending a month away from home is deciding what to bring and how to bring it. Realizing that we were going to be constantly on-the-go, walking on cobblestone sidewalks and riding Europe’s public transportation, we decided to go the backpacking route for our recent month-long trip. We honed in on the Osprey Porter 46, which is a 46 liter pack that opens up like a duffel bag, has great pockets inside and then allows you to throw it on your back and travel stress-free through Europe without lugging a wobbly wheeler bag behind you.

{I'm still not sure how I got everything to fit!}
{I’m still not sure how I got everything to fit! P.S. these were the perfect walking shoes to bring to Europe.}

My new favorite thing to travel with is packing cubes. We went with the REI expandable packing cubes – I brought 2 large {which conveniently lay flat together on the bottom of the backpack} and 1 small. I used one cube for shirts and scarves, one for pants and dresses and the small one for underwear, socks, PJs and my swimming suit.

{packing cubes packed and ready to go!}
{packing cubes packed and ready to go! check out my mini hair dryer and flat iron – these were essential}

We also brought a stuff travel daypack that folded into its own pocket and allowed us to have a backpack we could bring on a hike or out exploring with us everyday. I would highly recommend this or another similar product, even a stuff bag would be helpful.

Regarding money belts and purses… I think my advice here would be to get a money belt rather than be sorry, but honestly, we only used ours one day in Barcelona. Both of us were exceptionally cautious and aware – Alex kept his phone and wallet in his front pocket and I had my cross-body purse zipped at all times with my cards kept in the zippered pocket inside, making it hard to access. We split up our cash between us and only carried necessary credit cards.

{Here I am in Bellagio, Italy wearing a scarf that doubled as a shawl at two weddings, my crossbody bag and solid clothing which worked well with my accessories.}

{Here I am in Bellagio, Italy wearing a scarf that doubled as a shawl at two weddings + a swimsuit cover-up, along with my crossbody bag and solid clothing which worked well with my accessories.}

Packing for a month in Europe is quite a challenge! I set out to bring as little as I could but also to select clothes that would allow me to mix and match with scarves or fun jewelry, making as many outfits as I was able to. After all, you don’t want to look the same in all of your pictures and you’ll surely be able to do laundry in your hotel room.

Here is what I brought:

  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 2 pairs of Bermuda shorts {definitely could have lived with just one!}
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 3 dresses
  • 2 sweaters + 1 jacket
  • 1 long sleeve shirt
  • 4 short sleeve shirts
  • 3 tank tops
  • 2 scarves {+1 that I got in Italy} – a large scarf can double as a wrap over a dress or bathing suit cover up, as well as completely change the look of a plain shirt on its own or under a sweater
  • 7 pairs of underwear, 3 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of low-key walking shoes, 1 pair of sandals, 1 pair of wedges, 1 pair of heels
  • 1 pair of PJs + 1 pair of leggings
  • 3 fun necklaces that went with most of my tops
Lined up and ready to go!
Lined up and ready to go! Note: I attended two weddings on this trip, if that had not been the case I would have removed the heels and one dress, then exchanged one dress for a long maxi-dress. I also brought one bikini.

As far as toiletries go, we both followed Rick Steves’ advice and only brought one set of everything we needed. He provided a good reminder that you can buy anything you need in Europe. I was surprised how long each travel size toiletry item lasted! The only thing we replenished was toothpaste about two weeks in.

Hopefully this provides some suggestions for successful travel planning and packing for a big trip. Taking time to get organized ahead of time will be worth it in the long-run to have a low-stress holiday.

Travel Planning Tips: How to Plan a Trip to Europe

I think that half the fun of taking a big trip is the anticipation and planning leading up to it. Alex and I just returned from nearly a month abroad and have learned a lot about what it takes to plan a big trip.

I am a total planner. Alex and I spent the better part of a year planning our month-long Euro trip and left feeling calm, collected and pretty stress-free. One of the biggest things we realized, though, is that it really doesn’t take a year to plan a lengthy trip. Here are some other things that we learned in planning this big excursion:

Websites and Apps:

  • Trip Advisor – check out top rated hotels, attractions and restaurants in cities all over the world and read other travelers reviews and suggestions
  • Rome 2 Rio – logistics website that helps you figure out how to get from point a to point b
  • Kayak – it’s helpful to have one site that shows you airfare trends and compares the prices on other travel sites
  • Orbitz – we booked our major flights through Orbitz
  • Booking – make and store all of your hotel reservations here + read handy reviews
  • AirBnB – rent a room or apartment from another person
  • Viber App – talk and text for free through the Viber app
  • TripIt App – email all of your individual travel plans to plans@tripit.com (after you create an account!) and it will create an itinerary for you and update you on your travel days with airport gates and changes

Money:

Not all credit cards work in Europe, plus, most of them will charge you an arm and a leg in foreign transaction fees. Thankfully our research proved to be quite successful. Here is what we did:

  • Chase Sapphire Credit Card: no foreign transaction fees, has a chip {you need a card with a chip in Europe} and gives you awesome rewards
  • Capital One 360 Debit Card: no foreign transaction fees; we used this only to get cash at an ATM – don’t be a sucker and go to the currency exchange booths

Other:

  • Microsoft OneNote – how anyone plans anything without OneNote is beyond me! OneNote is basically a digital notebook. We had a tab for each country, then within that we had Transportation, Lodging, Food and Activities tabs where we listed our travel plans, the hotel information, restaurants to check out and either an itinerary or ideas of things to do. We were able to access this on our phones, too.
  • Phrase Books – If you’re going to a country that speaks a language you’re unfamiliar with I would highly recommend getting a phrase book. We had an Italian and Spanish phrase book that was incredibly helpful, especially when ordering at a restaurant. While most people speak English, it is fun and appreciated to at least look like you’re trying to communicate locally.
  • Travel Guides – We used Rick Steves’ travel guides which were really helpful. He has a guide for most {maybe even all} European countries, as well as his notorious “Back Door” guides that contain basic travel advice.
  • Universal Adapter – Europe uses a different electrical plug than the US, so be sure to get an adapter before you go. If you’re going to the UK and another country in Europe you might consider a universal adapter instead of two separate adapters. We brought two adapters. Know that this is different than a converter – check the power plug on your devices to ensure they are dual voltage compatible, otherwise you’ll need a converter.

Activity Planning:

One thing that I am glad we didn’t do was over-plan. Our priorities for being “planful” were having a place to stay and knowing our transportation logistics. Second to those were planning activities. We wanted to be able to be flexible while we were in Europe so we really didn’t plan all that much to do. More or less, we had a list of things that we would like to see and do in each city and tried to make a rough itinerary that didn’t fill an entire day and then work it out when we arrived to that city.

