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Published August 12th 2014
From Krakow to Scotland
Remember the song One Night in Bangkok? No? "One Night in Bangkok, and the world's your oyster". Remember now? Our seven weeks around Europe have absolutely no relation to the song, but we certainly felt that it was a trip of a lifetime. I always remember the line in Dirty Dancing, "22 countries in 8 days". Well it wasn't quite like that but we did achieve 5 in 7 weeks.
Starting from our home in Australia we flew half way around the world and commenced our amazing tour in Krakow, Poland. We fully expected to have some difficulty here conversing with the locals, however from being collected at the airport to the hotel and the many attractions we visited, the Polish people were very accommodating. We even had some fun with the lady in the supermarket who could not speak English but was happy to help us with some very inventive use of sign language.
Krakow was a great jumping off point for this European adventure. We booked a few tours from Australia before we left including Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Wieliczka Salt Mines. Both of these tours were amazing and well worth doing. Auschwitz-Birkenau is a humbling experience and it became clear to me how realistic the movie Schindler's List is. When entering the latrine building in Birkenau I could clearly visualise the scene in the movie where the children hide in the pit and became quite emotional. Also at Birkenau there remains the ruins of the gas chambers and a memorial to those murdered. If you are in the area, this tour is not to be missed.
The Wieliczka Salt Mines are nothing short of amazing. If you can cope with knowing you are a long way underground take this tour. There are a number of different types of tours on offer here depending on which experience you want to have. We undertook the basis tourist tour and enjoyed every bit of it. The tour guides give you a good briefing on the history of the mine and there if much to see. At the end of the tour there is the obligatory souvenir shop which is well worth a look through. I contemplated purchasing a salt lamp here, but this being the very beginning of 7 weeks of travelling I opted not to but probably should have. I still don't have my salt lamp.
Staying at the Rubenstein; a beautiful 14th century hotel, we only spent 4 days in Krakow and visited many places and enjoyed many experiences. We visited including the Cloth Hall (markets) and Wawel Castle, both of which are well worth the time. We did not get to Schindler's Factory and left feeling that we had missed much and that we must return. Krakow is a friendly town and we felt very safe here, it's well worth a visit and we will return.
From Krakow we travelled to Amsterdam by plane. Amsterdam is simply a joy, with so many things to do and see. We had 9 days here and were very fortunate to have family to show us around, however, having said that many of the places we visited are easily accessible by public transport. The public transport system is easy to navigate and while we found the trams a trifle on the expensive side,we found the trains cheap and safe even late at night.
We were fortunate (well we kind of planned it) that Keukenhof was open while we were there. For the uninitiated, Keukenhof is the annual flower show and if you like flowers or even photography, it is a must. You can spend hours here wandering amongst the flowers and other attractions and I can see how it would be easy to buy a multivisit or season pass if you were here for a while. Madurodam is a miniature village of epic proportions. There are interactive displays for young and old and you can have great fun playing lock keeper, turning the wind turbines and playing lighting technician.
Zaanse Schans is a replica dutch village with real windmills. We had great fun here climbing the insides of the windmills and watch how they work. There are spices, clogs and all sorts of Dutch things to purchase along with craft demonstrations and places to eat.
Many of us have read The Diary of Anne Frank, but you cannot truly appreciate the story until you have visited Anne Frank's House. While her descriptions of their life while hidden are excellent you must climb the stairs and stand in her room to understand. There are many displays showing artefacts and telling the story and a great gift shop. We picked up the book Anne Frank Remembered here which tells Anne's story from the perspective of one of their helpers. This story closes the circle and is well worth reading to understand the story completely.
The Verzetsmuseum (Dutch Resistance Museum) was essential for us as there is a family connection. This is a great museum which tells the story of the experiences of the Dutch people during the war and the efforts of the dutch resistance in the fight for freedom. There is a small section dedicated to the resistance efforts undertaken in Indonesia and we would have liked there to be more here, but all in all the museum is worth a visit if you have any interest in this topic.
You cannot come to Amsterdam and not cruise the canals. Take the time to go on one of the many canal boats and spend an afternoon cruising. It is amazingly relaxing at the end of many days of touring.
And if nothing else, make sure that you visit the Albert Cuyp Market. We love markets here in Australia but this would have to be the best market I have ever visited. There are many fun things to experience here from croquettes to poffertjes; make sure you come hungry and fill up!
The fast trains in Europe are an amazing way to travel and a quick trip from Amsterdam saw us in Paris. I have to admit Paris was not my favourite part of this trip, but I did enjoy seeing the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, walking down the Champs de Elysee and segueing past major attractions such as Napoleon's Tomb, Louvre Museum, Musée D'Orsay and the Tuileries Gardens.
The highlight of France however was our visit to a little town called Lille. We were here for one reason; to do a tour of the Somme and visit my great grandfather's memorial at Pozieres. What we weren't expecting was to find a little church called Saint-Maurice's. Saint-Maurice's will always have a place in my heart for many reasons; from the dedication to the British war dead to the statue of Joan of Arc and some of the most beautiful stained glass windows I have ever seen. The Somme tour was equally amazing and while we did just 1 day of a 3 day tour we will return to do the rest of the tour and this is an experience which can be easily repeated over and over again.
A quick train trip across (well under) the English Channel and we found ourselves in London for the next 7 days. This was another of those places where we left things not done and feeling like there was just not enough time.
If in London, enjoy the delights of undertaking a few London Walks tours. There is a great variety of tours and all are reasonably priced. You may find yourself walking down Diagon Alley, listening to the stories of Sherlock Holmes or visiting Westminster Cathedral amongst many other fascinating experiences.
The Tower of London is well worth a visit. This was to be a half day visit for us which turned into nearly a full day and had us running late for our intended London Walks tour.
From London we took a day trip to Stonehenge and found ourselves (planned really) in the stone circle at sunset. Don't miss the opportunity to do this; it's expensive but so very worth it! We visited Bath and Lacock on the way to Stonehenge, however where you go will depend on which tour company you choose. To be honest I would have been happy to just go straight to Stonehenge, but it is part of the package and the dinner in a little pub in Lacock was worthwhile.
Passing by platform 9¾, we boarded yet another train and a short while later we are in Scotland for a 7 day organised tour. Scotland is lots of fun from castles, lochs, golf courses, a royal yacht and a whiskey distillery. Did I mention castles? The tour was great fun and we spent our week with lots of wonderful people, however if you are used to independent travel and confident about driving in a foreign country, I would suggest you hire a car, do your research and do your own thing.
Last but not least our final train trip saw us in Lancashire. Once again in the hands of wonderful family, we travelled from the Lancashire through the Yorkshire Dales visiting Bolton Abbey and onto the medieval walled city of York. We also had a wonderful day on cruising the Lakes District. Lancashire was about family and friends and we spent 9 days here travelling about and just enjoying the company.