Friday, January 23, 2015


October 2014
And we are off!
It has always been a dream of my moms to take us all to Europe. They have been several times without us, but she wanted to explore the countries with her kids. We were all for it. My dad had saved up enough flight miles to get us there so we just had to save up for hotels and food. It was going to be a trip of a lifetime and we couldn't wait! Let me just say that it did not disappoint! It was absolutely incredible and every new place was as magical as the one we just left. I was giddy with each new city! It will be 11 days that none of us will ever forget.
6 planes, 7 trains, 3 cars, and countless buses and subways. Traveling to and within Europe can be intense. We had a few hiccups, but overall, were very lucky. Let's start with our plane ride to London. We had a layover in Seattle where we met a very grumpy man…"Please!"…and then geared up for a red eye to London. It was torturous. Not being able to sleep on a 9 1/2 hour flight overnight is just brutal. What made it bearable at times was watching Parks and Recreation. It just so happened that one of the episodes took the group to London so we used plenty of tag lines once we arrived…"I love Hogwarts!" "History began in 1776. Everything before then was a mistake." And last but not least, "Of course you take this. This is the most valuable paper on the planet." We were laughing out loud on the plane and all agreed to start watching the show regularly at home.

We arrived in London and, just as I thought, my parents (who had arrived two days earlier) were at the airport waiting for us. My mom was so excited, but I think we were even more excited to be somewhere we had never been! We stayed at the Gresham Hotel near the Lancaster Gate to Hyde Park. Our first item on the agenda was to take the Big Red Bus to tour around London and see some of the major sites. It was the best way to see the city! It was so much fun to have the tour guide tell us about Big Ben, the London Eye, the fabulous shopping area, and lots of odds and ends about this history rich city. I think my favorite part of the city, however, was all of the architecture. All of the buildings looked like the few favorites of mine in Manhattan. They were all beautiful! I especially loved the big white buildings, with all of the corbels and detailing up top, but then had a small pub or shop on the main level framed in black lacquer molding and hanging flowers up top. Couldn't be more quaint. I also loved Hyde Park. The Italian gardens and Princess Diana's memoriam walkway were exquisite. The bus was a hop-on hop-off type bus, but after getting off to eat dinner and waiting for 20 minutes to hop back on, we realized that they were done for the night. That began our very long walk home…something that we didn't forget the rest of the trip. "Is this truly going to be a short walk or more like the one in London?" We didn't want to do that again!
The next day started with a bang by going to the Tower of London. This was a must see. From the armory and garderobes, to the prisoners tower, and from the torture chamber to the crown jewels. So much history and we did our best to take it all in. By the way, the crown jewels seemed fake they were so opulent and oversized. It was here that we experienced London at its finest as it started to rain. We expected rain both days and so the fact that it only sprinkled for 20 minutes our second day was extremely good luck. In fact, we were supposed to get rain in almost every city as posted by and we never felt a drop other than those measly 20 minutes.

We ended our site seeing with a trip to Buckingham Palace. The queen was in, probably asleep by then. We jumped on another bus and enjoyed some more of the city before grabbing some dinner (very hard to find that night!) and heading back to the hotel for a good nights sleep…or at least more than the 3 hours we got the night before. Thank you jet lag.

We woke up early, before dawn type of early, and headed to the airport. We were Naples bound and ready for some warmer weather. Today was a day for adventure. None of us had been to the Isle of Capri and yet I was determined to go. After all, my daughter was named after this place that as of yet, had only seen in pictures. Thank goodness we had Tucker speaking Italian or it would have never happened!
We flew to Naples, took a bus to the port, and a hydrofoil to the island. We only had a few hours before we had to get on the last ferry back so everyone decided to take a tour of the island by open-air taxi. As much as I wanted to see the island by boat, the hydrofoil made me seasick (my dad thought that was pretty funny) and I was glad everyone changed my mind. Capri was spectacular! The water is aquamarine blue, just like Capri's eyes. I knew the name was fitting. The island is full of steep cliffs and terraces and the homes are tucked into the sides. We were all smiling from ear to ear as we explored the island and its two tiny villages of Capri and Anicapri. Our trip ended too soon and we hurried back to the ferry.
Our hurrying didn't stop there, however, as we then had to take another bus and then walk to the terminal to get on another train for Rome. That means in one day we went from London to Naples to Capri, back to Naples and then to Rome. Insane. We seriously didn't know how we were going to do it, but we were all up for the adventure and it was totally worth it!

