Jave and I boarded our flight from Stockholm on Sunday afternoon, and ten and a half hours later, we were back in L.A. where it was only Sunday evening. For whatever insane reason, I neglected to request an additional day off from work to recuperate, so by the time we got home and I emptied my dirty laundry into the hamper, it was time to get ready for bed so I could wake up early the next morning for work.
Beating my alarm by a good three hours, I suddenly awoke at 3am for no good reason and was completely startled to find myself back at home in our bed where Jave was still sleeping soundly next to me. When I opened my eyes, I wholeheartedly expected to still be in Copenhagen and was a bit confused as to why everything looked unfamiliar as I lay in bed trying to adjust my eyes to the dark. Nope, I wasn’t dreaming – we were back. Our three week trip to Europe had officially come to an end.
With that realization, I jumped out of bed and started my day with the usual business of checking emails, paying bills, starting online coursework for a class that I recently enrolled in, and catching up via text with one of my good friends who happens to be a habitual early riser, all while ensuring that my eggs weren’t overcooking on the stove. Another four or so hours later, I was back at work weeding through emails, accepting invitations for mundane conference calls, and generally trying to get back into the swing of things.
But truth be told, I can’t get back into the swing of things. Physically, my body is still nine hours ahead of the regularly scheduled programming here in L.A., and mentally, spiritually, and emotionally, our trip to Europe only reinforced the need for the major lifestyle change that Jave and I have both been craving since long before this trip. Our firsthand experience of European culture, which by and large values and prioritizes quality of life, was exactly the firsthand testimonial that Jave and I needed to confirm that we’re on the right path.
Unlike certain other trips, our journey through some of Europe’s great cities moved at an ideal pace, striking the perfect balance between active pursuits and downtime. Plus, my parents joined us a third of the way into our trip, and it was wonderful to share their company during our time in France and Rome. I’m so looking forward to sharing the highs and lows and the good and bad with you here on the blog (I seriously have enough content to share for just about the entire year), but for now, I’ll leave you with some general impressions…
Last year, Denmark was voted the happiest country in the world, and our visit to Copenhagen allowed us to see why. Prior to our trip, I’d read plenty of articles about Denmark’s awesome social services (e.g., health care is a basic civil right and Danish families get 52 weeks of paid parental leave!!!), but during our trip, we got to see other facets of Danish life that likely contribute to their happiness factor. From the crisp air and their bicycle culture to the freshness of their food and the city’s relative cleanliness, it’s easy to see why the Danes are so happy. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that everyone we encountered in Copenhagen was so warm and pleasant which is typically unusual in a big city. Perhaps Copenhageners’ seemingly innate friendliness is further proof that they’re not fakin’ the funk when it comes to being truly happy. Not that we’re currently considering a transatlantic move, but of all the cities that Jave and I visited during this trip, Copenhagen is the one where we agreed that we could see ourselves living if we could manage to acclimate to the cold.
Despite hearing and reading great things about Berlin prior to our trip, I went there expecting to be disappointed. Perhaps it’s because of Germany’s past or perhaps it’s because I was expecting Berlin to have a cold, stoic atmosphere and cold, stoic locals. Fortunately, all of my presumptions were wrong. Surprisingly, Berlin is another city of friendly, helpful locals who I found to be authentic and quite fashionable. I found myself observing Berliners quite closely during numerous rides on the city’s metro and buses which, by the way, made it relatively easy for us to navigate the city like locals. However, one of the things I love most about Berlin is its architecture. In Berlin, a hodgepodge of architectural styles converge: Plattenbauten leftover from the Eastern Bloc, classical and neoclassical buildings, as well as modern influences. I seriously couldn’t stop marveling at all of the beautiful architecture.
Unlike Berlin, I expected to be completely swept off of my feet by Budapest. As I’ve mentioned before, it seems that every review I’d ever read about Budapest was positive. But truthfully, I was kind of let down. Not because Budapest isn’t gorgeous – it’s architecturally stunning. And it’s not because of the locals – just about everyone we encountered was friendly and nice. In a future post, I’ll delve more into why Budapest kind of had me bummed. But for now I’ll say that unlike Copenhagen and Berlin – cities that I can see myself returning to again and again – I think once was enough for me and Budapest.
And then there was France. We spent the majority of our time in France starting with five nights in Paris followed by nights in Avignon, Marseille, St. Tropez, and Nice. I still love Paris as much as I did when I first visited thirteen years ago. Actually, I love it more now. But Parisians can be a bit rude. The irony is that it’s not even the random Parisians that you meet on the street who are rude. Instead, it’s the people who work at the metro stations, bus drivers, and the people who man information booths who we found to be rude. Indeed, the very people who are supposed to be getting paid to be helpful! Another thing I realized about Paris is that it’s not a city that’s conducive to volunteering (gasp!), but more on that in a later post. As we moved beyond Paris to Provence and on to the South of France, the weather warmed and so did the attitudes. Locals in Avignon and the South of France seemed happier and more relaxed, and it’s in these regions of France that we truly experienced joie de vivre. In general, the French really know how to live!
We didn’t spend a considerable amount of time in Monaco – maybe a few hours if that. We were staying in Nice nearby, so we couldn’t resist the urge to drive over to Monaco for a quick look around. Of course the Monte Carlo Casino and its lot full of high-end cars and the docked yachts in the harbor were the main sites to see. After all, Monaco is ridiculously wealthy with a 0% unemployment rate and the most millionaires and billionaires per capita in the world. It’s not the easiest city to drive in with all of its roundabouts and the highway that will lead you right back to Nice if you make one wrong turn. Overall, I’m glad that I got to see Monaco for myself, but I definitely don’t think it offers any real value as a tourist destination, not even if you’re really rich.
Rome (& Vatican City)
Last but certainly not least we visited Rome. I still don’t know how I feel about Rome. Sure, seeing sites like the Colosseum and Palatine Hill was surreal and awe-inspiring, but Rome as a whole? I’m undecided. What I do know about Rome is that I didn’t have a single bad pasta dish, I’ve never seen so many Vespas in my life, and the locals are so fashionable! Perhaps I spent too little time in Rome to solidify any insightful opinions, but I’m definitely down for returning, next time with a huge shopping budget!
Have you been to Europe? What’s your favorite European city and what are your impressions of European culture?