Walking on the streets of Paris with my family, all 24 of us, it truly was a dream come true. Yup, there was 24 of us embarking on a journey that was filled with unforgettable experiences and days that had me wishing it would never end.
After months of planning we were ready to go on our family trip to Europe. The main purpose of the trip was to fulfill my grandmothers wish to visit the healing shrine of Lourdes, France. At the time she was diagnosed with breast cancer so we all wanted to do this trip for her. Unfortunately something unexpected happened, literally the day before the trip she had to be taken to the hospital and admitted. So originally there was supposed to be 26 of us but my grandparents couldn’t go, the trip went on and our intentions were still to offer our prayers for her at Lourdes and experience the beauty of Europe.
In the group of 24, 18 of my relatives came from the USA, 3 from Canada, and 3 from the Philippines – my aunt, mom, and I. We had our flights scheduled to arrive in Paris on the same day and only hours apart from each other. Since we came from the Philippines it was an adventure in itself going there, we had a connecting flight via Qatar which was my first time being in the middle east as well.
1st Destination: Lourdes, France
Upon all of us meeting at the Paris airport we then had to transfer to a different airport and fly to Lourdes. It was a quick one hour flight and felt so amazing that all of us were finally together to start our Eurotrip.
Lourdes is famous for its Catholic pilgrimage and healing waters, millions of people go there every year around April. Our visit however was in January, it was winter time so it was really cold and it felt like we had the whole town to ourselves. Most hotels & shops were closed, no lines in tourist attractions, even attended mass with just us and a couple of nuns.
It was honestly the “holiest” place I’ve ever been to and was the perfect place to start our family trip.
2nd Destination: San Sebastian, Spain
While in Lourdes we had planned to go on a day trip to San Sebastian, it was only a 2 hour drive and our guide suggested to go there because they were celebrating a festival. The ride going there was amazing with the Pyrenees (range of mountains) as our view.
Upon arrival we felt the festival vibe right away, people had various costumes and there were a bunch of people wearing a chef’s uniform while banging on drums. It was totally worth the drive as we got to try some basque cuisine, be part of a festival, and see the sights of San Sebastian.
3rd Destination: Paris, France
From Lourdes we flew back to Paris, it felt surreal to experience the beauty of the city more so doing it with my family. Before the trip we had been practicing basic French and it was funny hearing everyone’s version of the French accent. We stayed there for a few days so we got to see plenty of attractions like the Eiffel tower, Louvre Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, and just walking on the streets felt magical – oh and they had the best pastry ever. Paris is one of the cities that you just can’t have enough of, I dream of going back there and wish to live there too!
4th Destination: Venice, Florence, Rome – Italy
Next stop was Italy, at this point we were down to 15 as some of my relatives had to go back to America. This time around we opted for a a different kind of adventure in terms of transportation. We flew in to Venice from Paris but from Venice we took the train going to Florence and took the train as well from Florence to Rome.
It felt like we were on the Amazing Race, all 15 of us had luggages to carry making our way to the train station. Then we had to rush getting all the bags & suitcases on the train quickly because the doors opened only for 5 minutes – it was a team effort as we lined up to pass the bags on the train. We felt tired but luckily no one was left behind and we got to experience Europe’s landscape from the view of the train.
Another cool experience was that in all the 3 cities we visited in Italy we did the Hop On/Hop Off tour bus ride. It is basically a bus that goes to all the tourist spots of the city, you only have to pay once and then just hop on a bus, hop off to your desired area, take pictures and enjoy, then hop on the next bus and go somewhere else. These buses drop by every 30 mins – 1 hour so you don’t have to worry about being left behind. It’s a great way to see a lot of sights on a budget.
Final Destination: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Italy was awesome but now its time to pack our bags & luggages once again to head to Amsterdam. This time we took a plane again and while on air we passed by the Swiss Alps which was another unexpected experience that I won’t forget. I didn’t know what to expect in going there but at the end of the trip I have to say that Amsterdam is one of the friendliest cities I’ve ever been to. They are popularly known as the place where marijuana is legal and for the red light district but after walking around and interacting with locals who are more than happy to help, I remember it to be a friendly city.
Another thing I noticed was that majority of the local’s transportation was walking or riding their bikes. I thought that was cool and we experienced the joy of walking around the canals as well.
Bonus Destination: Doha, Qatar
On our way home from Europe the Philippine group (my aunt, mom, and myself) once again had to go through Qatar first because we had a 12 hour layover. I imagined just staying in the airport and sleeping till our flight back home but we were given an unexpected blessing. We got a temporary visa to enter Qatar and even got a free hotel room from Qatar Airways to rest. Luckily we had a relative working there whom we called and gave us a tour around the city. It was another awesome experience spending time in the middle east even just for a day.
Overall I believe our trip to Europe could not have been any better, spending quality time with my family and having these experiences together made it even more special. Most importantly, 2 years after our trip my grandmother is now cancer free which I believe is a blessing from our trip to Lourdes!
What’s the most number of people have you travelled with? Looking forward to hearing your stories on traveling with a big group as well!
About the Author: Karl is a freelancer from the Philippines who is passionate about podcasting, startups, and the digital nomad lifestyle. He is the founder & host of an inspirational Filipino podcast that aims to inspire Filipinos around the world. Say hello to him at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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