The Three Tops of Europe

On return home, several people have asked, “What was your favorite thing about your trip to Europe?”  This is a tough question to answer unless you ask for specifics, such as favorite city or favorite hotel or favorite museum.  So we decided to create our “Three Tops of Europe”.  We came up with a variety of categories and shared our three most favorite items in each category.

Three Top Small Towns:  

Memmingen, Germany:  This was a tiny walled city.  They had two different paths you  could follow to see everything from ancient ruins to restored buildings to parks to the nearby river.  We also had great food and drink at a brew pub, a doner kabob restaurant, and an ice cream parlor that served ice cream spaghetti.

Brugges, Belgium:  This city was a maze of canals, history, restaurants, shops of beautiful lace, and chocolate and waffles on every block.  We even took a cruise down the canals and learned about some of the history of the city for only eight euros.

Zermatt, Switzerland:  This was a ski resort town at the base of The Matterhorn. That would have been enough, but it also had a beautiful historic old town district, and we were able to stay in a condo with a view of the famous mountain itself.  We also loved that arrival was by train and there was no traffic (other than city vehicles) allowed. It also had the Glacier Experience, a system of gondolas that whisked you to the tip top of a mountain not much smaller than the Matterhorn.

Three Top Big Cities:  

Brussels, Belgium:  The central plaza of Brussels was right around the corner from our hotel, and the central train station was blocks away too.  Being in the plaza was like stepping into another world and then back in time as well.  We especially enjoyed the cathedrals, the restaurants, the plaza, and the lights at night.

Prague, Czech Republic:  There is so much history in this beautiful city.  It is a modern city, but the Old Town, especially Wenceslas Square, is miraculously preserved.  Even the Hard Rock Cafe was required to maintain the historic look of their beautiful neo-Renaissance building painted with colorful frescoes.  They also had a refreshing wooded park that overlooked the city with the river running through it and spanned by beautiful bridges.

London, Great Britain:  I have to admit I’m completely biased on this one.  This is a modern city like any other we saw.  There doesn’t seem to be an amazing old town. But I’m a Shakespeare fan, and there’s no other Globe Theatre in the world.  I’m also a drama fan, and you can see a musical or drama production any night of the week here pretty inexpensively.  Plus there is a lot of history here if you look for it.  We definitely want to go back and see some of the things we missed this time…and another Shakespeare show…and another musical production.

Three Top Places for Scenery:

Zermatt, Switzerland:  It’s not just the Matterhorn, although that is beautiful.  We want to go back and spend more time hiking (and skiing) the Alps.

Fussen, Germany:  From here, there are several hikes through the Black Forest.  We enjoyed hiking here and didn’t get enough of it.

Highlands, Scotland:  I guess we’re mountain people.  This was our favorite part of Scotland.  Green rolling hills that just got higher and higher, more and more beautiful, and deeper and deeper green.  It was like going back in time.

Three Top Historical Spots:

Normandy, France:  We learned so much more about World War II than we ever knew there WAS to learn!  We have only scratched the surface, however, and would definitely like to go back.

Prague, Czech Republic:  Here, we learned about their side of World War II and German occupation, but they were “liberated” by Russia.  This gave us a whole new perspective on why communism doesn’t work.

Wexford, Ireland:  We learned what a tragedy the potato famine was in Ireland and realized immigration issues are not a new problem.  We also had a personal connection to Ireland, since my own grandmother immigrated from there and was deported, leaving her children, who were U.S. citizens, orphans.

Three Top Travel Options:

Swiss Air:  The airplane was comfortable, and the staff very courteous.  They also served bottled Swiss water, good food, including the creamiest ice cream we’ve ever had and Swiss chocolate!

Swiss Travel System:  This is just what it says, a system.  It includes trains, buses, and boats, and we experienced all of them.  On our train ride from Zurich to Visp, we got meals and WiFi, unlike any of our other train trips in Europe.  Our train ride on the cog railway up to Zermatt was breathtaking.  Their buses take you to places you may not be able to reach by car (Zermatt, for example doesn’t allow cars at all!). Their boats are a fun way to get somewhere while feeling like you’re on a water excursion.  And the scenery… there are no words.

United Airlines Dreamliner:  We took this on both of our overseas flights.  It is designed to reduce jet lag by providing more oxygen to the cabin.  It was also decently roomy, had lots of entertainment options, and provided a small bottle of water, snacks, and meals.

Three Top Tour Guides:

Jessica Markink and Curtis Shoemaker:  There’s no one better than good friends to take you on a tour of their own stomping grounds.  Jessica introduced us to all the best of The Netherlands, and Curtis helped us discover Bavaria.  Thanks, you two!

Julia with ToursbyLocals, Budapest:  Julia helped us discover Budapest personally.  Her deep knowledge of the history and the area, combined with her sense of humor and pride for her city made our experience there enjoyable and memorable.

Jody with Rabbies Small Group Tours, Scotland:  Jody took us on a beautiful tour of the lowlands of Scotland.  On the long drive, she told much of the story of Scotland in a personal, entertaining way, with lots of historical details and in episodes between stops. After she had told an episode, she would even play a folksong that retold or added to the story musically. 

Three Top Castles:

Schloss Neuschwanstein near Fussen, Germany:  Disney based Cinderella’s castle on this one.  It’s a fairy tale castle with an interesting story about the crazy king who built it.

