42 Days in Europe, Postmortem Part 2 – City Reviews

Welcome to Part 2 of my Eurotrip postmortem! In this post, I’ll be providing “reviews” of the various cities I visited. To keep things simple, I break my thoughts about each city down into 1) level of attachment, 2) pros, 3) cons, 4) recommendations, and 5) other comments, if available. I’ve also labeled each city with how long I spent there on this trip. Hope you enjoy!

Inside Design Museum Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark (3 nights)

Level of attachment: Revisit occasionally.

Pros: Clean, very walkable city – everything can be reached on foot within 45-50 minutes. But in spite of its size, there’s still something for everyone, from the Design Museum for the artsy to Christiania for the hipsters. Public transit infrastructure is solid, bicycle culture is also admirable. Denmark’s northerly position in Europe also means that the summer climate is also quite lovely. I also had the  best burger of my life in Copenhagen, at the famed Gasoline Grill.

Cons: In spite of the great burger, on the whole, this place heavily supports my hypothesis that the further north you go, the worse the cuisine. I thought the food was positively mediocre – fried plaice was considered “really good” by many, and the famed local delicacy, Smørrebrød, if you think about it is just a bunch of shit thrown on top of a slice of bread. Herring is overrated.

Recommend: Christiania, Design Museum Denmark, the Little Mermaid statue, Tivoli Gardens

Other comments: Can’t imagine a better place to have started my trip; not too big, not too small, pretty orderly and overall well-kept city. That said, I thought I’d get killed by a cyclist here more so than in any other city.

 

Near the iAmsterdam sign

Amsterdam, Netherlands (4 nights)

Level of attachment: Revisit occasionally.

Pros: Built on islands of land reclaimed from the water, a one-of-a-kind city in terms of design and layout. I’d say this is one of the two cities in my itinerary (the other being Venice) where canal tours, even for those who are averse to river tours in big cities, are a must. Coming from Copenhagen, it’s immediately apparent that Amsterdam is a far more cosmopolitan city, but still manages to maintain its unique character. The cosmopolitanism also seems to manifest in an overall very open-minded culture, which I’m sure you all are aware of already.

Cons: The food is already better than Copenhagen, but we’re still north enough that it’s nothing special. Expect a lot of fairly standard beef and vegetables based dishes. And some more herring. In addition, the prices are atrocious, especially for lodgings.

Recommend: Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt House, Rijksmuseum, Albert Cuyp Market

Other comments: Great place, but not as mind-blowing as everyone says it is, and surprisingly small as well. However, I greatly respect this city for the way it deftly balances both its own heritage and multiculturalism. My canal tour guide mentioned how the city has long had a philosophy of “tolerance,” drawing from the way the city lets the water run as it wishes ultimately, but in a controlled way – a principle, according to him, that generalizes into governance. And I have to imagine this way of life helps with the above balance.

 

Brussels streets

Brussels, Belgium (6 hours)

Level of attachment: None.

Pros: Uh… it’s small? Walkable? I dunno. The chocolate is immediately fantastic however, and prices overall seem more reasonable than in Amsterdam.

Cons: I have to say, there isn’t much to see in this city; two of the major attractions, Little Europe and the Atomium statue, are a good bit outside of the city center, and Grand Place is ultimately just another tourist-packed European plaza. Also, the size-poverty ratio is odd – I’ve lived in and been to plenty of major cities so it’s not at all like I find panhandlers novel or especially undesirable, but I couldn’t help noticing that the number/density of them seemed consistent with a far bigger city like Paris.

Recommend: Passion Chocolat, L’Archiduc

Other comments: Added to my itinerary as a day trip in the middle of my Amsterdam-Paris transit, and realistically, about a full day, maybe two, is really all this city needs, IMO. Food is also mediocre.

 

View of the Eiffel Tower from outside the Louvre

Paris, France (3 nights)

Level of attachment: My first European city, it’ll always hold a special place in my heart as a great place to relax for a few days.

Pros: A beautiful city with an almost endless amount of things to do. The city really comes alive during the summer compared to the winter.

Cons: Can be expensive. It’ll always feel like there’s more to do.

Recommend: The Louvre, Caveau de la Huchette, Le Pure Cafe, and all the other touristy things of which there are way too many to list.

