By Anna Murphy,
New York, NY, USA
I recently went on a whirlwind trip to Europe with my boyfriend. We squeezed four cities and three countries into ten days, so I knew it wouldn't be relaxing and because being a quality tourist takes time and energy, and more energy. But we did it. And it was fantastic.
And with so many sites to see, it is hard to cull down the list - but alas, I have. And now I present to you the official 2012 Eurotrip Awards - as a twenty-something, NYC-based, vegan female.
I'm starting this on a low note, because obviously I want to end on a high. This is also relevant to the trip's timeline, as my tiff with the UK Border Control occurred first and foremost.
I landed in the UK at 7:50 a.m. their time, which to my body was still 2:50 a.m. EST time. So while I was standing with eyes open, for all intensive purposes, I was sleeping. I had to wait for an hour and a half in line just to get up to the little kiosk where I would get my passport stamped. I was relieved until the little beady-eyed, balding man behind the counter jolted me into awareness/awakeness. He started quizzing me on why I was there, what my boyfriend did, where he was that very moment, and demanded I show my printed boarding passes for my outbound flights from London (to prove I wasn't trying to live there). I didn't have the requested information. Nor did I handle it well in my sleep-deprived state. In fact, I'm surprised I wasn't arrested on the spot for my temper tantrum. Word to the wise - print all your documents that indicate you have return travel and are not trying to squat in their country. Me screaming, "I don't want to live here! I love America, and I love my job!" may have worked for me, but I wouldn't recommend that tactic to all.
I have a four-way tie for this award that go to Park Guell in Barcelona, the London Eye, the Duomo in Florence and the alleyways of Venice (I know very vague, but believe me, well-deserved).
Park Guell, Barcelona
Al Merca, Venice
Cal Pep, Barcelona
Park Guell was constructed by the famous surrealist architect Gaudi. This park is a path-filled colorful masterpiece plucked straight from a child's imagination with the dreamlike structures and exquisite tiling detail. You can keep climbing up as far as you'd like to go with views getting increasingly incredible. There is a rock at the tip-top where only ten people (the most elite walkers) can fit comfortably. Though quite the hike, I recommend going for the gold and reaching this peak.
The London Eye is a big-time tourist attraction, but definitely worth your time. Just don't get the package deal that includes a 4D show and the wax museum. Come on now, you can go to New York if you really want to get to know Madame Toussad. This ferris wheel-esque ride brings up ten people per pod so that you get the best views of the city from every angle. I was lucky enough to be in London during the rainiest April in 100+ years. So while my pictures are all on the gray side, the views are still undeniably spectacular.
My boyfriend is from Florence, so he was the best tour guide a girl could ask for. He balanced our time between the famous tourist spots that I had to check off my list, but also the places where the locals liked to kick back. The Duomo or Florence's cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore is a breathtaking structure. But what is truly spectacular is the view from the top. We climbed up the narrow stone interior to the very top of the Dome and saw the city from a bird's eye view. And while there were many tourists who had the same idea, it was far fewer than expected, because this attraction had the deterrents of an extra cost as well as steep stairs and claustrophobic halls, designed to ward off the weak.
Lastly, I included the streets of Venice because each one is as beautiful as the next. Our favorite pastime was to wander until we were the only people exploring the narrow alleys of this labyrinth on the water. You turn a corner or cross a footbridge and find yourself in the middle of a huge square. The photo ops are endless.
My favorite bar was Al Merca in Venice. Just a tiny kiosk, it's seemingly a place where young locals come to unwind and socialize. There are no tables or chairs, just gatherings of people. I had the prosecco because I am a big fan of the bubbly, and because of course I was on vacation and had something to celebrate. I will also make it known that we were only in Venice two nights, and went here both.
Another tie: Between Cal Pep in Barcelona and Il Refolo in Venice. Cal Pep is one long counter where Pep himself cooks up the best tapas I have ever had. There is no menu, you basically just tell them what you want and he presents you with a tasting feast. He took care of my vegan needs with an assortment of mushrooms, spinach with chickpeas, fried artichokes and pan con tomate. The wait is long and almost excruciating as you can witness everyone gorging on their delicious dishes right before your very eyes. But as they say, “Bon Appetit”, having a good appetite prior to eating, really made it worth the while.
In an entirely different category was Il Refolo in Venice. Situated off the beaten path, the pizza place has the best pie I have had to-date. I, of course, opted for no cheese, but my boyfriend who is a dairy-loving meat eater also vouches for this more casual sister restaurant of acclaimed Da Fiore. It didn't hurt that the interior was artistic and eclectic with Mark Rothkos adorning the walls.
Costa coffee in London is strong. And they have soy milk. They have not adopted Splenda, so I went the brown sugar route. The four spoonfuls of brown sugar route. While Barcelona and Italy win in the food category, their coffee joints do not have skim let alone soy. So while London rained and poured, I was also able to retreat into these chains every time I wanted to dry off and indulge in a steaming hot latte.
I am not a kitschy souvenir person. Of course, I used to be when I was a tot - I had to have a t-shirt or figurine of every place I ever visited. Now in my old(er) age, I realize I just want something cool that reminds me of all the fun I had, even if it doesn't have the city name slapped across it, I appreciate it for the memory. That being said, my one souvenir (and therefore "best") is a big gold star ring I bought at a boutique in Notting Hill. I had to have it. And I wear it all the time now. Does it have any true European tie? No, except for the fact I bought it overseas.
As hard as it may be to believe, this is an entirely abridged version of my vacation. I have about 600 pictures for Eurotrip 2K12 and many, many more stories. And in maybe ten years, if I go back to Europe, my awards list will change - but for now, as a twenty-something living in NYC, these are the places and things that matter to me.
Photos courtesy of Anna Murphy