Articles tagged with: Europe

Paris, the Start of Our European Vacation

European Vacation to France, Italy, and Spain

In 2008, my wife Mary, three daughters, and I went on a Mediterranean cruise, our first trip to Europe. At the time, the cruise made sense for us. Meals, lodging, and many language issues were taken care of for us. We’d sign up for a tour, arrive in port, and follow around a guide holding up a flag. What could be easier? It was a wonderful, but a bit touristy trip, and we vowed to visit Europe again.

We finally got around to it in May, 2019. Thank goodness we did it before start of the pandemic in 2020. For our second time to Europe, Mary and I didn’t want to do it like the first. We decided to so it in a more challenging way, no cruises, packages, or tours, just us having to find our next meal and how to get to our next destination. We wanted to immerse ourselves in the experience and have to communicate along the way, even though we knew almost no French, Italian, or Spanish.

On our 18 day trip, we covered a lot, visiting Paris, Venice, Matera, Cinque Terre, Tossa de Mar, and Barcelona. Our transportation included: 8 flights, three boat rides, 14 trains, 16 buses, 21 metro/subway rides, and one car ride. We also walked many, many miles. As avid hikers, we liked that part. This blog only covers Paris, but I’ll get to our other stops soon.

Arc de Triomphe, Paris

Paris, France

Our walking started with 10.5 miles our first night in Paris. Actually, that story started a little earlier, in the Iceland airport. During our five-hour layover at Reykjavik airport, we came upon two close friends of ours who now live 1800 miles away from us. What a coincidence to run into them in Iceland! Not only that, but they turned out to be on our flight to Paris, sitting directly behind us. They had a hotel booked in the center of things, near Notre Dame. Our hotel sat a 1.5 mile Metro/subway ride away, in a lower rent district, so we agreed to meet at 7 pm in front of Notre Dame.  Unfortunately, the major fire a few weeks earlier meant we could not see the inside.

We met our friends and started a long walk along the Seine River, past one incredible building after another, such as Sainte Chappelle, the Louvre, d’Orsay, Grand Palais, and many more. The river itself provides much to watch, with a variety of boat traffic going up and down the river. A lot of activity takes place on the walkways along the river too, including countless vendors, cafes, and walkers like us.

Pont Alexandre III Bridge and Cafe

We crossed the historic Pont Alexandre III bridge, with a popular café below, and made our way to Paris’s most famous street, des Champ-Elysees, where we ate at a busy restaurant with exorbitant prices, like $40 for duck liver pate, an appetizer. Maybe I’m just cheap. Anyway, our walk continued all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, a 164’ high arch where you can find fantastic views from the top.

By the time we made our way back to Notre Dame, our friends’ app said we’d walked nine miles. Mary and I headed for the Metro, for our 1.5 mile ride to our hotel. The doors were locked! It turns out the Metro doesn’t run late at night, so we walked through dark streets and alleys arriving at our hotel in the early hours of the morning.

The Solar Hotel turned out to be a nice place to stay, as long as the Metro was running. For breakfast each morning, the hotel served coffee, croissants, rolls, and jams. Instead of a supermarket, our neighborhood had a whole variety of individual shops for meat, cheese, wine, fresh produce, and a bakery with delicious pastries and pastries. It was wonderful to see friendly people with small businesses succeeding. In the US, so much of what we buy is from large corporations. Visiting a variety of small shops also gave us a lot of opportunity to practice what little French we know, and most Parisians we met were quite friendly and patient.

We found the most useful French words to be bonjour, oui, and merci.


Our sleep schedules were seriously out of whack, but we didn’t want to sleep the day away.  I woke up groggy and fumbled with our pill bottle. Instead of taking Levothyroxine a small white pill that’s supposed to increase my energy level, I accidentally took my wife’s melatonin, a small white pill that helps people sleep. That morning, I stumbled around like a total zombie!

Montmarte and Sacre Couer

Navigating the subway system challenged us, as we struggled to get on the right trains and get off at the right stops, especially that morning of Melatonin. When stops were announced over the speakers, we were amazed how many of them sounded nothing like the way they’re spelled. Guess how you pronounce  Aubervilliers – Pantin – Quatre Chemins.

