Europe Trip, May 2016

We didn’t have great weather on this five country European adventure, but we did have eleven rewarding days of wining, dining and some culture gathering. This was a true plane, train and automobiles adventure with four planes, five trains and three rented automobiles to conquer five countries in a very short period. Our Seattle group consisted of Jim & Ione Darmiento, Emelie & Erik Espling and my lovely wife Linna Freeman. This trip came together for various reasons…Emelie wanted to spend her 50th birthday in Nice or Monaco and Jim and Ione wanted to explore Europe for their first time and Linna and I just love to travel.

Our vacation excursion started and ended in Amsterdam mainly because of the direct flight from Seattle. We all had the same Delta flight into Schiphol except for Emelie, she skipped Amsterdam and flew to London to run the renowned London Marathon for her first time and would meet us in Paris later.

We rented a 3 series BMW for the five of us (tight) and headed to our first Airbnb two day rental. Our home away from home was a cute farmhouse few minutes from the airport in the countryside. The ride should have only took us ten minutes, but we managed to double it because of the challenging navigation system we had.

After a speedy luggage dump and fresh jet-lag bodies we drove through heavy Amsterdam traffic to walk around in a daze and stupor among the other tourists for a couple of hours. One needs to be mindful of all the bike riders that goes zooming by you in this concentrated bike filled city, one wrong misstep and you are damaged goods. It didn’t take too long until the nap syndrome came on, so we headed back for a siesta. The problem with naps during the jet-lag stage…you tend to sleep much longer then you should. I was able to pull myself from a death sleep to wake everyone else for a much needed dinner…especially before everything closed for the evening. We found this great Italian restaurant very close to our farm house, the Bistro Nice

Our second day in Amsterdam we explored the Red Light district (of course) and spent the evening on a private boat ride cruising the numerous canals with Captain Mark aboard the Admiral Heijin. I did this same boat tour three years ago with some highschool buddies and we had identical weather…damp and cold. I totally recommend a private boat tour…it’s personal, romantic, entertaining and makes site seeing stress-free.

We had first class train seats from Amsterdam to Paris…speedy, peaceful and quiet. We met up with Emelie, she just ran the London marathon and her train came in 5 minutes after ours. Our Paris apartment rental was close enough to walk from the Gare du Nord train station, we had a great location but a shitty apartment. This Airbnb was probably the worst vacation rental I have stayed in with all my travels, only one bath, sluggish internet and beds sized for children.

We only spent one full day in Paris and of course it wasn’t enough time to see much, but we did make sure Jim and Ione went up the Eiffel tower to see the city. We didn’t have rental cars with us in Paris, but shuffled ourselves around using Uber Van, this became an economical way of transport…averaging 4 to 5 euros per person.

Paris was mainly cold and wet but we succeeded to find a warm spot to spend a couple of entertaining nights. Our first night we met Nicholas Darde, the owner of Café Bar 21, he was just closing his establishment when we walked by after dinner out and he invited our group in for a personal festivity. We might have had a little too much celebration, we didn’t leave our dreadful apartment until the afternoon the next day. For an encore, Nicholas invited us back for a personal chef fixed menu feast. We were totally overwhelmed with his creativity and presentation of dishes coming from his petite kitchen.

From Paris we all booked the same Air France flight down to Nice and took Uber to our hotel for only one night stay. For being the fifth largest city in France, it seemed really small to me, but we only walked around our neighborhood and down to beautiful Mediterranean coast. I fell in love with a pair of eye glass frames along our walk to the water and became the only large purchase I made for the entire journey.

Erik booked a Michelin restaurant for Emelie’s 50th birthday, it was fantastic food and presentation but the tone was more on the stuffy side compared to the night before in Paris where the venue was more stimulating and buzzing. It became a leisurely night especially after two late nights in Paris and flying during the day, I suppose our minds, bodies and souls were exhausted. We rented two cars the next day and headed for the most densely populated country in the world…Monaco.

Driving twenty minutes to get to Monto Carlo, Monaco was easy, but driving around one way streets, tight turns and finding parking the next twenty minutes wasn’t easy. At this time, Jim opted out of the fun and headed for our next destination…Cinque Terre, Italy. Too bad for him and Ione though, they missed out on one of best lunches we had on this European journey…the Beefbar

It’s not recommended to drive to or within Cinque Terre, but our group did anyway and it’s probably a good thing our Airbnb house was located at the westernmost village Monterosso al Mare because some of the roads to the other villages were closed to rock slides. We found out the hard way, we drove over thirty minutes on our third day heading to Riomaggiore when we came to a closed road and had to turn around. We decided to take the train instead which was dirt cheap anyway…in fact free if you don’t buy any tickets and just hop on.

We spent three nights in Monterosso and was able to catch up on our laundry, our house was located on the old side of town away from the noisy tourist area. We hiked over to the next village of Vernazza on our first full day and I was surprised by the steepness in some areas, but totally worth the sweat and highly recommended the hike for the views and photo ops. After a few cold beers and a pizza we took a 30 euro personal water taxi back, I wouldn’t recommend this especially when you could train back for free.

We ended our last night stay with a two hour boat tour of all five Cinque Terre villages. I truly enjoyed this and highly recommend this to get a full perspective from the water and provides abundant photo ops too.

