“Not all those who wander are lost.” -J.R.R. Tolkien
Even though I’ve always been an avid traveler, in the summer of 2015, I decided to embark on an 18 day journey across Europe before the celebration of my 30th birthday. You can read about how I planned my trip by clicking here. Below are some of my best memories and thoughts of each city.
I think I’ve found my new home away from home. London was similar to big cities in “America”, but the people, food, and culture were absolutely amazing! From visiting Buckingham palace, to purchasing tea at Fortnum and Mason, to eating at Nandos (Rihanna’s favorite restaurant), London is a unique mix of the historic with the modern (and everyone speaks English). Even though I flew through pounds like I had a press in my backpack, I can’t wait to visit again. And I’m sure it will be sooner rather than later. One of the most memorable moments from London was being able to stand outside of the gate of the late Amy Winehouse’s home in Camden. Amy will always remain one of my favs that gained her wings well before we were ready to see her go, and the tribute from her fans in front of her apartment touched my heart to its core. I had intentions to see her recently released biopic in London before our departure, but unfortunately, time was not on our side. You can visit Stonehenge and Bath by clicking here.
Before the start of this trip, I knew that Paris would steal my heart, but it did nothing of the sort. While the sights were breathtaking and the food delicious, the anti-American and anti-hygienic people of the city left a lot to be desired. From the rancid smells to the lack of participating English speaking French people, I’m not sure that Paris will make it back on my wanderlust list. However, there was one highlight that made my trip to Paris well worth it. Versailles. As a Marie Antoinette fanatic, I was more than stoked to walk the halls of the historic, yet still breathtaking Versailles, even though we only had 30 minutes to navigate due to a time restricted tour and crowd at capacity. I can’t wait to go back and revisit on a less crowded day and view it in all of its splendor.
“Every cognac is a brandy, but not every brandy is a cognac.”
From the moment I discovered that all cognac comes from a small town outside of Paris (or else it is brandy and not cognac), I knew that this was one place that I had to visit. And where Paris lacked in American enthusiasm, Cognac opened its warm arms and grasped a place in my heart. Jayne, our experienced tour guide, arranged informative tours and cognac sampling at Courvoisier, Remy Martin, and Camus (Hennessy is closed for renovations), three of the world’s top 5 cognacs, and we embarked on a journey of cognac 101. I’m not sure whether my extreme happiness at the end of this tour was dedicated to my cognac consumption or excitement in finally meeting some nice people in France, but I look forward to one day revisiting with my brothers and/or male counterpart. I recommend using Cognac Tours to arrange your ideal experience with a knowledgeable guide. You can tell them that Tonia from Texas sent you. And while I didn’t get a chance to visit Champagne country, this tour is definitely on my wish list, click here.
It was hot, and I got lost ALOT, but the food was amazing. And you can’t go to Venice without a gondola experience.
I think I’ve found my favorite European city thus far. From the people, to discovering Tuscan steak, to the picturesque landscape and the natural beauty of structures that have survived the test of time, Florence stole my heart. And while discussing Florence, I must talk about 2 noteworthy experiences. On our first night in Florence, we partook in a lovely feast in the Tuscan hills. This entire European trip has been filled with various tours from many different companies, but this one stole the show. We were treated to a 4 course meal with 4 wine selections, and both the chef and host were extremely personable and entertaining. Personally, I think that the host had been sipping some “vino” himself, but hey, what’s Italy without a little wine. It was at this beautiful farmhouse in the hills that we discovered the Tuscan peoples love for steak and the beginning of the end for my delight in American cuisine.
Note: The Tuscan Dinner Experience that is described in this blog is no longer available, but you can click here to find a comparable option.
What this tour overcompensated for in good cheer and delicious cuisine, our second tour in Tuscany almost sent me packing. Since every Chianti daytime wine tour was sold out, I found a tour that involved an easy-medium walk of Florence and included a wine tasting at an exclusive Tuscan villa in the hills. When the tour guide showed up in full workout gear with us being the only three patrons, I should have known that we were in deep trouble. We shall call this tour the “Death Walk.” After hiking up 140 steps (no exaggeration) and up the Tuscan hills through winding roads that often required us to clutch the wall to prevent becoming road kill, we finally made it to the villa. While the villa was just as beautiful as described and the wine and food pairing were superb, we definitely caught a taxi back home. Easy-medium walk my ass. You can click here to find an easier tour with a similar tasting and villa experience.
