Any and all touristy cities anywhere in the world have its must see locations. However, in planning our trip like this to Europe, with very little time in each city, we had to get picky about which 'must see' sites we would be able to see. Again, the free walking tours we took really were the most efficient ways to get in as many of these as possible in short amount of time. I think we actually did a pretty good job in getting in quite a few in the following cities:
Valencia: The City of Arts of Sciences, Oceanografic
Madrid: Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor and the Royal Palace
Rome: The Colosseum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Vatican City
France: Notre Dame, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower
Edinburgh: Edinburgh Castle, The Royal Mile
Dublin: Temple Bar, St. Patricks Cathedral
London: Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, Big Ben
And there was so much more. However, there were highlights in each of these cities that were unique to our trip that I wanted to share. A lot of the special memories we made had to do with not just the sites we saw, but the people we shared it with and the discoveries we made together. Its times like those that can't be planned or predicted and yet so grateful when they just work out nicely. Many of these highlights could easily turn into 'Must do's' in your own way.
In Valencia we spent just a little under 24 hours so time was of the essence. But the highlight in itself was being with Christian and having him take us around to see major parts of the city. We wanted to see as much of what he had grown to love, the parts of the city that became his backdrop and his home for the last 9 months. It was so great to see just how much of a local he had become. I think we very quickly got a feel for the amazing environment he got to live in during that time. We will always be grateful to Valencia for having been so good to our boy, and look forward to having him return one day.
It was great to spend time with them, but the fun part was them taking us around Madrid, not bar hopping, but food hopping. They explained that the Spanish have a very set meal culture and it is not uncommon for most Spaniards to have at least 6 set meals per day- Breakfast, Mid morning, Lunch, Your after Siesta, Supper, and Dinner apparently is around 9pm. So in addition to showing us around, we walked, sat, ate and drank, then walked, sat, ate and drank a few more times at the quaintest little food markets and parks tasting and experiencing a little bit of that Spanish culture. That is something that Christian had been exposed to, but not something Jerry and I would probably have ever done on our own. We don't experiment much so that was soooo much fun! Food hopping anywhere in Europe is a must do!
Aside from Rome's beautiful sites, the highlight for us was the food, especially the pizza. Real Italian pizza, calzones and fresh bruschetta of which we had more than a couple of times, and each time at a different authentic location. We had fun finding these cute little restaurants and feeling like we were locals. Each one delicious in there own way.
A historical city 300 meters of above Paris. There is this beautiful all white church of Sacre Couer at the center of it all, and the old Parisian city is one of my personal highlights. We had arrived just in time to hear a full mass, all in French along with a choir of very traditional nuns in black and white habits. The moment that touched me the most though, was at the sign of the peace at which time I received more than one "Peace be with you" in a variety of languages...French, German, Filipino, and a few more I may not have recognized. I was overcome with emotion and gratitude as I thought, where else but in France could you get such an international moment like that? A very special memory indeed. If not just for the church, but the city itself is a MUST SEE!
Scotland was a highlight in itself for many reasons- One because we actually got to visit 3 different cities with one stop- Dundee, St. Andrews and Edinburgh. And two because once again we got to spend it with family. My other cousin Natalia, (sister of Carolina from Madrid no less), her husband, Leo, and 2 her little boys happen to be living in the city of Dundee on a work relocation project for almost the last 2 years, and we were so lucky to have been able to catch up with them on the tail end of their stay in Scotland. They were gracious enough to let us stay at their house and showed us around Dundee and St. Andrews in some cold but uncharacteristically sunny weather- It was perfect.
Spanish Tapas in Scotland?!! Once again once of the highlights involves food and drink. Natalie and Leo took us out on the town in Dundee that evening and we hung out at a bar for drinks before dinner (something we don't ever do) and then took us to a popular Spanish restaurant for some real, traditional tapas...in Scotland! Go figure, but it was as authentic as if we would have been back in Spain. Such a popular place that Natalie had to make reservations a month prior to our arrival! So snazzy and this dinner was an event in itself. Every course was brought out and explained in Spanish (by a true Spaniard) as to what each course was and what region of Spain these tapas would most likely come from...WOW!! We enjoyed every minute and very bite of such a variety of dishes of the what...5+ courses we had? Soo much food! Chris really experimented and tasted pretty much everything. It was incredible as were some of the flavors we (Jerry and I) once again would have never ventured out to try if it weren't for such exposure. Yes, we are creatures of habit, but we soo appreciated them for expanding our culinary horizons. Spanish tapas...a must do anywhere you can get it.
Greyfriars Kirkyard (one of the most haunted graveyards in the world) in which we saw the original orphanage that was the basis for the school of Hogwarts because it really was separated into 4 houses, the tombstones of people buried with some of the proper names of some very popular HP characters such as Tom Riddle, McGonagall, Scrimgeour, and some others. He also pointed out the very cafe in which she wrote her story which is now a cafe called Spoon and another cafe that calls itself the original cafe the White Elephant cafe...who knows, but it was all really cool!
I actually forgot to post pictures on FB of our day in Dublin because it had come and gone so quick, but they weren't any less special. Dublin was a city we added to our trip because Chris had actually already spent time there and had fallen in love with this city and he really wanted us to get to love it too, so we did. In less than 24 hours we took it on with a walking tour and then Chris as our guide. We saw Dublin Castle, Trinity College, strolled down Temple Bar and Liffey River and stopped to watch street bands. Here once again, we we had a chance to meet up with family. Our brother in law, Bobby, happened to arrive in Dublin on the same day we did for a work trip and we met up for a quick conversation, lunch, and a silly picture to commemorate the visit.
And last but not least...
This is a difficult one, as most of you can imagine. London has been on my bucket list to visit as far back as I can remember. I've always said that the day I would go to London would be the day I could die happy. Well I guess I can, but I think I will extend that until I can go back a second, maybe even a third time? It was just wonderful so to pick some of the highlights is very difficult. For me, everything from the tube, to the adorable telephone booths and taxis, the historical sites, to hearing people with that wonderful accent was a highlight for me. I loved it all really! But a couple of things did stand out:
The Changing of the Guard
The Globe Theater
I've mentioned the Globe already on FB, but I will mention it again and again when I can because it was that great of an experience. A complete highlight and a must do in London! You won't regret it. It truly was such a special night for us and an experience we will never forget. The theater in itself is Shakespeare brought back to life and to be in a stage like that immediately puts you in a different time and place and it makes you feel like you are a part of the play you're watching. We have never seen A Midnight's Summer Dream, but it is now one of our favorites. The actors gave this play a modern twist in several ways, and their commitment to their characters was just amazing. The singing, the dancing, the interaction was just electric. Soo much so that Jerry and Chris gave up leaving at intermission to watch a soccer game to stay to finish it off. That is saying something!
So there you are, some of the most memorable moments of our trip. I hope I didn't bombard you with too much, but there could have been many more but these were some on the top of the list. And I share them with you because sharing is caring. Some of these highlights had been suggestions made to us by others we know and I'm so glad they had told us about them. Recommendations are very valuable and they ultimately made a difference in our experience in Europe. So I hope that somehow I enticed you to visit, see or do one or a few of the things to make your trip special. On the flip side of that, there were definitely things we did not get a chance to do, but I am keeping notes for our next visit. I would love to know what places and things you've done differently and exciting so I can add them to my list as well. The travel tips are next. Until next time!!