European Adventure: Is This the End?

Posted by ed on 23rd July 2013

As we were preparing to leave Paris, we decided to plan out our final couple weeks in Europe. We had booked a flight from London to the US for June 25 so we could attend my niece’s’ wedding. We decided we could squeeze in 3 more cities in the time we had left. We chose Krakow, Warsaw and Berlin.

Krakow, Poland (inc. Auschwitz-Birkenau)

On June 12 we flew from Paris to Krakow. We had booked a nice hotel just off the main square in Krakow’s old town. The old town (pictured on left) reminds me a bit of Prague, which we had visited last Christmas. The central square is quite big and is dominated by the cloth market hall in the center, the old city hall tower in one corner and St. Mary’s Basilica (pictured on right) in the opposite corner. There are tons of cafes and restaurants around the square (and throughout the old town) with lots of sidewalk seating. There are various stalls inside the cloth market hall and horse drawn carriages for hire around the square. For me, the highlight of the square is the basilica. The interior is beautiful with patterned brick walls and a deep blue ceiling.

There are many old churches and other old buildings around the old town. At one end of the old town is the Wawel (pictured on left), a fortified complex on a hill overlooking the town and the Vistula River. The main buildings on the hill are the Royal Castle and the Wawel Cathedral. We visited the cathedral and did a tour of the Royal Apartments and Armoury.

While visiting Krakow, we did venture out to the Kazimierz neighborhood, which is the old Jewish quarter. We also took a day trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum (pictured on right). Auschwitz-Birkenau is a sobering place to visit. The camps are huge, especially Birkenau. There are numerous displays describing the horrific things that happened there, but most of the site is empty buildings or ruins of buildings.

There are more photos in the Krakow and Auschwitz-Birkenau albums.

Warsaw, Poland

On June 16 we took a train to Warsaw. Warsaw is more spread out than Krakow, but it also has a nice old town (pictured on left). Warsaw’s old town was very heavily damaged during WWII, but has since been rebuilt in the original style. New Town is just past the rebuilt barbican of the Old Town. Next to the New Town is Multimedia Park with a cool water fountain display. A bit further afield, we visited Wilanow Palace (pictured on right) and Lazienki Park. Lazienki Park has numerous palaces and in the park we encountered red squirrels. Throughout the city there are memorials to some of the most famous Pols, such as Copernicus, Chopin and Marie (Sklowdowska) Curie.

There are more photos in the Warsaw album.

Berlin, Germany

We caught a train from Warsaw to Berlin on June 19. Unbeknownst to us, we were arriving in Berlin on the same day that President Obama was giving a speech at the Brandenburg Gate. As it turns out our accommodations were located a few blocks from the Gate (pictured on left) on the opposite side from the train station. We tried to catch the U-bahn, but the Brandenburg stop was closed. We tried to walk, but the roads and bridges were cordoned off. Eventually we were able to take the S-bahn to Friedrichstrasse and walk from there.

It was really hot when we were in Berlin. We ended up staying indoors for parts of the afternoons, but we still managed to see quite a lot. On the first full day we started at the Potsdamerplatz and did a self guided walking tour which included the Sony Center, Philharmonie, parts of the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie. On the next day we did another walking tour which included Unter den Linden, Bebelplatz, Berliner Dom (lower left), Museum Island, City Hall, TV Tower and Alexanderplatz. That evening we were able to visit the dome on the Bundestag and enjoyed the sunset from there. On the final full day we visited Charlottenburg Palace and spent our last evening around the Brandenburg Gate.

There are more photos in the Berlin album.

One June 23 we flew to London and spent the next day saying goodbye to friends and tying up a few loose ends. On the 25th of June we were heading back to the United States, more specifically, to Erie, PA to attend my niece’s wedding. We’re still in Erie as of the writing of this blog, but are heading to the San Francisco Bay Area later this week.

So, is this the end of our European Adventure? I guess we don’t really know. Stay tuned to see where we end up…

Posted on 23rd July 2013
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European Adventure: Friends in France

Posted by ed on 20th July 2013

We flew in to Bergerac, France on June 3 to visit some friends in the Lot Valley. We stayed for a few nights at Michele and Nigel’s place in Pericard. Michele and Chikako showed us around over the next few days. We met a lot of Brits and Americans living in the area. We also visited some of the towns and bastides (fortified towns) including Villeneuve-Sur-Lot, Bonaguil, Penne-d’Agenais and Pujols. One of the highlights was the Chateau de Bonaguil (pictured on left).

