If Marina Bailey writes an essay on what she did during her summer vacation, she will have plenty of exciting material from the European adventure she enjoyed with her parents, Gary and Marci Bailey.
No one could fault the eight-year-old Hampton girl for feeling a bit like a fairytale princess as she traveled with her parents to castles, palaces and other exciting destinations. The family spent 10 fun-filled days in Europe, visiting England, France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Italy and Swizterland.
Marina described the adventure as “a trip of a lifetime.”
The family departed from the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport on May 23 and arrived in London for the start of their jaunt across Europe.
“We spent two nights in London,” Marina said. “The first day, we toured the Tower of London, where we saw the Crown Jewels and Tower Bridge.”
Highlights of the visit to the infamous Tower included seeing the Beefeaters guards and resident ravens. The Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary, better known as the Beefeaters, are ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London.
“We also witnessed the changing of the guard,” Marina said.
After their tour of the Tower, they dined at the famous Hard Rock in London, which is the original Hard Rock Cafe that was founded in 1971 by Americans Isaac Tigrett and Peter Morton.
They walked in Hyde Park, one of the largest parks in London, as well as Green Park, which is located between Hyde Park and St. James’s Park. During their visit to these Royal Parks, Marina enjoyed performing cartwheels in the grassy areas.
They also walked to Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. They also took some photographs of Big Ben, which is the nickname for the great bell of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London.
They also got a great overview of the city of London by purchasing tickets to ride the London Eye, the world’s tallest cantilevered observation Ferris wheel.
“This gave us a new perspective of Big Ben and the surrounding area,” explained Marina’s mother.
On their second day in London, they toured Windsor Castle and the grounds.
“It was a rainy morning, but when we came out of the castle, the sun was shining,” Marina said.
Marina’s favorite part of the castle tour was the “dollhouse,” which is a room that gives visitors the illusion they are walking into the court of the castles and looking in the windows of all the rooms around a miniature castle.
“We saw weapons of all kinds and the armor of many knights,” Marina said.
The family also had their photo taken with a guard and toured St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.
That evening, the family enjoyed a meal at The Swan Hammersmith Restaurant on top of the Nicholson Pub in London. Marina’s mother said the meal consisted of fish and chips, a traditional British meal, in a pleasant, unexpected elegant setting.
They also learned some local secrets, including the fact that the London metro, known as the London Underground, is like a subterranean mall filled with good eats, sweets and other treats.
The next morning, they woke early, had breakfast and boarded a ferry at Dover Cliffs to cross the English Channel to Calais, France.
The family also had to undergo a security check at customs. They and their luggage were pulled from the coach.
“We passed the security check,” Marci said.
Aboard the ferry, they enjoyed a nice lunch and views of the famous White Cliffs of Dover.
At Calais, they met their Italian tour guide, Vittoria.
Their stay in France at this point was brief. They left France, crossed Belgium and entered Holland, where they stayed in the Amsterdam area.
“We bought chocolates and enjoyed the scenic countryside along the way,” Marina said. “We saw fields and fields of the yellow flowers used to make canola oil.”
They also took a sightseeing cruise to see Amsterdam from water level.
“We saw the house where the diary of Anne Frank is kept and many other interesting buildings,” Marina said.
The family also noticed an abundance of bicycles.
“We saw them everywhere,” Marci said. “Apparently, people in Amsterdam ride bikes.”
They also don’t hesitate to “exchange” a bike.
“If you ride a bike somewhere, you may come back with a different bike,” Marci said. “It’s very common behavior.”
Marina also enjoyed visiting a diamond center and observing the cutting and polishing of precious stones.
The rest of their Amsterdam visit consisted of lunch at the well-known restaurant, Marco Polo, as well as visiting an original windmill and shopping. Marina also had her photo taken after slipping into a giant pair of Holland clogs.
Germany, the next destination in their adventure, saw the family traveling along the shores of the Rhine, which is one of the longest and most important rivers in Europe. They also took a cruise that revealed the mystical magic of the Rhine.
Marina said she enjoyed spotting castles and historic villages before the cruise reached the legendary Lorelei Rock, which is a huge rock formation that soars some 393 feet above the Rhine.
