Prost! A Toast to Europe and Birthday Trips

A couple years ago, I was sitting at work on my birthday thinking about how I’d like to be anywhere else but here… Well, let’s be honest. I think that a lot, but birthdays are different. For me, at least, it’s a good excuse to do something!

So, about this time last year, I was planning a trip around Europe with my friends Katherine and Bekah, which we all have birthdays within a few days of each other. That said, what better than plan a birthday trip together? [Thanks to Turkish Airlines, I found a flight for $700 round trip which, I’d say, that’s a sign it’s meant to be!] They are both living in Europe and have traveled quite a bit, so the places we visited were more reminiscent for them, but a new adventure for me.

We decided to rent a car and travel from Brussels to Paris to Luxembourg City, and then on to a few towns around Germany (since I have friends living there, too), ending in Munich.

9 days, 4 countries, let’s go!

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First stop — Brussels! 

For some reason, Belgium was always high on my list of places to visit. Maybe it was the beer? Or the chocolate? Or the waffles? Regardless the reason, they all exceeded my expectations.

It’s close to midnight when I finally get to lay my eyes on the beautiful Grand Place square. The buildings are so beautiful, they even glisten at night! There were people everywhere sitting, laughing, and drinking, and I’m instantly energized after my long journey.

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We drop my backpack off at the hostel that was steps away from the square, and head straight to get a waffle — just powdered sugar, please! [Although, the wind blows and you’re surely covered in it as I found sugar in my purse 3 days later…] Then, we walk a few blocks over to the Délirium Café, which is arguably one of the best beer bars in Brussels.

The next day was spent wandering around the city center. We did a free walking tour where we, of course, stopped to get another waffle and pick up some chocolates, and continued our mission for more good food and beer.

We even found a flea market with some super cool [and super weird] things…

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On to Paris!

This is a city that was never high on my travel priority list. However, much to my surprise, I fell in love. I hate myself a little for saying this, but it is magical.

Our first night there was probably one of my favorites of the trip. We started out with dinner, followed by a stop in the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, and spent a few minutes outside the magnificent Notre Dame.

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From there, we decided it was time to make our way to the Effiel Tower. The sun was still up when we arrived so, we found a bottle of wine and a spot on the lawn to take it all in. As the sound of a violin played in the distance, we read, we sketched, we laughed, we drank, and we waited for the sun to set to see the Tower sparkle.

The next day was… well, amazing. We basically did (almost) everything in two days that you should do while you’re in Paris.

We visited the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre that morning with the rest of the crowds of people, but we didn’t realize that Mass would be happening while we were there. As we were admiring the interior, the Priest begins his lesson speaking in French, and then English, and then Arabic. “Love your neighbor”, he says, which seemed so appropriate for that moment. By the time we circled to the other side, a group of people who were sitting in the pews, stood and began singing and clapping in praise. Moments like those, you can’t forget.

We then moved on to macaroons! Because, what else would you eat in Paris? A picnic in the park is also required, which, we did that too. Oh, and window shopping, or shopping, shopping on the Champs Elysees.

The best thing about renting a car while traveling is being able to be on your own schedule. Since we did this, after sitting in a park for a while enjoying our picnic, we decided on a whim to make our way out to Versailles. Unfortunately, it was closing when we arrived, but we did find a cute crepe shop across the street. That trip was not all for nothing!

The next morning we were off again… Luxembourg, here we come!

We didn’t have much time, but it was somewhat on our way to Germany, (where we were staying with a friend), and a good excuse to stop and see another friend, Aly, who is living in Luxembourg City for a couple years.

We met her for lunch at a cute sandwich shop close to the square where she then gave us a tour of the quaint central area.  It was a really nice detour along our route!

Finally, Germany.

Back on the road, we reached out final destination, Grünstadt, Germany. It’s a cute, little town in the Southwestern German wine country. Our host for the next couple days, Randy, took us to a restaurant in Neuleiningen Castle. Yes, dinner in a castle! It’s dimly lit, as castles should be, and the ambiance couldn’t be better. We ate steaks and drank wine from glasses that were more like goblets. It was incredible!

The next day, we celebrated my birthday by spending the morning hiking and wandering around the cute German town of Heidelberg. It was 65 and sunny and could not have been a more perfect day. We walked around the Heidelberg Castle, ate doner kebab for lunch, and then hit the road again to Rothenburg ob der Tauber to meet our other friend and Randy’s wife, Janna.

A few months prior, Randy and Janna sent me a post card with a cute little German setting and I said, “I want to go there!” So, we did! It’s a medieval city still surrounded by the walls built hundreds of years ago.  And you bet I made sure we had our picture taken in that exact spot from the postcard.

Soon enough, it was time to get back on the road the next morning for our final destination — Munich!

We made a pit stop in Nuremburg, because, why not? Unfortunately, it was gray and rainy, but that’s just how it goes sometimes… We visited a few churches, wandered around the open-air market, and stopped for schnitzel for lunch. That was probably one of my favorite meals that week…

After a couple hours, we reached our hostel in Munich which was quite a bit stressful. Our rental car stalled as we were going up a tiny, spiral ramp which Kat miraculously was able to get us out of without a scratch! [Seriously, it was amazing.] As we finally park and unload the car, we take an elevator up into a hostel that was really modern and cool, but it wasn’t ours. So, we laughed and walked outside to find our hostel next door which was a bit… more rustic.

As we get our keys and walk down to our 40 person mixed dorm in the basement of this building, I’m immediately giving myself a pep-talk as we walk to the back, dark corner of the room — “I can do this. It’s only 2 nights… It’s only $16…”. I check out the bathroom… um, no thanks. At this point, I’m already starting to look at hotel rooms within the proximity. I’m tired of bunk beds, I’m tired of strangers, but mostly, I just wanted a nice, long, hot, private shower. That’s all! We stayed there for a night and then I treated us to our own room the next. Worth every penny!

It’s experiences like that where you learn a lot about yourself and what kind of traveler you are. It’s also those experiences that create great stories like, laughing so hard you cry because your friend juggles her toothbrush for a few seconds before it eventually falls in the nasty, communal sink. Ah, memories…

Anyway, we went out that night for Kat’s birthday and met people from all over the world – which is one of my favorite parts of traveling. We also met people who were from cities close to or our own American cities. One of whom was performing in a variety show doing incredible cirque du soliel type routines. He was gracious enough to get us tickets the following evening.

We visited Neuschwanstein Castle the next day. Well, we drove there to gaze at it from afar, but it was entirely worth the two hour drive since the drive itself is something to see!

Of course no trip is complete without bumps in the road as I almost missed my flight back home… but I can’t say it would have been the worst thing getting stuck in Munich for another day.

All in all, this trip was definitely one of the best.

Cheers!

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