We started our trip in Chicago for an overnight (ish) flight, we landed in Paris in the morning (their time), which was about 3 am our time. Thankfully we both slept a bit on the plane, so we got our rental car at the airport and made our way out of Paris, toward Colmar, where we were spending our first night. Once we finally arrived, we checked into our hotel and then found a restaurant that was still open (after a lot of searching) that served reasonably priced food, and most importantly, Belgian waffles.
In the morning, we spent a couple hours wandering around the city of Colmar, then made our way into Germany to find Hohenzollern Castle. We first took a walk out to a lookout point to take some cool photos of the castle, then drove over to the castle. We didn’t realize we needed money to take the tram up to the castle, so we had absolutely no cash on us, and they didn’t accept a card, so we had to walk up half the mountain (in bad shoes) to get to the castle. We took a tour of some of the inside of the castle (we couldn’t take any photos inside) - they had a little more open than normal which was pretty cool. We also saw the treasury and made friends with some older people on a tour from the US. We ate some fries and enjoyed the view for a while before heading back down the mountain to our car.
We spent longer than we planned at Hohenzollern, so our plan to go to the Heidelberg castle didn’t work out, we got to Heidelberg after dark. We made it to our hotel in Mannheim and went grocery shopping at Aldi for some dinner.
We left manneheim to go to cologne and see the cathedral on our way to Amsterdam. I’ve never seen a church that big. (Like, it was so huge, I was a little disappointed when I saw notre dame in Paris) we walked through the whole church and read what we could in the English pamphlets. Then we stopped for some caffeine and Bethany got a pretzel (I got a cheese roll because I’m not a fan of soft pretzels). The bakery we went to had a completely open front and there were bees everywhere. All over the food. I’ve never seen anything like it.
We drove on the autobahn and tried to reach 200 kph, I think we both got in the 190s, the driving in Germany is seriously the best people aren’t stupid on the highways and they actually get over for people going faster than them. I wish people in Michigan did that.
We got to our Airbnb in Weesp and unpacked, and then tried to find a grocery store to buy some food to make dinner. We asked our host’s adult daughter who was in the garden, and she pointed us in the direction of a store and said it was pretty easy to find… well she was wrong. Driving in the Netherlands in the country was a little terrifying; everyone driving wanted you to be driving faster, but then there were bikes on the street too, and the roads were narrow, so I was terrified of going around a corner and finding a bike or another car on the road. When we finally found the grocery store, it was closed. We ended up downtown weesp and walked around looking for restaurants. We found a little pizza shop and accidentally ordered two pizzas instead of one, and then found our way back to the Airbnb to relax.
Our Airbnb was a cottage connected to a barn that housed 2 horses and a miniature horse/pony, the window of our bedroom looked into the barn. There were also sheep and bunnies and cats and dogs at this cottage. It was so great. And it was out in the country, there were so many cows on the drive out there.
We spent the day in Amsterdam - drove back through the streets of Weesp to find the train station and took the train into the city for the day. We got off the train and walked across the street to buy water taxi tickets and hopped on the boat for a city tour and a ride to the Albert Cuyp Market to buy some fresh stroopwafels. We wanted to shop in the market but then realized that we couldn’t buy a bunch of souvenirs before we went to the Anne Frank House, so we hopped back on the boat to go to the Anne Frank House and explore the area for a little while and then went back to shop a bit. We found the I Amsterdam sign, walked the canals, ate some food and drank a Heineken.
On our second full day in the Netherlands, we visited Zaanse Schans windmills - we were able to take tours of some of the working mills and I bought some mustard made at one of the mills to take home to Trevor (I was so excited to take it home and thought it was something I wouldn’t find here, but when we ran out, I went to the dutch store and found the exact same jar I bought in the netherlands from the windmill, haha). After spending a couple hours at the windmills, we went to Utrecht and toured Castle De Haar. We were asked if we wanted a walking tour through the castle that would be in Dutch, but we’d be able to see a few more rooms than if we just wandered by ourselves, so we agreed. When we got to the castle, we were the only people around for about 10 minutes, so we ended up with a private tour in English :) Our tour guide was so great and he was able to do most of the tour in English (he couldn’t remember the word ‘deer’ and instead said ‘the bambis,” which was just super awesome) We toured the castle for a while and then made our way down to The Hague, where our boat was waiting to take us across to the UK. We road the Stena Line car ferry to the UK and spent the night in a (small) room on the boat while we crossed the channel.