We had a three hour drive to our next destination, Lake Como for two nights. Like Paris our Airbnb in Como was in a wonderful location, we had shopping, restaurants and the lake within walking distance. Unlike the Paris apartment, this apartment was magnificent with large comfortable bedrooms with your own balcony, two bathrooms, new appliances and fast internet. Linna and I wasn’t a fan of Lake Como, but we really didn’t adventure out much either. We did have a splendid dinner our first night at Osteria, just a ten minute walk from our apartment.

We dropped Eric and Emelie at the Milan airport and the rest of us headed towards Chamonix, France hoping to take the tram up to view Mont Blanc up close, but just like last year’s visit for Linna and I…it was covered in dense cloud cover. No worries though, we had an enjoyable lunch along with some shopping in the quaint ski town of Chamonix.

We continued onto Geneva, Switzerland to catch our flight to Amsterdam. We spent the night at the Hilton airport and flew direct to Seattle the next day.

Overall it was an exceptional trip with good friends, lovely dinners and cool cities.

Europe Trip, April 2013

How many times in your lifetime you get to meet up with a couple of high school classmates in Amsterdam and then train down to Frankfurt, cruise through Austria and Southern Germany. Well….it doesn’t happen without effort and planning. Jerry Story, Brad Wilcher and I started planning this trip last year and it finally came to fruition. Jerry and I landed in the morning with Brad coming in the early afternoon, when he came out of customs….we had a cold beer waiting for him.

After a brief train ride to city center we only had a 5 minute walk to our hotel and off to the Red Light District for a few drinks we went. That night we booked a two hour boat ride through the canals….I will book this same boat company with my wife Linna on our next trip.

Denmark Trip, September 2011

Linna and I wanted to visit a new country in Europe and we chose the Denmark area. We flew into Amsterdam and started our adventure in our rental car. We actually had no set plans on where we were going or where we were staying, in fact…we booked our first night hotel after we landed. Even though I didn’t sleep at all on the flight, I decided to drive to Bremen, Germany for our first day and night stay. By the time we checked in and showered up, it was dinner around 9:30 p.m. Our hotel was located in a very cool area near the river, the buildings and churches were glowing with the flood lights on them.

Next day we were headed to Esbjerg to see the “Man Meets the Sea” and then wanted to drive Northeast to end up at Aarhus for the night. About 1/2 hour out of Bremen, we got stuck in heavy traffic and delayed our schedule quite a bit, so we just headed to Aarhus for the night. I rented a Opel Sigma , not a bad car, but it takes awhile to get up to left lane cruising speed; I eventually got the Opel up to 145 mph. I got passed by a 7 Series BMW today in a no speed limit zone, but….I eventually passed him later in a restricted speed zone; he was abiding the law and I wasn’t. With a population of more than 300,000, Aarhus is Denmark’s second largest city and was founded by the Vikings in the 8th century. We took off walking after breakfast and headed for “Old City”, but…..along the way we noticed a cool circular walkway on top of a building. So we headed over and found out it was the ARoS Museum. The “Your Rainbow Panorama” was just added this year which was super entertaining. After a three hours of enjoyment, we headed to the “Old City”….this was actually pretty cool to see.

Now on our third day, we headed toward Copenhagen, it was actually our main destination for this trip. It was a three hour drive over from Aarhus and a $65 bridge toll! One thing we found out about Denmark….it’s damn expensive and it could be one of the most expensive cities in the world. We arrived to our hotel “First” and got checked in around 6:30 p.m., the plan was to take a nap and get up around 9:00 p.m. and head out for dinner….well, we slept through and woke up at 3:00 a.m. I couldn’t get back to sleep so I got up and worked on my emails and my blog until our 6:30 a.m. breakfast time. After breakfast was tourist activities, shopping on the famous Stroget street, we checked out Castle and the Winding Tower. The next day we checked out Carlsberg Beer and the Church of our Saviour, the famous corkscrew spiral staircase that ends at the very top. This church was completed in 1695 and is known for its baroque architecture.

After our three days in Copenhagen, we took off after breakfast back to Germany. To shorten our route, we decided to take a 45 minute ferry ride ($104) from Rodbyhavn into Germany and then we drove into Bremen (again) for the night. Bremen was only a resting stop for the night, after breakfast we headed toward Amsterdam for our last night.

We took country roads to Amsterdam, which is my favorite way of driving anywhere in the world; you gain a sense of the local culture and you get a quite peaceful ride with beautiful scenery. We got to our hotel room around 7:00 p.m. and we decided to take a nap before we headed to the Red Light district downtown Amsterdam. By the time we got up and got going into the sin city it was 11:30 p.m. Parking is always tough, it took me a good 15 minutes to find parking…we ended up walking 10 minutes into the heart of the Red Light District. On the way in, we walked by so many “coffee shops”, the sweet marijuana smell was permeating the night air. This was Linna’s first time seeing “woman for sale” standing in the windows and all the live sex shows in the area; we did some window shopping and had a few drinks. We got home about 3:30 a.m., the same day as Linna’s flight back to Seattle.

Linna headed back to Seattle and I flew later to East Midlands, United Kingdom for some work in the UK, France and Belgium with my co-worker Greg Tebb. He lives in Lincoln, UK….a very quaint city, it’s dates back to the 1700’s. I stayed at the Washington Borough Hall a 300 year old mansion Bed & Breakfast in Lincoln, it was probably the best B&B I have ever stayed in.