A glance of Europe in Summer
Updated: Nov 4, 2018
“Traveling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” ― Ibn Battuta
My fond of Europe started many many years ago, when I was a kid. I read Heidi by Johanna Spyri, about an orphaned girl raised in Switzerland. I imagined the greeneries and fresh air of Swiss mountains. I imagined running on the hill. Then I watched the famous movie The Sound of Music, about Maria, a young Austrian woman and her love of music and the mountains. My dad's work trip to Switzerland during this time and his stories made my dream to be able to visit Switzerland one day grew even more.
In 2006, after saving enough money, I finally decided to visit Europe for the first time during summer. The good thing about going in summer was that the day was long and we got to see more. I was very busy at work and did not have enough time to do the planning myself. Also, I would like to cover as many places as possible. So I and my best friend (who four years later became one of my bridesmaids), D, decided to join a tour.
There are pros and cons of joining a tour. The good things about joining a tour were no planning required from my side (yes of course traveling need a plan just like all other aspect in life :-)) yet it allowed me to see the most important things within such a short period of time. The not so positive things were the early starting time everyday (=I had to wake up quite early!) and the food (they took us to Chinese restaurants most of the time!). I would say if you have enough time to do planning yourselves, it is better you go by yourselves instead of joining a tour. Having said that, I was glad I chose to join this Europe tour. I was able to see many countries and decided on the few countries I would like to explore more by myself the next time.
We flew by Qatar Airways to Rome (Italy) with a transit at Doha (for me, Singapore Airlines is still the best - if not much better). It was already afternoon by the time we landed, so we just checked-in the Ergife Palace Hotel, had (Chinese! food for) dinner (my nightmare began) somewhere nearby then rested in the hotel.
Our 2nd day started with a visit to Vatican City, the world's smallest country surrounded by Rome, and the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. It was said that Swiss Guards are those who guard Vatican and ensure safety of the Pope. There was a long queue to enter the St Peter's Basilica, one of the famous and biggest churches in the world, but it's worth the wait. The interior inside was magnificent. A wow moment for me. From here, we went to Colosseum, an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome - then to Trevi Fountain before visiting Spanish Steps, the widest staircase in Europe. Just in front of Spanish Steps was Via Condotti, one of Rome’s most elegant shopping streets with many branded shops. I ended up having a scoop of gelato (rum raisin!) - it was a hot summer day - and yes, ice cream is more important than branded bags and shoes :-) We had free time to walk around ourselves and we walked pass Hard Rock Cafe (62 Via Vittorio Veneto). I admired the buildings architecture - old but majestic.
On the 3rd day, we travelled to Pisa about 350 km north of Rome, to admire the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was summer and it was a really hot day - I remember it reached 40 degree celcius on that day. We continued our journey towards Florence. Here, we visited the city’s main sights like Piazza della Signoria, a square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall of the city), Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore. For dinner, we had a lovely 5-course Tuscan dinner (Thank God!).
The following day we travelled to Venice and took a motorboat to St Mark's Square. We enjoyed the area - took a leisure walk St Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, Bridge of Sighs, and St Mark’s Campanile, a replica of the original watchtower that collapsed in 1902. We also visited a Venetian glass factory and be fascinated by a master glassblower’s demonstration. We decided to ride a gondola (yes - the thing you need to do when you are in Venice :-)) and smelt the place :-) We had thin-crust-pizza for lunch in a restaurant - yummy! Many Venetian Mask (The Mascherade) shops around - they're gorgeous! Venetian masks are a centuries-old tradition of Venice, Italy. The masks are typically worn during the Carnival (Carnival of Venice), but have been used on many other occasions in the past, usually as a device for hiding the wearer's identity and social status. I ended up buying one to bring home. Venice was such a charming place - although I did not expect the canal to smell bad.
