Grand Total: 6,600 kilometres, 31 days, and 9 countries.
Over a month has passed, and it's beginning to feel like the trip was a long time ago already as our Finnish summer has kept us steadily occupied from the moment we arrived back. With the seasonal wild berries and mushrooms, we can be found in the forests during much of our free time, foraging ,in spite of mosquitoes and mooseflies, as well as in the kitchen cooking and preserving - and of course practicing the most rewarding and enjoyable part: EATING! Far from grand or exciting, but the simplicity and purity we have here felt really good to come back to, as was our own bed, home-cooked meals and a LAUNDRY MACHINE! By the time we got home I was ready to jump into the machine along with the laundry.
We had a good balance of nature and culture, as we had hoped for at the outset, and fell in love with so many places that picking one favourite is quite impossible. As an overall experience, however, our stay in Lucerne, Switzerland, was really over the top - our accommodation, sightseeing, and weather were as if we had sat down in advance and put in an order for the storybook image in our heads. Recognizably, it could easily have been quite a different story if we had stayed at our first B&B, which was as underwhelming as the city of Lucerne itself at first sight, particularly as we had already felt torn about leaving lovely Innsbruck. That disappointment sound effect: "wah, wah, waah", used in cartoons, came to mind as we drove in then walked what was called the old part, which showcased mostly North American chain clothing shops for young(er) people. It was to our good fortune that Mico spotted a B&B directory at our initial lodgings which led us to the incredible farmhouse B&B we ended up at. Deciding thereafter to splurge on the Golden Round Trip tour up Mt. Pilatus was probably our best decision of the entire trip, and what we would absolutely recommend to anyone - to be said, however, is that we lucked out on a pretty much flawless day - the peaks only skimmed with haze. The day after we went, the top of the mountain was completely socked in - luck of the draw for us. It is our Lucerne pictures I get most stuck on trying to choose favourites for editing.
The Alsace area of France stands out also for its picturesque charm, delectable boulangerie goods, wine (of course), and one of the warmest and nicest lodging experiences of our trip, in Ribeauville. When we have fantasy moments, we imagine we would retire somewhere there if it were ever possible.
Bruges, Belgium was as our guidebooks indicated postcard perfect with its photogenic canals and architecture, but our guidebooks also warned us to expect an above average crowd of tourists to wade through, and suggested alternatives, which had us almost write it off our list. Thankfully, we didn't, as, in spite of a music festival (well placed somewhere on the peripheries of the old ramparts), it was in no way more congested than most places we'd been through - perhaps we got lucky, or the guidebooks are more effective than one would think, but it was, as far as we're concerned, the best reason you need to go to Belgium. We were struck also by how attractive and well-maintained the neighbourhoods were even in the outskirts of the city.
Prague was captivatingly old-world, and we had a wonderful time there. It was also, however, where the spectacle of modern tourism made the most impact on us, as we realized how life there, so essentially unspoiled for centuries, has been so quickly and irreversibly transformed. The bigger picture: the changing world we too live in, and all that's lost for what we gain.
For big cities and culture: I have to say I love Paris - even crawling with tourists in the high season, there's just something about it that sends me tingling from fingertips to toes. It was actually not tops on our priority list as we've both been before, and we knew we would have little time, but it worked it's particular magic and we were both swept off our feet, and so glad we didn't miss it. That certain hum, and the thrill of finding yourself face to face with art, architecture, and landmarks you've experienced countless times in old movies, songs, and masterpieces is a little slice of heaven. As Oscar Wilde once said, "When good Americans die they go to Paris."
But - most every place we would, if we could, gladly visit again in more depth. Except Denmark. Sorry, Denmark. Things just didn't work out for us there, and we found it more pricey than it was worth in comparison to other destinations.
With our time and budget, we're very satisfied and had, as far as we're concerned, a perfect honeymoon. While finding accommodation on the fly has its own stresses, advance bookings have the disadvantage of not always living up to what they promise, so it's a bit of a compromise, but most of the time finding things as we went along worked out well. Apartment style accommodations were always good, and websites with good pictures held no hidden surprises…if the bedroom picture is missing entirely it's always a bad sign. One nice thing with B&B's is that more often than not you don't pay before arrival, so if things do not appear as on the website, there is no obligation, or assumption on part of the proprietor, who generally asks on arrival if things are suitable. It never feels comfortable to cancel even in those cases, but if information is erroneous, there should be no guilt.
Surprises: Innsbruck was smaller and quainter than I would have thought, and to see people in traditional clothing out for a Sunday morning stroll was quite unexpected and charming. A reincarnation of Edith Piaf (though not an alpine persona) was at one point seated at a café table beside us, hand gestures, gravely voice and all - in case we weren't already feeling a little amongst the surreal. Berlin was greener and, divided up into numerous cities within a city, less sprawling and more comfortably liveable than I would have thought in advance. With Mico having lived there for five years, I really enjoyed discovering it through him, and it was a lot of fun for both of us.
Also surprising was the amount of Finns we ran into everywhere along the way. With a population of 5.3 million nationwide you don't expect to be encountering them around every corner when outside of the country, but the amount of couples and families we ran across speaking Finnish right beside us we cannot even count. Even in a small restaurant in Prague where there was only one other couple beside us, wouldn't you know it.
The world is indeed a small place, afterall.
~ FIN ~