Like many Americans, road trips as family vacations were a big part of my youth. Consequently, for the first couple decades of my adult life I wanted to travel farther, fast and on planes! During the past few years I've come to appreciate the road trip... and during the summer of 2014 my husband and I ventured out on a European adventure via car (black Nissan Qashqai to be exact!). We knew this would be our last summer in Europe for a few years; as Stefan's American green card was closer to approval! Our previous 2 summers we spent in the Netherlands doing day and weekend trips; as I wanted to see and learn more about his homeland. He still owned a car, so this was the perfect time for an epic road trip! As we had just celebrated our wedding party in the Netherlands, this was also honeymoon part 2 (read part 1 here)
OUR RULES OF THE ROAD:
Avoid major cities
No itinerary (Croatia was a possible "goal")
Travel back roads
Camping (our friend Simmy below, demonstrating the 3 second tent)
But, rules are meant to be broken, right?! As a travel planner and American, I'm in no way suggesting this is the best or easiest way to see Europe (especially with limited vacation days!). The summer of 2014, I had the luxury of time and a "local" guide who was used to driving in Europe.
I will share more along the way with this trip... but so many things I discovered to love about a road trip! Gas station lunches top this list (Switzerland wins hands down - fresh baguettes/fresh fruit, home made sandwiches in Italy, and CHEAP snacks in Croatia)! As much as I love plane and train travel, it was so nice to be able to be on one's own schedule and stop on a whim! I learned to appreciate the smaller villages and backroads of a road trip (and with avoiding large cities - we could always find parking!). I also discovered I have a love of physical maps! Stefan wants to use Tom Tom, but I liked seeing the big picture of where we were and learn European geography better.
Day 1 - Barneveld, Netherlands to Vianden, Luxembourg
We departed my husband's home town of Barneveld (in the middle of the Netherlands) on a hot, sunny day in July. The trip started off well with our first gas station lunch of the trip... my fave Dutch sandwich (broodje gezond). Also a reminder to keep those euro coins handy, as it's "pay to pee" in most places in Europe (it's the only reason I like to see the golden arches when driving - to pee free!). The only plan we had was to head south, as Scandinavia wasn't on our radar for this trip. After driving about two hours we were already in Belgium (wow, I wouldn't even be out of Colorado after driving two hours from home!). Bummer ... no showing my passport.
After driving a while in Belgium, we decided to head for Luxembourg. Stefan had traveled there many times on his motor bike (BMW HP2... if interested 🙂 ) and wanted to show me the nice roads there (as only a motor bike guy would think). Entering Germany there was only a sign (like crossing state borders in the US!), but we did see the remnants of the old building once used for border checks. As we we drove through the German countryside it reminded me of the Netherlands but with the villages much more spread out and less densely populated.
Getting closer to Luxembourg we decided to stay the night in Vianden, Luxembourg. I admit, before this trip I had never heard of Vianden (learn more here). It's a well known vacation area in the Ardennes (a beautiful forest and hilly area that extends into 4 countries) for Dutch and German tourists. Stefan's parents spent a few weekends here when Stefan was a kid. As they didn't own a car and only traveled by train, I have a vision of them arriving holding hands... ready for a romantic weekend (the 3 kids cared for back in Barneveld)! Vianden was a fortified and powerful city in medieval times. It's set in a beautiful valley, overlooked by the fully restored Vianden Castle. With the Our River flowing through it; Vianden is a picturesque village with nice homes, shops and terraces. Their official language is Luxembourgish; which is a dialect of German (but English and Dutch are spoken here as well). It's also a area popular area for hiking and mountain biking.
After riding in the car for hours we needed exercise and decided to walk up to the Vianden Castle...as you can see from the photo - we were glistening! It took many selfie attempts to get the castle in view (most of them Stefan is wearing a castle hat!). After our walk in 35 degrees Celsius (95 F) we decided it was a good night for an air conditioned hotel stay (read my full review of Hotel Belle-Vue here)! Oops - a road trip rule already broken! After checking into the hotel, we cooled down with a drink (drink for us means beer!) by the river and then enjoyed a delicious meal on the terrace at our hotel. Ready for day 2...
Until the next adventure - bon voyage!