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Eurotrip 2011!

So it’s been a little over a week since we’ve returned from Europe and I can honestly say I cannot wait to go back! I’ve already started planning for our next trip which will include London, Amsterdam and all of Germany. Of course, this will have to wait for another five years so we can save up some money. The dollar-to-euro conversion is ridiculous. Our traveling friends all agreed that holding paper euro in your hand doesn’t seem real- like we were paying with pretty monopoly money. Of course the ATM withdrawals on our credit card statements reflect differently!

Besides our monotonous and drab legal tender, there are a few (well, many) items that I wish were more “European” here in the states. The obvious choice would be food and beverage. In Germany, Austria and Italy, mostly all the meals were made of fresh, local ingredients with very little (if any) processing. Real food just tastes better. It’s quite a simple concept. When Sean bought his €5 Coca-Cola, even THAT tasted better because they used real sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. Being a vegetarian, I didn’t have any problem finding meatless options on the menus. I was a little worried about this, especially in Germany and Austria, but to my surprise, even the smallest of towns had some sort of option for a non-animal eater. And Sean was satisfied as well with the plethora of dead animal meat selections. In Italy, Sean had more than his fair share of Pasta alla Carbonara and I loved the Insalata Caprese and Pizza Margherita. It’s true what they say about pizza in Italy. It is THE BEST.

Also, the coffee served there is petite yet pungent. I’m a fan for the efficacy of a small, strong dose of coffee in the morning, especially while walking around cities with limited bathrooms, or WC’s as they call them. Oh, and that’s another thing– restaurants and cafe’s don’t seem to mind if you need to use the WC and you’re not a paying patron. In fact, Europeans are a lot less uptight about EVERYTHING. Honestly, I think our blood pressure dropped a few notches just by hanging out with these people. We have much to learn in that regard. While the driving over there is chaotic, at best, it seems as though they are still relaxed while driving in chaos. I never saw any road rage over there, nor car accidents which was completely amazing given the way they drive.

The architecture is, of course, stunning. It’s funny.. we arrived back in the states and the first night we put in a movie which showed a beautiful court building with the columns and ornate detailing and both Sean and I were like– meh, that’s nuthin’. Aside from Ireland a decade ago, this was my first trip overseas and I was really overwhelmed by the beauty of the architecture. In Munich, it was mind-blowing walking into Marienplatz and seeing the facade of the New City Hall. We both let out a gasp of …”ohhhh, wooooowwww” as it came into view around the corner.

And Rome.. My God, And Rome. Wow. If you have not been, I would strongly recommend planning a trip. The ruins were unbelievable and the Pantheon and the Vatican and.. everything. We truly were blown away at the beauty of the city.

Ok, so let’s start from the beginning here. We left BWI on May 16th on US Airways. The flight was okay. Long. Food was gross of course, but I liked being able to watch a bunch of new movies on the plane. That helped the torture time go by a little faster. I was able to get a solid 15 minutes of sleep on the plane. Same for Sean. So, we were in prime form when we arrived into Munich the next morning. We exchanged some dollars for euros there at the airport and then hopped the train into the city center, which was apparently only a block and a half from our hotel. Unfortunately, we forgot to print out a map of Munich so after walking a few blocks (in flip flops) in the wrong direction with our four pieces of luggage we finally realized where we were and found our hotel, King’s Hotel First Class. We walked in, with tired eyes and bodies and gave the front desk clerk our last name, hoping for an early check in (or at least a spot to hold our luggage). After typing the computer keys for what seemed a solid 10 minutes, the nice gentlemen proceeded to advise us that we were at the wrong hotel. Apparently, we were booked at their sister hotel, King’s Hotel City Center, which he promised was just right around the corner. So, after dragging ourselves and our stuff another couple of blocks, we finally arrive at the right hotel and they proceeded to quickly check us in early. Thank goodness.. we were really jet-lagged and stinky from sweating in the sardine can known as US Airways Flight 706. We needed a good shower. And although we would have LOVED a nap, we were advised to try to stay awake the first day of arrival to ease getting into the time change. The hotel was beautiful and very comfortable and the organic breakfast, which is included, was scrumptious. I would highly recommend this place. (http://www.kingshotels.com)

So we showered and changed and headed out that afternoon to see what Munich had to offer two tired, hungry and thirsty Americans. Our hotel was right in the center of everything, which was convenient for our weary little footsies. Our first stop was a stroll through a lovely little park at the edge of the town center with lush tree-lines paths which conveniently led to an oasis known as the ParkRestaurant Löwenbräu. Our first taste of German food and beer didn’t disappoint. We ordered a couple of Franziskaner Weissbiers (my favorite!) and sipped on them as we devoured our first meal in Europe. Sean had some smoked pork chops, a cabbage salad and potatoes while I ate a “Vegetarian Potato” which was basically a baked potato encompassed in a broccoli cream sauce with green beans and cabbage salad. The meal hit the spot for both of us, especially after the long flight. It was a nice “welcome to Europe” meal.

