My European Adventure

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?

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  1. says

    Great synopsis! I love your picture collages! I think my most memorable travel experiences are when we went skiing in Switzerland when I was a kid. I spent the days in ski school with kids from other countries and spent the evenings running around the hotel playing hide-and-seek and other universal games–all spontaneous and un-organized since that how it was back then!

  2. says

    All of your photos — stunning. You’re going to have a hard time choosing which to frame!

    I’ve been fortune to do a lot of traveling but my *most* memorable experience may be a caving trip I took in Belize, walking, wading and swimming through a water cave that used to be the site of Mayan sacrifice. Skulls, pottery and entire skeletons were draped along the entire cave, left where they dropped 1000+ years ago. It was creepy and fascinating at the same time — I think they closed the cave to visitors recently to preserve the artifacts.

  3. says

    The Cinque Terre is such a special place – I’m so happy you guys made time to fully enjoy it. I give you a lot of credit for hiking the parts you did. We skipped those because we were worried they would be too tough!!! Your pictures make me long to be sitting in Vernazza with a cup of Italian coffee and doing nothing but enjoying the moment.

    For me, it’s a three way tie between the day my hubby and I spent in Santorini, para sailing in Honolulu with my brother or climbing the Leaning Tower of Piza with my aunt. I’ve been lucky to been able to travel to a lot of neat places over the years so it’s hard to pick!

  4. says

    I love the way you wrote this recap! It looks like you had a wonderful trip despite all of the mishaps along the way.

    I did a study abroad in undergrad for my fashion degree that took us on a tour of Europe. My favorite places were Florence (the Duomo), Bruges (the lace factories, the chocolate, and the beer), and Paris (nutella crepes on every corner and cute boys!). I would love to go again.

  5. says

    Of COURSE they had a train strike – oy!

    It looks like an amazing trip. We were in Florence too, but stayed away from bigger cities the rest of the time. I’m sad we had to cut out Cinque Terre, but it was going to cost us a day of travel. :(

    Most memorable experience: crashing Vespas outside of Cormons and then “recovering” by closing down the wine and jazz bar there. What happens in Italy, stays… LOL!

  6. says

    Gorgeous pictures! I’d love to make it to all of those places some day. I think the most memorable travel experience I’ve had was in Kyoto, Japan on our honeymoon. Jeff and I were painfully exhausted from walking around all day and tried to find something for dinner on a busy little alleyway called Pontocho. We settled on a sukiyaki restaurant because we were too tired and hungry to look any further. About 10 minutes into our dinner, two of the most ornately dressed geisha walked up the stairs, they had been hired by a local celebrity to entertain him for the night. It was an otherworldly experience. They were so beautiful and so colorful that they didn’t appear real in that dimly lit room. Their agent noticed us gawking and asked if we’d like a picture with them. I learned later from people online that these geisha, Ayano and Momiyuki, are famous on Pontocho and we were extremely lucky to have met them. I’ll never forget that feeling of awe and “otherness” that we felt in Kyoto.

  7. says

    Perfect vacation recap! Looks like an amazing time. I’m always torn between picking my 12 day European adventure with a friend a few years ago (similar to the places you guys went) or our honeymoon in Tahiti as my favorite. Such different experiences, both great!

  8. says

    Did you go to a wedding in Florence or did you just happen to see one?

    My favorite vacation hands down was my honeymoon. A week in Maui. We packed in so much fun stuff. I’m sure some will think it’s lame to pick a place inside the U.S. but I’ve only been to Nassau outside of the country so, the U.S. it is.

  9. says

    Welcome back! I love all the pictures.

    Our honeymoon was very memorable. We got to the airport at 5:15 a.m., only to find out our flight was “cancelled” and the airline had already decided to rebook us the next day. 4 airports, 4 flights, 3 hours on a tarmac, and 14 hours later, we made it to Costa Rica, only to find out that our hotel was still an hour drive away – on an unpaved, unlit road. We ended up missing the entire first day of our (prepaid) honeymoon. But, hey, it made for a great story!

    • says

      What is it with honeymoons? We had an emergency landing (not as dramatic as it sounds, but still kind of scary), and then because we had to let the plane’s brakes cool down, the pilots couldn’t fly due to time restrictions. After a horrible 24 hours that saw me spending most of the time trying — and not succeeding — to book a new flight, we ended up taking the very same flight one night later. We missed our first prepaid day, too, but now we can laugh. Sort of. :)

  10. says

    I have a perma-smile on my face while reading this. We spent three weeks traveling all over Europe 1.5 years ago and it was amazing. After visiting Amsterdam, Paris, going from North (venice) to south (amalfi coast) of Italy and Greece, Cinque Terre was ALSO my very favourite place of the entire trip. I cannot wait to go back there one day!

    I also loved, loved, loved Venice.

