Impressions of Europe
Europe Travel Blog› entry 2 of 69 › view all entries
Hopefully I'll remember all the towns I've visited. (The pictures are from the Basque Country.)
SPAIN (2000, 2008, 2016): Beautiful and diverse country with amazing culture, food and wine.
Barcelona- Beautiful city. My first overseas trip. Amazing food! Now that I'm a seasoned traveller I'd love to go back and experience it more. I do hope I live to see the Catedral de la Sagrada Familia completed.
Girona- Nice Catalan town with a great old town and walls. Very convenient to Barcelona... but maybe I should have gone to Andorra instead?
Sitges- My first experience swimming in the azure blue waters of the Mediterranean. I was so awestruck that the vivid tropical colors were real. Also found out that Bacalaitos there were not what this Puerto Rican was expecting.
San Sebastian- A movie set! This Basque city was too pretty to be real. A crescent shaped beach, a marble promenade, an island in the middle of the bay, GREAT food and drink culture (yay pintxos!), and lovely beaches. Too bad my cousin moved from there. What a great place to live!
Hondarribia- A lovely little Basque town that also looked fake, but felt real. Great old town too.
San Juan de Pasajes- A working little tug boat takes you from San Sebastian to this little town clinging to the side of a hill by the sea. Very Basque and felt like another world.
Alpeitza- I'm butchering the name of this town, where the magnificent Shrine to St. Ignatius Loyola is.
Seville- Beautiful Andalucian city of tapas and flamenco.
Madrid- Capital of Spain was lovely, bustling and blended the old with the modern. Still, I did not feel this city's soul. Thyssen Museum is a nice alternative to the Prado if you want to avoid long queues in the hot sun.
NETHERLANDS (2001): Flat!!!
Amsterdam- Yes it's all true (for now), and when in Rome... Leave your inhibitions at the airport terminal, but do keep your sense of culture and history. The Van Gogh Museum was a dream come true for his biggest fan. The sight of elderly couples walking through the Red Light District was priceless. Oh and when in a coffee shop, realize that the treats that you eat take more time to affect you than the ones that you don't.
Delft- Nice pretty town, kind of boring though. However, the Delft factory was interesting.
LUXEMBOURG (2001, 2013): Proves that you can fit many beautiful things in small packages.
Luxembourg City- All the class and elegance of a major capital but in a small package. The food was great, the casements went on for miles... made it a little spooky to walk through, and the geography is stunning.
Hamm- The only WWII Cemetery for American Soldiers I've ever been to. Very moving. General Patton is buried there.
Clerveaux- What a lovely little town in the Ardennes. Beautiful country, nice monastery, and WWII history everywhere. I felt like I was Snoopy the Flying Ace in The Great Pumpkin when I was trekking through the countryside.
Ettelbruck- Lively town in the middle of the country. Very pretty. Home to the Patton Museum and not far from the Valley of 7 Castles. Could make a nice base instead of the capital.
Differdange- College town south of the capital. Nothing particularly special about the place but has an awesome Italian Restaurant.
Koerich- Cute tiny town with a castle ruin in the center. Very quiet.
Hollenfels- Lovely hilltop town with a castle turned into a youth hostel. Also close to 2 other castles. The town was very well-kept and appeared quite wealthy.
BELGIUM (2001, 2005, 2013): A great Introduction to Europe, with tasty food, great beer, and people speaking a different language, but English also.
Bruges- Beautiful city of canals (one of the many self-proclaimed Venices of the North), but feels like a museum.
Ghent- Gritty and lively city. Cool forboding castle right in the middle of the city... very weird. Creepy torture chamber.
Oostende- Nice place to go to get away from the heat. Typical resort town type of atmosphere. The North Sea is FREEZING even on the hottest days.
Ypres- The 8:00PM WW I memorial service under the arch everyday is very touching.
Antwerp- One of my favorite cities. Not as polished as Bruges, or as cosmopolitan as Brussels but about as many things to see. Wonderful food, awesome chocolate, nice jazz scene. Very laid-back.
