Whistle-stop tour of Rome, Venice, Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels & Paris. Then Birmingham.
As our first 'itinerary trip' to the US in 2015 proved to be a success, the next one was already in the planning stages by early 2016. This time to Europe and a three week trip to numerous cities across eight countries.
First up was Rome - a new one for us all and many bucket list items to be had. We flew in via Dubai and tentatively worked our way to our apartment close to Vatican City. My parents had flown in from the UK earlier that week, and as we were all staying in the same apartment block, we had some valuable family time to come. I loved the location, just a five minute walk to the Basilica and St. Peter's Square. Very hot and busy during the day, but cool and much quieter in the evening when you could enter the Basilica free of charge and wander around the amazing St. Peter's Square. On top of that, we had a strip of great restaurants to choose from every evening.
We loved Rome and ticked off pretty much all of the sights - The Colossuem; The Forum; Trevi Fountain; Piazza Navona; Spanish Steps and of course St. Peter's Square and Basilica. I'm not one for churches, but this one blew me away - the sheer magnitude of it was amazing. I was also blown away by the Colosseum - even just the outside got my imagination going, and despite the heat and the long queues, the visit was well worth it. A little too busy for my liking, but has to be done. We didn't do the Sistine Chapel - looked like a frenzy to get in, so I decided to leave something for a future visit. After three days, we bade farewell to my folks and set off on our whirlwind tour of Europe.
Next up was a pretty straightforward train journey to Venice, where we would spend the day. It was crazy hot and crazy busy - not my favourite combination. We left our bags in left luggage at the train station, then got a water taxi to St. Marks Square to start our day in Venice. We then worked/walked our way back to the train station via an array of delightful streets, bridges, nooks and crannies and of course the Rialto bridge. Short and sweet, glad we went, but I think we'll head back there one day in a cooler and quieter month.
The Venice to Vienna overnight train is a great option especially if you don't have a lot of time and also want to save on hotels. We checked in to our compartment and as there was four of us, we had the 'room' to ourselves. Shortly after we pulled out of Venice, they came in to make up the beds which were pretty comfortable and the rhythmic drumming on the tracks made for a reasonable night's sleep. We were woken with our room service fruhstuck - the freshest of crusty rolls with butter and jam.
Once in Vienna, we hit left luggage again and left the station to a much cooler and very welcome temperature. We walked around without too much purpose, but saw the main sights and idled our four hours away before our train to Prague. Not too much to write home about, but another one ticked off.
The train was uneventful and we pulled into Prague with the prospect of a proper night's sleep ahead. We worked our way to Wenceslas Square which is where our apartment was located. It was pretty well-hidden, but after 30 minutes we found the doorway and were very happy with our spacious and modern lodgings. We didn't hang around though, we had to tick off the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle - a lovely walk, cool and not too busy. In the morning, I popped out for an early run and paused to pay my respects at 'Parachutists Church' - the refuge of the heroes who assassinated Reinhard Heydrich.
Another day, another city and this time another easy train ride to Berlin. We loved Berlin and especially enjoyed relaxing on the lush grass in the grounds of the Reichstag. Other notables included Checkpoint Charlie; Brandenburg Gate and a slap up feed of some lovely German food. Looking back on this and our 2019 trip to Munich and Roth (and maybe my 1985 childhood trip to Trier), I realize that I have a soft spot for Germany - there is something about it that I just get.
Next up was Amsterdam after another uneventful train ride. Amsterdam is a bit of an opposite of Berlin - pretty wild in comparison. We checked in to our rather grubby apartment and hit the town for an evening walk to soak to up the sights and smells. We've never been ones to hide our children away from the real world, so took a walk through the red-light district as it was getting going for the evening. It's a sad sight, but at least these girls have some form of protection and order. We didn't hang around - these girls have a hard enough life and don't deserve to be pointed and laughed at, which unfortunately does happen.
Our final train journey was a two-part trip to Paris, broken up with a 4 hour-stopover in Brussels. Brussels was pleasant enough for sure with the undersized Manneken Pis being fairly unmemorable, but the Grand Place being as grand as I remember it from my exchange trip visit in 1986. Our waffles were definitely not memorable - too sweet and sickly. Brussels was in a state of lock down after the bombings earlier in the year, with armed police in full force at every turn.
We finally got to Paris where we had two whole nights to enjoy. Our hotel was nicely located but fairly snug for the four of us. We took an evening stroll and found some amazing Eiffel Tower views from afar. In the morning, we headed out for a long, hot day on foot - our last day, so I was determined to see everything in one go. We started at the Arc de Triomphe, before walking down the Champs Elysee and taking in the Place de la Concorde. Then on to the Louvre and the surrounding gardens which were hot but delightful, and our last stop at Notre Dame. A pretty magical finish to our great trip. The following day was a short flight to Birmingham and the comforts of home.
So we did Hong Kong-Italy-Austria-Czech Republic-Germany-Holland-Belgium-France-UK in the space of eight or so days. A whistle stop tour for sure, but one to look back on with a large slice of logistical-pride.
The Lowdown... Where we stayed (Rome): Borgo Pio 91 What I said at the time: Great location, just round the corner from Vatican. Makes a huge difference as you can visit Basilca in the evening after the big crowds have left. Lovely quiet street with nice cafes down below - we preferred the one on the corner best for breakfast. Simona was very welcoming too. Apartment was large enough for 4 of us too, with small kitchen attached. Would we stay there again: Yes.
Where we stayed (Prague): Wenceslas Square Terraces What I said at the time: Superb location, right on Wenceslas square. Amazing apartment for 4 of us. Reception staff was very welcoming. Very comfortable sofas and beds. Nice shared balcony too. Hard to find when we first arrived - had to ask around to find it. Perhaps mention which shop it is above as we walked past first time. Great apartment made up for it though. Would we stay there again: Yes
Where we stayed (Berlin): Novotel Suites Berlin City Potsdamer Platz What I said at the time: Nice friendly chap at Reception. Good wifi. Good location with Checkpoint Charlie just round the corner. Bit of a squeeze in the room with 2 adults and 2 teenage children. 4th bed was only just acceptable. Would we stay there again: Yes
Where we stayed (Amsterdam): Old City Amsterdam Bed & Breakfast What I said at the time: Plenty of space but you need to know what you are getting - would not recommend location for those with young children. Wifi good and location excellent. Ideal for young adults - perhaps not for those with children. Steep stairs and does not feel that secure with the second entrance stairs also in the apartment. Would we stay there again: No
Where we stayed (Paris): Novotel Paris Centre Tour Eiffel What I said at the time: Wifi was good. Location was pretty good. Long wait at check in - at least 30 mins, if not 45. Eventually given room on 4th floor with zero view - couldn't get any lower than that. Booked for 2 adults and 2 children, but room was not suitable (sofa bed only large enough for 1 person). Given 2 bath towels only, but no more available when I asked for extra. TV system was farcical - could not navigate through the channels properly. Elevators were usually full when we left rooms during breakfast time. Amenities poor - 2 paper cups provided for 4 people. Would we stay there again: No