At the end of June Adam and I resigned from our jobs, boxed up our apartment and into a storage unit, moved in with my parents and started our 77 day preparation. The first responses we get are: “That is amazing! I wish I did something like this when we were your age” and “Wow you just quit your jobs and are traveling around Europe! HOW??!?! How did you budget for something like that?” The first response is always humbling because this was a dream of mine since college – I wanted to live in Italy and work in pastry shops to learn from the best chefs in Italy. Unfortunately that dream could not happen because obtaining a work visa was nearly impossible, but with Adam’s loving support and my attitude to never give up on my dream, we went anyways! IF YOU REALLY WANT SOMETHING, NEVER GIVE UP UNTILL YOU ACHIEVE IT! There is always a positive way to fulfill your dreams and you can click here to see how we fulfilled mine. The second response of how we budgeted to travel around Europe for 77 days is always rewarding for us to hear. Why? because it was a big deal that we (a 25 and 26 year old) could save enough money while not receiving income and spend money for three months. It was difficult to budget and achieve our goal, but it can be done, it just take time and patience.
So what was our big 77 day European Adventure?
We arrived in Paris and spent four nights at the beautiful 3 star hotel, Les Jardins d’Eiffel. Two hours after we landed in Paris we had lunch inside the Eiffel Tower at Le Jules Verne, a Michelin Star restaurant by Alain Ducasse. That night we met the Lucas family, who ironically was in Paris the same time as us. We went to watch France vs. Germany at the Eiffel Tower Fan Zone for the Euro Cup…not a bad first start. Our other days in Paris were spent going: on a day trip to Normandy to learn about D-Day, to Giverny to see the Claude Monet’s house and gardens, to Versailles to see the palace and gardens and exploring the streets and sights of Paris every afternoon. Everyday we ended our adventures in Paris at our hotel room with the Eiffel Tower as our view – it was always a sweet ending.
After Paris we took a train to Amsterdam, Netherlands and stayed with our first couchsurfing host, Jim, for two nights. We explored the city by boating the canals and biking through the streets. We took the time to visit the Anne Frank House, enjoyed some beer at a small craft brewery, saw the Red Light District at night and indulged in some great Dutch cuisine…including the famous raw herring!
After our quick trip to Amsterdam we took an overnight train all the way to Barcelona where we met my family of 14 to embark on our family cruise! Once we were all checked in we went sight sighing for the afternoon and the two sights that stood out was the Sagrada Familia and the Magic Fountain of Montjuic at night. The next day we said bon voyage and started our Mediterranean Cruise!
Due to unfortunate events in Nice, France our cruise opted to give the city respect and peace therefore we skipped Nice and spent an extra day at sea, aka we spent the entire day at the pool trying not to get sunburnt.
Our first real port stop was in Livorno, Italy where we made our way to Pisa and Florence. Adam and I did our part by keeping the Leaning Tower of Pisa upright (your welcome) and then we explored Florence. I will never forget the moment we turned the corner and saw the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – absolutely breathtaking!
Our next port was in Rome and what a busy day that was! We went inside the Colosseum and being a cat family that we are, we were pretty disappointed to discover that the famous cats no longer “roamed” around. Regardless of the cats, the Colosseum was magnificent and pretty purrfect. During this time the Spanish Steps were being renovated so we skipped seeing the famous steps and went to the Trevi Fountain to make some wishes instead. We finished our day racing to the Vatican City, but with not a lot of time remaining. Therefore we were unable to go inside St. Peter’s Basilica or see the Sistine Chapel. Rome is too big and too beautiful to see everything and do everything in one day – luckily for Adam and I we would visit again.
Our third port was at the Amalfi Coast and did that blow us away or what!?! Everyone always sees the beautiful pictures taken at the Amalfi Coast, but being there was like seeing beauty for the first time. The drive was scary….I mean really scary we were in a huge bus driving on the tiniest road on a cliff, weaving throughout all these switchbacks – at the end it was totally worth it. Even being as high as we were we could see the beautiful, clear, blue waters cashing against the rocks. Our bus stopped in the city of Amalfi and we got to walk on the beaches, feel the water on our toes, drink limoncello, lemon beer and lemon spritz….it was lemon everything over here and we loved it!
The next day was another day at sea and the following day we ported in Kotor, Montenegro. Our fifth country in less than two weeks – time was already flying by! Kotor was unexpectedly beautiful!!! Kotor is a rising city voted as a must see destination and now we know why. We spent our morning hiking St. John’s Fortress where we could see the city and bay from above. The fortress at the top almost felt like we were in a Lord of the Rings scene, it was one of my favorite adventures of the entire trip. After we hiked back down we walked through the small city and enjoyed some really great food with large portions and for a cheap price – we almost didn’t want to leave! On top of all of the wonderful things Kotor had to offer it had…..cats and lots of them!!! Needless to say my family (including myself) couldn’t stay away from the cats the rest of the day.
