Across Europe in 30 Days
This page is to update all of our friends and family on our trip across Europe without sending 25 emails and being the annoying Facebooker who overloads your news feed.
One other thing…our phones will be unavailable – but we will be using Skype. If you don’t have a Skype account, GET ONE! It is free to signup and free to call another Skype user – even internationally. We will be using my Skype username (jlawson53).
June 13: Flight from SFO – Paris...we made it to SFO thanks to some early morning help to BART from Janet and Justin…up at midnight to start the time shift and now just waiting for our flight to Big D(allas) then for our connection to Paris. Yer was able to talk the airline into sitting us together (my poor planning…or was it excellent planning! ) next stop Paris!
June 14-17: Paris, France We made it to Paris! It was a long eventful travel day…I will say even longer than my Iceland trip. Yer and I were delayed leaving SFO and made it to Dallas in time to make a quick run over to the connecting international flight…only to sit on the Tarmac for 1.5 hours in muggy Texas heat because of mechanical issues (and no AC running on the plane). Getting on the right trains was an adventure but we made it! We are all settled in Paris and are off to start wandering…
Day 1 in Paris: Our hotel is this beautiful multilevel building in the heart of Paris, with these gorgeous planter boxes and decorations I want to bring home. See below.
While our room does not have one of these windows facing the street, it is a unique two level room with a large bathroom on the first floor and with the sleeping corridors on the second floor. For lunch we walked to a cafe near by and had two “uh-mazing” cheese pizzas that were quite large and reasonably priced. Wish some of you guys were here to share it with us.
Later, on our way to the Notre Dame Cathedral, we stopped at the Point de Arts (the famous bridge where people lock locks onto the bridge to “lock” their love forever). Needless to say, we did not fall for this tourist trap and instead Jared said some very romantic words to me and we locked our love with a kiss instead (at least I think we kissed). Here is one of the many touristy pictures I requested Jared to take today at the Point de Arts bridge.
Notre Dame was extremely crowded as expected so we did not go inside. We hope go back early in the morning to see the gargoyles though. In any case, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to show off Jared’s newest accessory. Finally, we ended the day with Jared taking more touristy pictures of me, relaxing at the Jardin de Tuilleries (huge garden in front of the Louvre), and planning some evening photography shots.
Day 2 in Paris: Today was definitely an adventure off the beaten path. We were able to get lost at 8 am through the St. Germain area looking for a cafe for at least 30 minutes when finally wandered into a tucked away beautiful area. We sat down and enjoyed a cafe latte while we watched as locals rode through on scooters and bicycles. Then we were off to find a camera part Jared needed in a store across town. After about 45 minutes of walking in the wrong direction we finally turned around and began walking back towards a local flea market filled with amazing treasures, but all too big to bring home. When we finally found the camera store, it was strike 2 on the camera part. Although not having the part Jared needed may have been due to a language barrier, surprisingly Paris has very few decent camera stores. Paris can be expensive but we planned ahead today and grabbed some fresh bread, salami and cheese (best cheese I’ve ever had) for €6 – the bread was delicious, no wonder you see all of the locals always with a fresh loaf of bread!
Also surprising was how as soon as you get out of the touristy area the amount of English spoken significantly drops. We did find a great shopping mall and were able to head over to the Louvre only to learn our pre-purchased online tickets weren’t good and the Louvre had already closed for the day. Strike 3!
The day wasn’t all bad as we had researched a great place to eat and found the best meal yet in Paris…a cute little place where the menu is written on a chalkboard and with a little help in broken English we had wine, duck , veal and dessert for around €50 ($70).
After I had quick powernap we headed out to catch the perfect light at the Louvre. Jared was looking for his planned Louvre shot and with some patience for the wind to stop and the light to get just right – I think he got it. I caught an action photo of Jared waiting, the crazy thing is this is at 11:00 pm! The love really came out into the air around 11:30 pm and Jared snuck a quick picture of one of the couples taking couple pictures. Paris at night is the best!
