This was my first time stepping foot on the European continent. We entered by way of Madrid and when we got off the airport in Spain, I was like, “I can’t believe I’m in EUROPE!!” It was a little surreal. Very tasty. Romantic. Exciting. Tiring. Unforgettable.
First stop, four days in Paris.
The public transportation system in Paris is easy-to-navigate, convenient and comprehensive. It took us everywhere we needed to go from the Orly Airport to our hotel to the Chateau at Versailles to Charles DeGaulle Airport and all the major tourist attractions.
It ran late enough that we could ride out to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night (12PM/1AM?). They have an RER train (double decker) and a smaller local metro (Metropolitain). They run on intercrossing stations so some places you have to transfer or take a specific train. However, you can use the same ticket to take you anywhere you need to go during your stay. We got a 5-day pass (they don’t have 4-day). Also they hand out maps to the city at all the stations. It’s very tourist friendly.
Dining in France is slow and relaxed. You can’t rush even if you wanted and I think that’s a great thing. In DC waitstaff will tell you to dine quickly if you show up late at night or late for your reservation because they want to flip tables a few times a night. Here, if you arrive on time, they’ll seat you and you’ll be among many other diners still resting with a cafe or degestif. I think they only have one round of tables each evening. Maybe two? I noticed even when we tried to slow down to enjoy our meal we’d inevitably finish before others who had been there before us. Even our “quick lunch” turned into a one hour experience. They don’t even like to give you your check too soon, we’d always have to ask for it. I guess they didn’t want to rush you?
Also, I loved watching in the evening, from around 5pm to 7 or 8pm people walking around the city carrying one or two sticks of baguettes, mostly unwrapped. Some would be eating them, but I think they’re taking them home to enjoy with dinner. It’s like rice for an Asian person. A staple. One night while dining next to a boulangerie I counted 50+ baguettes carried by passersby. I think we had it at every meal because that’s the first thing restaurants would set down before us whether for lunch or dinner. Glass of water, crust of bread. No butter or oils to put on the bread though in France or Italy. It must be an American thing. Our hotel breakfast had croissants, baguettes, boiled eggs, meats, cheeses, yogurt, fruit, juices, and coffee, hot chocolate, or tea. We also tried local bakeries’ croissants. I think the ones here in the US are equally good though.
Second stop, three days in Venice. We took a flight from DeGaulle to Venice.
From the airport, they have waterbusses (Vaporetto) which dropped us off near our hotel. Later we also took the Vaporetto to the train station when we headed to Rome. In Venice, they don’t pass out maps readily. It is the true Euro Disney and they milk the tourists for what they can. For example you have to buy the maps in Venice. Or get one from your hotel. They aren’t as readily available everywhere. And even with the map, you will get lost. The walkways and bridges with the buildings right up against them make it a veritable rat maze. You can’t see over any horizon to any landmark. It’s just walls and more walls with similar looking vendors and palazzos (squares). That’s also the fun of being in Venice, getting lost and finding your way back.
Or walking aimlessly in search of a place to eat and along the way, poking your head in random wine shops to buy wine filled in an empty reused water bottles of unknown origin. Best wine we had in Europe though, Refosco.
After dinner, you have to find you way back and if you can back track all those twists and turns I’d be surprised. We always wound up taking a different path back to the hotel.
The main tourist attractions are probabily St. Mark’s Square with the Doge’s Palace and the adjacent basilica connected to it.
We also went to the island of Murano where they make the famous glass jewelry. Various artisan shops will do demos, then take you through their showrooms selling items that are hugely expensive and then the gewgaw jewelry pieces. I was trapped there for hours just looking at earrings, necklasses, and bracelets.
One hidden gem we went to see was the Contarini del Bovolo. Going by my GoogleMap, I had the wrong location to begin with. We wandered for a while and finally a Polizia told us the way. It’s very hidden. It was also closed for renovations. Still very beautiful to see from the outside.
Venice is very international because of all the tourists. I felt safe there walking around late at night, even getting lost. People about are either tourists or the staff. And the staff all speak fluent English as well as French, Spanish, German. Posted menus were in all of those languages and even Chinese and Russian. So it sounds like Venice is a tourist trap. Well sorta. But it’s such a unique city on water that it’s worth visiting. Just being there is a wonderful experience. Just don’t go there during the hot months because even though it didn’t smell too bad when we were there, I can imagine during the warm months, the canals might not smell too good.
And finally, Rome. All three places are rich with history and culture but Rome is like present day history. We’d be walking down the street, cars honking, gelato stores everywhere and boom, right there, yellow tape or a chain fence around an archaeological dig of buildings that were probably thousands of years old.
Walking in the Colosseum and along the stone paths of the Roman Forum was surreal. You’re walking on ancient cobblestone roads, and oh by the way, that’s Julius Caeser’s tomb. And this castle here is where Hadrian was buried. We’d go back to our hotel in the evening and Wikipedia Hadrian or the Vestal Virgins or whathaveyou.
My favorite food was pizza before going to Europe. After this trip, my favorite food might be spaghetti. And they use Barilla. It’s no different than the kind you can get in our local grocery stores. I just now realized I’ve been overcooking it the whole time. Al dente is just barely cooked all the way through. I ate pasta everyday and I’m still not sick of it.