How does the old adage go? When in Rome, do what the Romans do…. If that involves eating a lot of pizza, doing a lot of drinking, becoming a Gelato connessieur, and being one hell of a foot soldier, call me Roman. There were so many architectural marvels in Rome, with the Colosseum being the one that stopped my heart. Standing outside this majestic structure, I could hear the crowd cheers as the gladiators fought to their deaths. Like really, I’m serious! But even with all of the marvel that the Colosseum had to offer, I’m sure that my favorite would have been the Trevi Fountain. And I say would have been, because of course, it is still under construction. However, I still made my wish. *shrugs
While our first day in Rome was spent sight seeing, day 2 was dedicated to seeing the ruins of the once glamorous city known as Pompeii. I think that the only city that intrigues me more than Pompeii, would be the city of Atlantis (whether mythical or not). Needless to say, our tour of Pompeii was not only informative, but hilarious. Not only was Pompeii a city of fine architecture and riches, but also a city of brothels where gay sex was the norm. And to think, our society likes to think that we are in the end of days. The sins of man haven’t changed, just the way in which they are cloaked. Let that sink in for a moment, it’s deep, I know.
Let me start off by saying, our stay in Athens was rough. It is a shame that our stay in this marvel of a city had to be marred by a traveler’s worst nightmare… Lost luggage. In the matter of a one way flight via Vueling Airlines, you can go from being best dressed to struggling choosing supermarket panties and deciding how to recycle today’s outfit for tomorrow. I spent my first day in Athens trying to keep the group’s spirits up and trying not to succumb to the fear of our luggage being forever lost in oblivion. However, we eventually sucked it up, hand washed our drawers, and handled it like some champs.
Since a day was wasted wallowing in our feelings, my time in Athens was minimal. However, I did get to marvel at the city view from the top of the Acropolis (after almost sliding to my death due to the lack of grip on my converse and muscles in my legs) and find my favorite restaurant of the entire trip, Agora. I’m not usually big on repeating restaurants, especially in a new city, but the staff and food was so good, that we made it a point to return the second night. And the free fruit, ice cream, and shots at the end of each meal, only sealed the deal.
Click here for a half-day tour of Athens.
Let me not forget to add that we were also able to find some good deals on clothes at the mall in Athens. Due to the $50s per day we were given for each day our luggage were lost, we were able to find some steals to hold us over for a few days. I spent $100 and was able to replace most of my necessary toiletries and get 2 swimsuits, 2 pairs of sandals, 3 dresses, 2 shirts, and a skirt thanks to the end of summer/recession sale at H&M. Won’t he do it!
If there was one place I wish I could have experienced in my early 20’s, it would have to be the Mykonos, my second favorite place of the entire trip. The beaches were beautiful, the people were friendly, and the party scene rivaled anything I’ve encountered in the past 29 years (and I like to party). From champagne showers to gorgeous Italian men that clearly liked black women, Mykonos owes me nothing (but a new liver). If only for one city this trip, I was able to be my usual “free spirit with a wild heart” self and just live, live like no one was watching. We drank, we partied, and we drank some more. And it was in Mykonos that we became one of the few Vueling customers to ever recover their lost luggage. Perfect ending, right?
From the Mykonos, we traveled via ferry to the largest island in Greece, Crete. While we arrived in Heraklion, I opted for our group to stay in a small village about 20 minutes from the city known as Archanes. Crete was the portion of our trip where we could just let our hair down, rest our tired toes, and just chill and marvel in the beauty of our travels. And that is exactly what we did. Within 24 hours of arriving in Archanes, we had become one with the locals, including one of the only two taxi drivers, Katerina. If you’re ever in Archanes and need a driver, call her (0030)6944-232224.
In Archanes, life takes place in the city’s square, which was a short trot down the hill from our residence house. In the square, you could find your restaurants and bars and mingle with the city “folks.” And at the end of each meal, they resumed the tradition of not allowing us to leave without enjoying complimentary shots, fresh fruit, and dessert.
I’ve always said that my perfect honeymoon destination was going to be Bora Bora… Well, that was before we took a day trip to Santorini. Santorini was everything that every picture has every shown, and it was the epitome of the beauty of Greece and all of its marvels. From the white buildings, to the blue beaches, to the rolling cliffs, my only regret is only being able to spend one day enjoying it’s beauty.
Instead of opting for a traditional tour, I was able to talk my traveling compadres into renting ATVS to tour the island like some bosses. Until you’ve zipped through cliffs without barriers at high rates of speed without a map or care in the world, I’m going to venture to say maybe you haven’t lived. Before this trip, I might have been the ride on an ATV behind her man kind of girl, but thanks to this trip, I’m now the get your own and meet my ass at the top kind of woman. Hell of a difference….
I started this 18 day “sabbatical” with a heavy heart and a wounded spirit with a slight vendetta with God. So many doors have recently been closed in my face, without rhyme or reason, and I was beginning to doubt my purpose, or whether I even served a purpose. I came to Europe looking for my muse… the potion to heal my wounded heart and ego. And I left with so much more… Not only did I find my muse, but a renewed lust for life, and a better understanding of why sometimes God has to make you uncomfortable to allow your true purpose to shine through. I’m back focused, and all I can say is thank you God. Thank you for the traveling grace, thank you for the trials, and thank you for putting me on the right track to finding myself.
P.S. If you would like help planning your next vacation, click here.
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