Other comments: Between my March trip and this trip, it was great being able to see Paris in both winter and summer mode – the city is so much more alive during the summer. I love the river culture, people just hanging out on weekend evenings by the river with their friends with drinks. Also, falling barely under the age limit, at this point I’ve been to the Louvre for free twice on Friday nights!

 

Looking down from Castle Hill

Nice, France (4 nights)

Level of attachment: None.

Pros: Beautiful town, and you really get a good idea of why artists such as Van Gogh fawned over the “southern light” – it’s warm in both temperature and color. A good place to relax – Cannes is in the same region, and it makes you wonder if the Cannes Film Festival is just an excuse for film geeks to party in the south of France.

Cons: This was my first stop where Mediterranean culture started to hit. Now, the stereotypical laid-back-ness can be great and all, but I hope you’re prepared to eat on a strictly regular schedule – good luck finding a restaurant open for lunch before 12pm and open for dinner before 6-7pm. Similarly, businesses seem to have hours posted but are rarely open exactly as early as they say nor do they close as late as they say. The beach is the rocky sort where you really need flip-flops or sandals.

Recommend: The beach, Marc Chagall Museum, Matisse Museum, Colline du Chateau, Monaco

Other comments: Wouldn’t recommend more than 3 nights here, you will run out of things to do.

 

The tunnel from the Monaco Grand Prix circuit

Monaco (day trip from Nice)

Level of attachment: None – visit again when I’m filthy rich.

Pros: Everything’s nice, clean, orderly. If you’re at all into Formula 1, it’s super cool to be able to walk the Monaco GP circuit.

Cons: Everything is expensive – a sandwich, glass of wine, and coffee for breakfast cost me close to 30e.

Recommend: Larvotto Beach, Monaco GP circuit, tourist office to get a Monaco passport stamp.

 

Alt & Neu record store, as seen in the movie Before Sunrise

Vienna, Austria (4 nights)

Level of attachment: Revisit occasionally.

Pros: If you have any sort of fascination with classical music and the great European composers of yore, Vienna simply cannot be beat. I was also pleasantly surprised by the sheer number of things to do in the city, as well as the food – I love goulash and kasekrainer now. Also, this is the town where Before Sunrise was filmed, so if you’re into that movie, worth a wander around hitting some of the filming locations.

Cons: The amount of cultural capital present is indubitable, but I feel the city suffers from a weird tension between believing these things should be accessible to the masses and an implicit cultural elitism. Also, if you don’t appreciate old things at all, Vienna is not the best place to visit.

Recommend: Prater, Mozart House, House of Music, Vienna State Opera, Belvedere Palace, the Hofburg, Naschmarkt

Other comments: I like the Prater much as I like Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens. I also feel like Vienna is a place that everyone thinks is super expensive even though in practice it’s not. You’ll find Mozart souvenirs everywhere.

 

The gazebo from Sound of Music at Schloss Hellbrunn

Salzburg, Austria (3 nights)

Level of attachment: None.

Pros: Sound of Music town and Mozart town. If you’re into either of these things, Salzburg is the place to visit. The cool, crisp Alpine air feels great, and the views are hard to match.

Cons: 3 nights was the perfect amount of time to spend here – any more and I would’ve run out of things to do. Also, being more “in the boonies” than Vienna, just being real but if you’re not white you might get some stares in the less touristy areas of town (as I did on the VIE-SZG train and parts of SZG).

Recommend: Mirabell Gardens, Schloss Hellbrunn, Mozart Birth House, Salzburg Fortress

Other comments: Much as in Vienna, Mozart is everywhere, even in places where he is not topically relevant (e.g. the fortress). It’s especially funny here because word is that he hated Salzburg.

 

The Reichstag

Berlin, Germany (5 nights)

Level of attachment: Would totally live here.

Pros: It’s a big, highly cosmopolitan, very “practical” city with not nearly as much pretense as some of the other European capitals. However, that’s not to say it’s lacking in sophistication in any way – indeed, I’d say the sophistication-pretense ratio is far better here than in many of the other Euro-capitals. Far fewer try-hard Euro-wannabes here than in Paris or Italy. It’s also a city that can’t help but make you ponder the meaning of a people divided and the significance of reunification as happened with East/West Berlin and Germany.