Next stop, Rome. Tucker was so excited he couldn't sleep. I had heard so many stories from his mission and I couldn't wait to see where it all happened. We got there late at night, around 9:30, and took the metro from the train station to the Spagna station near our hotel. Do you know what was also by our hotel? We get out of the station and walk into this grand piazza and right there are the Spanish Steps. Incredible.
We found our hotel, dropped off our stuff, and set out to see the city…at 11:00 at night. It was amazing. The Spanish Steps, the Forum, Trevi Fountain, the churches, the birthday cake (can't remember the real name!), it was all there. We grabbed some sandwiches (because of course the bars are open after midnight!), ate some gelato, and listened to Tucker. We finally turned in at 1:30am, exhausted but anxious for the next day.
After a breakfast of glazed croissants and orange carrot juice, we set off for the colosseum. You get off the subway and BAM! It's right there in all its glory. A magnificent structure to say the least. Tucker had so many great anecdotes to share which made it that much better. We covered the Forum next and I was still in awe. How were these structures still standing? Amazing. We grabbed lunch at a fabulous outdoor cafe before we were on our way to the Church of Bones. The Church of Bones isn't your typical church. Quite the contrary. It is literally filled with bones. Real ones. Not only that, but they used the bones to decorate each of the 5 rooms used in worship. So instead of painted frescos on the ceiling and walls, they used bones to create such frescos. Crazy creepy.
Tucker wanted to take us to one of his favorite churches and we could soon see why. Enormous statues of the saints lined the walls of the main hall and the ceiling was covered in gold detailing,
After grabbing some gelato for some much needed energy, we trekked to the Pantheon. Tucker showed me where he wanted to propose, we listened to an opera singer in the square, and we marveled at the dome of the Pantheon. We weren't done yet, however! We kept our legs going to Piazza Navona, probably one of our favorite spots of the trip. We learned of the fight between Bernini and another architect on who was going to design the church. The loser that got to design the fountain with a statue that looked as if he couldn't stand to look at the hideous church. He was then killed by the designer of the church. Good stuff. Since we had arrived in Rome, I felt as if we were on a movie set-it just didn't seem real. Now that we were sitting down to eat, at this fabulous outdoor restaurant, looking out onto the Piazza, we knew we were in a movie. My gnocchi made everything that much more surreal it was so good. Later that night, Tucker took me to his old mission apartment. We had run into some missionaries at the Pantheon and they had mentioned that sadly they had to give up the awesome apartment because some others burnt it! Still, we went to see his building and where he knocked on many, many doors. I loved hearing stories from his mission and see where he served for so long.
Another day, another croissant for breakfast. The Vatican was up next and included the Sistine Chapel. It was packed. Lots of sweaty bodies packed in like sardines. The body odor was almost unbearable, but I am glad we stuck with it. The Sistine Chapel was incredible to say the least. I learned so much about Michelangelo and his paintings. Saint Peter's Square was another marvelous work. The enormity of it was striking. Unfortunately, the line to get into the church was also enormous and we weren't up for standing in line for three hours to get in. Glad we saw San Giovanni the day before. I know it's nothing in comparison, but it was enough. We found a great restaurant for lunch and agreed that Italian food was much better than anything we got in London.

The rest of the afternoon was spent seeing the Villa Borghese Gardens (although that didn't last long! ;)), sitting on the Spanish Steps, eating more gelato and canolies, and packing up for the next day.
The Spanish Steps
The Coloseum

The Pantheon
Piazza Navona
Tucker's old apartment as a missionary
We boarded the metro the next morning when Tucker realized he didn't have the train tickets. They were back at the hotel. Crap. He got off at the next stop to go back and said he would meet us at Termini. We all nervously waited for our platform number to appear. As soon as it lights up we head out with less than 10 minutes to get there. Shouldn't be a big deal and considering our last train left 10 minutes late, I even told Richard to grab some food on our way. Meanwhile, Tucker didn't have change to buy another metro ticket so he had to buy a water, then buy the ticket, and then come to the station. I texted him to run as I soon realized that we were so far down the platform. Just then I hear the announcement for our train to be leaving. I look up to see the doors close and the defeated faces of everyone. Richard was still running, food in hand, with Tucker not too far behind. As soon as he realized we missed it, he chucks his water to the ground-it was pretty funny. Fortunately, there was another train leaving an hour later so not too bad. The train ride was beautiful and full of Tuscany type landscapes.
We arrived in Florence and I knew I would love it. We only had the afternoon so we didn't waste any time and made our way to the Duomo. Wow. Amazing detail with the intricate inlays of differing colors of marble. It was so pretty that we thought it would be the perfect backdrop for lunch. Elizabeth knew of a great cafe restaurant right by and it was divine. Once our bellies were full, we walked to the museum that holds the famous David. We didn't have time to go in so thank goodness they have a fabulous copy right outside the building. Good Enough. The bridges were up next and they were just lovely. I especially liked the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge that was not only providing a beautiful view, but had so much charm with the many little shops along the way.
My favorite part of Florence was the Piazza Michelangelo. We hiked up the stairs to reach the most picturesque view we had yet seen. You had the orange tiled rooftops and churches of the city, the river hosting those amazing bridges, and then the green countryside all in one panoramic view. It had postcard written all over it!
Piazza Michelangelo
After grabbing some snacks at the market, we ran to grab another train. It soon became a game to see who could guess the platform number. Just picture all ten of us, screaming out numbers, plastered to the board, waiting to see who would win. I did. And for some reason, it was a great win. Haha! Numerous games of charades also helped pass the time throughout our travels...nothing like a big group of loud Americans playing Charades!
Another train ride took us to Venice. There is nothing quite like the view you get when walking out of the train station. The Grand Canal with its gorgeous bridge and lights reflecting in the water. I was already in love! It was so unique to anything else we had seen. Finding our hotel, and our hotel itself, was kind of a funny story. There isn't much rhyme or reason to their addresses and since it was late at night, it wasn't an easy task. When we did finally find it, we were a bit weary. The stairs were crumbling marble and the building seemed ancient. That's because it was built in 1510! Once we got into our rooms, we loved them. The ceilings were crazy high and we were right on a small canal. We couldn't wait til morning to explore so out we went for the night.

