My first ever European trip (with my husband) was colorful and memorable in every way. However, there were very remarkable, priceless moments that ‘defined’ my 2012 autumn holiday in Europe. These moments make me feel nostalgic as I remember how these made me very giddy, inspired and amazed. Allow me to share in words and in snapshots my 16 favorite travel experiences in Italy, France and The Netherlands:
1. The Scavi Tour in Vatican City
The Scavi Tour tops the list of my favorite travel moments. Our tour was conducted by an aspiring priest and allowed us 12 guests (mostly senior citizens) to enter the Vatican Necropolis, or Scavi. This area is located directly beneath the Saint Peter’s Basilica and contains the Roman cities of the dead, which was built around 2000 years ago. Photography was not allowed during the tour.
The tour was like a suspense/mystery movie where I enthusiastically waited for the next story sequences to unfold. It lasted for about 1.5 hours, and by the end of the tour, we were lead into a small room adjacent to the Pope’s prayer room. One by one, we were allowed to peep through an opening, which apparently contains the bones of Saint Peter, the first Roman Catholic pope.
The aspiring priest then read a verse from the bible and gave us a moment to reflect and ask for Saint Peter’s intercession. At that very moment, my heart was filled with feelings that I cannot precisely explain, and tears fell down from my eyes. It was a very humbling and inspiring moment at the same time. I felt very blessed and privileged.
2. Exploring Zaanse Schans in Zaandam, The Netherlands
The lovely sky complemented the beauty of the greeneries, the colourful and cute houses, the autumn colors and the windmills during our half-day visit. Zaanse Schans was a haven away from the hustles and the bustles in Amsterdam.
Though I have previously expected that this place/adventure will be one of my biggest favorites, the thought that we were blessed with a sunny (though very cold) day amidst the published weather prediction of 70% precipitation chance really made my day.
3. Tuscan lunch and wine tasting at a vineyard in Chianti, Tuscany
We availed Walkabout Florence’s One-Day Tuscany Sightseeing Tour from Florence, which allowed us to explore Siena, have lunch and wine tasting at a vineyard in Chianti, roam through the cobbled streets of San Gimignano and stop by Pisa while passing by a beautiful countryside all in one day. My favorite part was the Tuscan lunch and informal wine tasting in Chianti where aside from the great tasting wines and pasta, we also got a longer time to appreciate a vineyard and the stunning rolling hills of Tuscany.
To describe the experience, I would like to quote one of our tour-mates when I asked her how she liked the Chianti vineyards:
“Everything is really amazing, really wonderful. It is like you wake up into another dream and you see a really beautiful, wonderful place!”
I definitely agree with her.
4. Disneyland Paris
Coming from Italy, my husband and I have underestimated the temperature drop in Paris and just wore our Mickey Mouse shirts under our not-so-thick jackets. We almost did not want to go out of the shops and restaurants during our first hour in the park. However, Disneyland’s charm was just so strong – my husband and I were like kids who got very excited during the rides, shows and parades. The musical light and fireworks show at 8:00 PM was amazing and really worth the wait. Our day trip to Disneyland was very invigorating after days of history, architecture and sightseeing.
5. That autumn feeling at Jardin de Luxembourg, Paris
The atmosphere at Jardin de Luxembourg – students sitting together, friends catching up on stories, men playing basketball, elderly couples sitting side by side, young couples publicly displaying affection, people catching a nap at the benches and fellow travelers enjoying the moment – was very relaxing.
The park was filled with trees and fallen leaves showcasing the hues of autumn – browns, reds, yellows and oranges. The air was crisp and clean. The ambiance was just very lovely that I have heard myself say “I just love this” several times.
6. Admiring the splendor of ancient Rome
History is not my favorite subject but visiting the historical sites in Rome left me gasping in amazement. It was like being transported to the old times, as old as 1000 years B.C. It is really impressive how the Romans constructed the massive structures without the engineering technology we are enjoying today.
7. Spending dusk in front of the Eiffel Tower just after its lights turned on
I have always thought that Paris’ Eiffel Tower is a cliche that I did not really expect to like it. However, that moment when I saw the iron lattice tower illuminated and sparkling at dusk time, I changed my mind. The moment was very magical. (I also found myself singing ‘Moonlight Over Paris’ a dozen times! =P)
8. Being wowed by Florence architecture
Florence is home to extraordinary artists such as Giotto, Brunelleschi, Botticelli and Michaelangelo. Can’t help but say “wow” a couple of times as I was approaching the 13th-century cathedral (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore) and the different architectural masterpieces in Florence.
9. ‘Living’ in a boat hotel in Amsterdam
Staying in a boat hotel (or botel) in Amsterdam was a unique and pleasant experience, and the sight of a beautiful sunrise at the deck and from the neighborhood was unforgettable. This also lead us into discovering that some of the bridges near the boat hotels are automated – either they rotate or move upwards to allow a big boat to pass.
10. Conquering the 414 steps of the Campanile de Giotto in Florence
My husband and I had to catch our breath to reach the top of the bell tower with 414 steep steps. However tiring, this activity was also rewarding as we got to see a 360 degrees view of Florence from above.
11. Discovering food havens in Venice, Florence, Rome, Paris and Amsterdam
I will always remember the pizza from Venice, the lampredotto sandwich from Nerbone, grilled pork from Trattoria La Burrasca and the food from a train station food chain in Florence, the pasta and salad from Restaurant Mino, gelato near the Trevi Fountain and pasta from a Jewish ghetto restaurant in Rome. I highly recommend the food from Rue de Galette in Paris and paella from the La Paella in Amsterdam. Did I say I love food? 🙂
12. Sunset/Dusk at Rialto Bridge, Venice
The view from the Rialto Bridge was great at daytime, and was very romantic at sunset/dusk. It was a good vantage point for watching the people’s activities along the busy Grand Canal from afar.
13. The sight of elderly couples holding hands while exploring in Italy
The sight of elderly couples holding hands while exploring was very inspiring and motivating. At the sight of one elderly pair in their 60s (the old man was carrying a backpack and the old woman was carrying a DSLR), my husband asked me, “Do you think we could we be like them in our golden years?”. I really hope so. 🙂
14. Strolling along the quiet canals of Amsterdam
Amsterdam is well-known for the Red Light District and the Cannabis but there is more to this city than these. Strolling along the quiet canals of Amsterdam can be very relaxing.
15. Watching the sun set at Piazzale Michaelangelo
A view of the Florence skyline as the sun sets and until dusk was breathtaking. Bring your partner here after a day of sightseeing. You won’t help but fall in love! 🙂
16. Exploring the San Lorenzo Market in Florence
I now know why Italians cook delicious food – they use the freshest ingredients! From the veggies to the fruits to the meats, everything looked fresh. My favorite market is the San Lorenzo Market in Florence as it was very neat and clean. Do check out the lampredotto sandwich in one of the market stalls – the Nerbone. Just close your eyes though when the sandwich is being prepared as the lampredotto is not very ‘gorgeous’. 😉
Thank you for reading. I will have more detailed posts about our European travel in the next days to come. 🙂
All photos are by Gilbert and Anna.