A Springtime Carousel: Experiencing eight countries in Europe

A Springtime Carousel: Experiencing eight countries in Europe

Everyone has a travel “bucket list.” Mine includes a mix of easily accessible, wait-for-it, and seemingly miraculous destinations. A few months ago, while scrolling through social media, I stumbled upon a flyer promoting a tour called the “European Carousel,” spanning eight countries. To my delight, I discovered that three places on my bucket list were included in its intriguing itinerary.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Leaving Cebu for Amsterdam, we arrived shortly after noon the next day and embarked on the usual city tour. During our free time in Dam Square, I dashed into a cheese store to sample their famous array of heavenly cheeses. This was followed by a stroll through Amsterdam’s renowned red light district, passing by our first Unesco Heritage Site for this journey: the 17th Century Canal Rings Area inside the Singelgracht.

The next day’s itinerary was my personal highlight: fulfilling my dream of visiting the Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse. Known as the most beautiful Spring garden globally, it is open from March 21st to May 12th, attracting millions of visitors annually.

Walking amid the vibrant blooms in every color imaginable was a gift to myself — a sensory experience that was akin to a natural high. Tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, lilies, roses, carnations and more adorned every corner. The air carried a heady scent of freshness and fragrance, tempting me to linger for hours on end. However, we had to visit the Windmill Village at Zaanse Schans. Although it seemed different from my recollection, perhaps due to the massive crowds, I opted to stay close and indulged in a selection of Gouda, goat, sheep and herb cheeses at the Cheese Shop.

Brussels, Belgium

Our bus was headed to Paris the next day but was scheduled to stop in Brussels for a short day trip. It was my first time visiting Belgium’s capital city; in the past, we opted for Brugge as our stop, which is also worth one’s time. Approaching the Atomium, I was surprised to find it much bigger than I had imagined. Built in 1958 for the Brussels World Fair (and restored in 2006), it still retains a futuristic appeal.

Today, apart from being a popular tourist spot offering an amazing view of the city below, the Atomium also serves as an event venue. Afterward, we had free time to explore La Grand-Place, a square renowned for its elegant and historic Gothic and Baroque style buildings, mostly dating back to the late 17th century. It is truly deserving of its Unesco World Heritage Status. For lunch, we had the famous waffles and delicious fries, a departure from our typical fare.

Of course, one cannot leave without hoarding Belgian Chocolates (my favorite kind of all), so we boarded the bus with loads of them.

Paris and Normandy, France

We arrived in Paris just in time for dinner and enjoyed a full night’s rest, so the next morning, the group was ready for a whole day of sightseeing. We made mandatory stops for photos at the Arc de Triomphe, the Trocadero and the grounds of the Louvre.

After a quick lunch on the go, we queued for the River Seine Cruise, which turned out to be the highlight of my Paris trip this time around. I never had the chance to do this before, as we usually spent most of our time in museums or walking around the city. I truly enjoyed sitting in the open-air upper deck, taking in all the historical and architectural marvels lining the banks of this river, which has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.

After the cruise, the group headed to Galleries Lafayette for some retail therapy. Tourism in Paris seems to have returned to pre-pandemic levels, as everywhere we went was crowded.

Early the next morning, we prepared ourselves for a scenic long drive to visit another coveted site on my bucket list: Mont Saint Michel in Normandy.

In my readings about this Benedictine Abbey, it had been described as staggeringly beautiful, and I truly agree. Stories dating back to the eighth century mention a Bishop Aubert who claimed that Archangel Michael himself convinced him to build a church atop this island, and its development was continued by the dukes of Normandy and French kings that followed. Through the Middle Ages, more monastic buildings were added, and soon it became a renowned center of learning and a popular pilgrimage site. A major conservation project undertaken in 2015 in the bay surrounding this island enabled the return of the natural flow of water, thereby adding more beauty to the whole scenery.