Our second to last port was back in Italy at Ravenna, the city of mosaics. We spent the day wandering the streets looking for all the beautiful mosaics in churches. My Italian family also introduced us newbies to piadinas, Adam and I’s new favorite meal in the entire world! Besides mosaics and piadinas, Ravenna was a casual, relaxing day with family.
Venice, Italy our last port! It was a very bittersweet day as we departed the cruise because we had so much fun with my family cruisin through the Mediterranean, but on the positive side we were in Venice! We took a water taxi to get to Piazza San Marco and I was quickly impressed. Yes, Venice is crowded with tourists, but once you ignore them it can really open your eyes and thats exactly what I did. I thought Venice was romantic and beautiful! Walking through the small streets, crossing the canals on small bridges, finding handmade Venetian masks in almost every shop was all so amazing. We made our way to the Rialto Bridge and because it was under construction we could not walk through it, so we observed it from afar. It was a quick half day in Venice, enough to get our fill in before we were off to Gatteo a Mare to visit my stepdad’s aunts and uncles.
Gatteo a Mare
Gatteo a Mare was a hidden gem to us! We stayed at a hotel right on the beach called The Flamingo and found out that my stepdad’s mom delivered the hotel owner’s son, therefore they treated us like family! Italians – I love them! A few of us found this little restaurant on the beach that had a beach soccer court, bocce ball, foosball, and seafood risotto. We ended up staying there for the entire afternoon playing everything we could get our hands on and had the best time. That evening we met my stepdad’s aunt, uncles, cousins, second cousins, and on and on – it was exactly what I imagined an Italian family looking like. They were so loving, sweet, funny, full of life and we never wanted to leave them. Yeah, we barely got by with our language differences (thank you Google translate), but it was the atmosphere that really made us feel like home and family. We ate and ate and ate! And then we drank and drank and drank! Seriously it was your traditional Italian family and I am so blessed to be a part of it.
After Gatteo a Mare, we took a small bus to Bologna and stayed one night there. It was basically a layover because everyone had early flights in Bologna the next day. We walked to the main piazza and had dinner one last time as a family. We laughed and went over all of the great memories we had created together the last two weeks. Saying goodbye that night left some of us in tears, but our hearts were full of love and our stomach full of food and our spirit full of adventure.
As everyone left the next morning, Adam and I continued our European Adventure to Brescia, Italy but not before we stopped in Modena to go on a Parmesan Reggiano and Balsamic Vinegar tour. Both tours were so engaging and we learned so much. Being in the culinary industry and loving Italian cuisine I could not get enough of all the amazing facts and endless tastings – I tried a 150 year old balsamic vinegar! After our tours we went to our first Workaway host, the Martinelli family, in Brescia, Italy. We spent two weeks with the beautiful Martinelli family. I taught Chef Marco English during cooking lessons while Adam helped Alessia around the house and watched the two boys, Matteo and Tommy. It was a great two weeks full of adventures to three different lakes, a neighborhood barbecue, hiking nearby mountains and more. On our off days we made trips to Sirmione, Murano, Venice, Padua, and Verona. I was even able to meet two of Italy’s master pastry chefs and indulge in their decadent pastries. Even now I can say those pastries were the best we ever had in all of Italy. We explored a lot of Northern Italy and really felt a part of the family with the Martinelli’s. Our Italian adventure was off to a great start!
After our two wonderful weeks with the Martinelli’s, Adam and I were off to our second Workaway host, Andro and Marina, located in Castiglion Fiorentino – Tuscany. Andro and Marina lived on a mountain in the countryside with 140 acres. Andro and Marina had three houses on their property along with a beautiful garden and farm with chickens, a wine vineyard, olive trees, and more. We spent our two weeks here harvesting something wonderful everyday, along with sanding and painting all of the windows at two of their houses. Those were some hard working weeks, but very rewarding in the mind and soul. We learned a lot during our time there and on our days off we went to Turin, Florence, Rome, Greve in Chianti, and Sienna. We drank, we ate, we worked, we laughed, we ate, we drank, we ate again – it was a very life changing experience.
Life is never perfect and will throw speed bumps along the way, but when that happens it is always best to make the most of what you can. That is what Adam and I did with our third host, Oren in Vigevano, Italy. We took risks being on our own, relying on our research to find generous and safe hosts – Oren ended up being an unreliable host, but we made the most of our four days here. We traveled to Lake Como and had a beautiful day and I was able to check off a bucket list item – driving a Ferrari in Italy, specifically a race track. Was it worth it? Well driving the Ferrari was pretty sweet so I am still a little undecided….
