Europe Backpacking - April to June 2003

I believe that every young person should do a major trip before they get bogged down by school, jobs and life in general. My husband and I did this 7 week backpacking trip around Europe one year out of high school. He has family in Southern Germany so that is where the trip began. We flew into Frankfurt, visited family and adjusted for about a week before setting off on our own! We had two month Eurail passes which allowed us lots of flexibility, although I did have the general itinerary planned out so that we wouldn't run out of time. We planned to stay in hostels, and because we were travelling in the spring managed to do fine without making many reservations.

The first country we explored was Switzerland, stopping in Zurich and Lucerne. This country is as beautiful and mountainous as you expect. This picture is a monument that we saw in Lucerne. Not everyone knows this, but Switzerland is one of the only European Union countries that doesn't use the Euro. They still use their Swiss Francs which is quite an expensive currency. In Zurich we visited the Lindt Chocolate Factory, and in Lucerne we saw the Wooden Chapel Bridge.
Next country we arrived in was Italy. Coming from the north we stopped in Genoa, Pisa and headed south to Rome. This city is full of so much history. Did you know that there are only 2 subway lines in Rome because it takes too long to sort through the historical artifacts that they find when digging beneath the city. The Colosseum (picture bottom-right) does not dissapoint. Nor do the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Forum, Circus Maximus or Vatican City. We managed to be in the Vatican on a Wednesday when the Pope gives his weekly blessing. There were so many people, and they read the blessing in many different languages. After this we went into St. Peter's Basilica to see just how enormous it is, and then we climbed up the dome to get the picture you see to the top-right. The Sistine Chapel was next in the Vatican Museum and it was almost funny how many people/tour groups managed to pack into that small room.

After Rome we headed North again to Florence. This is the home of many great museums. We visited the Accademia which houses Michelangelo's David. I was surprised at how tall the statue is, it was almost two stories tall! We also saw the Duomo, another church with a dome that we climbed up for the view. Across the river there is also a great little park called Piazzale Michelangelo which gives you a great view over the city.

Next stop was Venice, which after the heat in Rome and Florence (it got up to the high 30's) was a breath of fresh air with it's cool sea breezes. This truly is a beautiful city with many sights to see. We took the elevator up the Bell Tower in Piazza San Marco, saw the Doge's Palace, the Rialto Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs and took a Vaporetto to the nearby islands of Murano (known for blown glass) and Burano (known for lace). Unfortunately our backpackers budget did not allow for a gondola ride.

Onwards we went north to Vienna in Austria, learning about the history of the Hofburg Palace, seeing the modern art museum and building of KunstHausWien, and the Stephansdom church. Then, further into the land of Mozart and the Sound of Music we went to Salzburg. At the time Salzburg and Vancouver were both still in the running for the 2010 Olympics. I traded a Vancouver 2010 pin for a Salzburg 2010 pin, which must now be quite a collector's item! Salzburg is a charming town, very easy to walk around. The main sight was the Hohensalzburg Fortress which is up on a hill looking over the city. There is a funicular if you don't wish to hike up.

Back into Germany we headed to the small town of Fussen which is the gateway to see the Neuschwanstein Castle. This castle was the inspiration for Disney's castle, worth the trip to see. Next we headed to Munich and had a blast. A bike tour was a great way to see a lot of the points of interest, and we had fun at the Hofbrauhaus with the people we met. The Hofbrauhaus is the beer hall that you picture in your head, with beer wenches carrying many one-litre mugs of beer all at once, pretzels, bratwurst and sauerkraut, and polka music playing. Some of the other sights we saw were the Marienplatz, BMW Museum, Olympic Park, and the nearby nazi era concentration camp Dachau.

An overnight train brought us to Berlin. This is an amazing city that still shows scars of the war in it's buildings, you can see many bullet holes and damage. Some of the many sights we saw here were the Berlin Zoo, Potsdam, Reichstag, Brandenburg gates, a piece of the Berlin Wall, and Checkpoint Charlie.

Next up was Amsterdam. Here we saw the Anne Frank House, did a bike tour to see a windmill and cheese and clog factory, went to the Heineken Experience and saw the Red light district. South to Brussels, we saw the Mannekin Pis and the EU headquarters.

Paris was a highlight of our trip, it truly is a beautiful city. We found it very easy to get around on the Metro. Over the course of a few days we visited the Louvre twice, saw and went up Notre Dame, saw and went up the Arc de Triomphe, walked down the Champs d'elysee, tried to see the Catacombs three times (never did get in), did a bike tour to Versailles, a walking tour through Paris and went up the Eiffel Tower twice. Once during the day, and we walked up over 700 steps to the second floor. The second time we rode the elevator up at night, and at the top my husband proposed to me! I may be biased, but I loved Paris.

We took the Chunnel high speed train to London, which was sort of a weird experience. You leave the city into countryside, then go down into a tunnel for about 20 minutes of pure darkness outside the train, then come back out into countryside and back into city. For some reason this wasn't quite what I expected. London was fabulous, it was nice to be back in an english speaking country even if they were still a bit hard to understand. In London we stayed with two different families that we had connections to. The first was on the outskirts of London. On our first day we were in their backyard and happened to see the Concorde fly overhead, it turned out to be the last flight ever. This family also took us to their country club, which was very cool to see. The second place we stayed was in central London and was the perfect place to explore from. The Underground was the easiest way to get around. We saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey (couldn't go in though, it was the Queen's bicentennial celebration), Hyde Park, National Gallery, Harrods, went on the London Eye, through the Tower of London and saw the Crown Jewels, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard and even saw the Queen cutting the ribbon at a new plaque.

This was a trip of a lifetime! I'll probably never get 7 weeks all at once to travel again until I'm retired, so i'm very glad we did this trip. We saw most of the highlights of Europe and had so many fun experiences with people we met along the way.

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