Europe Vacation 2011

We just got back from our trip to Europe a few days ago.  With the jetlag fully shaken off, I thought I would share a few tales from the trip.  Our tour took us to England, Switzerland and Italy.

England found its was on the agenda so we could catch up with K’s extended family and friends.  Switzerland was a chance to see former Cayman colleague and bar mate, Robbie O.   

We arrived in London on June 11th and immediately hopped on the tube to go and catch a train.  We were off to Matlock Bath, representing the first four hours of what would be over 24 hours on trains during the two weeks.  Awaiting us were Katherine’s aunt and uncle, Pauline and Bruce.  I also had my first chance to meet Katherine’s granny and uncle Andrew. 

 

The most interesting thing that I learned on the trip is that an English person will completely clean their plate, no matter how much food is on it.  It slowly dawned on me over our week in England, starting with our lunch with granny and uncle Andrew.  We ate at a pub near their house.  I had the roast pork dinner while Katherine had the roast beef.  We must have been the only ones who ordered it as they seemed to give us the whole pig and cow. 

Katherine made her typical little dent while I gave it an honest effort, getting through ¾’s of it.  Meanwhile, pint sized granny and rail thin uncle Andrew had polished their plates.  I didn’t think much of it, though Katherine commented that she was relieved granny didn’t give us a piece of her mind for not eating everything. 

Next stop was London, where we stayed with K’s friend Katie.  Technically we were in Colchester, about an hour away.  I guess Colchester was once the capital of England back in Roman times.  It is now a dreary, dreary place filled with people you wouldn’t want to cross in the middle of the night.  I exaggerate, but only slightly…

We met up with the other half of Katherine’s brain, Rachel.  Friends since they were in diapers, they are in their own little world when they are together.  After a couple of pints we went out for Italian.  I recall being impressed that Rachel absolutely licked her plate clean.  At that point the light bulb came on and I had my theory that English people always eat every morsel.  The war mentality remains strong I guess.  The night ended in a bit of embarrassment as we unsuccessfully attempted to pay for dinner and treat Rachel. 

The next day we met former Cayman colleague and still current friend Craig for lunch.  He too cleaned his plate, though that was no surprise if you know what I mean…  Our last meal of England was dinner with Katie, who is a skinny, nice young girl.  Gigantic pizzas were on the menu and of course Katie ate every bite.

We ended the trip by taking in the Kaiser Chiefs in concert at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town.  Huge over there, the Chiefs playing that small of a venue was a treat.  There are a couple of hilarious videos of K and Katie rocking out during the show.  My ‘editor’ decided that they will remain in the private collection.

 

With England successfully visited, we flew to Zurich, spent a night there before heading down to Altendorf to visit with Robbie O, his wife Julie and their cute little girl Chloe.  The most common question we were asked during our stay was, “Do you love it?”*  I have to say that yes, we did love Switzerland.  If you could take the beauty and charm of Banff and apply it to an entire country, I think you would end up with Switzerland.

* The question was often asked by Chloe and related to just about anything and everything.  K and I still ask each other the question about random things all the time.  Eating a cracker?  Do you love it?  A bit of sun on your cheek?  Do you love it?

 

Our arrival in Zurich also brought us our first bit of really warm weather.  It was about 28c, but felt like 38c in our hotel room.  The silly place had windows that could swing wide open, but they installed vertical blinds that prevented them from opening more than a couple of inches. 

The clearance space needed was tantalizingly small, so I kept fiddling with the window, trying to force the thing open.   I eventually found a latch that allowed me to take the entire blind off the wall.  With that move, we finally had some air.  We also had a clear hear of the big church bells that went off every 15 minutes.  One chime at 15 minutes, two at 30 minutes, four at 45 minutes and a bunch of noise followed by a chime for every hour (11pm gets 11 chimes, etc.). 

After a restless night we quickly made our way down to Altendorf.  Not a church in sight, nor in earshot!  It really was beautiful and Robbie O’s townhouse was awesome.  Rob did a fantastic job of touring us around and cooking up some fantastic food.  The tenderloin steaks we had the first night were in the top three I have ever had.

 

We followed up that great meal with what was supposed to be a fantastic sausage party.  There was plenty of sausage at breakfast, followed by a trip to Luzerne to the Rathaus Brauerei to see some more sausage.  I went with Robbie’s suggestion which were a couple of white sausages in water, a pretzel and a beer.  I am more of a dark meat sausage kind of guy and I have to say I was lukewarm on the white sausage, which came to the table kind of lukewarm.

 

That evening I was feeling a bit nauseous and hit the hay early.  We booked a three hour train ride to Brienz, up in the Swiss Alps, the next morning.  I was still feeling queasy the next morning, but we pressed on.  After a beautiful train ride, we had just started touring around when I made the call to abort the mission and head back home.  Too bad that a bit of food poisoning put a damper on the end of our time in Switzerland.

 

The next morning we were off by train to Venice.  It was Venice that was the spark for the trip.  Three years ago my grandmother, Groovy Gert, gave all her grandkids a little inheritance before she passed.  I decided we would spend it on a trip and I asked her to tell us her favourite place out of all her world travels.  She quickly came back with Venice and that was that. 

Venice quite simply is unlike any other city I have ever been to.  First off, it is really old.  It was a world power back between 700 and 1200.  Some of the buildings are over 800 years old. 

 

Second off, it is this crazy collection of 150 of so small islands, connected with little bridges.  The Grand Canal is full of small boats, gondolas and the water buses that made getting around a little bit quicker.  It was fantastic to tour and get lost in a city without any cars. 

Getting sidetracked, I have to confess that we did not take a gondola ride.  They were silly expensive, but more importantly I kept seeing the gondoliers on their cell phones while they were touring their paying customers around.  If the days where they would sing to you while taking you through the winding canals ever existed, they are now long gone.  To get the experience, we did take a traghetto, which is a gondola used to take tourists across the Grand Canal.  Essentially a two minute ride for fifty cents.  Apparently you aren’t supposed to take pictures.

 

Getting back on track, the beauty and history of the churches and some of the squares were absolutely awe inspiring.  Perhaps Rome and Athens are even better (I have never been), but we were left speechless touring the Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa del Frari, which isn’t even the most famous basilica in Venice.  It was grand on a scale that I never knew existed. 

The same can be said for the Piazzetta di San Marco, which is the most famous touristy bit of Venice.  It was crazy cool, even if we didn’t opt to wait in line for hours to get inside the basilica. 

 

Right beside the square is a classy watering hole called Harry’s Bar.  Famous writers like Orson Wells and Ernest Hemmingway used to frequent it.  Johnny Depp supposedly likes the place.  We thought we’d pop in for a beer, figuring it was a popular tourist spot given its description in the Lonely Planet guide.  Medium sized mistake.

The place is actually stuck in time, with really famous looking and rich clientele.  We in our shorts were quickly escorted upstairs to a small room without a view.  We had no view of the water and the important people had no view of us.  Sizing up the drink menu, we quickly established that they didn’t serve beer.  Just a bunch of whisky and gin based drinks that went for about €18 a pop. 

We made the decision to put the tail between our legs, scoot down the stairs and back out the front door without ordering.   To those who thought I got a bit of a burn on the trip, unfortunately it is just a bit of the residual embarrassment from the ordeal.

The next day it was sadly time to fly back home to Calgary.  We did exit in style, hiring a water taxi to take us to the airport.  They quite literally pick you up at your hotel and dock right at the airport.  It was a great way to say goodbye to a great city. 

 

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