Brussels- Beautiful city with wonderful monuments and museums. It just felt cold to me, very superficial. Kind of like a Washington DC in Europe. Mannenkin Pis was a disappointment but that wasn't a surprise. To be fair, my brother went there at another time and loved the city. I was happy to stay in nearby Antwerp.
CZECH REPUBLIC (2003): Very friendly people, and more great beer.
Podebrady- Quaint spa town in Bohemia. Lovely little castle with a nice restaurant and a gorgeous waitress. Nice lake and great base for a bike ride through the Bohemian countryside.
Prague- Beautiful city! Stunning really. The castle complex is very nice and you can get a good view of the city from there. Great city to walk around in and explore. The Charles Bridge was surreal.
Kutna Hora- The Bone Church is awesome! Some might find it creepy or even distasteful, I thought it was very respectful.
AUSTRIA (2003, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2013): My homeland in a previous life.
Vienna- My favorite city! Been there 5 times. I just feel very connected to this elegant city for some reason. Maybe I was a Habsburg in a past life. Nice gateway to Eastern Europe. Great coffee! The only place in the world where I actually indulge in non-chocolate sweets.
Baden- Cute town in the Vienna Woods. Beethoven lived there.
Salzburg- Very touristy city, but worth it. Nice architecture and its natural setting near the Alps is lovely.
Werfen- Small town (with a lovely little church) but there are famous ice caves in the mountains nearby. I was terrified going on the cable-car so high up, I had to blindfold myself on the way up. I did gut it out on the way down. The caves were magical and drinking a beer so high was quite an experience.
Innsbruck- Lively pretty city set amongst the Alps. The Christmas markets were packed, but the hot hazlenut flavored milk that melted an entire chocolate bar was worth it.
Seefeld- Charming little town in the Alps. Beautiful setting and Christmas market made it feel like a Christmas movie set. The horse and carriage rides didn't hurt either!
SLOVAKIA (2004): Trying to catch up with its former sister state.
Devinska Nova Ves- Was here for a wedding. Lots of cows. Really nothing to do in this depressing town.
Bratislava- Nice colorful old town, like a mini-Prague. Had some wonderful cheap food, but the only ones eating were tourists. Apparently what Americans consider cheap is expensive for Slovakians. Ugliest bridge in the world connects the pretty old town with Communist Blocville. I knew I was behind the former Iron Curtain then.
HUNGARY (2003): Forget about understanding the language!
Budapest- Lovely city in need of a paint job when I was there in 2003. Cool Roman ruins at Aquinum. I pretended I was a Gladiator in the amphitheatre. The baths are a must-do. I practically floated out of one. The labyrinths beneath the Buda side of the city are a little touristy, but worth it.
GERMANY (2005, 2007, 2012, 2013): So much more diversity in culture and landscape than the stereotype portrayed in the media. But their efficiency is all true.
Cologne- Awe inspiring huge gothic cathedral, but otherwise a fairly modern city. Love the Kolsch though.
Bonn- Quaint former capital of West Germany has all the charm nearby Cologne didn't. Beethoven's house was very interesting. Good Kolsch there too.
Konigswinter- Cute little Rhineside village. The hike to the Drachenfels Castle ruin has wonderful beer garden rest stops, and you can actually sit, lie, sleep, whatever on the castle ruins.
Munich- Yes the beer halls are fun and a must-do. But the city was so clean and the old town so charming. Also wonderful museums and nice green spaces. I loved this city.
Fussen- Neushwanstein Castle is a fairy tale, inside and out. Hiking and biking around the Alpine foothills was so much fun. Guided pre-arranged tours are the way to go. We skipped all sorts of long lines.
Berchtesgaden- The Eagle's Nest offered wonderful views of the Alps and Austria. The small town exuded traditional Bavarian charm, despite its Nazi history.
Oberammergau- Little village of Passion Play fame is also known for its Christmas atmosphere. Felt like I was in a snowglobe.
Nuremberg- This city made me sad. The Christmas Market was the best I experienced in Germany and the Nazi parade grounds were fascinating, but this city, more than any other I have visited in Germany bore the scars of World War II. The rebuiliding effort was noble but sometimes there is just too much damage. The old town didn't feel that old.
