Lisbon, Portugal

August 12-13:

On the way back to the United States in between Venice and New York City, we had an overnight layover in Lisbon, Portugal. We deliberately chose the flight that had the longest layover (just about 24 hours) so that we could get out of the airport and stay overnight in the city for a tiny taste of Portugal!

Lisbon from the air at sunset

Food in Lisbon

After a quick stop at our hotel, we were excited to get out into the city and check out the local food and drink! Portugal in general is well-known for its seafood – particularly the region where Lisbon is located as it’s so close to the Atlantic ocean. As such, we walked down the street to a restaurant near our hotel and grabbed some seafood!

Local-caught cod fish – a Lisbon specialty
Delicious orange soda!

We were also able to find a breakfast restaurant nearby the next morning that seems to be a favorite with both the locals as well as with the travelers passing through.

A breakfast restaurant!
Delicious breakfast in Lisbon

Being in Portugal for such a short time, we weren’t able to check out the local sights and sounds as much as we wanted to. We’d love to come back one day and check out more of this beautiful country. Portugal is a hot-spot for American expats these days, and with good reason. It’s beautiful, safe, and relatively cheap! Hoping to one day be able to visit longer!

Sights around Lisbon

Lisbon is hilly! This is a public-transportation elevator to help you get up the San-Francisco-esque hills
These trolleys were everywhere! Graham was in paradise, and we bought a tiny replica trolley to bring home as a souvenir.
Lisbon at night

A couple of interesting things that stand out in Lisbon: First, the 25 de Abril Bridge. It looks just like the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco! Interestingly, it’s known as the “sister bridge” to the Golden Gate, and was even built by the same company. Check out the picture below to see what I mean. Also in the picture below, notice the statue rising above the trees just to the left of the bridge. It was inspired by the “Christ the Redeemer” statue in Portugese-colonized Brazil. It was built overlooking the city after World War 2 to express gratitude from being spared from any direct impact from the war. Things like this make the city of Lisbon a gem hidden in plain sight.

Next stop – home!

Florence, Italy

July 25-28:

We have arrived in our final country of the trip! Italy is country number 10! Technically we are laying-over one night in one more country before heading home, but this is our last country to fully explore.

This is my second time in Italy. In 2011, my all-girls high school choir (Capital City Girls Choir in Raleigh) took a big trip to Italy where we performed a couple concerts. We toured Florence, Rome, Sansepolcro, and Assisi. It was a wonderful experience in high school, but I am so glad to be back as an adult! This was Graham’s first time in Italy and it was so fun to see it fresh through his eyes.

The view from our Airbnb window

We had a wonderful Airbnb in Florence with a very kind host (Mario and his son Dario). The host’s son picked us up from the train station platform with a hand-drawn sign reading “Bargeron” the night we got in. We had a great conversation with him while he drove through the city streets towards our “home” for the next few days.

The Duomo – Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is the centerpiece of Florence. It towers over all the other buildings in the city with its gothic style architecture, the first of its kind after the long Dark Ages in the 1500s. The original designs for the cathedral had a dome, but no one knew how to construct one so they left that part of the cathedral unfinished and covered. The city then announced an architectural contest. Brunelleschi won the contest and came up with the innovative idea to put two domes on top of each other to help with the weight distribution. It was a huge architectural achievement for the Renaissance period, particularly imagining how this was built as the world was just beginning to exit the Dark Ages.

The Duomo looming above as we walked towards it

It is free to visit the cathedral, but due to covid, they regulate how many people can enter at once. We grabbed some nearby gelato and stood in line for about 20 minutes. You also have to pass through a metal detector and walk past the wardrobe police. They do not allow any bare shoulders, shorts, or too short skirts/dresses. The street vendors take full advantage of this fact and walk up and down the line waiting outside with scarves to sell.

The cathedral (in front of the duomo)
The duomo behind the cathedral

The inside is just as breathtaking as the outside. The inside of the magnificent dome is painted to represent the last judgement.

Looking up at the giant duomo
A 24 hour clock inside the cathedral!
The Gates of Paradise. Located just across from the Duomo. It is the main gate to the Baptistery of Florence – these doors were also built just after the Dark Ages and are seen as a major achievement in 3D art!

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio is a popular arched bridge over the river. The bridge is lined with jewelry shops on both sides with only the very center opened up to walk. We learned that the bridge used to have butchers and farmers in the stores, but the smell got too bad and a decree was made in 1595 that only allowed jewelers to occupy the space. That is still the case today!

Graham and I loved looking over into the Arno River and just people watching. The sidewalks were bustling with tourists and there were a few children rowing up and down the river.

Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio

Accademia Gallery – Michelangelo’s David

One of our highlights in Florence was visiting the Accademia Museum and seeing Michelangelo’s David sculpture. I remember coming here in high school with my choir group on a tour, but it was so nice to come back as an adult with a new appreciation for artwork. With our trusty Rick Steves book in hand, we walked to each sculpture eager to read the commentary.

Along the first hallway, you have some of Michelangelo’s “unfinished” work with David at the very end of the hall. These were Graham’s favorite! Michelangelo believed he was simply revealing the figures trapped in the marble – chiseling away at what was not the figure. There is a debate about these figures in the first hall. Are they actually unfinished and forgotten or did Michelangelo purposefully leave them that way? They were said to be originally sculpted for the tomb of Pope Julies 2, but the project fell through. Art scholars have named these statues “the prisoners” as though seem to be stuck in the marble and in the process of being set free. You can almost feel the claustrophobia of the figures inside the rock as they’re wrestling to get out.

These sculptures are probably some of my absolute favorites of Michelangelo as well. The raw stone around the figure gives you a sense of the art process going from a block of marble to detailed masterpiece. Michelangelo always worked freehand, starting from the front and working his way to the back. You could still see his chisel-marks!

