What an amazing trip it was. 14 days of driving around a large portion of Europe. The only thing we (my Fiancé Katerina and I) pre-booked was the first two nights in Amsterdam so we could recover from the flight. We simply chose a destination in some sort of a clock-wise direction around the various countries, drove there, found a hotel and then explored the city.Here is a quick summary of the path we eventually took.
Friday 3rd: Flight to Amsterdam.
Saturday 4th: Time zone change, we actually left Vancouver on Friday afternoon, and arrived in Amsterdam on Saturday morning.Slept all day, needed to get caught up on our sleep.
Sunday 5th: We explored Amsterdam.12 hours of walking the city. The Van Gogh museum and the Rijkmuseum various other places around the city.Tried to get to the Heineken museum but it closed by 5 and we got there late.At night we hit the red light district; prostitutes in the windows; live sex show; all part of the fun. No we didn’t smoke any weed nor get all drunk. We both figured that since we could easily do both at home what is the big deal about doing it in Amsterdam.Things could only have gone wrong. We made our way back to the hotel after the very interesting sex show.
Monday 6th: Picked up our rental car at EuroCar downtown Amsterdam. We immediately drove all the way through Germany and slept just outside of Stuttgart. There wasn’t much we wanted to see on the way. The Rhine river was very cool to follow down. Many castles and churches on the hill sides. We stopped once, right at sunset and tried to snap a few pictures but they didn’t turn out all that great.
Tuesday 7th: Drove to Zurich Switzerland, and visited a friend that lives there all day and evening. We found it to be an expensive but very clean city.
Wednesday 8th: We decided to drive around Zurich a bit more, but we just got lost mostly. Spent a few more hours sight seeing then decided to head on our way down to Milan. The roadways and tunnels through the Alps where amazing. Not to mention every little town on the way. What a beautiful country!
Made it into Milan and found a hotel right down town on the (semi-popular street) Corso Buenos Aires.
Italians and driving. Good god. What is up with that?Of all the countries I have ever driven in Italy has to be the worst, by far.
Thursday 9th: Woke up and spent the day in Milan. Kat did some much needed shopping (actually fairly cheap shopping too). We made our way over to the The Duomo. What an amazing sight to see. It’s a must. I think Milan would be one of the few places I would like to go back and see in more depth. So much city and we had so little time.
In the evening we decided that we wanted to go to Venice for all day Friday, so we just jumped into the car and drove over. At the speeds the Italians drive it was only a few hours away. Only a few accidents slowing us down (did I mention how poorly the Italians drive?). We arrived in Padua in the evening and found an awesome, cheap hotel right near the train station.
Friday 10th: We got up fairly early and jumped on the Train over to Venice, which only took about 1 hour or so. We spent all day wandering this amazing city and more importantly getting lost. We had a light lunch right on the Grand Canal and explored more. As our day winded down and we were heading back towards the Train station we decided to jump on a Gondola for a ride.Just like the movies, some Italian dude pushing us around the canals and signing. A few times he stopped singing to point out points of interest to us.Yet another awesome experience to have.
As our little boat ride came to an end I decided that this was the time to ask Kat for her hand in marriage.I originally planned it for the Eiffel tower, but I just couldn’t get over the whole Venice/Gondola ride thing.It was perfect.Luckily for me she said YES!So now it’s official.Oh, by the way. She comes from a semi-traditional Greek family.So yes, I did have to ask her Dad first for his blessing. That had to be about 1 million times harder than actually asking Kat.
So after lots of discussion what went on in the few weeks before our trip, with me preparing to pop the question and such we made our way back to the train station and back out to Padua.It was a time that I will never forget in my whole life.
Saturday 11th: We got up in the afternoon and decided to explore Padua some more. The city seemed very small and untouched; serene. On of its big claim to fame is that they have a saint’s remains in a tomb which people can wander by, pray to, and by touching the tomb it is supposed to help heal and such. We went and did a walk by, but felt sort of creeped out by it all. I definitely do not believe in any sort of God and was sad to see such a place that was devoted to so much death. Then again most churches these days focus so much on death don’t they? This specific church had so many tombs, skulls, crucifixions on the walls it gave you a feeling that you’re wandering the halls of a psychotic’s home which was obsessed with the dead. We left quickly.