Mont Saint Michel and its Bay were inscribed by the Unesco World Heritage Committee in 1979, and it is with a grateful heart that I declare it to be my favorite World Heritage Site among all I have visited.

Zurich, Switzerland

We spent the night in a nearby town called Caen, and the next day, we were driven to the Gare Du Nord Station in Paris to board the TGV Lyria Train to Switzerland, where we spent the night in Zurich.

A rainy morning welcomed us, but it did not dampen our spirits because, after all, today was “Crash Landing on You” Sightseeing Day — the title of a Korean Drama Series that was such a huge hit, fans began flocking to its filming sites in Switzerland.

This is the third item on my bucket list that was in this itinerary, and we visited Grandhotel Giessbach (the fictional music school of Captain Ri) and walked around its gorgeous natural surroundings. We lined up for our turn to have our photo taken on that famous wooden boardwalk in Lake Brienz, located in the harbor of Iseltwald (there is a fee of 5 Swiss francs), and then made our way to the Sigriswil Panorama Bridge, which was the setting of another unforgettable scene with Captain Ri and Yoon Se-ri.

The rest of the day was spent eating and roaming around Interlaken at leisure, and everywhere I looked, the beautiful Alps met my gaze. This was just a sneak peek of the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch Region, another Unesco World Heritage Site.

Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Our guide, Vesna, informed us on the bus the next day that we would be making a short stop for a stroll around Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein — the sixth smallest country in the world and one of only two double landlocked countries (the other being Uzbekistan). A constitutional monarchy rules over a population of almost 40,000 people. We got our passports stamped for remembrance for 3 Euros.

Munich, Germany

Then we ventured to the vibrant city of Munich — the capital and the largest city of Germany’s Bavarian state. We spent a whole afternoon exploring Marienplatz, or St. Mary’s Square, where we witnessed the movements of the Rathaus Glockenspiel, a famous clock that reenacts scenes twice a day with life-size characters.

It was a joy to be amid the crowd, all of us looking up, waiting for the figures to move, marveling and clapping. At that moment, I felt completely at home. Afterward, I introduced my friends to an old favorite of mine — the currywurst — so off we went to find it in the food market, and we ended up trying the schnitzel as well.

We even found time to explore many churches around the same area, and the resemblance in the architecture of the buildings of this place to La Grand Place in Brussels was undeniable. We checked into our Munich hotel by dinnertime, excited for the next day’s journey to Austria.

Salzburg and Hallstatt, Austria

Austria is a country I’ve often written about in the past — and I was thrilled to return after so long to Salzburg and Hallstatt, two of the 12 Unesco World Heritage Sites here. I must admit, I find Salzburg much more beautiful in Autumn.

However, Hallstatt remains as magical as I remember, perhaps even better with fewer crowds and the absence of the eyesore billboards from the past. Approaching it by boat from across the lake still offers a dramatic sight, surpassing the bus arrival directly into town. I always say, this place is like a postcard come to life, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. Even their swans warranted a few precious moments of my time; watching them glide through the pristine waters brought sheer delight.

Venice, Italy

The following morning, we embarked on our journey to Italy to explore the last city on our itinerary: Venice. Disembarking from the bus, we headed to the port where our designated Vaporetto (public watercraft transport) awaited. The ride to the main canals was breathtaking.

However, I must admit, upon returning to Venice, I witnessed the challenges of over-tourism firsthand. The charm of a car-free city was overshadowed by the crowds, making it difficult to appreciate the architectural marvels.

As much as I am relieved that the tourism industry seems to have recovered fully in this part of the world, I felt a little sad and consoled myself by indulging in my love affair with Murano glass.

In a tiny store in the multitude of tiny streets, I found my happy place in our final Unesco World Heritage Site for this trip — Venice and its Lagoon.

Thank you, Ann Momongan and Mai Esen of DB Tours for taking us for a joyride in this Carousel. It is the perfect itinerary for first-time visitors to Europe and for those like me, who happily checked off some places on my list while revisiting favorite places.


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