Michelangelo’s “prisoners”
Michelangelo’s “prisoners”
Michelangelo’s “prisoners”
Michelangelo’s “prisoners”

The main event of the museum is of course, the 14-foot tall David. Originally commissioned for the Duomo, Michelangelo was given a huge piece of marble that other sculptors in the area thought was just too tall and flawed to be useful. At 26 years old in 1501, Michelangelo took the unwanted slab of marble and created the iconic and breathtaking David. Some scholars debate whether the sculpture depicts David about to fight Goliath or if it is after as he stands in victory.

It’s hard not to sit here (knowing how young he was when he completed it) and look at this masterpiece and wonder what in the world have I done with my life?!

It was so cool reading about the statue as we stood there. One of the things we read was that Michelangelo studied the human body more than some doctors/surgeons at the time. For example, on his right forearm, there’s a tiny muscle/ligament that you can see rippling out of the marble that is only activated when your hand and fingers are positioned exactly how David’s are in the statue. Amazing!

Michelangelo’s David
Michelangelo’s David

Food in Florence

Of course, now that we are in Italy, we must enjoy ALL the Italian food and desserts!

Gelato is one of my absolute favorite desserts! I always get mint and coffee flavors. Graham usually gets pistachio (which I initially thought would be gross, but my eyes have recently been opened).

We have also found one of our new favorite drinks – lemon soda! We always keep our airbnb fridge stocked with them, stopping at local grocery stores to refuel when we’re running low. Hopefully we will find them in the states when we return.

Gelato! Lizzie’s favorite!
Gelato from Perche no!
Sandwiches for lunch with cheese and salami at Fratellini.
Restaurant Trattoria
Roasted tomatoes at Restaurant Trattoria
Homemade spaghetti (homemade noodles + sauce!) at Restaurant Trattoria. It was spicy!
Tuscan pork chop and potatoes at Restaurant Trattoria
Our new favorite drink – lemon soda! Basically just carbonated lemonade, with a tiny bit of lemon pulp.
Panzanella – Popular Tuscan cold salad with soaked stale bread, onions, and tomatoes. Once you get past the soggy bread texture, its not so bad!
Homemade tortellini

Sights Around Florence

Piazzale Michelangelo – overlooking the city of Florence
Piazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria – a free outdoor space to walk around and enjoy old Florence sculptures
Nighttime view of Arno river
Street vendors

Nice, France

July 23-25:

Graham riding an e-bike!

Biking Along the French Riviera

When we arrived in Nice, we were greeted by our wonderful Airbnb host. He showed us around the apartment (located in Old Nice) and gave us some local recommendations. One thing he recommended was renting e-bikes (bikes with a battery-powered motor) and take it up the French Rivera. The next day we got up and went to Bicicletta Shop to rent some bikes! We are so glad we chose to do this instead of going to some other popular attractions. We had a wonderful four hour bike ride and enjoyed such fantastic views. We wore our bathing suits on the ride knowing we would want to stop for a quick swim in the ocean.

Our biking route

Motorized e-bikes are amazing! This was the first time we ever rode them and we were very impressed. I can’t imagine biking the road we did using regular bikes. We effortlessly rode up huge hills and still enjoyed the oh-so-satisfying cruise going down. One older woman that we passed gave me an odd look as I peddled slowly, still seated, continuing at a fast speed up this steep hill that she herself was struggling to walk up. She gave a look and then as though a light went off, she saw the battery and said in broken English “ohh… motor.”

As you will see in the photos below, the views were spectacular! We stopped about halfway and found a public beach to go swimming in. We locked our bikes up and headed down to the Mediterranean shore. We found some huge rocks away from the crowds to set our things on and went for a dip. The water felt so refreshing and was so clear! After our short beach stop, we got back on our bikes and continued along our route.

I wore my favorite $10 skirt from Aldi over my bathing suit. Unfortunately, being the inexperienced biker that I am, I thought my skirt would just effortlessly flow away from the wheels – wrong. About halfway down a hill, my skirt caught my tire. After a couple tugs the skirt came free from the tire to reveal the newly made tear on the side of my skirt. Lesson learned and now I am in need of a new skirt.

When we just picked up our e-bikes
Graham biking along the French Riviera
The French Riviera!

Exploring the City

Upon returning to the city area, we realized we had biked right into a protest. There were at least a hundred people chanting loudly and holding up signs. From what we could understand, they were protesting against President Macron’s recent announcement mandating that all French citizens must get vaccinated. It was a pretty peaceful protest as we watched from across the street, but it was growing in both size and volume as time progressed. We quickly rerouted to a quieter street and returned our bike rentals.

French protestors
Old Nice

One thing that we have come to fully appreciate about France is their incredible food selection. Each meal we have had in France has been so delicious! Graham’s favorite dessert is Creme Brûlée so he was certainly in heaven.

Taking our Airbnb host’s food recommendation, we ate dinner at Le Safari. It was a long wait, but ended up being so worth it! The restaurant was a part of a big square filled with all different types of restaurants with outdoor seating. Many street performers traveled along the sidewalk performing for each restaurant. After their short routine of singing a couple songs or doing some acrobatic moves, they would walk around the tables with a hat to collect money. It was the perfect spot for dinner and a show!

Dinner at Le Safari
Dinner at Le Safari
Desert at Le Safari
Creme Brûlée at Le Safari
Our breakfast one morning. Everything was put in mason jars. We got coffee, scrambled eggs, yogurt parfait, and lemon pudding.

Final Thoughts

The city of Nice was beautiful and we are so glad we stopped here before heading to Italy. Inside the city was a bit crowded and we have realized for us we enjoy getting off the beaten path, which is why we so enjoyed getting out of the city on our full day of bike riding along the coast. We will miss the fresh Creme brûlée, but we are sure to be back!