Once our sightseeing was done we jumped back into the car and drove. Our next destination was Rome, well actually Civitavecchia (say that 10 times really fast, with only a few Italian language courses). This city lies about 1 hour north of Rome and was perfect for our little day trip into the big city. Its claim to fame is that it has a statue of the Madonna which actually cried human blood. I guess the Vatican itself has not yet declared it a “Miracle”. Now that is a process I wouldn’t mind reviewing.How exactly does one determine if something is a “Miracle” or not?
We scored on our hotel too.About ½ hour walk down from the Train station, and right on the beach.
Sunday 12th: In the morning we quickly jumped on the Train and headed into Rome.They have a city bus tour (Ciao Roma) which we decided to take advantage of.We definitely did not want to wander this city all day.We saw all the big sights and the weather was awesome.
One quick story though.If your ever in Rome and decide to see the Coliseum watch out for the guys dress up in Roman soldier costumes.They seem nice and friendly until it comes time to pay them. They managed to get Kat to agree to have her picture taken with them (yes, sometimes we all can be suckers). Once she jumped up there, one guy came and grabbed my camera and told me to get into the picture. I immediately noticed that this guy was literally a crack head. He was totally sketched right out; my heart sank. This could only turn bad for us.Well he snapped a few pictures, we all posed in fun poses and such and I always kept my eye on the camera man.If he runs, I run after him.I firmly believed that I could run faster mad, than him scared.
Luckily for us he didn’t run.But instead he asked for 30 Euro.That’s about $45 CDN.I laughed and said we might give him 5.He was all sketchy and in weak English said that’s the price and pay up now.We haggled for a bit and he got worse as the conversation went on.We shoved 15 Euro in his hands and said that’s it.He got even worse.I had no idea what he was going to do.Right then I simply grabbed another 5 Euro, gave it to him and grabbed Kat by the arm and walked away.What a damn jerk.
Based on that single experience I will probably NEVER return to Rome again.Nor will I ever recommend any one go there.Aside from a few spots in Italy I was 100% disappointed from the people in that country more than any other.Arrogant and ignorant that just in general seemed to hate tourists, and that’s aside from their –near insane- driving habits.
We slept back in Civitavecchia.
Monday 13th: We decided to get the hell out of Italy and head for Paris.Our night destination was Genova.As with most of the trip we wanted to take the side roads and never the big Autostrade (with some exceptions to save time).The highway SS1 runs up the west coast and through every single one-dog town along the coast line.About ¾ the way up the sun was beating down (probably close to 30C or higher) so we decided to stop in one of these small towns and hit the beach.We stumbled across one in a matter of minutes.The beach was nearly empty and huge.We went for a quick swim in the Sea and sat up on the beach just relaxing.Once we got our fill we jumped back on the road towards Genova.
On the way we couldnt resist but to stop over in Pisa. Couldnt miss the leaning tower could we? It was a quick stop over, very easy to find the center and parking nearby. Its interesting to note how little it felt like a tourist trap. There was many tourists around but the area seemed to be left untouched from the typical commercialism that I'm used to over here.
At around or so we arrived in Lavagna.It’s a small town just outside of Genova.We decided to grab a hotel and sleep for the night after a quick late night dinner at some Pizza joint down the strip from the hotel.
Tuesday 14h: We got up around or so and got back in the car heading for Paris.This is when it finally decided to start to rain on us.All the way through France it just rained.
In the southern areas through the Alps we ran into more tunnels and it seemed that we were driving across the sky.The major roadway is a series of bridges (probably a few hundred feet high, above the various little cities below) and a bunch of tunnels.Rain rain and more rain.We decided to call it a night around 9 or , in a small city (Macon) just outside of Lyon.We grabbed a hotel and slept for the night.
Wednesday 15th: We got up around or so and jumped back into the car.We needed to make it to a suitable place outside of Paris today and we found out that that place was a little town called Soisson.After struggling with the locals and finding out if there is even a train station around and where we could find a motel we got all setup for the day trip into Paris for the morning.
The hotel we found was a bit of a distance from the Train station so in the morning we drove the car and parked it in the day parking at the station.I think it was a mere $1.80 Euro for the day.The train took about 1 to 1.5 hours to drive into Paris and dropped us of in the Gare du North (the station in the northern part of the city).Since we found the bus tour thing in Rome such a nice and easy thing to do we decided to do the same with Paris.Remember that since it was raining for a full day and we just drove up from Rome to Paris it was going to be damn chilly.I told Kat to wear at least pants but she insisted on wearing shorts, thus she froze on the bus tour.The tour was 100 times better than that of Rome’s.Much more organized and it seemed to cover the city and its important points more effectively.
