I have just came home from Europe, it was the third time in about a year. In a totaling of 50 days, I have been to more than 10 countries, so I thought I should write down some of my thoughts and experience at cities that I toured. I will write in chronological order. This is a long post!
it is a small beach town in southern Spain, I only chose to go there because it was cheaper to fly into than Barcelona at that time, but it was a really good decision. I arrived in town slightly past midnight, and due to jet lag I woke up 6 in the morning. It was a bit chilly outside, it was only about 10 minute walk from my hostel to the beach, and by the time I got to the beach the sun was starting to rise from the horizon. It was so beautiful and serene! There were maybe one or two people running along the beach but I was mostly by myself. The beach was clean, ocean was calm, there was a swing on the beach and I just had to get on it. swinging in the gentle wind facing the sun, hearing the sound of seagull and the ocean, I felt like this magnificent show of nature was performed only for me. I still thought back to that moment often when I am in stress, because it was so magical and joyous.
After the sun was fully up, I walked around the beach and the town a bit, there were rarely anyone on the streets because it was still early. There were a few teenagers hanging out in the streets and at pizza joints, clearly partied all night and drunk. There were trash trucks cleaning out the streets. Nothing was open so I went back for a couple more hours of sleep, and then I went to the Santa Barbara castle, it was a main attraction of the city. high up on a mountain with history and views. Then I journeyed towards Barcelona in the afternoon.
Although most cities I have traveled to in Europe are capital cities, and there are tons of touristy things to do, I find small towns like Alicante very charming, and are worth visiting if you want to see the true Europe.
I stayed 4 nights in Barcelona, and it was one of my favorite cities in Europe. The Sagrada Familia was insanely imposing, with such gothic and complex architecture on the outside, and due to the colorful stained glass, the inside is projected with such beautifully colored lights. It was such a cool experience to be inside and also go up the tower, and enjoy an amazing view of the city. It is incredible that the basilica has been built for hundreds of years and is still not done! Its architect Gauli was buried in the basement as well. Gaudi was probably the most prominent architect in Barcelona at that time, I also visited some of his other jewels such as Park Guell and Casa Batllo. They were all very colorful and dreamy. Another place that I also enjoyed was the Picasso Museum. I was so captivated by his cubism that after I went back home I reproduced his “Mediterranean Landscape”. I really enjoyed the art scene and the food in Barcelona.
When I was in Europe I always walk everywhere, because it is cool to see locals in the streets and get a peek of their residential life. On average I would walk 8 miles a day, however, My record high was in Barcelona, it was 13.5 miles, so half a marathon.
I visited Madrid in my second trip to Europe, which was in January. It was not nearly as cold as NY so it was nice. Some attractions here including the Plaza Major, Puerta del Sol, and an Egyptian temple (was a diplomatic gift). Though the highlight of my stay was the Prado Museum, since I was a student and I got free entry and no waiting in lines, I decided to devote 2 full days to it. I ended up spending 17 hours in total to see all the art pieces and read all their plaques. It was such a crazy thing to do, but I learned so much! I learned about many references to catholic religion, and I really appreciated the painting techniques of Rubens and Caravaggio.
Food wise, I really enjoyed the Iberian ham and the paella.
Rome is hands down my favorite city in Europe (so far). The history of Rome is so rich, that every corner you turn to could be a historic landmark or standing on some ruins. The first place to visit was definitely the Colosseum, it was such a humbling experience to be standing in it compared to looking at it on the computer. It is so hard to believe that a civilization from thousands of years ago build this grand stadium, and it still stands proudly today! This overwhelming feeling pretty much followed me everywhere I visited: The Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and lots of small excavations of ruins just by the streets.
What was even more magical, was to visit them at night. When it gets dark, the city projects light onto the ruins, one particular memory I had was when I stood on the edge of the sidewalk near the Forum, and I was about less than 5 meters away from one of the main structures. There was yellow light shining on it by the shadowing makes it look completely different form the day times. There was maybe 3 or 4 people around me, which was so peaceful compared to during the day and packed with tourists. There were birds circling not too high above, making some calls every once in a while. In such ambience, with the soothing lighting in contrast with the dark background, the birds flying and calling, all the sudden the figures that are carved in the forum seemed to have came alive, it was such an immersive experience. I know I may sound crazy here but it was really cool being so close to something so ancient (almost privately), having a really quite moment with it and establish a communication almost.
Visiting the Vatican was also a humbling experience, to see the worlds largest Basilica, and also run around a whole country in one hour. Although the St. Peters Basilica ruined all churches for me, because every European city has at least one church if not more, and they are all orders of magnitude less impressive.
Italian food is world famous, so I definitely enjoyed lots of pizza and gelato. In addition I found the Italian language and their accent really interesting, I hope by the next time I visit I could speak a bit more Italian so I could enjoy my trip to more extend. I would also want to visit a small Italian (beach) town and find the Alicante vibe.