Along our bike ride

Paris, France

July 15-20:

Our first stop in France was Paris! Up to this point in the trip, we haven’t had any difficulty navigating public transportation. We were proud of this track record… Until we arrived in Paris. I watched a tutorial on YouTube before arriving and felt pretty confident I could handle it. We bought a book of 10 tickets at the train station just like the YouTube tutorial suggested. Unfortunately, the video was just about traveling inside Paris city center. The two places we ended up staying were outside of Paris, which required completely different types of tickets. There are also multiple transportation zones within Paris and different tickets are needed to travel across them. We spent a long time standing in front of the ticket machine trying to figure out which ticket would be best for where we would like to go. Finding the right bus to our first AirBnB was also tricky. We found a bus driver on break and asked for his assistance. He didn’t speak any English and we both tried to communicate with hand motions and Google Translate. He was so patient with us! He repeated everything and even wrote on his hand with his pen the bus number we needed, pointed in the direction of the bus, and off we went running to catch it.

Transportation struggles

Before coming to France, we heard many stereotypes. For example, we heard that no one speaks English and all French people hate Americans and are rude. It was true that we found more non English speakers in France (yet still found many that did speak English), but the other stereotype was not true. Everyone was so kind and patient with us! We tried our best to learn some of the language to better communicate, but usually ended up relying mostly on our Google translating app. The app even has a conversation feature where you can both be speaking and it will translate French to English and English to French.

Disneyland Paris (from outside the gates!)

Our first day in Paris we got off of a train to transfer to another one. We walked up the stairs and to our surprise – we were at the entrance to Disneyland Paris! Through more hand motions and Google Translate, we realized that this was the entrance to Disney Village which was totally free! Think of the Disney Springs shopping/restaurant area in Florida, but much, much smaller. With our giant backpacks still on, we hopped in line and went through the security check! We walked into almost every store and enjoyed some classic Disney magic without even paying for a park ticket.

Disneyland Paris!

Palace of Versailles

Our first AirBnB in the Paris area was right outside of the Palace of Versailles. We decided to tackle the 2,014 acre palace on our first full day. It was a cool day, which helped since the palace does not have central air conditioning. We bought tickets to see the palace and gardens. We were pleasantly surprised to find that neither were as crowded as we were expecting!

The palace was a clear picture of the worship of man. Well, one man in particular – Louis XIV. Around the palace and gardens you will find statues and paintings of Louis XIV depicted as the sun king. Everything was elaborate and gaudy. Even in the king’s chapel, we learned that the “peasants” would be down at the bottom worshiping him as he worshiped God up above in his private balcony.

The palace started off as a hunting lodge/retreat that Louis XIII owned. After he died, his son, Louis XIV, transformed it from 1661-1710 into the elaborate complex it is today. He reigned as king for 69 years. Later, Louis XVI became king in 1774 where he married Marie-Antoinette in the royal chapel. They both had their own private apartment chambers. Louis XVI was the last king of France before the monarchy fell during the French Revolution.

Palace of Versailles
At the gates of the palace
Palace of Versailles
Studying our Rick Steves book on France inside the palace
The Royal Chapel
The Hercules Room
Hall of Mirrors
Hall of Mirrors

Gardens of Versailles

Fountain show in the Versailles Gardens



Unfortunately because of the 2019 fire at the Notre Dame cathedral, the building was still being repaired and was unable to be entered. We were, however able to enjoy checking out the exterior from the square in front of the church!

English Bookstores

Graham and I love bookstores! We wanted to buy a copy of the France Rick Steves book (as we were using our host’s copy while in Paris) and decided to seek out some English Bookstores. We found several right near Notre-Dame.

Our favorite find was the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. This bookstore first opened in 1951 by George Whitman, a fellow American. It is located in an old monastery with two floors filled with books. They had a piano on the second floor where anyone could sit down and play. The sound of the beautiful piano being played by a complete stranger echoed through each room. The cherry on top for Graham was the friendly bookstore cat.

Shakespeare and Company Bookstore
Shakespeare and Company Bookstore – notes you could leave for future guests
The community piano!
Shakespeare and Company cat

Luxembourg Gardens

We have realized that as Americans, we naturally rush everywhere and in everything. We walk quickly, eat fast, and struggle to slow down. One thing we have enjoyed learning about the European culture (and hope to bring back home with us) is that meals are meant to be enjoyed and should not be done quickly. This is especially true in France. For the most part, a meal here can last more than 2 hours. The check is not naturally brought to you at restaurants – you have to ask for it whenever you are done talking and enjoying your meal.

With this same theme of slowing down, we decided to take a moment to slow down and relax in the beautiful Luxembourg Garden. One of my friends told me about this garden and it definitely did not disappoint. Families and people of all ages sat all around the 60 acre garden in the heart of Paris and enjoyed the moment. We sat down with our Rick Steves book and read up on the surrounding areas.

The French Senate owns the garden and the Luxembourg Palace is where they meet. We also learned that French’s secret service is headquartered beneath the garden. Not so secret I guess!

Luxembourg Garden – with the Luxembourg Palace in the background
Luxembourg Garden

Paris Bed and Breakfast

The first two nights in Paris we stayed near Versailles in an AirBnB with a beautiful garden. Then, we moved to the southern side of the city to an incredible bed and breakfast for the next three days! We have learned on this trip that we don’t enjoy staying inside big cities. In fact, in general, we have found that we really like small to mid-sized cities such as Gouda, Netherlands or Akureyri, Iceland. This house was located just outside of Paris in a small suburb that felt more like a small/midsized city. To get into the Paris city center we just simply walked 8 minutes to the train station and then took the RER (regional) train into Paris.

Our two hosts, Frédéric and Jean-Luc, were so hospitable. After meeting them for the first time, it felt like we were reconnecting with old family friends. Every morning they would make us gourmet breakfast – English cream, homemade jam from their fruit trees in the backyard, breakfast crepes and so much more. They also sat with us and helped map out each of our days to see all of the highlights in Paris. Our room was on the third floor. It had a private sitting room, bedroom, and bathroom. It was perfect! We hope to one day return and stay here again! If you happen to be in Paris and are looking for a spot to stay just outside of the city – check out Villa De La Terrasse.

The view from our bedroom
Just one example of the amazing breakfast spreads that our hosts made for us.
A picture with our amazing hosts right before we left

Tour De France

All of our traveling has been very spontaneous, necessitated by the ever-changing COVID regulations. We usually figure out where we are staying only days in advance (sometimes that very day) and our itinerary for that city is loosely decided once we arrive in that said city.

