The map above is our driving trip, but doesn't include the two European stops we flew to - Greece and Sweden, nor the last two stops, London and Scotland. Out of the 22 countries we will have visited, 10 will be in Europe.
The road quality in Europe is really impressive (especially France - how do they create such perfectly smooth roads?) and the drivers are also astute and skilled. It is a pleasure to drive in "driving cultures". So it is with more than a little sadness than I pulled into Amsterdam as it is the last drop-off for the girls (who will fly to London), but Ben and I still have to return the minivan to Frankfurt (and fly from there). My sadness only lasted a few minutes as I was totally blown away by Amsterdam - holy smokes, why didn't I know this was such an over-the-top fun city! And then my joy turned to sheer fear as we missed a few turns and I had to navigate that beast through "Old Town" on street barely wide enough for our mirrors and through sunny, Sunday summer afternoon weather! I think the pedestrians were afraid of us - but we were afraid of the bikes!
Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of bikes. Wow.
So far Europe has been relatable, understandable and educational. There are great differences, however, between "tourist" cities such as Paris and Venice (and Amsterdam) and "regular" cities like Frankfurt, Bruxelles and even The Hague (where we stopped for lunch). Both have their educational opportunities, and it was eye-opening to see both along the way; famous sites and everyday life.
We stayed in a mixture of apartments and hotels and ate and drank the local delicacies as much as possible. The french sure love their fried potatoes! Thankfully red wine, beer, pizza and ice cream are the universal staples globally (except for India perhaps) for when the kids are cranky and not in the mood to explore local fares.
Parking the van has been challenging because of the low-ceilinged garages, but so far no dings or scratches. I am hoping to make it back to Germany that way! And have my last liter of Germany beer and Schnitzel.
Then off to London to play tourist, buy gifts and have some Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding...and British Gin. Then Scotch and Haggis in Scotland...then home to the U.S. to have a hot dog (no ketchup, cheese or mayonnaise please) and a Budweiser. And then a detox for a week as we need to stop all of this traveling and eating!!!
P.S. Some of the most fun we have had on the road have been our "gas station picnics" as the gas/food stops on the European highways are pretty nice. Suzanne makes sandwiches and we eat on picnic benches amongst grass and trees. Not too expense, quick and everyone gets a treat. (Like the coffee in Italy!)
P.S.S. And speaking of excess...Amsterdam is one crazy city. Image New Orleans and Las Vegas combined, but with less laws, and set in a boating city from 1250's. The Old Town area is pot shops, beer bars, hookers and party boats going up-and-down canals all day and night. It's like the world's largest (oldest?) Spring Break college town. And the Red Light district...what's up with that? Is it a weird coincidence that the city flag for Amsterdam is "XXX"?
The flag of Amsterdam is the official flag for Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands. The current design of the flag depicts three Saint Andrew's Crosses and is based on the escutcheon in the coat of arms of Amsterdam. The flag was adopted on February 5, 1975