First off—since today is our anniversary—HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, LOVE! It’s been a wonderful year and I look forward to all the additional years to come.
Though we got married in July, we didn’t take our honeymoon until September, so that we could take advantage of the Labor Day holiday and have milder weather. Plus it gave us time to plan the Honeymoon separately from the wedding—otherwise it really might have been too much for such a short period.
Since we came in pretty well on budget for our wedding, we got to have our fabu-Euro honeymoon! Twelve days, six cities, five countries (not including the US).
We had each gotten credit cards after the engagement that earned airline miles, & we used those cards to pay for pretty well everything for the wedding (and then paid the cards off each month, because remember—no debt for this wedding). We were able to use our miles (plus some bonus miles earned by signing up for the cards) to cover all of our airfare back & forth “across the pond”. What would have normally cost us $3000+, we got for about $350 in airfare fees. Not a bad deal at all!!!
It was a whirlwind tour, and I’ll try to jam it inside a nutshell.
Day One: Crossing The Pond. We first flew to Paris…by way of Chicago & Boston. It was a full day of flying / hanging out at airports. Our second flight got delayed, so we were really concerned about making our flight to Paris…but thankfully, with a little prayer, we landed in the same terminal that we would fly out of, dashed over to our next plane (just 3 gates down from where we landed), and made it just in time. Our flight to Paris was an overnight trip… which WOULD be ideal, if we were flying first class with the fold-flat seats. But I’m not great at sleeping sitting up, so I drifted in & out of nap time & watching whatever in-flight movie was playing (the new “Arthur” was the only one I remember off-hand). We got snacks, dinner, and breakfast in the morning.
Day Two: Arrive in Paris at 7:30am (their time…all of these will be local time). Paris, I’m comfortable with. I took four years of French…granted, it was a LONG time ago, but I manage okay. I was able to greet people, order meals, ask a few questions, count… it’s enough to get by. Our concierge at the Grand Hotel Francais was very pleased with my wee bit of French, and also complimented us on our ability to “travel like Europeans”—as we each brought only a carry-on sized suitcase (thanks to the tutelage of Rick Steve’s). We dropped off our luggage & then headed out to see the City.
In my pre-trip research, I had discovered that there are plenty of hop-on hop-off (HOHO) “tourist buses” in the major European cities, which have stops at the major tourist destinations. They cost about $20/person to ride, but the pass is good all day, there are several routes, and the buses have headsets so you can plug in & listen to a recorded “tour” and various historical information as you traverse the city.
So for our first day in Paris, this is how we got around. We essentially decided to stay on a bus for it’s full route, and then once we’d gotten our bearings, we could hop off at the places we wanted to visit.
We toured Notre Dame this day, and had lunch in the garden in front of the cathedral. Then we hopped back on the HOHO bus (a different route) to see more of the city.
But what the pre-trip research doesn’t tell you is an accurate assessment of when these buses stop running. So at 5pm, we ended up stranded about 3 miles from our hotel. It was a long walk & I had blisters the next day…but a walking tour of Paris is quite nice too—and if we’d made the bus, we wouldn’t have gotten to see this bridge covered in “love locks”. Sadly, I didn’t know about the love lock tradition before the trip, otherwise I would have brought one for us to add:
..and on the walk, we found a little Irish pub to dine in for the evening (We’re Irish pub loyalists…it’s not over-Americanized, but you can typically be sure they’re be English spoken & plenty of good beer).
Day Three: More Paris! We woke up, had a lovely breakfast of coffee and croissants and fruit and cheeses (seriously, heaven), and then wandered off for more touring. Today’s mission—Conquer Le Eiffel Tower, and Le Louvre!
(We walked up the 300 steps to the first level, because we’re champs like that.
…and because it’s 1/3 the price of taking the elevator & you don’t have to wait in line for an hour.)
We ate lunch in the cafe on the first level:
Then we walked about some more & headed for the Louvre.
Then we headed back to our hotel, picked up our luggage, and were whisked away to the airport for a 5pm flight. Hubs had pre-arranged private transport for pretty well all of our to-from hotel/airport transfers to avoid delays, and it was well worth it. For our travel between countries, we utilized EasyJet almost exclusively (except from Athens to Munich, I believe). Super cheap…like $50-70 per flight. But there are no assigned seats and it’s first come first serve, so you have to stand around a bit. A couple times we weren’t able to sit together on the plane. But aside from that minor inconvience, it’s definitely the way to go.
And I have to say here—once you’re in the Euro-Zone, airports are a breeze. Checking in was quick, security is smooth & painless—none of this “take off your shoes and all your outer clothing” crap. I think I amused the security agent in France when I started to remove my shoes. He waved his hand at me & just pointed at the sunglasses on top of my head, and then waved me through.