To our surprise, we found out that Tour De France would be ending in Paris while we were visiting. Totally unplanned! All we had to do was show our vaccination card and we were allowed in to the sectioned-off area of the city where the bikers would be riding through.

We met so many people there that had traveled from the States and around the world just for this race. We felt a little out of place since neither of us knew any racers or really anything about the race – we almost literally stumbled in to the event. Graham bought a Tour De France hat to commemorate the occasion. We arrived about 2 hours early before the peloton went by and were able to see the pre-race caravan parade. The caravan was a string of decorated cars and floats that generally seemed to be used for advertisements. We saw floats advertising water, recycling, detergent, a large chicken float advertising a brand of eggs, glasses and more. It was certainly entertaining!

After about an hour and a half, the group of bikers finally made it into the city. The bikes zipped past us so fast, we barely had time to blink! Luckily, they had to circle around and pass us 7 more times before the finish line so we had a lot more opportunities to see them. It was a very cool experience!

Part of the caravan parade
One of the floats – a giant biker on top of a car
Tour De France 2021 near the Arc-De-Triumph with different countries waving their flags
The friends we made while watching the Tour De France – we helped them hold up their Ecuadorian flag while the bikes flew by!
Tour De France 2021

Eiffel Tower

Of course, a Paris trip would not be complete without a visit to the iconic 1,063 foot Eiffel Tower. We first saw it in the afternoon and decided to buy tickets to go up the Eiffel Tower later that evening when the sun was going down. We only went to the second floor, which was definitely high enough! We decided to be economical and take the stairs versus the elevator. It was also a fun experience… at first. I’m not usually scared of heights, but when we were taking the stairs up (and especially coming down) my legs began to feel like jello. The first and second floor had such incredible views of the city though! We stayed at the top until it got very late. Then we raced to the bottom to catch the famous light show that happens every evening on the hour for 5 minutes. The whole tower sparkles! It was magical!

The view from the Eiffel Tower at sunset
The view from the the Eiffel Tower at night
Eiffel Tower at night
Taking the stairs down the Eiffel Tower
The light show that happens every hour at night

After a long day of walking around Paris and walking up and down the Eiffel Tower (now around 11:30pm) it was time to head home. With so much frustration with public transportation, (specifically because a lot of stops had closed due to Tour De France earlier that day) we decided to catch an Uber home. It was going to cost a little more than we would have liked, but when you are tired and exhausted – you just don’t care. So we plugged in our Airbnb address and requested an Uber who arrived soon after. We had such a delightful conversation with our driver during the 25 minute drive. He gave some marriage advice and told us about his life in Paris. We were just 2 minutes away from where he was going to drop us off when we realized the embarrassing truth. We plugged in the wrong address. We put our old Airbnb address near Versailles that we had stayed at a few days before. It was now midnight and we had to explain to our driver that we weren’t actually staying here, but 15 minutes in the opposite direction. We apologized profusely and even gave him the option to drop us off and we would get another Uber driver to pick us up. He was so sweet about the whole mixup and thankfully lived close to where our actual Airbnb was and happily took us to the right location. Note to self – if one finds themselves staying in a different spot every few days – double check the address when requesting an Uber.

Sacre Coeur

Our last day in Paris we traveled to Sacré-Cœur and climbed to the very top. The views were stunning! The chapel inside was also amazing. We found a middle seat inside to sit to take in all in.

Food Around Paris

Eating at a Cafe. We got pizza and French onion soup.
Eating at a restaurant some locals recommended. It is considered “fast food”.
Stopped for lunch at this yummy Japanese restaurant. Graham got sushi, Lizzie got a poke bowl, and we shared some mochi.

Salzburg, Austria

July 9-11:

My parents came to Europe on their honeymoon and traveled to many places. Salzburg was one place they came and spoke so highly of. With our plans constantly changing, we decided to add it to our list and make the short train ride from the Czech Republic.

Storefront with traditional Austrian clothes
There were 3 large town squares- Mozartplatz, Redidenzplatz, and Domplatz. Each had a statue or fountain at the middle and restaurants around the sides.
A beautiful Christmas store with thousands of hand painted eggs!

The Hills are Alive

The Sound of Music was filmed in Salzburg in 1964. I grew up watching this movie and singing the songs on repeat. While walking around the city and seeing the Swiss Alps in the distance, “the hills are alive, with the sound of music” played over in my head (and sometimes randomly out loud before Graham reminded me that people were around). We got to go to a couple spots where scenes were filmed. It was wild being there!

Scene from the Sound of Music
At Mirabell Garden

Mozart’s Home

We purchased the Salzburg card, which I highly recommend! It was a small fee and included so many popular attractions. We saved big time by getting the card and went to a lot of spots we wouldn’t have otherwise visited. Our first stop with the card was Mozart’s home. In the first room of the house tour sat the families piano that Mozart once played. Graham and I spent about 25 minutes in just the first room standing by the piano amazed at what we were looking at. Mozart played on THAT piano!

We learned that the piano was made with wooden keys for the natural notes and the sharps/flat keys were made of ivory. Some pianos were made this way to save money since there were more natural keys on a piano and wood was a cheap material compared to ivory.

The museum also housed his father’s violin, letters written by Mozart to his father, and original sheet music by Mozart! We also learned that his older sister (Maria Anna) was just as musically talented as Mozart, but because she was a woman she was unable to publish work or perform as a career.

Mozart’s home
Mozart’s family piano. Photo taken from Google. We were unable to take pictures inside the museum.

Fortress Hohensalzburg

With our Salzburg card in hand, we headed up the funicular to the large fortress looking over the city. The first building in the fortress was built in 1250 and had many additions added until the 1800s. In case Salzburg was ever attacked, the townspeople would all head to the fortress for safety. The fortress was massive and had several great museums inside with many interactive activities. Graham and I felt like kids again touching all the materials of old armor, trying to lift different sized cannon balls, clicking all the buttons to light up part of a 4D model of the fortress, and designing our own soldier for battle. The fortress also gave a great view of the city!