Know When to Go with the Flow:

I’m not sure where we got the sense to do this but we were so glad that we planned our trip in an order that allowed us to go to smaller, more relaxing cities in between our jaunts to bigger, busier cities. We got the chance to recoup and relax by stopping at some cities off the beaten path – plus, those ended up being some of our favorites.

Either way, it seemed like flexibility and the willingness to go with the flow were the two biggest components that added up to a successful trip. Being the planner that I am it helped me to mentally prepare for things to not go as I had accounted for them to go. In the end, all that matters is having a great time.

Our Trip To Europe: A Recap

After 9 plane rides, 8 train rides, 7 hotels, 1 AirBnB rental, 8 cities, 5 countries, 5 different languages, 3 currencies, more than 60 meals in restaurants, and 26 days of traveling, we have returned home from our trip to Europe.

Our adventure began in mid-June with a full day in Cinque Terre, Italy, where we hiked between the villages of Monterosso and Vernazza, ate pizza and local pesto, and sunbathed on the beach. We loved the peach, butter yellow and sunkissed pink colors that made up the landscape of this iconic beach town.

Cinque Terre (24)

From Cinque Terre, we took a train to a small village outside of Venice called Arqua’ Petrarca to attend Alina and Alberto’s wedding. The setting in the middle of the Italian wine country couldn’t have been better for this Ameican-Italian wedding. The meal at the event lasted four hours, not including appetizers, fruit or dessert, and the wedding itself lasted nearly 12 hours, going into the wee hours of the morning. Italian’s really know how to savor the best things in life!

Arqua Petrarca (29)

The best hotel and coffee on our trip was found here. We stayed at Villa del Poeta hotel and had the most incredible customer service we had ever experienced, along with divine Italian coffee. We couldn’t have asked for anything better.

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Our final stop in Italy was Lake Como. We took a cooking class, sunbathed, drank a lot of wine and toured the lake and a village by Ferry.

Lake Como (16)

 

Alex’s family was with us on this leg of our journey and we enjoyed getting to spend several quality days with them, especially his Great Uncle Larry and his wife, Jayne, who live in England.

Lake Como (22)

One of the highlights of our trip was the first day we spent in Switzerland where we took the Glacier Express train from the alpine city of St. Moritz to the ski town of Zermatt. We wove our way around mountains, through tunnels and across expansive landscapes dotted with brown and white Swiss mountain homes until we ended at the foot of the Matterhorn in Zermatt.

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My favorite city of our entire trip was Zermatt. Alex and I adore being in the mountains and I loved the small-town feel of the mountain town, as well as being able to look up and stare at a mountain peak as majestic as the Matterhorn. We had an incredible time hiking, taking in the scenery and eating fondue, which was our favorite meal on our trip. The meat fondue {pictured below} is from Whymper Stube and we also had a phenomenal cheese fondue from Restaurant Stadel.

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The customer service in Switzerland and Italy was by far the best in our trip. We were so impressed with the level of care and consideration that every person we encountered in the service industry in Italy and Switzerland had. The hotel we stayed in {Hotel Bristol} was great too!

{my little slice of paradise}

{my little slice of paradise}

The third country in our trip was Spain. We split a week between the bustling, cosmopolitan city of Barcelona and the quiet beach town of Alicante.

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Barcelona provided a lot of culture and tourist activities, a phenomenal wine tour through the Priorat wine region, as well as incredible sangria. Our two favorite restaurants in Barcelona were 15 Nights and Bilbao-Berria.

{overlooking the Priorat wine region}

{overlooking the Priorat wine region}

We were able to relax and work on our tans as we laid out on the Postiguet Beach in the coastal town of Alicante. By this point in our trip we were beyond tired of any type of ham, jamon or prosciutto and were really looking forward to a new type of cuisine. Even so, we had two exceptional meals at La Taberna de Tito and Piripi, where we dined with some new friends, Jose Luis and Conchita.

Alicante

Enter London, the fourth of five countries on our trip. It was a big change going from Spain to London, not just because of the language difference, but the architecture and overall feel of the city drastically changed here. We had the most idea of what to expect in London since there are so many iconic photos depicting the cityscape.

London (3)

It was really fun to visit places like Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abby, ride the London Eye, as well as see the bright red double-decker buses and telephone booths.

{view from the London Eye}

{view from the London Eye}

Other than simply walking the streets, the best parts of our trip in London were seeing the Tour de France come through and eating Indian food at Gopal’s.

{part of the Tour de France}

{part of the Tour de France}

The final city in our Euro-trip was Amsterdam, Alex’s favorite. We both loved how quaint the town of 700,000 people was. It didn’t feel crowded or over-run with tourists. The weather wasn’t great at all until our last morning in Amsterdam, but being Seattleites, we didn’t let that ruin our time there. Both of us adored the architecture and structure of the city, where it was situated alongside semi-circle canals. The people were very friendly and we really enjoyed the food.

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We are really looking forward to being able to return to Europe again one day. As Rick Steves says, plan to be back!

Trip to Europe: Amsterdam

After spending more than three weeks in Europe the time had come to visit the last city on our stopover. We spent our last two days in Europe in the heart of Amsterdam and we were pleased to find that we saved one of the best for last.

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Even with really crummy, rainy weather we both quickly began to adore Amsterdam.

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Similarly to how we felt in London, the culture and architecture feels so different in Amsterdam than it did anywhere in Europe.

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The city center is built in a horseshoe shape based around five canals. Many of the buildings have brick facades that have been painted over, mainly in rich, dark colors. I really am not sure how old the buildings are, but some were noticeably sinking and leaning on their neighbors, so I am guessing they’re pretty old.

Amsterdam (11)

Nearly all of the buildings are residential with some having a restaurant or small shop on the street level. There are no skyscrapers or large companies {save for H&M and other retailers} in the city center. This keeps the feel of the city pretty quaint and quiet and helps it not seem like a huge city, which with a population of only 700,000 people, it really isn’t.

{"traffic"}

{“traffic”}

We felt safe across the city and were amused to see for ourselves how Amsterdam has taken the pragmatic approach to dealing with prostitution and marijuana. Everything blended together and nothing really seemed taboo in Amsterdam.

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We had one of our best hotel experiences in Amsterdam, as well. We stayed at Hotel Estherea in the heart of the city, located on one of the canals. The building is extremely old {Alex asked and the receptionist replied that “indeed it is very old sir” so that’s the best we could get} and beautifully decorated and maintained. We would definitely return and recommend it.

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Since we were there for such a short time and the weather was so dismal we didn’t have much of an agenda. We spent most of our time huddled under our umbrellas trying to stay dry as we walked the streets. Other than walking through the Red Light District and Vondel Park the only big thing we did was go to the Van Gogh Museum.

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On our last evening in Amsterdam we got to watch the World Cup game between the Netherlands and Argentina. We went to a bar near our hotel and thankfully arrived early, scoring ourselves great seats, but only were able to stay until the half because the smoke was driving both of us crazy. Even though they have to label packs of cigarettes with “Smoking Kills” we don’t think that Europeans particularly care, as everyone still smokes somehow. I digress. In any case, we now know that Argentina went on to win that game in a shoot-out and go on to the final against Germany.

