One year ago today, I stepped off a plane and onto European soil for the first time.I changed planes in Frankfurt and flew to Stuttgart, where my best friend, Carol, has lived since 2018.
That first day was spent in Stuttgart. We visited the Christmas markets downtown and walked through a dozen shops. It was still technically 2019, but to me, it felt like the first day of a really amazing new year.
The next day we rode the train to Esslingen. We hiked up the hill and walked through a castle-turned-vineyard.I couldn't believe I was actually in Europe.
I took photos of everything.
Day three was Horse Day. We drove to Kim Brandner's house in Dettingen. She took us on a walking tour of nearby Ulm, which included a climb to the top of the tallest church in Europe.
After that, it was back to Dettingen. I changed into my riding clothes, and we drove to an indoor arena, where a big Polish Warmblood named Tornado was waiting. I climbed aboard, and Kim gave me a dressage lesson. And just like that, I got to check off one big ticket item on my equestrian bucket list.
On my fourth day in Europe, Carol and I got on another plane and flew to Brussels, Belgium.
While in Belgium, we also visited Bruges and Mechelen.
Mechelen was cold and grey and kind of dismal.
Did you know that if you put "zoo" into your GPS in Belgium, it will send you to a pet store instead of a zoo? Yeah, we didn't either. We did eventually make it to the zoo, but it was so much harder than it should have been.
We flew back to Germany on January second, but no rest for the weary! The next morning we piled into Carol's car and drove to Trier, Germany. We visited some of the city's best known landmarks and slept in a castle.
The next morning it was back in the car and on to the Netherlands!
Our first destination was Charlotte Pijnenburg's home in Middelbeers. There we attended an absolutely fabulous NaMoPaiMo prepping party.
After an equally amazing group dinner, we spent the night at Anne Van der Weel's apartment in Rhenen.
The next day was Horse Day Number Two. We drove to Noordwijkerhout, where we rented horses and rode on the beach.
It was so good.
... and Amsterdam, which was the next stop on our Dutch tour.I could fill a dozen posts with photos from the Netherlands. I loved it there so much.
After our trip to the Netherlands we spent ten days in Germany, except for that one day when we spontaneously decided to go to Austria for lunch.
During that time, I met several of Carol's friends, toured two castles, walked alpacas and went to the pig museum and another zoo.
I also made a few solo trips in and around Stuttgart. The first was scary, but after that, it was fine.
Of course, the highlight of those ten days was the German NaMoPaiMo party at Ilona and Katja Himmelmann's family home in Gauangelloch near Leimen.
That was another really amazing day.The grand finale of my European adventure was a birthday trip to Paris.It was the best possible way to celebrate.
Since then, eighty million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, one million seven hundred thousand of whom have died. Some countries have fared better than others, but none have been spared. The world is a significantly different place than it was when I stepped off that plane a year ago.
I spent my entire life dreaming of a trip like this.
It was worth the wait.The first time I heard about the "mystery virus from Wuhan, China" was the day I flew back to Colorado. It was being discussed by other travelers as we stood in the customs line at the airport. I was tired and didn't pay much attention. It didn't seem terribly important.
When I think about the timing of my trip, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Not only did I get my dream European vacation, but I got it at exactly the right time.