Eleven days. Four countries. One backpack. One happy-go-lucky travel companion.
I remember looking at my sister while waiting in line with our passports to board our plane to Iceland, we’re really doing this, aren’t we?
Since both my sister and I graduated in the spring (her from undergrad and me from grad school), we decided this summer was the perfect time to travel to Europe before starting our adult jobs. Besides booking our flights and hostels and stuffing our backpacks with everything we thought we needed, we left Logan Airport without much of a plan. We had a few ideas about places we wanted to see, but let’s be honest, we were winging it. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a planner, so hopping on a plane without a clear agenda was probably the most spontaneous decision I’ve ever made.
Despite my initial reservations, with some street smarts, patience, and the kindness of city natives, we not only survived our trip but fully immersed ourselves in the culture, history, and food as we traveled to France (Paris), the Netherlands (Amsterdam), England (London), and Ireland (Dublin, Galway, and everywhere in between). Here are some of the highlights, including a few of my favorite stops and some tasty, authentic eats in each city:
Salad loaded with roasted veggies and sliced melons, topped with a slice of Quiche Lorraine and Moroccan chicken (from La Jacobine)
Crêpe topped with Nutella and sliced bananas (from Cafe Gustave)— Best. Crêpe. Ever.
Snails cooked in a pesto sauce (from La Jacobine)— I’ve never eaten snails before but when they’re covered in pesto, they are pretty tasty!
Eiffel Tower: We saw it at from all angles— from a distance while walking along the Seine River, up close while watching the sunset, and from the top after climbing up for a beautiful view of Paris.
Bastille Market: One of the biggest markets in Paris selling local cheeses, baguettes, fresh fish, poultry, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. (See below for more on this).
Sainte-Chapelle: Paris’s royal chapel known for its detailed stained glass. We saw it in the morning just when the sun was lighting up all the colors in the stained glass windows— the picture below does not do it justice.
Most memorable moment: The Bastille Market. When we walked through on Sunday morning, the tents and shops at the market were flooded with locals. We watched as Parisians shopped with their eco-friendly bags for groceries, usually consisting of a baguette, a block of cheese, and some fresh vegetables. The best part: the vendors were so friendly and proud of their produce, offering us samples and speaking the few words that they knew in English. Who ever said French people were rude to Americans?
Fried eggs topped with sautéed peppers and mushrooms and toast (from Omelegg)— This restaurant had an open kitchen so we saw the chefs making our breakfast from scratch. You know when a meal just tastes so fresh? That was this meal.
Stroop wafels (from the grocery store…)— they’re a common sweet in the city, consisting of sugary cookie wafers between a thin layer of caramel.
Veggie-Filled Wrap in a tomato tortilla with artichoke hummus, salad rocket (aka Arugula), cabbage, carrots, quinoa, and a spicy bell pepper sauce (from Espirit Caffe)
Anne Frank House: We visited where Anne Frank and her family stayed and went into hiding during the Holocaust. While the house has been renovated with exhibitions added, climbing up the steep steps to the Secret Annex and seeing some of the original pages of Anne Frank’s diary was really eye opening and a little eerie.
Canal Cruise: Since Amsterdam is filled with waterways, the canal tour gave us a chance to learn about the city’s heritage, historic bridges, gabled townhouses, other famous landmarks while cruising through some of its main canals and rivers.
Biking: We rented bikes for two days to get around the city which gave us a chance to explore different areas like Vondelpark, Leidseplein, and the Van Gogh museum. (See below to hear about my eventful bike experience)
Most memorable moment: Biking. Did you know there are more bikes in Amsterdam then people? During rush hour, the bike lanes were more crowded than the streets. Everyone biked: kids sat on the back of their parents’ bikes on the way to school, 70 year-old women biked to the grocery store, and commuters biked to their jobs wearing suits, skirts, and heels. I loved it and wished our cities in the U.S. were more bike-friendly.
