It’s been less than 48 hours since I landed on U.S. soil after a 13-day trip to Europe. My sleep schedule is off by six hours, and my house is kind of a mess… but I’m SO happy. This was an incredible trip, and one I won’t soon forget.
In 13 days, my husband and I traveled to 16 cities in three countries. We stayed in two hotels, one hostel, and six AirBNB apartments. We traveled by plane, train, and automobile (in a rental car we lovingly named Hans – because he spoke nothing but German no matter how many buttons we pressed!). We hiked, we toured museums, we swam in the Mediterranean, we ate everything from swordfish to rabbit to lamb, and we probably spent 100 Euro on gelato and cappuccinos alone. <– To be fair, we ate A LOT of gelato, and drank multiple cappuccinos per day. It was just too good to not.
This experience taught me a lot, and I’ll post about each destination and activity in more detail later. But, I wanted to overview what I loved, what I learned, and what I’d do differently next time.
First, what I loved: EVERYTHING. Okay, it wasn’t 13 days of constant nirvana, but it was pretty close. If I had to pull out my three favorite experiences, it would be these:
- Hiking from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen in Switzerland. Holy panoramic views! Lauterbrunnen is in the valley, and it makes you feel immersed in the mountains, surrounded by waterfalls and green pastures. Wengen is near the top of the mountain, and you can look out into the valley for these incredible views. The hike up was, in a word, difficult. It was 90 minutes of winding up, up, up the side of a mountain, after all. But when you arrive and catch this view? Totally worth it. We spent an hour picnicking just off the trail where we could eat baguettes and drink rosé from the bottle while taking it all in.
- A day at the beach in VilleFranche sur Mer. The water actually is that color, in case you were wondering. This incredible beach (and adorable town) is about a 3-mile walk from Nice’s Vielle Ville, where we stayed. The views along the way were spectacular, the crystal blue waters and pebbled beach the perfect reward for the work to get there. As was common on this trip, we brought along a bottle of rosé to sip on at the beach. Sensing a theme here? The sun was shining, it was a perfect 73 degrees, and it made for an absolutely incredible day.
- One day in Florence, Italy. This was somewhat unexpected, simply because I didn’t do a lot of planning for Florence. I had three things on my list: the Bardini Gardens, the statue of David, and dinner at Osteria del Cinghale Bianco. The gardens were STUNNING. It was so relaxing to walk through rows of flowers and beautifully manicured green spaces. There’s a terrace with a lovely view of the city, too.
After the gardens, we stopped for gelato (again) and walked through town toward Galleria dell’Academia, where David lives. And we ended up right next to the Duomo. Have you ever seen such incredible detail on a building?
After we hung out with David for a bit (quick tip: skip the line by reserving your tickets online in advance – it’s way worth it!), we stopped in at Piazza de Michaelangelo for this incredible panoramic view.
After the best damn glass of prosecco I’ve ever had (we brought home a bottle, it was so good) we had our authentic Italian dinner we’ve been dreaming about for years. And it was the Best. Meal. Ever. Literally, I’ve never had a better meal. Cacio e pepe, wild boar ragu, sliced sirloin, panna cotta with wild berries, and a cappuccino to round things out. Oh, and a half liter of the house red. I left there smiling ear-to-ear.
Now, for a few lessons learned.
- Driving a rental car in a foreign country, even on the right side of the road, is stressful. Like, seriously stressful. Why are all the parking garages in Europe so small? No wonder the rep at the Sixt counter looked at us so incredulously when we told her “No, thank you,” on the additional damage coverage. And researching the rules of the road was not on my list of tasks to complete before heading across the Atlantic – but it should have been. Ever heard of a rotary? K, now drive around one every 200 meters. And don’t get hit by oncoming traffic, even though they don’t use signals, ever. This wasn’t your average road trip.
- The weather doesn’t care that you planned your entire trip around hiking some of the most beautiful trails in the world. I’m an eternal optimist, so I just assumed that Mother Nature would do me a solid and make it sunny and bright on my hiking days. And my beach days. And my touristy days. Hence, my lack of a plan B when it rained buckets in Chamonix, and Annecy, and Cinque Terre. Here’s where flexibility and positivity comes in handy – because you can either sit and wallow or go find a new adventure. And that’s just what we did.
- You don’t have to speak the language fluently – but trying your best goes a long way. I speak zero German, very rough French, and not a bit of Italian. I found that in Switzerland, I could get through most interactions with “guten tag,” “danke” and a smile and a nod, but we didn’t eat out much, and spent nearly all our time in the mountains. In France, avoiding conversation was much harder. I tried my best to order food or make dinner reservations with my rusty language skills, and I found that it did make a big difference in my interactions, and in the service we received.
What would I do differently? Not much. I’d consider doing the whole trip by train, for sure. And I’d probably pack more pants and long-sleeved shirts because it’s chilly at night when you’re on the coast, even in June. But I consider every moment a piece of what made my trip the incredible experience that it was, and honestly, sometimes the best moments are the ones that you don’t plan on at all.