It has been almost a year since I flew to Europe for the first time and embarked on a whirlwind trip, traveling to 7 countries, 8 cities, and 4 European capitals. Recently I revisited some photos from my travels and reminisced on the days and nights I spent in these foreign places. Here is what I remember most.
We stroll down the tight streets of Lisbon, admiring the colorfully tiled housefronts, each unique from the next. We eat the buttery Pasteles de Nata after every meal, mouthwatering at every bite. We can’t help but grab a paper sleeve of a them every time we pass by a bakery.
A bright yellow trolley rambles up the steep hills of Lisbon, we are seated on its wooden benches. You look for the ocean from the open window, I gaze at the ornate stone cathedrals as we roll by. We will visit them on the walk down.
At highest point of the city is the Castelo de Sao Jorge, a stone ruin of old naval might from when Portugal commanded the seas and culture. You look at the cannons pointed westward over the clifftops towards the sea, and I imagine what it might be like to be a soldier stationed there during a siege during the middle ages.
The next day we visit the Praca de Comercio and plunge our feet into the sea. It is overcast, the air heavy and wet. Local crafters sell their products in stalls under the open archways surrounding the square: cork products, jewelry, leather handbags, and more. The ocean is a lively green color, rough with the promise of a coming early autumn storm.
That night, we hunker down in our hostel with a to-go plate heaping with Portuguese barbecue chicken, sausages, and ribs, watch Akira on your laptop, and enjoy each others’ laughter over the sounds of the storm coming from outside.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
We get lost down the dense, winding streets of the Red Light District, each turn bringing some new lewd delight. You enjoy our long walks along the canals in the brisk autumn evenings; you wonder aloud how much it costs to live in a boathouse.
Breakfast consists of sweet pancakes, paper thin, drizzled with honey cinnamon, and oats. Before we step into the cozy pancake house, I am knocked down by a biker whizzing by on the sidewalk. By the time we enter the restaurant my tears have dried, but I garner the looks of confused waiters at my swollen eyes and blotchy face.
Lunch is a cold herring sandwich, wrapped in white paper, sliced open and gutted only minutes ago by a Dutch fisherman. You scowl at the taste of the slimy fish. I offer a heaping basket of french fries with curry catsup as a peace offering.
We solemnly step through the Anne Frank House, then make our way across a canal to a cheese shop where we buy 3 cheeses, small brown toasts, and fig champagne spread to bring to our next stop: Weesp, the Netherlands. It is a 20 minute rail trip East, we are met at the station by our host for the evening. She walks us down the small town square, shows us the canals, the picturesque windmills in the distance, then we head to her home around the corner. We sit on plastic chairs on her rooftop, she smokes a pack of cigarettes, and we happily eat and chat about a multitude of topics. Her husband joins us after his work, an astrophysicist who works in Amsterdam, and we end out the evening with a last round of Hoegaardens (his favorite) and embarassing stories from our travels so far.
We whisk ourselves to Bruges for a day trip and are immediately enamored by the old charm of the city. The bustling town center is surrounded by ancient and unique buildings, each more colorful and decorative than the last. I insist we tour a local historical museum to learn the roots of the city- the museum happens to sit below an old pub, so you are happy to oblige. After stepping through the relics of old Bruges, once a trading port connected to Europe and the East, we settle in for a beer tasting- two flights of beer, of all shades, strengths, and colors, tickle our taste buds and enlighten our smiles.
We stumble upon a row of chocolatiers and sugar waffle peddlers, each shop smelling sweeter than the last. After generous sampling of the wares, I decide to purchase a bag of coffee chocolate truffles for my family, as well as hazelnut truffles for us to eat later.
We eat dinner in an old restaurant, the kind of old with a collapsing brick fireplace and a dusty suit of armor on displayed on the wall. I slurped a savory bowl of Flemish beef stew, so filling and warm it felt as if it were the dead of winter and I was just handed a steaming mug of cocoa. Later, in the dark, I rest my head on your shoulder as we ride the train back to Brussels, and I fall asleep, content.
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