#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.


#21 Cuba


On their final stop of this North American excursion the pair landed in the frozen-in-time country of Cuba to explore it’s capital for a few days. Havana was a city unlike any other they had seen so far on their travels. The large concrete memorial to José Marti at Revolution Plaza was the communist architecture Peter and Penny had been hoping to see. They walked along the Malecón, as a cruise liner was sailing into port, and headed for Old Havana to try the local Cuban fayre. A visit to the Capitolio was next on the list before a dander down the Paseo towards the 2 Castillo that flank Havana’s historical port. The pair then took in a walking tour of the old city, and learnt how the revolution had shaped the architecture and the people of this island. As Peter & Penny headed off to the airport in a taxi from the 1950s, they reflected on the great time and fantastic food they had enjoyed on this trip of the Americas and especially #21 Cuba. Now it is time for the pair to start packing up their belongings in the USA and move their lives back to Europe again.


#20 Mexico


Just when they had settled into island life, it was time for Peter and Penny to leave Caye Caulker and set sail for country #20, Mexico. Two bumpy ferry rides and one very queasy tummy later, they disembarked at Chetumal. They’d heard that bus was the way to travel in Mexico, so on they hopped for a much smoother connection to Tulum. First stop was authentic Mexican food and on Tulum’s main thoroughfare they were spoiled for choice. To end a long day, an enchilada and taco stuffed Peter and Penny browsed the colourful wares of the local boutiques. Bright and early the next day, they set out to explore some of the Yucatán Peninsula’s famous Mayan ruins. They were delighted and surprised that they could wander amid the ancient ruins of Coba and even climb the 137-foot Nohoch Mul pyramid. Not wanting to miss such an opportunity and view, Penny had to summon all her courage, and try not to look down, as they navigated the 120 steep, often slippery steps. With time for one more stop, they headed back to see the stunning cliff-top ruins at Tulum. After a short stay in Mexico, the pair agreed that Tulum was among the friendliest and awe-inspiring places they had visited.


#19 Belize


After too long being cooped up at home the travelling twosome headed for Central America. First on their list was the jungle covered nation of Belize, though on this trip the pair stuck to the coast. Having made it to the capital, Belize City, a water taxi took Peter & Penny to the island of Caye Caulker, to spend a few days on a land devoid of all cars. However, there were still enough golf carts to necessitate looking both ways before crossing the sand laden streets. The couple enjoyed the picturesque sunset at ‘The Split’ before heading to rest up for a unique excursion the following day. A big priority of this visit was to get a glimpse of the Meso-American barrier reef and Peter & Penny would not be disappointed. They arose bright and early for an all day snorkelling trip to the reef, accompanied by some local guides. After trying on their flippers (not that Peter really needed them) and finding a mask to fit around Penny’s ears it was time to set off on the open sea. Over multiple dives they saw fish of every colour, stingrays and even a few sharks who thankfully didn’t have a taste for pork or penguin. The coral itself was just as varied as the fish, coming in all kinds of shapes and colours. With the world’s coral reefs shrinking each year, the couple knew they had to take in every moment they could exploring this hidden ecosystem below the waves. It truly was one of the most fascinating things the pair had seen on their travels thus far and an excellent reason to visit #19 Belize. 


#18 Saint Kitts and Nevis


Even though it’s one of the ten smallest destinations on their bucket list, Peter and Penny were easily dissuaded from taking in the mountainous island country #18 Saint Kitts and Nevis on foot. Taking a taxi tour from its capital Basseterre they were able to circumnavigate the larger island of Saint Kitts in a matter of hours, with plenty of stops and incredible photo ops. They wandered through a rainforest, explored the ruins of the sugar plantation at Central Forest Reserve National Park, browsed local markets and even met a monkey or two. Finally, before leaving the Caribbean for now, they relished one last, breath-taking view from Timothy Hill Overlook.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail