So I'm just now starting to feel back to normal, still a few glitches in the system, but overall, much better.
Our trip was absolutely amazing, I could go on and on about all of the fantastic stuff that we did, I'll just hit the highlights to cover the bases and leave the funny-to-us-but-would-probably-not-be-quite-as-great-to-the-rest-0f-the-world out.
We flew on Thursday, March 20th in the morning from Phoenix with A, Me, my mother-in-law Sabene, my father-in-law Roger and my brother-in-law Matthew. We had a layover in Atlanta and arrived in London on the morning of Friday, March 21st. It was so pretty, I thought it was amazing how the daffodils seem to grow wild, they were just planted in random spots, on the side of the road, in the parks but not really in a flower bed. We got a taxi and A went to get in the passenger side -- oops, that would be the driver side, we really felt like Americans then. We stayed at a Marriot hotel in the Swiss Cottage neighborhood, which is really not near anything, but it was very close to the nearest tube station, so that made it very convenient for us. That day we went and road on the London Eye, it was really cool to be able to see so much of London from up there. We also saw Big Ben on the way there. We hadn't eaten anything really that day so we stopped in a pub for fish and chips. After that we went to Oxford to do some window shopping (the airlines lost my in-laws luggage, so they needed to pick up a few things to hold them over until their luggage got to the hotel). We went back to the hotel pretty early that night because we were all so exhausted from the flight.
The next morning we went to tour the Tower of London. A says this is one of his favorite things of the whole trip. It really was fascinating, everyone who had been to London told us this was something to see, and they were right. We could have spent hours and hours there.
That afternoon we went to see the play Les Miserables. I'd seen it a couple of times before, but none of A's family had, so it was a treat for all of us. The actors were amazing, and as always the play was excellently done. We went to Picadilly Circus to do some more window shopping.
A had seen that the brand of Rugby ball the the pro-teams used is called 'Gilbert' so he decided he wanted to get a Gilbert Rugby ball. We asked around and were given directions of how to find a Rugby store. Well, we ended up going on a wild goose chase to find this crazy thing, and never did end up getting one in London, but we did end up finding a pizza place in Soho, very chic.
Sunday morning we got up and took the tube to church. It was funny how many members of the ward were American. After that we went up to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park to walk around for a few hours, we saw the Peter Pan statue. We also went to Speakers Corner, which was very interesting.
The next morning we got up and took the train under the English Channel via the 'Chunnel' to Paris. The city is so beautiful, with amazing architecture and history. I was so excited to finally be there. The weather was more agreeable that morning than it had been in London. We walked down the Champs Elysees to the Louvre and saw the Mona Lisa and a lot of other paintings that were HUGE! I couldn't fathom how the artists were able to paint things so big and keep everything in perspective. We then walked down the Seine River to the Eiffel Tower, we took that elevators up because it had started raining and was pretty windy by then. But the view was still unbeatable. We took a cab back to our hotel and walked to a brasserie that was down the street for dinner. We were staying on a street called Rue de Fabourg, St. Honore which I guess is similar to Rodeo Drive in LA, it was pretty up-scale shopping.
The next day the boys went to Disneyland Europe and Sabene and I went on a cooking/shopping tour. We had our own personal tour guide (Christine) who took us to an open air market where we looked at all kinds of yummy food and we bought a few little items. Paris has different open air markets in different locations everyday of the week except Monday, and I think possibly Sunday, but don't quote me on that one. After that she took us to the original Hermes store. We saw some beautiful, but very expensive handbags, scarves, designer clothing. It was amazing. After that she took us to a cooking school. Our personal chef was named Dominque. We made an avocado mousse with smoked salmon, arborio rice with chicken, tomatoes and scallions, and for dessert marscapone cheese with dried cranberries, fresh bananas and apples. It sounds like really simple food, but it was really good. After we ate our lunch we went up Montmartre to do some more shopping. Christine took us to this wonderful fabric store, it had 6 floors, and as you went up a level the quality of the fabric became better and better. We saw some really beautiful material, we were in hog heaven. I saw the most beautiful fabric I've ever seen in my life. It cost a mere 70 euros per meter (keep in mind that there are about .60 dollars per every euro right now), needless to say, I didn't get any of that fabric, but it really was beautiful. After that she took us up the the church called Sacre Coeur. It was amazing pretty, it sits up on a hill and over looks all of Paris, it was fabulous. After that she took us back to our hotel for the evening. It was one of my favorite days of the trip.
The next day we took a bus tour to the Palace at Versailles. I'd always dreamed of going there and it was really fun to see it in real life. It is enormous! To go in a tour the Kings and Queens apartments and Hall of Mirrors was really fun. The rest of the day was spent doing a little shopping, and resting. A finally found his Gilbert Rugby ball. Sabene and I walked up to the L'Arc de Triomphe, which was surprisingly close to our hotel and we hadn't known it.
That night we took the sleeper car night train to Berlin. It was really fun to do that and to wake up to that beautiful country. It was really refreshing to be in Berlin. It's not as much of a tourist town as London and Paris so there were fewer people on the street, but it was still a big metropolitan city that had plenty to do. We went to the famous Berlin Zoo. Which was great because the animal enclosures don't really have big fences, there are just these big pits that separate you from the animals, so it looks like you are on the same level as them. That afternoon Roger took a much needed nap after all the walking that we had made him do and the rest of us went to do laundry, not terribly exciting but a necessity.
The next day we went to Checkpoint Charlie, The Brandenburger Tor which is similar to but smaller than L'Arc de Triomphe (I thought is was cooler than it though because it seemed more accessible than the later), and the Holocaust-Mahnmal which is 2711 cement blocks that honor the Jews that were killed during the Holocaust, it was pretty modern-arty, but I found it moving.
That afternoon we took the train down to Stuttgart, then rented a car and drove to Elwangen, a very small town where Matthew lived for part of the time he was on his mission. We stayed with a local family there. It was really fun to be with real people and feel how they lived. The dad was really funny. He is Croatian so he speaks Croatian, German and enough English to talk to us. He loves the US and anything that has to do with cowboys! It was pretty funny. They made us breakfast on Saturday morning then we went over to a little town (I don't remember the name of the town) where they have a lot of outlet stores that we went shopping in. It was really charming to see this quaint little place. It was also beautiful to have a rental car to see Germany that way. It is a beautiful country.
The next day we went to church at the branch in Elwangen. The services were all in German, but the people were very friendly, most spoke English and talked to us and really welcomed us.
After Sacrament meeting we took the train into Salzburg, Austria.
I found the reason I went to Europe in Austria. What an amazingly beautiful country! It was so green, there were mountains, meadows, trees, lakes. Truly a thing for pictures. Salzburg is basically a tourist town. It is the town where Mozart was born, it has the oldest documented restaurant in Europe, it is where the Sound of Music took place, amazing old town center, beautiful church, a massive fortress set on top of a huge rock, a gorgeous river in the middle. Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful. I could go on and on about how much I love Salzburg! If I had to choose just one of our destinations to go back to it would hands down be Salzburg.
On Monday we walked around old-town Salzburg, saw a beautiful Dome Cathedral, lots of quaint little shops, I fell in love (if you can't tell). That night we went to a dinner show where there were musicians who played Mozarts music, and there were singers to perform a few parts of his famous operas.
On Tuesday we went on a bus tour that took us to all of the different Sound of Music sights, they gave us lots of Sound of Music movie trivia (I could probably tell you lots of things now that you probably didn't really want to know). But it was fun to see the different places they used and remember the scenes that they were in. They also drove us up into what is called the Lakes Region to see some amazing homes and lakes. It was very fun. That afternoon we walked up to the fortress to have a look around.
The next morning we took it pretty easy until the early afternoon when we got on yet another train to go to Munich.
We didn't do any touring in Munich as the hotel we were staying in was near the airport, which is not located near anything else, really, in Munich. But it was fine because we were all so tired and really ready to come home.
Thursday we caught our flight that again had a lay over in Atlanta and then we came home.
I was so excited to see my two boys! I missed them so much but they were taken really good care of by my fabulous sister-in-law and my brother. E had a ton of fun with his cousins and M was his same old happy self. He grew two teeth while I was gone, but I can assure you I'm not sad to have missed that teething.
It was an amazing once in a lifetime trip. I am so glad that I did it. It was very fast paced, and packed with fun. I think if I did it over again I would only make minor changes that I won't bore you with now. I hope I didn't gloss over everything too much for you, but I think this post is just about as long as it ought to be.
There are a few final things I'm going to say.
French bread is so incredible. After we got back I ate some perfectly palatable bread from a local market, and it made me think: 'You've been a great contestant, thanks for playing, but better luck next time'. I don't think I'll every look at 'artisan' bread quite the same. There is absolutely no comparison.
European chocolate really is superior to American, don't know why, it just is.
Doner. If any of you have ever been to Germany, you will know what this means. I think Adam found his long lost best friend in this deliciously wonderful food. It's pronounced durner. Basically they take this huge piece of either beef or turkey, roast it on a spit. Then they take this shaver thing, cut thin strips off, put it with some lettuce (which they call salad), tomato, onion, cucumbers, peperoncini, feta cheese, and a yogurtish sauce on a sort of pita bread thing. Yikes! It's scrumptious! I don't know if A is going to be able to live his life in quite the same manner now that he has had Doner.
Also, the ice cream is so much better than ours. I don't know why, it just is g-o-o-d.
I have a new appreciation for being allowed to use a public toilet without having to pay for it.