Category Archives: Europe

First Impressions of Athens Greece

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We are about to begin our exciting three week cruise vacation with a three day stay in Athens, Greece.  Upon arrival at the airport, we were pleasantly surprised – Clean, comfortable and a breeze to gather our luggage and exit to our waiting transportation to the hotel. During our 40 minute drive from the airport, we experienced mixed feelings about the city.  Athens is several thousand years old, yes, thousands.  In many areas, it was worn down, dilapidated and dirty – but we expected that from a city that is so large and has such a long history.  Despite that, we expected more.

We drove over a large hill that overlooked the city and loved seeing the Cyprus trees, the undeveloped area quickly became building on top of building.  At times, it just felt dirty…not just old.  Then as we reached the city center, all of a sudden the largest amphitheater I’ve ever seen popped up out of no where.  The first Olympics were held here.  Then through trees, we saw the remains of the Temple of Zeus – Athens largest temple honoring the God.  All this, amongst the city traffic and old buildings, intrigued us as we neared our hotel.

As I normally do, I downplayed our hotel to my wife, exclaiming that I hoped that it would be “OK” and in a “decent” area. As we drove closer to the hotel, I knew that she would be surprised, especially after seeing several, less desirable options.  We arrived at the Royal Olympic Hotel and were immediately greeted by a doorman and bellman who took our luggage promptly inside.  My wife was completely surprised as she entered the beautiful lobby outfitted with dark woods, glass, grand chandeliers and an attentive front desk staff.

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As Ingrid opened the door to our 6th floor room (only the rooftop restaurant was above us), she was hoping we’d have a good view of the ruins across the street.  What she did not expect was to see that one of our room walls was nothing but one expansive window with the ultimate view of the Temple of Zeus directly across the street.  We quickly walked out onto the 20 foot long balcony outfitted with two large comfortable reclining chairs.  Just to our left, there it was – the Acropolis, towering above the city of Athens.

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Our Deluxe Panoramic View room was spacious and comfortable.  It had a huge completely marble bathroom with a separate soaking tub for those days following visits to the ruins.  In addition to the spectacular views from our balcony, our 450 sq. ft. room featured a king bed, flat screen TV, separate seating area, wet bar and huge closets.  Since one wall was just windows, the room was equipped with great black out curtains and everything was controlled by a simple console on either side of the bed.  The hotel also features a cozy outdoor pool area, spa and several lounges along with the rooftop restaurant and bar.

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We settled in, enjoying the complimentary bottle of wine from the hotel on our balcony, after all this was just the beginning to a wonderful three week cruise vacation.

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For more information on the Royal Olympic Hotel, Athens or any travel planning services, be sure to contact us.

Photo credits Elite Travel Planners

River Cruise–A week aboard the AMACerto

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This week we are spending time aboard the AMA Waterways Certo, a real beauty.  One of the new long boats, this ship is state of the art and sets sail with a quaint 162 guests.  We are sailing from Vilshofen, Germany to Budapest, Hungary.  Along the way we will be stopping in Passau, Melk, Linz, Vienna, Durnstein and Krems.  Just a few beauties to give us a real taste of the romantic Danube. And did I mention that this is a Wine Cruise?  How great is that!

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Our week started off with a real Oktoberfest night of Beer, Bretzeln (Pretzels), Shuplatters Lederhosen slapping dancing, a history of the local nektar – Pilsner Beer, along with the history of the Dirndel, the traditional dress of the local women here in Bavaria.  Of course we had one quiz, what type of beer is the type of the area here in Vilshofen that varies from its neighboring Munchen.  The prize – what else, and extra beer!  Who do you think won – me of course…I guess I’m a little bit of a ringer – German girl who loves beer!

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We spent the night in the quaint mideaval town of Vilshofen, docked right in the town’s center.  Here are a few photos of the town’s main road from the left and right.  The shops line the cobblestone street offering wares, services and gastronomical delights.  To the left you’ll find the tall church steeple that rings through the day and night.  To the right, the city wall tower with it’s traditional big wooden door reminiscent of centuries past.

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As I write this, we bid adieu to this quaint little jewel along the Danube.  My home for the past two days.  I’m filled with excitement about all the various activities that await me this week – a day trip to Czesky Krumluv in the Czech Republic, a hidden walking tour of all the hidden gems in Vienna, Apricot and Sweets tasting in Linz, many bike tours through the countryside and capping it all off with my most anticipated event – an authentic Goulash Cooking Class in the Sofietel Hotel in Budapest, Hungary – did I tell you that has been my favorite soup in all of the 43 years I’ve been traveling to Europe!

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So we set sail along this romantic and beautiful river, amongst the changed colors and fallen leaves.  Next stop – The Baroque city of Passau, Germany.  Our final German stop on our voyage before entering Austria.  This jewel of a ship will be my home for the next week – and a luxurious one at that.  The German Folk music is playing in the lounge, and we are enjoying complimentary glasses of Bitburger Pilsner and Wurstchen with traditional German Potato Salad and sandwiches as our Frustoffen – basicially a mid morning breakfast – cause we didn’t eat enough at breakfast an hour earlier – only on a cruise!

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We are calling this great vessel home this week and are looking forward to learning about the vineyards along the way – it is a wine cruise after all, and much more!

To learn more about AMA Waterways, or river cruising in general, be sure to contact us on our website – Elite Travel Planners.

Triberg Weihnachtszauber – Christmas Magic in the Black Forest

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Tucked away in the southern Black Forest of Germany is the quaint town of Triberg.  Normally known as the center for cuckoo clocks, this quiet town springs to life each year from Christmas until December 30th each year.  The Triberg Weihnachtszauber – or Christmas Magic, came to life as the brainchild of business men Thomas Weisser and Rainer Huber.  What began with 100,000 lights in 2004 and a few 40,000 guests has grown into a huge festival of 800,000 lights attracting over 50,000 thousand each year.

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The Triberg Weihnachtszauber features several musical acts from Europe and the United States to entertain those who venture here to take in the illuminations.  Along with several singers and variety acts, you will not want to miss the fire show at the waterfalls which helps bring to life this dark nature preserve at night.

One of the highlight attractions on any given day in Triberg is the famous Triberg Waterfall.  The waterfall consists of a series of waterfalls dropping 496 feet and is the most accessible waterfall of its size in Germany.  Just a short walk from the parking lot or center of town you will find yourself on a bridge right at the base of the massive falls.  The Weihnachtszauber takes full advantage of this breathtaking backdrop.  The falls are illuminated in several colors for the fire show as entertainers enthrall guests with feats of music played with fire and a short fireworks show above the falls.  You will not want to miss this event as it is absolutely breathtaking.

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As you make your way through the light festival, you will encounter several Christmas Market style huts selling Wurst, Gluhwein, hot chocolate, and crepes in addition to souvenirs and even a winter photography studio.  While not a traditional Christmas Market, when you take into account all the shops of Triberg, there is plenty to keep everyone happy.  I know the 800,000 lights kept me mesmerized through a fun and festive evening.

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The Triberg Weihnachtszauber is 9,50 Euros for adults and 8 Euros for children 9+.  Overall the experience is a great time for the whole family.  Triberg is easily accessible by car and train.  Complimentary shuttles bring train guests from the station to the top near the entrance every 15 minutes.