Thursday, 3 October 2013


Our European holiday is nearly done.  It's time to look back on the last 15 weeks in which we have visited close to 50 towns and cities.  Our trip has been, as Mark Twain might have said, a 'grand tour' of Europe.  

After three nights in Dubai, we started our European holiday in Wales, visiting family and friends.  We then toured France, Monaco, Spain, Italy, Vatican City, Greece, Turkey, the Greek Islands, back to Italy, then the four German-speaking countries, followed by the Netherlands and Belgium.  From the time we left Aberystwyth in Wales on 6 July until we arrived in Brussels a couple of days ago, we had travelled nearly nine and a half thousand miles or over 15,000 kilometres.  

During this time, we've had many highlights.  We will never forget the Festival of San Fermin at Pamplona, with the running of the bulls.  The whole experience was just mind blowing.  Touring the ancient ruins of Pompeii and Ephesus as well as ruins in Rome and Athens were big moments along the way.  We toured an ancestor's castle in Switzerland, visited Hitler's Eagle's Nest in Germany, and saw Ann Frank's secret annexe in Amsterdam.  We saw the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo in the Louvre, and the Statue of David in Florence.  And we won some money at the casino at Monte Carlo.

Along the way, many other great moments came along.  I climbed the world's tallest building in Dubai, the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, and an active volcano on the Greek Island of Santorini.  We rode a camel in Dubai, a donkey on Santorini, bikes along the Rhine, and a gondola in Venice.  We were delighted to see the Pope speaking to the crowd above St Peters Square, and to see the Heads of State of all four German-speaking countries in an Austrian street.  We saw the spot in Rome where Julius Caesar was cremated in 44BC.  At Ephesus, we followed in the footsteps of Cleopatra, St John the Baptist and Paul the Apostle.  And near Ephesus, we saw the very house that is accepted as the house in which Mary, mother of Jesus, lived and died.  I was especially impressed by this.  Of all the world's teeming millions of Christians, how many can say they've been to Mary's house?

Of course, catching up with old friends and family has been a big highlight.  They know who they are.  And our reunion with our Sydney friends Eli and Bruce in Athens after 15 years was an unexpected bonus.

There have also been lowlights.  Along the way, I've been stung by a wasp, kicked by a donkey, had a near collision with a donkey, and had four head colds.  Jean hasn't been a casualty but has had a couple of colds too.  We had unbearable heat briefly in Dubai, mild weather in the UK, unrelenting heat for six weeks in the Mediterranean, and regular rain in Central Europe.  

On the Continent, we travelled mostly by train.  Within the Greek Islands, we travelled by ferry.  And we took six flights within Europe.  We've toured countless churches, cathedrals, museums and other sites, taking 14 guided tours.

What have been our favourite places?  We both really liked Rome, Venice, Vienna, Santorini, the Italian island of Capri, and Amsterdam.  Jean really liked Athens and Sorrento too.  I thought Biarritz in France was a great little spot.  And we both liked Monaco.  The place we liked the least was Naples.  We hated it.  Numerous sources told us the mafia have attempted to take over the contract for the rubbish collection but have failed.  They now stand over the rubbish collectors who barely seem to collect.  Naples is a shameful mess.

But on balance, our grand tour of Europe has been grand indeed.

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