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.