We did manage to find our way to the Montmartre neighborhood, a charming place with shops, artists, street-side cafés, and Sacre Couer, one of many Catholic churches we visited on our trip. Most of the churches we visited are much older, so the architecture of Sacre Couer (opened 1914) is quite different but quite beautiful with large domes.

Sacre Couer, Paris

Sainte Chappelle and the Louvre

Sainte Chappelle (opened 1248), another of Paris’s famous churches, has 1113 scenes depicted in its incredible stained glass windows.

The Louvre, the largest art museum in the world, is quite incredible. To see everything might take days, so we devoted one day and decided to wander until we’d had enough. The paintings and sculptures are amazing, but the building itself was almost more impressive to me. In fact, in many places we visited, I was amazed by the stonework and the fact that these buildings had lasted for centuries. I wonder how many modern buildings will last that long. Every 20 years, our houses seem to need new siding, roofing, and most components.

The Louvre, Paris

Leaving Paris

We enjoyed Paris a great deal, but it is a big city with a lot of people. We live in a quiet place in the foothills of the North Cascades. After our three days, we felt ready to move on to Venice, another beautiful, but smaller, city with a long and fascinating history.

European Family Vacation

A Mediterranean Cruise on NCL’s Gem

by Curt Remington

The summer before last, my wife and I strongly considered touring Europe in a small car with our three almost adult-sized daughters, none of which have mastered packing light. Thank god we had the sense to opt for a cruise, where we could leave our luggage in our cabin, our daughters in another cabin, and avoid driving altogether.

Cathedral of St Eulalia, Barcelona, Spain

Cathedral of St Eulalia, Barcelona, Spain

Our Mediterranean cruise departed from Barcelona, visited Malta, made three stops in Italy, one in France and back to Spain. That was a lot of ground (water) to cover in a week, but we managed to see a lot, have a great deal of fun and still had time to relax, once-in-awhile.

Our excitement started at the Seattle airport, after a long, slow, traffic-filled drive. In a tone of dismay, an anxious airline employee announced that those of us flying to Europe were probably too late to get on the plane. As I stood in line, trying to practice meditation techniques, images kept creeping in of our ship steaming across the Mediteranean without us. We managed to get our bags checked and made a mad dash across the airport, just barely making it on our plane. Our flight did include good food and movies, making that part of the journey quite pleasant.

Barcelona, Spain

After getting our luggage situated onboard the ship, we set off for a self-guided walking tour of Barcelona. First off, I have a confession to make. Although we’d done lots of traveling throughout North America, mostly to mountains and beaches, none of us had been to Europe before. We immediately noticed that things are quite different, in a very cool way. The buildings are older, with intricate architectural details. The cars are smaller and more fuel-efficient. And, most of the people seem to speak a foreign language, Spanish I believe. Go figure.

We wandered down Las Ramblas, a very pedestrian-packed street, and off into narrow brick alleys lined with shops. Passing through Plaza Real, we made our way to The Cathedral of St Eulalia, which was constructed from the 13th to 15th centuries. What an incredible church, with many ornate side chapels. On the walk back, we passed a variety of statues ranging from modern pieces to a 197′ tall monument to Christopher Columbus, located where he landed after his first trip to the Americas.

Our day at sea was spent in recovery mode, exploring the ship (NCL’s Gem), eating and sleeping, after a long day or so of traveling. Speaking of days, that was quite confusing. We seemed to have lost one somewhere, crossing all those time zones.

Valletta, Malta

Valletta, Malta

Valletta, Malta

Carriages in Valletta, Malta

Carriages in Valletta, Malta

Valletta, Malta is stunning in early morning light, from the deck of a cruise ship. The cliffs lining the water, and most of buildings (dating to the 1500’s), are made of limestone. With a map in hand, we set off for another walking tour. Our stops included the Upper Barrakka Gardens, with panoramic views of Grand Harbour.  St Johns Co-Cathedral, the Palace of the Grandmaster and the palace armory, with an enormous collection of armor and weapons from the days of the knights.

