2014 was another fun travel year for us, although I did slow down a little bit in attempting to reach my goal of visiting every country in Europe.

I added only three countries to the list this year but Sean added four.

One of the trips we took at the beginning of the year was to Madrid, Spain over the President’s Day weekend in February.

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The Cybele Palace looked amazing at night when it was all lit up.

Spain was a new country for Sean. I had been to Barcelona and Pamplona back in July 2011. He loved the whole tapas thing and we are now both addicted to blistered Padrón peppers after eating them in Madrid.

The first country that was new to both of us in 2014 was Macedonia.

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We spent only one night and one full day in the Lake Ohrid area, which is a UNESCO site, and wished we’d had more time. The natural beauty of the place was breathtaking and in April, when we were there, it was relatively tourist-free.

When we left Macedonia we headed to another country that was new to us and spent six nights in Albania.

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It was difficult to pick a photo for Albania because like Macedonia, the landscapes were simply amazing. That photo was taken near a place called Syri i kaltër or The Blue Eye. It’s a natural spring whose blue color simply has to be seen to be believed.

While in Albania we rented an apartment in Saranda and used that as our base to explore beaches, ancient ruins and historic cities. We visited Butrint, a UNESCO site with ruins better than any we saw in Greece (and with far fewer tourists!) and Gjirokastra, a UNESCO site that is known for both its well-preserved Ottoman architecture and its citadel overlooking the city.  

Macedonia and Albania are the two most inexpensive countries we’ve been to in Europe and we were constantly astounded by the low prices of things.

The last country that was new to us this past year was Lithuania, which we visited in July.

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We spent a long weekend in the capital city of Vilnius to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

Lithuania was formerly part of the Soviet Union and that influence can still be seen.

It is another relatively inexpensive country and that’s a good thing because we enjoyed a lot of their delicious local beer called Švyturys, which means lighthouse. We also visited lots of gorgeous Russian Orthodox churches, quaint shopping streets, peaceful public parks, funky/artsy districts and, of course, the Frank Zappa statue.

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Depending on which website or organization you pay attention to, Scotland may or may not be a country on its own. It also may or may not be part of the United Kingdom (UK), which may or may not be considered a country.

In my Visit Every Country in Europe quest, I’m counting the UK as a country and we had been there prior to 2014.

However, we’d been only to England and so Scotland was an area of the UK that we had not visited before.

We chose to go there in March to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day.

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As you can imagine, the Scottish do not put on a huge celebration for Saint Patrick’s Day but we still managed to find some Guinness on the big day.

We spent most of our time discovering Edinburgh and also fit in a day trip to Glasgow.

I loved walking the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace (shown above).

Some of my cousins joined us on that trip and we had a great time tasting Scotch in Scotland, being wowed by the architecture, snickering like immature schoolchildren at street names like Cockburn Street, sampling Scottish cask ale, enjoying the numerous bagpipers and their kilts (well at least I enjoyed the kilts) and visiting the Scottish Parliament building. Sean even tried haggis and actually liked it.

We were also fortunate enough to make repeat visits to France, Luxembourg, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium.

In addition, we made separate trips to the U.S. and, of course, we visited lots of places in Germany.

 Our first trip of 2014 was to Amiens, France.

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The city is famous for its cathedral, a UNESCO site. It is the tallest complete cathedral in France and is absolutely magnificent.

We pretty much had the city to ourselves once we left the cathedral area and loved walking around the St-Leu neighborhood with its canals as well as exploring the rest of the city and following in the footsteps of Jules Verne.

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The author of Journey to the Center of the Earth and numerous other works, Verne lived in and is buried in Amiens.

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Before heading home, we stopped at the La Madeleine Cemetery to visit his grave.  It’s a bit creepy-looking, no? 

Our next trip to France was in March to Verdun, site of a major World War I battle.

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The Douaumont Ossuary shown there is a memorial to those who died during the Battle of Verdun. It also serves as a cemetery because the bones of more than 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers are stored there.

In the cemetery you see in front of the ossuary, there are over 16,000 buried. It is the largest World War I French military cemetery.

Because 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, it was a particularly poignant time to visit.

Our last trip to France this year was also for an anniversary.

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On June 6th we attended the ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the turning point in World War II.

Both U.S. President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande were in attendance as were surviving veterans and their families. It was a very emotional ceremony and a once-in-a-lifetime event that I’m so grateful we had the opportunity to be a part of.

In January we spent a long weekend in Florence, Italy.

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Despite the horribly rainy weather, this was an awe-inspiring trip. Seeing Michengelo’s sculpture of David up close and in person is one of the highlights of all of my travels to date. Words and photos do not do it justice. Between that and the unbelievable art we saw in both the Uffizi and Accademia Galleries, it was frankly overwhelming.

I can see why some people are afflicted with Stendahl Syndrome when visiting Florence.

During that trip we took a day to visit Pisa as well.

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If you want to know how to get a photo like that of the Leaning Tower of Pisa with nobody in it, the secret is to go when it’s pouring down rain. It may not look it in the photo, but it was raining hard enough to drive everyone indoors.

If you go to Pisa, make sure you visit both the Baptistery and the Duomo as well as the tower. Despite them all being part of the same complex, a lot of people skip them and that’s a huge mistake. They are stunning.

In September, we made a repeat visit to Luxembourg when my parents were here visiting.

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Luxembourg is close enough to us for a day trip, so we took them to the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial.

