It still seems a bit surreal that a month ago James and I actually pulled off a nine day kid-free trip to Europe. A trip we dreamed and talked about for nearly a year. A trip I would doubt many times would really even be possible. The trip -- where we would celebrate our twenty years of marriage together. This week was our "official" 20th wedding anniversary. So I thought what better topic for today's post than a recap of our trip that celebrated it.
First of all. While planning the trip was a team effort, I do have to give huge props to James for coordinating our entire itinerary. I had the flip side of the planning, by ensuring our children would be properly cared for in our absence. Both of which were equally exhausting, but thankfully resulted in an amazing vacation of our dreams.
So here are the areas we visited and highlights from each.
Thanks to a friend offering us their unoccupied flat (apartment) we had the pleasure of considering Brussels, Belgium our home base throughout the majority of our trip. While we would hop around different areas of Europe for a day or two at a time. We would then resort back to Brussels for a day or so and explore what they had to offer before our next adventure. Knowing my homebody and introverted self (I'm a weekend trip kinda girl) I honestly felt having a location to regroup was the best decision we made. And Brussels was the perfect place to unwind, sightsee and blend in with the locals.
I absolutely adored it in Brussels. It was actually my favorite of all the places we visited. It was a place full of character, liveliness, and architecture yet never felt touristy. I am not a fan of touristy vibes at all so I immediately felt right at home there. And conveniently right outside our apartment in the Etterbeek area was a collection of bakeries, restaurants, and grocery that quickly had us feeling like a local. The people were so friendly and helpful when needed. It truly was the perfect combination.
Our days would start out at one of the local bakeries with a small, but powerful cup of coffee along side a gorgeous pastry or quiche. Our favorite spot was Au Vatel. The baked goods, quiche, and sandwich options were amazing. We would then explore the city on foot at our own leisure. Grab an afternoon cocktail and then explore some more before we wined and dined the night away with live music, people watching, and great conversation. It was a dream. We were ready to move there.
In our exploring we stumbled upon a parade being held in the La Grand Place.
It really added a little extra specialness to the whole scene behind these amazing historical buildings.
A few more favorites from Brussels:
NONA - A local gentlemen originally from Tuscany suggested this place to us expressing it's the best Pizza he has ever had. We figured Italy definitely knows their Pizza so we were intrigued. It was hands down the freshest pizza we have ever tasted. We are still talking about it.
Vertigo Cocktail Bar - Captured by its charm in passing we stopped in for a sip. The old architecture surrounding the intimate courtyard patio was the perfect setting for an afternoon cocktail. Their Old Fashioned was top notch, but definitely on the potent side!
Pasta Divina - We were greeted by the family owned business with warmth and hospitality. They are proud of their establishment and for good reason. The freshly handmade to order pasta was to die for and their tiramisu was amazing.
So our first day here had a bit of a rough start. Between our train ride canceling midway due to an engine malfunction and the miserable combination of rain and cold weather it was a bit of a damper. We did manage to squeeze in a boat ride tour through the canals. Which worked out perfectly for sightseeing since the boat was covered. Thankfully our second day was full of sunshine and warmth to accommodate our exploring around the city.
During our stay there we resorted at the Hotel Arena that was originally utilized as an orphanage years ago. The atmosphere was a beautiful blend of original design and architecture with a twist of today's modern accommodations. We also toured the Anne Frank House and were so impressed with the well organized and authentic display of one of history's most tragic stories.
The number one thing I walked away with from this beautiful city was their primary form of transportation - bicycling.
I have never seen so many bicycles riding to and fro in my life. From mom's hauling multiple children around, to individuals going about their day to work and such. It was truly so inspiring to witness.
*Hotel Arena Lobby
Now I must first point out that James did not have any desire to visit Paris. However after I kindly expressed we cannot be that close to Paris and NOT go. He obliged and scheduled a day for us to explore the streets of Paris, France. Our agenda was basically to visit the Notre Dame Cathedral and Eiffel Tower. The rest was to explore the city at our leisure on foot. And boy did we explore until we dropped.