We arrived in Venice around 9pm (after taking a boat from the airport to the island) and were concerned about being out after dark…but then we discovered the whole of Venice is still out & about at 9pm:
…and the streets are all well lit, and everything is within walking distance—which is good, since there are no cars. We settled into the Hotel Ca’ Fortuny, showered, and then went out to find a bite…but alas…Venice goes to sleep at 11pm. Lesson learned.
Day Four: Venice! After an amazing breakfast on our hotel’s garden patio (seriously—Venetian coffee was the best of the whole trip), we walked around the city, peering into shop windows & admiring glass—of which there is no shortage.
There’s over 200 glass makers on the island. We admired the non-glass items, too.
Factoid: There’s a church around every corner in Venice. Because Venice itself is made up of 118 islands, and each island has a church, from the times before all the islands were connected to together with bridges.
Around noontime, we met up for a guided walking tour of San Marcos, and the St. Mark’s Cathedral:
…and a boat tour of the canals.
I think we saw all of San Marcos more than once. The streets were a little confusing at times, but eventually we always ended back up on a familiar road & clung to it until we found our hotel again.
Finally, it was time to leave (around 7pm), so we hopped back on a boat for the airport, toward our next destination. We landed in Rome very late at night (around midnight) so thankfully we had prearranged transport to our hotel. Our driver was quiet and gruff and his “cab” (a minivan with several “check equipment” lights blazing on the dash) was a bit scary…but we made it to our hotel (Hotel Farnese), where we had what must be the “honeymoon suite”, since it’s the only room in the hotel with a balcony.
Day Five: ROME! We arose & took breakfast on the rooftop patio, which had an amazing view of the domes of cathedrals in all directions. Since we’d flown in at dark, it was lovely for this to be our first view of Rome. Breakfast was an attempt at the “American” style breakfast, but the bacon looked as though it had been boiled, so I stuck with coffee, pastries, and some proscuitto & cheese. And probably some fruit. There was also fresh honey, from the hotel manager’s beehives.
We utilized the HOHO buses here too, which was a good first day option so that we could get our bearings in this monolith of a city. Ruins, ruins everywhere! Ruins on top of ruins! It was captivating to think how old these structures were. The historical buildings of Paris & Venice pale in comparison to the Coliseum.
We dined pizza & the best bruschetta I’ve ever had in the shadow of the Coliseum.
Day Six: Vatican City, & More Rome! We realized that there was a Metro (subway) station just a block from our hotel:
…so we started being adventurous & used it to get us quickly from place to place. First stop—Vatican.
We decided to pay the extra Euros to walk up the Cupola (aka, the big dome on top), in order to see the City from the roof of the Vatican. Log another 320 steps in my book. The passageways get a little hairy after a point, and you start to feel like you’re in Grandfather’s Mansion at Silver Dollar City. Assuming you’ve ever been to Silver Dollar City. If not…you should try it. Moving on…
(NOTE: I’m standing up straight while taking this picture.)
It was hot & growing hotter, and narrower, but we finally made it to the top alive.
Then we traversed other areas of the city: The Parliament building, Piazza di Popolo, the Spanish Steps:
And of course, we found an Irish pub.
Day Seven: Leaving Rome for Athens. We awoke at the butt-crack of dawn…actually, pre-dawn, since our flight was at 6am. The hotel packed us a lovely little bag breakfast with bread, juice, yogurt, sweet crackers, jams & fruit (hellooooo carbs), which we nommed on at the airport. Then we were off to Greece!
I’ll admit. I was very nervous about Greece. There were many strikes going on at the time due to the protests over the austerity measures—we landed the day after a public transportation strike, and the day after we left, the air traffic controllers went on strike. We even got to see a couple protests in Syntagma Square.
And on top of that, Greek is about as far from a Romance language as you can get. It’s a whole other alphabet. I was terrified that we wouldn’t find people who spoke good English, and my attempts to learn Greek (from the Common Phrases Translator app I had downloaded) were sufficiently frustrating. I learned “Ευχαριστώ” (“thank you”, pronounced “efkharisto”) and “hello” (Γειασου, pronounced “yassou”) and that was about it. I figured if I could only learn two words, those would be the ones that might help people to not think of us as some entitled American couple.
