A Taste of Europe

The alluring charm of Europe seems to draw people from all walks of life from all corners of the world. It is every traveler’s dream destination, every artist’s playground and every rich man’s pleasure. It is considerably the perfect holiday for most cultured women and the ultimate fantasy of every hopeless romantic. I mean, who doesn’t want to go to a place richly endowed with naturally breathtaking landscapes, abounding in historical heritage, resplendent architecture, and a treasure trove of art and culture? I know I do and always have .

To mark my 40th year, I decided to make this dream come true and joined a short European coach tour. I booked the 10-Day Christmas and New Year Tour with Expat Explore, a London-based travel company. Of all the tours I’ve checked online, theirs was the one I liked the best. They offer a relatively affordable rate for a great-looking itinerary, striking a balance between “comfort” and “practicality”. The tours allow enough personal free time to explore places, and offer an array of optional activities that appeal to one’s appetite.

Expat Explore also provides supporting documents for Visa application. This service gives them an edge over the other companies and is one of the reasons I chose them. It is extremely helpful for travelers like me who need to procure proper documents to gain entry to most European countries. Tedious preparations have to be made months ahead. But thanks to the efficient and experienced staff of Expat Explore who made it a bit less of a hassle for me.

Note that this trip was my first time ever to fly out of Asia, thus my first long-haul flights and long hours of overlay. I can’t complain though. I was so excited that there wasn’t room for negative thoughts. Everything seemed perfect despite some inconveniences. Well, traveling on a budget poses certain limitations that can be challenging, comfort-wise. But nothing intolerable if planned really well.

The tour started and ended in London, but I joined the group in Paris. When the tour disbanded in London, I stayed on for a day and explored the city on my own. So here’s my entire holiday trip in a nutshell:

EuropeParis

Paris is always a good idea. ~Audrey Hepburn

Accommodation: Forest Hill La Villette

Day 1
Welcome Dinner at the hotel: missed this as I arrived late in the evening;
Met my roommate who just happens to be the best travel buddy anyone can have

Day 2: CHRISTMAS DAY
Breakfast at the hotel;
Walking tour around Montmartre area with the group: from Moulin Rouge to Place du Tertre passing through steep cobbled streets, and up to Sacre Coeur which gives an amazing view of Paris;
Festive Lunch at Au Cadet de Gascogne (Place du Tertre);
Off on my own to explore the city: Trocaderos Garden, Tour Eiffel, Invalides, and Notre Dame Cathedral for the evening Christmas mass

Day 3
Breakfast at the hotel;
Free day: Montparnasse Tower, back to Notre Dame area for a daytime photo shoot, walked on to the Louvre Museum, Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, Tuileries Garden, Champs de Elysees, and Arc de Triomphe Etiole

EuropeSwiss

It’s tough to find a place not to like in Switzerland. ~Michele Bachmann

Accommodation: City Hotel Oberland

Day 4
Breakfast at the hotel;
Early departure from Paris, long day travel to Interlaken;
Service stops and money exchange;
Dinner at the hotel

Day 5
Lazy late breakfast at the hotel;
Afternoon tea at Schuh Cafe and joined the Chocolate Show tour;
Night sledding and cheese fondue dinner

Day 6
Breakfast at the hotel;
Top of Europe (Jungfraujoch) experience: train ride to the world’s highest railway station, Ice Palace, Sphinx, Lindt chocolate shop;
Swiss dinner at Schuh Restaurant with roommate

EuropeGermany

Today, Germany is on the borders of Europe everywhere. ~Heinrich Himmler

Accommodation: Rheinlust Hotel Boppard

Day 7
Driving tour of Rhine Valley;
Rhine River Cruise with all Expat groups;
Visit to a beerstein shop and a cuckoo clock souvenir shop;
Wine tasting at a local shop;
Buffet dinner at the hotel;
Night out at a local pub

EuropeHolland

Where the broad ocean leans against the land.~Oliver Goldsmith

Accommodation: Holiday Inn Express Amsterdam-Schiphol

Day 8: MY DAY
Early breakfast and departure for Amsterdam;
Rest at the hotel upon arrival;
Short driving tour towards Rijks Museum;
iamsterdam sign photo op;
Canal Cruise with dinner: olives, garlic rusk, unlimited wine, pizza and ben & jerry’s ice cream;
Walking tour of the city including the Red Light District;
New Year’s Eve fireworks at Dam Square with most of the group

Day 9: NEW YEAR’S DAY
Breakfast at the hotel;
Visit to a cheese and clogs farm, Zaanse Schans and Volendam fishing village;
Walked around Amsterdam with travel buddies: tried our luck for an entry to Anne Frank’s house and Van Gogh museum but in vain (must purchase tickets a day before);
Shopped around for souvenir items

EuropeBruges

Belgium is modernizing itself and it gives me joy. ~King Albert II

Day 10
Breakfast at the hotel and departure for London;
Stopover at Bruges: walking tour of the market place;
Visited the Belfry and the Historium where I had gluhwein;
Travel back to London: passport check at the border, ferry ride from Calais to Dover, and finally Greenwich station where the tour disbanded and everyone exchanged farewells

EuropeLondon

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. ~Samuel Johnson

Accommodation: Londonears Hostel (Kensington)

Day 11
Free London walking tour: Westminter Abbey, St. James Park, Clarence House, Buckingham Palace, St. James Palace, Downing Street, Pall Mall, Trafalgar Square, Leicester, Soho area;
Late lunch at Soho with most of the group;
Photo walk around Tower Bridge and the docks

Day 12
Travel to Paris CDG airport and flight back to Tokyo

And that concludes my two-week holiday escapade in Europe. It was rather short but nonetheless memorable. I tested the waters, waddled my way through and enjoyed every minute of every day I was there. In the end, I was glad for the long hours overlay at Dubai International Airport because it gave me that much-needed space to stop and savor all that has been – a moment to simply embrace the experience and whisper words of gratitude to the Supreme Being that made it all possible. Europe exists no longer in my imagination – it has become a reality. And it will always be a dream destination – a place I certainly will never tire nor lose interest visiting again and again. I hope everyone gets a chance to go at least once in their lifetime.

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miSyel’s quotes

"The beauty of the truth is that it need not be proclaimed or believed. It skips from soul to soul, changing form each time it touches, but it is what it is."— Mark Helprin