Meersburg Castle in Meersburg, Germany:  This is a small castle that has not been restored much from its original medieval state, so it has more of a “real castle” feel.

Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland:  This was definitely a defensive castle, and the history behind it is rich and fascinating. It’s huge, and there is lots to see and learn inside.

Three Top Museums:

The Louvre in Paris, France:  This is the largest art museum in the world.  Its displays are beautifully designed and spaced, with benches throughout to rest and reflect. 

The Airborne Museum in Mer Egliss, France:  This is a hands-on museum on the site of a World War II landing, with real vehicles, audio guide, simulations, and even a treasure hunt to keep kids engaged.

Open Air Museum in Salzburg, Austria:  This is more than a museum.  It’s more than a village.  It has over 100 relocated buildings, including homes, barns, stables, and more.  It displays rural life in Austria, both by region and by historical times.

Three Top Churches:

Our Lord in the Attic in Amsterdam, Netherlands:  This is a hidden gem in Amsterdam; it is a secret Catholic Church right in the middle of the city during a time when all churches  were taken over by the government.

Christ Church in Dublin, Ireland:  We loved the beauty and history of this church, especially the crypt.

Notre Dame in Paris, France:  This gothic church is an incredible example of a medieval cathedral.  Its stained glass windows and sweeping arches are beautiful, and you can visit, even if a worship service is going on.

Three Top Surprises

The beautiful plaza in Brussels, Belgium:  It’s just there, right in the middle of a bustling city, an open, car-free plaza with street performers and shops.  It’s surrounded by huge gold gilded architecture, and at night the lights make it even more beautiful.

Discovering all that we DIDN’T know about World War II:  We did not learn this stuff in school.  We had no idea what kind of strategy and collaboration was involved in the liberation of Europe.  I know this war didn’t take place on our soil, but thousands of our men fought in it. 

The presidential suite in Waterford, Ireland:  We had no idea we would be so blessed on our “grand finale night,” but we got upgraded somehow.  This elegant three-room suite in a castle on an island in Waterford was farabove and beyond.

Three Top Hotels:  

Waterford Castle in Waterford, Ireland:  We really splurged on this four star hotel, and then we got an upgrade to boot.  It was luxurious, and the island was a beautiful escape.

Killiane Castle in Wexford, Ireland:  We loved the country farm atmosphere and the food of this bed and breakfast.

Hotel Bourgeoensch Hof in Brugges, Belgium:  This hotel room in a historic hotel was clean, classy, very roomy, and overlooked one of the beautiful Brugges canals.  They also served a great breakfast for only six euros.

Three Top Cities for Public Transportation:  

Bern, Switzerland:  We got a free card for this system through our hotel.  It was awesome and got us wherever we wanted to go.  It even worked on the funicular up the mountain for a beautiful view of the city.

London, Great Britain:  We bought the Oyster card to be able to get on and off without having to pay each time.  We could get anywhere we wanted pretty easily.  It turned out to be expensive, however, but only because our lodging was too far out of the city center.  Lesson learned there.

Prague, Czech Republic:  We bought a three-day pass that took us everywhere we wanted to go, and the system was very easy to understand.

Three Top Restaurants:

Restauracja Zapiecek in Warsaw, Poland:  This was a family style restaurant with lots of good home style Polish food, including great pierogis and potato pancakes, and we got a pitcher of a delicious spiced hot fruit drink.

Olivenbauer in Fussen, Germany:  This was a family style restaurant with lots of good home style German food, including spare ribs and a variety platter of meats.

U Medvidko in Prague, Czech Republic:  This was a huge brew pub, where we got a big platter of traditional Czech food, including delicious roast duck and rabbit.

Three Top Street Foods:

Chimney Cakes with ice cream in Prague, Czech Republic:  Delicious cinnamon and sugar doughnut-type dough, wrapped around a rod, roasted over an open fire, and filled with ice cream.  Never had anything like it.

Belgian waffles in Brussels, Belgian:  They were all delicious, but our favorite was the one that had a layer of caramelized sugar baked into it and then topped with caramel sauce, hot fudge, and whipped cream.  Wow.

Doner Kebabs in Memmingen, Germany:  We had doner kebabs quite often in Europe because Bill absolutely loves them.  But Regenbogen in Memmingen was our favorite.  Meat shaved off of large chunks on a spit and then put with veggies and a creamy sauce into a pocket of their homemade bread.  Delicious…and very inexpensive.

If any of this has interested you, and you decide you need to take a vacation too, please give us a call.  We are travel agents and have a lot of experience in our own travel, so we can help you navigate a spectacular vacation.  Our commission is paid by the vendors, so there is no cost to you.  We can often get you some great deals, but we can also advise you and take care of the details so you don’t have to.  We specialize in cruises, but we can help you with anything travel oriented, including lodging, all-inclusive resorts, car rentals, tours, and travel insurance.  We can do flights too if they’re connected to other parts of your vacation. If they’re not, we often can’t get you any better deal than you can get for yourself.  And that’s our promise to you:  We’ll ask lots of questions first, and if you would be better off booking on your own to get the same quality for less, we’ll let you know.

Either way, if you ever get to Europe and decide to take our advice and visit any of these places, please tell them Bill and Teri sent you.  They’ll have no idea what you’re talking about, but hopefully they’ll be polite about it!

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