There are more photos in the Lot Valley album.

On June 7, we took a train from Bergerac to Paris where we met up with the Danners and the Zaidspiners. The Danners had arrived by train from Frankfurt where they had started their summer holiday. The Zaidspiners had arrived by car from Frankfurt where Dan was working for the week. We all met up near the Eiffel Tower (pictured on right). Over the next couple days we toured around the city.

It had been a few years since I’d seen Greg, and about 6 since I’d last seen Jacinda, Merlin and Cooper. We had a lot of fun wandering around Paris, eating good food (picture on left) and visiting such sites as the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe.

I had not seen Dan Z. for more than six years, and had never met his wife. It was really great catching up with them. 

It was sad parting ways with everyone, but each of us has our own roads to travel. The Danners were heading for further adventure in Munich and the Alps. The Zaidspiners were heading back to the States. Mary and I spent another day or two in Paris before moving on to our next destination: Poland.

There are more photos in the Paris album.

Posted on 20th July 2013
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European Adventure: Cruising the Norwegian Fjords

Posted by ed on 15th July 2013

As I mentioned in a previous post (Cruising the Eastern Med), we had the opportunity to take a second cruise during our European Adventure. This time we took a 10 night cruise on the Celebrity Infinity to the Norwegian Fjords. I have always wanted to see the fjords, and what better way to see them than from a ship. The cruise left from Harwich, England. So we flew from Venice to London, stayed a couple nights, then took a train to Harwich.

Infinity at Sea

The cruise left from the port of Harwich, England on May 24 at 5PM. After spending a couple days in chilly London, we were really concerned that we would freeze in Norway. As it turned out, aside from a couple rainy days, we had fantastic weather, warm and sunny.

The ship, Infinity, was very nice. However, our opinion of it suffered a bit due to our recent experience on the much newer Reflection. The ship was not as large, but still had plenty to offer. Our stateroom was an accessible room, so was large for it’s class. It was located in the middle of the stern on deck 9. We really had some fantastic views, especially when leaving ports.

During the cruise, we spent 2 days at sea, day 2 (May 25) and day 10 (June 2).

All photos of and on the ship are in the album Infinity at Sea.


On day 3 of the cruise (May 26), we reached our first port of call, Oslo. We arrived in Oslo not really knowing what to do. We had read about a couple museums that sounded interesting, so we set off to the tourist information center to find out some details. We ended up getting a transit pass and took a ferry across the harbor to Bygdoy to visit a couple of them. We started with the Norwegian Folk Museum, which is an open air museum containing relocated historical homes and buildings like the Gol Stave Church (pictured on left). It also contains a working farm and stages various cultural events throughout the year.

In case you could not tell from my website, I am very interested in Vikings! So we next we visited the Viking Ship Museum which houses 3 Viking ships in various states of disrepair: the Osberg ship (pictured on right), the Gokstad ship and the Tune ship. These ships were excavated from various burial mounds around Norway. In addition to the ships, the museum houses a number of other Viking artifacts.

After the museums, we headed back into town. First we went to Frogner Park to see the Vigeland statue installations. The park is full of sculptures, anchored by the Monolith plateau in the middle of the park. It was a hot, sunny day and the park was full of sunbathers.

Heading further into town we saw sights like the Royal Palace, Parliament (pictured on left), City Hall, Cathedral and Opera House.

There are more photos in the Oslo album.


Oslo is quite a ways from the main fjords of Norway, so on day 4 (May 27) we stopped at the port of Kristiansand. There aren’t any major sight in Kristiansand that we were aware of, but the town is nice. It was raining on this day, but we walked around the town and visited the church and harbor. We also stopped for a really good (and expensive) cappuccino at a cafe with the fastest free wifi I’ve ever seen.

There are more photos in the Kristiansand album.


Day 5 (May 28) brought us to Stavanger. The main site we wanted to see was the Lysefjord. To get there, we needed to catch a tour boat in the harbor. After standing in line for quite some time, we managed to get 2 of the last 3 tickets for the boat. It took close to an hour to get to the Lysefjord, but the trip there was quite scenic. In the fjord (pictured left), we saw sights like Pulpit Rock and the troll heart in the rocks. We also stopped to feed some goats and to collect water from a waterfall (which we got to taste).

There are more photos in the Stavanger album.


The town of Alesund was our port on Day 6 (May 29). It another pretty town where we visited a church and some shops. For the bulk of the day, we climbed up the stairs to the top of Mount Aksla and went for a few mile hike. It was a beautiful day and the views from the mount (see right) are fantastic. After our hike we stopped at a cafe then returned to the ship.