Side Note: Despite the bike lanes and bike safety in Amsterdam, being the klutz that I am I managed to get into a bike accident. Long story short, riding a bike with a 20-pound backpack while following my sister down a bumpy, busy road led to me crashing into her and tipping over sideways while wearing a dress. I somehow ended up without any major bumps and bruises but I flashed a crowd of people in the process. I can laugh about it now because things like this happen to me all the time, but in the moment I wanted to curl up into a ball and hide.
Fish and chips (from the Greencoat Boy Pub)— greasy, battered deliciousness.
Roasted Almond Tea (from Amanzi Tea)
Yogurt with quinoa and mango chunks, topped with pomegranate, shredded coconut, and pistachios (from the grocery store)— I needed a snack to hold me over before we hopped on the train and this yogurt quinoa parfait-y bowl was surprisingly yummy!
Double Decker Bus Tour: With walking and biking as our main mode of transportation before this point, it was nice to sit back and see the Big Ben, the London Eye, the Piccadilly Circus and other famous landmarks in London from the comfort of our bus seat.
Buckingham Palace: We made it here just in time for the traditional Changing the Guard ceremony. Tourists packed in front of the palace and security lined the walkway as a New Guard took position in front of the palace as the Queen’s Guard. Unfortunately, we didn’t run into Queen Elizabeth II while we were there…
Afternoon Tea: Since my sister and I both love a good cup of tea, we searched high and low for a café where we could enjoy a traditional London afternoon tea. Amanzi tea had a huge selection of tea, which meant we spent twenty minutes sniffing the loose tea on display and trying some samples before ordering.
Most memorable moment: Seeing where they filmed part of The Parent Trap (the Lindsay Lohan version). As a kid, The Parent Trap was one of those movies that my sisters and I knew all the lines to. When I realized that the house where they filmed Annie’s home was in London, I tracked down the address and we found it! While the people currently living in the house may have been a little creeped out as we peaked through the gates of the house, I felt like I was Linsday Lohan for a second so it was worth it. It’s 23 Egerton Terrace, Kensington in case you were wondering.
DUBLIN AND GALWAY
Veggie Egg Breakfast with grilled tomatoes, beans, mushrooms, onions, and soda bread (from The Cellar Bar)— the Irish soda bread’s sweet, dense, buttery taste may have been the best part of this meal.
Sticky Toffee Pudding (from The Cellar Bar)— I stole a bite off my sister’s plate before she devoured it… it literally melted in my mouth.
A sampling of hot foods from a buffet: chicken pot pie, Spanish tortilla, Thai beef curry, stuffed sweet potato, and seasoned vegetables (from KC Peaches)
St. Patrick’s Cathedral (Dublin): As a Catholic with some Irish heritage, visiting the tallest and largest church an Ireland was a must according to my Grandpa, and I couldn’t let him down. Though we couldn’t tour inside, we did attend mass at a cathedral nearby, which was a fun experience.
Cliffs of Moher (County Clare, Western Ireland): the most breath-taking view of the entire trip, even in the pouring rain. I remember my poncho flapping in the wind and my feet slipping in the mud, but it was worth it when I saw the incredible view of the waves crashing against the shore with the cliffs and grassy land so high above it all.
Killiney Hill (Dublin Bay): We found this hidden gem about 20 minutes from Dublin. From the entrance it looked like any other park, but the walkways led us to the top of the hill, through the misty clouds, to a view of the beachy coast on one side and cute town of villages on the other side. Bonus: Irish people and puppies are the sweetest!
Most memorable moment: Exploring the countryside of Ireland. After hitting some big cities earlier in our trip, renting a car in Ireland gave us a chance to venture out of Dublin for a change of scenery. Castles, villages, rolling green hills, and herds of sheep, cows, and horses surrounded us on our drive between Dublin and Galway. Remembering how to drive a stick shift and driving on the left side of the street through rotaries and winding roads made the experience even more thrilling (or terrifying according to my sister).
That’s all for now! Visiting four countries in eleven days was an ambitious goal, but spending a few days in each city gave us a glimpse into the European culture and lifestyle. If I had the time (and money), I would go back in a heartbeat! There is something about traveling and fully embracing the adventures along the way that leaves me feeling refreshed with a new perspective.