It’s fair to say Tom and I started planning our honeymoon well before we began planning for the wedding itself. We’re both avid travelers, though I’m more of a see-the-USA kind of girl while Tom’s on his second passport in 10 years because the first got too full. Places that have great food, culture, and extremely walkable areas suit us best so we both agreed on visiting Europe!
Having been to China and Hawaii on previous trips, we’d learned a few things about traveling together. Tom’s no good at sitting on the beach and I’m no good without somewhere to plug in my hair dryer. We decided Europe was the perfect destination since the international hassles would be minimized but there’d be plenty of extraordinary things to see and do. Knowing we can’t sit still for long, we charted a route through France, Belgium, and Italy for our 14-day adventure. We didn’t dare tell anyone we were more excited for the trip of a lifetime than the wedding itself.
As more and more friends asked for our registry information I became increasingly happy we’d chosen to do a honeymoon registry. Being from the manners-obsessed south, we’d worried our guests wouldn’t understand the concept but as it turned out over half our friends and family ended up choosing to gift us honeymoon excursions rather than kitchen appliances we didn’t need. Not only did we end up with the ability to pay for our dream vacation, our guests have since told us they loved the convenience and personalization of our Traveler’s Joy account. It felt like everyone got to share our European experience!
The morning after our picture-perfect fall wedding on October 27th we set off to the airport for a long flight to Paris. We were exhausted from the night’s festivities and Tom was a bit under the weather, running a fever on the plane. Not letting it dampen our spirits, we dreamed out loud of all the croissants, crepes, and cheese we’d be gorging ourselves on in just a few hours! We’re definitely live-to-eat kind of people. After landing in Paris around 8:00 a.m., Tom thankfully began to feel much better and we had a whole day to explore the city by foot. With all the extra honeymoon contributions we were able to book a hotel right in the Latin Quarter, the “place to be” when you’re traveling to Paris! We hit up Notre Dame and a few other astoundingly beautiful landmarks, capping the day off with two glasses of red and some crusty French bread. Paris was as perfect as I’d always imagined!
…until I woke up at 3:00 in the morning with the dreaded Norwalk virus. I spent the next 36-hours as sick as could ever remember being, confined to the hotel room watching French game shows and dreaming about all the decadent food I couldn’t eat. But as it turns out my bug only helped bond my husband and I closer together; nothing like a virus to test the strength of a new marriage! Sufficiently stir crazy at the end of day two of my quarantine, Tom and I decided not to let a little illness stop us from enjoying the honeymoon we’d been dreaming about. I dragged myself out of bed and finally got to see the Eiffel Tower up close and personal! We ended the day watching a gorgeous sunset from Montmartre, Tom with a mulled wine and me with a ginger ale. Paris really was perfect after all.
When our time in the City of Lights was done and I was beginning to feel like myself again we hopped a train to Brussels, Belgium – my first international train ride, a gift from one of our beloved guests, of course! After nearly missing the train due to a reservation mix-up we spent three short hours gazing at the Belgian countryside on our way to Brussels. From there we switched trains and landed in Brugge (sometimes spelled “Brugges”), a city neither of us had been to, but a city Tom had always dreamed of traveling to. It’s exactly these kinds of out-of-the-way places he loves to explore!
Brugge was literally out of a fairytale…the streets were paved with cobblestone and the buildings were all ornately medieval. There was a cold mist and the smell of chocolate in the air making it cozy and delicious at once. We spent two days in Brugge walking from chocolate store to chocolate store, stopping intermittently to eat a waffle or some delicious Belgian fries. Before we left we even made a bottle of custom-scented perfume for me! We decided it was the perfect splurge as one of our friends had generously gifted us a Special Souvenir from the honeymoon registry.
One fantastic day trip to Ghent, Belgium later for some castle-touring and beer-tasting, and we were on our way again, this time on a flight to Venice. We were excited but tentative – Venice was a city we just had to visit while in Italy but wasn’t it touristy? Didn’t it smell bad? We weren’t exactly sure what to expect. To our surprise, Venice ended up being the highlight of the trip! From the moment we stepped off the water taxi from the airport we felt like we were in another world. We got lucky and happened to plan our visit smack in between two of the biggest floods the city had experienced in decades. If we’d come a week earlier or later we’d have been walking knee-deep in water! Our hotel (as gifted and chosen by one of our wedding guests from our registry) was right on the water making the views spectacular and all the city’s attractions extremely walkable. The weather couldn’t have been better.