There are more photos in the Alesund album.


On Day 7 (May 30) we reached Geiranger. Geiranger lies at the head of the Geirangerfjord which is a branch off another fjord. In Geiranger we hiked up to a mountain farm then on to the Storseterfossen waterfall. There’s a trail at the top that goes behind the waterfall. On the way back down to the port we stopped at the mountain farm for waffles. The views from the cafe at the farm are terrific. The farm has sheep, goats and a few llamas. Sailing out of the Geirangerfjord was beautiful with cliffs on both sides, farms hanging on the mountains and numerous waterfalls (including the Seven Sisters pictured left).

There are more photos in the Geiranger album.


Day 8 (May 31) was one of the highlights of the trip. On this day our port of call was Flam. We left the boat early to stand in line for tickets for the Flam Railway then had time for a leisurely breakfast on the ship. When our time arrived, we boarded the train from Flam to Myrdal. It’s a beautiful 20km ride along the Flam River valley, including a very wet stop at Kjosfossen waterfall. We got off at Myrdal and hiked part of the way back through the incredible valley (picture right). Back in Flam we visited the Flam Railway Museum.

There are more photos in the Flam album.


Our final port, on Day 9 (June 1), was Bergen. Bergen is the second largest city in Norway. The weather wasn’t great, so we spent a leisurely day visiting shops and cafes along the harbor.

There are more photos in the Bergen album.

On day 11 (June 3) we arrived back in Harwich. In Harwich we caught the train back to London, then connected to Gatwick for a flight to our next destination: Bergerac, France.

Posted on 15th July 2013
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European Adventure: Venice

Posted by ed on 30th June 2013

At the end of the Eastern Med cruise, we arrived back in the port of Civitavecchia. From there, we took a train back towards Rome and connected to the Italo train to Venice. We stayed in Venice for the next 5 days, enjoying every minute.

I didn’t really expect Venice to live up to all the hype, but it really did. It was really nice wandering around the canals and alleyways of the city. There are so many beautiful churches and other buildings to see. We saw a lot of famous sites, including the Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge, San Marco Square, Gallerie dell’Academia and the Doge Palace. There are great views from the bridges along the Grand Canal and from the waterway in a vaporetto. In addition to exploring the main islands, we visited Murano, Burano and Torcello (though everything was closed by the time we got to Torcello).

SInce we took loads of pictures, I’ve split them into 6 albums by day. Click on the images below to open the albums, or you can go to the top level Venice album.

Day 1: Grand Canal

Day 2: Rialto Bridge

Day 3: Grand Canal

Day 4: San Marco Square

Day 5: Burano

Day 6: St. Mark's Basilica

Posted on 30th June 2013
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European Adventure: Cruising the Eastern Med

Posted by ed on 26th June 2013

While we were travelling in the Netherlands, we were offered a fantastic deal on some cruises. We had never cruised before, but wanted to give it a try. The deals we were offered made the decision a no-brainer. We had a list of about 15-20 different cruises offered by Celebrity throughout the month of May. We ended up booking 2 cruises: 11 Nights on the Eastern Mediterranean (covered in this post) and 10 nights in the Norwegian Fjords (which will be covered in a later post).

The Eastern Mediterranean cruise started from the port of Civitavecchia, Italy, which is near Rome. We had flown from Amsterdam to Rome the day before (see the Rome in a Day post), so on the morning of the cruise, May 6, we took a train from Rome Termini station to the port. At the port, we boarded the Celebrity Reflection, which is one of the newest ships in the Celebrity fleet.

Reflection At Sea

The cruise left from the port at Civitavecchia on May 6 at 5PM. The check-in process was very quick as we had already gone through most of the process online a few days prior. We really liked our stateroom on Deck 7 near the back. The room was larger than most of the hotels we have stayed in throughout Europe. It also had a nice veranda where we could sit and enjoy the sea.

The ship, Reflection, was amazing. The Grand Foyer (picture on left) had a huge atrium going from deck 5 all the way up to deck 14 with 2 sets of 4 glass elevators running up the sides. The main theater covered the fore section of decks 4 and 5 where they had stage shows nearly every night. The main dining room (Opus) covered the aft area of decks 4 and 5. It has some huge chandeliers and a 2 story wine rack. There was always plenty of food available in the Oceanview cafeteria and there are a number of other “specialty” restaurants on board (which we did not try).

