A day trip to Bratislava, Slovakia from Vienna capped off my summer adventures in Europe. All totaled, I’ve visited 14 countries (not including Finland where I had a very long layover and two passport stamps or Spain, where I also had a long layover), taken approximately 15 flights and 17 trains. It’s been exhilarating, it’s been exhausting and even after almost three months here, there’s still so much more I want to see.
Top 10 Experiences in Europe
It’s so hard to narrow down my favorite moments. I could have kept going, but the Top 10 seemed to work for David Letterman, so I figured I’d give it a shot. So here they are, in no particular order.
- Puglia – Puglia is relatively undiscovered, especially for American tourists. It had been on my list for a couple of years and it didn’t disappoint. After spending almost two weeks in Morocco, returning to a slower pace, with excellent Italian food was just what I needed. Add in a great guest house, a fun experience at the local beach and a bunch of wonderful towns for sightseeing, Puglia was a gem. Dining solo at the most romantic restaurant in the world was another added bonus.
- Sardegna – Visiting Sardegna (or Sardinia) is seeing the unspoiled Italy. A little rough around the edges, but full of natural beauty, the island has amazing history, including the Nora ruins which date back as early as the second century; beautiful beaches and a rough-and-tumble city (Cagliari) that reminds me a bit of New York… well, really more like Naples (Italy). It was also great to experience it with my sister – we even attended a Sardegnan wedding! Congrats to Paola and Francesco!
- England– I visited most of the UK (England, Scotland and Northern Ireland) and it was nice to head some familiar (and not so familiar) English and also spend time with great friends. I braved the Wimbledon queue for the second time with my friend Adam, conquered the bull mafia with my friend Anne and reunited with my boys, Cedric and Steve. Add in a really good burger, some fun shopping, great museums and awesome weather and you have a perfect trip to England.
- Isle of Skye – While Scotland overall was completely magical, the Isle of Skye had some special fairy dust. My friend Jen and I visited on a postcard-perfect day with clear blue skies, warm(ish) temperatures and no rain! I wish the day could have gone on forever as we looked at the beautiful blue water perched from the lofty cliffs. If it had rained, I might not be waxing so poetic!
- Ireland – I loved finally visiting the Emerald Isle and spending quality time with my nephew. From the ruins at Newgrange and Tara, to the music in Temple Bar, beer at Guinness (yuck!) and enlightening visit to Belfast (technically Northern Ireland, but that’s another post), four days was not enough. But it was great spending quality time with my nephew (and introducing him to the real U2!).
- Paris – Because… Paris! I’m pretty sure I’ve been to Paris almost 10 times now. I’m pretty sure I’d go back 10 more. I’m pretty sure I’d love to live there. Paris is love!
- Iceland – With all the hype about Iceland, I wasn’t sure it would live up, but Jen and I had a great time. Waterfalls and glaciers and geysers, oh my! Add in some cats, awesome gelato and a free, cool hotel… well, it was practically perfect (minus the fact that it was brrrrr…).
- Croatia – I’ve wanted to visit Croatia for the past 10 years, so I am psyched I finally made it! I wish I would have gone at least five years ago so there would have been less people, but visiting Plitvice Lakes and touring the islands with my mom was awesome (she might disagree about the Plitvice part).
- Bosnia Herzegovina – I knew Croatia was going to be beautiful, but I had no idea that Bosnia would be so lovely. Like Slovenia, Bosnia is hitting its Sweet Spot. Great history, decent infrastructure and friendly people who love to share their story. Check it out if you can.
- La Decima – What a joy it was to watch Rafa win his 10th Roland Garos title and adding an unplanned return to Paris to do so. Capturing his Cosmopolitan-centerfold-like posing after the win was just a small bonus!
Wrapping it Up
So as I look back over the past few months in Europe, here are a few last thoughts:
Most popular songs
The first song I heard when I visited Bratislava was the Eagles’ Hotel California. It was also the first song I heard in Vienna, and a song I heard in pretty much every country I’ve visited. Not sure why it’s so popular 40+ years after release, perhaps it’s because it’s such a lovely place?
Other songs of the summer include:
- Thunder – Imagine Dragons (seriously, this is on constantly right now)
- Without You – Avicii
- Feels – Pharrell
- Maps – Maroon 5
- Country Road – John Denver (another one that makes me go hmmm)
- Clocks – Coldplay
- Despacito – of course!
- And if you want to listen to an Italian hit, check out Riccione’s Thegiornalisti …totally catchy! (And the Selfie song that plays after on YouTube is also an Italian ear worm)
I was in Paris the day of the Notre Dame police attack and London shortly after the bridge attack. I never felt unsafe. There were very few places where I felt the need to look over my shoulder, and I haven’t thought about gun violence (except for the horrible stories out of the U.S.). This is not to say that Europe doesn’t have crime, but I’ve been very comfortable traveling here – and traveling alone here. You do notice more of the military style police at popular spots such as the Eiffel Tower and the monuments in Italy. At first the young men with machine guns gave me pause… somewhat like New York after 9/11, but then you realize this is our new normal.
Take me Back!
Sometimes you just don’t have enough time… there were several places where I want to go back.
- Sardegna – I think you can tell from above that I really enjoyed it. But I just scratched the surface. There are many more beaches, ruins and museums to check out!
- Edinburgh – While Jen and I got to spend some quality time in the Highlands, we missed a few things in Edinburgh. Such a great city. So much more to see. I’d also like to check out Stirling and some of the other smaller cities.
- Ireland – Dublin and Belfast were a great taste… more like a tease. Next time, I’d like to check out the west coast – Galway, Killarney and the Cliffs of Moher.
- Puglia – Again, just a joy to visit, and still more to see. A dopo (next time) Matera and more beautiful beaches.
- Slovenia – I’ve been twice and both times have been great. There are still many lakes and towns I’d like to see.
Been there, done that…
While there are many places, I want to return, there are some that once (or twice) is enough.
- Oslo – Just wasn’t my city. Bigger than I thought and not quite as charming as Stockholm, Copenhagen or Helsinki
- Glasgow – Sometimes you don’t just feel the vibe. Edinburgh was great, Glasgow… just another city.
- Cinque Terre – This pains me to say this, but it’s over-run by cruise ships and bus tours. I think if you go during the off-season it may be better but… 🙁
That being said, it’s a pretty small list for three months!
For next time…
The one area that I really wanted (and tried) to fit into this trip that didn’t happen was Bordeaux, France and San Sebastian Spain. Unfortunately, the flights and hotels didn’t work out, but it makes it easier as I think about planning my next trip back here. I’d also like to visit the Azores, Montenegro, the Norwegian Fjords and more alpine lakes.
So Long, Farewell, Auf wiedersehen, Adieu
I am in Austria after all! It’s definitely a different way of life in Europe than it is in the U.S…. and I like it. It’s a bit simpler, a bit fresher, easier to get around (hello, excellent public transportation). There’s a sense of community and a focus on health and well-being. However, some of the conveniences that we are used to in the U.S. aren’t as prevalent. I miss CVS and Walgreens (although Boots in the UK is awesome) and soft toilet paper. I don’t understand toilets that are just holes in the ground, or why there’s sometimes no seats, but I’ve gotten used to that.
As far as language, I’ve tried my hand at several. Some better than others. But I’m amazed at the number of people who know at least a little bit of English. I smile when I see people of two different nationalities (neither of which are English speakers) ask the other if they speak English. We’ve been gifted with a powerful tool and it’s great to see it in action.
I’m definitely a bit sad to be leaving, but also looking forward to moving on. A bientot Europe!
Today I head to Japan and Asia for the first time (besides the Middle East). I am excited, nervous and a bit stressed as I keep changing my itinerary due to limited passport pages and timing of Embassy appointments (Oh, hey U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, I didn’t think we’d have a date, but please make it a good one!). With 20 hours of travel ahead of me, I’m thankful for business class, and even more thankful that its free on points! I have a five hour layover in Beijing, which isn’t enough to do anything outside the airport, but I’m sure I’ll be bored in the airport (especially if I can’t access Facebook! We’ll see how the VPN works).
So any suggestions on Japan, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand (it’s now back on the itinerary) and Hong Kong, let me know. Given the passport/Visa situation, Vietnam is on hold for now.