4 weeks in Europe

4 weeks in Europe

We’ve been back from our 4-week holiday in Europe for just over 3 months now. I was in a post holiday depression for a week – sitting at a desk in front of a computer hardly compares with exploring the world with your best friend and lover. People keep on telling me it’s what I need to do in order to travel again, but I know there’s a better way to approach it.

Since being back, I’ve wanted to not simply get back into a groove. I didn’t want to come back and do the same things in the same way as I did when I left. But I feel like I’m a that groove. And I so desperately want to get out of it again. Going on holiday was a great routine-breaker. It allowed us to relax and see a bunch of different things! I’ve been working on making a holiday book (in InDesign!) out of our photos and my diary entries while we were there.

There’s no way that I’m going to cover an entire 4 week holiday in blog-format, even though I kept a diary so that we wouldn’t forget it all. There’s too much to tell, and I’m sure I’ll be recounting tales of this trip until I die. So I’ll keep it to an overview and tell you about the things that made me think.

There are some more photos at the bottom of the post.

Our trip was 4 weeks long as I mistakenly booked 4 weeks instead of 3, which wasn’t the worst mistake I’ve ever made. We flew into Munich. We took an amazing train trip to Venice through the alps, and then carried on taking trains through the rest of Italy – to Verona, Milan, Florence, and Rome. We then flew to Schipol airport in Amsterdam, stayed one beautiful night on a yacht in the quaint village of Marken before spending a few days in Amsterdam with our friend Brad Walker. We then took a train to Berlin and then another back to Munich, before flying out the next evening.

Our favourite city was Amsterdam, and we think our next best was Venice. But all were amazing, and if you forced me to go live in any city I’d happily go without a fuss. I think we would have enjoyed the Italian cities waaay more if it wasn’t sooo hot. I naively perceived Europe to be consistently cold, despite having visited Greece in summer and being told by numerous people how hot Italy was in summer. I’ve since learned that most places get hot during the summer and it’s the winter temperatures that can get so cold. Durban is very mild. I did take suncream and didn’t get sunburned if you were wondering. Even though we are used to Durban heat, we don’t often, or don’t ever, go wandering around in the heat for 8 or more hours a day.

We went to a lot of museums and churches. There are a lot of churches in Italy – over 100 just in Venice! By the time we left Rome we didn’t want to see another church as we had seen St.Peters, the mother of them all, and swore not to intentionally see another piece of Renaissance art. The churches we saw were massive, impressive and beautiful – simply mind blowing. The grandeur and detail were magnificent. Most of these buildings (and some paintings and other pieces of art) took a looooong time to build – some longer than the original architect’s lifetime. The longest I’ve worked on something is for about 2 years. These architects of old invented new things in order to get their main thing done. And they worked on things they wouldn’t be alive to see finished. That’s commitment. That takes guts and is inspirational. I’d like to do work that lasts my lifetime, and possibly even longer.

Italy felt old. But Rome was another story! We couldn’t believe we were walking around buildings and ruins that were over 2000 years old. There were ruins everywhere in Rome! In Italy, especially Venice, there’s quite a lot of run down buildings – but they’re beautiful run down buildings, which makes them all the more lovable. Most of the cafés and restaurants were the same which, thankfully, meant they were typically Italian and had a charm about them. The piazzas and little alleyways were beautiful. The scenery and atmosphere felt ancient and beautiful. We did happen on some modern exhibits (we didn’t go the Milan/World Expo) and were impressed by some of the technology they were using. Italy’s food was glorious – prosciutto and melon (spanspek), gelato, espresso – amazing. I was thinking about trying to eat more like a vegan before the trip, but after sampling their cured meats there’s no way I’ll be able to do that – ham, cheese, fruit and coffee for breakfast please!

The public transport, especially when combined with Google maps (we bought a sim card in Italy), was impressive. We didn’t use a car, and although we walked a lot (especially in the beginning), we got familiar with public transport. We didn’t try cycling as a form of transport (thats for another trip) but loved how people got around by bike in Amsterdam and Munich. Rome’s public transport was a bit inconsistent in timing – but it showed that not only Africa works in African time. Some of our metro and bus rides in Rome were steamy – if I wasn’t dripping from the heat, someone else was and their sweaty back or arms were often pressed up against mine – we were like sweaty sardines. That didn’t happen all the time though and, like I mentioned earlier, if it wasn’t so hot I’m sure we would have loved the experience even more – but it made for good memories and stories.

