After months and months of anticipation our special day has finally arrived!!! We had our family staying in a villa in Cavtat (roughly 20 kilometres from Dubrovnik) which was very nice as we could all be together in one big house! The night before the wedding, Michael wanted to be very traditional and not see me until the moment I walked down the aisle in the church. This proved to be quite difficult as we all were staying in the same villa and had to get ready in the same location but separate rooms. Needless to say, this was part of the excitement as I knew he was nearby at all times and different people would act as messengers so that we could communicate with each other but not see each other.
The morning of July 12th had finally come and I woke up so excited and a tad bit nervous! I went for a walk with my Dad, Tammy, Kristy and Andrew around Cavtat while Michael was busy writing and rehearsing his speech. The hair and make-up stylist, Davor arrived at the villa promptly at 9:30am. The girls got ready in the living room area while family and friends gathered in the nearby kitchen area. First, Davor went through all of our hairstyles and makeup needs. He was quiet, patient and was always thinking about how to make us all beautiful. We offered him food multiple times and he kept denying any food! I couldn’t believe it. He said to not worry as all he needed was a few cups of coffee and cigarettes to work his magic. This was so true, he drank about 4 cups of coffee and had a few cigarette breaks throughout the morning. This did wonders for him as he did the most amazing hair styles and makeup I have ever seen!
I was so excited for this day to come and have been planning it for months! My Dad and Tammy (stepmom) were flying into Munich and were going to see a bit of Europe on our way down to Dubrovnik for our wedding!
Thursday, July 4th
They flew into Munich airport with all smiles EXCEPT for the fact that their luggage didn’t make it! They were promised their luggage the following day so we were all still in high spirits. Our friend Kai was kind enough to open up his apartment to 2 more guests (my parents). So we just had to run past Ikea for a few bedding needs. Sadly, my parent’s first meal in Europe ended up being Ikea Swedish meatballs! Haha Later that night we did take them to Vapiano’s as it has become our favourite “go-to” place when we have no idea what to eat.
When you say the word Frankfurt, you automatically assume I am talking about a sausage. But no, I am actually talking about the next city we headed to which is Frankfurt, the financial capital of Germany. We drove from Amsterdam in the Netherlands and so thought Frankfurt would be a nice destination to stop for 1 night on our way further south. Our knowledge of Frankfurt is of the airport only, being a hub that both Meagan and I have passed through on many occasions. We never got the chance to leave the airport and discover this city.
Why do you think Amsterdam’s coat of arms is XXX?? You may think it is because of the red light district here, but this is not the case. It was actually created in 1505 as the way to identify Amsterdam during the time when trading was so important. XXX was located on flags on the backs of Amsterdam ships so that it could be associated with the town. Now, the XXX is associated with the adult entertainment business which is also such a big part of the Amsterdam culture.
We spent 3 nights in Amsterdam and enjoyed every day of it. We could have stayed longer as there was so much more to do. Here is a snapshot of what we got up to.
Saturday – we drove into Amsterdam and met up with Jeroen and Eric Wilson for dinner!!! Sunday – Amsterdam walking tour and Red-Light District tour Monday – Bike ride of Amsterdam and Beyond. We also visited the Heineken Factory.
Parlez-vous anglais, Spreekt u Engels, Sie sprechen Englisch. Confused!! Arriving into Belgium and you could be mistaken for thinking you are in France, Holland or Germany. Situated around these 3 countries means that Belgium has 3 official languages, Dutch, French and German. We quickly worked out that it didn’t really matter as English is a 4th language that everyone in Belgium seems to understand. Being a smaller country in Europe, with only 11 million people, it was surprising that there is so much to see and do here. Our itinerary consisted of beer, fries and waffles so if you enjoy any of these three, keep reading.
Lille is located on the North East corner of France only 10km from Belgium. We decided to stop for 1 night in Lille on our way over to Brussels. My old flatmate in Sydney is actually from France and currently lives in Lille so we arranged for a catch up.
