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European Favorites of a Pro and a Novice

September 17, 2010

Judy Faust is a Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) with 27 years of experience in corporate and vacation travel. She has traveled extensively throughout Europe, Africa, North and South America, and Asia. Mere words cannot paint the extent of her knowledge! Judy works as a vacation consultant with Covington Travel.

Judy (left) and Cindy on their European adventure

After countless trips and three years of living in Europe, I recently had the pleasure of introducing my sister-in-law, Cindy Harris, to europe on her first trip there. She was eager to pack as much into our itinerary as possible, and since I tend to discourage my clients from trying to take on too much in one trip, I was eager to test my practices as a traveler. We settled on a six-night itinerary that included Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, and it turned out to be an interesting, enjoyable and educational trip. Here I will share some of our favorites of the trip.

Our first stroke of genius was to try the new Open Skies all business class service from Washington to Paris. The seating was very comfortable with so much leg room I couldn’t reach my carry-on bag under the seat in front of me. They offer both partially reclining (140 degrees) and fully reclining seats. The food was good and champagne kept flowing. Entertainment is shown on touch screens that fold into the arms of the seats. Other thoughtful touches included lounges at both airports, provision for us to go through the flight crew/diplomat line at passport control on departure from Paris, and a pre-departure email introducing the pilot and chief purser by name and picture.

Our Belgian buddies

Our favorite hotel was the beautiful Hotel Amigo in Brussels. Historic architecture lightened by crisp but comfortable modern detail makes for a relaxed atmosphere. It is located a stone’s throw from the Grande Place, the epicenter of Brussels, a square surrounded by noble guild halls trimmed with gold and statuary. The service was excellent: the porter and doorman both sprinted out to our taxi in record time, the front desk and concierge staff was equally welcoming and helpful.

Since everyone knows that one of the most exquisite pleasures of travel is food, I would be remiss if I didn’t report on our favorite restaurant finds. We agreed that it’s a tie: Le Procope in Paris and d’Vijff Vlieghen in Amsterdam. Both are set in circa 1600 buildings with venerable histories and legendary clientele, from French and American revolutionaries (Benjamin Franklin ate here!) to 21st century A-list celebrities. The food was delicious and service was friendly and stylish. Post-dinner coffee at both restaurants was accompanied by small treats like truffles, petit fours, or liqueur made especially for the restaurant. They both made us feel like celebrities too.

Kafee and kuchen in Koln

Because this was Cindy’s first trip to Europe, we did a fair amount of sightseeing. We did typical touristy attractions like windmills, a wooden shoe factory and cheese making in Holland. We also toured the sublime Versailles and the off-beat catacombs of Paris. A day trip to Cologne, Germany was a great way to wind down the trip. One of the city’s best museums, the Roemisch Germanisches Museum, chronicles Cologne’s Roman past with beautiful artifacts like its stunning mosaics. The world-famous cathedral is directly opposite the train station, and we stopped for Kaffee und Kuchen at the large café opposite the most photogenic side of the cathedral before catching our train back to Paris.

Another staple of travel is shopping and we definitely obliged! Some of our favorite finds were:

  • Paris – Hermes scarves, Mariage Frere tea, perfume and cosmetics
  • Amsterdam – Buttons, artisanal chocolates, tulip vases and tiny wooden shoes
  • Brussels – Cartoon characters for a terrarium, beer for the brothers-in-law back home
  • Cologne – Wooden Christmas ornaments

In every city we collected Starbucks mugs, but often got espresso/demitasse size to help with the airline weight allowance. We also picked up soccer gear everywhere for our enthusiasts back home, as the European Cup was on while we were there and post-World Cup fever was still very present.

I arranged our airport transfers with one of Covington’s preferred suppliers and the service could not have been more convenient. They even called our hotel to reconfirm our return reservations. Cindy had a great first-timer experience and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing some very familiar cities through a fresh perspective. I would love to help you plan your first or thirty-first trip to Europe. Please contact Covington when you are ready to head to the old country.

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