Taking the funicular up to the fortress
The fortress from below
Fortress in 1250.
Fortress in 1800.

Mirabell Garden

Right inside the center city is a beautiful public garden-Marabell Garden. Several scenes from the Sound of Music were filmed in this garden! The garden was filled with beautiful fountains and flowers. As we were walking through, one garden area looked SO familiar. I quickly realized that I had seen a photo of my mother in this garden when my parents were here 35 years earlier on their honeymoon. The garden was not as full as it was then, but it was so neat to make that connection. We had to try and recreate the photo!

Mirabell Garden
Top photo-my beautiful mother 35 years ago on her honeymoon. Bottom photo – Me in 2021.
Mirabell Garden
Scene from the Sound of Music at Mirabell Garden
Mirabell Garden


Untersberg is a massif (mountain range) on the German-Austrian border. Some choose to take a long strenuous hike up to the top, but we decided to take full advantage of our Salzberg card and take the very fast cable car. We spent about an hour and a half at the top until the cable car took its last trip to the bottom at 5:30. The views were stunning! It was probably the most beautiful mountain range we have ever seen!

The cable car from the bottom of the mountain.
Riding the cable car to the top
Untersberg – border of Germany and Austria (that’s the Austrian flag spray painted on the rocks)

Our Airbnb Stay

We stayed just outside of the town in a wonderful Airbnb. On our last night there, our host invited us to share a glass of wine on her back porch and we spoke for hours before it was time for bed. We love getting to know the locals at each of our stops!

Sitting in the garden at our Salzburg Airbnb home
The view from our Airbnb home!

A cute café for lunch one day.
Apple strudel for dessert (and coffee ice cream)! Salzburg is famous for their apple strudel
Using our Salzburg card- We took the Mönchsberg elevator to a panoramic terrace of the city.
Also using our Salzburg card- we took the Salzach boat cruise up the river.
Salzach Cruise
Yummy dinner! Graham got schnitzel and Lizzie got a salad with chicken and pumpkin seed oil dressing. This salad was amazing! Definitely one of the best salads I’ve had!

Prague, Czech Republic

July 7-9:

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we will be able to go to the UK due to the new delta variant. With this new reality, we have been able to add new countries that we originally didn’t think we had time for. We added Germany to our list and then figured since we were already on the east side of Europe, we should head down into the Czech Republic to visit Prague.

The John Lennon Wall. Messages of love and struggle are written all over this wall with John Lennon’s face at the center. It started off as a place to write messages against the regime in 1960s and grew from there.
Statue of Kafka. Made up of 42 rotating panels that rotates randomly every hour. The artist was David Čurny. He only made two rotating head statues. The other one is actually in Charlotte, NC and depicts his face instead of Kafkas.
Took this funicular up to the top of a park where we got a great view of the city!
Our view from the top of the park

Old Town Square

One thing that we have come to appreciate as we have traveled to many European cities are their town squares! Why do we not have these in the States?! You can usually find some beautiful churches, buildings, statues, fountains and clocks in these squares. Most have restaurants and cafés around the perimeter with outdoor seating to enjoy the liveliness of the square. This is usually the first thing we head to when we go to a new city. Prague’s Old Town square did not disappoint.

Old Town Square
Old Town Square
Eggs Benedict for breakfast at a small cafe near the square.
At our breakfast spot.

As we arrived, we heard loud persistent honking from the streets near the square. Our first thought (as Americans) is that someone was very mad at another driver. The seemingly furious drivers happened to stop in the square. We stood aside ready to watch an intense encounter between these drivers. It turned out not to be angry drivers, but a wedding party! It seems to be a tradition to have the whole wedding party follow the couple to the church and honk the entire way there, weaving through the city. We have witnessed this cultural tradition a couple times since and always makes us grin. Maybe we should bring this tradition to the States?

Astronomical Clock

Inside the town square is the famous astronomical clock attached to the town hall! This clock is the oldest astronomical clock that has been operating since 1410! The clock shows the position of the sun and moon in the sky. Every hour there is a show where the twelve apostles walk past the windows of the clock while a skeleton rings the bell.

The Astronomical Clock

Prague Castle

Overlooking the city on top of a large hill is the Prague Castle built in the 9th century. It is actually a “castle complex” with streets and multiple buildings. We walked up what seemed like several thousand steps to huge walls and a gate to enter the complex. It felt like we entered a new town. It was huge! There were shops, the active presidential residence, guard houses, halls, towers, and churches. We came to the center of the complex to find an absolutely breathtaking cathedral – Saint Vitus Cathedral. After the many steps, we just sat down and enjoyed the magnificent view. We also have become total nerds when looking at historic architecture. We sit and talk about the intricacies that go into designing and building such amazing works of art. We are continually amazed by how old these buildings are. If only walls could talk – the history they have lived and the stories they could tell.

Our view from the top!
St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral
The Golden Lane inside the complex


Trdelník is a fried rolled dough pastry covered in cinnamon sugar and usually filled with ice cream, chocolate, fruit, or a combination of all three. We had walked past many bakeries making the yummy Trdelník, but decided to wait until our last day to grab this tasty treat. We ended up having the sweet treat for breakfast before our train ride to Austria. This brought back happy memories of staying at my grandmas house. She would always let us eat ice cream for breakfast (don’t tell my parents). Personally, I think it’s a great way to start the day! Graham felt like it was a bit odd, but didn’t complain when he had finally the yummy pastry in his hands. Graham got jam and ice cream in his and I got strawberries and ice cream in mine. They were delicious!! The ice cream especially was SO good!

Graham’s trdelník
Lizzie’s trdelník

From train to bus

Friday afternoon we boarded our train to Austria. It was going to be a 5 1/2 hour train ride, but it changed into a more eventful traveling day. Due to bad weather earlier in the day on the tracks, all of the passengers had to exit the train after an hour and load onto several buses. We crammed into one bus and then transferred to another. It was nice to see the country roads, but my stomach didn’t exactly appreciate the winding roads with little air flow while wearing a mask and backpacks on our laps.