We spent the next two days strolling the winding canal streets of Venice, soaking in the history and stopping from time to time to eat delicious Italian gelato or have a glass of wine. Being “allowed” to have a glass of wine with lunch sure made us feel like we were on vacation! I was most excited to take a famed gondola ride which was, of course, exactly as amazing as expected! The beauty of Venice is that it has deliciously little to do. Of course, there are dozens of museums and cathedrals as well as countless shops and historical attractions but it’s the kind of place best seen without a plan. We were exhausted after walking 10+ miles each day but truly felt like we’d explored every inch of the city by the time we left. From our sad goodbye to Venice to the open road – we rented a car, also a wedding gift, and drove south. Along the way we stopped in San Marino, a cartoonishly-beautiful castle town nestled on a hillside, which is actually its own country! Who knew? We ended a day of scenic driving in Siena where we had reservations at the best bed and breakfast in town: a restored castle!
Tom had chosen this hotel based solely from online reviews but when we arrived the sun had already set and the gravel driveway was tough to navigate. We indeed pulled up to a castle, but this one appeared to be abandoned! The lack of lights and signage gave me the heebie-jeebies and when a black cat scurried across our feet as we swung open the massive front door I nearly sprinted back to town. Just as we were giving up on our castle hotel we heard, “Thomas! Thomas!” The innkeeper was expecting us and after turning on a few lights led us to our very own apartment, complete with wood-burning fireplace! It was surreal.
When we woke in the morning we realized how wrong we’d been about our bed and breakfast. The views of Tuscan countryside from our window were nothing short of spectacular and in the daylight you could really tell the love and care that went into restoring this family-owned estate. After some suggestions from the innkeeper we spent the day hopping from one hillside town to the next – Montepulciano, San Gimignano, Volterra – we lost count! Each town had its own flavor. We bought bottles of fresh-pressed olive oil to bring home to our loved ones and even an authentic, hand-painted Tuscan platter for me! I plan to use it each year to serve dinner on our anniversary.
Before retiring to the castle we stopped at a charming Italian grocery store and purchased dinner supplies. In our apartment’s tiny, ancient kitchen I whipped up some gnocchi and caprese salad…we spent the evening reminiscing about our wedding next to the crackling fire with full bellies and red wine in hand. It was by far the most romantic part of the entire trip.
The next day was spent in Siena, a surprisingly beautiful and bustling city, exploring and mingling with locals. Siena’s famed cathedral was one of our favorites sights the trip and we were sad to leave town before having a bit more time to explore but vowed to come back again. From Siena we headed to Florence, the last stop of our journey, but along the way had a scheduled cooking class – the Traveler’s Joy gift I’d been most excited about! We spent nearly 6 hours in the kitchen of an Italian family (other the father spoke English) learning to make pasta, crostini, and pine nut torte. The class was a memory both Tom and I will treasure forever and it was certainly the kind of experience you can’t just get anywhere! By the time we left we truly felt part of the family and we still keep in touch with our teachers via email to this day.
Florence was a flurry of activity – climbing the belltower, visiting the Duomo, shopping for leather goods – it was a far bigger city than we’d anticipated. Thankfully our hotel was right in the middle of all the action and even had a rooftop deck with a spectacular view of the Duomo, Florence’s main attraction. We even managed to find an American sports bar to help cure a little of our college football withdrawal! Drained from our travels, we were excited to get back to our “real” lives but on that last night were terribly sad to end the honeymoon we’d been planning for months. Italy truly was the perfect place to cap off the trip of a lifetime.
Tom and I live for planning our next trip, and this was no different. Though we know we’ll likely visit more exotic and unusual locations in our lives we’ll never have a trip quite as special as this one. Our honeymoon was where we began our life as newlyweds and got to spend two glorious weeks simply enjoying each other’s company. Who could ask for more than that? We couldn’t possibly recommend Europe highly enough for other honeymooners, particularly the parts we visited, each with its own virtue. Italy was relaxing and magical, Belgium was surprisingly beautiful and culture-filled, and Paris was...well, Paris!
European travel can be prohibitively expensive, as our trip totaled somewhere around $10,000. We both agree there’s no way we could have taken such an action-packed vacation had we not signed up for a honeymoon registry with TravelersJoy.com. We’re so grateful to our family and friends for helping us create the vacation we’d always dreamed about, and one we’ll always remember.