After our meal, we proceeded on to Marienplatz, the central square in the heart of Munich. Here, were again blown away by the architecture of the Neues Rathaus (New City Hall) and giggled at the delight of the Glockenspiel. The town center was bustling with people and there was an abundance of shops, cafes and restaurants. We found it amusing to grab a pint and sit at an outdoor cafe to people-watch. It is here where we first noticed that dogs have quite a spoiled life in Europe. They are everywhere..in restaurants, in shops, in cars and bikes..even leading their owners by foot! I think our pooch Rosie would love it here.

After absorbing the sites of the town center, we proceed to the Hofbräuhaus which we were advised to visit by friends and family who have been there. Although a little touristy, this place was a ton of fun! The decorative ceilings, the typically wood tables and benches, the German band playing in the background and the large steins of beer made this place feel like were officially in Munich. We both had a very large stein of beer.. I can’t remember what type we got but it was pretty “hoppy”, so Sean was “happy”. We ordered a HUGE pretzel and swayed our steins and bodies along to the music. We met a bunch of people there. The place is very conducive to making friends out of strangers. We met a couple from New Jersey who we gabbed it up with quite a bit. She even shares my birthday of 9/11 (Virgo’s unite!). The place was a blast, and helped us forget about our jet lag!

So, at this point it’s early evening so we leisurely stroll back to our hotel and find a nice place for dinner, right across the street from where we’re staying. We finally get to bed for an early start the next day. As mentioned, the breakfast at this hotel is delicious. A typical German breakfast consists of danish, pastries and croissants with fresh butter and jams. Seasonal fruits are plentiful and there is a wide variety of cheese and meat slices. Hard-boiled eggs are a staple as well as freshly squeezed juices and hot coffee. A good night sleep and hearty breakfast were needed for our next venture—onto Austria!

……to be continued……..

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Eurotrip ’11 {Personal}

So, anyone who has been around me in the past 6 months or so has heard me babble on and on (and on) about how excited we are to be going to Europe in May.  Now, we are a mere 25 days away from when we embark on the trip of a lifetime!  Our itinerary is as follows:

May 16  We leave from BWI and head to Munich, Germany to check out the city center and no doubt visit a good old Biergarten (or three).  Sean says he wants to buy a pair of Lederhosen while we’re there..  not sure if that purchase will come to fruition, but I will be sure to snap a picture if it does.  Another little task at hand is to follow my sister Lysa’s idea and snap as many “Opfer” signs as possible.  Opfer is my maiden name, which means victim (or sacrifice) in German.  Needless to say, there are many monuments erected displaying my beloved family name.

May 18  We check out of our hotel and head to the Muenchen Hbf (city center train station) and take a train down to Innsbruck, Austria.  Obviously, we’ll be checking out this beautiful city but the main reason for heading there is to avoid the $600 drop fee for picking up a car in one county and dropping off in another.  Once we pick up our car from there, we will probably grab a bite to eat at a local place and then head on to our next destination, Hallstatt, Austria.  On the way, we plan on stopping to see the picturesque Lake Königssee and taking in the breathtaking views and crisp mountain air.  Look at this view!

I am truly looking forward to this drive.  This year will be our 15 year wedding anniversary ( I know, I know.. I look too young to be married 15 years – ha!) and this be our second honeymoon, of sorts.  For our first honeymoon, we had very little money as I was still in college and Sean was in entry level positions.  So, we took a road trip up to Montreal, Canada and found out that we LOVE to drive around to new destinations together.  We had the same excitement back in 2003 when we took a week-long trip to Ireland.  There is such a great thrill in driving around in new places, not knowing what you’ll find along the way.  I have stories for every city we’ve traveled and I yearn for absorbing all offerings from different cultures.

