It’s just now sinking in, four days after coming home, that I mustered the will to travel through five European countries in 29 days. I still catch myself staring blankly at a wall in some sort of post-traumatic daze. I made this voyage with one other girl-friend of mine who got to share in the delight of climbing countless staircases and traveling by train, plane, boat, and bicycle.
She called me a few months ago with the idea to venture around Europe for the month of August. She was planning to take this trip as a self-reward for completing the bar exam to become a lawyer. I’d always thought of traveling through Europe, myself. I know a few people who’ve gone for a long period of time, and they come back changed. I always say, “One day, I’ll do that too.” So, when she asked me, I knew it was my moment.
Even planning with her seemed to go shockingly smooth. Planning is essential, when the goal is to be far away from everything you know for an entire month. We would chat back and forth about every little detail, leading up to the trip: Where to stay in the city, which Airbnb was best, whether a hotel would be a cheaper option, even what to wear? In most cities, we stayed in Airbnbs since you really get more bang for your buck.
In an Airbnb, you instantly adapt to the culture of where you are. The host who greeted us was always a local, willing to give suggestions of things to do in the area. We always chose homes with adequate security, and located in a well-lit, “safe” neighborhood. In Airbnbs, as opposed to hotels, you get more space, a kitchen area, laundry (most times) and an overall, more authentic exposure to the city itself.
For the beginning of our journey, it was all about taking Instagram photos and sharing our experiences on social media. After two-weeks of that, it became more about enjoying the sights and basking in the unfamiliarity. After crossing over the hump of having media attachment, we stopped dressing for the camera and simply got dressed to be outdoors.
Our first stop was Amsterdam, Netherlands where we stayed for four days. Our Airbnb came equipped with comfort to die for. That weekend was the world’s second, largest gay-pride festival celebration. Needless to say, the city was filled with special events and pubs were open past closing time. In Amsterdam, the locals speak English so it was not a huge culture shock. I ate too many french fries with mayonnaise to count. The only thing that shocked me was the crazy amount of bike-riders I witnessed, flying past cars in traffic as if they were cars themselves.
From there, we took a train to Paris, France and stayed there for five days. In Paris, we did lots of sight-seeing and enjoyed most tourist attractions, like boat tours and museum visits. All for the ‘Gram, it was exhausting. In Paris, we lodged at a hotel in the city’s center. Even though we were walking distance from many attractions, we took taxis around town because it seemed to be more efficient. Paris is a beautiful place, but the congested, city vibe was a bit overwhelming.
I caught my breath with our next stop in Milan. Every morning at 8 am, I could hear church bells ring, “Gong! Gong!” and people waking up, yelling out of their windows, slinging pots and pans, starting their day. Our Airbnb apartment was in a local neighborhood, where everyone keeps the windows open and you can see right into other homes. While there in Milan, we took a 45 minute train ride out to Lake Como, the most beautiful Italian gem I’ve ever seen.
From Milan, we slid to Florence, Italy. In Florence, I had to rest from having caught a “bug” in Milan. I had come down with a terrible cold. You have to be flexible on lengthy trips, like this one. You never know what obstacles you may face and have to simply stop and deal with. So, instead of visiting the statue of David, I curled up with a hot green tea in our Airbnb and watched Italian music videos on the television. After all, we had plans to visit the historic city of Rome, next.
I’m so bummed that it rained, constantly, during both days of our stop in Rome. So, we didn’t get a chance to hike over to the main attractions, like the Colosseum and the Vatican. The great thing about Rome, however, is that there are breathtaking, historic monuments and artwork everywhere you look. Despite the rain, we ended up choosing hookah cafes and gelato shops, close to our Airbnb, to hang out and enjoy our surroundings.
Leaving Rome, we had to catch an early morning train to Naples, Italy. From Naples, we took a ferry that sailed us to the island of Capri. Capri, Italy is a place where the wealthy go to sail their yachts, shop for designer clothes and eat over-priced Italian cuisine. It seemed like a place I’d love to visit again when I’m more established in life and would like to have a luxury vacation on a lavish island. I was pretty upset the night I spent 30 euro on a pasta dish with no meat.
We shared a small Airbnb room in an elevated house, overlooking the island’s hills. The house chef prepared a breakfast buffet every morning. I have dreams about his fresh, baked, citrus-zest, melt-in-your-mouth, croissants. To get around as a pedestrian, however, was not an easy task. There are no sidewalks on the narrow streets and we were almost hit by taxis twelve times. We rode the over-packed buses up and down the winding hills which led us to vow: Next time we’ll rent scooters, without a doubt.
It was refreshing to leave Capri, however beautiful, to visit a more pocket friendly place like Barcelona, Spain. It was my second time visiting Barcelona. So, when my travel partner came down with her “bug” and needed to rest, I was willing to join her in taking it easy.
At this point, we were also over the temptations of taking Instagram photos and simply wanted to enjoy the trip. Our hotel was walking distance from so many great spots, and we didn’t hesitate to get our stroll on. We indulged in lip-smacking Paella and shared delicious carafes of sangrias and local, red wines.
After Barcelona, we made it over to Madrid, Spain via AirEuropa. In Madrid, they love to party. My girl-friend had done a study abroad program in Spain and, fortunately for us, spoke a lot of Spanish.
She told me how the Spanish have been liberated from a strict government system about forty years ago. So, they celebrate, to this day, by staying out at all hours of the night and having siestas during the daytime. Our Airbnb was centered right in the heart of the city. I could hear the transitions from the siestas, to waking up for dinner around nine in the evening, to partying until six in the morning. It was wild.
Our last stop, Lisbon, Portugal was a treat. I never knew how beautiful and full of rich culture Portugal is. We only stayed here for three days before flying back to the States. The one thing I’d like to do when I visit again, is listen to a live performance of Fado music. We spent our time exploring the streets of Lisbon, admiring the endless graffiti-covered walls and dining at local cafes.
Even though I had a budget for this trip, there were many expenses unaccounted for. We took lots of Ubers and taxis during the first couple of weeks. We quickly decided to use public transport systems, as often as possible, toward the second half our journey and saved so much money.
Walking and using public transportation also forced us to be more alert and use our survival skills in exciting, new places. We also spent lots of money dining out. Although you don’t have to worry about tipping in Europe, the Euro is converted to more than the US Dollar; therefore, you’re paying a bit more anyway.
After it all, I don’t regret spending a single cent. I took this trip for myself, to get away from my normal routine here in the States. I wanted to rediscover core values I possess that could only be extracted when separated from every comfort I know. I’ve learned a lot about myself, having to break through language barriers and find my way around places I’ve never been. It was exhilarating. I would do it again and again, in a heartbeat.
In 29 days, you can plan to see as much of the world as you allow yourself to. I’ve read a quote that states how staying in one part of the world is like reading only one page of a book.
My mind is much more alert now that I’ve exposed myself to so many different cultures. My heart is receptive to so much love and beauty. I look forward to the great changes those qualities may bring.