Category Archives: Europe

#27 Luxembourg


Before leaving their temporary home in France, Peter and Penny decided to take advantage of their continental location by taking the two hour rain ride from Paris to Luxembourg City. Arriving around lunchtime on Friday, they found the cosmopolitan city bustling before the weekend exodus. Following the direction of the friendliest hotel receptionist they had ever met, they found their way to the car park elevator that would take them down to the Grund quarter. From there they strolled uphill, stopping often to take in the incredible views of the old city walls, towers and the meandering Alzette river, until they reached Chemin de la Corniche, known as Europe’s most beautiful balcony. From this elevated vantage point, Luxembourg City did seem to be at least one of the most picturesque cities the pair had ever visited. Not knowing much about the Duchy of Luxembourg and struggling even to decipher which language to speak to the locals (French, German or Luxembourgish?), they decided they needed some historical context. So they wandered just around the corner to the Lëtzebuerg City Museum. The evolving city models as they walked through the exhibits gave them a sense of how the city had changed and expanded over the centuries and under various powers and influences including Spanish, French, German and Dutch. They also learned about contemporary Luxembourg, such as its important banking sector, prominent role in the European Union and that today just over half of people living in Luxembourg are Luxembourgers. By the time they were done, they were glad of the flatter terrain leading them to dinner and back to their hotel for a good night’s sleep before Saturday’s trip out of the city to explore the photogenic town and castle of Vianden. Exploring the reconstructed castle sitting high atop the hill overlooking Vianden, the pair were easily transported back to medieval Luxembourg. Then, after strolling back outside the castle walls for a cup of coffee, it was time to get back to the capital for a tour of the city on foot. They learnt of the Dukes and Duchesses of the Grand Duchy, saw their modest palace in the middle of old town and heard tales of mermaids bathing in the Alzette river. All in all this small country was a delightful surprise to the pair as they sped off on the train back to Paris looking through all their holiday snaps from #27 Luxembourg.


#26 Lithuania


Having discovered the comfort, affordability and convenience of bus travel in the Baltic States, Peter and Penny again caught the Lux Express to their fourth and final destination on this Northern European tour. Though still chilly, they were glad of some drier weather to explore the beautiful city of Vilnius. They dropped off their luggage and headed straight for the Old Town, entering through the Gate of Dawn, where visitors come to venerate a golden icon of the Virgin Mary. While strolling the cobbled streets, the pair wondered why they had heard so little about the stunning architecture of Vilnius, which to them rivals that of any greatly acclaimed city in Europe. They found their way to Cathedral Square, intrigued by the bright, columned Cathedral lined with statues and the separate, even more imposing bell tower. They thought the exterior of this Cathedral, one of many churches to see in Vilnius, unusual in its design, though as ornately and impressively decorated both within and out as any they had come across. With so much to see and learn about, Peter and Penny decided a walking tour was in order. So bright and early Sunday morning they headed for the Town Hall meeting point, from where a knowledgeable and engaging tour guide led them through the sites of Old Town including the former Jewish Ghetto. They learned with dismay that Vilnius, once known as the Jerusalem of the North, had had a significant Jewish population before WW2. Later, they temporarily left their 26th country and crossed a bridge into the artsy neighbourhood known as the Republic of Užupis. They found out that though only fictionally independent, it boasts its own currency, flag and constitution and annually celebrates its independence on April 1st every year. They perused the many mirror plaque translations of Užupis’ quirky constitution, stopping to read it in English and surprised to find it in Irish. Following their tour, the pair relaxed over a potato pancake lunch before one last uphill walk to see the Gediminas Castle Tower and catch a view of the charming city from above. With so much to write home about, Peter and Penny felt #26 Lithuania was the perfect end to their autumn tour.


#25 Latvia


The pair next hopped on a bus from Tallinn and headed south to Riga, with nothing but endless green fields to look at on the way. They arrived to find a rainy capital city, so quickly relieved themselves of their bags, donned their coats and set off into the old town. After a quick stop for burgers they began to explore the old red bricked buildings before quickly realising that Penny needed to do an extra bit of clothes shopping if she was going to brave the colder weather that had decided to join them on their trip. All hopped up Peter & Penny set off to scale the large tower of St. Peter’s Church that lay imposingly right in the middle of the old town. They both reckoned that if they could make it up this would be the best view of all of Riga. On the way up the stairs they read about the peaceful demonstration against Soviet rule by the Baltic people in 1989 where 2 million of them held hands across the 3 countries. They spanned all the way from Tallinn, through Riga and down to Vilnius. Peter & Penny were thrilled to learn that now, almost exactly 30 years later, they were lucky enough to be travelling along what has now come to be known as ‘The Baltic Way’. They made it to the old rickety elevator that lurched and groaned as it slowly pulled them up to the summit of St. Peter’s. The view was no disappointment. They saw the whole of Riga, from the Soviet styled Academy of Sciences building right across to the ultra-modern radio and TV tower. As the wind picked up Peter & Penny quickly descended back down onto the streets of old town and made a beeline for the House of the Black Heads. They learnt a lot about the fascinating history of this ancient brotherhood of merchants that once travelled through this region, as well as the rich history of the Latvian people. The pair soon had to pack up and leave, but they came away with a great deal more knowledge about this part of the world, as well as a lovely photo just as the sun popped out and shone across country #25 Latvia.