Amsterdam (7)

Finally on our last day, of course, the sun came out and gave us some better light for snapping some photos. We enjoyed our morning just strolling through the city, watching the “traffic” {bikes, bikes and more bikes} as we overlooked the canal. We loved that morning and were very bittersweet about leaving our final European city to make our way back to the U.S.

Trip to Europe: Lake Como, Italy

The third stop on our recent Euro trip was Lake Como, Italy. This has been an area that Alex especially has wanted to visit, as his great uncle Larry has a home there. Lake Como is situated in the northwest section of Italy and borders the Swiss Alps.

{Bellagio, one of the infamous villages on Lake Como}

{Bellagio, one of the infamous villages on Lake Como}

The lake is massive – something like 30 miles long and 3 miles across. There is an excellent ferry service that provides transportation across the whole lake, which is helpful to get from one village to another, given the size and landscape of the lake. It is hard to describe the beauty of Lake Como because there really is nothing to compare it to. Looking out across the lake you see giant grassy mountains protruding thousands of feet up from the water. The shore is dotted with small Italian villages that hug the water’s edge, not climbing too high up the steep mountainside.

Lake Como (13)

The water itself was constantly moving, waves crashing on the shore, sounding more like an ocean than a lake. Lake Como is the vacation home to the rich and the famous and has been the stage of several movies, including Casino Royale.

Lake Como (12)

We arrived in Lake Como on a Sunday evening in the middle of July. The route took us through switchbacks and more than 10 tunnels before we arrived at Hotel Meridiana in Bellano, Italy. It was not the most pleasant of drives, given the topography, but Alex had fallen ill earlier in the day and spent the whole car ride nauseous and vomiting. Thankfully, though, he said the excruciating drive was worth it for the magnificent view we had once we arrived. He was back to himself by the end of the day.

{the view from uncle Larry's veranda}

{the view from Uncle Larry’s veranda}

Since we were all together at Alex’s sister’s wedding in Arqua Petrarca the day before, several of Alex’s family members, including his parents, Nana, Aunt Chris, Uncle Mike, Cousin Emily, Uncle Dave, Aunt Katie, as well as some family friends, Barb and Donna, made the journey over to Lake Como by train to join us for a few extra days. Alex’s great Uncle Larry and his wife Jayne have a vacation home in Bellano, the town we stayed in, and they were able to schedule some time there to overlap with our trip.

{admiring the view from Uncle Larry's house}

{admiring the view from Uncle Larry’s house}

The first full day in Lake Como the rest of the family set out to take a ferry over to Bellagio to check out one of different villages, while Donna, Stan, Alex and I attended a cooking class. As a thank you for helping out with the wedding, Alina and Alberto gave us the cooking class as a gift. We were picked up by Moreno, the owner and chef, at our hotel and taken to his home and restaurant in the next village.

{the outside of Moreno's restaurant}

{the outside of Moreno’s restaurant}

We were greeted with coffee and cookies {aka breakfast in Italy} by his wife and joined about 10 other cooking class attendees.

Lake Como (4)

The class turned out to be more of a demonstration than a class, which at first I was unsure of, but then Moreno proved to be extremely entertaining and I really just enjoyed watching him do all of the work. He showed us how to make pasta dough, then while that was resting he prepared an herb roasted turkey breast and au gratin potatoes. In the middle of the class we were served a snack of prosciutto, cheese, crackers and bottomless wine.

Lake Como (7)

Moreno showed us how to make a filling for our tortelloni {tortellini = small filled pasta, tortelloni = big filled pasta}, which consisted of milky ricotta, herbs straight from the garden and a smidge of garlic, but only rubbed around the inside of the bowl. We got to participate in shaping the tortelloni, which was good practice for when I prepare these dishes at home. Finally, he whipped up a butter and leek sauce for the tortelloni, cooked the pasta and served our first course.

Lake Como (6)

We all loved the freshly made pasta – that was my favorite part of the meal. Shortly after finishing the tortelloni we enjoyed the roasted turkey and potatoes. It didn’t seem terribly Italian but apparently it is. I am looking forward to making that at home.

Lake Como (8)

One of the other attendees asked him about making a tomato sauce and instead of telling her how to make one he brought out the fresh ingredients and showed us all how to make tomato sauce.

{Varenna, Italy - very close to where the class was}

{Varenna, Italy – very close to where the class was}

Moreno is an extremely genuine person who clearly loves food and making people happy. He is hilarious, so that was just the icing on the cake. We had such a great time in the cooking class, which turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.

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That evening Uncle Larry and his wife, Jayne, met us down at our hotel for dinner. We sat together at a long table overlooking Lake Como, watching a storm roll in. Thankfully we all made it back from our adventures before the sky broke loose. There was squall after squall of high winds, fierce raindrops, cloud to ground lightning and loud claps of thunder that kept rolling through all night. I enjoy storms and it’s pretty neat that I can say I watched one roll its way across Lake Como.

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{uncle Larry & aunt Katie at uncle Larry’s home}

Throughout the week both Nana and Larry were feeling very nostalgic and shared many memories of their childhood together. We learned that their father was held as a prisoner of war and after he was released he ended up going to work for his captors on their farm with his family in tow. Nana’s given name was Desalina, which I knew, and her father crossed it out on her birth certificate and changed it to Maria, just like that. I had always thought she changed it when she and her husband moved to the US.

{nana and her brother, uncle Larry}

{nana and her brother, uncle Larry}

We also learned that their family’s surname was originally Iori {pronounced your eye} and they quickly changed the spelling and pronunciation to Yori {pronounced your-ee} after Larry got repeatedly punched in the eye by the Brits saying that his eye was theirs. Alex and I really enjoyed hearing Nana and Larry lament on their childhood stories all week long. We were happy to be a part of their reunion, as well.

Lake Como (22)

The next day was Tuesday and Alex and I decided to take a few hours to ourselves and head over to another village for the afternoon. We hopped aboard the ferry and enjoyed a lovely boat ride across Lake Como to the darling village of Bellagio. Some time when we were aboard the ferry the clouds parted and the sun found its way out. It turned into a spectacular day.

Lake Como (24)

Alex and I loved strolling through the narrow cobblestone streets of Bellagio, poking our head into a few shops and admiring the pink and orange facades that made up the cityscape. Everywhere we turned boasted a view of Lake Como.

Lake Como (19)

Our ferry ride back to Bellano was quite enjoyable. We found some seats on the sundeck and basked in the heat of the day. When we arrived back at the hotel we were greeted by the family outside sunbathing next to the lake. They had all just taken a dip in Lake Como together. We quickly retreated to our room to grab our bathing suit and join them. While we were looking forward to the evening ahead at Larry’s home, we were perfectly content spending as much time in the sun as possible.

