[MAD] Mary Ann & Don

Archive for July, 2011

European Vacation 2011 – Our world history tour!

Posted by madkingblog on July 30, 2011

Don and I recently returned from our second trip to Europe together! The two trips were very different in the best ways. The first trip was like a second honeymoon, it was just us and we traveled around the country side and southern France, ate anything that was put in front of us with abandon, haha, and we ended in Paris. It was so totally romantic and just peaceful. THIS summer’s trip was like a whirlwind, 5 countries, full of friends, and like one huge lesson in world history. We just geeked out on history the whole time. It was completely awesome.

We even got a little sample of London, since our non-stop flight from Dallas to Frankfurt was diverted to JFK due to a medical emergency and we begged our way onto a flight leaving that night for Heathrow. Otherwise we would have been rescheduled for the next day missing a full day of our trip. We flew to London (on a nicer plane I might add) and hung out in the swanky and well stocked British Airways lounge (sometimes Don’s excessive work travel pays off) and then took another short flight to Frankfurt, missing only half a day instead of a full day.

Our first stop in Germany was Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Here we met up with five awesome friends. We had dinner at “Hell” and moved on to drinks in a Biergarden! The next morning some of us got up super early and went running. We ran part of a trail the circles the wall of the city and it is kind of foresty in the trees. It was really cool and almost spooky with all the misty fog. Then we went back to our B&B room and took a bath in the old timey tub. It was divine! Then we get downstairs to a traditional european breakfast and I was euphoric, it was a big “welcome back to Europe”. The other highlight of that day was the Night Watchman Tour. Learned so much about the very cool history of this town and how important night watchmen were for a walled city.

The next day we drove with two of our friends MILA, down into Barvaria to tour the Neuschwanstein castle. It was pretty cool but by far the best part of this experience was a one of a kind experience we got by sheer luck. Our tour group was full of these teens that were obviously part of a group and kind of obnoxious. We were all a little annoyed, especially when they kept taking pictures when there were signs posted everywhere not too. When we got to the room of the castle built for operas, the opera hall I think, the tour guide explained how it was built to have perfect harmonics and then she told them (the unruly part of our tour group) that this is where they could sing. Some adults with the group quickly gathered them up and took charge, and they sang BEAUTIFULLY. The room absolutely did have perfect harmonics and most of us were in tears by the end. It was surreal. We just got lucky and no longer minded so much how they had annoyed us before!

We stayed one night at Hotel Muller with a view of the castle which was nice. We also found time to dip our feet in the lake (well Chelle and I did) and drive into Fussen for dinner. Found a beirgarden type place with great food. At the end of the meal they bring this little barrel with a spout to the table. You lean your head back and they pour it into your mouth until you raise your hands. Well, I went first and assumed it was beer (which now I realize makes no sense but whatev) and I let him fill my mouth up (yup, that is literally what she said) and then swallowed it all in one big gulp (again…) and that is when I realized it was NOT beer but Schnapps! Actually, I think I had to ask what liquor it was, I just knew it wasn’t beer. haha. Anyway, our friend Landon let them pour for 16 seconds (which is a LONG time) and he basically OD’d on the taste of Schnapps. We went around after leaving looking everywhere for water or SOMETHING he could drink to get the taste out of his mouth. Haha, good times. Here we go…

Next day was all about driving. We drove from Fussen to Rome via the Stelvio pass. It was a LONG drive but the country side in Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy is knock your socks off beautiful. Heaven on earth. Just like the Pyrenees in southern France. Wow. And to go via the Stelvio pass we had to take a route that took us on a dirt road at one point. So we were very much off the beaten path, which I always consider a privilege when traveling. At one point a big heard of grazing cows were on the road, all wearing bells, and this was an experience the cannot be described properly with words. So here you go…

So driving was awesome… lots of beautiful countryside! And check this out…

After about 12-14 hours of driving we finally made it to Rome. Our flat in the city was GREAT! Really super cool funky little place in Trastevere (a very old part of the city). We met up with more friends in Rome! Mike and Dez were celebrating their anniversary! The second night in Rome we decided to do the Night Walking Tour from the Rick Steve’s guide book. It was so much fun. Takes you through a bunch of squares or plazas and we stopped in almost every one for either drinks or food and drinks. We threw pennies in the Trevi fountain (to ensure we will return) and we finished at the Spanish Steps. A funny and cool thing about Rome is that they like to hang out on the various steps around the city. This might just be a weekend thing since we were there over the weekend, but everywhere there are big sets of stairs (and there are a lot), they hang out on them and drink into the night. We were hanging out on the steps and Mike disappeared. We figured he went to find a bathroom. We were starting to fall asleep (at least I was) on the steps when he came back with a bottle “Cristal” champagne, haha or so we all at first thought it was Cristal! We passed the bottle until it was gone. And that is how we ended up having champagne with four of our best friends on the Spanish Steps in Rome! The Spanish Steps…

We saw all the main things we wanted to in Rome and we had a particularly awesome tour guide for The Forum. He helped us use the power of numbers to get the best spots on “the balcony”. He conceded that this was rude, but also that Rome is the only place where you can be rude and no one will care, because they all are also! haha. It was good times at the forum. We also saw the Collesium, and of course the Vatican. Our Vatican tour was ok, it got off to a bad start when we got there and couldn’t even figure out where to get in line, so we missed the window for our pre-paid tour. Then we paid for another tour and it was ok, but the guide was kind of a douche that kept telling us about his special privileges in the Vatican and how he could tell us special information about it yet he never really seemed to. Haha. Anyway, it was PACKED but we did get some time in the Sistine Chapel! It is just so massive and overwhelming I couldn’t even appreciate it when I saw it but in retrospect it was quite amazing.

