Europe 2001

Monday 28 May, 5.00am - Wake up call! After a quick shower and packing of bags, we headed downstairs to meet our tour guide, Brad. We left a cool, damp London for what was to be a brief but fascinating overview of Europe. Within the next week, we would pass through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France...

The first day's travel took us from London to Amsterdam - a long days coach trip, incorporating a ferry crossing from Dover to Calais.

Amsterdam: 28 May 2001

Dam square, Amsterdam
Having got the day's travelling out of the way, we arrived in Amsterdam at about 5.00pm and were given a few hours to wander around the city. We found a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with its own unique style of architecture. A canal cruise highlighted many of the sites - perhaps for Peter, the highlight was that the cruise started opposite the Heineken brewery, who sponsored beers on the cruise! The cruise was followed by an informative stroll through the famous red lights of the sailors quarter!

Germany: 29 May 2001

Linda outside Koln Cathedral
After an early departure from Amsterdam, our lunch stop in Germany was in Koln where were able to view the impressive cathedral. It certainly dominates the surrounding skyline, and is an excellent example of Gothic architecture. It also served as a landmark for Allied planes during World War II, and while much of the city was bombed, the prominent spires protected this magnificent building.
A cruise on the Rhine!
The highlight of our afternoon was a short cruise along the Rhine, while sipping (appropriately!) a Rhine Riesling wine. The history of the castles on the hills above the Rhine is fascinating, and the setting was indeed picturesque. Our cruise ended at the famous Loreley Rock - fortunately by design and not accident! Legend has it that a fair maiden used to sit high up on the rock. Navigators on passing ships were transfixed by the maiden, whilst not paying sufficient attention to the treaterous waters through which they were passing... hence the many ship wrecks on this stretch of river!

We were then whisked off to the quiet German village of Benheim for supper and a good nights sleep.

Austria: 30 May 2001

Linda in front of "mad King Ludwig's" castleView of the Austrian Alps from Fern Pass
En route to Austria, we had a few hours to visit the castle of Neuschwanstein. This castle was built by "mad" King Ludwig of Bavaria who far more concerned with building fantasy castles than the affairs of state. The result was a romantic castle in a fairytale setting, which inspired the master of fairytales, Walt Disney.

Our destination in Austria was Innsbruck, and to get there we travelled over the Fern Pass. The pass offered spectacular views of the Austrian Alps - as pictured above. After having some time to explore Innsbruck, we were taken to our hotel in an Alpine village just above Innsbruck.

Our hotel in Austria... Sunset over the Austrian Alps

Switzerland: 31 May 2001

Unfortunately the run of good weather that we had enjoyed so far came to an end in Switzerland. We arrived at Lake Luzern only to find that the cable cars were closed due to storms and misty conditions, and the scheduled cruise on the lake was not worthwhile in these conditions. Nevertheless, we thoroughly enjoyed browsing through the town of Luzern, taking in the now restored wooden bridge, the shops and the wonderful setting. Unfortunately for Linda, the bank balance only allowed for window shopping!
The restored wooden bridgeLinda and Peter, with the water tower in the background
A week before we left for Europe, we had discovered that our friends Andy and Su now live in Luzern. We met up with them, and they very kindly showed us some views of the lake that we would not have otherwise seen. We were then treated to an excellent meal at a restuarant in town. It was great to catch up with good friends in their home town! We were surprised to discover that the lake was a lot warmer than expected, and that Andy frequently goes swimming there.
View across the lakeDinner with Andy & Su!

France - Paris: 1 & 2 June 2001

After a long day's travel through Switzerland and France, we arrived in Paris. Along the way, we came to appreciate just how good our tour guide Brad was. He was very well read, and could relate the history along with the social, economic and policitical background of countries in an interesting and informed manner. This certainly added perspective to each place we visited, which was particularly important in view of the "introductory" nature of the tour.

Our first afternoon in Paris was spent taking in the splendour of the Montmartre. The Le Sacre-Coeur Basilica features an awe inspiring image of the crucified Christ on its ceiling. The surrounding streets have their own charm - a square filled with artists waiting to paint, sketch or cut out your portrait, restuarants and shops.

Verna and Linda stand on the steps of the basillica at Mont Martre (you can see them if you look carefully!)Linda, Peter and Verna on the second level of the Eiffel tower
We arrived at the Eiffel tower at sunset (+- 9.00pm), and could not have asked for a better time to travel up the tower. The view of Paris at sunset was breathtaking. We also had a treat on the way up, as the hourly "lighting" of the tower occured while we were on the way up. This is a carry over from the Millennium celebrations - the tower is lit up with flashing lights on the hour during the night. After having admired the view from the second level, we proceeded up to the top level (by lift!), and were awestruck by the height of the tower!

Our bus then took us on a tour of the "Paris Illumunations". We, along with Deon and Verna, were fortunate to have seats right at the front of the bus, and had an awesome view of all the famous sites of Paris at night - including the Opera House, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, the Louvre, Moulin Rouge... We found out later why the seats at the front of the bus were so conveniently vacant - if you have travelled through the roundabout at Arc de Triomphe you will know what we are talking about... if not, try it some time!

At 11.00pm we had a different view of the Eiffel Tower from the ground. Having arrived on the hour, we were once again treated to the lighting of the sparkling lights on the tower - a truly beautiful site!

Next morning was a slightly later than usual start (not having to travel). We were treated to a full days sightseeing, including Notre Dame cathedral with its famous flying buttresses.

Linda and Peter at Eiffel TowerVerna, Deon and Linda outside restuarant
Later in the day, we had a guided tour of the Palace of Versailles. We marvelled at the oppulance of the palace, although it did also place in context the resentment leading up to the French revolution.
Palace of VersaillesPalace of Versailles
We rounded the evening off with a pleasant meal with Deon and Verna at a restuarant near our hotel.

And that was Europe! Admittedly it was a very brief introduction, but we felt it was certainly a great way to get a feel for the countries in Europe. The more thorough visits to these and other countries and cities can follow in the fulness of time....

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