From Venice, we continued our journey to Salzburg in Austria. I fell in love instantly! Austria was just stunning - my type of place definitely - the mountains, greeneries, little villages, and houses. It made me feel calm and in peace. We went straight to a historical building named Schloss Mirabell (Mirabell Palace). The palace with its geometrically-arranged gardens is a listed cultural heritage monument and part of the Historic Centre of the City of Salzburg UNESCO World Heritage Site. Several scenes from The Sound of Music were filmed here. Maria and the children sing 'Do-Re-Mi' while dancing around the horse fountain and using the steps as a musical scale. From the gardens we could see Hohensalzburg Castle (High Salzburg Fortress) in the distance, sitting on the top of a small hill, the Festungsberg.
From Schloss Mirabell, we crossed over Salzach River, heading towards Mozart's Geburtshaus (Mozart's Birthplace) at Getreidegasse 9. The Mozart family resided on the third floor from 1747 to 1773 and Mozart was born here on 27 January 1756. We looked around and walked along Getreidegasse, Salzburg's most famous shopping street. I enjoyed it so much. At the end of the street, there's a Catholic Church - Loretto Spiritual Center of St. Blaise. Really a lovely area. We spent a night in Salzburg, at Hotel Europa at Rainerstraße 31.
From stunning Salzburg, we continued to our journey to Innsbruck to see Goldenes Dachl (the golden roof), a landmark structure located in the Old Town. Goldenes Dachl is considered the city's most famous symbol. We walked along Herzog-Friedrich-Straße to reach a massive Swarovski store. I remember that the group supposed to have lunch together (provided by the tour) but since it was in another Chinese restaurant (!!!), I and my friend decided to eat at different place - an Austrian restaurant. We couldn't take Chinese food that often. Really!!!
Good-bye, Austria! Time to travel to my favourite country, Switzerland. We passed Vaduz (Liechtenstein) that is located about 170 km west of Innsbruck. It has an area of just over 160 square kilometres, the fourth smallest in Europe. We made a brief stop before continuing 130 km to the west, heading for Lucerne. The scenery was really breathtaking! I couldn't stop admiring the mountains, the greeneries, and the nice little houses. We had our free time to explore around - Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge), a covered wooden footbridge spanning diagonally across the Reuss river and St. Peterskapelle (St. Peter's Chapel). We had dinner nearby in a foundue restaurant (yes, while in Switzerland... go for a fondue! Not a Chinese food! :-)) We spent a night in Lucerne.
We began our tour with an excursion to Engelberg. Engelberg is a charming village located 25 km south of Lake Lucerne. From there, we took a cable car to reach Mount Titlis. The view of the central Swiss Alps was amazing!!! I really really loved it. We took a ride at Ice Flyer and had some fun on the snowfields, but we didn't have enough time for skiing. I said to myself that I had to be back here again someday (and I did - please see my other article Winter in Switzerland and Germany).
In the afternoon, we came back to Lucerne. We strolled to Chapel Bridge again (it's really the center of attraction) and Lion Monument.
Next destination was Schaffhausen to witness Rhine Falls, the largest waterfall in Western Europe. We continued the journey to Black Forest, the largest forest in Germany. We enjoyed an original Black Forest lunch comprising German pork knuckles, sausages and the iconic Black Forest cake. Yumm!!! We arrived at Titisee, home to Germany’s largest cuckoo clock centre. It was a lovely little town. Heidelberg was our next stop where we had an overnight stay. Heidelberg was another lovely place. We visited the old bridge (an arch bridge that crosses the Neckar river) and a statue of a monkey holding a mirror . We did the river cruise where we could see Heidelberg Castle from a distance. We didn't visit the castle this time but I did when I came back in winter (you may read my other article Winter in Switzerland and Germany).
From Heidelberg, we travelled around 260 km north-west to Cologne. We visited Cologne Cathedral with its Gothic architecture, one of Germany's most visited landmarks. Cologne was okay - I was not that impressed. We continued the journey on the same day to Amsterdam in The Netherlands where stayed for two nights (at Tulip Inn). We went straight to Dam Square (it got its name from its original function in the old days, a dam on Amstel River) to see Royal Palace, The Nieuwe Kerk (The New Church, a 15th-century church), and the National Monument.