San Marcos Square was a maze to get to, but completely worth it. We stopped to listen to the live music, shopped around a bit, and found some yummy crepes to eat. The next morning we jumped on a couple of gondolas and it was such a highlight of our trip. Our gondolier was named Jonny and he took us through the tiny canals in the city center. I didn't stop smiling for the entire hour. There is simply nothing like Venice!

Venice to Milan, then to Spietz, to Interlaken East, and then finally to Interlaken West. It was a long trip. We almost lost Cody in Milan as we were all boarded and he was nowhere to be found. He had left to grab some food but was planning on meeting us on the train. As our departure time was nearing, we were all getting worried. We knew now that trains usually left right on time. All of a sudden we hear my mom and Cheri screaming, "Run Cody!" "Get your butt on this train!" It was hilarious to see the reactions of our fellow train mates. Thank goodness we all made it! Even better, we met some missionaries at the station and they really helped us find where we needed to go. Tender mercies.
Hotel Beausite in Interlaken (Unterseen) was our favorite by far. It couldn't have been cuter with its Swiss style and blooming geraniums. Our rooms were awesome and we all were happy to be here for two nights. The next morning brought a stunning view of the mountains and the most quaint village around us. We couldn't wait to see more so after the best breakfast so far, we headed out. We took a bus to Interlaken East, a train to Lauterbrunnen, a tram to Grutschalp, and then another train to Murren. I cannot describe the beauty of this place. I had never seen such gorgeous views in all my life! I couldn't take enough pictures as there were views, views, and more views to behold. I loved the green hills with goats and cows all over. The chalets were so distinct and charming. There were waterfalls and villages, meadows and streams. Then the mountains, as majestic as mountains could be. It was simply the traveling to Murren that I loved most!
Once in Murren, a small ski town up on the mountain, we walked in and out of stores and around the village. We could have turned around then and been thoroughly happy with the day. However, my siblings had a different idea…
It all started with my mom JOKINGLY advising us to try the Via Ferrata as shown in a brochure she found. The Via Ferrata consisted of hiking, scaling, and suspension bridge crossing, all while being clipped onto a cable. Sheer craziness. Cheri and the rest of the crew thought otherwise and were determined to do it. As they are showing me the pictures, I agreed with my mom-it looked insane. There was no way I was going, but let everyone know they should go ahead and I would go back with Mom and Dad. We had to get them geared up before meeting the guide and when we got to the rental store, we met a group of girls getting ready to do the same thing. They, however, had heard that there was no need for a guide so save the money and go it alone. They also had heard that kids had done it so there was no reason for me not to. Now I had to go. Everyone was pushing me to do it and I really had no say in the matter. I was freaking out as heights, especially at 3,000 feet, were not my thing. Too, now they all felt that we could do it without a guide. Great.
We all get suited up with harnesses, boots and helmets and start heading to the start when a guy approaches us about the guide. We had told the rental store to let them know we didn't need a guide, but it looked like they didn't get the word. After a very uncomfortable conversation, we decided to keep the guide and pay him directly. He was a bit cold at first, but soon I was so glad Uli was with us.
It started out just fine. Hiking along a steep slope and just getting the hang of clipping in and out. We had two carabiners on the cable at all times. The cable was screwed into the rock or trees along the way. Whenever we came to the screws, you had to unclip the first, clip it on the other side, then unclip the second and clip it on the other side. The screws were every 10-20 feet or so. We hiked and hiked and I was starting to get the hang of it. The terrain was intense simply because of how steep and slippery it was, but nothing too scary. My confidence soon dropped, unfortunately, as we approached the rock. I am calling it "The Rock" from here on out. Imagine yourself 3,000 feet up, holding onto a steel cable, and absolutely nothing below you. You step onto rebar "steps" which were basically large staples stuck into the rock. You scale this rock from one side to the other and towards the end, have to go down. While at first the steep cable feels harsh in your palms, by now you love that cable and hold on for dear life. Truly. You can't not look down because you have to place your feet so carefully so you know exactly what you are up against. I started to shake a bit in my legs but kept my focus long enough to finally get to the end. It was the scariest thing I had ever done in my life. It was the scariest thing any of us had ever done! But we weren't done yet, not even close.
We continued to hike until we came to a big gorge. There were three cables strung across and I was confused, and scared, as to how we were to get across. That's when Uli opened a steel box found on the platform, and started constructing a pulley system. This was supposed to be a zipline! I was thinking to myself, don't you want to screw that in tighter? Don't you need something more substantial than this old thing? As he was giving me instruction, I started to panic and wondered if I should really be the first to go. Why would I be the first? I was the scared one! Then I realized it would be too hard to get back in line (more of those dang staples!) so I should just go. Once I sat in the harness above the platform, he let me go and for whatever reason, I totally trusted him. It turned out to be great fun! Everyone had a turn before we started our cable hike on the other side. By this point I was stressed. Sure the zip line wasn't so bad, but we weren't even half way done and I was emotionally exhausted from all the anxiety of "The Rock" and what was to come. Thank goodness our next adventure was a Burma Bridge that wasn't too bad at all. I was actually excited to give it a go. We had to cross in front of a waterfall by walking along a cable (think tightrope) with a cable on either side of us to hold onto. With a smile on my face and some great encouragement from my fam, I made it across no problem. Phew!
The ladders were next. Not the worst, but not fun when they were super slick and some were at an angle making you feel like you were tipped back. Again, holding on like it was the only way to stay alive! When were were we going to be done with this thing?! AAHHH! The last of our adventure was a doozy. An 80 meter suspension bridge over a 1,000 foot gorge. What killed me with the bridge was the fact that you could only hold on to one side for the first 30 feet-no cable on your left side! You couldn't have both hands on the one side and walk sideways or else you would lean too far and down you go. Instead, you simply had to balance well between the vertical cables that were at least 6 feet apart. No bueno. I never looked down in fear that I would freak. I focused on Richard's backpack in front of me the entire way. No need to know how high I was on that shaky thing!
At last, as we all reached the other side, Uli, my new favorite friend, let us know we were nearly to Grimmewold. I couldn't have been happier! We had made it alive! I gave Uli a big hug and we all thanked him profusely. We couldn't stop talking about what we had just done and I was just thrilled to have gone through with it all. We soaked in the view and then headed back to tell my parents all about how we cheated death that afternoon. Woohoo!

