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Europe 2013 - France Part 2
Happy Friday! Let's start the weekend early with one last mini-vacation.  Today I'm concluding my Europe 2013 series (1, 2, 34) with France Part 2. 



We left Mont St. Michel still with our rental car and drove around the Loire Valley touring French chateaux. We had a wonderful time.  We visited five different castles in two days and a few other sites as well, including Leonardo Da Vinci's last home in Amboise.  Our favorite chateau was Azay-le-Rideau, but they were each unique and deserved our time for one reason or another.



Interior details


Chambord

Villandry's gardens were impeccable.



We returned our car during our last night in Amboise and then hopped on a train headed for Paris.  We spent five days and nights in Paris, including my birthday!  (This was no accident!)  We have been to Paris before, but only for a short thirty-six hours.  We visited some of the same sites, and they were just as amazing as before.

Notre Dame Cathedral and the gargoyle's-eye view from the cathedral's towers.

The view from Sacré Cœur's dome and Moulin Rouge.

Cat on the wall of Père Lachaise Cemetery

Is there such thing as too many Eiffel Tower pictures? 






We also took a day trip to the castle of Versailles.  It was crazy busy.  So much so that it was not really an enjoyable visit.  Regardless, we still got some good photos and can now cross it off our to-do list. :)

The famous golden gate and the front of the castle.

Our reflection in Versaille's Hall of Mirrors.  It might be time to dust those mirrors. ;)


Thanks for following along! I hope you have enjoyed these Europe posts.  It's definitely been fun for me to share my love of travelling with you. In a few weeks, I'll share some various travel tips and tricks that I have picked up over the years.
DaniEurope, travel
Europe 2013 - France Part 1
This is going to be a long one folks.  I just couldn't narrow down my pictures.  If you've been following along, we're off to France this week. (If you need to catch up, read here and here and here.) We decided to explore France's Normandy region.  We stayed in a small town called Bayeux, which is a really good base if you're interested in visiting some World War 2 sites. Bayeux, amazingly was untouched by the bombs of WWII and is beautiful.  I was smitten by the cathedral.  I could not stop taking pictures.

Bayeux Cathedral

Bayeux Cathedral interior and exterior

At night!

We took a half-day tour of various WWII D-day sites.  I learned so much.  It was fascinating.  Sites we visited included Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach (think Saving Private Ryan), and the American Cemetery.  It was a humbling day.

Pointe du Hoc

Omaha Beach Memorials

American Cemetery


On our last morning in Bayeux, we rented a car and headed toward Mont St. Michel.  Mont St. Michel is a tiny island that houses a monastery and only has about 30 full time residents.  The island is packed during the day, but at night, it felt like it was just the two of us (and the cats...).

Mont St. Michel

After the crowds, it was just us and the cats. :)

Huge windows inside the monastery overlooking the beach

Inside the monastery


As you can imagine, space on the island is limited and so are hotel rooms.  We wanted to spend one night on the island, so we booked a room well in advance.  I got an email from the hotel about a week prior to when we were suppose to arrive stating that they accidently overbooked the hotel and were moving us to a different one.  This wouldn't have been a big deal, but the hotel they put us in was a couple miles away from the island because, apparently, all the rooms on the island were booked.  I was pretty upset and disappointed and returned the email practically begging them to keep looking for another room on the island and to keep us updated if one was available.  A couple days went by and I checked again.  I got an interesting email in return.  This is what it said:
 
Dear Madam,
I’m afraid but at the moment I have no cancellation. But I was thinking of a different option if you wish :
We take care of a few rooms for the monks and the nones in a separate building.
This place has no star and is very simple and there are 2 single rooms available as they don’t need it.
I know it is not the best solution but it is inside Mont Saint Michel. The rooms are charged 50 € each.
If this option suits you, let us know.
Sincerely, Christine / reception
 
Really?!  Our option was to stay in a room normally reserved for monks and nuns?! Fantastic!
Obviously, monks and nuns have no need for beds bigger than twin size, and we could have rented two rooms if we wanted, but what's the fun in that?  We just squeezed onto a twin bed--it was only one night.  We did have a sink in the room, but the toilet and shower were in the hallway.  This isn't a big deal for us though, because we often stay in places where this is the case. 
 
Top: Our room is THIS big! Bottom right: hallway  Bottom left: tiny bed
 
 
This was actually our favorite place where we stayed during our whole trip.  I mean, how many people can say that they've stayed in a monk's room? The coolest part, though, was where the room was.  We had to go down an alley no bigger than the width of my shoulders, around a corner, up some stairs, and then we reached our building.  We felt secluded--like we had our own private piece of the island.  It was amazing!
 
