I’m counting down for my return trip to Europe! The reason that this trip came to be was a need to see Paris. My friend Rajini and I have been talking about going there for years and we are finally going to make it happen. But I couldn’t fly all that way and only see one city! So we are doing a tour….
8 countries in less than 2 weeks! I consider myself very fortunate to be visiting this historic, beautiful continent for a third time. The bus tour will take us to some places that I’ve already seen (London, Munich, Florence, Venice) and some that I’ve always wanted to see (Switzerland, Amsterdam, Paris). I’m definitely excited for Amsterdam…. I have a feeling that there’s more to the city than a lot of blue hazy smoke and the house where Anne Frank lived. Although that blue haze may be reduced a lot starting next year. Then what will the city be known for?? Scary thought. And of course Paris will be amazing… I plan to do all the typical touristy things and just revel in the French culture of romance as much as possible during our short stay.
In the meantime, I’ll share my personal 10 favorite cities in Europe that I’ve visited, listed from pretty impressive up to the #1 absolute coolest (well, hottest actually)…
#10: Nice, France
Known as “Nice la belle“- Unfortunately, we were only there for one night and I caught the flu during that time. Of course, I didn’t see much of Nice but it had a great vibe and the pics that my friends took looked amazing. I would love to go back one day and check it out to give it a fair chance.
#9: Istanbul, Turkey
European capital city of culture– a little congested and claustrophobic for me (not to mention the streets are literally filled with stray cats)… but the city that has been known by many names has a rich and fascinating history. I loved visiting the Topkapi palace, the Blue mosque, and Hagia Sophia. We drank turkish coffee, got addicted to apple tea, and had our fill of shisha in an authentic turkish hookah bar. Istanbul is also the closest (we didn’t cross the water to the Asian side) that I’ve been to Asia so far.
#8: Pompeii, Italy
An ancient city in Italy with rich preserved history – not really an active city, it is the ruins of an ancient city near Naples. I had always dreamt of seeing Pompeii since I was young and watched a documentary on how it was covered by the volcanic ash of Mt Vesuvius.
In reality, Pompeii was much more extensive and intact than I had expected. You could literally picture the way the citizens lived day-to-day. It was also a lot bigger than I had expected… we barely made it through everything. There were some scandalous parts of the tour as well, which surprised me. But then back then they had to create their own entertainment. Violence, graffiti, and eroticism were more prevalent in society 1900ish years ago than they are in the much of the world today. If you need proof, go to Pompeii. You’ll be pretty shocked. Cool fact- there is a Pompeii-themed room in the old palace in Madrid that we saw on the same backpacking trip.
#7: Lisbon, Portugal
The “white city“- Lisbon saddened me in some ways because you can imagine what it was like at it’s peak but it’s no longer thriving due to the financial problems that Portugal has been suffering with. I found the Portuguese to be very artistic and eclectic and there is still a lot of evidence of this in their largest city. The Portuguese Empire left a very interesting historic tale as well. What I loved is that the Portuguese brought back and incorporated aspects of the places they had colonized. There were elements of India sprinkled all over Lisbon and the surrounding cities (due to the colonization of Goa, India), the large Christ statue in Rio de Janeiro has a smaller replica in Lisbon, and I’m sure there was a lot more that I have yet to discover. I plan to return to this intriguing city one day.
#6: Florence, Italy
Aka Firenze, the capital of Tuscany– Wow. Looking at pictures of this dreamy city make me wonder if it should actually be my #1.
Well it’s back in the itinerary this coming trip so I may fall even more in love. In Florence, it feels like you are stepping back in time. Cobblestone streets and Renaissance art are everywhere. My favorite hostel was here too- the Plus One Florence. And once you try the gelato at Perche No!, nothing will ever compare.
#5: Munich, Germany
Aka München, in the picturesque region of Bavaria (Bayern)– I probably had a better time in Munich because my German friend from chiro school showed me around. It was a blur of Alps, castles, many rich and tasty desserts, modern buildings, and biking everywhere. I remember learning about the past “crazy King of Bavaria” who spent most of the peoples’ money on elaborate castles. We visited some of these, the famous one was tucked away in the Alps and it’s the castle that you see in Disneyland as well, since Disney modeled his iconic blue-and-white castle after this one.
#4: Madrid, Spain
Yet another city that never sleeps- except during siesta time of course! I’ve been here on two separate trips and I think that I could definitely live in Madrid. There are so many things to love! On my last trip, we came here after visiting the San Fermin festival in Pamplona for the famous running of the bulls…. which should be on every adventure-seekers bucket list. So we were tired and looking for some rest before joining our bus tour to explore Spain and Portugal. Madrid was a welcome, familiar place. The people are friendly, the language rolls off my tongue naturally, and there’s so much to do! The only issue is the food- so much pork which is a problem for me unfortunately. Maybe I SHOULD move there… I’ll discover all the best non-pork foods and I’ll finally figure out what their strange bear/tree mascot really means.
#3: Santorini, Greece
Apparently known as “sexy Santorini“- technically Santorini is the island and Fira is the name of the main city. I read that the nickname of this island is “sexy Santorini”… maybe I missed something! I didn’t exactly find it sexy. To me it was a perfect beauty. Like supermodel beauty, but in an elegant island form. It looks exactly like the postcards! And more than just being picturesque, this island is a lot of fun. Rent an ATV and enjoy! Wikipedia tells me that BBC named it the world’s best island in 2011. I haven’t been to all the islands in the world but from my limited experience, I agree! The theme song running through my head the entire time I was here was Bob Marley’s “Everything is Gonna Be Alright”. In Santorini, it feels like world can wait while you just kick back and soak in the scenery.
#2: Obidos, Portugal
Obidos is so charming and magical. Most of the building walls are white like in Santorini but there are also these beautiful pinkish-purple flowers overhanging the walls, a castle at the top of the hill that the entire town is built on, and it’s all surrounded by a valley right out of the Sound of Music (beyond the old brick walls that surround the town). It also helped that we visited during their annual medieval festival where everyone was dressed up and there was traditional music playing as you wandered through the pedestrian-only streets.
#1: Seville, Spain
Seville (Sevilla) is the “city of towers“- This city was made for me! I love Spain (Espana)… I love the language and the culture and the vibe of this wonderful country. Sevilla was filled with all the things that I love the most about Spain but with some pleasant surprises mixed in. The best thing about it… for a city in Europe, it’s HOT! Good thing I love the heat. There’s so much to see and do if you don’t melt in the heat (we were there in July) while you walk around. Plaza Espana was an interesting area with little alcoves dedicated to different cities around Spain, designed with mosaic tile artwork. And there is a fountain in the middle of the plaza to cool down. As well as a mini canal for you to rowboat around the plaza… or get stuck and contemplate giving up in our case.
Sevilla is known for flamenco dancing and not only did we watch an amazing live flamenco show but we bought our own little castanets (pic on the right) to practice our flamenco moves on the streets of Sevilla after the show. And on the tour bus. And in the hotel lobby. Our tour guide, Miguel, didn’t love us too much that night.
I have many pictures of Sevilla… it would take an entire separate blog to show all the ones that I love. But if you ever go to Spain, please visit this city… for the shows, the impressive Moorish architecture, the wonderful tapas, the history (you’ll never run out in Europe!), the slow pace, the gardens (which we didn’t see enough of), and the lovely weather in the Andalusian region of Spain.
This time around, the weather will be a lot chillier but I won’t complain because I get to revisit London (current fashion capital of the world), Venice (we get to watch them make the famous Murano glass this time), Munich (more desserts…mmmm), Florence (Medici’s and more gelato!)…. and many new places!