Europe Top Ten, Part One

Jul 18, 2016

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that Mike and I are currently in Europe. We flew into Amsterdam on Tuesday, spent Wednesday in Haarlem and Rotterdam, Thursday and Friday in Belgium and Paris, and Saturday in Normandy. Now we're in Germany, and I'm looking forward to relaxing a bit more and not trying to cram as much as we can into every single day.

I know I briefly mentioned this trip in a previous post, but I don't think I really went into detail about how it came about. Our two previous big trips (Chile in 2008 and Australia in 2014) came about because we had family living there. Last summer, Mike's parents moved to Frankfurt, Germany, and we knew we couldn't pass up the opportunity to see another part of the world, so we started planning almost immediately.

This trip has proven to be quite a bit more complex logistically than either of the other two. First of all, since it's Europe, we knew we wanted to see several other countries besides just Germany, but it was so hard to narrow it down. What ended up really helping us decide was finding out that my in-laws would be in the Netherlands and France for an assignment in the middle of July and Mike's sister and husband were planning on going to Norway at the end of July. That left Germany for the middle, and voila, our itinerary was planned.

Okay, not really. But at least we'd decided where we wanted to go while we were there. Mike worked on all the logistics in Europe (transportation, hotels, sightseeing, etc.), and I focused on what to do with our kids while we were gone. Oh my goodness, that was stressful. At first I thought my parents were going to be able to watch them for the entire duration of the trip (that would have been so easy!), but you might remember, my parents are moving soon, and I didn't really think I could say, "I'm really happy you're moving to Utah and all, but could you wait until after I've had my fun in Europe?"

No one else was in a position to be able to take four rambunctious boys for the entire two weeks, so we started dividing up the trip: a few days here, a few days there, first with one aunt and uncle, then with another, etc. I have to say, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this army of family and friends who volunteered to help with our kids. We know they are in good hands, and we know this trip would not have been possible without so many.

Since we're now about a third of the way into our trip, I wanted to share a few of the highlights so far:

1. The 10-hour plane ride to Amsterdam

You think I'm joking, but I'm not. I haven't been on a plane without kids for so long. It was so incredibly relaxing to read my book, watch a movie, eat dinner, chat with Mike, and sleep (ha! not really) without having to worry about keeping my kids happy and quiet and comfortable. So luxurious.

2. Corrie ten Boom's home

If I had to list the five books that have made the most profound impact on my life, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom would surely be among them. Our first morning in Europe, we took a bus to Haarlem and found Corrie ten Boom's house. While we waited in the alley for the tour to start, I almost expected to see Corrie herself step out of the house and pedal away on her bike over the cobblestone streets. And then I glanced up at the window and saw the triangular Alpina watch sign that was used as an all-clear signal, and I got chills. It was so amazing to see the home of one of my heroes.

3. The Mormon Tabernacle Concert in Rotterdam

I know, we're from Salt Lake--we can listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir anytime, but there was something special about hearing them in a new city among people who'd never heard them before. It kind of made me realize how awesome they really are.

4. Boat tour of Bruges, Belgium (i.e., Venice of the North)

Bruges is this charming little town with a canal that runs all the way through it. Our guide was an Englishman who could have been straight out of a Roald Dahl novel: snarky, with a wry sense of humor and just the right amount of quirk. Seriously, I wish I could have recorded the entire thing. (And talk about gorgeous--I want to live in that city!)

5. Notre Dame Cathedral

I think this has been the biggest surprise of the trip so far. I actually was going to be fine if we ended up having to skip the cathedral. But then we got there, and I was like, Oh my goodness! This place is amazing! Why is no one getting credit for these statues and reliefs and this architecture?!?! How did they build something like this in the 12th century? It was a perfect example of why a picture never ever ever does justice to the real thing. (But here's a picture anyway.)

6. Climbing the stairs up the Eiffel Tower

We decided to go the route of climbing the stairs to the second level and then taking the elevator the rest of the way. I'm glad we chose to do it this way for four reasons: 1. There was no line for tickets to the stairs, 2. It was a little bit cheaper to climb and then ride instead of ride and then ride again, 3. It gave us such a sense of accomplishment (it was a lot of stairs!!), and 4. I loved the inside view of the Eiffel Tower.

7. The most delicious sandwich of my life

Honestly, the food was a bit hit and miss in Paris. Probably because we were touring the city alone without a local guide who could direct us to the right cafes and bakeries and crepe stands. But this sandwich? It was not a miss. Pastrami and sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese pressed between soft and crackly bread. I thought I might pass out from the pure enjoyment of it.

8. Normandy

Before we left on our trip, Mike insisted that I watch The Longest Day (the 1962 movie about the Normandy invasion). Although it should probably be re-titled The Longest Movie, it went a long way in helping me understand the key players and places that made Normandy an ultimately triumphant mission. As we visited the different beaches and saw the cliffs and drove through the little villages, I was so overcome with gratitude for these soldiers, many of them still boys, who turned the tide of the war. I think that's the place that has made the biggest emotional impact on me so far.

9. Hydrangeas

I've seen hydrangea in Utah before, but not like this. Here, the blossoms are the size of my head, and they are lush and thick along every fence and cute little house. I want to stop and take a picture of every single one of them.

10. Sunday

After five full days of traveling, Sunday's respite was both welcome and necessary. I have made it a habit all my life to honor the Sabbath Day, and never is it easier to recognize the wisdom in this commandment than when I'm traveling. It's so nice to be forced to slow down and focus on the most important things.

Although this trip hasn't felt quite as lighthearted as our trip to Australia (we've been seeing some darker, heavier things, and there have also been some tragic world events that have occurred while we've been here), it has still been so amazing. The more I see of the world, the more I realize how much I haven't seen. (For more of our adventures, follow me right here on Instagram.)


  1. It looks like you guys are having an amazing time!

    1. It really was such a great trip. What can I do to convince you guys to go?

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks for enduring a little travelogue, Alysa!

  3. Love The Hiding Place too. Just discovered your blog after hearing you on Gretchen Rubin's WSIRN podcast. I read lots of middle grade books too. Looks like you're having a fantastic time in Europe.

    1. Isn't The Hiding Place an amazing story? I'm glad you came over after listening to the podcast! It's so great to meet another middle grade enthusiast! What are some of your favorites?

  4. Looks like a fantastic trip. And I hear you about the restful plane ride! My first solo trip post kids was a planned 3-leg to a friend's wedding on the east coast. After an hour delay my first flight was canceled and I was told to take a cab to another airport 60 miles away where a new multi-legged path would be carved out. Still the most relaxing trip I'd taken in years! Every leg I just reveled in only having to carry my own stuff and not be chasing and entertaining the little ones.

    I spent almost two years living in Holland (near Utrecht) and there is so much to see there, much of it beautiful and some of it heartbreaking. I'm glad to see you are experiencing both!

    1. Oh my goodness! That is quite the list of unfortunate incidents on one trip! But I hear you: anytime something wasn't "ideal" on our trip, Mike and I both said, "But at least we don't have the kids with us!!"


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