In the morning the day after, we travelled about 60 km south-west to Madurodam, a miniature park in the Scheveningen district of The Hague. I really had a great time here. I loved looking at all the miniatures. They're amazing! All the little tiny details were just simply amazing.
We travelled around 75 km to the north-east heading to Zaanse Schans, a Dutch village with its collection of well-preserved historic windmills and cottages. From 1961 to 1974 old buildings from all over the Zaanstreek were relocated using lowboy trailers to the area. Here we got the opportunity to see the cheese farm and a wooden clog-making demonstration. Those wooden clog were so cute!
From here we returned back to Amsterdam to enjoy a relaxing canal cruise on a glass-domed motor launch. We looked at the buildings by the river (one of the narrowest house in Amsterdam), bicycle park (with so many bicycles! never seen such thing in my life), bridges, and houseboats. Lovely! Amsterdam was such a charming city!
Oh and not to mention that the food was yummy (poffertjes is my all time favourite) and cheapest in Amsterdam compared to those in the previous countries (with Switzerland being the most expensive).
On our last night in Amsterdam, a good friend of ours (our ex-colleague) picked us up and took us to Alkmaar, a city located in the province of North Holland, about 45 km north of Amsterdam. Alkmaar is well known for its traditional cheese market. Thank you, W, for meeting us and took us around!
The following morning, we continued our journey 250 km to the south heading to Brussels, the capital of Belgium. Our first stop was the magnificent Atomium, originally constructed for the 1958 Brussels World's Fair (Expo 58). It is located on the Heysel Plateau, where the exhibition took place. It is now a museum. A visit to Brussels wouldn't be complete without seeing Manneken Pis, a landmark small bronze sculpture, featuring a naked little boy urinating into a fountain's basin. The current statue is a copy which dates from 1965. The original is kept in the Museum of the City of Brussels. I couldn't take my eyes off the waffles nearby - they looked absolutely tempting. So I bought one - delicious! Grand Place (Grote Markt) is located just 400 metres away from the Manneken Pis. The square is the most important tourist destination and most memorable landmark in Brussels. It is also considered as one of the most beautiful squares in Europe and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998. I enjoyed looking at the buildings in the Grand Place - Museum van de Stad Brussel (The Museum of the City of Brussels) and Stadhuis van Brussel (Brussels Town Hall) - a gothic building from the 15th century.
From Brussels, we went straight to Paris in France, around 350 km south-west. We did the cruise on famous River Seine. The morning after, we had a city tour to see all the important landmarks in Paris - Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees Boulevard, Place de la Concorde, and Notre Dame Cathedral (one of the most magnificent Gothic architecture). We also went to the iconic Eiffel Tower and queued in hot weather (it was summer!) for so long to go up to enjoy the magnificent view from the top. (Unfortunately I lost many photos from this last stop).
It was the night of French National Day (the anniversary of Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, a turning point of the French Revolution) on that day and also my travel companion birthday. Although our tour leader suggested all of us to just stay in the hotel because there would be a huge crowd and he was worried about safety issue, we decided to still go to the city by train to see the fire work at Eiffel Tower (perhaps once in a lifetime). Going there and going back was a really huge challenge - we had to do a lot of walking as some of the train stations were closed (because they were too full already) - and even when we managed to get in the train, we were packed like sardines :-)
(Unfortunately I also lost all photos from this night).
The last day in Paris - and last day of our Europe trip - was our free time. We decided to queue (!) to enter the Louvre Museum (Musée du Louvre), the world's largest art museum and a historic monument in Paris. I borrowed the audio guide as I loved to hear more about the paintings. We spent about three hours there and still haven't covered all part. I would want to come back next time to enjoy the rest.
It was an incredible trip. Europe is truly remarkable. I can imagine myself coming back for many many more times. The highlight for me was Switzerland and Austria - they're simply beautiful and breathtaking - more beautiful than I have imagined. I will definitely want to come back and explore more.