Small Talk: Jacksonville parents take teen on 18-day European adventure
Sep 22, 2013 | 1911 views |  0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Brianna Bell Wallner enjoys the 'candyfloss' at a Copenhagen amusement park during a trip to Europe with her parents. Submitted photo
Brianna Bell Wallner enjoys the 'candyfloss' at a Copenhagen amusement park during a trip to Europe with her parents. Submitted photo
What do you give your last child graduating from high school? How about an 18-day jaunt to Europe? That’s exactly what Jacksonville’s Mike and Belinda Wallner did for their daughter, Brianna Bell, to celebrate her milestone and to give them some time together before college life began.

In the rush to get an expedited passport, pack all the bags (one just for shoes), and prepare Brianna (a newbie flyer) for international travel, it hit Belinda that this was probably going to be their last trip together for a while, so she was determined to make every moment count.

First stop — Amsterdam. After catching a quick nap at the hotel, the trio set off to explore what would quickly become their favorite city. With its laid-back vibe, Amsterdam offered many wonderful experiences: the Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum, a canal cruise, the Artis Royal Zoo (a “must-see” for Brianna, an animal lover), even getting lost on the metro.

Four days later, they set out on a 12-night Baltic cruise aboard the beautiful Celebrity Constellation where, in a welcome twist of fate, they were reunited with friends they’d met on a Disney cruise, Chris and Debbie Beards from the Isle of Man. “It was wonderful to spend time with friends we thought we’d only see again on Facebook,” Belinda said. “We can only hope that it happens again, and very soon!”

At the first port of call in Warnemunde, Germany, the trio spent 14 hours exploring Berlin, including stops at the Berlin Wall and Holocaust Memorial.

The next stop provided a breathtaking experience and one of the group’s favorite moments — sailing into Stockholm via the archipelago. Another favorite and highly recommended stop was the “very formal” Changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace, as well as a fascinating tour of the Vasa Museum, named for the Viking ship that was salvaged 300 years after sinking in Stockholm’s harbor on her inaugural voyage.

The next day, the family explored the open-air marketplace of Helsinki, Finland, followed by an afternoon hike through the historic Suomenlinna Sea Fortress. One endeavor that was not of an historic nature was Brianna’s quest to visit each Hard Rock Café location and secure her coveted pins, as she is a huge collector.

Two days in St. Petersburg, Russia, was a “surreal and intense” time, in a country “steeped in tradition and shrouded in mystery,” Belinda said. Stops included St. Catherine’s Palace, Peterhof Palace and the Hermitage. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (named so because it is where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated) was a truly moving experience.

One of the oldest cities on the itinerary was the charming city of Talinn, Estonia. With its castles and turrets, Belinda says she felt like they were walking into a fairytale. The group shopped for gifts for Brianna’s classmates (knit hats with built in scarves) while exploring the old city and ended the magical day with a stroll through the beautiful and aromatic flower market.

Following a day at sea (to catch their collective breath after the whirlwind tour), the cruise made its final stop in the very cosmopolitan city of Copenhagen with canals that were reminiscent of Amsterdam, but with a flair all their own. They spent the afternoon at a quaint amusement park — the second oldest in the world opening in 1843 — where Brianna took advantage of all the rides, while Mike and Belinda enjoyed the aquarium and beautiful botanical gardens. The day ended with a stroll past the Little Mermaid before the travelers boarded the ship one last time, but only after Brianna consumed two bundles of candyfloss, otherwise known as cotton candy. Teenagers — gotta love ‘em!

To share your news with Small Talk, contact Annette Maddox at

Save the Date

It’s that time of year again: The Junior League of Anniston-Calhoun Inc., (JLAC) presents its Murder Mystery Dinner Theater Oct. 24-25. This year’s production, “Dyed Blond,” will feature performers from JLAC and CAST, and supports JLAC’s community projects and training programs. The Anniston Country Club will be the venue for the cocktails-and-dinner affair, and tickets (available only in advance) are $50 each. Visit or contact a JLAC member for information and tickets.
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