So, now we’ll make our way to Hallstatt, a postcard-view town nestled in the foot of the Austrian Alps.  When this trip was just a mere idea, I had researched places to see in Europe and this little town grabbed my attention right from the beginning.  I planned almost our entire part of our visit to Germany and Austria around this little village.  I am not a huge fan of largely populated areas, and find such peace in quaint towns.  And while Hallstatt is gaining popularity in tourism, it still has that small-town charm you just can’t get in many locations.  A few things we have planned are to visit the Hallstatt Charnel House, take a tour of the Hallstatt salt mine (which was the main source of income for this quaint little town), hike, bike and possibly rent a boat to go across the lake!  What I am most looking forward to is relaxing and taking in all the expansive views.

May 20 We’ll check out of our hotel in the morning and drive down towards Villach, Austria.  If we have some extra time, we plan on heading into Slovenia for lunch in Lake Bled.  I would love to take the boat ride to the castle on the island but I really don’t think we’ll be able to fit that into our itinerary as we have to drop off our car in Villach and catch an afternoon train to Venice, Italy.

So, our train will be arriving fairly late in Venice and after our boat transfers and drive from earlier in the day I’m sure we’ll pretty much just settle into our B&B and grab our first taste of Italian cuisine for dinner.  Boy, am I ever looking forward to that!  I am (literally) a huge fan of Italian cuisine and I can’t wait to taste all the fresh, local ingredients in those scrumptious dishes.  Oh, and the wine..  let’s not forget about the vino!  I will be in heaven!!

In Venice, we don’t have much set in stone, but plan on spending a lot of time in St. Mark’s Square and strolling through the tiny side streets which are intertwined throughout Venice.  I am looking forward to “getting lost” on the island.  Also on the list of things to do is visit Murano Glass and of course, take a romantic gondola ride!

May 22  We’ll check out of our hotel leisurely and pick up our car rental and head to Tuscany.  We will probably make a quick stop in Bologna along the way, since it’s right on our route.  Later on that evening, we arrive at our villa in Bagni di Lucca where we actually meet up with 6 of our good friends (3 couples)!  We will be traveling with them for the remainder of our trip.  So, we have the best of both worlds here..  alone time with each other in Germany and Austria and then fun friend time in Italy!  Could it get any better than that?!  Our villa we are renting for the week is amazing.  The owners have been very gracious in providing information about the location, things to do, etc.  They will even have dinner ready for us upon arrival and will be doing some light grocery shopping for us as well.  Here are some pics of the villa!

plus this heated pool with these views!

From our villa, we plan on taking some day trips to Florence, Pisa, Lucca and Siena.  We may take some other small trips to surrounding towns and local wineries as well.  We plan on leaving a day (or two!) open for relaxing at the villa and again, taking in these fantastic views.  I’m such a visual person, so for me it’s ALL about the views!!  Sean has been practicing cooking his Eggplant and Chicken Parmigiana, so after picking up local fresh ingredients from the town grocery store, he’ll be cooking that for the group one of the nights.  Our friend Brian has been practicing some additional recipes too,  including a delicious risotto which he served at our last “Italy Meeting” so we all can’t wait taste some more cooking by Sean and Brian.  The rest of us girls (and Scott and Jeff) will gladly sit poolside with wine in hand while those two cook in the kitchen.

May 28   From our villa, we’ll pile into our three cars early that morning and head on down to Roma!  We will probably make a roundabout stop in Assisi on the way.  In Rome, we’re renting an apartment which is centrally located and convenient to most modes of transportation.  This will come in handy as we’ll be dropping our cars off as soon as we arrive in Rome.  While we’re there, we plan on visiting The Colosseum, San Giovanni, The Holy Stairs, The Pantheon,  Trevi Fountain,  The Vatican, a bike ride to Aquaduct Park/Appian Way, etc etc etc!!  I give kudos to our friends Brian and Sarah for planning a lot of our Italian adventures!  Oh, and let’s not forget about the nightlife..  I’m looking forward to a little Italian Burlesque at Club Micca.

I’m sure we’ll visit other spots not planned or not visit spots as planned, but for now we have a great backbone for our trip!  I look forward to especially documenting everything through my photography and I’ll be sure to post back on here when I can!  Thanks for reading my (grammar mistake-laden) writing about this trip and special thanks to those who will be house-sitting and pet-sitting our little creatures while we take this venture!  Stay tuned…

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