Day 3 in Paris: Because our attempt to visit the Louvre yesterday was unsuccessful, we woke up this morning with a mission: Breakfast and coffee at 8am, (which is actually difficult to accomplish in Europe since most places do not open until 9) then go over to the Louvre as it opens, metro over to a neighborhood market across town and grab lunch and then take pictures at the Eiffel Tower in the evening. Needless to say, mission accomplished.
The next part of our morning was spent at a market called Marche d’Alegre. We used the Metro (as we are now Metro experts) and stopped at one of the brightest spots we have seen yet. All the vendors at the market welcome you to purchase their produce by yelling out prices and calling you over. It is loud and chaotic but fun…picture 1000 local Parisians crammed into an 8 foot wide walkway buying goods while the vendors yell back and forth. The market was filled with the most fresh and colorful fruit and vegetables and most of the people here were locals which made the experience even better.
Later in the evening we popped into a local restaurant where the food (lamb and ribs) ended up being just OK… then it was back on the Metro to enjoy sunset at the Eiffel Tower…which I LOVED! There were tons of people picnicking and drinking wine…we relaxed for a while then off to take some night pictures! Back at the hotel at midnight and now its time to pack up and get ready to move on from Paris tomorrow morning.
Day 4: Paris to Strasbourg: To our surprise we woke up from muggy heat at midnight to rain! We left to the train station through POURING RAIN. Just picture Jared and I running down the Paris streets dragging our luggage through a downpour WITH lightning and thunder. All Jared could say was he wished he was able to take photos of the lightning!
Getting to Strasbourg was our biggest adventure yet. The train ride was fine, but getting into Strasbourg was freakin HOT! Again, Jared and I dragged our suitcases across Strasbourg where Jared promised it wasn’t far – it was. We asked a French guy for help – to which he spoke zero English but pointed us in the vague direction. We took a tram then a bus and Jared said there would be a taxi at the end of the line to take us to pick up our car – but there was no taxis at the end of the line. There was nothing. We were in the middle of nowhere and it was 98 degrees outside.
Jared said “worst case scenario” we walk 1.5 miles the rest of the way. WALK? IN THE ROAD? No way. Jared had to use his phone ($1/minute) and call the place where the guy spoke little English – he hangs up the phone and says, “I think 10 minutes and he will be here.” When I asked if he told the guy where we were Jared said, “I tried, but he kept interrupting me and said 10 minutes and then hung up”. Low and behold, 10 minutes on the dot this guy comes flying up in his Europe van and gathers us up and flies back to this gas station in the middle of nowhere where there is a brand new car waiting. (Not a brand new Porsche, but still a brand new car with 8 total kilometers on the engine). Signing over the car to us literally took less than two minutes – a few quick French instructions “look here – Start. Stop. Ok?” “Key. Ok?” “In case of accident, but NO accident, Ok?” “Ok there you go. Au revoir!”
Headed to the hotel we drove around trying to find something close to park and found a garage that looked like it wouldn’t be far – BOY WERE WE WRONG. We walked in circles through the confusing streets, with extremely hot weather – so hot that all of a sudden Jared’s suitcase stopped and he said, “My freaking suitcase melted!” With the hot pavement and plastic wheels his suitcase wheel literally melted! Finally got to the hotel and no AC. Jared is convinced Europeans hate ice, AC and pools – because we can’t find any of the three. Seriously we haven’t seen ice since we have been here.
Finally we checked in (took cold showers to cool off) and off into the heart of Strasbourg. Strasbourg is an amazingly cute town. What a find! I love this town…we went into the cathedral which was huge and beautiful – then wandered through the old streets that are narrow and winding…had dinner and crepes – then Jared had the hotel repark the car for us and then our power nap turned into full on bedtime as we woke up in the middle of the night to more thunder and lightning. And tomorrow we are headed to Colmar!
