2016 has been a great year for me as a travel blogger. I am very thankful and blessed to have met new friends in the blogging industry. Even with my hectic job, I was still able to get a chance to travel and appreciate the beauty of life in different environments.
For almost a year, we've been saving up and preparing for our Grand European Vacation. This was a chance of a lifetime and something we've been wanting to do for the longest time and 2016 made it possible.
I left my teaching job for 5 years in a private school and, before I entered public school teaching, I went on a month vacation around Europe. The experience was definitely something we will always treasure and I thank God for this opportunity.
During our adventure in Europe, we stayed in a very cozy camper van (POPPY) owned by our friends, Justin and Joey Kock. Poppy took us to many beautiful places around Europe.
Here are some of the wonderful places we visited in Europe ( in no particular order) :
1. London, England
London is a vibrant city that offers much to tourists. There's always something to do in London such as shopping, visiting parks, places of historical interest and so much more. We landed very early in the morning and, since jet lag had not hit us yet, we decided to leave our luggage at the train station to explore this fascinating city.
Two main shopping malls you should visit is Harrods and Fortnum and Masons. Oh, and don't forget to take a selfie at this very famous red telephone booth across the road from the famous Ritz Hotel.
2. Tower Bridge, London
Also in London, this monumental bridge is always mistaken for London Bridge but it's not! London Bridge was dismantled and sold to a wealthy American many years ago. You can either walk along the side of the bridge or tourists could also walk or take a lift up to the top where you can see the famous skyline of the City.
Once at the top you will see this clear glass walkway where you can see all the way down to the vessels using the Thames River. Since I hate heights, I was really freaking out! It took me a while to step on the clear glass and after a lot of convincing and screaming, I finally walked on it.
3.The White Cliffs of Beachy Head in East Sussex, England
Since we were staying at Brighton, my best friend took me to another stunning place called Beachy Head, which is a short drive away close to Eastbourne. This cliff is basically made out of chalky limestone and that's where it gets its color creating a very dramatic outline of the coast in this area.
There are some people who are brave enough to sit on the edge but I don't advise that since the cliffs are constantly eroding. This is the best place to grab your sandwich and drinks and just enjoy the scenery and appreciate the beauty of nature!
4. Round Table of King Arthur in Winchester, England
Aside from the extraordinary landscape, we were also fascinated by the rich history that is found in the UK. One of the most famous legends is that of King Arthur. Found in Winchester England, you will find the Great Hall, where the legendary ROUND TABLE is found.
During the Medieval Period, it is believed that this is the round table where King Arthur and his knights met. I had goosebumps when I saw it specially knowing the legendary stories behind this not so ordinary table.
5. Oxford University in Ofxordshire, England
Since I am a teacher, it was only right to visit one of the most famous universities in the world! Aside from providing the best quality education in the world, this is also considered as one of the most expensive in the world. I am not surprised because it really is a stunning university!
This university is also very old that it is very evident in the architecture when you walk around the university. This is why so many tourists are attracted to this university. It is also advisable to get a map because you can easily get lost.
In addition, if you are a fan of Harry Potter movies, do not forget to visit CHRIST CHURCH COLLEGE where you can find the famous Great Hall which was the inspiration for the dining hall scenes at Hogwarts in the movie Harry Potter.
Tip: Come early to get inside. They close at lunch time because it is being used by students. We were lucky to arrive just in time.
6. Amsterdam, Netherlands
One of the best ways to explore this beautiful city is by going on a canal cruise. You can either hop on or off during their cruises or you can rent a bike and go to different places you want. If you are a tourist, look on both sides to avoid getting hit by bicycles that are very popular.
With so many interesting places to see in this small city, one day is not enough. You can try different cheeses and other delicacies, go to museums, visit Anne Frank's house, and of course, shopping!
If you don't have much time in the city, try and visit Maduradam in Hague. This is an interactive miniature park where you can see what makes this country a worthy place to visit.
7. Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany
Though I am not a Catholic, I do appreciate the Gothic architecture of many of the churches. This church is so high and you sometimes wonder how they were able to build something as enormous as this so many centuries ago? Just amazing!
If you think the outside architecture was impressive, wait till you get inside. I couldn't help staring up at the ceilings and stare at their beautiful stained glass windows found inside the church. This is such a magnificent structure not to be missed when in Cologne!
8. Rhine River Cruise: Geisenheim, Germany
To better explore the very scenic River Rhine, we camped at Geisenheim in the Rheingau region where we took the river cruise along this famous river and stopped at some of the famous villages which are also famous for their wines, German beers and the beautifully decorated beer steins.
The cruise was very scenic. You see vineyards along the cliffs, castle ruins on the horizons and you will also came across the legendary LORELEI that attracts many tourists each year.
9. Lake Garda: Malcesine, Italy
Being the largest lake in Italy, this place is also one the favorite summer destinations in this country. The weather was so ideal for sun bathers and the water was so refreshingly cold. I have never swum in a lake before as they always appear murky. But Lake Garda is different it was so clear and clean and it felt like you are almost swimming in the sea without the saltiness.
Aside from swimming in the lake, Malcesine is also an interesting and quaint place to explore. Walk on cobbled roads and savor a genuine Italian gelatto while enjoying the whole Italian atmosphere. Don't forget to try my ever favorite, Limoncello!
10. The Coliseum at Verona, Italy
Although we did not intend to overnight at Verona we decided that it was worth a visit as it is this ancient city is the site of the oldest and most well-maintained coliseums in Italy. I fact it is still used to stage elaborate operas. It was fascinating to walk on the giant marble seats and remember that the citizens would sit here and cheer as gladiators fought for their lives.
Verona is also the Italian city in which Shakespeare set probably his most famous play, Romeo and Juliet. Here you can visit the balcony where Romeo spotted the beautiful Juliet and attempted to woo her. Sometimes you have to wait to get a decent photograph of the balcony as romantic couples are allowed to pose for photos - for a fee of course!
What once started as trading center in the old Europe, is now considered one of the most romantic and beautiful places in the world. I couldn't believe myself knowing that we would be spending two nights in Venice. Another dream come true for me!
Walking around Venice creates a dramatic backdrop of what it must have been like before and this is why it attracts millions of tourists each year. It's like walking back in time. The canals, the gondolas, the dramatic cityscape is just breathtaking.
Once in Venice, do not forget to see the Bridge of Sighs, The Rialto Bridge, and St. Mark's Square.
12. Fishing Village of Vernazza in Cinque Terre, Italy
Located along the Italian Riviera, there are five beautiful coastal towns that are visited by a lot of tourists. We decided to take a ferry from Port Venare, where we were able to take our first swim in the Mediterranean. The ferry would take us the most beautiful coastline with these picturesque villages. We decided to visit one of the most picturesque which is Vernazza. Walk along the narrow zig-zag roads and marvel at the old beautiful houses that is truly Italian. From Vernazza it is worth taking a short but steep walk up to an Italian bistro perched on the hillside. It offers a stunning view of Vernazza and the coastline - also a good place to enjoy an Italian beer as it it was a steep hot climb.
There are also so many restaurants and cafes to choose from in the area and of course on a hot day, a nice gelatto is always a good idea!
You can actually visit all the towns, but one day is not enough to appreciate the beauty of all these towns.
13. Statue of David in Florence, Italy
While in France, we said to each other that there was no way we could miss visiting the Statue of David in Florence. This masterpiece by Michelangelo has been attracting millions of tourists every year. So we took the train to Florence and queued up for over an hour at Accademia Gallery Museum where different artworks and of course the Statue of David is standing tall and proud!
Again, I had goosebumps because I used to teach this in World History specially during the Renaissance Period and here I was now standing at the foot of the real Statue of David. What an Honor!
A few meters walk from the Statue of David, you can also check out the the beautiful Duomo Cathedral which is the main church of Florence.
Tip: Arrive very early as queues here can get very long.
14. Mer De Glace in Chamonix, France
When they told me that we were going to Chamonix, I was so excited as this is the venue of one of the most challenging trail runs in the world the UTMB (Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc).
Our Chamonix experience became even more memorable when we visited the Mer De Glace in the French Alps. Our tour took us to the Ice Cave called Grotte De Glace which is right inside the glacier. My wish before was just to touch snow but I never expected I would touch the inside of an ancient glacier. This was really an experience of a lifetime!
15. Leaning Tower of Pisa in Pisa, Italy
When I was a child my auntie had given a souvenir from this place. I even told myself how I wish I could see this place myself.
When I started teaching world history, I even taught my students about it and showed it to them on Google maps. Who would ever imagined I would be able to see this place face to face. I thank I God I did!
It was a busy and humid day in Pisa, Italy but people like me were very eager to see this amazing structure. Tourists can go inside the leaning tower or they can just take a photo pretending that they leaning on it or the other way it around. It's actually so much fun! When you go outside, there are so many souvenir items for sale at a very reasonable price.
16. Wine Region of Beaune in Burgundy, France
After our stay in Italy we ventured into France and being wine-lovers we decided that the French Bourgogne (Burgundy) region, which is known for its wine-making, was a must.
Here we were able to visit two wine cellars. We purposefully chose one fairly modern one where we were able to sample some wines and spoiled ourselves by buying a few bottles of the wines that most appealed to us. We also chose a more traditional cellar based in an old monastery where the wine was still stored in oak barrels in huge cellars.
During the day we were also able to visit the beautiful old city of Beaune where the main attraction is the old hospice that had been established in 1445 and was used all the way to 1985. Now it is a beautifully restored museum featuring very interesting medical history. The most interesting aspect of the beautiful building is that it was established to take care of those who could not afford to go to the usual hospital. The intricately designed tiled roof is stunning and kept in a beautifully restored manner. Once again we were amazed at the care and artistry that went into the old buildings.
17. Eiffel Tower in Paris, France
When people hear about Paris, the first thing that comes to their mind is the Eiffel Tower. There is no way I was going to miss coming to this place since this has been on my bucket list for the longest time and I couldn't believe again that I was standing at the foot of the world famous Eiffel Tower.
Tourists have the option to go up the tower or to just simply stand in the middle and take a selfie of this iconic structure.
It is also advisable to visit the Eiffel Tower at night as this illuminates beautifully on Paris sky line. It's so romantic!
However, the best place to view Paris is not from the top of the Eiffel Tower but rather from the viewing deck at the top of the Montparnasse Tower which is very easy to find. It offers a stunning 360 degree viewof Paris as well as a very different perspective of the Eiffel Tower.
Just across the road from Montparnasse Tower we found a typical French pavement cafe where we enjoyed a French dinner.