Lake Como (16)

One thing I have heard Alex speak of for much of our relationship was his great uncle who has a home on Lake Como. Needless to say, he was very excited to get a chance to see this home for himself. Larry and Jayne’s home is situated up the hill with a 360 degree panoramic view of Lake Como and its surrounding area; it has a veranda that circles the entire house. If I lived there I don’t think I would feel the need to ever go inside. Nonetheless, Jayne has a beautiful state-of-the-art kitchen at her disposal. The kitchen has bright red accents and clean stainless steel furnishings. An Italian’s dream!

Lake Como (30)

We were spoiled by Jayne’s culinary skills throughout the evening as she continued to feed us small bits to tide us over until the pizza arrived. Would you believe that Italian’s, too, order delivery pizza? We all were enjoying the view too much to want to leave and go eat inside a restaurant.

Lake Como (26)

The evening was quite lovely. Larry serenaded us with his accordion and showed us photos of some old cars he had restored. We heard more stories of Larry and Nana’s childhood together, as well as how he and Jayne selected the plot on Lake Como. Somewhere along the line a burst of rain came in, and no sooner was it gone, leaving a vibrant rainbow in its shadow. We even got to see a double rainbow for a short time. Quite an evening, to say the least.

Lake Como (11)

Our trip in Lake Como was a wonderful end to the Italy chapter in our journey. The next morning Donna and Stan graciously drove us across the border to St Moritz, Switzerland.

Trip to Europe: London

The second to last stop on our trip to Europe was London. Neither Alex nor I had been to London before and both of us were really looking forward to a change in culture and cuisine.

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The trip to London started in Alicante. Not having had our coffee yet, were off our game that morning. We didn’t have enough cash for the bus so we ended up having to take a later bus, making us a little frazzled. Once we flew through security and settled on a place to have coffee and breakfast we also realized that we were short on cash yet again. Thinking it was a give a penny, take a penny jar, Alex grabbed a few coins and handed them to the cashier who looked at him shaking her head. Indeed it was her tip jar.

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Once we had our coffee things were a bit more smooth but it was a much longer and more tiring travel day than we had expected. I forgot that we had a time difference so the flight was twice as long as I had expected it to be and then there was an enormous amount of walking once we landed in London. It was all worth it, though, because we both loved the city.

{the London Eye}

{the London Eye}

Upon getting checked in at The Beauchamp Hotel in the Bloomsbury neighborhood we set out to find ourselves some lunch, now that it was 3:00 and I was hours past the point of being hangry. We found a cute British pub not too far from our hotel that we settled into. We eventually learned that there is a restaurateur in London who buys the greatest pubs in town and produces the same mediocre food at each location.

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With full bellies we were ready to take on the city. Except it was raining. We headed back to our hotel to get unpacked and come up with a game plan.

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Our first dinner in London was much better than our lunch. We found a quaint little restaurant called Mother Mash that specialized in bangers and mash. You got to pick the type of potato, sausage and gravy for your mash and then a delicious plate of your custom creation arrived at the table.

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When we woke up the next morning we were pleasantly surprised to find a note from the hotel manager apologizing for the fact that our shower had fallen apart the night before so he decided to comp our WiFi {this was the only hotel we stayed at that didn’t have free WiFi} and give us breakfast each day. We really appreciated the gesture, especially since the breakfast was really good and saved us a fair amount of money.

{hanging out in Soho near our hotel}

{hanging out in Soho near our hotel}

Our first day in London was a very busy one. We started by walking to Trafalgar’s Square and taking in our surroundings while en route. We stopped for a few photos at an iconic old phone booth and took a picture of a double-decker bus. Once we arrived in Trafalgar’s Square we realized that the Tour de France was slated to pass through London the next day. Who knew that the Tour de France wasn’t just in France?

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From Trafalgar’s Square we set out towards The Mall which led up to Buckingham Palace.

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We saw the marching band passing by on its way to collect the new horses as we made our way to the Palace. We arrived about an hour or so before the changing of the guards took place and thoroughly enjoyed some good quality people watching.

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The police officers were very patient in managing the crowd of what they called 10,000 people, but nonetheless, it was quite hilarious watching a bunch of gaping tourists all with their phones, cameras or iPads sticking up in the air trying to get a good picture, all while missing the action on its own.

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The changing of the guard ceremony was fun to watch. We saw the two different bands and guards approach, both playing different music and entering at different times.

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We weren’t able to see the actual changing of the guards, mostly just the guards marching inside the palace walls. It is definitely something to do while in London.

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Hungry, thirsty and tired, we headed to Harrods to explore the luxury department store and have lunch. I was surprised how packed it was, but I suppose, just like us, everyone wanted to see the hurrah of the famous store for themselves.

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We walked through the luxury accessories department, which puts Nordstrom to shame, then came upon the deli and bakery. I have never seen so many perfectly displayed pastries and cupcakes. They were stunning. What we were really interested in, though, was the wine shop. Harrods has a famous wine selection. We also found a little wine sniffing kit that comes with 50+ different jars of aromas found in wine. This is to teach your senses what scents you would find on the nose of a wine. The kit comes with an explanation of the scent and also a list of wine varietals and regions you would find that aroma in.

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Since it was lunch time we decided it would be a good idea to sit down and do a wine flight and eat some food to re-fuel for the rest of the day.

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After lunch it was time to head to Westminster Abby and check out Big Ben and the Parliament Building before heading over to see the London Eye.

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{up in the London Eye}

{up in the London Eye}

We loved walking through the streets of London. The culture and architecture there is so different than it is in the other cities we visited. It was refreshing to be back in a place where everyone speaks English. While there are a lot of similarities in the building materials, the London architecture felt a bit different than the Italian and Spanish. I guess it’s just English architecture.

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One surprising element of being in London was not knowing which way to look when crossing the street. Thankfully for us Americans they have it painted on the road.

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Day two in London was another busy one. When we woke up the sun was shining and it was forecast to be a beautiful day. Our first stop was St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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From there we walked across the Millennium Bridge to the Borough Market.

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It was a bit early for us but we had planned on having lunch at the Borough Market.

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While on our way to cross the Tower Bridge we came upon some different street vendors selling churros with hot chocolate, the one food in Spain that was on our list that we never had. Of course we stopped to get a dessert of churros con chocolate.

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Crossing the Tower Bridge was great, but it was more fun to look at it from a distance. It is quite a magnificent bridge.

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Just on the other side of the bridge is the Tower Museum. This is apparently London’s most visited {read: crowded!} attraction. Neither of us knew much about the museum but Alex decided we should probably see it. I don’t think I would go out of my way to go to a museum. I just don’t have the attention span for museums or the patience for the people who come with the territory. Yes I realize how uncultured this makes me sound… just being honest!