#24 Estonia


After a short, calm sail, Peter and Penny disembarked in rainy Tallinn and hopped in a taxi that took them as close to their hotel as the cobbled streets of Old Town would allow. Even on a grey day, they could already appreciate the charm of this walled city. Their hotel itself, with its old fashioned lift and ornate furnishings, added to the authenticity of its historic surroundings and the pair could hardly believe their luck when they spotted the incredible view of St Nicholas’ Church and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral from their window. With limited time to see the city, they set out as night fell to visit the nearby Freedom Square and sample the exceptional local cuisine. They soon realised that delicious food would be a main feature of their stay in Tallinn. The next morning, they went to see the splendid Alexander Nevsky Cathedral up close in daylight and glimpse an elevated view of the red roofed towers of Old Town. Circling back to greet the cheerful Chimney Sweep at Karjavärava plats, they then caught the bus toward the Harbour to Lennusadam maritime museum. With simulated plane rides and interactive exhibitions, not to mention sailor costumes to try on, there was plenty to see and do here. But exploring the inside of the 1936 Lembit submarine was a true highlight of their trip to country #24 Estonia. As they strolled back to Old Town, Peter was lured by the sweet smell of roasted almonds to the medieval Olde Hansa restaurant for a sticky snack to tide him over till his next gourmet Estonian meal.


#23 Finland


It was time for Peter & Penny to head off on another adventure, and what better way to start their next trip than by visiting some friends. The pair headed off to the Baltic sea to see what Finland had to offer. On their first day they headed up Malminkartano hill to get their bearings and to enjoy the best panoramic view of Helsinki. After being caught in a sudden rainstorm they both hotfooted it back down the 426 stairs and into some shelter before heading into Helsinki centre. Peter & Penny made their way into a large old stone building next to the parliament house that turned out to be the National Museum of Finland. Here the pair were taken aback by all the history and artifacts of the region dating back long before Finland even existed. They saw longboats and weaponry from the middle ages, and heard the story of Finland’s independence from Russia that was pioneered by Emperor Alexander II of Russia, known to Finns as ‘the liberator.’ Peter & Penny later discovered a large statue commemorating him in the Senate square downtown and thought it was a perfect spot to mark their visit. After a quick stop at the Solo Sokos Hotel rooftop for a 360 view over the entire city centre and the sea they darted off for some excellent seafood chowder right on the beach just as the sun was beginning to set. They both managed to come to the end of their trip in Finland without venturing into a sauna, the most popular Finnish pastime, even though Penny was constantly looking for a good way to warm up for most of the trip. But in the end the pair headed down to the dock and caught a ferry across the gulf to their next destination and turned around and waved goodbye to country #23 Finland.


#22 Poland


No sooner where they back in Europe than Peter and Penny had their next trip planned. After a brief stay on the temperate island they call home, the pair were far from acclimatised for the sizzling June heat that greeted them in #22, Poland. First stop was the capital city of Warsaw, where, to their delight, they arrived to find a beautiful city dressed in colour and buzzing with excitement for the Gay Pride celebrations. As they wandered through the charming streets, they stumbled upon museums and monuments that reminded them of Poland’s rich cultural and scientific history. Wanting to learn more in the little time they had, they decided to explore museums dedicated to the extraordinary work of Fryderyk Chopin and Marie Skłodowska-Curie. Thrilled by the music and awed to have stood in the birthplace of the first two-time Nobel laureate, Peter and Penny had just enough time left to visit the Wilanów Palace before hopping on the train to the even hotter Krakow. Though disappointed that some of their chosen attractions were booked out days in advance, they found plenty to see and do in this different, but equally fascinating city. They journeyed beneath the bustling Rynek Główny to see the original medieval market stalls and learn more about this main square, once an important centre of trade and commerce. Wanting to delve even deeper into the past, quite literally, Penny descended some 130 metres into the Wieliczka Salt Mine to be mesmerized by an underground labyrinth of salt-crystal chandeliers and rock salt sculptures. Back above ground, the two went to see the hauntingly empty chairs at the Ghetto Heroes Square, a stark memorial to emptiness and loss. As their real lives began to call again, the pair hopped on an early bus out of Krakow and back to normality. They take with them excellent memories of the Polish people and places.