Wurzburg- A beautiful lively historic city that seems largely bypassed by tourists. It looked like a mini-Prague, complete with a bridge resembling the famous Charles Bridge.
Rothenberg- Prettiest town in Germany. Charming preserved walled city felt like a Christmas Card in December.
Titisee- After getting a chuckle about the name because of my inner 12 year old, this delightful Black Forest lakeside village was a picture post card of what Christmas should look like.
Schweinfurt- Kind of charming industrial town with no tourists. Cute little Christmas market and one really good local restaurant. Nice enough to spend an evening, but nothing more.
Heidelberg- A beautiful, undamaged by WW2 college town among the hills. (Gives Rothenberg a run for its money in the looks contest) Lovely pristine architecture, very long pedestrian shopping street, lively atmosphere, castle ruin, and great beer and food. Take the funiculars for a wonderful view. I love this town.
Mannheim- Industrial city near Heidelberg. Stay in Heidelberg.
SWITZERLAND (2007, 2014): 3 beautiful countries in one orderly package.
Zurich- Nice city. Expensive with a lot of banks and watch stores. The many churches were impressive on the outside, but not much to see on the inside.
Lucerne- What you picture a Swiss city should look like.
Stein Am Rheim- Another city that looked like a movie set. Very small village but you can't take a bad picture. Felt like a museum piece though.
Schaffhausen- Cute Swiss town on the German border. The walk to the Rheinfalls was nice... long but nice scenery. Once there you will get wet!
Lugano- Blend Italian culture and a Mediterranean climate with Swiss order and efficiency, then add mountains surrounding a beautiful green lake and this is what you get. Also a world-class lakeside promenade.
Bellinzona- Capital of the Italian Ticino canton. Surrounded by mountains and has 3 historic castles. Great hiking opportunities.
Marcotte- Small lakeside village clinging to the coast and hub of hiking trails. Feels like a wealthy Italian mountain village.
Interlaken- Very toursity city in the Alps. Great base for hiking in the Alps or visiting the spectacular Jungfraujoch. Nearby are beautiful Lakes Thunersee and Brienze. Also a convenient transportation hub. You won't see many Swiss though!
Unterseen- Historic village across the river from Interlaken. Now it relies on tourism spillover. A quieter alternative to Interlaken with all the convenience of its more known and adjacent neighbor.
Matten- Where the young people and backpackers stay if Interlaken is full. Pretty for a tourist town. Main language heard was English though.
Bern- Capital of Switzerland. Large arcaded old town that is still very relevant. A tale of 2 cities actually. Very drab during the day, but the old town comes alive at night. The drab colors morph into atmospheric streets with the city lights.
Merligen- Small pretty village on Thunersee. VERY quiet though.
Neuhaus- Small recreational town on Thunersee. Lots of trails and a national park are based here. Had a great Hugo at the park's bar.
Lausanne- Olympic Capital in lovely little city by Lake Geneva. VERY hilly, but it is the world's smallest city with a metro which helps. Surrounded by terraced vineyards. Great place to try Swiss wine.
Pully- A Swiss version of Newport, except on a lake and surrounded by vineyards.
Grandvaux- Lovely, quiet stone village among the terraced vineyards overlooking Lake Geneva. A center of the Lavaux Wine region.
LIECHTENSTEIN (2007): Tiny country, beautiful alpine setting.
Vaduz- Cute little village... I mean capital city. Pretty modern. The royal vineyards on the outskirts of town were right out of a book. Stunning. Overlooked by a mountain and the Prince's castle. Sheep were grazing in the vineyard. The Pinot Noir produced there was magnificent. Took some home. Might return just for more wine!
FRANCE (2008, 2012, 2013): So much more for me to see here.
Biarritz- Opulent looking resort town from another era. Dramatic seascape.
St. Jean de Luz- Very Basque town on the coast. The typical Basque architecture was everywhere. For some reason it reminded me a little of Switzerland.
