I'm back!!!!!!   Europe in one word was AMAZING!  It was everything I could have dreamed it would be.  I have been thinking about what I would write in my blog when I returned.  I have decided to write about each county and share some pictures too.   So here is the trip in a nutshell.....

Travel to Europe: 
Tommy and I left Friday afternoon from Paducah Airport.  We took a small plane to Chicago and had a short lay-over.  We sampled some Chicago style pizza!  Yummy!!!  Chicago airport is quite a site.  The airport is beautiful and has everything to feast your eyes on from a large dinosaur replica from the museum to amazing stained glass art work created by local school children.  Tommy and I boarded the very large plane to London.   The plane offered movies and music to make the long flight a little easier.   Although the flight was long it wasn't too bad.   We had very minimal turbulence so it was a smooth ride.  

We arrived in London on Saturday.  Heathrow airport is massive but not too bad to deal with.  We took a train to Paddington Station and then from there rode the "tube" (London's Subway) to Russell Square.  We arrived at our hotel, the Bloomsbury.  We were very pleased with the Hotel and took a nice nap before we ventured out in the city.  Our first night in town we enjoyed a traditional British Pub called the Jack Horner where we had a meat pie with chicken, mushrooms, and sundried tomatoes.   Our bartender was very helpful and told us some great spots to visit in Soho.  We went to the 100 club were Mic Jagger got his start and to The Borderline where many bands such as Oasis, Counting Crows, Jeff Buckley, and many others including The Legendary Shack shakers  had performed.  Our second day in London we walked and biked around the city.  We had a great lunch from a local sandwich shop with fresh bread and carved meats and of course "chips".   We visited Soho, Piccadilly, China Town, theater district, and several other areas.  Piccadilly is a lot like Times Square.  The area is full of people and amazing buildings.  It is interesting to see the old world buildings and fountains mixed with all the new structures.  We were told we were very brave to ride our bikes in Piccadilly when a bus driver told us, "It's usually only for professionals." We had dinner that night in Soho at a little French restaurant and split a yummy beef dish and each had a bowl of soup that had fresh saffron.  We loved London.  The people were very nice and helpful.  It felt even closer to home when the band we heard at the 100 club said they had just finished up their US tour in Nashville. 

We left London very early by cab and traveled to Stansted Airport just outside the city.   Our flight to Dublin was very "choppy" but we made it in one piece and rented a car to drive to our hotel.   Driving on the opposite side of the road is a very different experience but Tommy did amazing and got us to our hotel.  We stayed at the fabulous Gibson hotel just a short walk from the center of Dublin.   Our first night in Dublin we walked to the center of town.  We were a little unsure in our navigating and stopped at a little store and bought a map of the city.  We spotted a little pub called the Celt and decided to pop in just to get our bearings and get a bite to eat.  The saying, "getting lost will help you find yourself" couldn’t have been truer.   The little pub we stumbled into was called the Celt.  We were greeted by "the farmer" who put his arms around us and welcomed us to the pub.  He started us off with some Lamb Stew and we finished up the meal with bread pudding with baileys and ice cream.  The pub and the little French restaurant next door share business.  The pub provides most of the drinks and the restaurant provides most the food except the stew was from the Celt.   The bartender was great.  He was voted second best bartender in all of Dublin and they give him a hard time since he used to be first.   We met a very social man named Aiden who told us that we were sitting in the former IRA headquarters.  Aiden lost two of his brothers in "the struggle" as he put it.  He shared with us the history of his life and of Ireland.  The music began later in the night and most of the bar sang.  One of the songs was about Peace and we saw several of the former IRA guys including Aiden weep.  It was very touching.   Then, I Elizabeth McKendree danced 2 Irish Jigs with Aiden.  And yes there is video and Tommy will be posting it on facebook :).    We finished up the night walking back to the hotel and we noticed they were playing Jaws on the side of a building with a projector.  Without a doubt I felt the most welcomed and at home in Ireland.  We had a rough time the next day with getting around in the city of Dublin and learned that next time we will just walk everywhere unless we drive out in the country.   But the traffic issue didn't dampen our spirits and we made it to the airport on time for our flight to Pisa.  