In addition to the river cruise, they traveled along the Romantic Road, through towns and villages protected by medieval tower gates and battlements. They stopped in Rothenburg, which was like a fairytale village with colorful half-timbered houses and richly decorated fountains on cobblestone streets. Marina most enjoyed touring the Christmas museum and the Teddyland store.
The family spent the night in the city of Munich. They also made some new friends — Mona, Precious and Earl — who showed them the beauty of Munich after dark.
Marci said the heart of Munich consisted of richly detailed large structures with delicate artwork, illuminated for dramatic effect once darkness fell. In this setting, they enjoyed an outdoor dinner that presented some language barriers.
Marci explained that when the waiter did not understand their attempts at the words “beef” and “meat,” she simply mooed at him.
“Everyone knows what that means,” Marci said.
The family would have liked more time in Germany, but their schedule was tight, allowing them to see as much as possible. They traveled from Munich into Austria.
Marci said they crossed the snow-covered Bavarian Alps as their guide played “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music.”
The family found Austria clean, beautiful and interesting. “Austrians are much more conservative and traditional in beliefs,” Marci said.
In Austria, they stopped at Innsbruck, the capital of the Tyrol.
They shopped, did some sightseeing and enjoyed spectacular views of the Alps. Mother and daughter also visited the beautiful Swarovski Crystal building.
They next traveled to Italy, driving over the Brenner Pass into the Dolomites before descending into the Piave Valley and Venice. In this ancient Italian city they were welcomed with dinner and a beautiful suite at the Hotel Ristorante Poppi.
“After staying in three countries in one day, I was thrilled with these accommodations,” Marci said, noting they were some of the best of the entire trip. Their suite offered a separate bedroom, sitting area and a Jacuzzi/Venetian tub.
“It was a nice night just to sit and talk,” Marci said, although her daughter spent some of the evening turning flips outside on the hotel grounds and courtyard.
The whole family was excited to start seeing Venice the next morning.
“I have been waiting a long time for a gondola ride along one of the Venetian canals,” Marci said.
They first boarded a boat to take them to St. Mark’s Square, where they saw the sites and admired the local architecture. They also watched mimes and Venetians dressed in exquisite carnival costumes.
“We took the Gondola Serenade Tour, which was definitely a highlight of our European trip,” Marci said. “They serendaded our group through the centuries-old canals, famous arched bridges, lavish palaces and quaint piazzas,” Marci said.
The tour impressed on all the participants how important the waters are to Venetian life.
Other highlights from Venice included watching Venetian glassblowers fashion fragile glassworks as they have done for centuries.
Their tour guide, Vittoria, warned the family about Gypsies, gave lessons in how to recognize a Gypsy and told stories of how people can be lured into Gypsy traps.
“Marina talked about Gypsies for days,” Marci said. “At St. Mark’s, we saw what we thought to be Gypsies as we passed through the famous columns to the basilica.”
At St. Mark’s, Marina acquired one of her favorite treasures — a carnival mask — from the trip.
They departed Venice for an afternoon trip to Florence, where they spent the next two nights. They traveled southward into the hilly Tuscan countryside to Palazzo Ricasoli, which was a residence with a separate living area and a divided bedroom.
Marina’s bedroom had two beds and a window overlooking the Florentine surroundings in a loft setting with a bath, a half-bath and a kitchen cabinet for preparing meals.
The family also decided to break away from the tour group in order to spend a day in Rome. The group was scheduled to visit the renowned Leaning Tower of Pisa, but the Baileys decided to see the tower at night so they could spend the next day in Rome.
They bought tickets to travel the Eurostar to reach Rome. Gary said that the Eurostar experience was one of his favorites. He said he has always wanted to visit the Roman Colosseum.
They successfully navigated the Roman metro system and arrived at their destination.
“This enormous structure was definitely a sight not to be missed in Italy. They also toured the Roman Forum as Marina continued to keep an eye out for Gypsies,” Marci said.
Utilizing the Roman metro again, they also visited Vatican City and St. Peter’s Square.
“We took particular notice of the guards dressed in jester attire,” Marci said.
