Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Derek & Tiffany's European Adventure, Part I

Two weeks.  Five cities.  Four best friends.  One toilet.  A sprint through Europe.  This was not a relaxing vacation.  There is a huge difference between traveling and vacationing, and this was traveling at it's finest.  The agenda was London > Amsterdam > Paris > Venice > Rome.    
I had been looking forward to this trip since it was first conceived back in the fall.  To be honest, I didn't think it would happen, and it almost didn't.  Half way over the Atlantic, Derek and Tiffany's plane decided to turn around due to a "strange noise" coming from below deck that the pilots couldn't identify.  Forget for a moment the inconvenience of that, and think how terrifying that announcement must have been.  I enjoy flying less and less these days, and something like that (in the recent wake of the Malaysian flight no less) would have set me on edge.  But alas, they landed safely in Philly, and 24 hours later (and another cancelled flight) they were on their way to jolly ole London.  The story is much more complicated and involved, and I simply don't have enough time to tell it.  On the bright side, US Airways did give them a $10 food voucher.  What a class act.

So, with a day already shaved off an already short trip, we had to hustle.  Like I said before, this was no vacation.  It was a crash course in European travel, and being Derek's first trip across the pond, I think we did it right.  Now, having said that, five cities in two weeks is insane and should not be attempted by anyone.  Just when you feel settled in a city your up and back at it.  Also, trains are the way to go.  Airports suck, and by the time you spend 3 hours in line at check-in and security and baggage you're better off taking the long way.  Plus, you get to enjoy the scenery.

The trip proved to be quite the life changing experience, and we got a newly engaged couple out of it.  Despite the chaotic schedule, I think everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and when things calm down a bit we'll start planning the European Adventure Part II.

Anyway, I'll let the pictures do the talking.  Enjoy!

Gordon's Wine Bar.  A must if you're in London.

Another cool, off-the-beaten-path sight is Wilton's Music Hall, said to be "the most important surviving early music hall to be seen anywhere."  Originally an Ale house dating back to 1743, the music hall itself dates back to the mid 1800's.  It was abandoned in the 1950's and scheduled for demolition in the 1960's, but public outcry saved the building.  Although saved from the wrecking ball, it continued to fall into disrepair until it reopened in 1997.  Today it hosts a number of music acts, plays, and even movies.  We weren't able to catch a show there, but if you can, I'd highly recommend it.  Even if you can't, stop by for a drink at the pub.

We were also able to meet up with Justin Day, an avid Saints fan and Team Gleason supporter.  How did a chap from London gain such an interest in such an obscure team from across the pond?  (And keep in mind, this was before the Drew Brees/Sean Payton days...)  Video games of course!  Long story short, he picked a team, and then became almost obsessed learning about them and the city.  He eventually made his way over to New Orleans (during Decadence Fest of all things) and game over...he was head over heels in love.  He still visits quite often in support of Team Gleason, and we can't wait to host him on his next trip.  

The following photos take place in Keukenhof Park, just outside of Amsterdam and one of the most gorgeous places I've ever seen.  A perfect place for an engagement.  ;)

Back in Amsterdam- one of the most beautiful cities I've been to.  More than any other city, I think that this is the most livable.  Forget what you've heard or think you know about Amsterdam, this is one of the smartest, healthiest, and progressive cities in the world.  I've been twice now, but I definitely want to spend a lot more time here.

For the best views in Amsterdam, head on up to the SkyLounge at the Double Tree.  

We weren't planning on going up to the top, but the lines were so short, we had to!

Venice was just as magical and mysterious the second time around.

The Doge's Palace in Venice is another spot I would highly recommend.  If nothing else, it shows the sheer opulence and power that Venice used to command as a trading power house back in the day.  Well worth it.

That is one helluva chastity belt.  No getting around that one.

Yes, that is a hot salt rock slab, for cooking raw seafood right at the table.  I've said it before and I'll say it again- if you're looking for an amazing meal in Venice, look no further than Luna Sentada

By far the best experience of the trip was the impromptu picnic that we enjoyed on our last day in Venice.  On our first trip to Venice during Carnival, Riki and I met an awesome bartender named Jordy.  He was super cool and we ended up exchanging emails and keeping in touch.  He was ecstatic when we showed up with friends a few months later, and he offered to cook for us on his day off.  We couldn't refuse.  True to his word, he cooked up an Italian feast of lasagna and raw veal that was to die for.  

This is why Italy is my favorite country.  The people are the most kind and hospitable people you're likely to meet.  Jordy spent all morning cooking for us, and was more than happy to show us a part of the island that we would have never seen otherwise.  When you experience this kind of hospitality, it only makes you want to pay it forward.  Moral of the story:  if you're kind and open and willing to try new things, you'll more than likely be rewarded.  Thanks Jordy!  You single-handedly made our trip to Venice AMAZING.  Now come to New Orleans!


And then we were off to Rome.  Rome deserves its own post though, so stay tuned...

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