We got off the boat bright and early and I had to quickly adjust to UK driving - our car was rented in France, so the driver’s side was the left and the speedometer was in km/hr. We got to the UK, and (obviously) we had to drive on the opposite side of the road, but I was sitting on the opposite side of the car from most of the drivers there. We also had to adjust to speed limits in mph (because for whatever reason, everything in the UK is in the metric system except for distance and speed) - after attempting to adjust the rental car’s digital speedometer a few times, we resorted to downloading a speedometer app and Bethany’s job was to sit and hold my phone so I could see how fast we were going (since she refused to drive in the UK). There were speed cameras everywhere so I didn’t want to take a chance on accidentally speeding. We drove to the Harry Potter studio tour and spent 6 hours there (I’m pretty sure they tell you to plan for 3-4 hours and we stayed almost until close once we got there). The last room of the tour had a huge model of Hogwarts (the model that was used for filming - they would film the actors on green screen and then put them in to the shots from the model) and it was so cool. I literally almost cried.
After the studio tour, we headed over to our AirBNB and met our host, Christina, who was so wonderful. She showed us to our rental (the carriage house behind her house converted into a rental property) and told us to come over to the main house in the morning and she would have a whole English breakfast for us before we went to London. After we settled in, I realized that I didn’t have my wedding rings and spent an hour looking through EVERYTHING before realizing I had left them on the ship and trying to contact them. Unfortunately, over the next few days, and after multiple phone calls and messages to the ship, it was concluded that the rings had been taken from our room after we left and not turned in. :(
We started the morning with an authentic English breakfast made by Christina before she drove us to the underground station so we could get on the tube to downtown London. We started our day at the Tower Bridge, then went over to the Millennium Bridge (because it was on Harry Potter, obviously.) I really wanted to find the TARDIS, so we got back on the subway and found that, thankfully it was right outside of the subway station, because we had to quick turn back around and get on the train to make it to Aladdin in time. We arrived at the theatre and they didn’t even check my ID at the will-call, they just handed me our tickets and instructed us to follow an usher waaaaaaaay up to the top to get to our seats - we sat down just as the show was beginning. The show was pretty amazing, I’m so glad we chose to see it. After the show ended, we went to Buckingham Palace and then walked around by the river. Unfortunately, Big Ben was undergoing some construction, so I didn’t get to take any great photos. We finished the evening at King’s Cross before getting on the train at St Pancras - we had to go see Platform 9 ¾.
We left London in the morning to drive to the Chunnel to make our way to our last stop for the trip, Paris. We accidentally missed our train time and were told we would have to wait another 2 hours to get on the next one, but somehow we got lucky and ended up being able to make it on the next train with room to spare. It was definitely an interesting experience sitting in a car on a train under the water. I was so thankful to get back to France though after 2.5 days of driving on the wrong side of the road. Once we got to our AirBNB and finally were able to get in contact with our host, we decided to head to the grocery store to grab some food for our last few days. A man followed us around the store for a little while asking if he could kiss us - he said “just one, just one kiss please?”
September 30-October 1
We spent 2 full days exploring Paris, which meant we felt a lot less guilty for sleeping in and not going downtown until late morning. Our AirBNB (and all the apartments in the area) and these super awesome blackout blinds/cages - you could make them all go up or you could close them and they were metal grates on all the windows that could either be open like bars or closed and block out literally all the light. We explored the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame the first day - we had beautiful sunny weather which was great, but the lines to ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower were a couple hours long. At sunset, we grabbed a sandwich to split, some fruit, and a couple macarons and went to the lawn by the Eiffel Tower to watch the lights - it was so cool to watch them all twinkle.
The second day was rainy and windy, and it was a free day for the museums in Paris - we tried to go to the Louvre but the line to get in was over 2 hours long and we decided we would rather try to get up to the top of the Eiffel Tower instead of waiting in that line. We were able to get up in about 15 minutes - we could see a lot of Paris from the second floor, but when we got to the top, we were in the clouds and couldn’t even see half of what we could from below. We walked around downtown a bit more and shopped and then went back to our AirBNB to bring our things back and then went to Downtown Disney for dinner at the Rainforest Cafe and to shop a little before heading back to the apartment to sleep. Our apartment was about a 20-30 minute train ride from the city center, and about 10-15 minutes from Disney in the opposite direction (and trying to navigate the subway in french was a very interesting experience).
The last full day of our vacation was spent in Disneyland Paris. We bought ears (because, why not?! And they had special ears because it was the 25th anniversary of the park) and explored both parks the whole day. They had a lot of the same rides but the experiences in some of them (like the Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror) were a little different than in Florida, where the pre-ride shows/videos/experiences are all in english… but we were able to figure out the general idea of what they were all saying so we knew what was going on. It wasn’t terribly busy so we were able to get on a lot of the rides, and we ended the night watching their version of the ‘wishes’ show with the castle projections and fireworks.