Strasbourg- Beautiful Alsacian city that feels more German than French, and VERY cosmopolitan. Stunning cathedral and the whole city was decorated as brightly as Rockefeller Center.
Paris- Never on my To-Do List but boy was I wrong! Enchanting city. Only barely scratched the surface. Eiffel Tower is overwhelming, Notre Dame is not. Museum D'Orsay was awesome. But mainly I ate and drank my way around the city, especially the lovely 7th Arroindisement.
ITALY (2006, 2009, 2011, 2013): Senses Overload!
Trieste- Gateway to the Balkans. Not your stereotypical Italian city. Actually felt like an Italian version of Vienna. I loved the coffee culture. Cool square that opens out to the sea.
Venice- Loved it! Everything I thought it would be. Just a magical city. Yes there were crowds, but it was so easy to escape them just by walking around the atmospheric back alleys (where the best food can be found incidentally). Lido was airy and laid back. Burano was a different colorful world than Venice, which provided a nice contrast of life in the Veneto. Murano was like a miniature quiet version of Venice with glassblowers. The Giudecca is a quiet side of Venice with local flavor and a great view of the main part if the city. Also, the vaporetti are the way to travel.
Verona- The city of Romeo & Juliet lives up to the romance. The wonderfully intact Roman arena and scattered ruins lend the city imperial grandeur, while the beautiful squares and modern life give the city a vibrancy. If you have money to spend (I didn't), Verona may be the place to be.
Rome- The Eternal City was not as chaotic as I feared. Despite the ancient ruins, it really is a Renaissance heavy city. Wear a hat, the sun is hot there!
Florence- Beautiful city. Great place to buy quality leather goods for reasonable prices. David's eyes were amazing, the focus really, despite his physique. Climb the Duomo's Dome.
Siena- The best kept secret in Italy! Beautiful Tuscan city with the best square in Italy and not too touristy. Great base to explore Tuscan wine regions.
Montalcino- Little walled city in the heart of wine country. Lovely little town if you have money. Plenty of high end stores that sell wine or jewelery.
Bologna- Attractive city that is very down-to-earth. Lots of students. The Porticos make walking in the heat very pleasant. Nice old town, but not a lot of sights. Great pizza.
Ravenna- Pleasant city but the ancient Byzantine mosaics are AMAZING! A nice compliment to the ruins of Rome. They are so bright and a nice break from Renaissance Italy.
Ferrara- Pleasant wealthy city near Bologna that is off the tourist radar despite an interesting castle and moat right in the heart of the city.
VATICAN CITY (2011): What you expect from the heart of the worldwide Catholic Church. Filled with amazing Renaissance art, tourists and lines. Climbing the Dome of St. Peter's can be scary if you are clausterphobic. The Sistine Chapel was brilliant, even if you have seen it in pictures. Don't skip the less touristed Raphael Rooms.
SAN MARINO (2011): Smallest Republic in the world surrounded by Italy.
San Marino- Small mountaintop capital of the republic. Looks like an old fortress. Great vistas of the surrounding countryside from the castle towers. Feels a little like a medieval open air shopping mall though.
CROATIA (2006, 2013): Paradise.
Rijeka- Industrial town where all the ferries terminate. There were some nice walks to kill time.
Split- One of the strangest and coolest cities I've ever been to. A city built within and then out of a palace complex. The juxtaposition of ancient, medieval, and modern life in a functioning ruin was fascinating. The city's location was beautiful, clinging to a spit of land between the mountains and the sea. Great place to sit and watch the boats pass by.
Trogir- Lovely island town surrounded by tropical green waters. I loved just walking around this little city. No real sights though.
Vis- Island paradise! I was going to stay one day, ended up staying 4. Everything Croatia should be. The freshest seafood I have ever had. The people were nice. It was not overrun by tourists. Great hiking and biking opportunities. The best 4 days of my life!
Dubrovnik- The city has a marble main street! The walls afford great views of the beautiful city and the crystal blue Adriatic Sea. From the mountain overlooking the city, it looks like a lego set. Nikola Burum, who met us at the bus station and offered us rooms, knew everyone in town. He was awesome. He was the best local travel agent/personal transport one could ask for!