    Your photos are amazing! I really really enjoyed this post. I remember feeling anxious to get home to home cooked food, my bed and a bit of a schedule at the end of our three weeks as well :)

    • says

      You are the reason that we knew we had to do Cinque Terre. In fact, I want to go back to your posts to see how many things we did because you blogged about them!

  11. says

    Great recap! You’re making me want to travel…I would love to visit Venice, in particular.

    Driving from Boston to SF (and back again in the same year) in a tiny Toyota Yaris with my husband and our puggle…that was memorable. haha But we didn’t kill each other! Definitely a bonding experience, although I never want to spend that much time in the car again!

    • says

      We drove from Syracuse to Orlando in a 24-hour driving spree and our relationship was SERIOUSLY tested. And we did it in a Hyundai Accent with two cats, so I can definitely sympathize! :)

      • says

        I can’t even imagine driving that distance in 24 hours, let alone with 2 cats! We spread out the driving over the course of a week, with the longer days in the beginning (and even 12-14 hours tested my limits). You guys were very brave to tackle that!

  12. says

    I went to a few of the same places you did on my European trip and Cinque Terre was my absolute favorite too. I loved every second of my time there, renting an apartment from someone randomly at the station, the gorgeous hike which included getting a bit off track and walking right through someone’s vineyard and of course the amazing food and wine. I hope to get back there sometime soon!

  13. says

    Awesome travel recap! The pictures were breathtaking. Hopefully I’ll make it to Europe some day.

    My most memorable vacation was probably July 07 when we went to St. Lucia for my BFF’s wedding and I went SCUBA diving for the first time (5 dives in one week).

  14. says

    That looks positively lovely! You really saw so many places in such a short time, I’m quite impressed. :)

    The most memorable travel experience I had was last year trying to come from England at Christmas time…needless to say we got an inch of snow (though it was probably less) and Heathrow basically shut down. Lucky for me I got out only a day after I was supposed to and got to wander around London and see the christmas decorations. I’ll probably be telling that story for the rest of my life!

  15. says

    What a great way to recap an awesome trip without overloading the reader!

    I definitely loved my Europe trip (I can’t believe it was more than a decade ago though!) I wish I could have stayed longer and not done seven countries in 16 days, but it was still a blast.

    I cracked up at the comparison of Venice to the Venetian in Vegas, but…it’s so true 😉

  16. says

    You managed to encompass several individual trips my husband and I took to Europe (Italy, Paris). I can’t wait to hear your take on global news…quite an eye-opener, eh? Venice is one of my favorite cities for the same reasons you list…and I’ve never been to the Las Vegas version. I think I’ll leave it that way.

    I’ve had many memorable travel experiences for many different reasons, but I’ll leave you with my most romantic: I went to Paris on business and my husband (then boyfriend) accompanied me. One evening we went to an event at the American Embassy, drinking champaign on the balcony just in time for one of the most amazing rainbows I’ve ever seen. Then we walked Paris for hours, falling more madly in love with the city and each other :-)

  17. says

    I am so envious! PS- I love the way you recap your vacay posts. I agree, I don’t really like reading them either but I more or less do them for myself so I’ll always have the memories.

  18. says

    I love reading travel recaps, and getting a small taste of various countries. Thanks for sharing a bit of your trip. It brought great memories of my own trips to Rome and Florence. It sounds like Paris was a stressful situation. Europe is fantastic, but with the euro right now everything is just outrageously expensive in many parts, and that’s hard to stomach.

  19. says

    I love Paris, but Florence may be my favorite city anywhere. On our honeymoon 12 years ago, we started in Paris and spent only two days in Florence almost by accident. It is the most beautiful, romantic, city in the world (at least of the ones that I have visited).

    My Florence memory..we never purchased a wedding ring before our wedding, just used the engagement ring at the ceremony. We were in Florence, on the Ponte Vechio, and found the perfect gold band.

    Second best memory was the cappuccino that I ordered strolling around Florence, served with heart shaped foam. How perfect for the honeymoon.

  20. Marie says

    Leave it to the French to ruin part of your trip… Glad you had fun, getting lost is definitely the best way to visit Venice!

    • says

      I have SO many stories to share with you :) Paris is still a special place for me. I just wish I didn’t understand the words “l’agression grave du conducteur.” Of course, learning that in high school would have been more helpful than, “Excusez-moi, mais où est le supermarché? J’ai besoin de rencontrer ma tante Eloise afin que nous puissions acheter de la nourriture pour la semaine.”

  21. says

    1000% agree with your comments about Cinque Terre!! We were there in March and it is one of my favorite places in Europe and the world. The 3 hour hike from Vernazza (sp?) to Mantoroso (sp?) WAS absolutely challenging and I was with two Ironmen(woman) who agreed! Your trip post is awesome and one of the best I have read with highlights, pics and good stories! Thanks for sharing!!!


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