We didn't want to leave Interlaken. It was too beautiful, too clean, too perfect to leave. I guess we will have to visit another time. At least we could soak in the sights as we traveled by train through Switzerland. The entire country left us with oohs and aahhs.

Elizabeth ready for the overhang
 Meet Uli, the best guide ever!
 We made it and lived to tell the tale!
We left Switzerland and ended up in Paris! I thought Paris was a delight! The architecture is so very french and unique. I loved the rooftops and railings. As we walked the streets in search of some food, I soon realized that there were no ugly buildings and that all were as intricate as the other. We weren't going to be able to cover enough ground by walking, so we chose to take the Big Bus tour like we had in London. That may have been a mistake on a Saturday night. The traffic was horrific and we couldn't even finish! I was glad we saw some of the major sites including the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Opera Paris, Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triumph, and of course, the Eiffel Tower.
The Palace of Versailles would be toured on our last day in Europe. What can I say? Over the top doesn't begin to describe that place! With gold leafing, enormous paintings, and velvet walls, it was no wonder those peasants wanted Mary's head! The best part of Versailles lies outside the palace. The gardens go on forever with fountains, lakes and ponds, sculptural trimming, and walls of trees and bushes 30 feet high. The Hamlet was as charming as could be with its thatched roof cottages, water mill, bridge, and stream. It was as if Walt Disney copied this very village for his park! The rest of the evening was spent eating crepes at the Eiffel Tower, touring more of the city by bus, seeing the infamous Moulin Rouge, and grabbing hamburgers in desperation for American food.

 The Gardens of Versailles
The Eiffel Tower
What a trip. It will be something that we will always remember. Once in a lifetime trip as a family. Thank you Mom and Dad, you will never know how much we appreciated this amazing, life-changing tour of Europe.