Pula- This town in Istria has a very Italian feel because of Veneitian influence and Roman ruins. Easy to access from a ferry from Venice.
BOSNIA-HERCEGOVINA (2006): Still a work in progress.
Neum- Town on the Adriatic. It was cool and unnerving to see a Turkish warship off the coast and Spanish EUFOR soldiers keeping the peace. All of a sudden the history of the region became quite real. Also stores wouldn't accept their own Bosnian currency, only Croatian or Euros.
ROMANIA (2009): Beautiful country, outdated infrastructure.
Bucharest- Chaotic, dirty, loud, traffic-clogged. Splashes of brilliance in a sea of Communist gray. The city is full of vibrant youth and beautiful parks though. The notorious wild dogs treat people as part of the scenery and nothing to worry about. Lots of construction projects going on. Not a pretty city by any means, but perhaps in 10 years it will be the next Budapest.
Snagov- Little village by a large lake of the same name. Very rural with lots of horse & wagons. Very startling contrast with big beautiful new homes right next to dilapidated shacks. The main reason to visit is the island in the middle of the lake, where there is a lovely monastery where Vlad Tepes Dracula is buried. A local priest will take you across the lake in his motorboat. The island is very pretty and quiet.
Curtea de Arges- Once the capital on Wallachia, this lovely little town has a nice center and a beautiful orthodox church. Makes a nice pit stop to Poenari Castle (Dracula's real castle) a few kilometers north.
Brasov- Loved this city! Great base from which to explore the rest of Transylvania. Beautiful bright Saxon buildings and a very welcoming town square. Very lively pedestrian zone. Beautiful mountainous setting. And I loved the cheesy Hollywood-style BRASOV sign overlooking the city.
Bran- Very touristy little village an hour from Brasov due to "Dracula's Castle" overlooking the valley there. Although Vlad Tepes only spent a couple of days there, the castle looks the part of an evil castle, and is worth the trip. Outside the castle there is a museum and an ongoing medieval fair, which is very kitschy.
Sighisoara- A lovely medieval citadel is the heart of this Transylvanian town. Beautiful architecture and the birthplace of Vlad Tepes Dracula puts this town on the tourist map. Dracula's birthplace is now a restaurant that serves mediocre food. The roads were all dug up as new cobblestone roads were planned.
IRELAND (2009): Spectacular scenery, friendly people, and good Guiness.
Dublin- Very cosmopolitan city. More pubs and taxis than anywhere on the planet. Local pubs are the thing to do here. Try the Musical Pub Crawl which provided a wonderful introduction to REAL Irish traditional music. Famous Temple Bar has a lot of energy, just not Irish energy.
Howth- Little maritime village outside of Dublin. Take the Cliff Walk which provides very dramatic scenery as cliffs dive into the sea. There is a nice little Lighthouse Walk too. Easy to get to from Dublin. This town was a pleasant surprise.
Glendalough- South of Dublin in the Wicklow Mountains. An ancient monastic site is well preserved here, including the ruins of a church, and a beautiful stone tower. Very mystical.
Boyne Valley- Not so much a town as a magical area of Ireland. The Hill of Tara is the ancient capital site of Ireland. Beautiful countryside, that may one day be invaded by a highway. Newgrange is one of the wonders of the world- a 5,000 year old tomb complex. During the Winter Solstice a light enters the dark stone tomb. The most amazing part is that visitors are actually allowed to enter this tomb! No replications here. A light is used to mimic the solstice, but apparently there is a lottery for a few lucky people to actually experience this ancient ritual. I can go on and on about this place!
Galway- Vibrant town in western Ireland that has a lovely medieval town center and a beautiful stone cathedral. Makes a great gateway to the west's spectacular natural sights, such as the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, the Connemara, and the Aran Islands. Also a nice place to get introduced to traditional Irish culture.
Doolin- A little tourist town near the awesome Cliffs of Moher. Good place to eat.
Inishmore- The largest of the windswept Aran Islands. Very dramatic and stark landscape. Stone fences, stone forts, stone everything here. Irish is the first language. The BBC show 3 Men & a Boat was being filmed the day I was there.