Day 5: Colmar, France
We got up early in Strasbourg to move towns and after asking the bellhop where they parked our car he said, “I don’t know, probably not far”…we did a quick search and found it a block away. Then piled up in the car (which I can say I want to keep because this thing gets 60 mpg) – and off to Colmar. Only an hour away Colmar is even more of an amazing little town. Every window has flowers and shutters, there are hardly any tourists, the local shops are all so friendly and don’t make you feel like a tourist. I can honestly say Colmar has had the best customer service and has impressed me even more than Paris.
In Colmar we found the best coffee we have had yet, and the town is just overall very clean. We found a local market where we bought fresh bread, salami (interesting to try and tell the person how much you want sliced when she didn’t speak any English and we don’t speak French), and fresh cheese for lunch later. Then it was time for a boat ride through the canals from a local shop (they called themselves “Petite Venice”). The boat ride was so fun…and WAY cheaper and less touristy than Venice. It was only 12 euros (compared to 50 euros in Venice) and we got a good tour of the colored buildings of Colmar. After the boat ride we wandered the town and found good shopping for half the price of other towns nearby.
Our hotel is actually about 10 minutes outside of Colmar in Turckheim – which turned out to be a miniature tucked away village similar to Colmar. There aren’t a lot of food options and the language was a bit tough, and Jared found out the hard way…ordering what he thought was beef – ended up being raw beef (yes totally raw) mixed with onions and pickles. He did eat most of it but I think he learned his lesson on that one. Also the waiter couldn’t understand “tap water” and we were served the large bottled water for 4 euro. Ugh. Oh well…Jared felt he got some good night photos and tomorrow the meals will get even more pricey and interesting as we prep for a long car ride to Interlaken, Switzerland.
Day 6: Colmar, France to Interlaken, Switzerland
We got up early this morning to get on the road to tour through Switzerland… but I am disappointed as we are 0-2 on getting our passports stamped as we enter countries! Today turned out to be a long driving day as we made a few side trips for Jared to hit some planned photos. The first stop was the hunt for a mysterious pier on a small lake – which we found after the GPS took us down a sketchy dirt road I said could have been the scene for a Switzerland serial killer movie.
Driving through France’s countryside and through Switzerland is absolutely stunning. And the more time we spend outside of towns/villages/cities the easier the driving is. We did find our way through one small village with streets extremely narrow between rock walls but made it out without scraping the car. I am amazed at how many castles there are – so many you begin to take them for granted…just all along the highway. On way back from our first castle in Montreux, I found some Swiss Coke bottles to give us new European names to fit in better.
We made it to Interlaken – found our hotel and a dinner spot (Mexican food where the burrito was $28!) – everything in Switzerland is about 3x as expensive as normal. After dinner we drove on one the scariest road I have ever been on – well paved, but very narrow and winding along cliffs and through one lane tunnels. Jared said it takes #4 on his list behind (#1/#2 tie with Montana and Yellowstone snowy roads, #3: Iceland dirt road). The end was worth it for a sunset with a castle sitting right on the water – too pretty to even describe. And the drive back wasn’t as bad because it was dark so I couldn’t see the cliffs or rock walls. Now we settle into Interlaken for 3 nights before taking the train to Zermatt.
Day 7: Interlaken, Switzerland
Our day began with the best breakfast yet – ironically it was included at the Mexican restaurant below our hotel. Jared finally got a full cup of coffee and it was like crack cocaine to him. We actually slept in this morning – and then drove up to a nearby village Lauterbrunnen, which is located just below Mürren. Both are tiny villages in the Swiss mountains. We took the gondola up the mountain to Grütschalp, then used the alpine train to take us up to Murren. These two rides took around 30 minutes and we still weren’t even close to the highest point you can go. They offer other rides even higher up (to where they are advertising a grand opening vista where James Bond was filmed) but we wanted pictures along the hike back down which ended up being a 6 km hike with a STEEP descent.
