What a few weeks I’ve had — including some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, blisters that put my half marathon training to shame, a few travel nightmares, creative use of hand gestures to make up for a lack of language and memories that I will hold very, very dear for the rest of my life.
I’m not the biggest fan of writing hugely detailed travel posts, because a) I don’t like reading them from others b) they take forever and kind of remove the romance.
However, I would like to document the journey that we had (and with 959 pictures, I had to share at least a few!) so here is a quick look at my European adventure.
Belgium (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday)
Belgium was a bit of a surprise to me — I’d thought Brussels, Bruges and Ghent would be more for Lucas and the rest of the trip would be more for me…
But I loved the beginning of our vacation. We flew into the Brussels airport, stayed at the funky and fabulous Pantone Hotel, drank craft beer, spoke French, ate lots (LOTS) of waffles and really fell in love with this beautiful country. A few standout moments: touring the historic Cantillon brewery and drinking fresh gueuze (Lucas says that’s a bit of an oxymoron), eating bread and goat cheese on our hotel balcony, tasting handmade chocolates in Bruges and walking to the Atomium.
Paris (Thursday, Friday morning/afternoon)
Sigh. France was a 36-hour disaster, with only a few small bright spots. It’s really too bad, because my Parisian honeymoon was such a winner five years ago.
Paris was supposed to be a six-hour pit stop between Brussels and Venice. We’d hoped to see some of our favorite places again — Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, Luxembourg Gardens — before eating a baguette and catching the night train.
But a train strike derailed (ha!) those plans. We spent some of the most stressful hours of my life navigating the tricky world of last-minute travel, between negotiating ticket refunds in French, sleeping on the (stationary) train, feeding the airport Internet kiosk euro after euro while trying to find a flight to Venice that would leave that day and would cost under 1,000 euro a person. This was the ONLY time during the entire trip that I questioned my decision to leave the cell phone and laptop at home, by the way.
After finally finding a random Swiss Air flight that could take us that afternoon and only cost a few hundred dollars more than we’d budgeted for the train, we finally left Paris — emotionally drained but thankful. Those bright spots I mentioned? A silky meringue I inhaled while running to catch the train (before the strike started) and walking through Notre Dame.
Venice (Friday evening, Saturday)
I fell in love with Venice, although I confess that the first thing I said after arriving was: “it looks just like the hotel in Las Vegas!” It does, although it’s obviously ten times as colorful, ten times as alive and at least ten times as romantic. Vegas nailed the look of Venice, though.
This is where I first tried gelato, and where I dove headfirst into super thin crust pizza. It’s where I soaked in the spirit of St. Mark’s and made a wish from the Rialto bridge…and where I loved getting lost. Poor Lucas, I think, did not love Venice for that last note. It’s impossible to navigate Venice, with all of its twisty Via This and Calle That. But because of that, each walk to the Grand Canal led us to a new spot, featuring mini-canals, gondolas, churches and incredible views.
Highlights for me included the cathedral at St. Mark’s, the way the water reflected the lights at night and the San Giorgio Maggiore church. (The biggest bummer? The day that we lost to travel from Paris meant that we had to cancel our day trip to Trieste.)
Florence (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday morning)
If you include our day trip to Cinque Terre (see below), Florence was absolutely my favorite part of our entire vacation. We stayed in a hotel that was about 200 yards from the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiori) and after checking in and walking toward the church, found ourselves in the middle of a massive $5 wine and olive oil tasting. Taste we did, lapping up spoonfuls of the most fragrant, floral oil I’ve ever tasted, and tossing back glass after glass of Chianti. And that was just the first few hours.
The Duomo is breathtaking. Probably the most stunning building I’ve ever seen, and my only regret is that the pictures don’t nearly do it justice. I think I could sit near the church every day and never get sick of looking at it.
Highlights included Ponte Vecchio, the view from Boboli Gardens, and of course…
Cinque Terre (Monday)
If you really pushed me to pick the single best thing that we did in Europe, I’d tell you it was hiking Cinque Terre. But that’s a hard one, because it’s so unlike Europe. It felt more like being in Nassau than Italy, with its blue water, colorful homes, boats and beaches.
The adventure of getting there — including getting off at the wrong train stop, navigating the bus system in La Spezia and starting our hike 3 hours late — almost ruined the day. But as soon as we saw the views, we knew this would be one of the most amazing experiences of our lives.
Easy? Nope. I’m fit, I walk every day and I have strong leg muscles. I figured this would be a breeze. But it was more physically challenging than a triathlon, left me sweaty, wheezy and sunburned…and will be one of the most fulfilling challenges I’ve ever completed.
Rome (Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday)
Rome was our final stop, and when we arrived, we were starting to feel the exhaustion, travel stress and carbfest that had preceded our arrival, and I wasn’t sure whether we’d be able to truly enjoy our last few days.
But Rome, as big as it is, lived up to the hype. It didn’t have the romance of Venice or the drama of Florence, but it was sort of the perfect Italian experience. We hit the big tourist spots — the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum and Palatine, The Vatican. We ate a lot of gelato, had some incredible pizza (maybe the best ever?) and even got to experience the beginnings of the financial crisis protests that would explode the day we left.
Highlights: The Vatican (we took a private tour of the gardens), Trevi Fountain at night, the Pantheon (we went back several times) and walking among the miles of ruins at Palatine.
There were things I didn’t like across the board of this vacation — particularly the hawkers and salespeople that seemed to invade my personal space at every turn. The price of eating out for almost every meal, both on my wallet and my digestive system, was brutal. Taking the train for hours at a time, the difficulty of speaking foreign languages for weeks at a time, navigating the often difficult streets of the cities…it all took a toll. I was ready to come home at the end of our itinerary, although not desperate.
I’m happy to be back, where I can sleep in my bed, eat vegetables and snuggle my puppies. But this vacation was everything I’d hoped it would be, and gave me the technology break I’d been looking for. I have some thoughts on everything from global news to the benefits unplugging to what makes the perfect pizza, but those will wait.
What is the #1 most memorable travel experience you’ve ever had?