UNITED KINGDOM (2010): About time I guess.
Manchester- A vibrant city with a mix of 19th Century industrial buildings and 21st Century glass towers. Sometimes you feel like you might bump into Oliver Twist, other times it feels like 21st Century Asia.
Edinburgh- Beautiful medieval and Georgian city, set in a stunning landscape of extinct volcaoes. Very eerie and romantic. The old town and new town compliment each other wonderfully. One of my favorite cities.
Bathgate- Town where singer Susan Boyle lives. A local showed me around his hometown. Pretty typical suburban town.
Inverness- Lovely city in the north of the country. Great gateway to the Highlands and Loch Ness. Worth a day exploring, but the real beauty lies outside the city in the lochs and mountains.
ICELAND (2011): Dramatic landscapes felt like another planet.
Reykjavik- Didn't feel so much like a European capital as a provincial town. Good base to explore southeast Iceland. Nice setting, great local food (try the horse), & wild nightlife on weekends lives up to the hype. Expensive!
Akureyri- The "Capital of the North" is the only sizable town in the north and so functions like a big city. Very friendly and likeable place. Great base for northern sights. The seafood here was AMAZING!
Sandvik- Village on Grimsey Island in the Arctic Circle. Accessible by bumpy boat ride from Davlik. Small town feels like a frontier. Sheep and Arctic terns everywhere. Good place to eat puffin.
SLOVENIA (2013): Lovely!
Bled- Pleasant village adjacent to one of the prettiest places on Earth- Lake Bled. Glowing emerald green lake, island with 10th century church, romantic castle on a cliff and surrounded by the Alps= perfection.
Zasip- Cute quiet village between Bled and Vintgar Gorge. Nice views of the Julian Alps and Bled. Really good restaurant on the road to Bled.
DENMARK (2015): Cheery!
Copenhagen- Really cosmopolitan, cheerful, vibrant, and FUN city. The Little Mermaid is the Danish Version of Belgium's Mannekin Pis, but other than that this is a truly delightful, enjoyable city!
Helsingor- Elsinore Castle of "Hamlet" fame is located here. Despite the fact that the play is fiction, the castle is a nice one to visit. The town is small but a nice place to spend an afternoon. Party ferry to Sweden is here.
SWEDEN (2015): Cider country.
Gothenburg- Jan to Stockholm's Marcia. Charming old town with some lovely architecture. Population is very creatively inclined. More diverse than the capital. A lot of construction. Curious as to what it will be in 5 years.
Helsingborg- Lively city across from Helsingor Denmark. Home to a popular music festival. Old Town is attractive and pulses with modern life.
Stockholm- Beautiful capital city. The Old Town ranks right up there with Europe's most stunning. Set on many islands, nicknaming it Scandinavian Venice. More reserved and less lively than Copenhagen. Better food though.
NORWAY (2015): FJORDS!
Bergen- Historic city set among the mountains and the gateway to the magnificent western fjords. Feels like a provincial town, but is Norway's historic and cultural capital. For some reason it reminded me of Reykjavik just bigger. Surrounded by spectacular scenery.
Oslo- Modern Capital City with some interesting contemporary architecture, with some elegant 19th century buildings thrown in. Edvard Munch was a native and is celebrated there. Very unique sculpture park. Not quite the party town as Copenhagen, but it holds its own.
PORTUGAL (2016): My new favorite country?
Lisbon: Absolutely charming capital. Looks like a Mediterranean San Francisco. The city is now coming into its own. There is much infrastructure construction happening. It is on the verge of discovery. The food and vinho verde was cheap and delicious. I LOVE this city!
Sintra: VERY touristy city north of Lisbon with many palaces, castles, and parks. Lovely town is overrun by tourists... but for good reason.
Mexilhoeira Grande: Small town in the Algarve near the tourist towns. Wonderful low-key undiscovered place to stay to get a feel of life before tourism.
Portimao: Relaxed touristy town in the Algarve. Great place to catch excursions off the coast and begin your adventure.