As a trip intended to give just a brief introduction to Europe, covering nine cities in three weeks, it’s no surprise that I found it difficult balancing sightseeing with relaxation. Many of the cities I visited had so much to offer, that it was sometimes overwhelming trying to fit it all in.
I often find travelling to a destination more enjoyable than the destination itself (and partly the reason why I’ve become so enamoured with rail travel in recent years) yet happily I didn’t find that to be the case during this trip. Rail travel remains unrivaled for me — the level of comfort, ease of use and overall experience beats flying hands down — but it’s testament to the cities I visited that the train journeys became a secondary experience.
Travel related highlights did however include riding the sleeper between Madrid and Paris, and the sleeper-that-wasn’t between Geneva and Barcelona. Due to maintenance on the line this service was replaced by a gruesome 9 hour coach ride, in which passengers were ushered around by a short Spaniard (with a passing resemblance to Robert De Niro) and included a 4am stop at a French motorway service station. Very bizarre.
Of the cities I visited, Lucerne and Innsbruck stand out as favourites, certainly in terms of their stunning landscapes and the fantastic accommodation (the Weissz Kruez in Innsbruck having once hosted a young Mozart for example). Both remain strong candidates for a return visit.
I’m also keen to return to Valencia in Spain, if not only because I wasn’t able to meet-up with my friend Gerir this time round, but also because I spent most of my time on the beach and by the pool, when the city had so much to offer — especially in terms of incredible architecture.
Throughout the trip I enjoyed toying with different languages, although I often felt embarrassed trying to use them. German was my favourite, and I would like to try and re-familiarise myself with it again.
This desire actually plays into a larger re-assessment of Europe (the people, their attitudes and our integration with it). I like to think I’ve become less euro-sceptic since living in the States, and this trip has only continued that trend, and I hope to write about this in more depth sometime soon.
Possibly more for my benefit than yours, I’d like to finish up with a few lessons I learnt from this trip:
Preparation: Over the years, I’ve come to realise that preparation is important in making trips a success, and whilst I didn’t manage to create itineraries for later parts of the trip, what preparation I did do meant I could hit each city running.
Be a tourist: I’ve often thought the best way to get a feel for a large city is by jumping on the metro (just get a day ticket, pick a destination and head towards it), rather than use the more touristy forms of transport, but this trip finally saw me embrace my inner tourist! The ‘Batobus’ along the River Shine in Paris (€12 for a hop-on/hop-off day pass), and Barcelona’s open-top ‘Bus Turístic’ (€21 for a one-day ticket valid on all three routes) both turned out to be quite useful for getting an overview of these cities and seeing the main sights.
Pack half, and then pack half again: This tip is one I read a few years ago but still seem to have trouble perfecting. Each successive holiday I try to do this, and each time I realise I could have packed even less still. I spent most of this holiday carrying a laptop with a burnt out logic board, and a rarely used tripod, both of which I debated whether or not to take with me. The lesson here is if you’re not sure if need something, you definitely won’t. Keep to the bare essentials only.
Check roaming charges for data before you go: Guess who didn’t. Ouch.