After such a long bus ride, we have come to appreciate the actual train system even more!

Berlin, Germany

July 3-6:

From Heidelberg, Germany, we headed north to Berlin on a five hour train ride.

Meininger Hostel with the Berlin TV tower in the background

We got to Berlin late and went straight to our hostel to set our bags down before heading out for some dinner. Since our hostel experience in Heidelberg was so great, we figured we would give it another shot!

The hostel we chose was a large chain and seems to be more popular for the private rooms (essentially a hotel). We decided to save a little money and go for the dorm style room again.

The room was about 9’ x 9’ and had 3 bunk beds. There was no central AC or a fan. Berlin, we later learned can be known for their hot and humid summers. There was a little window that could be opened, but did not let in a lot of cool air. There were two girls already set up in the room we were sharing. Their things were sprawled about everywhere. We were planning on staying there for all 3 nights, but we barely made it the first!

The girls came back around 3:30am. Our room at this point was close to 80 degrees. Graham woke up around 4:30am drenched in sweat. He went down to the lobby to get some cool air. He was able to get a portable fan from the front desk. He came upstairs to turn it on and the fan was broken. He immediately booked us an airbnb to stay in the next couple nights.

Our Airbnb with AC!

After a short nap in our new AirBnB to catch up on all the missed sleep from the previous night, we set out exploring!

Brandenburg Gate

Our first stop was the famous Brandenburg Gate! It was built between 1788 and 1791 on the orders of the Prussian king Fredrick Wilson II during the Batavian Revolution. The statue on the top is known as the goddess of victory, “Quadriga”.

At the end of World War 2, much of Berlin was destroyed but the gate survived. It suffered some damage and both East and West Berlin worked together to restore the gate right before the Berlin Wall was placed.

Many famous speeches have been given in front of the gate including John F. Kennedy’s speech (1963) of “I am a Berliner” and Ronald Reagan’s speech (1987) where he famously said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Brandenburg Gate right after liberation of World War 2, somehow it survived!
Ronald Reagan’s Speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate.
Brandenburg Gate ala Graham and Lizzie!

Holocaust Memorial

We walked through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe also known as the Holocaust Memorial. It consists of 2,711 concrete slabs all different heights. The pavement is also uneven to give the visitors a sense of confusion and uneasiness. It was very powerful walking through the memorial thinking of the many lives that were tragically lost.

Holocaust Memorial
Holocaust Memorial

Hitler’s Bunker

Right near the memorial was Hitler’s Berlin air raid bunker where he married his wife and then 40 hours later where they both took their lives, marking the very end of the war. The bunker was later filled in and only a small plaque stands above ground in the middle of a parking lot. It seems fitting to have the place where he spent the last minutes of his life be nothing but a little known parking lot covered in weeds.

Checkpoint Charlie

After the Berlin Wall was put up, Checkpoint Charlie was established in 1961. This was one of only a couple checkpoints between the east and west sides of Berlin. The United States, Britain, and France all had soldiers stationed at this checkpoint since it was the only checkpoint that East Berlin allowed military personnel, allied diplomats, and foreign tourists to pass into the Berlin Soviet sector. The west purposefully did not make their checkpoint very elaborate or permanent to show they did not view this division of Berlin to be permanent.

Checkpoint Charlie… Modernized with Kentucky Fried Chicken
A tank standoff at Checkpoint Charlie during the Cold War. No shots were fired!
Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie


As we were heading to the Brandenburg Gate we walked right by a large park close to the center of Berlin. We’ve both learned on this trip to be very spontaneous and take random streets because who knows what you might find! So we took a turn and walked through the park. The park seemed unending. Like a Central Park type of park, right in the middle of Berlin. People were having picnics, running, walking their dog, or like us – just taking a stroll to see what there is to be seen. We eventually stumbled upon this beautiful garden inside the park!

Rosengarten in Tiergarten Berlin

You could smell the lavender and roses as you walked through the garden, the humid Berlin air cooling off after a hot summer day.

Rosengarten in Tiergarten Berlin
Rosengarten in Tiergarten Berlin

Day of rest

Originally, we were planning on only staying for three nights. Monday was going to be our day to go to museums. We later found out that museums are all closed on Monday. So, this called for staying an extra day and just taking a day of rest on Monday. Graham went to the grocery store that morning and got us some sandwich meat and cheeses to enjoy for the next two days.We enjoyed catching up on sleep, reading, doing laundry and reflecting. We didn’t realize before that we would need mornings (or full days) to rest. It’s been almost a month now since we began our Europe journey and each day is filled with LOTS of walking, carrying our big backpacks, and discovering lots of new things. Our brains and bodies were glad to have a day of staying in to rest.

Ethiopian Cousine

For dinner we decided to try something new (for Lizzie at least) and found a family-owned Ethiopian restaurant. We ate with our hands and enjoyed so many new flavors/spices! We thankfully did our research before and did not ask for silverware. We weren’t totally sure what each thing was, but we tried it all and each found our favorite dishes.

Ethiopian dish

Museum Day!

Our final day in Berlin was dedicated to museums! We went to the Deutsches Technikmuseum (Technology Museum) and the Neues Museum.

Our favorite parts of the technology museum was seeing all the old sailboats/ learning about the technology behind the maritime industry, seeing a lot of old military aircraft, learning about the advancement of computers, and seeing lots of old trains! If you know Graham, you know that he has had a fascination with trains since he was little. So this was definitely a highlight!

Deutsches Technikmuseum
Deutsches Technikmuseum
Deutsches Technikmuseum – the difference between first and second class on an old train!

The Neues Museum was certainly one of the nicest museums we have ever been to! This museum has a large collection of Egyptian art, prehistoric objects, and holds the famous bust of Nefertiti. It was so amazing to see the hieroglyphs on old papyrus, mummy cases, canopic jars, and lots of old artifacts that were preserved.

