Travels Around Europe: Part One
Summer 2011 consisted of many things for me, but the best by far was a trip around France, Italy and the Netherlands. Travelling around Europe by train for a month with my boyfriend has left me with so many fantastic memories and I have been lucky enough to see the most beautiful places, some of which I am determined to return to one day. Here are a few brief notes from my time abroad and I hope that my experiences and photographs encourage you to visit these places and enjoy them as much as I did.
Paris, the perfect start to our trip around Europe. Beautiful, majestic buildings hid around every corner just waiting to be discovered – I’ve never been somewhere so impressive. No more than a thirty second walk from our little hotel, we came across a bakery (no. 96) on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin (near Gare de l’Est). We bought a pain au chocolat and a pain au raisin, and upon my first mouthful I was lost for words – I can honestly say they were the best I have ever tasted! I have vowed to return to that wonderful bakery one day.
I highly recommend using the metro in Paris. In an attempt to save some money and see as much of the city as possible, we walked everywhere. Needless to say, we had very much underestimated how big it was! We obviously made a point of seeing some of the most famous places in Paris – the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Louvre. The Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame were both wonderful places to visit but the real highlight for me was the Louvre. We were there just before the tourist season was in full swing (early June), and only queued for ten minutes to get in. As we had walked around Paris, we had seen some incredible buildings, but nothing like this. Imagine the largest building you can, then double it. Add on some water features and beautiful gardens that seem to go on forever, and you’ve got an idea of what it’s like. We spent a long afternoon inside the Louvre, admiring everything from sculptures and paintings to jewellery, and we only saw about a third of the collections. For me, the Louvre is one place not to miss on a trip to Paris.
The next stop on our travels was Nice, part of the French Riviera, where we stayed in a simple hostel in the old town. In the narrow, winding streets we wandered around market stalls, smelt delicious food being made at bakeries and restaurants and were caught up in the hustle and bustle of tourists and locals alike. I felt that the old town was the perfect place to be on our stay here. Everywhere was easily within walking distance and with such beautiful scenery it always felt so relaxing and enjoyable wherever we went.
Every morning we would walk just down the street from our hostel and purchase fruit and some sort of mouth-watering pastry for breakfast – it was the best way to start a morning. There were so many delightful treats on every street, in every square – we could easily have eaten crepes, pastries and ice-cream to our heart’s content. I was really surprised (and pleased!) about the vast amount of ice-cream that was available. One stall we came across had 96 different flavours, and about six staff members trying to serve the constant crowds around them! We were also only a stone’s throw away from the beach immediately in front of the old town. It was rather rocky and it took a while to get comfortable but once you were, the hot sun and the sound of the waves lapping against the shore soon made you forget about it and enjoy the moment. Castle Hill (Colline du Chateau) is also worth a visit while in Nice. You can take the steps or the lift up to the top where you get the most spectacular views of the city, can stroll around the park and admire the old ruins and the beautiful waterfall there. From Nice, we boarded a costal train and begun our trip through Italy…
Milan, the fashion capital of Italy was our first stop in this amazing country. We stayed a little out of the centre, in Hotel Tirreno on Piazza Aspromonte. Again, it was simple and cheap but the room was spacious and we even had a balcony, which was a bonus. My favourite memory of our time in Milan has got to be an amazing restaurant we found, about a fifteen minute walk away from Piazza Aspromonte, called La Cuccuma. Although it is a pizzeria, it also sells a lot of fresh fish and has a very nautical theme. We were so thrilled with our find that we went there two nights in a row, and both times they had live music, which was a real treat. On the first night I had a calzone and I was blown away by how good it was. It sounds simple I know, but the flavours were like nothing I’d ever had before; it was absolutely delicious and is one of my favourite meals from the entire trip.
When exploring the city centre, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II should be on your list of places to go if you love shopping. Even for those who don’t, it is a beautiful and very impressive building, well worth a wander round. While you’re there, it’s impossible to miss the stunning cathedral looking out over the square. However, if you want to escape the busy streets for something a bit more relaxing, I recommend heading over to Parco Sempione, an enormous park in the city centre. We spent almost a whole day sunbathing there and it’s an ideal place to have some well earned rest, especially if you’ve spent all day shopping!
From Milan we caught the train to the Genoa, a vibrant port city with a wealth of things to do. A visit to Genoa isn’t complete without seeing the aquarium, one of the largest in Europe. The aquarium is right in front of the harbour and is a giant of a building. There were quite a few times when I thought we were coming to the end of the aquarium, but we’d turn another corner and it would keep on going! It wasn’t too busy when we went in mid-June, so we wandered around at our own pace and saw many things from a giant turtle to sharks and from manatees to jellyfish. Believe it or not, there was also a Finding Nemo tank, which had all the different types of fish from the film in! It was fairly expensive (just under €20) but it was well worth it and is definitely an enjoyable way to spend a few hours.
We spent a lot of time walking around the extensive port, which proved to be very interesting and also very busy. There were quite a few people hassling us and trying to sell us things around the aquarium, but they could easily be avoided. There were many fascinating boats of all shapes and sizes and in the evenings it seemed as though half the city was down by the port enjoying themselves. There were also a lot of restaurants looking out on to the port and there really was a fantastic atmosphere there. I think that Genoa is a city that has lots to offer and many places to explore, somewhere worth a visit for at least a few days.
…Travels Around Europe: Part 2 – coming soon…
All photographs copyright © Briony Latter