14 January 2015

2014 EUROPE by Rail 34 - Euro Wrap

Well, we ...
- spent 13 lovely days in Europe (Oct 9-22)
- visited six cities (St. Hippolyte du Fort in France and surrounding areas, Nice, Monaco, Brugge, Berlin, Amsterdam)
- saw three folks with a family connection (Uncle Bob, Aunt Terry, and Cory)
- browsed three museums (Beer Museum of Brugge, Rijks and Van Gogh Museums in Amsterdam)
- accomplished two+ out of three goals (visiting B&T in their home, finding the Euromaxx studios, and walking a tiny bit of the Monaco F1 race track)
- took one boat cruise (the canals of Amsterdam)
- and walked at least 100 miles (that's less than 10 miles per day and it felt like a lot more!)

We ate delicious meals everywhere and none disappointed us. My favorite was probably the colorful veggie plate at the Chat Perche in Couvertoirade. Mike's favorite was the mussels at Restaurant De Gouden Kroes in Brugge. Schneitzel in both Berlin and Amsterdam came in a close second for him.

We agree on a favorite breakfast spot--the little bagel shop in Berlin.

Best outdoor produce market and best sweets were in Brugge.

Our favorite sleepover was Mas Baumel, our Aunt and Uncle's home in southern France. 
After that, each hotel was so different and "best" in its own way. In the end, I chose The Times Hotel in Amsterdam for my fave. It had the best window view of the lovely, ever-changing canal out front and I delighted in the Van Gogh mural on the long wall.
On the other hand, the Durante Hotel in Nice was the only hotel with a house cat. Hard to beat that. If the cat had been a bit more friendly, I might have put Durante at number 1.
Mike liked the Hotel Patritius in Brugge. It was more a "historical" European style having been a mansion at one time, had a nice outdoor courtyard garden, and had the best in house breakfast spread. 
If we absolutely had to pick one sightseeing spot, my favorite was the Berlin Wall. Mike's was intrigued with the Knight's Templar village of Couvertoirade, France.
Favorite train station was Niceville and best sunset was on the Nice boardwalk.

Favorite bar was the Katz and Maus in Berlin.

Now that we are home, we think of things almost daily that remind us of the wonderful time we had on this visit and have us yearning to return. Next Europe trip is tentatively planned for May to Northern Italy. It will be a foodie event with our local Chef John, from Zazio's Restaurant, as our guide.

There will be lots of blog entries before then. Hope you keep on reading!

1) We think American graffiti is more creative than European. What we observed for the most part in Europe were tags and statements (rather then caricatures, cartoons and scenes). The Berlin Wall was a huge exception, of course, but even there the beautiful artwork was covered with word scrawls. I guess all art is temporary, but somehow it seems to me that The Wall is too sacred to be desecrated at someone's written whim.

2) You could almost count the number of people who were NOT peering into a cellphone screen or had one near their ear. What is to become of our live human interactive social skills?!

3) Bright white bed linens and duvets in every hotel we stayed. No American style bed spreads. We liked it. Our friend Suzi in SFO has often had white linens in her master bedroom. I think I'm going to switch over, too.

4) In Germany folks say "No, no, no, no, no, no" at least five or six times, rather than just "No!" Too emphatic? Overdone?

5) Germans pretty much mind the rules. For example, they rarely walk against the "Don't Walk" light at intersections.

6) Germany should catch up on no smoking trends. I think Berlin train station was the only one to have a "Smoking" area. Too bad this area was only divided by a line painted on the track waiting area floor from the non-smokers.

7) It rained in varied measure almost the whole time we were in Europe. But somehow when it came time for us to walk somewhere, there was a lull in the weather long enough for us to get where we were going without getting completely soaked.

8) The rainbow outside our Amsterdam window was the best natural light show. The Light Festival in Berlin was the best manmade light show.

9) Security seemed less apparent in train stations than in airports. At least it was not obvious. No body scans and no x-ray machines for luggage before boarding. Yes, there were cameras videoing the situation and a handful of police present. But security was not in your face or reminding you every moment that something could go wrong and beware. Since our trip, things may have changed after the horrendous Charlie Hebdo tragedy.

10) The Astronomy Club meeting in Anduze with my Aunt and Uncle was a highlight. Mike is ready to start a club in Kalamazoo.
11) Things on this trip we missed and would love to see next time--the Reichstag in Berlin, the Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam, and the Hermitage Museum of Amsterdam. Also would like to re-see the Van Gogh and Rijks Museums when they are not crowded.

12) We met hoards of nice people, reaching out to us when we looked confused or just to chat or explain things about their country. No one (except maybe our Amsterdam taxi driver and the shopkeeper in Brugge that lured us down an alley to his shop) did us wrong or was unkind or unfriendly or unhelpful.

13) Uncle Bob wore a long orange knitted scarf (see photo above) when we went out. Mike usually had on a flannel shirt which to me looked kind of lumberjack-ish. When we got him Mike started wearing his faux cashmere scarf with his flannel shirts. That scarf changed his total look to cool French country guy. Love it.

14) In the U.S. when we travel (by car at least), we always take photos of the "Welcome to Michigan" type signs posted at each state border. No way to tell that we figured out to know when you cross into a new country in Europe. Biggest hint is that the signs on businesses are suddenly written in the language of the country you just entered.

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If you have visited any of these places, we would love to hear your comments. Or send us recommendations of places we should not miss.