My trip to Europe was so amazing. I had no idea what to expect and was so nervous about trying to navigate three countries, three cities worth of sight-seeing, four flights, one international train ride, and two time zones, all with only one carry-on piece of luggage, and all in nine days. It worked out though.
London was because flights to Heathrow were relatively inexpensive, and I figured it was best to start exploring in a city where I spoke the language. I spent two days there adjusting to the time change and wandering around the northern part of the city which felt like Brooklyn. I ate in pubs mostly, and didn’t do any exotic dining. I also spent a lot of time in my impossibly tiny hotel room. It felt luxurious to lay in bed, five floors up, and listen to the street noise below.
Berlin was for fun. Two summers ago I had a brief-but-passionate fling with a musician who scuttled off to Berlin; it was nice to catch up now older, wiser, and less charmed by dashing but inappropriate lovers, even if they do play the saxophone. My favorite part was shopping up and down Kastanienstrasse and exploring the neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg where I rented a room from a gay guy almost my age – we gossiped about boys and his apartment was absolutely gorgeous. I promised to show him New York for his first visit.
Paris was for girlfriends. It was Esther’s 30th birthday, so four of us met in an apartment for four days, and there were fancy dinners with too many desserts, lots of girl talk, countless bottles of wine, and TONS of shopping, of course. We were also shameless flirts – after eating at the low-key, super delicious Au Passage one night, we sneaked into kitchen to thank the REALLY sexy Australian chef James Henry.
On her actual birthday, we took the train out to Versailles. The museum is closed on Mondays, so we explored the gardens on foot, via golf cart, and on bicycles. The weather was perfect, the bicycles were perfect, the light was perfect – it was magic. When I am looking over excellent days in 2014, this will for sure be in the top 10. Esther was radiant. You know how I feel about birthdays, and I got completely choked up after midnight when we began celebrating hers. Don’t laugh! Ok, laugh. I’m completely ridiculous.
Important lessons learned:
It’s not that hard to not speak the language. Lots of people I encountered spoke some English, I wrote addresses down when I needed to communicate to cab drivers, certain menu items are easy to spot using context clues, and by the end of four days in Berlin I was able to order coffee the way I wanted (side note: German seems not that hard to learn for English speakers, and I plan on trying). Pointing, trying to pronounce things as best as possible, and saying thank you a lot got me pretty far as well. Also, most people are nice, which goes farther than anything.
Wandering is my favorite way to see cities. I did research on certain neighborhoods, as well as certain Tube/Métro/U-bahn stops (depending on if I was in London, Paris, or Berlin) and got off just to browse. It made me want to do this in New York, too.
Cheap airlines aren’t always worth it. Berlin to Paris was the worst. I left out of a crummy airport in Berlin far from where I was staying. My flight was early so I took a cab, and my carryon luggage was less than 1 cm too large, but they made me check it for a huge fee (meanwhile, my luggage was 1.5 kilos overweight on the oh-so-wonderful Virgin Atlantic, and they let it slide). In the end, I would have spent just as much flying out of the better, closer airport at a more decent time.
I want to go back to Paris next year, and now that it’s spring (kind of – it’s still so chilly here!) I want to go do more fun stuff in New York, too.
Asking flight attendants to make sure you don’t miss any snacks works! During both trans-Atlantics, I woke up every few hours to discover treats laid nicely on my tray table to eat at my leisure, and my seat mates and I exchanged dinner orders just in case.
Also, I do like traveling by myself, at least partially. I think if I were on a beach laying around I’d be bored, or if I traveled solo for weeks at a time I’d be lonely, but this was just about right. Staying in an Air BnB home with the host present was helpful, too.