Apparently, Egypt has some beef with Germany over this collection being kept in Berlin rather than Cairo. It‘s not hard to see why – the collection is magnificent!

The Golden Hat – folks would wear this to signify status a long time ago. It was made of real gold!

Currywurst and Frites

We were told that when you are in Berlin, you have to try the currywurst. They don’t look too appetizing, but they were actually really good! Spiced sausage with a ketchup sauce on top with some fries and mayonnaise sauce, sprinkled with curry.

The Fun of E-scooters

Since traveling, we have discovered the joy of riding e-scooters! It’s a great way to see more of the city and they have great bike lanes! Though it becomes a very bumpy ride when going over cobblestones.

A short night sleep

Our final night in Germany was cut short when we were abruptly awakened by a very loud fire alarm at 4:30am. It took a minute to figure out what was going on, but we quickly gathered our shoes and headed downstairs to go outside. We were joined in the stairwells by some young teenagers looking very guilty and cursing in German. The entire building was evacuated and we all stood outside for about an hour in the rain. It only took minutes for the police and fire trucks to show up. The young kids went right to the cops to confess that they were smoking in their room. We finally got back in our room and slept for a few more hours before we had to checkout.

The confession

The mother land of Aldi!

Before heading out of Germany, Lizzie had to experience the glorious Aldi in its mother land. It was very similar to the Aldi’s we have in the states, but way fancier! They had a bread slicer, fresh pastries, lots of fresh produce and an amazing Aldi Finds aisle! We grabbed some snacks for our next long train ride – 2 German pretzels, 2 apple pastries, blueberries, carrots, and paprika Pringles (we‘ve discovered a love for paprika chips during this trip).

Mind the Gap

Quick anecdote from Graham, starting off with a life principle: Mind the gap. No really. PLEASE mind the gap.

Lizzie and I boarded a busy train from Berlin to Prague, and found some seats that could have worked but wouldn’t have been the most comfortable. So I decided to sleuth a few cars forward to see if there were any better seats available. To do this, I had to step out of one car onto the platform in order to get back into the next because of how busy it was. As I stepped out of the first car, my phone starts slipping out of my hand.

Perhaps it was the greasy paprika chips that Lizzie mentioned earlier in the post, or maybe I was simply nervous about running out of paprika chips and my hands were sweating as a result. In any case, my phone didn‘t want to stay in my hand – it in fact wanted to fall out of my hand and land directly on top of the train track. Yes, on top. Of the train track. Where the wheels go. Perfectly balanced.

There were some janitors sanitizing the train door handles nearby, and I ran up to them, pointed back at my phone on the tracks underneath the train and asked embarrassedly, “What do I do!?” We all had a friendly bonding moment of panic together, me panicking in English, and the two janitors panicking in German. The train was just about to leave the platform, and it would have rolled right over my phone – crushing it. Our train tickets, Airbnb reservation, plane tickets, payment methods – everything is on our phones these days.

The janitors pointed me over to a train company official who was standing on the platform – I ran up to him and hastily told him what had happened. By now, the shame of my mistake was palpable. I asked him if I could hop down under the train to grab the phone, and hop up before the train left. And in a thick German accent and a slight joking smile, he said, “Not unless you want to go to jail.”

I came back to see that the janitors threw their cleaning gloves at my phone, which caused it to teeter off the top of the track and fall to the side, saving it from being crushed by the train.

Graham’s phone next to the cleaning gloves that saved its life

We waited for a few trains to go by until one stopped at the platform long enough for the train officials to reach beneath and grab my phone.

The Great Rescue!

I was so embarrassed. And so grateful for the two gentlemen who helped teeter the phone off the main part of the track. We ended up gratefully giving them some money to say thank you, and they didn’t even want to accept that at first, saying that they were just glad to help. It’s always so nice to know that there are folks like that in this world.

The moral of the story? Don’t eat paprika chips. Or if that’s too difficult (which we totally understand), maybe just “mind the gap”.

Brussels, Belgium

June 28-29:

We traveled to the capital of Belgium – Brussels! We arrived around 8:00pm to our Airbnb, which was centrally located inside the bustling city. Brussels had a different feel about it than other cities we’ve visited – everything was alive and very metropolitan. It almost felt like New York City.

Our first night in Bruges we found ourselves unable to get any dinner because it was so late, (11:00) and everything closes early in Bruges. Thankfully, we had saved one soup packet from our Iceland campervan travels and cooked it in the shared kitchen of our Airbnb.

Brussels is the complete opposite. Things are open late into the night (the pub in our apartment complex closed at 4AM and reopened at 6AM!). We grabbed some Indian cuisine for dinner that night. The best garlic naan we’ve ever had! So good!

Our yummy Indian food for dinner!

The first night we arrived we listened as we were trying to go to sleep to excited Belgium football (soccer) fans as they cheered their team into victory. It was incredible to hear the deep rumble of cheers whenever they got a goal. (We were live streaming the game from our phones in bed haha) After Belgium won, the streets erupted in coordinated singing and fireworks.

Grand Place

The Grand Place is a large city square surrounded by beautiful historical buildings dating back to the 14th century. At night the square is lit up. People during the day and at night sit on the ground and enjoy hanging out with friends or family. We loved this spot the most in Brussels!

Grand Place
Grand Place
Grand Place at night.

Mont des Arts

Mont des Arts is a beautiful landscape garden on a hill with a great view of the city.

Mont des Arts
Mont des Arts

Triumphal Arch

We walked 2.5km to a beautiful city park with a grand Triumphal Arch at the end. After doing so much walking, we decided to cave and rent some Lime scooters to ride back into the central district of the city.

Triumphal Arch
Triumphal Arch

Manneken Pis

Graham’s grandparents have a miniature version of this statue in their downstairs bathroom that we always thought was funny. We had to go visit the real thing! It is a 17th century fountain and the boy is sometimes dressed up during different festivals. We must have caught him at a bad time though because he was missing all of his clothes.