Although it’s most famous for being the burial place of George S. Patton Jr., there are 5,075 other Americans buried there who died during World War II.

Also worth a visit if you go to that cemetery is the nearby Sandweiler German military cemetery.

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Its somber rows of short, gray headstones are a stark contrast to the tall, blindingly white headstones at the American cemetery. Over 10,000 German men who died during the Battle of the Bulge are buried there, many in the mass grave you see marked by the large cross in the center of the photo.

At the beginning of May I had the pleasure of being in three countries at once.

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That spot, called the Dreiländereck or Three-Country Point, is where the borders of Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium meet.

As we were so close to Belgium anyway, we paid a visit to the Henri Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial.

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As you can probably tell, we make it a point to visit World War I and World War II American cemeteries and memorials whenever possible. They are all run by the American Battle Monuments Commission and we visited too many this year to include in this post. I think it’s important to remember the sacrifices made during these wars and to pay our respects.

The Henri Chapelle cemetery has just under 8,000 burials. Three Medal of Honor recipients are buried there, as is William Harell Nellis after whom Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada is named.

Our second visit to Belgium of the year was when we went to Brussels in August to see the flower carpet.

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Every two years, the Grand Place in Brussels is covered in a flower carpet made of about a million (literally) begonias for a long weekend. It was a visual feast for the eyes.

Our most recent trip to Belgium was in October as part of a week-long road trip.

The main purpose of the trip was to visit Ypres, another World War I site.

However, you’ll have to read more about that when I finally get around to writing a blog post on it. For now, because this site is supposed to cover tipples as well as travels, I’ll include this photo.

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We stopped at the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvletern to pick up some of their beer. The Westvleteren 12 beer seen there has been voted best beer in the world more than once. I won’t argue with that.

We also stopped in the highly underrated city of Antwerp, Belgium.

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That’s the main train station in Antwerp, which is a tourist attraction in itself. Antwerp also has a fantastic cathedral, a fascinating printing museum that is also a UNESCO site, impressive architecture and, naturally, delicious Belgian beer and chocolate. I hope to cover Antwerp more in a future blog post as well.

And finally we made several repeat visits to the Netherlands, my favorite country in Europe.

In April, we went to Utrecht for the first-ever Kings Day celebration.

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Utrecht is one of my favorite cities in my favorite European country. I just love the canals, the people, the Dutch beer, the variety of food……just everything. We liked it so much that we took my parents there when they visited during the summer.

We also went to Leiden.

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Leiden was another fantastic canal-lined city with delicious, ice-cold Heineken at the ready.  To me there are few things better than drinking one outside on a warm day next to a canal, watching the boats and people go by.

During the Leiden trip we made a few day trips. One was to Alkmaar to see the cheese market.

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It’s a touristy re-creation but it was fun and the town itself was well worth a visit.

We also did day trips to two UNESCO sites. One was the Ir.D.F. Wouda-Gemaal Pumping Station.

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It’s one of many intricate, ingenious systems that the Dutch use for water control to keep the land from flooding.

The other was to a place called Shokland.

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This is another fascinating site that tells the story of people vs. water in the Netherlands.

We also took my parents to Njimegen in the Netherlands. Unfortunately the weather gods were not kind to us and just like in Florence, it poured rain.

Luckily there was a worthwhile bicycle museum there so we ducked in there to get dry and learn about the history of bicycles.

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When the rain let up later that day, we took a train to ‘s-Hertogenbosch – called Den Bosch for short – for dinner and a short stroll around town.

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And our final trip to the Netherlands this year was to the city of Gouda.

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Yup, home of Gouda cheese. And we bought lots of it to take home with us. We couldn’t stop tasting the samples in that shop and it was seriously the best cheese I’ve ever had in my life. We have to go back for a cheese fix.

On the way to Gouda we made a stop at the UNESCO site called Mill Network at Kinderdijk-Elshout.

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This is yet another hydraulic system used for water control. There are 19 mills at the site used for that purpose. You can tour one of them and it has a little museum inside with photos. People used to and still do live in the mills and the photos show what life was like living and working there.

Aside from our travels in Europe this year, I also made a trip back to the United States in October. I hadn’t been there in over 2 years and I really wanted a trip “home”.

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I spent about 10 days back in Washington state and had a nice, relaxing time. I had forgotten how beautiful the Puget Sound area is and I just toured around drinking in the scenery. I caught up with friends and went out to eat and discovered new places right in my own backyard and unwound and renewed and enjoyed.

And last but not least, we visited well over 50 new places in Germany – way too many to post photos of all of them here. We checked out UNESCO sites, castles, palaces, numerous towns along the German Wine Route, the German Fairy Tale Route and the German Half-Timbered House Route, festivals, historic sites, gardens, monasteries, rivers, breweries, churches, cathedrals, museums, lakes, parks, cities, towns, monuments and whatever else we could.

A favorite for both of us was our trip to northern Germany.

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That town hall in Stralsund is a typical example of the Brick Gothic architecture we saw during that long weekend and it was all very impressive. And even better, Germany was in the World Cup play-offs during that trip and everyone was very enthused about that!

I will never stop being thankful for the travel opportunities that working in Germany has afforded me and I hope to continue to take advantage of them in 2015.

Wishing you all a very happy and healthy new year in your part of the world.

Leave a comment to let us know where your travels took you in 2014!

 

About the author: Trish

 

Website: http://travelsandtipples.com