Phil Takes Europe: 12 days, 9 countries, 1 whirlwind tour.

Published on Saturday, 12 July 2014 23:25 - Written by Phil Hicks phicks@tylerpaper.com

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I have a few passions in my life. Along with faith, family and friends, I love sports and traveling.

Since an early age, my parents instilled in me and my brothers that family and friends are important as well as travel that enables one to learn about different people and cultures.

I have had an opportunity to travel to most of our wonderful United States of America, as well as our neighbors Canada, Mexico and some Caribbean islands.

But in June, I ventured with some friends across the pond for my first taste of Europe.

Karen at Travel Masters booked us on an adventure with Trafalgar Tours. I traveled with my friends, Paul and Abby Stone, owners of Stone School of Massage, and their daughter Erin Huffman.

It was Erin’s graduation present. She achieved her undergraduate degree at The University of Texas at Austin and her graduate degree from The University of Texas at Dallas, all in five years.

It was nine countries in 12 days. Although it felt like being on a NBA team — a different city every day — it was well worth the adventure.

I lost count of the number of wows that uttered from my mouth. Plus, I met such great new friends: Trevor and Ingrid from Australia, to the Patels from California (although they are Angels fans), the Ganders from Minnesota, Stephanie and her mom from Florida, Mel, Jode, also from Down Under, and many, many more from South Africa, Colorado and Nevada.

To be honest, the flights were pretty tough.

I felt like Elaine on the “Seinfeld” episode when Jerry gets the first-class ticket, and she is stuck in coach. I had a middle seat between two beefy guys.

But it was nice to have a monitor right in front of your seat.

We flew overnight from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, arriving in London at 9 a.m. Although we had been up all night, we decided to hit the city running.

We took the Tube and ventured to Piccadilly Circus and viewed the West End theater district as well as Buckingham Palace.

Then being a huge Beatles fan (as is Erin) we had to visit Abbey Road. Although we did not walk barefooted in the crossing, we did venture across. Just beware — it is a very busy street.

The following day, we took a tour of London (our local guide was not a fan of Tony Blair or the Iron Lady. I noticed folks in Europe are not very politically correct). We ate at a pub; dining on fish and chips (the British will not call them French fries).

We saw the crown jewels at the Tower of London after cruising the River Thames. And the topper was riding in the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel, for a breathtaking view of London.

The next day, we were greeted by our tour guide for the remainder of the trip — Mike Kobrak, who has to be the top guide in all of Europe. He knew the ins-and-outs as well as multiple hidden treasures during our adventure.

We took a coach from London and viewed the White Cliffs of Dover before boarding a ferry to cross the English Channel (the French refuse to call it the English Channel, instead it is la Manche) and landing in Calais, France, about 22 miles from Dover. There, we met our driver for the remainder of the trip, Rudy — another master of his craft.

There were many bunkers near Calais, as the Germans felt the Allies would invade there instead of Normandy.

We then rode through Rudy’s native land of Belgium, stopping in Brussels and Antwerp before crossing into The Netherlands for our next stop in Amsterdam.

Bicycles are everywhere there as well as water. We took a boat ride in the canals, viewed Anne Frank’s house and then had a guided tour of the “Red Light” district. (We will skip over that because this is a family newspaper.) Although it is best to make sure you go into a Koffee House instead of a Coffee House (or vice versa). Just follow your nose for the real coffee.

After Holland, we moved into Germany and stopped at Cologne, viewing the beautiful Cologne Cathedral. It was the only structure not leveled during World War II as the Allied bombers were instructed to avoid the church.

We then took a cruise down the Rhine River, stopping at St. Goar to view beer steins, the Birkenstock Store and cuckoo clocks.

The next day we went to Munich, site of the 1972 Olympics. We viewed the Olympic Stadium, still standing although it was built to last just 25 years.

We stopped in at The Hofbräuhaus for a beer and an apple streusel.

Our adventure continued into Austria with a stop in Innsbruck, site of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics and then onto Italy.

Venice, Rome, Vatican City (I got chills, despite the blazing sun, when we went to St. Peter’s Square and heard Pope Francis) and Florence were amazing.

In the Sistine Chapel, I silently and accidently took a photo with my phone of the most remarkable man-made structure I have ever seen. I hope the Swiss Guards are not coming after me.

Viewing the Colosseum was such a thrill. We wondered how much Jerry Jones would charge for parking there.

In Austria and Switzerland, you had to leave your key when leaving the hotel. When returning, I felt a bit like James Bond when I asked for my key and I just had to say, “Any messages?”

We stayed near Lake Lurence in central Switzerland, a stunning beautiful site in the middle of the Alps.

From there, we were on to France for Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, The Louvre, a cruise down the Seine River and a traditional French Cabaret with food, wine, dancing and song — I even got to take part.

The tour was great with wakeup calls set each day, a time to place your luggage outside your door and breakfast each morning.

It was definitely a whirlwind, but it was quite an adventure and I’m thankful I did not knock over some ancient relic.

But I’m ready to tackle it again.