The hike down started great – after we waited for the rain to pass we headed down. Halfway down the storm brewing over the Alps came in on us pretty quick and it went from sunny and 70 degrees to rain and thunder. We didn’t see any lightning but heard PLENTY of nearby thunder. It got a bit nerve-wracking with Jared carrying a metal tripod and so much thunder in the area at such high elevations – including getting lost on the trail (not as well marked as you may think) and after jogging in the pouring rain, climbing under an active electric fence, and our leg muscles turning to jello we reconnected with the trail and made it safely back to Interlaken. I will say we only laughed about it AFTER making it to the car and back down to a late lunch at McDonalds for a nice easy $30 Big Mac and chicken nuggets.
The views on the hike were truly breathtaking – Interlaken is an excellent jumping off point for hiking – take the waterfalls of Yosemite and place them at the base of the Swiss Alps and that is what you get. Highly recommended! After some much needed rest we hit the road out for a night time photo shoot but a storm came through and we were rushed without enough time to really get any keepers…tomorrow up early to try and beat the weather for some good alps photos.
Day 8: Interlaken, Switzerland – by Jared
Interlaken is an interesting town – a major tourist hub where the locals speak German, and French, and English – and actually very good English at that, and the visitors are from everywhere around the world – surprisingly a large amount are from Pakistan. We have hit a bit of bad luck with weather – the storms passing through blocked out any view of the alps so we cancelled our hike up to the alpine lakes. It became a rest day because we are extremely sore from yesterday’s hike…I did a little research and found the hike we did started at 5,361 feet elevation and the town we ended at was at 2,312 feet elevation! (3.6 miles in length). Yer finally broke down and needed Thai food which turned out great.
Tonight we drove from Interlaken to Luzern for views of Luzern at night. Luzern ended up as a beautiful city – a mix of SF, New York, and historical Europe. The map didn’t seem too difficult, only showed it as 68 km and 1 hour drive time…that is if you drive like a Swiss. I didn’t realize the only way to get there was over the Brunig Pass – which is a well known scenic pass. The views were great – but being passed on blind corners was insane. To top it off a storm came in on us while I was trying to get my photo and we had to drive BACK over to Interlaken through the storm, being passed, and through the winding road. I think I was able to redo Yer’s #1 on her scariest road ranking. Wait til she sees the roads over the next few days…
Day 9: The Road to Zermatt, Switzerland – by Jared
Yer and I were on the road again – today driving 95 miles to a small town Tasch in Switzerland to be able to park and take the train into Zermatt. Zermatt is a car-free town, famous for the best views of the Matterhorn. The drive getting there took a bit of patience, skill and focus. We passed over a mountain pass that makes the Grape Vine look like child’s play. Apparently this is another famous mountain pass that Europeans love to travel to just to drive their motorcycles and fast cars through the switchbacks. I had my RPM’s pumping in our little Euro-car to keep up and we made it safely into Tasch, then a quick train ride up the mountain to settle into Zermatt.
We had an excellent dinner (Yer feels is the best in Europe so far) at a restaurant shaped like a boat – then we wandered the uber-expensive town (seriously $160 for a t-shirt), more Rolex stores, and we even managed to squeeze in a short hike to photograph a special scene for Brian and Emily. Emily you can book your tickets now to Zermatt and I will send you the GPS coordinates to find these guys. Tomorrow I hope the weather cooperates further to give us a chance to photograph the Matterhorn before making the move towards Austria.
Day 10: Zermatt, Switzerland – by Yer
Today was a low key day. We had planned to take the cable cars up to a lake right below the Matterhorn and hike back, but because of the wind and the low clouds we figured it would not make a great picture and opted for an 8 km (4.8 miles) round trip hike that included a beautiful view of a meadow with the Matterhorn in the background.
