So at the beginning of June (wow, over a month ago already!) I went to Europe for two weeks. One week was spent in Malaga, Spain, the next week was split between Paris and Amsterdam. It was an amazing break from reality – I think 4 days is the threshold when you feel like you’ve “been away forever.” Sadly, the first day back at work you feel like you never left.
In Spain, I went scuba diving here and here – even caught a glimpse of Africa! – ate lots of tapas, discovered tinto – I suggest shiraz and Fresca – and partied on a beach until 5AM. I also borderline sun-poisoned myself when I decided I was above wearing sunscreen in the Mediterranean. Fun fact: vinegar takes the sting out of sunburn. It was surprising how quickly I fell back into my Spanish – I could probably understand 75% of what was going on and could even hold my own in a slow conversation.
I traveled to Paris and Amsterdam alone, which was a very unique experience. Traveling solo is something I’ve always wanted to try, but never felt like giving up the chance to travel with a friend when I had the vacation time. In this case, this wasn’t totally voluntary: the friend whom I was visiting discovered she had an expired visa. I could have stayed in Spain 12 days, which wouldn’t be bad at all, but I really wanted to trek on to the other cities so I decided to forge on alone.
Paris is very set in its ways – what an old city. There is so much history there that you almost feel guilty. I knew that every place I passed had some sort of history, but there was no way for me to tell. Not speaking the language was tough – no menus, no signs, no plaques in museums. Although most people spoke English, you could only tell by speaking to them first, so I spent most of my time walking from place to place and stopping to read my book occasionally. I read Moveable Feast while I was there, which made it uniquely interesting (seeing Midnight in Paris after this was just icing on the cake). All the tourist things were interesting – Eiffel tower, Champs Elysee, Shakespeare & Co., etc – but my favorite was the food. Every meal was a treat, even the pain au chocolat. My favorite? A tie between quiche lorraine and onion soup (French by default).
Amsterdam, while great, was my least favorite. I think it was a city that I would have loved with a friend, but alone (and cold and rainy) it was just okay. The Anne Frank House was sobering, but worth seeing. I bought the diary there, which I’ll get around to soon. I spent most of my one full day there biking around; it’s really a bicyclist’s dream. Most baffling was where is all the Dutch food? There was an overwhelming number of restaurants, but they were all falafel, Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Argentinian steakhouses, and more. The only “Dutch” restaurant I found was an obvious tourist trap, but I didn’t care.
Being a tourist abroad made me realize some things about tourists in NYC. For one, tourist sites are tourist sites for a reason – they’re pretty awesome. It’s something you don’t have where you’re from, and while you may check out all the divey bars, off-the-beaten-path parks, that doesn’t really matter when you get back. Because when you try to share your experiences with someone else, they really just want to know about the big attractions. Which is fine, because they’re probably famous for a reason. Second, maps can be helpful. Although really, a grid isn’t so hard! Third, there is no excuse for walking slowly. I was hardcore lost and was still able to outpace other meandering tourists.
The hardest part about my trip was not having anyone to share it with – which is really what traveling is all about, isnt it?