Europe, Again and Again

chablis label
The accompaniment to our first delicious fish meal in Brussels. We'll be switching to beer as we travel north.
We're experienced at Europe. We’ve been there at least a dozen times, and have spent enough time in Spain and Italy to say with a straight face that we actually lived there. When we were young, Europe was what Thailand is for the young set now: a place to soak in the culture, but only when you aren’t too busy soaking in alcohol.

Believe me, when we were 20-somethings, we concentrated on the latter.

But, since it was our first travel love, (and since we’ve been to Chiang Mai, where we picked up a nice case of giardia,) Europe is where we’re always drawn. To date, we’ve spent most of our Europe time in Spain, France, England, and Italy. And, for a couple of literature and art history students, those four countries are hard to beat for making you think you didn’t completely waste all that time on your liberal arts education.

So, as I was packing yet again Sunday night, I tried to think of why we’re going back, yet again, to the “homeland” of our travel lives. Yes, we’re going to at least seven countries we have never set foot in this time (Scandinavia and the Baltic countries mostly) and I ask myself: What it is that we really love about traveling, and find so easy to fulfill by going back to Europe?

Here’s what I came up with:

Europe is easy, and not just because nearly everyone speaks English. A daily agenda is right there in front of you every day. For us, that’s 1) eat breakfast: 2) walk or take public transport to churches and/or museums; 3) find a local market for a quick lunch of bread, fruit, wine and cheese; 4) see more stuff; 5) eat dinner with wine, 6) walk off dinner; 7) stop for coffee and cognac; 8) go back to the hotel and sleep. Rinse and repeat.

A good museum or church (or gallery) is so much more interesting than a beach. Of course, if you’re near a beach, you can always go there at the end of the day for the sunset. But, really, what’s a sunset compared to a Giotto or a Vermeer? You can see sunsets in Iowa.

I like European hotels. Usually, we stay in smaller, family owned (or almost family owned) joints. They’re small rooms, but the bathroom is in the room, and they’re in a neighborhood that’s conducive to walking around. After all, what do we use a room for other than sleeping? Nothing. Well, maybe we do a little reading or writing. Wifi is nice. But we’re not addicted to it.

Just because you’re in semi familiar surroundings, it doesn’t mean you can’t do things you’ve never done before and find things you’ve never seen before. Lately we’ve been interested in the Jewish ghettos that existed before World War II. (Thanks, Girona, Prague, and Budapest for the restorations.) Those and World War battlefield memorials. (We’re sort of history nerds, too.) In fact, the battlefield tour is why we’re starting this tour in Belgium. This is the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of World War I, and Flanders Fields still show the scars of that. Also, Kris’s uncle was a bomber pilot who was killed in World War II. He’s buried at the Ardennes American cemetery. Finally, my dad was at Bastogne on Christmas 1944. (If you saw the series Band of Brothers, you know what that was like.)

While we don’t party all night like we used to, we do still like a good glass of wine. One of the great things about Europe is that good wine is cheap, as is good food. As we age, we find that we’re liking the European idea of food a lot better, too. Fresh local produce. Small portions. Simple but delicious preparation. I like awake and dream sometimes of the poached sea bass and asparagus we ate in Normandy, the fresh pasta primavera of Trastevere, and the grilled razor clams of Barceloneta.

And, of course, the Chablis, Barolo, and Viña Esmeralda that went with them. I think our tastes will tend more to beer, though, as we tour the north. I doubt they make wine in Scandinavia, or, if they do, that I’d want to drink it.

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22 thoughts on “Europe, Again and Again”

  1. I am so glad to have discovered your blog. You and your husband think like we do. However I still like a good beach vacation as well! We were in Europe last October and are headed back again this October. Revisiting Paris, first time to Normandy. First time to Bruges and Antwerp and revisit Amsterdam. I will be in touch, I am certain you will have some great tips!

    Reply
      • Don’t forget the WW1 battlefields of The Somme, Verdun and Flanders. Your great uncle, Capt. Jack Christopher, was awarded the Croix de guerre and seven others. He died as a result of being gassed in battle.

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        • Headed for Ypres in Flanders, probably tomorrow. Around 100,000 Allied soldiers killed in that neighborhood. So many cemeteries, they can’t really count them. We’ll report.

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  2. I’d like to see more of Eastern Europe but I think I’m more of an Asia girl at heart – love beaches, love cheap food, love cheap beer, love the fact you can go 5 star and still only pay $50/night. Love the weather :-)

    Reply
    • Lis, I like Asia as well, especially the food, which I honestly prefer to most European fare. So, we make up a lot by eating at Thai restaurants. There’s one we really like in Madrid. But, as for beaches, it’s hard to beat southern Spain.

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  3. I love Europe NOW too, but didn’t have much interest in it until I was in my 40’s. I’m going to Florence next week and am so excited. Lucky you to have visited so much!

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    • Irene, I’m a little disingenuous, I admit. The reasons for traveling to Europe really do apply to most other places. Except the Guatemalan jungle, which we once did. No beer or wine there. Barely any water either.

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  4. Tom and Kristin…I love this. It includes all the reasons I’m exploring Europe while living in Germany. This time of year the flowers are starting to bloom and we’re getting more and more beautiful weather for doing lots of walking. We can sit outside a few more days, and the wine fests will be starting up in a few weeks. Let me know if you’re near us in Bavaria!

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  5. Ah, Europe. With the EU, it’s so much easier to travel there. I remember reading once, that the shared culture of Europe is — American. There’s some truth to that which is why I think Americans feel so comfortable there. English isn’t the lingua franca of Europe because of the UK (where they can’t decide whether they want to be European anyway), I’ll look forward to your posts about Scandanavia. We’ve been to Finland and Denmark, but not Sweden and Norway.

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  6. How fortunate for you that you have traveled to Europe at least a dozen times. I really enjoy visiting Europe (for some of the reasons you mentioned) and look forward to exploring more countries when my husband and I become empty nesters!

    Reply

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