We had dinner at a bar called “The Bubble,” (named after cable cars that are shaped like a bubble). The burgers were good but the service was the best we’ve had yet. Pocket (our waiter), was a rock climber and ski enthusiast who told us about their sister bar where we could play kegel (Swiss bowling – like on the Amazing Race). We could not pass up a local experience so we went back later and played a few rounds. Kegel is very similar to bowling but with a few major differences. Not only are the pins set up differently but to get the maximum points you must knock down all the pins leaving only the middle pin up called a “crown.” Needless too say, neither one us were very good (despite our average bowling skills) however Jared did manage to get one “crown”.
Day 11: Drive to Scoul, Switzerland – by Yer
Today, Jared and I drove six hours through rain, snow, and fog on the narrowest, curviest, and steepest roads we’ve ever experienced (7,998 feet elevation). No words can explain our stress level on this drive as we braced ourselves before every steep and wet hairpin turn, and hoped that another tour bus would not be making the same turn, at the same time, in the opposite direction. One stretch of road narrowed to one lane with blind corners – if you met someone coming the other way the only option was to go in reverse to the nearest turnout. Despite our stressful experience, these passes are a motorcyclists and car racer’s dream.
Tonight we are staying at a small town called Scoul in Switzerland where the people speak Rumantsch, a mix of Italian (from the Romans) and German. The restaurant we ate at did not have an English menu nor did anyone speak English so it was quite challenging. In the end, we enjoyed our entrees and tipped the waitress for trying her best to recommend by pointing and her patience. We are now off to find a nearby castle for some evening photos – and then off to Innsbruck, Austria tomorrow.
Day 12: Innsbruck, Austria by Jared
We took the easy drive from Scuol into Innsbruck today– it went quick after crossing the border into Austria (another disappointment for Yer without a stamp on her passport). We cruised into Innsbruck early enough to drive to Stans, Austria to hike the Wolfsklamm Gorge. It was a perfect day to hike the gorge because the Tirol mountains were covered with clouds as we continue to get constant rain. The gorge was beautiful as you slowly walk the wood bridge that eventually takes you all the way to the top. It is a bit rickety as the wood is quite old and soft in places, but nonetheless I got some beautiful pictures from the gorge. The bridges are only wide enough for one person at a time – definitely worth the hike.
Finally after 12 days we needed to do laundry. We walked down to a local laundromat where surprise the laundry soap is free in Austria…who knew? As we walked up to the laundromat we noticed two police officers harassing a local kid (probably 20-22 years old)…while waiting for laundry the same kid and a few of his friends continued hanging out in the laundromat – where one of the sketchy barefooted friends was also doing what looked like all of the clothes he owned, since later he went ahead and changed into everything he was washing (yes in the open in front of Yer). As the arguments with the police went on for several minutes the barefooted friend reaches into his crotch – pulls out a baggie of who knows what and hands it to his friend who stuffs the baggy into his ass crack. Yep, unless they are playing some kind of Austrian game I’m not used to – I gave Yer the look and we knew it was time to wrap up the laundry. After laundry we walked down to Old Town (carrying our clean laundry in bags) to the Austrian version of a taco truck (a sausage truck! Seriously!) and had the best local sausage you could imagine. Don’t worry – the truck came highly recommended from our hotel.
Day 13: Innsbruck, Austria by Jared
It was an early morning and time to experience the Autobahn as we drove south into Italy for the day to avoid the nasty weather. The Autobahn is pretty crazy as drivers truly do fly – there is a speed limit but it doesn’t seem like they pay much attention to it and we haven’t seen a highway patrol yet! The only bad thing about the Autobahn was the freaking tolls! 11.50 euro going there – then another 11.5o euro to come back (you have pay tolls in both directions)! That equates to about $30 in tolls for a 2 hour drive!
Our drive was to Northern Italy to see Lake Braies, which was absolutely beautiful and reminded us a lot of Lake Moraine in Canada. On the way back we caught some views of the Dolomite mountains but could not manage to capture a good picture.