Upon arrival it was freezing! Thankfully I brought my beloved coat to keep me warm. Although it ended up wrapped around my waist by afternoon because it got hot!
Approaching the Notre Dame Cathedral was breathtaking. We couldn't get over how massive and gorgeous it was. We visited many historical churches during our trip and this one was definitely impressive.
We then eventually made our way towards the Eiffel Tower. I'm so not a heights person so we opted out of the tour to climb the thing. Unfortunately the "free" area came with a lot of surrounding constructional views. So we sat and starred at it from a distance for awhile...I'm assuming that's what you are supposed to do. And then browsed around the rest of the city the remainder of the day.
I'm not going to lie, Paris was my least favorite from the trip.
I believe it's partly because we didn't really have too much of a plan while there. Don't get me wrong the views, architecture, and history around the city was absolutely stunning. In some cities, leisure exploring works really nicely. But I honestly feel that in order to encompass the whole Parisian vibes it should involve sitting at a beautiful spot, perhaps on a blanket and just take in the whole ambiance over a baguette and wine. Plus I was also a bit (ok a LOT!) turned off by the constant offers on every street corner to buy something. That is so not my thing! I'm not ruling out another visit, but will definitely approach my visit there differently if there is a next time.
When it comes to history my husband is all about it. And his love for it has definitely sparked my interests over the years. So both medieval towns Gent and Bruges in Belgium were places we had on our list to visit. Based on input from one of the locals in Brussels, we chose Gent due to their less touristy vibes. So after a quick 30 minute train ride from Brussels we were off to our next adventure.
Gent was James' favorite part of the trip. The ancient history and architecture there was insane. We were practically surrounded by beautiful churches, cobblestone streets, and the huge Gravensteen Castle built in the 1100's. Gent had very similar quaint vibes as Brussels, so naturally is was up on the list for me as well. It was definitely a highlight of our adventures. A must visit if your ever in the area.
London, United Kingdon
So when we booked our flight to Europe little did we know the big royal wedding was going to be the same weekend we were there. We didn't get to see the actual wedding festivities because we were flying out that day. But there was definitely a lively energy in the air during our stay.
Right away we knew we were going to like London. There was a relaxed and lightheartedness amongst the people that was quite refreshing. Anyone that knows my husband knows he is always cracking jokes. It seemed liked every time I turned around James and one of the guards or traffic police were cracking jokes together. Plus not having the language barrier we had in previous locations was kind of nice. Perhaps that is why my husband started getting so chatty with everyone there. He's the talker of our combo and I've already heard his jokes. 😉
We started out at the Charles Dickens Museum. As mentioned earlier we love history, but I am also very visual so strolling through what once was his house and learning the significance behind each space was really cool. He seems like an extraordinary man and quite the little fella too. The photo below is his actual size silhouette.
The Westminster Abbey tour left me speechless. Partly because a dedicated 2 hour tour of the place was a bit too long for me, Ha! But no seriously I have never seen so much history, tombstones, and beauty all in one place in my life. It really was extraordinary to see. Unfortunately no cameras were allowed for the majority of the premises so photos are few.
After our exploring around The Westminster area we devoured a plate of fish and chips at The Sanctuary House Hotel. James finally got his pub food (his favorite). We then made our way to see the Buckingham Palace before we wrapped up our last evening at the Star Inn Chef and Brewer Pub before heading back to home sweet Texas home.
In conclusion, we couldn't have dreamed of a better way to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. We are so grateful for all the family and friends that helped make our trip possible. It truly was magical.
Have you ever been to Europe? Where were your favorite areas? I would love to hear about them in the comments below.
I have been with this amazing man since I was 15 years old. And here we are 26 years later with 3 beautiful children together. Even when our journey together in life gets hard I can't imagine nor want my life without him.
*The love of my life... Happy 20th Anniversary Honey. xoxo