Don’t get me wrong—I speak a LEEETLE bit of Greek…or, I guess I should say, I speak Greek Food. Ordering food was NOOOOO problem. And there’s a few phrases I learned from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”---but I was pretty sure knowing how to say “I have three testicles” was definitely NOT going to come in handy on this trip. Thankfully, the people of Greece are wonderful, and well educated, and nearly ALL of them seem to speak perfectly good English, which made me feel like a slouch for only knowing English and a smattering of French (and a few words in Brazilian Portuguese & Finnish, but we won’t go into that right now.)
In Greece, we stayed at the Amalia Hotel, which is just a block down the street from the Parliament building. We had a lovely big balcony over looking the National Garden, and from the roof we could see all of Athens, including the Acropolis. This view was quite spectacular at night.
For our first day, we wandered off to find some lunch and got an amazing meal at the Smiling Cafe, which was owned by a man who was either Greek-American, or had learned to do a spot-on impersonation of a New York accent. He handed my husband a menu in Greek and winked at me. I like this guy. Our food was amazing---and CHEAP. The cheapest food of the whole trip, AND the most delicious. Then we moseyed across from the hotel & toured the National Garden, then meandered down the road to the Temple of Zeus.
(The Hubs was prepared, in case we found an fires in the garden…)
Note: They don’t have the HOHO buses in Athens—and you don’t need them. All of the major ruins are within walking distance of each other, and you can buy an entry pass for about 12 Euro that has tear-off sections for each of the ruins sites, so it’s pretty cheap to go to all of them. Since we didn’t have any tour guide, we downloaded the Rick Steve’s Audio Walking Tour to my iPod & printed out the map that accompanies it…for free. I wish I would have downloaded these for each city we went to, since there was much more helpful info on these than on the HOHO buses.
Day Eight: More of Athens. We awoke to the most elaborate breakfast spread of our entire trip. The breakfast room was large & located on the mezzanine, with a wall of windows so we could people-watch. The hotel sports a “Deluxe American Style Breakfast” that costs an additional 18 Euro on top of your room fee, but if you’re hungry, you can easily eat 18 Euro worth. There’s an omelet bar, a yogurt bar with all sorts of accoutrements, Greek pastries, American pastries, bacon, eggs, ham, breads, fruits of all variety... and of course, delicious coffee and servers to keep your cup filled. It was quite nice.
Mission for the day: Acropolis!
(Beware of super-slick Acropolis granite. Just saying.)
We journeyed around the Acropolis, and found caves:
And thanks to Mr. Steves, we also “toured” …umm…pretty well everything on this map (too much to list).
(Statue of Agios Nikolaos, Tower of the Seven Winds, and Hadrians Library.)
And there was a stop for a pint, and some scintillating ice cream:
Day Nine: Bavaria. We awoke early and took the shuttle bus back to the airport for our 7am flight. We landed in Munich around 9am, and then began our Flight of the Bumblebee rush to get from the airport to our hotel (Carat Hotel), check in, drop off bags, and then zoom to the train station, where we’d arranged a full-day tour of Bavaria and the Neuschwanstein Castle. Thankfully we found a quick taxi driver who waited for us at our hotel as we checked in, then drove us to the train station. I should have tipped him WAY more. We arrive in plenty of time and snagged some food & drink from a convenience store in the train station.
The thing that struck me about our train ride through Bavaria---how much it looks like Missouri!
Crops & cows, everywhere! Of course, this sort of makes sense, since our area of Missouri was heavily settled by Germans, so I can see why they liked it there. It reminded them of home. We befriended a South African couple that was part of our tour and got to exchange some bits of culture and a few stereotype corrections (Note: the most popular drink in Johannesburg, according to our new friends, is Coke & brandy. And they call it Jo-Burg. And we were able to inform them that not all of us have horses in the Midwest. Travelling is truly a cultural exchange program.) Our tour guide was an enthusiastic British student living in Munich for school who educated us all up on King Ludwig and his scandals with operatic genius Richard Wagner.
In Schwangau, we stopped for lunch…
…This is Bavaria. Right here.
And then continued up to the Marienbrucke bridge, built by Ludwig for his mother, and we got an amazing view of the castle.
Then we headed on into the castle—no pics, they’re not allowed. I’d make a “Photo Nazi” joke, but somehow that seems inappropriate when you’re talking about actual Germans. So you’ll have to settle for this InterWebz photo of his bedroom—and the AMAZING carved bed:
(Photo sourced from here—you can actually take a virtual tour of the castle on the website, if you like!)
We conked out on the train ride back to Munich, and then went for a walkabout to find dinner. Because the Oktoberfest was beginning the next day, all the restaurants were pretty busy, so we ended up being seated at an open-air table at Augustiner-Keller with a couple of guys from Switzerland who were so excited to be traveling because of how cheap the Euro is compared to the Swiss Franc. I did my best not to channel my inner Napoleon Dynamite & sigh “LUCKYYY”. I got a glass of Riesling and some wiener schnitzel, and life was good.