During the cruise we had 3 At Sea days. The sea days were Day 2 (May 7), Days 5 (May 10) and Day 10 (May 15).

All the photos of and on the ship are in the album Celebrity Reflection.

Santorini, Greece

On Day 3 of the cruise, May 8, we arrived in Santorini, Greece and were in port from 1-9PM. We had not had much time to research what to do so we signed up for one of the shore excursions offered by Celebrity. Since the port at Santorini is too small for the ship, we had to take tender boats to shore. The excursion we booked visited the Santo Wines Winery, the town of Oia and the island’s capital of Fira.

The winery stop was not too exciting. There was a mad rush on the wine and cheese samples as 2 or 3 tour busses arrived and were served in a matter of 15 minutes. The wines were not to my taste, but the views from their cliffside location were nice.

It was raining by the time we reached Oia at the tip of the island. Oia is the town with the picturesque blue domes (pictured above right). The rain and the limited time allowed by the tour made this stop a bit less nice than it could have been, but we made the best of it.

Fira (pictured left) is near the middle of the crescent shaped island. The rain was letting up a bit, so the visit was more pleasant. We stopped for a bite to eat at one of the many cafes. We visited a couple churches and walked around the town.

On the way back to the ship we took the cable car rather than walking or riding down the donkey trail.

There are more photos in the Santorini album.

Mykonos and Delos, Greece 

On Day 4 (May 9) we arrived in Mykonos and were in port from 7AM to 6PM. Again we had decided to take one of the shore excursions offered by Celebrity. We opted for a visit to the island of Delos and the ancient ruins there, including the famous lions of Delos (pictured on left). The weather was much nicer while we were on Delos. We had a guided walk through the site then a visit to the archeological museum. After the tour we had some time to explore the site on our own.

On Mykonos we only visited the main town. It’s another cute island town with white buildings and winding alleys. We spent some time wandering through the alleys and visiting some churches. We also walked out to the windmills (pictured on right).

There are more photos in the Delos and Mykonos albums.

Istanbul, Turkey 

Days 6 and 7 (May 11 and 12) were in Istanbul, Turkey. We were in port from 7AM on the 11th until 1PM on the 12th. This was the longest port stop on the cruise itinerary. For this port we opted to visit on our own. We were able to walk out of the port and catch a tram to the center of Istanbul. From there, over the day and a half, we were able to visit the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar, Spice Market and Topkapi Palace.

Sailing in and out through the Dardanelles was also quite scenic.

There are more photos in the Istanbul album.

Ephesus (Kusadasi), Turkey

On Day 8 (May 13) we arrived Kusadasi, Turkey and were in port from 8AM until 5PM. The main attraction in this area is the nearby ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus (pictured on right). Not knowing how to visit, we once again opted for a Celebrity shore excursion. The site is quite large and is still being excavated. Sadly it rained during most of the visit which certainly dampened (figuratively and literally) our experience. The site is quite amazing, and we especially liked the visit to the Terraced Houses area, where excavation and restoration is still in progress.

After returning to Kusadasi we visited a Turkish rug shop and walked around the town before returning to the ship.

There are more photos in the Ephesus and Kusadasi albums.

Athens (Piraeus), Greece

On Day 9 (May 14) we arrived in the port town of Piraeus and set off to explore Athens. We were in port from 6AM to 6PM. We walked from the port to the metro station and took the metro in to Athens. Our first stop in Athens was the Archeological Museum where we saw a number of ancient statues and other relics. Our main focus for the day was a visit to the Acropolis. We had beautiful weather for seeing the Parthenon and other ruins of the Acropolis. We didn’t have time to see much else and had to head back to Piraeus to board the ship.

There are more photos in the Athens album.

Pompeii (Naples), Italy

On Day 11 (May 16), after the final sea day, we landed in Naples, Italy and were in port from 7AM to 6:30PM. There are a lot of options from this port, but not a lot of time. We opted to visit Pompeii. We walked from the port to the train station and took a train to the Pompeii Museum site. It was quite hot but we walked around the ruins for many hours. Afterward we stopped at a nearby cafe for a cold drink and pizza. By the time we got back to Naples we had to board the ship so didn’t have any time to explore that city.

There are more photos in the Pompeii album.

On Day 12 (May 17) we arrived back in Civitavecchia, Italy at 5AM. We had our final breakfast on board, caught a train to Rome then connected with another train to our next destination: Venice.

Posted on 26th June 2013
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