Tiny alleys and stairs leading to the monk's room

View from the door to our room. We felt magically secluded.

View from our window!
 
 
Is there a lesson here?  Of course!  When travelling, things may not go as you have planned. But stay open minded, because you never know what opportunities you may get!
 
 
 
Stay tuned for the Europe 2013 conclusion!  We're almost to Paris!!
Europe 2013 - Belgium - Part 2
So far, we've been to The Netherlands, and we visited two stops in Belgium last week.   This week we're still in Belgium, and we have two more stops: Ghent and Brussels. 



Ghent felt like a small town.  We only spent one night here (in an amazing B&B), but we filled our day with a variety of sights and activities including a design museum, a castle, a wonderful vegetarian lunch, dinner in a refurbished factory, and strolling the town at night. 


Ghent Castle and the view of the city from inside the castle walls.




From Ghent, we arrived by train in Brussels, which felt like the big, capitol city it is. Here, we stayed two nights and celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary.  In Brussels, we had a true hodge podge of experiences. We visited a comic museum (Because in Belgium, comics are serious business--and it's the birthplace of The Smurfs and TinTin.), a musical instrument museum (which sounds boring, but it was wonderful), had a stroll around the European Union headquarters (where we saw a piece of the Berlin Wall, bottom right picture below), saw dinosaurs (and lots of other things, too) at a Natural History museum, tasted more beer, and of course, ate a ton more chocolate.



We read about the "best, free view in Brussels" before we got there.  It's on the top story of a car park.  You just walk right in to the elevator and head upwards.  It was definitely a good view!

Tenth floor car park view


We really enjoyed Belgium. The people were very friendly, especially our gracious hosts. Next week, we're off to France!
DaniEurope, travel
Europe 2013 - Belgium - Part One
Hi!!  I hope you all had a great weekend!  Ours was busy, but fun.  We spent about 24 hours with family in Arkansas on Friday/Saturday, I did some outlet shopping with my mom on Sunday, and then the hubs and I went for a seven mile hike on Monday morning.  It was a weekend well spent!

Anyway, I thought I'd share more about our trip to Europe today.  Last week I talked about our time spent in Holland.  From Holland, we went to Belgium, where we visited four different cities.  Today, I'll talk about two of them. 

We first arrived in Antwerp.  We only spent one night here, so we didn't get to do very much.  On top of that, there were a couple of unexpected closings that prevented us from seeing some things on our list. 

Antwerp train station

Antwerp Street

Our HUGE breakfast, minus the eggs because we already ate them.

The hubs wanted photos of all the different beers we tried---we were in Belgium, after all.

Because when you wait for a train in Belgium, you eat a waffle.


From Antwerp, we took a train to Bruges.  This town was so picturesque--I would definitely go back.  Our Bed & Breakfast here was so charming, and our host was hilarious.  I also got to start speaking a little bit of French in Bruges.  We stayed here two nights and really had a great time.  We ate our weight in chocolate, toured a brewery, visited a medical museum (because we're dorks), ran into a Picasso exhibit that we didn't expect (awesome--he's my favorite painter), rented bikes, window shopped, drank beer...

Beautiful Bruges buildings

Picasso! AND he's holding an owl! What??

The peaceful Beguinage

Happy!

More beautiful Bruges buildings


Stay tuned for Belgium, Part Two next week!
DaniEurope, travel
Europe 2013 - The Netherlands
Happy Monday! Did you all have a great weekend? Mine was busy with a mini family reunion, which meant a trip down to Arkansas and the usual cleaning, shopping, gardening, working out, etc.  I certainly did not finish any of the felting that I wanted to do.  But, I did finally finish sorting through a couple thousand pictures from our vacation. 

So, in case you didn't know, my husband and I took a trip to Europe in April.  I thought I'd chat about the places we visited and maybe write a post or two on travel tips later.  This was our fourth trip to Europe, and though it was definitely fun, it had a different feel from our other trips.

We traveled to the Netherlands, Belgium, and France and were gone for three weeks.  So today, I'd like to show you a bit of the Netherlands part of our trip.

We started in Amsterdam.  Unfortunately, it was chilly and rainy for about half the time we were there.  They had a late start to their Spring season, much like we did.  But, of course you can't let a little precipitation stop your vacation!  We bought a cheap umbrella and dealt with the dampness. 






Amsterdam is such a fun city.  We had great food, visited wonderful museums and really enjoyed the culture.  Also, it's Holland, and they grow a lot of tulips.  A lot.  They're my favorite flower. So we dedicated a major portion of one day to visit a place called Keukenhof, where they plant more than seven million bulbs of tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and crocuses.  I took way too many flower pictures.



We had to try some local foods, including fries with mayonnaise.  The fries were pretty tasty.  We also visited a couple markets, enjoying the bustling scenes and, of course, more tulips!



After Amersterdam, we hopped on a train and visited a town called Delft for one night.  Delft is known for its famous blue and white pottery (since the 15th century).  So we visited the factory from which the pottery originated.  Also in Delft, we spent the night in a gypsy caravan. We aim to find unique places to stay, and this was so quirky and fun!








Next week, we'll head to Belgium!




DaniEurope, travel
Travel Stories - Lessons Learned



Pillowcases by UrbanBirdandCo on Etsy
 My husband and I love to travel.  We try to take trips as often as we can afford to do so, which means we are pretty much always saving for a future trip.  I have some fun travel stories to share, including some experiences when we learned a valuable lesson.  Today, I thought I'd share one of those valuable lessons...

Our last trip was in August 2012, and we went to Scotland and Ireland.  We typically stay in multiple cities and towns, trying to get the most out of our time overseas by seeing as much as possible.  This story begins on our last day in Scotland before we ferried over to Ireland.  We were in Glasgow--Scotland's biggest city. We navigated our way through the city to our room, which was located above and managed by the pub below.  We usually don't stay in hotels--mostly we stay in small, family run bed & breakfasts or hostels. We couldn't find a suitable B&B or hostel in Glasgow, so this was the next, best (still affordable) option.  The rooms were nice--we dropped of our bags and headed out into the city.

It was a Saturday, so Glasgow was busy.  At some point during each of our trips, we will tire of large cities--fighting crowds constantly is just not our thing.  After getting a super late lunch, sight-seeing, and museums, we were done with Glasgow.  We stopped at a bookstore for some evening entertainment, grabbed dinner at a grocery store (salads, yogurts, and chocolate), and we went back to our room to relax for a while.

After we ate, we were lying on the bed reading, when I glanced down and saw a bug crawling in between us. Instantly, I'm thinking BEDBUG.  But, we didn't know what a bedbug looked like exactly, and we had no way to look it up.  So, I texted my mom: "Could you please message me a picture of a bedbug?"  We compared our new friend with the picture, and they didn't really match.  Still unsure, and kind of grossed out, I called my mom and had her read the bedbug description--size, color, do they come out during the day?  Still, they didn't match--our friend was too small.  Regardless, at this point I did not want to get back on the bed.  Bedbugs are the last thing we need during a three week trip to Europe. We pulled up the sheets to inspect the mattress--nothing.  Phew!  Then I looked down.  Attached to the bed skirt was a bonafide bedbug.  Turns out our little friend was a juvenile.  Ugh! SO GROSS!

Our little friend


So after we shared our discovery with the management and refused to stay in an adjacent room (which also had bedbugs--we checked), we had to find another place to stay at 7:00 pm on a Saturday night in Scotland's biggest city.  We made multiple calls and could NOT find a room for less that $250.  We gave up.  We took a cab to the town where we were to catch the ferry the next morning and stayed at a Sleep Inn.  Not exactly a quaint B&B, but we were desperate. But our fun adventure didn't end there, folks.

Once in our very cushy room, we thoroughly check for bedbugs.  Our bags did not touch a soft surface (and luckily they didn't in Glasgow either, otherwise we might have carried them with us!).  Sheets were ripped from the mattress. Pillows were inspected. Extra blankets were tossed into the corner.  Finally, after a shower, we could sleep.

Or so we thought.  The fire alarm goes off at 3:00 am!  "ATTENTION, ATTENTION.  THERE IS AN EMERGENCY.  PLEASE EVACUATE THE BUILDING."  Are you kidding me?!?!  So, I throw on a jacket, grab my purse, Brandon gets dressed, and we file out the building with all other guests.  Apparently I was the only person who didn't put on any pants.  Nope.  Just sleep shorts for me in the 50 degrees.  Thank goodness it was just an alarm malfunction, because the fire department took 10 minutes to show up.  While we were waiting in the parking lot, we realized that we didn't grab everything we should have--Brandon's glasses, our second camera---my pants! Geez.

Left: Brandon and me making pouty faces in our cab leaving Glasgow. Right: Waiting in the Sleep Inn parking lot.




So two lessons were committed to memory during these exciting ten hours abroad.  Lesson 1: Learn how to identify a bedbug (adult AND juvenile).  Lesson 2:  Be evacuation ready.  Seriously.

Rest assured, we were diligent about both of these for the rest of our trip!
DaniEurope, travel lessons, travel