Pompeii, Sorrento & Capri, Italy

Our first day in Italy included an amazing number of sights. We docked in Naples and boarded a bus for Pompeii, where we toured ancient Roman remains that were buried by a volcano in 79 AD.  From there, the bus took us to Sorrento. The ride itself was an incredible experience, forcing me to totally rethink my notion of the proper space between buses, tiny cars, scooters and pedestrians. After getting used to the many close-calls, I took note of the scenery along the Italian coast. It’s spectacular, with cliff-top houses, trees and winding  roads overlooking the blue waters of the Mediterranean.

A Boat Enters Marina Grande, Sorrento, Italy

A Boat Enters Marina Grande, Sorrento, Italy

Rocky Shoreline of Capri, Italy

Rocky Shoreline of Capri, Italy

Along with the scenery, I loved the warmth and friendliness of most Italians, and the poetic beauty of their language. The pasta and wine we had for lunch was quite good too. Next, we boarded a hydrofoil which seemed to fly us to the island of Capri. I’m running out of scenic adjectives, so you’ll have to look at the pictures. This is one place I definitely want to return to. From the waterfront harbor, we took a funicalar (cable car up a very steep hill) to the top of the island. If you have lots of money, there is truly glamorous shopping up there. Being more frugal, my wife and I walked to a park overlooking the steep eastern shoreline and the Faraglioni Rocks.

Rome, Italy

For me our guided tour of Rome was a highly anticipated highlight to our trip. During my clairvoyant training, we looked at many past lives, including three of mine in the Roman army, one as a charioteer and a few other lives in Italy as a farmer and a painter. My past life ties to Rome made seeing it very exciting for me.

Roman Colosseum, Rome, Italy

Roman Colosseum, Rome, Italy

DSC_6634Rome did turn out be incredible! Have I used that word yet? Anyway, we visited an ancient underground part of Rome, below the Basilica of San Clemente. I felt like I could almost remember those past lives, making our way through dark passageways. From there, we walked to the Colosseum and toured the inside, looking down on the site of many bloody battles. It’s been estimated that 500,000 people died in games there.

Back on the bus, we made our way to the Vatican, quickly passing one historic site after another. It would be easy to spend many days touring Rome.

St Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world, has so many incredible details that we could have spent hours there alone, like St Peter’s Tomb which brought back memories of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons : A Novel.  Vatican City holds far more than we had time to see, like the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. Like my grandpa used to say, save something for next time.

Weary Travelers at the Vatican

Weary Travelers at the Vatican



Florence, Italy

As for museums, we did visit the Uffizi in Florence the next day. It’s one of the oldest and most famous museums of the Western World with paintings dating back to the 1200’s, including works by Michelangelo, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Boticelli and many more. We also visited the Duomo, a massive white marble church. Other stops included the bridge of Ponte Vecchio over the River Arno, more beautiful churches and the Piazza della Signoria with its statues, including the Fountain of Neptune.

Florence has quite a history. It was originally established by Julius Caesar in 59 BC and is considered the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. It also served as an important financial center and the home of many famous artists.

Villefranche, France

After three whirlwind days, hanging out in a quaint French village (Villefranche) was just what we needed. It’s located between Nice and Monaco, with train service to either. Instead, we just wandered around town at a very relaxed pace. Sights include a waterfront fort and marina, shops, outdoor restaurants, cascading flowers and beautiful buildings. One of my highlights was when a French tourist confused me for a local and asked for directions. I think I told him that he doesn’t speak French. Eventually he threw up is arms and drove away.

Trip Home

During the trip home, I contemplated our vacation, the amazing sights we had seen, and my many past lives throughout Europe and much of the rest of the world. It made me much more aware that we are citizens of planet Earth, not just the United States. We are all connected, and we would benefit from acknowledging that connection and working together. Along with that thought, I dreamt of all I have yet to see in Rome, other parts of Europe and the rest of the world. There are 98 pictures from the trip in my gallery.

Waterfront Villefranche, France

Waterfront Villefranche, France

Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence Italy

Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence Italy