Wanderer

My European Top Spots.

It’s nearly April… I’ve been wondering where to spend my summer. While I’m looking at spreading my wings as far as Thailand or America (I know, completely different ideas there!) this year, I think I’ve definitely scattered my heart across different cities of Europe, including good old England. Then again… I tend to say that about pretty much every city and country I visit, so no doubt as I wander further afield, that list will just grow longer and longer.

I love the diversity of Europe; the array of cultures and languages and delicacies, the contrast of stark differences and intermingled traditions from border to border. There are some cities that I just find myself going back to again and again, and it never gets old – there are always new cafes serving coffee even more delicious than the last, more landmarks that I haven’t found the time to visit yet and beautiful little streets that are deserted but for myself and the occasional knowing local.

This wasn’t easy at all, but I managed to order my unruly top 10:

1. Paris. For years Rome held this top spot, but France’s capital has rather snuck up on me over the years – every time I go I love it more and more, even if I’m literally just passing through on a train, and somehow, it overtook Rome. Yes, the people can at times be a little snooty, but most of the time the snooty-ness that I have witnessed against tourists is purely because they are not meeting Paris’ standards – arriving in Paris in dirty clothes and Birkenstock with a tatty rucksack on your back is not going to make you the darling of the city. It’s quite like trying to wear jeans and a t-shirt to a ball. Everyone makes an effort in Paris, even if it is in that je ne sais quoi, ‘I just fell out of bed’ Parisian sense. They’re experts at putting in a lot of effort in looking effortless. Try to blend in, and that snooty-ness will disappear. Or so I find. 

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2. Rome. See, my ex-top spot has not slipped far. I love history. I love art, architecture, literature and the renaissance, all of which can be found on every corner of Rome. I feel comfortable walking around the city without getting lost – I can act as tour guide to fellow travellers. There’s no better feeling than realising that you know a foreign city. It’s not just a place that I have visited a few times anymore. I’ve always been and will continue to be lured to Rome for its history, its art, its food and its coffee. Yes, yes, yes and a very big yes from me on those fronts!

My one pet peeve when in Rome? Arrogant, metrosexual Roman guys who still live with their mothers well into their thirties. They linger around Trevi Fountain in droves. Huge, huge pet peeve of mine.

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3. Prague. When I first visited Prague, I didn’t really know what to expect. It’s just not a place that I have looked into too much before I arrived at  Hlavni Nadrazi station. Until then my Pinterest (what came before Pinterest? Good old fashioned cut-and-paste scrapbooks?) had been full of photographs of Paris, Rome, Athens, The Great Pyramids, Macchu Picchu and Buddhist Temples. I’d always planned to visit Prague, but somehow looking at what it was like never occurred to me. The beauty of the place blew me away. It’s a perfect blend of East and West European; some streets could easily pass for France or Italy – or even England, when suddenly you’re surrounded by Eastern European architecture, Czech music ringing through your ears and people drinking brands I can’t even pronounce.

Also, Prague is one of the most beautiful cities at night.

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4. Venice. Yes, it’s quite a pricey city, but then I’ve found that I can still keep my budget low – Venice is not a city teaming with museums and must-see sites with expensive ticket fares like other touristic cities. I’m also not big on souvenirs, which could prove to be super pricey if I were. Venice is the city I head to if I want to see Italy, without the hustle and bustle of Rome or Milan or – to some extent – Florence. I tend to avoid the few busy spots of the city – St Mark’s Square and Ponte di Rialto. Two or three streets from these Venetian hot-spots, and you’ll find deserted streets, a woman beating sheets over her balcony perhaps, the occasional cat, but otherwise you’re entirely alone. No cars, no noise. It’s wonderful.

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5. Florence. Yes, Paris may be my number one city, but Italy is clearly my number one country. Florence is a nice balance of everything I love about Italy. It’s not as mad as Rome, or as busy and metropolitan as Milan, and while it has that same peace as Venice, it’s gifted in sprinkles rather than spades. It is quintessential Italy in the country’s best region: Tuscany – I love taking day trips from Florence to explore the beautiful surrounding countryside.

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6. Lisbon. I tend to yo-yo between Porto and Lisbon when choosing my favourite Portuguese city, but right now, I’d choose Lisbon. It’s true what they say – ‘Porto works and Lisbon plays’. Things are much more relaxed in the south, and people seem to mysteriously work less and yet are richer. I do have one issue with Lisbon – its treacherously slippering paving stones.

Praça Duque Terceira Cais Sodré Lisboa Portugal Calçada à Portuguesa Roc2c Portuguese Pavement stone white black pedra

Seriously, I had to buy a new pair of shoes just because wearing my sandals or ballet flats was about as effective as wearing Cinderella’s glass slippers. Otherwise you pretty much have to choose between risking your life by walking in the road, or risking your life because every step could end in a broken neck.

Still, Lisbon is beautiful, not majorly touristic and yet not entirely isolated to the lone traveller who doesn’t speak a word of Portuguese – like me. Actually, that’s a lie. I can say thank you. I think thank you is the most important phrase to learn in every language. Even more so than hello.

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7. Budapest. Another city that I had little knowledge of – like Prague. I knew it to be cheap, but that’s about it. Yes, it is cheap, though as tourism grows, so do those prices. The architecture is sophisticated, the people are sophisticated – but for a few old men who linger on park benches whistling at passing women. So many people have apologized for ‘the habits of the older generation’ – honestly, it’s fine. Clearly they have never passed a building site in the UK. The famous thermal baths are wonderful. I recommend visiting the bath houses during winter – it’s instantly even better when you’re lounging in the steaming water watching the snow fall outside.

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8. Barcelona. I’m not a fan of gaudy Gaudi, but of course, his architecture makes Barcelona what it is. I find it amazing how we all flock to see a building that is not due to be finished until 2026. I mean, of course, La Sagrada Familia. However, one place where I feel Gaudi’s unique style does work within the city is Park Güell – also the spot of my favourite (yet discovered) view in Barcelona. In Park Güell you will find pianists, violinists and musicians of instruments so exotic that I don’t even know what they are. They claim a spot and play beautiful classical pieces to entertain tourists and locals alike. It’s quirky and amazing.

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9. Vienna. A haven for museum-geeks like me, my favourite being the Sisi museum; a museum dedicated to the life of Empress Elizabeth of Austria. It’s cleaner than Paris and Rome. It’s more efficiently run than England, but it’s not as frustratingly perfect as a few cities I have been to; so perfect that they no longer feel real. Also, the people who live there are unbelievably lovely.

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10. Off the beaten track. Finally, while I could go on and on about this city and that city, for me, one of the best parts of Europe is the little villages whose names I never learnt before I moved on to the next. I love the lakes, beaches, rivers and hills. I’m a country girl as well as a city girl, and I love rambling around woodland and climbing hills to see the view at sunset. So if you’re going to Europe, don’t just stick to the ‘must see cities’.

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Wanderer

Tips for a Movie-Worthy Road Trip…

We’ve all seen a road trip movie and thought, ok, that’s what I want, right?

I think road trips never work as well anywhere but America. Something about narrow roads, roadworks and swerving around potholes rather kills it for me. It’s supposed to be about open top Cadillacs or Mustangs, long, long straight roads, a group of friends with a tendency to scream ‘wooo’ at the slightest thing, and a great mix tape – even if no one has used a tape since what? 1997? 98? Basically, this:

Take a cross country road trip, without worrying about how much it will cost to fill up!

Or, you know, as this is England, this:

weekend escape = country road, picnic basket, roadtrip

Or if you’re really going for it, this:

I love a good road trip. I can’t tick off the Mustand/Cadillac yet, but I can say that I have been on  road trip in a Mini. And a yellow camper van. Both of which were brilliant.

