Guest post by Fox Tour Manager, Elizabeth Cramer
A bucket list trip is something that most people strive to experience at least once in their lifetime. A trip that includes places you’ve learned about through movies and books; a firsthand story from a friend, a poster on a wall, a photo from an old relative. I consider it a dream and a goal rolled into one.
Often times, when the list includes major European cities, things start to feel a bit daunting. How does one take in all of the landmarks and history in a place that even locals consider overwhelming at times?
This is where a thoughtful itinerary and expert guide make the difference.
Choosing to begin in London was the perfect way to get acquainted with our European tour. The British capital offered us the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace as well as the Tower of London. The great fortress looked like something out of a Harry Potter movie against the perfectly cloudy British sky:
Our next destination, Windsor Castle, a royal home for over 900 years, remains the largest occupied castle in the world and is a working castle to this day. The queen uses the castle both as a private home, where she usually spends the weekend, and as an official royal residence at which she undertakes certain formal duties. Our group was fascinated by this glimpse into the lives of the rich and royal!
No bucket list in London would be complete without experiencing the quintessential British high tea. Finger sandwiches, cake, scones and jam can be expected; however, our tea time was exceptional considering it was at Kensington Palace:
The next day took us to Stonehenge, the mysterious Neolithic UNESCO world heritage site. The only surviving stone circle in the world, the gigantic pillars of sandstone and bluestone were brought from long distances and erected using precisely interlocking joints, unseen at any other prehistoric monument. The theories regarding Stonehenge still raise questions to this day and walking by the stones, one can’t help but wonder exactly why it was built.
In the morning, we boarded the Eurostar to France, because, as Audrey Hepburn taught us, Paris always a good idea. While views of the Eiffel Tower can be seen around the city, we took a closer look from the second floor. The shadow of the tower gracefully laying over Paris was a bucket list sight indeed.
The most romantic city in the world is also the City of Light, as seen during our nighttime panoramic tour and a stunning show at the Moulin Rouge:
The River Seine (La Seine in French) winds its way through the heart of Paris, crossing the city from west to east. It is the origin of the city, and the development of Paris is uniquely tied to the river. We sailed under the bridges and saw the city from the original “commute” before making a visit to the Bohemian Quarter of Montamarte:
About an hour outside of Paris lies one of the most iconic destinations in all of France. The Palace of Versailles (Château de Versailles) was the principal royal residence of France from 1682, under Louis XIV, until the start of the French Revolution in 1789. The palace is now a historical monument and UNESCO World Heritage site, notable especially for the ceremonial Hall of Mirrors.
Leaving busy Versailles, we drove west out of the city through the most scenic French countryside and tiny stone house towns. The lush trees and pastures of Normandy cows completely shifted the pace and suddenly we felt like we were no longer in Paris and instead much closer to very different place and time.
On June 6, 1944, codenamed Operation Neptune and often referred to as D-Day, became the largest seaborne invasion in history. The World War II operation began the liberation of German-occupied France (and later Western Europe) and laid the foundations of the Allied victory on the Western Front.
The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombings and an airborne assault—the landing of 24,000 American, British and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight and further divisions landing on the coast of France at 6:30 a.m. The target 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. Strong winds blew the landing craft east of their intended positions, particularly at Utah and Omaha. The men landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches, and the shore was mined and covered with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods and barbed wire, making the work of the beach-clearing teams difficult and dangerous.
And here we were. Standing on the very beaches of France that changed the course of war and history.
Our guide, John Bromage, was every bit as witty and knowledgeable as you would hope during a jam-packed itinerary through Europe. However, upon our arrival in the Normandy region, his amazing passion and connection to the area brought indescribable imagery and vibrance to every step we took on the infamous beaches. Many of the guests in our group had a personal connection to WWII and specifically the very places we were touring during this 75th anniversary year of D-Day. John was able to give answers to lifelong family questions about loved ones who served in the war and helped us understand decisions and hardships that now seem unimaginable.
Leaving the region to return to Paris, we stopped at the perfect place in Giverny to help us transition back to the hustle and bustle of the city: the stunning property of Claude Monet including his house, front garden and famous Japanese-inspired water garden.
Monet didn’t like organized or constrained gardens, but creatively designed spaces by color and then allowed the plants grow freely. As well, he painted his house room-by-room in extremely coordinated colors and decorated with many Japanese prints that he collected and used as inspiration in his art and botany.
Back in Paris, we spent our final night reminiscing and eating (of course!) before heading to the airport to fly back to the States the next morning. Thank you to all of the Fox World Travel-ers who made this trip so memorable. Of course, when the bucket list is complete, what really matters is the people you’ve met along the way, and I’m so honored I was able to travel with all of you.
Until the next adventure,
Do you have a bucket list trip in mind? Check out Fox World Travel’s Group Vacations!
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