Our last day was spent in Milan and we did our daily sightseeing before taking an overnight train to Agropoli, Italy to spend 11 days with our final Workaway host, Sabina and Toti. Agropoli is a hour south from the Amalfi Coast and was a beautiful and good location. During our time with Sabina and Toti, we helped make fresh tomato sauce! If you have an Italian grandmother then you probably know the drill and it is not an easy one, but it is so much fun! It took us four days total to complete the process, making the tomato sauce took two full days and then jarring and sanitizing the jars took another two days. It was all well worth it in the end because it was so delicious – fresh sauce made from fresh tomatoes grown in Italian soil just down the road from Sabina and Toti, it does not get better than that my friends. We also helped dog sit for Sabina and Toti so they could enjoy a three day vacation. On our days off we went to Capri and a beach in Agropoli, both beautiful, but Capri was spectacular.
On our last day we took a long train ride to Milan and stayed with our couchsurfing host, Lorenzo, before we headed to Switzerland the next morning – our sixth country! As soon as we crossed the border it was like we stepped into an entirely different world. Snow capped mountains and the greenest grass we had ever seen was all around us. Of course we loved Italy, but Switzerland blew us away with its natural beauty. Our first stop was Zermatt and we stayed with our couchsurfing host, Phillip. Zermatt kicked our butt – we hiked so much, a whopping 14 miles the first day! We hiked the 5 Seenweg trail the first day and the second day we took a lift to Gornergrat and walked another beautiful trail with glaciers all around us. Everyday we woke up and saw the majestic Matterhorn and everyday we were amazed by it. On our second day in Zermatt, more couchsurfers came to stay with Phillip and it was one of the best nights of our trip. So many people from all around the world having one wonderful thing in common – we all love to travel. We made Swiss fondue that night and talked and laughed till we were out of wine. The morning after we all said our thank you and goodbyes as we all went our separate ways to conquer our next adventure!
Our second stop in Switzerland was Lucerne and we stayed with our next couchsurfing host, Sergio. Lucerne was also breathtaking – seriously Switzerland is just all heaven. As soon as we stepped outside of the train station we were in awe, first we saw the lake, then the famous Chapel Bridge, following all the beautiful, historic buildings surrounding the lake. Sergio was a great host, both nights he cooked Swiss cuisine for us – raclette was our favorite. During our two days in Lucerne we explored the city, went to Mt. Pilatus and Rhine Falls. This city was magical and Mt. Pilatus and Rhine Falls were both unbelievable works of Mother Nature. We were heartbroken to leave Switzerland, but now we had German beer calling our names.
Our seventh and final country – Germany! PROSST!!!!!! On our way to Munich we stopped in Fussen because we could not go to Germany and miss the Neuschwanstein Castle. Totally worth the hassle and trip because the fairytale castle is more magical in person than any photo. After we felt more royal than ever, Adam and I finally made our way to Munich to stay with our final couchsurfing host, Zeljko. Now why did we come to Munich? For the history and architecture? Well yes, but lets be honest we came for Oktoberfest!!!! Another amazing experience we will never forget thanks to our new friends that we randomly met in one of the tents, Leo, Maylee and Anthony. The six of us sang, drank and laughed until we couldn’t hold our eyes open any longer. Oktoberfest is definitely a “must do” once in your lifetime, where anything can happen! The next day we cured our hangovers meeting our new friends again in the city and we wandered through the streets in the pouring down rain. We had a lot of fun in Munich because of our new group of friends – when we think of Munich we think of y’all.
Ludwigsburg, Germany our final destination in our long 77 day European Adventure! Ludwigsburg is not always on everyones must see list when they visit Germany, but it was definitely on our list because we were seeing one of Adam’s longtime family friends, Flo and his family. Flo is a third generation master baker in his family and is the CEO of an amazing baking company. For me as a pastry cook I was in heaven those two days in Ludwigsburg. We went to one of their bakeries everyday, sometimes twice a day and everything was so delicious! The pastries were not the only beautiful thing in Ludwigsburg though, Flo’s family was beautiful. They were so generous and loving during our stay we didn’t want to leave. In two days they opened their house to us and made us feel like a part of their family, which we are forever grateful for. In two days we almost ate more here than in Italy! We ate so much we almost forgot to sightsee, Adam and I went to see the Ludwigsburg Palace and Gardens also known as the mini Versailles Palace. The gardens hold Europe’s biggest pumpkin festival every year and we happened to be there during it. It was really amazing what they could do with all the different pumpkins. All in all, Ludwigsburg was beautiful and we really enjoyed our time there, eating, sightseeing and visiting with friends.
Now all good things must come to an end and after 77 days our amazing trip finally came to an end. We landed in Dallas severely jet lagged, but we made it through our entire trip in one piece – safe and sound with memories to last us a lifetime. Now we look forward to sharing our experience with our readers and followers to help inspire them to get out of their comfort zone and fulfill their dreams.