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The Tower Museum is basically an old fortress {I want to say built in the 1100s} that has been repurposed into holding the secrets to London’s history over the years, including stories about the famous royalties and warriors, the crowned jewels, the ancient coats of armor that protected the soldiers, and a lot of history.

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I was perfectly beat after walking through the tourist-filled museum so we found a little café at Katherine’s Dock to recoup at before we posted up to watch the Tour de France pass through.

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Right outside Katherine’s Dock we found ourselves on the Tour de France route so we stayed put and watched the crowds grow with anticipation of the cyclists’ arrival. It was warm and sunny and the crowds were building with anticipation as the day carried on.

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About 20 minutes before the Tour came through the sky opened up and it started pouring. We all stayed put, completely soaked, and remained until the cyclists came through.

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We couldn’t believe how quickly they passed by. Literally 200 bikers flew by in a matter of about 30 seconds. And then it was over.

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While it was a brief encounter it was definitely a highlight of the trip to get the opportunity to be able to see a small part of the Tour de France.

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For our last dinner in London we went to a small but fabulous Indian restaurant called Gopal’s. Alex loves Indian food and since London is known for their authentic Indian cuisine we couldn’t pass it up. I had never really had Indian food before but was happy to try it and even happier to find that I enjoyed it.

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We shared some garlic naan, butter chicken and a chicken tikka something or other {not chicken tikka masala}. Everything was wonderful!

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Our evening of Indian food was a great way to cap off our whirlwind trip to London. The next day we were on to our last European city before heading back to the US.

Trip to Europe: Alicante, Spain

The sixth stop on our Europe trip was Alicante, Spain, a small city on the Costa Blanca {located on the Eastern coast of Spain right on the Mediterranean Sea}. We chose to go to Alicante for two reasons: the beach and to re-visit the location where I studied abroad in 2006. I was excited to return to the location where some of my favorite college memories were made and I couldn’t wait to show Alex that special spot.

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The first bit of excitement in our Alicante trip was our taxi ride from the airport. The driver was very quiet and then halfway into our ride he decided to turn on some music. Not just any music, mind you. He picked an album from the group Two Live Crew, which if you’ve never heard of them before, you should not listen to their music. It was all in English and their lyrics are notoriously vulgar. Alex and I have a good sense of humor and were sitting in the backseat holding our breath trying not to burst into a fit of laughter. We were curious if the taxi driver had any idea what the lyrics were saying.

Our first day in Alicante was a bit silly. I thought I had made it perfectly clear to anyone who I discussed my study abroad trip with that my priorities for my summer abroad were as follows: go to the beach, go to the beach, go to the beach and go to the bar. My priorities had only slightly changed for this trip and included going to the beach, going to the beach, drinking sangria and wine and eating good food.

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Alex was noticeably surprised that I had not been to any of Alicante’s “attractions” nor did I particularly know my way around town, except to the beach. He was also surprised that the city I lived in is not the nicest city in Spain. Alicante has seen better times and has been hit pretty bad with the recent recession in Spain. There are certainly very cute parts of Alicante, which we explored, but there are a lot of areas in shambles, too. Also, Alicante is not a tourist town, which I’m certain has an impact on its appearance.

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What Alicante does have going for it, though is its beach. This was our first stop after checking into the hotel. We postponed unpacking so we could set up shop on the Postiguet Beach, a good 10 minute walk from our hotel. The beach was everything I remembered it to be. Crowded, sunny and gorgeous. The water was so clear. I had forgotten how beautiful it was to simply look out at the sea. The shallow water glistened a lovely turquoise color while the deep water was a mystical blue. It was so inviting!

{the weather for our beach trip was absolutely perfect!}

{the weather for our beach trip was absolutely perfect!}

Most of our time in Alicante was spent laying out on the beach. I went through a few riveting beach reads {Where’d You Go Bernadette, The Best Medicine: A Bell Harbor Novel, and A Hundred Summers} while Alex got lost in his book about neuroscience. And then he read another one called Sound Investing or something thrilling like that. Opposites do attract… Really, though, the stop in Alicante was like a vacation from our vacation. We loved having a few days to simply do nothing and recover from being on the go for two weeks, as well as the hustle and bustle in Barcelona.

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We had a few mediocre meals followed by two really great meals. The first of the really great meals came as a surprise. We were so tired of Spanish food – it wasn’t my favorite to begin with, but the thought of eating another piece of jamon {ham}, no matter if it was jamon serrano {like Italian prosciutto}, jamon York {like American sliced ham – the worst offender!}, jamon iberico {this stuff is pretty good – a classy jamon serrano} or better yet, “bacon” {fatty slightly cooked jamon York} really made me sick. We ended up at a spot called Taberna de Tito, a restaurant I had found on Trip Advisor. This was an awesome restaurant! We had several rounds of tapas, a fabulous bottle of wine and then a great steak dish. Oh and we may or may not have finished our meal with ice cream accompanied by a Kit Kat bar and Oreos. Don’t judge.

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The second great meal came on our last day. We met Jose Luis and his wife Conchita, both of whom are longtime friends of my uncle Brian and happen to live outside of Alicante. We met them at Pripi, a classy Spanish joint on the other side of town from our hotel. It was a lovely lunch not only because of the food, but because of the company. Since the two of them frequent Pripi we let them pick the meal.

We started with jamon iberico {more ham! But this was GOOD!} and pan y tomate {baguette with rubbed tomatoes} and some really lightly breaded eggplant slices and romesco sauce. It was lovely. Our main course was paella. I have had paella a few times in the past, including one time on our present trip, and it had always been dry and virtually flavorless, so I was ready to give up on the paella movement. Pripi proved me wrong. We had the exact same paella as we had ordered in a different restaurant in Alicante and it was incredible how much better it tasted. Paella is a rice dish that hails from the Valecian province of Spain. Actually if we are being matter of fact, paella is a type of pan, but the dish paella is one of rice that is made in a paella pan {a bit redundant to say paella pan – kind of like saying pan pan}. All paella includes saffron which gives the rice its notorious yellow hue. The dish includes meat, vegetables and/or seafood. It is all cooked together and served straight from the paella {the pan that is!}.

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We had a lovely time in Alicante. We were well-rested and ready to take on London!

Trip to Europe: Priorat Wine Tour Outside of Barcelona

Some time ago Alex and I fell in love with Spanish wines, and in particular, those that reign from the Priorat Region. This region is known for its difficult growing conditions, as it is at a higher than usual altitude (over 2,000 feet) and the terrain is basically slate – the lower elevations are black slate, then red slate and the highest elevation is clay. Can you imagine growing anything on a slate mountainside??

{Welcome to the Priorat!}

{Welcome to the Priorat!}

Basically no one thought you could grow grapes here, but thankfully way back in the 1100s the Spanish monks mastered the practice until the region was basically destroyed by phyllaxora {a nasty underground bug that ate away at the roots of the grapevines}. Some resilient wine makers stayed put and then in the 1980s some wine lovers decided to give it a go and came to the Priorat to try their hand at the region and the rest is history.