Dubrovnik is a small town in Croatia, my boyfriend decided on this town because he also likes less main-stream places. However upon arrival, we saw loads of tourists, turns out it was the filming place of Game of Throne, and it was particularly popular amongst Korean tourists. The architecture of the town is still pretty ancient looking, but the culture was really touristy. All the restaurants serve pretty similar foods and are very expensive. Even walking on the city wall was 20 Euros per person, which is pretty outrageous.
The color of the Mediterranean water was a really clear blue that I have never seen before. I went swimming by the beach and it was really nice experience to be in such clear water, and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the shoreline. We also went to this Island nearby called the Lockrum, there were some peacocks there so it was exotic, and it was nice hiking on the island, the boat trips were nice too.
Prague is probably one of the cheapest cities on this list. I still remember a huge glass of Pilsner was only 1 euro, it seemed like a crime to not drink. The Prague Castle was a really nice touristy spot, and a nice hike from the city. The old town square was also a must visit, there was this really famous clock, and people gather on the square to see the figures move and the music play from the clock. Apparently Prague was where intellectuals of Europe resided at one time. We also went to an escape room while we were there, it was an interesting experience. Their diet is more meaty and they liked to combine coffee with liquor, I enjoyed both characteristics.
I needed to go to Brussels next but it was much cheaper to fly into Eindhoven, so I booked a flight there and then took a bus to Brussels. I had 3 hours in the Netherlands. I had one meal there, I was a bit disappointed when I asked the waiter what are some foods of the Netherlands, and he said there are anything really. So I just ended up having a panini and a coffee. Like any small town in Europe, there is usually some commercial streets, at least one church at the city center, and maybe a university. Eindhoven had them, so I was occupied for sometime. Apparently they also host the headquarter of Philips, I was excited to see some tech, but it was Monday and their museum was closed. Too bad this was my only impression of the Netherlands, I will have to visit Amsterdam someday.
I really enjoyed Brussels hugely because I was staying with a local and he showed me around. My former lab mate from Lawrence Berkeley Lab was originally from Brussels, and he happen to be in town, so he kindly invited me to stay with him in the house that he grew up in. It was an interesting house, kind of narrow, but also had 4, 5 floors to make up for the space they needed, seemed pretty typical for a lot of European houses, it was cool to stay in one.
The food scene was really nice, Belgium waffle, Belgium fries, Belgium chocolate, and of course Belgium beers. I thoroughly enjoyed eating and drinking there. Especially my friend took me to some of the coolest bars in town and introduced me to cheery beer, I have been craving it since then. Also he took me to a dancing lesson, and a mixer for renewable energy enthusiasts. It was so refreshing when you are in the middle of the 25 days of European church visiting. I also went to a musical instruments museum and it was an eye opening experience.
My friend took me to Ghent for an afternoon. The more famous small town was Bruges, however, my friend said it has became a tourist trap now so he didn’t recommend it. A river runs through the town, and buildings are built right off the river, so it was a really scenic place to walk around. It was also really interesting to learn about how Belgium is divided into French speaking and Dutch speaking, and that they don’t really interact with each other, even their government is divided by language. Ghent was half hour train ride from Brussels and they speak different languages. This is so fascinating to me.
London is such a big and expensive city, since everyone spoke English, it felt less exotic to me. I did a free walking tour of the city (which I tried to do in most cities when I am on my own), and the guide for this tour was particularly good, I really enjoyed learning about all the buildings that we saw and the history behind them. London is cool in the sense that the old and new buildings coexist rather harmoniously. There is the tower of London in the city center along with the big ben, and not far away is the eye of London.
York is a small town half way between London and Edinburgh, so my friend and I decided to stop by there for a day and experience a small town in England. It was pretty stereotypical, one university, one church, one small commercial area in downtown, and one river. It is a chill and quite college town. The York Castle was pretty cute, it is shaped like a four-leaf clover, and up on a small hill.
Edinburgh is in Scotland, although it is a part of the UK, it had a different and more cultural vibe than London. First of all is the accent, it can be really hard to understand at times. I remember when I visit Edinburgh Castle, I could understand only around 50% of the tour guide, and he repeated some word many times and it was towards the end of the tour when he pointed at a dragon sculpture and said that word, then I knew he was saying dragon this whole time. It was an interesting experience though, it feel more exotic. I also did a Scottish Whisky experience thing for tourists, where I learned about whisky from different regions of Scotland and their characteristics.
I visited Lisbon on my second trip to Europe, which was also when I visited Madrid. My main goal was to escape the winter weather of NY. Lisbon was also on the cheap end of the European cities, maybe it was also because of the low season. The hostels were 15 dollars a night and really nice. The weather was 10-15 degrees Celsius which is really comfortable. Eating out on average is around 10 Euros, and you can get a nice plate of fish, almost every meal I indulged myself with fish, they put a lot of olive oil which is really delicious.