Back in Innsbruck we wandered the old historic part of town for some shopping – where I found myself another nice fitted European style bathing suit – watch out ladies! Thanks to my brother’s recommendation we tried Kebop – excellent meat and overall meal, then wandered around old Innsbruck before heading back to the sausage truck to try even more sausage. Finally, Austria wouldn’t be complete without hitting a local bar for some Austrian “bier” – which was definitely everything it was hyped up to be. Even Yer liked her “bier” and drank almost all of it.
Day 14: Salzburg, Austria by Jared -
Salzburg was an easy drive from Innsbruck – I sought out a local hike up to a local’s favorite waterfall nearby for a quick hike before lunch. The hike wasn’t bad – but my fault for ignoring the signs warning us not to stray off the trail – which we did. Damn! I paid the price by slipping on a rock and landing right on my ass next to the river. I felt like Billy Zane in Sniper and held my camera gear up as I fell, at least no equipment was damaged, but DAMN that hurt. That picture is going to be expensive…my butt is definitely bruised. Beware of the green rocks!
Yer and I both love Salzburg…our hotel upgraded us to the “executive suite” – and customer service was top notch. The hotel is right in middle of Old Town (just a pain to find parking) and we were able to walk out the front door right into the maze of small alleys filled with shopping, restaurants, and unique shops. Throw in tons of Mozart stuff (since he was born here) and it is a neat city to wander.
Later in the evening we hit a bump with the language barrier as the shrimp we ordered we thought was 2.10 euro per kilo ended up being 2.10 euro for EACH shrimp! Talk about a jaw dropper when you figure that is almost $3 per shrimp and we found out AFTER ordering! After dinner it was off for another hike – this time up to the fortress overlooking the town so I could catch some evening photos overlooking Salzburg – after about a million steps it ended up being a colorless night but back to the hotel to rest up.
Day 15: Salzburg, Austria – by Jared
Today we continued our wandering of Salzburg by hitting a café in the morning, some window browsing before lunch – then off to find the elusive mill south of Salzburg. I call it the elusive mill because it is so widely talked about – yet we could not find accurate directions or an accurate trailhead to find it. We had the general town to start with – which led us nowhere except a teenager working at the gas station who sent us in the wrong direction. Finally I succumbed to Yer’s plea to stop at the tourist information center we drove past, which for the record I hate tourist stations with a passion. Nonetheless the girl pointed us in the right direction – DAMN! A few miles later and we found the mill – complete with the nice old Austrian man in his 80’s who will kindly turn on the mill for you if you ask and even had some helpful tips to make sure I got the best possible photo.
After some rest we headed over to a different part of old town to find a jazz festival. It was quite entertaining watching all of these Austrians listen to 1920’s American jazz trying to learn how to swing dance in German. Finally a hike up the mountain to catch the overlook at sunset. On the way down Yer had her first experience with fireflies!
Day 16: Gosau, Austria – by Jared
We are almost at the halfway point…today was a slower travel day giving us some much needed R&R. We started the morning with the same café we found yesterday that had the best coffee we have found in Austria – we walked to the famous Salzburg gardens where one scene from Sound of Music was filmed – Yer loved the flowers everywhere and I got a good smile out of seeing THREE wedding couples taking photos at 9:30 am all in the same spot! A quick 45 minute drive over to check in at our hotel which is a small bed and breakfast in the country and only 15 minutes from Halstatt, Austria where we walked the town (required since driving here is not allowed) and had excellent pizza – thanks again TripAdvisor for the reviews – score once again. We are rained out once again so an early night to get ready for the drive to Venice tomorrow.
Because this is getting a LITTLE LONG, I have created a second page that will be for just Italy and Croatia. The password will still be the same (“jaredyer”). Here is the link:
June 30-July 2: Venice, Italy July 2-4: Florence, Italy July 5-7: Cinque Terre, Italy July 7-8: Siena, Italy July 8-10: Perugia, Italy July 11-14: Rome, Italy July 14-19: Dubrovnik, Croatia July 19-20: Paris, France July 20: Flight from Paris to SFO