Top 10 Tips for a brilliant road trip:

1. Company. Obvious, I know. Nothing sucks more than grumpy company. Except for the person who throws up all over everyone else. Luckily that’s never happened, but I imagine it would be pretty hard for a trip to bounce back after that. I’m not even going to bother explaining why good company is such a must for a good road trip.

#friends #RoadTrip | photo shannon lee miller

2. Music. It’s always a good time for music. The Black Keys are perfect. As are Sigor Ros when you hit ‘downtime driving’ mode. You know, when you need to recover from having laughed so hard for so long, it feels like you’ve done about a million sit ups. Not that down time driving ever lasts long with friends about. It’s all about laughing through the pain!

3. Record your memories. I’ve been on a few spur of the moment trips… without a camera to hand, despite trying to always have it within reach. It sucks. Folks, always take a camera on a road trip. Or a video camera, and you can make a lovely movie of your road trip, like these.

4. Picnics. They go hand-in-hand with road trips, I reckon. Especially as I have a few crumb-phobic friends, so snacking in the car is a no-no. I’m a bit of a ‘picturesque picnicker’ too. Pink lemonade, berries, cupcakes. I like my meals pretty.

not a specific place, but fall weather in Dallas is a perfect place for a picnic!

5. Sleeping under the Stars. Sun roof, convertible, or good old fashion sleeping back in the grass, I love sleeping in the middle of no where beneath the stars. You don’t realise just how few stars are visible from the city until you’re on a hill surrounded by mile and miles of fields in a Cath Kidston floral sleeping bag.

6. Fashion. I admit, I tend to be the girl who carefully plans her road trip outfits. Apparently that’s sad, but I’d hate filling a suitcase to find that nothing is suited to my trip, or nothing goes together and everything clashes and blah blah blah. I personally love Free People for the girly, boho-but-not-quite-hippy clothes that I take on my road trips. And of course, good old Asos.

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7. Freedom. It’s the whole nomad-lifestyle calling to me again. When you’re on a road trip, you’re just leaving all of your worries and responsibilities behind and throwing yourself into life. However, don’t be as free as a certain anonymous someone I know who was feeling so free and spontaneous and crazy that he decided to abandon his phone and his wallet at home and just drive… a great idea, but money is needed for petrol, people!

8. Glamping. I spoke about glamping back in May. I still loveit. Again, picturesque. I think this is the influence of years of admiring Tim Walker‘s work. I seem to live my life like it’s one big Walker-esque spread. Minus the over-sized props. I would if I had the budget, though. One of my favourite things to take along on a road trip is a portable projector. Or rather, I love to take along my friend’s portable projector – and my friend too. Not just because he has a portable projector, either. (♥ H) Picnic blanket of food, sky full of stars, a sheet draped over a tree, an old movie projected against it, a cluster of deck chairs and blankets over our legs… perfection.

Love this photo~

9. Getting Lost. I love getting lost. I always find the best places when I’m lost, be it the amazing ice cream bar in Venice that I stumbled into to ask for directions (which, sadly, I haven’t been able to find since), or a tiny village with an amazing bookshop because I’m terrible at map reading and sent my designated road trip driving friend in the completely wrong direction. Oops, but so worth it.

10. Be Spontaneous. I know that spontaneous road trips can mean that packing the above items just don’t happen. Like me and my camera. Picnics and glamping and carefully co-ordinated outfits need a chance to happen, especially if you’re on a budget (I’m sure you could whip up a great picnic of berry-topped-cupcakes and pink lemonade from Marks and Spencers and Waitrose, but I prefer homemade. Still, there’s nothing more exciting then grabbing the car keys, finding a friend or two with a) a license to drive and b) a car (neither of which I have), and just going. No map, no plan, just laughs and that amazing feeling of having no responsibilities for a while.

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Oh… I’m so itching for a road trip right now. Anyone?

I guess it’s not the best time of year for road trips… I suppose I can keep myself busy until the sun finally arrives with a few road trip movies. Little Miss Sunshine, On the Road and the last 30 minutes of Elizabethtown (I don’t even bother with the first hour and a half).

Ah… summer.

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