We arrived in Italy very late at night.  The airport is very small and the people were very friendly.  We took a cab to our hotel and our driver sang in Italian to an Opera the whole way.  I knew I was going to have a great time in Italy!!  We stayed at the AC Marriot hotel and the hotel manager was very helpful and of course his name was Louigi.  We gave us a map to get around Pisa and told us a great little out of the way place called Bruno’s to have lunch.   We got up early that morning and had a wonderful breakfast at the hotel full of pastries, chesses, and fresh juices.  We rented a little Fiat 500 with a fully glassed roof for the most easy going rental agent I have ever met.  He told us just to leave the car at the hotel because he knew them and if we went over the miles he didn't care.  We headed to the Leaning Tower but before we got there we spotted a McDonalds and I don't think I have ever been so happy to have cheeseburger.  I know that sounds strange but Tommy and I both felt like we needed that, it felt like home and there was something oddly comforting about it.  We stopped at a famous cemetery and church before we made it to the tower.  The graves were very old and the church was beautiful.  Tommy lit a candle for his aunt and I lit a candle for my mamaw and nannie.   We parked at a parking area and walked to the Tower.  The people in Italy are so friendly.  We had parked in a spot where we would have gotten a ticket.  There were two guys at the local newsstand who told us where to park.  Everyone in Italy is like that.  They are so warm and laid back and very helpful.   The tower and the other architecture surrounding it are amazing.  Breathtaking isn't even the right word and the city is at the foothills of the mountains which make it even more beautiful.   We ate at Bruno’s after seeing the Tower and the meal was perfect or as Bruno would say, "Prego!"  Bruno is the one who serves you.  It is very interesting that the owner of the restaurant is also the waiter.  The food was to die for.  We had mushrooms and split a steak with some wonderful wine.   After we walked back to our car we headed to Perugia.  We took the Italian version of the Autobond only the interstate is very narrow and the cars go VERY fast.   It was a little stressful but we made it through and enjoyed the mountains and views.  We arrived in Perugia at dusk and had a little trouble finding the Castle but we got directions from a sweet little older man at the gas station we filled up and he told us in a mix of Italian and VERY broken English, "Uppita Uppita."   And boy did we go uppita uppita.  The castle is on the top of the mountain but it is so worth it.  I have never seen such amazing views.   The night manager was very helpful and ordered us Pizza.   The Pizza was very yummy and we loved the castle and our room.   We got up the next morning and had breakfast outside on the balcony of the Castle with a view to die for.   We drove back using a much better way through the Chianti region of Tuscany.  We stopped at a little vineyard and had lunch.  There is something very special about having Chianti in Chianti with braised beef cooked with Chianti.  It just felt so right.   We made it back to Pisa easily and arrived back at our AC Hotel.  We spent the last night in Italy enjoying the paisa in Pisa.  There is a huge area of the city that is completely blocked off to cars where you can walk around and enjoy tons of food and shopping.  Everyone stays up late.  Most everything is open till at least 1am and many places were open till 3.  We returned to our hotel and got some rest before our early morning flight to the Netherlands. 

We left Italy for the Netherlands in the morning.  The flight is very short and we actually gained an hour so since the flight is less than an hour it was like we reversed time.  Funny huh?  We arrived in Eindhoven and took a bus from the Airport to train station.  We boarded the train to Amsterdam.  The train ride is beautiful.  We saw the countryside and tons of windmills.   The Central station in Amsterdam is literally next door to our hotel.  The Mint hotel is amazing.  It is a huge modern building that sits right on the canal.  We had a canal view from our room.   Amsterdam is the most global city we went to.  There are people from all over the world.  It is odd how reserved the Dutch are and very orderly yet they allow so many vices to be legal and are so open minded in some respects.   Also the buildings are interesting.  There are the huge modern buildings with very sharp clean lines and then the hundreds of year old buildings with warmth and elegance.  There is a saying in Amsterdam that there are more bikes than people and that may very well be true.  I have NEVER seen so many bikes.   We walked around the city and saw the coffee shops and red light district.  It is very interesting and odd to see a woman in lingerie selling themselves in public.   As I said it is odd how the Dutch are so controlled and reserved yet so open about things.   I will say it is a very clean and very polite city.  Everyone we met was kind and helpful.  Honestly the only rude people we encountered were a few American tourists who were being obnoxious.  We had dinner at a great little place called Van Speyk.  The food was great and the service was wonderful.   We stopped on the way back to our hotel and picked up a huge Belgium Waffle coated in fudge and then piled high with fruit and whipped cream.  YUMMY!  We got up the next morning and had a little lunch and boarded the train back to Eindhoven.   From Eindhoven we took the train back to London and stayed at the Renaissance hotel right by the airport. 

Travel Back Home:
Our travel back home got a little tight when we had trouble dealing with the fog and trying to return our rental car we took to get from Stansted airport to Heathrow Airport but we found the car return and made it to the gate on time only to be informed our flight was delayed.  This is the only delay we had the entire trip.   We got on the plane about 2 hours later and made it Chicago in about 7 hour and 45mins.   When we arrived we found out that our plane to Paducah had been delayed as well so we had enough time to get a little lunch and the board the plane.  The plane ride to Paducah was super quick.  The pilot was trying to make up time so it only took us 45 mins.  I loved Europe and if I didn't have my family here I could honestly live there but I was SO happy to be home.  I held Spicer so tight when I saw him and he was glad to see me too.  

General Observations: 
Europeans are some of the nicest people I have ever met.  In every county, city, and town we visited or even just passed through the people were warm, friendly, and went out of their way to help us.  Of all the countries we stayed in I loved Italy the most but I felt the most at home in Dublin.   Don't get me wrong I loved all the countries but if I had to pick those were my favorites.   I loved flying Ryan Air.  We flew that Air Carrier all around Europe.  It was very cheap and the flights were great.   NO Delays!!  In fact we were almost always early.   Every hotel we stayed in we would stay in again.  Good beds are hard to come by in Europe so it was nice to find hotels that had them.   We will never drive in Dublin Again!  We will walk or bike to the city center.   We will defiantly spend more time in the wine country and stay off the Italian Autobond as much as we can avoid it.   We spilt our meals almost everywhere we went.  This not only helped with cost of food but kept us on the straight and narrow with our diet.   Europe was the trip of a lifetime and I cannot think of a better traveling partner.  Thank you Tommy for everything!  I love you!   Cheers!!!!!



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