Sunday, January 17, 2016

England, France & Belgium!

Hi dolls!

My family and I just got back from a wonderful Christmas/New Year's trip to Europe and wanted to share it with you! 

We started in London, where we checked out the Tower of London (which I'd watched a million documentaries on and was super excited to see), the Tower Bridge, Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, London's Winter Wonderland (kinda like the state fair, but a bigger, European, Christmas themed version) and the London Eye.  After two days checking out London, we did day trips to Stonehenge and Bath.  Bath was one of our favorite spots - so gorgeous! We also day tripped to Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle), the nearby tiny pub/hotel where the cast and crew stayed for the first few seasons (as a Downton Abbey fanatic, this had me over the moon!) and a day trip to Hampton Court Palace, Henry VIII's GORGEOUS South of London home.  Ross and I watched two documentaries on it too (there's a really good one on Netflix now) and were so hyped to see it in person.  Many of these group shots were taken by my dad with his new selfie stick that I got him for Christmas.  Watching him use it left us all in laughs every time!

Next we took the Channel Tunnel (aka Chunnel) to France, where we drove through Northern France which was very rural and beautiful, then to Paris.  I fell in love with Paris within twenty minutes of being there! The architecture, the crepes, the history, the monuments, the canals, the romance - I was smitten with all of it! I was so pleasantly surprised with the Parisian people.  Several folks warned me that they were rude and our experience couldn't be further from the that.  They were so wonderful and so friendly!  I would even say that the Parisians we interacted with over our four days there were on a whole much friendly than the average American.  We checked out Notre Dame (at night and during the day - I recommend both), the Eiffel Tower (twice, riding it to the top once!), the Louvre (we only spent 3/4 of a day inside and didn't come close to seeing everything, although we did see the Mona Lisa, Napolean's bedrooms and Michelangelo's sculptures), the Sacre Ceour (twice - both times at night - it was so breathtaking and one of our favorite parts of Paris), the Moulin Rouge, the Palace of Versailles, we went French antiquing (and got two great pieces) and so much more! We're both so in love with France now

Our last and most brief stop was Brussels, Belgium.  A close friend used to live there and told us exactly how to spend our limited time there.  We saw the Grand Place, which is a central town square marked by 5 or 6 story 17th Century/medieval buildings that are among the most beautiful I've ever seen.  We went at night, when the buildings were illuminated in changing colored lights and every 30 minutes they would play the most beautiful medieval music - just amazing.  We also saw Belgium's #1 attraction, the peeing boy statute, which was essentially a one foot tall statute of a boy peeing.  Kind of underwhelming but I'm glad we saw it.  Brussels is filled with replicas in all colors, many of which are much bigger than the original and all of which are peeing. The best part of Belgium was touring the Breendonk Concentration Camp, which was our main draw to the country.  Breendonk was so moving, with a really well done audio tour that you could play while walking through the camp.  It was incredibly chilling and something I'll always remember.

I thought I would list some of my favorite and the most interesting things that I noticed Europe does differently from the USA, many of which I kinda wish we would copy:

  • In France and Belgium, waffles are a hand held street snack served on every street corner. The Nutella and strawberry waffle I had while walking from the Eiffel Tower to the Louve may have been my favorite thing I ate in Europe. It was also all over my face.
  • Nutella is EVERYWHERE and served on EVERYTHING.
  • England especially was very vegetarian friendly
  • Throughout Europe almost every restaurant we dined in had a long dessert menu AND THEN a long ice cream menu. They take their sweets seriously, like me.  I loved that ice cream - and countless varieties of it - were served basically everywhere.
  • The French and English were all so friendly and helpful to strangers.
  • People bring dogs everywhere, often without leashes.  Fast food restaurants, fine dining restaurants, grocery stores, churches... sure, bring your dog!
  • The metric system. I love America, but we're just wrong on this one.
  • Military time. Again, just makes more sense.
  • Co-ed bathrooms. In all but one instance I thought these really worked and made sense.  In the KFC in Paris where I spent two hours though (long story) the stall doors were not even close to floor to ceiling, which kind of creeped me out when I heard male voices just outside my 4 foot door.
  • Paid bathrooms downtown.  When you have to pee in downtown London and you've already eaten and don't know where you can go, if you'll need to buy something, etc., these make so much sense.  We saw them in London and Paris and for about 50 cents you could use them. Love this concept!
  • Service stations with food courts like in the NE United States - so many options! Just wish they weren't so far apart.
  • Coins instead of small bills - loved this!
  • Tips included in the cost of your meal at a restaurant/restaurant workers paid a good base wage already. I can't tell you how much I loved this! We usually gave an extra 10% anyway, which they viewed as super generous, which shocked me but in a good way.
  • Waiters would give you a craft of water for the table, even if only one person ordered water. This just makes it easier on everyone - I get my refill exactly when I want it and it saves them trips.
  • Public transportation is obviously far superior to much US public transport. Very convenient.
  • Congestion charges in London. If you have your car inside city limits during the day, you have to pay a fee (I think it was like $10 or $15). So ridiculous.
  • European mayonnaise is not real mayonnaise. It's gross. Also, I'm not a mustard eater but it was completely different too.
  • No ice in a lot of places.
  • Eggs on pizza... what the heck?
  • No paper towels in bathrooms, ever.  I get that the driers make more sense 95% of the time, but sometimes you just need a paper towel.
  • The smells. So many big city smells, just like NYC, some bad, some awful, occasionally some good.
Mayonnaise problems notwithstanding, it was the trip of a lifetime and we'll carry the memories with us forever! Thanks for reading dolls!

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