View overlooking the region

{view overlooking the region}

Mid-way through our Europe trip we had scheduled a tour of the Priorat wine region through Spanish Trails {a tour company}. This was one of the few pre-planned activities we had put together, but one that we were most looking forward to.

{some of these vines are close to 100 years old!}

{some of these vines are close to 100 years old!}

Our wine guide, Andrew, was extremely knowledgeable on the region, the wineries and on wine in general. He also had a good sense of humor. He began the day by telling everyone I was pregnant so I had to sit up front. Unfortunately {for me} no one heard me follow up and say “I’m not really pregnant!” so that made for a few interesting looks once I started drinking wine…

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We started our day at Cellar Passanau, named for the Passanau family, where we took a stroll out to the fields. Mind you I was not dressed for a “stroll” across the slate mountainside… It was very worthwhile, though. We got to see how the 100 year old vines grew compared to the newer 20 year old vines, and we got to really look at the “soil” {aka slate} of the region. It was really fascinating.

{our guide and another wine drinker inspecting the old vines}

{our guide and another wine drinker inspecting the old vines}

Lucky for us, we got stuck at the first winery. Literally. The streets in the Priorat are hardly wide enough for a Smart Car to pass through, but a big semi-truck was making its rounds through town and the driver locked his keys in his car, so we were stuck tasting wine after wine after wine at the first winery until the driver was able to get into his truck. I think we tried seven wines. And when I say we “tried seven wines” I mean we drank seven bottles of wine between the eight of us.

{this is a street that cars drive on!}

{this is a street that cars drive on!}

Alex ended up buying a 2002 wine that we had tried. It was out of this world. And it cost 10 Euros. We were blown away by the low cost of buying wines at the wineries here. It is so different from buying wines directly at the wineries in Washington. The distribution has made it so that it is cheaper, often, to buy a wine at the grocery store than it is at the winery. This is not the case in Spain, anyway.

{this is what 10 euros can get you in Spain!}

{this is what 10 euros can get you in Spain!}

From here we drove about 15 minutes to the Clos Figueres winery. Alex and I had been fortunate enough to try a wine from this wine maker back in Seattle before we left. Henri at our favorite spot, Bottlehouse, knew we were going to this winery and he was able to get a bottle of their wine from his distributor and allowed us to try it. Needless to say, after we tried this wine we were even more excited to take the trip!

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Our experience at Clos Figueres was our favorite of the day. They prepared a fabulous lunch for us that they paired with their own wines. We tried four wines here, a white and three reds, one red was from grapes from new vines, and the other two were from old vines {vines that are older than 70 years}. It is hard to pick a favorite, but really I think my favorite was wine we had already tried. We began our meal with the white wine, which was paired with some cheese, bread, their own olive oil, slices of salami and sausage, and some liver pate.

{heading down to the cellar at Clos Figueres}

{heading down to the cellar at Clos Figueres}

Next came the wine from new vines and my favorite part of the meal – the tomato bread. In Spain they love to smear tomato guts all over crusty bread. It tastes great, but here they let us do the smearing of the tomatoes. They gave us each our own little station with a slice of crusty bread, a clove of garlic, homemade olive oil and then a whole tomato. We rubbed the bread with a little garlic, drizzled on some olive oil and then sliced our tomato in half and smeared the cut side of the tomato all over the garlicy bread. Mmmm.

{I want to say this cellar is 600 years old}

{I want to say this cellar is 600 years old}

The third wine was our favorite. It was paired with a simple but divine salad. The salad was mixed greens with enormous chunks of heirloom and cherry tomatoes. Did you know that Spain has unbelievable tomatoes?

{one of Clos Figueras' wines made with grapes from newer grapes}

{one of Clos Figueras’ wines made with grapes from newer grapes}

Finally, the main course was served. We were given the choice of lamb or sausage. Both Alex and I selected the sausage. It was lovely. So was the wine. It was paired with Clos Figueres’ top wine.

To finish off the meal we were given two platters with an assortment of desserts. As if we needed more food. It was an exceptional meal and experience.

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On to Clos Dominic! We made our way through a teeny tiny town and met up with the wine maker, whose wife, Dominic, is the namesake of the winery. This wine maker is the heart and soul of the operation. He does it all. His production is quite small – only about 13,000 bottles of wine each year, but truly, I cannot believe how much he does.

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We started our visit by taking a trip out to the field. Again, I was not dressed properly for what we came across. This field was a very steep, sandy and rocky plot of land and it was hot. That is putting it mildly. The wine maker does everything from planting the vines to weeding, harvesting the grapes and then completing the process of making and bottling the wine, giving wine tours and tastings and selling the wines. I was tired just thinking about all he does.

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After our trip into the fields we went back to the cellar. Truly a cellar – we entered at ground level which was very basement-like. This is where he does a lot of the fermentation in the steel tanks, as well as the bottling process. Then we went down to the real cellar. We learned that this was over 600 years old! I cannot even comprehend. The cellar was quite musty and cobweb laden but our host had set up a lovely glass table for us to drink around. He prepared some bread and olive oil {likely some that he made himself}, a glass for each taster and had lined up a row of all of the wines we were about to try.

{The wine cellar at Clos Dominic where we did our final tasting}

{The wine cellar at Clos Dominic where we did our final tasting}

These wines were some of the biggest, boldest red wines I have ever tasted. No whites for this guy. He is strictly a red man. His “entry level” wine is served in the restaurant that is named the best in the world, then another one of his wines is the wine of choice for the Swiss government. There was some stat for each wine, but please remember I had been drinking for nearly 12 hours at this point so my memory from here out was a bit foggy.

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We would have been happy to just go to one or two of these wineries, but to go to all three and get the chance to drive through the region and see the vines was such an honor and a treat. Our appreciation for wine and what it takes to be a small production winery grew exponentially as a result of this experience. We have already started looking at wine {and its cost} in a new light. We only wish we would have been able to buy more wines from these guys while on our tour, but we didn’t really have anywhere to keep it. We’re crossing our fingers we can find it in the states!

Trip to Europe: Barcelona, Spain

The third country in our recent trip to Europe was Spain. We visited two Mediterranean cities in Spain: Barcelona and Alicante. First up, Barcelona…

{Christopher Columbus statue at the foot of La Rambla}

{Christopher Columbus statue at the foot of La Rambla}

After a long train ride from Zermatt, Switzerland to Geneva, a lengthy wait at the airport, a reasonably quick flight and an easy bus ride to the city center we arrived at our hotel in Barcelona late in the evening on a Saturday at the end of June. It was the perfect time to get checked in and grab a bite to eat since the Spanish enjoy eating dinner at 10 p.m.