Since we would only be staying for 1 night, we decided to rough it out and stay in a Formula 1 hotel for only 24 Euros! We have been staying in Accor hotels which is a family of hotels including Novotel, Ibis, Ibis Styles, Ibis Budget and Formula 1. We have been staying in Ibis Budget’s during our trip in between apartments and B&B’s, however for this 1 night we decided to try out the lowest ranking, Formula 1. We were set 2.8km’s outside of the city in a pretty good area, however when we pulled up to the hotel it was evident that we were at a super budget hotel. We were greeted by the receptionist who was also doing cleaning and yard work who simply gave us a sheet of paper with our room number and code to enter. We asked for a map, which seemed like a foreign question to him as he said “A map, no, no I don’t have any maps to give you.” This was a sign that this is not a place you go to receive recommendations or insights in the city. So we headed up the stairs with our large suitcases (no lift) and reached our room. Unfortunately, the room code didn’t work as we attempted to enter several times. Michael went back downstairs and explained the situation, instead of the receptionist helping us, he simply just printed out another piece of paper and gave us another room. On the way to the next room we came across the communal showers and toilets. You see, our room is only equipped with a sink and we share bathroom facilities with the other hotel guests. Since I have stayed in hostels before, this was not a shock, however the stench coming from the toilets was a bit disgusting. At this point, Michael and I both agreed we weren’t having showers until we reached our next destination, luckily we had showers this morning. We then entered into our room and were quite surprised as the actual room was OK (for 1 night!).
I remember learning about the Battle of Normandy in my history class in high school, but back then it seemed to just be theoretical or something that took place a “LONG” time ago. When we started to look at places to go in France and I recognised the region of “Normandy”, I grew with excitement. I could bring a previous history lesson to life! Michael and I were looking forward to our full day tour that highlighted the US involement in World War II. We could have also gone on a UK or Canadian specific tour, however since I am from the US of course I wanted to learn about the US involvement in the War.
We had to wake up at the crack of dawn for our full day Omaha/Utah tour, but it was worth it. We met our tour guide and group at 8:20am. Our tour guide had a military background, however got injured during his stent and then started doing these tours. I came to find out that this was both a good and bad thing as he had a lot of in depth knowledge into the military tactics, however he used a lot of military lanugage that I could not understand. Also, his thick French accent didn’t help much! haha. Overall it was a good tour because we got to visit the actual locations where the US helped end WWII. Check out some of the highlights of our tour:
Our next expedition was to Brittany, in North West France. This area is known for the amazing landmark Mont St Michel, an abbey located on an island that changes with the tides. We decided to stay in a B&B not far from there to get the feel of life in the north of France. Did you know that this area of France does not have any tolls. That’s right, as a condition of the area being handed back to France by the British, the area cannot have any road tolls, which explains why there are no motorways in this area.
Part of the grandeur of France is driving through the beautiful countryside dotted with magnificent chateaus. We had heard that the Loire Valley was priceless when it came to seeing some of the most beautiful countryside of France. Booking accommodation and day trips for this region was relatively hard, with many frustrating hours spent trying to contact different tour companies and accommodation options. One thing we learnt was that any tour in this region was going to be expensive. So we quickly went to our safe option and booked our accommodation at the Ibis. It was in a newer area 5kms away from the city but the plus side was it was new and there were food options nearby.
We stayed in a city called Tours, a town in the Loire Valley. We had a few hours to kill so we drove to the centre and explored the city a bit. Tours was actually a very important city in WW2, with military camps created here. It was also heavily bombed in WW1 & WW2. The big sight here is the cathedral which we passed by driving down a narrow street. The best thing after the cathedral I must say is the tourist office who were helpful even when they were busy. We used them to book a tour of the region which would take us to some of the Chateaus we had heard so much about.
After our whirlwind adventure in Paris we returned to Anzex in the South of France and participated in a French Desserts Class! I had a bit of experience in Paris making pastries, but for Michael this was a bit of a shock. This half day class would just focus on the epitome of French desserts: crème brulee, mille fleur, profiteroles and éclairs!