They were very impressed with the Sistine Chapel.
“After walking through the museum, we arrived inside the chapel,” Marci said. “Security was making the guests be quiet.”
That wasn’t a problem for Gary, Marci and Marina.
“We stood in awe of the pristine ambience surrounding us,” Marci said.
After their visit to the Vatican, they made their way to the Fontana di Trevi.
“We walked in a confusing path to a hidden fountain that was not where I would expect to see such a notable landmark,” Marci said. “It was crowded, and Marina spotted a Gypsy in our midst, but we were able to get some quick pictures.”
Marina also got the chance to throw a coin into the famous Trevi Fountain.
They left Trevi aboard an extremely crowded Eurostar metro.
“I didn’t think another person could possibly fit on our car, and then 10 more would push their way on,” Marci said.
Back at the hotel in Florence, they reunited with other members of the tour group.
“We had a wonderful time sharing our stories of the day,” Marci said.
After dinner, Marci took a taxi to Hard Rock Cafe in Florence and saw the Piazza della Republica Carousel lit up at night.
Another day of waking early preceded their visit to Switzerland. They crossed the Lombardy plains to Canton Ticino’s sub-tropical resort of Lugano, where they ate gelato and Marina enjoyed a carousel ride while they took in beautiful views of Lake Lucerne.
During their crossing into Switzerland, the motorcoach climbed towards the St. Gotthard Tunnel to the German-speaking side of the country. The trip provided a great view of the snow-covered Alps.
“As we descended into Lake Lucerne, we were greeted by a nice meal at Luzernerhof, where we spent the night,” Marci said. “Our dessert was ice cream with the Swiss flag.”
The host was very generous with the Swiss chocolates, which he consistently gave to Marina.
They also purchased some chocolates to take home with them.
“What would a trip to Switzerland be without some Swiss chocolate?” Marci said.
The next morning was the first days of June, and the trip was in its final days. The Baileys traveled to see the Lion Monument before a boat trip on Lake Lucerne that provide views of attractive chalets and a wooden bridge.
Their next stop was their much-anticipated visit to Paris in France.
“This was Marina’s highlight destination of the trip,” Marci said.
Marina said she was very excited to experience Paris, including views of the Eiffel Tower.
They arrived at night, but that didn’t stop the Baileys from going in search of French cuisine and getting some after-hours glimpses of the Eiffel Tower at night.
“We ate al fresco at a Parisian cafe,” Marci said.
The meal also came with some unexpected excitement. “We witnessed a minor collision on the street in front of us,” Marci said.
After the meal, they stepped across the street to obtain some macaroons for dessert. They also went to view the Eiffel Tower at night.
“I must say it was worth the journey to see it at night,” Marcia said.
The family and the rest of their tour group traveled together the next morning to see the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramid near the Louvre, Champs Elysees and the Notre Dame Cathedral. The famous cathedral’s architecture impressed the visitors.
“We got to see this gothic building inside and out,” Marci said. “The large rose windows and gargoyles were some of the cathedral’s most impressive architectural features.”
“The line was extensive,” Marci said. “Apparently, it was a free day to see the Louvre.”
Gary saved a place in line while his wife and daughter did some more shopping.
When they finally got inside the famous museum, they viewed some Egyptian artworks, Cupid and, of course, the famous Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.
After their time in the Louvre, the family visited the Grande Arche de la Defense.
“This was actually a pretty impressive part of Paris,” Marci said.
The family dined at 58 Eiffel, which is regarded as the most fashionable Brasserie, or French restaurant, in Paris.
“We had refreshments and hors d’oeuvres on the first floor,” Marci said. “The views from the Eiffel Tower were breathtaking. When we reached the second floor, we were even more impressed with this massive structure.”
Dining high above Paris in the Eiffel Tower provided a grand finale for the family’s amazing European holiday.
After breakfast at their hotel the morning of June 3, they were escorted to the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.
“After many delays, we flew to Florida,” Marci said. “From Florida, we flew to Charlotte, and drove home, arriving early in the morning on June 4.”
The whirlwind 12-day tour of eight European countries was over, but they returned home with a lifetime of memories.