Thursday, November 15, 2007

Europe Recap

We never really got around to it, but for those interested, here is the account of our last few weeks in Europe.

After all the glories of Rome, we were a little overwhelmed and exhausted, and Florence was the perfect place to land next. Sunny and slower-paced, we got to enjoy a city where you could walk literally EVERYWHERE without even requiring the use of public transportation. Carlos' highlight was the bistecca fiorentina, which is definitely a culinary marvel. Amy fell in love with the gelato, which was the best we had in all of Italy. Being surrounded by so much renaissance art was also incredible. All the photos can be found [here].

We only allocated an afternoon and evening in Milan. This was because 1) it is a ridiculously expensive city, and 2) We wanted to maximize our time in Paris and give ourselves some down time in Brussels before the transatlantic flight to Mexico.

The first challenge to our adventure came when our train out of Florence was delayed by several hours. We ended up arriving just before sunset in Milan. Then, to make things worse, the moment we set foot outside the hotel, a gentle rain began to fall. We did not let this stop us, however. Our main goal in Milan was to see the Castello Sforsezco, and then possibly the shopping district. We set out with our umbrella and a map and made the most of our 15 hours in Milan. The castle entrance was closed by the time we arrived, but we gave ourselves the tour of the impressive outer walls, and truthfully the rain and nightfall made it even more surreal.

After that, the rain stopped and we ventured into the shopping district, which totally blew our minds. We spent the shortest time in Milan but it was there that we maxxed out our camera's memory card in the fastest amount of time. We both adored the city, but also discovered that it could be a very hazardous place for our bank account. The shopping is astounding. The architecture was impressive. We would love to go back and thoroughly explore someday. All of our Milan photos are [here]


No first-time trip around Europe would have been complete without visiting the City of Lights. We generally have a rule that to stay in any part of the world, we must be able to manage basic conversation in the language. This rule held up pretty well in Barcelona with Catalan/Spanish, and then in Italy with our combined knowledge of Italian, which put together was something to reckon with. However, we were so determined to go to Paris that we put aside our total lack of basic competency in the language and figured we'd just go for it. A pretty risky decision to make in the one city where people are least likely to speak any other language.

It was completely worth it. Despite the change in climate to a colder temperature, plus some rain, we got out and saw the essentials: Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and a gorgeous fall afternoon walk for several miles along the Seine River. On top of this, we were able to witness firsthand the frenzy that swept into town for the Rugby World Cup, being hosted by France. It was evident everywhere, most notably at the Eiffel Tower, where a giant inflated rugby ball was stuck into the center of the tower and a massive TV screen on the outside broadcasted all the updates.

Not only were we absolutely taken aback by the utter gorgeousness of this city, but we really enjoyed the diversity, the elegant culture, the intricate but reliable metro system, and the food, of course.

As far as the language, the stereotype was true in our case. Most Parisians had little patience for tourists or anyone else with minimal French. However, this turned out not to be a problem for us.

First of all, we found refuge in the predominantly Muslim immigrant neighborhood near our hotel. Along the main street, it seemed nobody actually spoke French, nor did many of them seem to have a language in common. This resulted in a lot of hand motioning and nonverbal communication, and Carlos and I blended right in, at least in terms of language. Second, you pick up a language fast when there's no choice, because otherwise you don't eat, get on the subway, or accomplish any other essential activity. After four days in Paris, we were already managing the basics of ordering fast food, buying metro tickets, and general politeness in French. And the Parisians, in turn, rewarded this with courtesy and even a smile and correction when we got it wrong. They're very careful guardians of their language, and we would be too if we were fluent in the beauty that is French.

Anyway, if we could master the language, Paris could quickly become one our most desirable cities. [here] are the rest of our Paris photos. Below is a short video clip from the Eiffel Tower in all of its gilttery glory.

We came full-circle. Our arrival to Europe ocurred in the northern European city of Dusseldorf, Germany, and we were now only a few hours away in Belgium. In the geographic and political center of Europe, we found that with language, it was anything goes. French, Flemish, Dutch, German, English, and who knows what else were spoken everywhere, including on TV. We were not particularly charmed by this city, which also seemed to be the most socially unstable of all the places we visited. However, Brussels will hold a special place in our hearts for this reason:


For those not familiar with this delicacy, it was our fast food of choice in Europe. It's a Turkish dish, essentially the mother of the gyro more familiar to Chicagoans, and it includes lettuce, vegetables, sauces, and special secret ingredients. Every city we visited had dozens of places serving döner sandwiches, and in each region, the döner took on a different character, adding in the local ingredients, but no matter what, a good döner was almost guaranteed to be the cheapest and most fulfilling meal around. For the entirety of the trip, Barcelona held the prize of most delicious döner, but Brussels swiftly changed that with a visit to The Sultans of Kebab next to La Bourse. It was so amazing, Amy had to take a picture.

After that, it was a lot of rest and relaxation and then....Mexico.

In general, we are dying to return someday. Amy favors Rome for the food, culture, history, and down-to-earth sensibility (believe it or not). Carlos prefers Milan for the elegance, size, and shopping choices. Both of us agree that Paris is a place where you could spend years just trying to scratch the surface. All three top our list of places we must return to. No matter what, it was the trip of a lifetime, no doubt. We will never forget it.

To finish this entry, we'll post some photos from our last few days in Barcelona with Chicago friends Dennis, Tanya, and Ashvin:

watching the Bears game at 2:30 am

Magic Fountain

pregame tapas and sangría

This guy was a bit liquored up and convinced
that Carlos was Barcelona's veteran Mexican
player Rafa Marquez, despite the fact that it was
two hours before game time and Carlos was
devouring a steak.




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