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Meet Jenna and Jon
When planning their post-wedding trip, Jenna and Jon Yasgur went big. Real big. The couple saved up, quit their jobs, and spent seven months visiting 14 European countries. Here, in their words and photos, are their four favorite spots.
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Venice, Italy for History
With gorgeous old buildings built entirely on water, this city is a breathtaking architectural experience. We were here for four days, staying at the Hotel Henry (alloggihenry.com), and realized early on that the locals don't really do directions. There are a few signs to sites like the Piazza San Marco (where the Doge's Palace, bell tower, and cathedral are). But otherwise it's the craziest jumble of streets and canals you'll ever see -- and that's exactly what makes it so incredible.
Tons of people head to Murano to buy pieces of the island's collectable blown glass, but it seemed very touristy to us. Instead, take a vaporetto to the island of Burano (shown). They make pretty lace there by hand, and every house is painted a different candy color. Photo ops!
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If you want to cross the Grand Canal by boat, hop on a traghetto (a gondola taxi, shown). The gondoliers don't sing, but we loved cruising back and forth, fawning over the elaborate homes. To travel beyond the Grand Canal, you'll need to go by vaporetto, which is basically a water bus.
Share a quiet candlelit meal on Campo Santa Margherita square, where the young Venetians hang out. Then take a long, meandering walk back to your hotel and end the night with a glass of the inexpensive (but tasty) red wine that's sold in jugs all over the place.
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Iceland for Adventure
We started our two-week stay here in Reykjavik, the capital, but the real adventure lies in driving the Ring Road, which circles the island. You'll pass lava fields, waterfalls, icebergs, lagoons, and steaming mud pools. It took us eight days, with stops in intriguing towns along the way, but budget a few more if you want to hike the inland parks and glaciers. We booked a car ahead of time and splurged on a GPS, not realizing it's impossible to get lost: You're either going clockwise or counterclockwise.
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Priceless Pit Stops
Many locals believe in elves. While we didn't spot any on our road trip, we did catch tons of rainbows. There's just something magical about Iceland. Here are our favorite discoveries along the Ring Road:
Seydisfjordur: This is a really cute artists' community in Eastfjords. Eat at the Hotel Aldan's gourmet cafe.
Stoovarfjorour: In this town, Petra's rock museum is a quirky gem. Lots of villagers actually turn their collections or hobbies into museums in their own homes.
Snaefellsnes: We found our dream lodge -- Hotel Budir -- on this remote peninsula but weren't able to stay there since it was out of our budget.
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For a fancy dinner, head to Segurmo at Boston, Bjork's private chef's place in Reykjavik -- so good. They feature fish stew, lamb, and even puffin. On the fast-food side, the hot dogs at the famous Baejarins Beztu stand are worth waiting in line for. Skip the local delicacy: rotten shark -- yuck. And for dessert? Carrot cake! Icelanders love it.
Also, don't miss the otherworldly Blue Lagoon hot springs in Grindavik, near Reykjavik. Go when it's chilly because the water feels like a warm bath. You can spend an entire day marinating in the soothing milky-blue pools surrounded by black-lava dunes. It was so relaxing we almost fell asleep.
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Paris, France for Romance
Is this the most romantic city in the world? Probably. Will French waiters be rude to you? Maybe. Will you hear accordions in the streets as you stroll by baguette-carrying, scarf-wearing Parisians? Definitely. We rented a small, artsy apartment (that we found through parisstay.com) on the north side of Montmartre and soaked up the City of Light for a full month. We're so glad we stayed there -- it was easy on our wallets and so lovely to have a home base.
A great date idea? Wander around bohemian Montmartre, where cobblestone streets are lined with creperies and old windmills. Indulge in a meal at Chez Toinette. Then take the funicular up the hill and climb the church steps of the Sacre-Coeur Basilica to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle at the top of the hour (every hour, after sunset).
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In order to buy an unlimited month-long pass, called a Navigo Pass, to ride the metro or take a bus, you'll need to provide a passport-size photo. Of course, it's possible to get one of these taken in Paris, but we found that, unless vous parlez francais, bringing them from home is your best bet. You can purchase single tickets without a picture; however, rides are pricier that way.
In the spring or summer, the Bistro de Dames in the 17th arrondissement can't be beat. It's got a pretty backyard garden sprinkled with wrought-iron tables and chairs painted bright colors, and dripping with ivy and flowers. But come fall or winter, you'll want to be indoors, and Bouillon Racine, with its glamorous, perfectly preserved Art Nouveau interior, is just the place.
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Our Favorite Places
Great for People-Watching: Jardin du Luxembourg is just as elegant and manicured as the gardens of Versailles, and it's one of the few parks where you can actually sit on the grass (rare in this city). Parisians flock here to enjoy summer concerts.
Where to Share an Ice Cream: Berthillon on Saint Louis street, hands down. We'd take our cones -- the pamplemousse (grapefruit) sorbet was amazing -- and find a bench along the River Seine to admire the boats.
A Place to Sneak a Kiss: There are tons! Paris is for lovers, after all (that's us outside the Louvre, left). For an intimate setting, look to the courtyard of the Musee Carnavalet, filled with pieces of Parisian history like vintage signage.
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Murren, Switzerland for Scenery
This village might have some of the world's most jaw-dropping views. The proof: It's perched halfway up Schilthorn, an Alpine mountain, at an elevation of 5,413 feet, and overlooks an incredibly steep valley. Every day you'll wake up to the sun rising through the majestic peaks. We stayed in Gimmelwald for a week in the summer, which is five minutes down the mountain by cable car, but Murren has better accommodations. There are no cars, just charming chalet-style buildings.
While you're in Murren, stop in at Stager Stubli, known for its rosti (essentially big hashbrown pancakes) and raclette, delicious melted cheese served with potatoes and dried meats. And we probably don't have to tell you about the chocolate: Rich and creamy, it gives all other kinds a run for their money.
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If you're coming from Geneva, climb on the panoramic train (it has windows along the roof) to Interlaken, where you'll see lakes as blue as jewels. Then switch to a Lauterbrunnen Valley train, which takes a turn for the Alps. Overhead, the skies are filled with paragliders drifting like birds -- the air drafting up from the valley creates awesome conditions for this. Next, hop on the cable car to Grutschalp village, then transfer to the train that runs along the mountain for the short ride to Murren. Sit on the left for the best views of the fields of wildflowers and bell-wearing cows!
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Have a picnic with sausage, bread, and cheese (which you can get from dairy farmers) in the picture-perfect meadows surrounding the town. A bottle of wine makes it a party!
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