Manneken Pis
Manneken Pis

Le Pêcheur- Belgium restaurant

For dinner, we headed to Le Pêcheur for some Belgian food. The menu was only in French. We both ordered from the page that stated “entree”, with more reasonable prices for dinner than the following pages of the menu. Graham ordered some mussels and Lizzie ordered a plate of croquettes au fromage (cheese croquettes). The plates came out and we then realized we must have ordered off of the appetizer or small plates page. Lizzie had two small cheese croquettes (looked like 2 freezer cheese sticks) and Graham had a very small plate of miniature muscles. We both ate very small bites to make it last. Thankfully, the restaurant gave out free bread, which we gratefully ate two baskets of.

Our very small plates of dinner.

France football

After our small dinner, we headed across the way to a sports bar for a drink and to watch the exciting football game between France and Switzerland. It was a highlight of our time in Brussels. We sat around very enthusiastic fans singing fight songs in French. It was a great experience!

Laeken Cemetery

The next morning we went to Laeken Cemetery to see one of the twenty original sculptures by French artist Auguste Rodin – The Thinker. The cemetery was filled with beautiful unique graves and tombs. It was very humbling walking around. Many of the tombs had old pictures of the deceased that you could still see. Some were so old that you could barely read the lettering on it. Walking through reminded us of how quickly life goes by, how grateful we are for our friends and family currently around us, and how appreciative we are to be on a journey like this – knowing that this life is but a single breath.

The Thinker

Gouda, Holland

June 24:

After Amsterdam, we took a train southbound to Gouda (later we learned it is pronounced “howda”). Gouda is the self-proclaimed capital of cheese!! The main street had big rounds of Gouda cheese (plastic of course) hanging across the street.

Gouda cheese strung across the city streets

It is an absolutely charming little town. They had a beautiful town square with a town hall built in medieval times that looked like a castle! We loved just aimlessly walking around the little town.

Medieval town hall on the left, hot air balloon in the distance in the center!
A better look at the medieval town hall!
The street our Airbnb was on.
Gouda town square

Our Airbnb was in a old historic printing house. The owner was so delightful and we had such a fun time talking with her. She welcomed us into her home and even showed us around their beautiful garden in the back yard. The loft area was perfect for what we needed! We were able to do laundry while there, which was much needed as we continue the backpacking trek.

The front of our AirBnB – an old print shop!
AirBnB in Gouda
AirBnB in Gouda
The little courtyard in our AirBnB host’s home.

Of course while there, we had to try some Gouda cheese! Our favorite was a truffle Gouda cheese made from goats milk.

Gouda cheese shop
More Gouda cheese
Slicing up some cheese to take on the train with us!

The food was so excellent in Gouda as well. Being that we were quite a ways away from the more touristy spots of Holland (like Amsterdam), everything was so cheap. One of our favorite dinner spots was a little deli right down an alleyway from our AirBnB. The owner was from Bosnia, and grew up right across the channel from Italy – and he grew up around authentic Italian cooking! We had a great time talking to him (one of the nicest guys we have met this entire trip), and his food was such a good price and SO delicious. Later at our AirBnB, we learned that our host (a former high school teacher) taught all of the deli owner’s kids in high school and agreed that he and his family were some of the nicest folks she has met. If you’re ever in Gouda, check out this deli: Adriatika delicacies

We wish we would have stayed longer, but our next Airbnb was already booked in Bruges, Belgium. Gouda is a city that we know for sure we will want to come back to in the future!

Back in Reykjavik!

June 20 and 21:


It is Sunday morning, so we decided to find a local church to attend! We drove right by a church on our way to our campsite last night. We looked up the service times and saw they had an English service at 11:00. The church was planted 21 years ago by an American missionary. It is the only Baptist church in Iceland! It is a very diverse church and such sweet people. It seems like many folks from other countries who live in Reykjavik for work attend the English service as most other churches in the area are only in Icelandic. We were able to talk for a little bit with the pastor and his family after the service.

After the service, we learned that it was the pastor’s birthday! We stayed and sang happy birthday with the congregation, and the pastor did a…hand stand? Not sure if this is a Baptist thing or an Iceland thing, but we thought it was quite impressive either way.


We turned in our campervan after 8 wonderful days. We managed to navigate the local bus system and made it to our Airbnb hostel home for the next 2 days. There is a warm shower, full kitchen, and a washer/dryer. There is even a cute local cat that greets us at the front door.

The friendly hostel welcome committee reaching out for a handshake
The entrance to our hostel!
Our hostel in Reykjavik!

We walked around the neighborhood and were able to kick back and rest for a bit in the hostel room. We had assumed that the camper van life would be really restful with a lot of downtime, but interestingly that just wasn’t true! We brought some books to read and card games to play, but didn’t get a chance to partake in either. During the day we drove all day, and when we weren’t driving we were hiking – and then we would pull into a campground around midnight, cook a meal, and go to bed. Rinse and repeat for 8 days! So this first leg of the trip was more of an adventure, and less of a time of rest – which is perfectly fine, just different than what we had anticipated.

Some lamb hot dogs to celebrate finishing the ring road

Reykjavik – June 21

We walked into town from our Airbnb, which was towards the outskirts of the downtown area. It was about a 35 minute walk.

Braud & Co – the local bakery chain

We found a local bakery (Braud & Co) that is known for their yummy cinnamon rolls. They were out of cinnamon flavor but we were able to try a berry and Japanese lemon roll. They were so yummy!

Braud & Co
Braud & Co

Next stop was a local coffee shop called Reykjavik Roasters. With it being the late afternoon and cold out, we both chose hot chocolate. Deep down we’re both old farts and caffeine in the afternoon keeps us awake too late into the night…

Hot chocolate from Reykjavik Roasters
Reykjavik Roasters

Icelandic Meat Soup!

We had to stop one last time at our favorite restaurant in Iceland – 101 Reykjavik Street Food. This is our third time here! The staff all know us now. Our phone’s WiFi immediately connects as we walk up to the restaurant. I’m surprised we don’t have our picture on the wall yet.

We have already pinned some recipes for the dishes we have tried here to hopefully try and make them at home when we return.