The castle of Sao Gorge gave a nice panoramic view of the city. The city is built on hills so it was pretty similar to San Francisco, also they built a bridge similar to the Golden Gate Bridge and it is by the same architect. The walking tour that I did also had a really passionate guide and made me liked the town very much. I learned a lot about how the city evolved through time. It is also one of my favorite cities.
Sintra is just half hour outside of Lisbon. It is a town with many tourist spots. The most memorable place for me was the Pena Palace. It was January and up on a mountain, so it was rainy and misty when I visited, but that also resulted in very few tourists which I enjoyed half the castle to myself most of the time. It is not like other European royal castles, it has bright color on the exterior, and very fairy tale like designs, on most walls there are the famous Portuguese tiles with beautiful patterns. On the inside, each room despite small, has completely different design themes and colors. It was such a visual treat. I wish to visit it again to see its bright exterior without the mist.
I also enjoyed visiting a personal palace of a rich man, Quinta de Regaleira. It has a beautiful small castle embedded in a huge garden. What is special about the garden is a it is built on a hill, and there are several wells with different heights which connects to form secret passage ways underground. It was so cool to walk around this labyrinth.
In the past two weeks, I went to Europe for the third time. Paris was such a tourist trap but I knew I had to visit at least once. I went to Sacre Coeur, Eiffel Tour, the Louvre, Arc de Triumph, and many other touristy spots. It was really nice seeing them in real life rather than in pictures. Though there were many dark skinned people trying to talk to me at the touristy area, and also nearby where I lived, which was nearby the north train station. There were some moments I did not feel same but gladly nothing happened. I always tried to be back by the hostel before sunset, which was 9:30 PM so it wasn’t hard.
I really enjoyed the Parisian street fashion. It was weekdays when I visited so it was probably more prominent than weekends, but everyone looked so nice, the guys were in suit and tie, leather shoes, clean shaven. Girls also dressed up nicely and had make up on. I enjoyed to just look at them in the streets, and maybe that’s why they have really big culture on happy hour drinks, where they get off work, go to some bar, sit outside, sipping drinks and looking at people in the streets. It was interesting to watch them to watch others. And their happy hours ranges anywhere from 4 hours to 10 hours, it seemed pretty ridiculous to me.
This was my favorite stop on this trip, Paris was too huge with many cars and honking, tourists and people bothering you at touristy traps. But Copenhagen was smaller and seemed more approachable. There were significantly less cars, a whole lot more bikers. People were really tall and blonde. It was also a lot more expensive, the hostel was $50, where Paris was $40 (and Lisbon was $15). Eating out was very expensive too, there were many 10-course or 20-course restaurants, which costs $300+ per person. And eating a normal meal was $30.
So why did I still like it so much? I really liked the Scandinavian design culture, for one. I visited the design museum and learned about history of their interest in chair design, posters, etc. I also liked their candy colored houses, compared to the vanilla color in Paris, although elegant, but less fun. I got to see Prince Frederick on my first day there, it was his 50th birthday and he paraded down the street. Afterwards I decided to learn some history about the royal family, then I visited the royal palace. It was definitely more engaging experience to first have some background knowledge prior to visiting.
There is a small section in town called Christiania, it was such an eccentric place. It is composed of a group of people who did not want anything to do with Copenhagen or even the EU, and decided to start a community on their own. Nowadays it just looks like a group of druggy hanging out. There is also a “green light street” which is full of people selling pot. Although they may look like they are not up to much, my tour guide said they were actually at the forefront of many political issues such as gender equal pay and LGBT rights.
Stockholm was a lot like Copenhagen, but there were also some differences that I noticed. there were more modern buildings, which could be ugly in my opinion. More cars and less bikes than Copenhagen, but still better than Paris. Less blondes and people are more average sized. In Copenhagen, it was mandatory to wait for a greenlight, and jaywalking could be fined up to 1000 DKK which is more than $100. However, in Sweden everybody jaywalks. In Stockholm restrooms were a lot harder to find and they usually cost 10 Krones, even in public libraries! They also charge for plastic bags, which I think is a nice thing to implement.
They also has a huge design culture, given it is the origin of Ikea and H&M. There is a interior design chain store called DesignTorget that I enjoyed to just walk around, and I bought some gifts for people from there too. They have a museum/art gallery called fotografiska, it had collections of famous photographers and it was cool to visit, even though I am not into photography.
I also was thrilled to visit the Nobel Museum, the building where the Nobel prize was handed out, and the building where they had the banquet and dance afterwards (the city hall). It felt very inspiring to be so close to the spirit of Nobel and the laureates.
One thought on “Travel Journal of Europe”
On your next trip to Rome, you must see some extraordinary Caravaggios in churches (e.g., “The Calling of Matthew” in San Luigi dei Francesi) and in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.