After Rome, we dropped MILA off at their cruise ship and headed to Pompeii. I was SOO excited for this, I’ve been wanting Don to see it so badly ever since I saw it on a work trip back in 2007! It is the only time in my life I’ve felt like I literally stepped back in time. Next best thing to a time machine. The’ve dug up this entire city (well actually some of it is still buried under the current city) from almost 2000 years ago (!!) and you can just walk around it. You can walk on their streets, in their shops, in their houses! It is surreal!! Here you can see a shop counter where they had holes for pots of food they would serve from…

MILA went to Pompeii also a little later as an excursion on their cruise and their tour guide said the Americans didn’t invent fast food, the Italians did! haha.

Don and I didn’t buy a tour but got an unexpected tour guide …

There are several stray dogs that live in the Pompeii ruins and we figured they know where all the best spots are, haha, so we followed our new tour guide for awhile. He was super cute, he would come to a intersection of streets and look one way and then the other like he was really contemplating which direction to take us. Loved it. It was a good day in spite of the nasty cold I had caught somewhere along the way. Luckily I only had one day that it was bad, and that was this day, but I wasn’t letting ANYTHING stop Don from seeing Pompeii, SO friggin cool this place!

We had dinner and stay the night in Naples and then it was off to the French Riviera the next morning! The drive was gorgeous and the towns we drove through on the Italian side of the riviera makes me want to check that side out next time! Wow! But our destination for two nights in Villa Sur Franche wasn’t too shabby…

That picture was from our balcony! Fantastic view. Right on the water. We met MILA in Monte Carlo the next day at the aquarium. We saw each other for about an hour and then they headed back to their ship. They caught the same cold I’d had (probably from me) and this was their worst day. Don and I headed back to Villa Franche and hit the beach. Got in the water too, it was the perfect temperature and crystal clear.

We had another wonderful dinner with a waiter who loved that we were from California, and had to hit the road early the next day for Barcelona. We were in a tunnel entering the city and then took an exit (inside the tunnel!) and it spit us out in the inside of a huge traffic circle. Nuts! We had to go around twice to work our way to the outside to exit the circle. We checked into our strange but cool flat in the gothic quater and met MILA on Las Ramblas. There ship was ported over night so we didn’t have to rush. We decided to head down a side street to find some food and got a little worried when it quickly started looking rough and we passed hookers. HAHA! But then we found a place in a square that looked descent and some other tourist were eating. We ordered Paella and started drinking Sangria. When they brought our food, they brought it in the iron skillets it is cooked in so they had them on wicker baskets type plates. Cool right? A few bites in I see a roach on my basket. hmmm, maybe that was already out here (we were at an outside table) and it just crawled onto my basket… then I see another… “omg guys”… then another and another… from all our baskets. We all backed up and before we knew it the table was crawling with them. [gag] So naturally Don starts trapping them under glasses! LOL! The waiter is all embarrassed and takes the food away and then says “we can make it for you again”. hahahaha! Umm, no thanks, we’ll be leaving. They still charged us for the Sangria! HA! I think when you are served roaches, you shouldn’t have to pay. Call me crazy but it seems reasonable. Whatever, we just wanted OUT of there. And Don is pretty sure on the way back to Las Ramblas a gypsy lady tried to pick pocket him, but he didn’t have anything in his pocket to pick. We went straight for MILA’s ship after that and had dinner in the fancy restaurant. It was great and really cool to see what a cruise ship is like inside. They had a really nice room and good sized balcony, very cool!

The next two days (our last two on the trip) were just awesome. We slept in both days (YES!) and still saw sooo much. We hit the Picasso museum, the Dali museum, the Cathedral, and most importantly Sagrada Familia! This was a dream come true for me and I’m a better person for it. It was the Gaudi I’ve dreamed of seeing for many many years and it was every bit as incredible as I had dreamed and more! The beauty of the inside is awing just to see but we also had the audio tour which when into detail about the architecture and I totally geeked out on it. You must read about it. Guadi was a CRAZY AWESOME architect. It is all inspired by nature. See if you can tell how in this picture…

and this…

We visited the Quatre Gatos both days once for dinner and once for drinks. LOVED this place. It a cool little place that used to be the hangout of Picasso and was also frequented by Gaudi. Landon had actually mentioned it and turned us on to it, and it turned out to be only a few blocks from our hotel. The last night we had a Paella and Sangria dinner on a terrace restaurant above the Dali museum that erased our first night Paella experience. Here is the yummy…

So on our last day, leaving Barcelona, one of it’s fine citizens tried to convince us something was wrong with our rental car tire. I’m guessing see us backing out of an alley where we had obviously made a wrong turn and could turn around, we looked like an easy mark. Anyway I’m not sure what he had planned to do if Don had got out, probably just try to lift his wallet while Don was concentrating on what could be wrong with the tire. But fortunately for us we are not that easy of a mark, and we didn’t get out and just shook our heads at the guy. He finally walked away throwing his hands up like “fine if you don’t want to listen to me”. After he was down the street Don did step out and check the tire just to be sure and it was fine. Then this lady comes over and says “there’s nothing wrong with your car, you have to be careful with the people here”. Apparently. I guess no city can be perfect, so something has to balance out the amazingness of Gaudi and company. =)

If you want to see all the pics, check out http://www.flickr.com/photos/madkings/collections/72157627153104139/

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