We hadn’t figured it out quite at this point yet, but our hotel was situated in probably the most ideal spot in Barcelona. We stayed at the Portal de l’Angel hotel just off the Placa Catalunya, which we found out was the hub of the city center.

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Upon check in we asked the receptionist for a recommendation for dinner that night. She pointed us to Bilbao-Berria, a restaurant closeby that serves pinxos {pronounced “peen-chose” – the letter “x” in Catalan makes a “ch” sound}. We had a great time at the restaurant. It is almost like the concept of a high-class cafeteria or buffet where you walk up to a very long bar and pick out which tapas you would like. Each pinxo comes on a skewer, then when you’re done with the dish you put your skewer in a little cup on the table and the waiter just counts the number of skewers you had to know how much to charge you. Some of the pinxos we had were skewers with meat, veggies and cheese, others were croquettes {basically fried mashed potatoes with some meat in them}, and sausages. It was a great introduction to Spanish food.

{Spanish food wasn't our favorite European cuisine, but we certainly had some great meals}

{Spanish food wasn’t our favorite European cuisine, but we certainly had some great meals}

The next morning, our first full day in Barcelona, we didn’t have a huge agenda but wanted to check out some of the sights that were closer to our hotel. We set off for the Picasso Museum and got a chance to walk through that before it got too crowded. Both of us appreciated getting a chance to see Picasso’s works from an early age because it demonstrated his serious ability and showcased how he came to find his niche.

From the Picasso Museum we strolled around and wound up at Placa Catalunya, near our hotel, and at the start of La Rambla, one of the main tourist walking streets in town. Some say this is the heart of Barcelona, but both of us felt it was too crowded and way too touristy.

{Down on the port at the end of La Rambla}

{Down on the port at the end of La Rambla}

We ventured off La Rambla and came upon Placa Real {the royal plaza}, a big open courtyard with butter yellow buildings adorned with wrought iron balconies and beautiful palm trees in the center. The perimeter of Placa Real is all restaurants. We settled on a restaurant, Quince Nits {15 Nights}, and plopped ourselves down for our first Spanish lunch.

{Placa Real}

{Placa Real}

Much like the Italians, the Spanish love to eat and enjoy a laborious meal. Being on vacation we learned to love this, too. We found it quite enjoyable to settle in for a slow, leisurely meal once a day. In Spain, that leisurely meal was lunch, which is typically eaten between 2:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon, then a light dinner follows around 9:00 or 10:00 in the evening. Rarely did we eat dinner that late, but I can understand if you stuff yourself so much in the middle of the day all you want is a salad or fruit later in the evening.

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This meal in particular ended up being one of our favorite Spanish meals. We enjoyed a liter of incredible Sangria, then shared a variety of tapas, followed by a roasted duck breast and beautifully prepared pork tenderloin.

After lunch we strolled through el Barri Gotic {the Gothic Quarter neighborhood}, stopped for ice cream and retreated to the courtyard pool oasis back at our hotel.

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We had completely forgotten that this little section of paradise existed so we were extra happy when we were able to take our first siesta outdoors next to the pool. It was perfect.

Thanks to our siesta, we were well-rested and ready for an evening on the town. We had tickets to see a flamenco show at the renowned Palau Musica, an absolutely stunning music hall. We arrived a little early for the 9:30 show so that we could see the stained glass while it was still light out. Before I get ahead of myself, we stopped for an “early” {8:00 p.m.} dinner of tapas and wine at Ohla, a gastropub, which was awesome, on our way to the show.

{all dressed up for the Flamenco show!}

{all dressed up for the Flamenco show!}

 

The flamenco show was something we are glad we saw but wouldn’t be in a hurry to see again. It was a fun experience but the best part was seeing the stained glass inside the Palau Musica.

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{this is the ceiling in Palau Musica… no big deal}

Our second day in Barcelona was one we had been looking forward to for many weeks prior to the trip. This was the day we had signed up to take a tour of one of our favorite wine regions, the Priorat. We met our guide and trip companions at 9:00 sharp and made our way through the Spanish mountains {the Monserat Range} about two hours until we reached the rugged, beautiful Priorat.

{overlooking the Priorat wine region}

{overlooking the Priorat wine region}

The wine tour was awesome, to say the least. We drank our way through three wineries and sampled around 15 wines over a 12-hour period. Each winery had its own way of doing things and we appreciated the variances among the wines. It was one of the major highlights of our whole trip and warrants its own blog post… Stay tuned!

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After drinking for 12 hours neither of us was particularly interested in going out to dinner. Thankfully we were on the same page and decided to order room service and watch a movie. Luck was on our side when the movie Knocked Up was just starting as we turned on the TV in our hotel room. Both of us were very happy to have a low-key night at “home.”

The next day was our last full day in Barcelona. We had a lot of ground to cover so we decided to do a hop on/hop off bus tour of the city. It is not something that either of us had ever imagined doing but we were very glad we did it. We got to see a vast part of the city that we otherwise would not have seen, plus it was just awesome to be riding around in the sun on the upper deck. We stopped at the Sagrada Familia, Hospital de Sant Pau and Parc Guell.

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Since I had been in Barcelona eight years prior, a lot of progress had been made on the façade of the Sagrada Familia. I had been inside previously and the wait to just buy a ticket was more than 3 hours, so we walked around the outside and kept on our way.

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Our next stop was a beautiful hospital that was intentionally built to be a design sensation. Hospital de Sant Pau was designed by the same architect who designed Palau Musica, where we saw the flamenco show two evenings prior. Both of us agreed that this was our favorite stop of the day.

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Parc Guell turned out to be a ridiculous tourist trap – much more so than it was in my past visit. The park is very unique – Gaudi, the artist, used mosaic tiles to design benches, fountains, and sculptures around the park, as well as two houses.

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It is lovely, but somewhere along the line it got over-hyped and now they charge admission and ask you to buy a ticket for a particular time to see the park. All of that was new since I was there not that long ago. Even since they regulate the number of people in the park it was so crowded all we wanted to do was leave. It was neat to see but also very disappointing.

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After our day of tourist activities we were very happy to return to our hotel for a siesta by the pool.

Our overall feeling of Barcelona was really that it was a very, very crowded, but very cosmopolitan city. The people of Barcelona are extremely trendy and they love to shop! We felt that the customer service here was lacking, generally speaking, but especially compared to the exceptional service we received in Italy and Switzerland. The Spanish seemed to be more direct and in a hurry than the Italians or the Swiss. We really enjoyed the gothic architecture in Barcelona and being able to explore a city with so much culture and history.

Trip to Europe: Zermatt, Switzerland

After spending a week in Italy it was time to move on to the second of the five countries we had set out to see on our journey abroad. Early one beautiful June morning we hopped into Alex’s parents’ rental car to make the hour and a half long drive to St. Moritz, Switzerland to meet the start of the Glacier Express train ride that would ultimately take us to Zermatt, Switzerland.