#14 Czech Republic


Peter and Penny disembarked from the train in the quaint town of Brno in the south of the Czech Republic. They meandered around the streets, taking in the cathedrals and the square, the restaurants and the bars, and trying desperately to understand even a hint of the Czech language, which seemed totally indecipherable to them. After a couple of days dodging trams, cars and bicycles with every step, they hopped back aboard the train and set off for the nation’s capital, Prague. Arriving first to Václavské nám, the pair of expats felt surprisingly at home on spotting Marks & Spencer and Debenhams on either side of them. They enjoyed wandering streets lined with crystals, taking in the lovely weather along the Vltava river, checking the time at the Old Town Square, and stopping off at the Kalfka museum, for a change. From the top of Charles Bridge gatehouse they enjoyed an awe-inspiring view of the city, and its basement museum of riverbed treasures called to mind 1610 things they’ve lost. Amid the hikes up to Prague Castle and the Petrin Tower, Peter & Penny enjoyed ice cream, macaroons and cold brew coffees. They agreed that Prague was a perfectly picturesque little European capital, but for now it was time to leave country #14 Czech Republic, and go home again, at least for a while.


#13 Austria


After an exhausting month, feeling well versed in the Impressionist artistic movement, Peter & Penny made their way to Vienna, a cultural hub of central Europe, keeping their eyes peeled for masterpieces of the Renaissance housed in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum located in the Museum Quarter of the city. On their way there the pair stopped at the awesome Burgtheater, the large gothic Rathaus City Hall and the beautiful Austrian Parliament Building, not forgetting to stop along the way to indulge at some secluded Viennese coffee houses. After wandering through the quaint typical European side streets that the pair had fallen in love with during their time in Paris, Peter & Penny made their way across the Danube to the infamous Prater Amusement Park to get a bird’s eye view of Vienna from the giant 19th century ferris wheel that’s housed there. Even with Penny’s slight trepidation over having too much distance between herself and the ground, as pigs don’t fly, the pair enjoyed watching the peacefulness of the city below. By now, full of coffee and macaroons, Peter & Penny had one last stop in Vienna. They caught the U-Bahn to Schönbrunn Palace and wandered around the expansive grounds, with beautiful gardens and statues, and particularly enjoyed the Neptune Fountain, that sits directly behind the palace. After this they hurriedly departed for their train to the Czech Republic and bid a fond farewell to the lovely little capital of #13 Austria.


#12 France


Arriving on the last day of April, Peter and Penny finally fulfilled their dream of seeing Paris in the springtime. Their trepidations over what to pack for a month in the French capital had been well-founded. Although they landed and departed in pouring rain, they basked in glorious sunshine for days in between. The pair made good use of their Navigo passes and their legs, as they took to the streets to admire buildings and bridges, each one as remarkable as the next. Although at times the promise of air-conditioning was enough to bring them inside, there was no shortage of indoor wonders either. From Manet’s ‘Le déjeuner sur l’herbe’ to Rodin’s ‘La Porte de l’Enfer’, they marvelled at one chef-d’œuvre after another. Fuelled by crêpes and café allongé, they climbed Montmartre, promenaded in the Luxembourg Gardens, browsed the Champs-Élysées, strolled the Champ de Mars and wandered from the Marais to Place de la Bastille. Further exploring the Parisian region, Peter and Penny traversed the forest at Fontainebleau to get a glimpse of the spectacular Château and took the RER to Versailles, recognising the familiar Lady Liberty as they passed Île aux Cygnes. There they strolled the splendid gardens and watched Medea’s tragic destiny unfold at the royal opera, a true highlight of their séjour in #12 France.


#10 Norway

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One last train journey took Peter & Penny to their final Scandinavian destination, Oslo, Norway. The pair checked themselves into the tallest building in the country and reserved a romantic candle-lit table overlooking the sparkling Northern City. The Northern explorers made their way to the famous Fram Museum, to uncover the legend of some of the country’s greatest Polar voyagers. Having dipped their toes in the North Sea, Penny decided the North Pole would have to be a summer expedition! In keeping with the Nobel theme of Stockholm, the twosome visited the thought-provoking Peace Museum. Unfortunately, the only award they picked up on this trip was made of chocolate. At the end of an almost nearly perfect Scandinavian trip, the pair almost nearly missed their flight. As they travelled home from #10 Norway, the pair reflected on a lovely, though sometimes chilly, Christmas excursion in Northern Europe.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail