For years I had resisted trying a vacation in Europe for the simple reason: I hate flying. There’s more to it than the anxiety of flying over the ocean; there’s the annoying security checks, lay overs, and being stuck in a plane for 8 hours. No one said getting to Europe would be easy.
My first vacation to Europe required a year of planning. And you really need to take plenty of time if you are to adequately plan financially for a trip abroad. Spending money must be saved, and hotel reservations and airfare must be purchased months in advance, as well. In my case, I purchased air tickets 6 months in advance. Any later and they’d be sold out, or your seats will be scattered around the plane and you won’t be able to sit with your travel companion. Once your seats are secured, onward to hotel booking — especially if you’re going in the summer, like I did.
First stop: Amsterdam!
Modern debauchery in a historic city. This was a Nazi occupied city during WWII. After surviving the Nazis, these people must have decided life from here on out should be a party. Yes, sex is pretty much out in the open the way America is littered with coffee shops at every corner. But only an outsider would call it debauchery. The women of the red light district are beautiful. The canals are beautiful, the city is filled with museums and history, the Anne Frank House being one of the top tourist destinations. You’ll find musicians at every corner of the street. Live music from unheard of bands and solo artists; think American Idol on the streets.
My stay in Amsterdam was 5 days, but you can see it 4 days. The food was bland, but that’s the Mexican in me wanting to put tabasco sauce on everything.
Second stop: Paris!
“When good Americans die, they go to Paris,” said Oscar Wilde.
I was warned how rude French people are. Warned by people who can’t find Paris on the map, much less have ever set foot in France. I’ve been to Paris twice. Beautiful. Romantic. Delicious. And the French people are absolutely polite. Expect to gain a pound or two in Paris because Paris pastries are sinfully delicious. The Eiffel Tower is beautiful day or night. I made the climb of 700+ steps all the way to the top. Taking the lift requires hours waiting in line. Taking the stairs takes 30 minutes depending on your fitness, and no line.
Paris is definitely a city to visit again. If you have an appreciation for all things French, you will love Paris. My first visit was 5 days. My second visit was 3 days, and I still want to go back.
Third stop: London!
God save the Queen! Or rather, as comedian Eddie Izzard says, God ATTACK the Queen!
I had heard that London was the most overpriced city in Europe. Not true (I’ll get to that later). London is a rich city full of tea, English breakfasts and that huge ferris wheel they call The London Eye. Buckingham Palace is nice to walk by, but don’t expect the Queen to be waving from her window.
My favorite place in London was Camden Town. The neighborhood is an outdoors/indoors flea market, rather upscale but affordable. You’ll find the best treasures from clothing, antiques, music, furniture to cheap eats. Definitely a must stop-and-shop area of London.
Like Amsterdam, I found a lot of the food bland but affordable. Subways are clean. You’ll find many solo musicians within the subway stations performing. I stayed 5 days in London, and 5 days was just right.
Fourth stop: Zurich, Switzerland.
What can I say about Zurich, except it is the most overpriced city ever, as must be the rest of Switzerland.
In my defense, my husband chose Zurich, I was dragged along. The exchange rate isn’t the killer, it’s anything for sale. A small cup of coffee can cost you 7 Swiss Francs! In US dollars that’s about $7.42, not including tax, just for a small cup of coffee! There’s no way around eating small meals if you’re on a budget. There are no dollar menus in Zurich. Zurich McDonald’s has a $5 dollar menu. You can end up spending between 20-30 Swiss Francs per meal, per person.
So why Zurich? Well, if there is any reason to visit Zurich, it is for the Swiss Alps. My, what majestic beauty. I visited the top of 2 mountains and it was literally the top of the world. One was a snow capped mountain, the other was not. Unfortunately, the only way to reach these mountain tops is by tour bus. There was absolutely no way to reach them unless you went on a tour bus. I hate those things. But it served its purpose. They drive you up, shove you into a cable car, and lift you up to the mountain for hours of fun. But honestly, I really saw no reason for Switzerland other than experiencing the Swiss Alps.
We stayed 6 days, but you only need 4 days.
Fifth stop: Vienna, Austria.
I really loved Vienna. There is one thing I need to say about Vienna: Schönbrunn Palace! I spent one entire day at Schönbrunn Palace, and still did not finish seeing all of it.
The gardens are the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen. The entire air surrounding Schönbrunn Palace smells of roses and the cleanest oxygen you could breathe. You cannot go to Vienna and NOT spend a day at the Palace. The grounds are huge, and you’ll spend half the day just exploring them.
Vienna has a lot of classical music concerts. The exchange rate is fair. Food is good. Subways are a little dirty, but otherwise, Vienna has a young adult feel to it with many shopping venues, museums and a National Library that should be seen and admired for its architectural features and centuries-old library books. Vienna really is a city where stopping and smelling the roses is advisable — every park is filled with countless roses and flowers. I spent 5 days in Vienna, and those 5 days were good.
A few tips for traveling to Europe
If a venue, museum, or whatever point of interest advises you to buy tickets online, DO IT. I did when it advised me and it paid off. Often places will have 2 entrances; one entrance for online ticket holders, and another for everyone else. Online ticket holders have immediate access where as everyone else must wait in line. Let me give you an example. My online ticket to The Anne Frank House gained me immediate entry. Those without an online ticket were in a line a quarter of a mile long. And they don’t let everyone in at once.
Europeans are polite. They’ll meet you half way if you are unable to speak the language. I did observe that Americans in Europe can be arrogant, so don’t be that ugly American who is overly patriotic, insisting that they communicate in English.
When booking a hotel, go cheap. You’ll be spending 75% of your time outside the hotel, not in your hotel. Try to get a hotel that offers free WiFi as internet is not easy to come by in Europe (unless you sneak into McDonalds for free WiFi).
And last, what to wear? I’ve only been to Europe during the month of June. And during June you think summer — hot, sticky, heatwaves. Well, yes, if you are vacationing in America. In Europe, no! In the evenings, temperatures can drop to the upper 50’s, lower 60’s (F). Early mornings it can feel like it’s in the upper 40’s. And this is during the month of June! During the day, it can be between 70 and 90 degrees. So if you intend to be out all day until evening, take a sweater. Because it can get breezy and chilly after 6:00PM.
And there you have it. One American’s romp around Europe. Next stop: a tour of Italy and Prague, Czech Republic.
Occasional violinist and trumpet player, avid runner in training for upcoming marathons, and lover of the French language, STEVEN GARZA lives in Brownsville, TX, where he and Eddie have been together for 10 years. He has 4 dogs, loves his flame red jeep wrangler and his tattoos. Steve respects all beliefs, faiths, politics — but just don’t shove it in his face.