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Our hour and a half drive quickly became two and a half hours after our GPS couldn’t read our position in a tunnel, thus making us miss our exit. We were all a little unsure of what was going on, but thankfully the GPS regained our trust and we made it to the train station with enough time to spare.

The drive through the Alps was incredible. We passed through quaint Italian stone-clad villages, saw streams and waterfalls, green pastures and mountainsides as we wound our way through switchbacks making tight hairpin turns, inching our way closer to the Swiss border. The train station was the point in our trip where we said good bye to Alex’s family and ventured out on our own for the remainder of the trip.

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The Glacier Express train is a train that makes its way from St. Moritz, Switzerland through the Alps to Zermatt, Switzerland. The train itself boasted panoramic views from its nearly floor to ceiling windows, and offered table service and very comfortable seats. We also tuned in to learn about the Swiss culture and the different villages we passed through on our 8 hour train ride. The reflection from the windows on the train made it impossible to capture any photos of the scenery, so you’ll have to deal with photos of my lovely husband instead 🙂

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The ride on the Glacier Express was a highlight of our whole trip to Europe. The first part of the ride brought us across ancient stone viaducts, across green valleys, through idyllic Bavarian villages, as we wound our way next to the milky mint-colored mountain streams.

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Each village had a church with a round, onion shaped dome, reminding us of Muslim architecture. Gone were the bright pinks and pastels from Italy and here were homes with dark wood, accented with white plaster. Nearly every home had flower boxes filled with vivid red and pink flowers that contrasted the color of the homes. The landscape was stunning. We couldn’t wait to arrive in Zermatt.

{Zermatt!}

{Zermatt!}

Both of us were awestruck as we strolled the village on our way to the hotel. Zermatt is one of the largest towns in the Swiss Alps and turns into a world-class ski resort come winter. The buildings were all a very similar Bavarian style with dark wood mixed with bright white stucco. Walking through the town we instantly felt very comfortable, as we find ourselves generally feeling at home in ski towns.

{The view from our hotel balcony... just wait for the Matterhorn to pop out!}

{The view from our hotel balcony… just wait for the Matterhorn to pop out!}

As I sit here on the balcony of the Bristol Hotel looking out on the Matterhorn I am just taken aback by the natural beauty of a place like this. Alex and I are so fortunate to live in a place as beautiful as the state of Washington, but we are madly in love with Switzerland. It is difficult to describe the beauty of the Swiss Alps and do it any justice.

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The Matterhorn sticks out from the range like a shark’s tooth, jagged and pointy, dusted with snow. Beneath the peak, the mountain range rolls along, covered in its green blanket. The landscape is lush and green, blanketed with mature evergreens and a coating of green grass as far as the eye can see.

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The town of Zermatt is rather large, but it doesn’t feel like a big ski town, likely because none of the buildings seem to reach above 5 or 6 stories. This allows for plentiful views of the Matterhorn.

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Our stay here in Zermatt really couldn’t have been better. We began our first day here by taking the Sunnega train up the mountain for an extraordinary view of the surrounding mountains, followed by a hike back down to the village.

 

{All of this terrain is skiable. The other side of this is Italy. Yes you can ski to Italy. Yes you need your passport. Yes we will be back!}

{All of this terrain is skiable. The other side of this is Italy. Yes you can ski to Italy. Yes you need your passport. Yes we will be back!}

The train is something I had never done anything like before. It starts off in the village where you walk through a tunnel for about two minutes then find yourself selecting a car inside the train. Then the doors close and the train heads up the mountain. The train ride is about 4.5 minutes and literally goes up through a tunnel in the center of the mountain. When you exit the train tunnel you are at the Sunnega station and are met with a panoramic view of the Matterhorn and an inviting patio to grab a drink.

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We certainly picked the right day for our hike – the sun was out and the temperature was just right. We spent about an hour at the top before making our descent down the mountain by foot. It was a mostly enjoyable hike downward.

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Mid-way down the mountain we came across a little restaurant with a patio complete with chaise lounge chairs facing the Matterhorn. We could not pass this up, of course, so we stopped and had a drink and took a rest while gazing out at the Matterhorn.

{my little slice of paradise}

{my little slice of paradise}

During our hike all both of us could think of was what the mountain would look like covered in snow and when we could possibly plan a ski trip to come back to the Swiss Alps.

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Once we made it back to the village we had worked up an appetite. We stopped for lunch at Stadel Restaurant, a very Swiss establishment. We ordered cheese fondue to share. The fondue had six Swiss mountain cheeses and we guessed some garlic, white wine, a little nutmeg and a sprinkling of pepper. It was served with crusty bread cubes and some hot potatoes to dip. The fondue was not surprisingly the best had ever had. We were in heaven. This ended up being our favorite meal {for flavor} of our three and a half week trip in Europe.

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With bellies full of cheese we headed back to our room to spend the afternoon sunbathing on our glorious balcony staring at the Matterhorn in the distance.

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Our second day was much the same as our first. We ate a lot of Swiss food, did a short hike, toured the Matterhorn museum and strolled through the town and popped into a few shops along the way. One highlight was the Swiss chocolate shop. We ate our way through that one.

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For our final dinner in Zermatt, we went to another traditional Swiss restaurant, called Wymper Stube, to have a meat fondue, the meal that ended up being our favorite for experience in our whole trip. We ordered a beef and veal broth-based fondue. Most meat fondues are oil based, which means you cook your raw meat in hot oil in the fondue pot.

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Our broth was a beef broth bubbling away with mushrooms and green onions. It was so good with the thin, wide strips of beef and veal. The experience was so fun because the server brought out several dipping sauces, as well as four bowls of different vegetables, along with two clean plates decorated with exotic fruit. It set the tone for a really fun dinner. We also enjoyed a bottle of Heidel wine, which is a white wine produced in the region.

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Switzerland is ungodly expensive. The food in Zermatt really blew our budget! Thankfully we made up for it in less expensive cities. One night we each had a 28 franc burger {remember, burgers originated next door in Germany!} and another night each of our entrees of veiner schnitzel were 42 francs, which we found out was a pretty average price. For lunch one day we stumbled across a sausage stand in the middle of town and had our least expensive meal of 19 francs, including a beer. The conversion rate of francs to USD worked in our favor, though, and was close to 1:1 while we were there.

{this was our dessert at the fondue restaurant - a gigantic merengue covered in whipped cream with an ice cream center. Yes we ate the whole thing.}

{this was our dessert at the fondue restaurant – a gigantic merengue covered in whipped cream with an ice cream center. Yes we ate the whole thing.}

We just adored Zermatt. The customer service across the whole town was fantastic. Everyone spoke English and seemed genuinely happy to be serving us. I applaud the town’s approach to making guests from around the world feel welcome and at home.

{you better believe we will be back!!}

{you better believe we will be back!!}