Cons: Not the most photogenic city – as alluded to above, things tend to lean more utilitarian in aesthetics, and lots of Soviet-bloc style design lingers, especially in what used to be East Berlin. Not the best food, but currywurst is fantastic.

Recommend: Topography of Terror, Berlin Wall Memorial, Deutsche Kinemathek Film/TV Museum, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, DDR Museum

 

A street on Murano

Venice, Italy (2 nights)

Level of attachment: It is my mid-term goal to own a vacation home on Murano.

Pros: No other place in the world quite like it, literally. Spaghetti with clams is delicious, and the seafood here is overall great. Aside from the main island, Murano and Burano are both worth an afternoon or more, providing respite from the masses and a more organic look at genuine Venetian culture.

Cons: Get off the main island as soon as you can – it’s way too packed with tourists. Transit is mind-blowingly expensive if you don’t buy an ACTV pass. Lines can be massive if you don’t book tickets in advance.

Recommend: Murano (Glass Museum), Burano (Lace Museum), San Giorgio Maggiore Campanile, San Marco, Doges Palace, Bridge of Sighs

 

View of Ponte Vecchio from Piazzale Michelangelo

Florence, Italy (3 nights)

Level of attachment: Revisit occasionally.

Pros: The food here is wonderful, going beyond the seafood emphasis present in Venice – loved the chianti-stewed beef with black pepper. Also a great place to buy leather goods – bags, clothes, etc. The town has a far more leisurely pace than does Venice, probably because it’s less packed with tourists.

Cons: Be sure you book all your tickets in advance – Uffizi, Duomo, Galleria dell’Accademia, etc. More so than any other city I visited, I was slammed hardest here by not having booked tickets in advance – all of the landmarks I list above were sold out for the duration I was there when I tried to buy tickets post-arrival.

Recommend: Piazzale Michelangelo, Galileo Museum

 

Trevi Fountain

Rome, Italy (4 nights)

Level of attachment: Revisit occasionally.

Pros: Arguably one of the unquestionable cradles of western civilization. Big city with lots to do, while not being super expensive at the same time. Transit system is expansive. This was also the first place where I tried Italian pizza sold by the kilogram, and it was great! I could be stuffed for 6e. The city manages to have just as much sophistication and flair as Paris while being a little bit less pretentious.

Cons: Can get very toasty and humid in terms of climate. Like Florence, be sure to book all your tickets in advance unless you enjoy standing in lines for extended periods of time.

Recommend: Colosseum, Forum, Baths of Caracalla, Cinecitta, Pantheon, Vatican City.

 

Looking up inside the Sagrada Familia

Barcelona, Spain (4 nights)

Level of attachment: Tied with Berlin for place I’d most like to live.

Pros: The weather alone made me want to just squat and stay there. Weather and culture-wise, I can’t help being reminded a lot of LA – nearly perfect room-temperature sunshine with a relaxed, cosmopolitan vibe. Also, I certainly knew of Gaudi yet had never really studied his work; but it’s impossible to hit the tourist spots in BCN without falling in love with his work. Food is very well-priced for the most part, and also very delicious.

Cons: Mediterranean culture gets hardcore here – good luck eating lunch before 1pm or dinner before 7pm. If you’re not into Gaudi or the beach, not a lot to do.

Recommend: the beach, Sagrada Familia and its crypt, Casa Mila, Guell Park (both free & paid parts)

 

Lisbon streets

Lisbon, Portugal (4 nights)

Level of attachment: None.

Pros: Everything’s fairly cheap. The local liquors – namely ginjinha, licor beirao, and port – are all fabulous, as are the egg tarts (pastel de nata). It’s possible to buy locally sourced, functionally useful souvenirs made of the signature Portuguese material, cork, without breaking the bank.

Cons: I was kind of expecting this having seen the grunginess of Macau, a former Portuguese territory, when I visited, but Lisbon’s kind of a dump. It makes Philadelphia look clean in comparison – no easy task. Sunday afternoon was especially bad, with the alleyways looking like the aftermath of a marathon except that the cups covering the streets had previously been full of booze not water.

Go see: Cascais, Boca do Inferno, Cabo da Roca, Tower of Belem

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