Paris is definitely one of those cities that I would return to.Amazingly the people there are exceptionally nice, and willing to help without being asked.Kat and I were wandering around at one point in time and we were head down in a city map.A business guy in a fancy-dancy suit actually stopped and asked us if we needed help or anything.How surprising!Luckily we had just found out where we were and where we needed to go so we just told him no and thanked him.How nice.
We saw all the sights.The Louve is friggen huge.No words to describe how big it is and how much art is within its walls.It would take at least 3 full days to wander it in its entirety. We did a few sections in a mere few hours and decided to focus a bit on exactly which pieces we wanted to see.The Greek and Roman statues and art, and of course the Mona Lisa and of course a few other sections on the way to the Mona Lisa.Interesting enough the do allow you to take pictures of her, with a flash.
After the Louve we jumped back on to the bus and toured more of the city.Arc de Triomphe; Opera Bastille (wow!), La Madeleine Church, Les Invalides, did a drive by on the Notre-Dame and the Vatican City, Place de la Concorde, The Pantheon (wow again!) and of course the Eiffel Tower.
Unfortunately the Tower was actually closed.The employee’s were on strike so we couldn’t go up.Luckily I decided to go with Venice instead of Paris.Whew!
In the evening we headed back towards the train station and decided to have dinner in “Restaurant Chartier”.No shit. The dinner was Ok, and we managed to sneak out a few napkins, menu’s and even a small wine bottle.All with “Chartier” printed on them; how often to you get to eat in a place which shares the same name as you, right?
So after dinner we finished the last few blocks up to the train station and actually once we arrived we found our train just leaving.We were literally on the platform as it drove away.We consulted the schedule since it was only and there had to be more right?We found another leaving in an hour.After about another ½ hour I decided to actually ask at information, to double check the departure time and platform so we didn’t miss it also.
He, so kindly, informed us that the last train already had left for Soisson and that the next train is leaving at .Shit.We missed the last train!!Who would have though that the largest city in western Europe does NOT have trains running 24/7!?!Ok, with that done we inquired about inter-city busses.None.What?! –Now remember our car is in Soisson, with all of our stuff packed into its trunk, and only paid for the day.We were scared that it could get towed, or worse broken into.Yikes!
Ok, so lets try car rentals.Usually car rentals are under $50 Euro for short trips. We asked Hertz, EuropeCar, and Avis all of which had nothing.Our only option was to find a hotel, sleep and get back on the train at .We found a decent place just a few blocks away from the station.
Friday 17th: After about 4 hours of very restless sleep we walked back to the station and made it out to our car. We came to find it completely untouched!What a relief!I guess that’s the stress you get when you do a tour of Europe with (intentional) no planning what so ever.
Since we fly out of Amsterdam on the 18th at we started our drive north.We had the one stop over in Brussels to see some family friends of Kat’s.We decided to take advantage of the fact that we were in the city and did a mini walking tour of it all, only a few hours worth and Kat was able to get a few more hours of shopping in.(new shoes!).After an hour of senseless wandering in the car we stumbled across the little bar which the family friends owned.It’s a small Greek bar which seemed it was a hang out for the older Greeks in the community.Of course I don’t speak any Greek (yet) nor French, and they didn’t speak any English, in fact they only spoke a bad mix of Greek and French.Kat does speak a bit of Greek and was able to fake her way through the rest so she ended up translating what she could.We visited with them for a few hours and then decided to get back on the road back up to Amsterdam.
We arrived in Amsterdam late that night and went back to the same hotel that we had in the first two nights, it was cheap and we both like the firm beds.
Saturday 18th: We washed and cleaned the car (after about an hour or so finding a gas station that had the facilities, by the airport), and then drove downtown.What a mess driving in Amsterdam.It is very well known as the “City of Bikes” for a good reason.
I think it took us at least a good hour to find the Car rental office.We dropped the car off, signed what needed to be signed, and jumped into a cab down to the train station.The train has a quick and direct train that runs to and from the airport for a few Euros per person.We made it to the airport by , checked our luggage in, had a quick bite to eat, bought some more souvenirs and chocolate and jumped on the plane back.
9 hours later we (gladly) landed in Vancouver.
A trip of a lifetime! We have plans already for next year to hit Greece. But make it much more mellow. Since Kat’s family is all from Greece and her Dad is a living encyclopedia of the country we plan on staying in his home town and taking day trips out to Athens and Crete and other places.I guess I have a job in the next year, to learn some basic Greek.