Day Ten: OKTOBERFEST!!! We had only one day in which to enjoy it, so we figured—what better than the very first day! Our hotel didn’t have much in the way of breakfast, so we walked down the street to a deli.
All that anxiety of communication barriers I had in Athens? I guess I should have saved it for Munich. The sandwich maker at the deli did not speak great English, and our sandwiches came without condiments. And unlike in America, condiments & sugar packets are not left within customer grasp on a courtesy cart.
Do you know how to say “mustard” in German? Because we didn’t. And it not like being in France or Italy, where you could say, “moustarde? mostarda?” and they’d figure it out. No. In German, “mustard” is “semf”. Not even close. I also didn’t know how to say “condiments” (wurzen) or “yellow” (gelb). Eventually, through some sort of miracle and a lot of sign language, we got our little packets of “semf” and life was okay again. We ate, then walked to the Theresienwiese fairgrounds, where the Oktoberfest would be.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it probably wasn’t “State Fair”. However, that’s pretty well what it looked like.
We wandered a bit, then found a spot near the main tent to watch the parade. We ended up next to an elderly couple who spoke fairly good English and had fantastic costumes. Nearly everyone had costumes—even the TV crews. I felt a little left out. :)
We watched the parade of horse drawn carts bringing the kegs into their respective biergartens (permanent house-sized “tents” with multiple stories):
…and then once the first keg had been tapped, we (eventually) found our way into the Schottenhammel tent and got a seat at a long table, next to a couple that were from California. Cheers!
(That last photo is 100% staged, but I love the peeps looking at him like he’s really trying to steal a keg.)
Eventually we left there, found some German fair food, then made our way to the Hoffbrau tent…however, we couldn’t find a seat and I was getting cranky, and then one of these guys barreled into my back and I got a beer bath…and I was ready to leave.
We walked back to our hotel, then caught a cab to the airport (8pm flight). We had a lot of time to kill (and the Hubs was pretty PO’d at me for making us leave the Fest so early), so we found a large cafeteria at the airport and sampled our way through some other beers and foods that we hadn’t gotten to try.
We landed in London around 9pm, took a train from the airport to the Victoria Station, and our hotel was just a couple blocks from there. We conked out poste-haste.
Day Eleven: Jolly Ol’ London. We only had one day here, and just wanted to see as much as the City as we could, so we were back to using the HOHO buses. We learned much about the 1666 Great Fire of London, the 1664-1666 Great Plague of London (not sure what’s so “great” about it), and giant ships in bottles. (Trafalgar Square.)
Frankly, after the Semf Debaucle of Munich, I was just happy to be in a country where my native tongue was everyone else’s native tongue. I know that sounds narrow-minded and uber-American, but it’s true. Also, I have to make a note here: I’m sure this happens to most people who go on vacation…you arrive in a new place, and everything is breath-taking. Everything is beautiful. You must photograph EVERYTHING to preserve this moment. But for some reason, this desire wanes a bit as the trip winds down.
I took over 600 photos in Paris. When it was time to go through them & start scrapbooking, or show to friends, I ended up with about 75% of “umm…I don’t remember what that was.”
In London…I took 52 pics. I think over time, you get better at editing yourself. Do I REALLY want a photo of this? Will I remember what this is when I get home?
(Tower Bridge, Big Ben, Parliament. But of course.)
So these are the types of things that stuck out to me:
(Tiny Twinings Tea shoppe; Ye Olde Cock: the world’s narrowest pub; and obelisks in the middle of the street.)
Our HOHO passes also entitled us to a river cruise on the Thames, which was a lovely way to see the city. At the end, we hopped off and wandered around The Tower of London area.
The food of London, as tradition, wasn’t much to speak of. Ironically, we didn’t eat at an Irish pub here…we ate at an English pub (The Iron Duke, inside Victoria Station), which had fair sandwiches/burgers, but the Shakespeare Tavern across the street (dinner) was utterly “meh”. However, the Prawn Cocktail chips I snagged at a random convenience store were delicious.
If you made it here…you’re at the end. Congrats be to you for reading the longest blog post EVAR. Well…here in this blogosphere anyway.
As for the cost of this fabu two-week honeymoon? About $3550 for airfare, hotels, transport, and pre-arranged tours. Probably another $50-100/day once we where there for food, metros, HOHOs, admission to tourist attractions, souvenirs, etc. So around $4550 total.
Tomorrow will be the last day of this series, and you get to see what I made my husband for our anniversary. (Hint: It’s a Pinterest Project!)