We loved Marken and Amsterdam (and it wasn’t because of the brownies we ate) – it was cool, pretty, well organised, and had plenty of shops that had amazing stuff in. To be honest, the idea of Amsterdam I have in my head feels more like home than Durban does. Their museums and exhibits were world class. And the food was amazing – their baked goods were the best. Or maybe their fruits were. Kipling was especially good, as were their stroopwafels.

My, how small-minded I was

What we realised after a while was that there were no/very little non-white people (non-Europeans?). Coming from Durban, where we’re the only white people when walking to the shop, you can see why this would seem weird. It’s almost as if we’ve started to see ourselves as black people (I know we’re African). When we saw these huge parks full of white people it was very strange. The concept of public spaces being full of only white people was weird. And these people looked as if they were celebrating the sun. In some of the parks in Munich and Berlin there were even people tanning totally naked. But what was really cool about these massive parks, besides being massive and beautiful, was that people were doing all kinds of activities – and were loving what they were doing. People just did what they wanted to do and no one batted an eyelid.

When we were asked about South Africa and Durban, we began to consciously think about where we lived (far way from Europe that’s for sure), how we live and the people we live with. My conclusion is that we have a very special group of people in Durban, and in South Africa. We have some weird people, whom we should love! A few conversations showed me that politics are fairly similar in all countries – South Africa simply has an extra entertainment factor to it.

When I asked people where they were from, I realised my geography is bad – very bad – but I was interested in them. I didn’t even know exactly where some countries where, let alone the cities in them. South Africa is pretty easy to locate on your brain’s map – the bottom of Africa. Basically, I need to do more travelling.

I also realised that there are poor people in Europe. Before you laugh at me, it’s something I’d never thought about before – just like not thinking about how many white people there were in Europe. Just because the Rand-Euro exchange rate is ridiculously in favour of Europeans, and just because we import a lot of expensive stuff from Europe, doesn’t make everyone in Europe rich. Knowing this made me slightly happier for some reason.

What to see, what to do

From now on, we’re not going to take people’s word for everything/anything when it comes to travel. A pinch of salt may be what’s required. A lot of people told me that I’d love Berlin – we didn’t so much. Others said we’d love Florence – but it wasn’t our favourite. Other’s said we’d hate Amsterdam – we loved it. A guide-book said we should walk this one street because it was amazing – but it was the most boring street ever! I understand that you have to read someone’s advice and kind of follow someone’s opinion, but some of our best moments were in between the big sights and on the journey to a landmark – which is too true of life. I did have quite a severe case of FOMO – I wanted to go everywhere and do everything, and not miss out on anything. And I wanted to walk there and back, and get lost, so that I could experience everything. Our feet got really sore because of this. But after a while, thankfully, my FOMO subsided, and we weren’t so bent on ticking things off of our to-see list. We began balancing sight-seeing, fun and relaxation. One of our fondest memories was cycling on a 4-wheel help-my-trap in a garden in Rome, and then reading on our towels afterwards – it wasn’t planned, but it was so fun.

Different things

We learned that there are better and different ways of doing things. Supermarkets operated differently. Toilets operated differently. Public transport operated differently. They drive on a different side of the road. They speak different languages. There were a lot of differences, but there was also a lot of similarities – which is also fairly mind-blowing, if you think about it. Seeing all the differences has made me stop being so proud of how I do things, and has made me start to question everything more. Why do we live like this? Why do we live so far from our families? Why do we have so many single-story houses? Why do we have so much crime? Why, how , when…

Berlin showed us that a place’s history influences the present in big ways. Berlin was awesome, but it felt hostile in ways I can’t fully express. Everyone seemed to be expressing their freedom in very different ways – but everyone was chilled with the way everyone did things. It felt like you could be very different and fit in with some other very different people quite easily. There seemed to be no right or wrong over there. Sometimes we felt uncomfortable, and other times we embraced the new things. We couldn’t eat raw herrings in Amsterdam because they freaked us out, but we tried other things that we’d never done before.

Airbnb

The Airbnb experience was amazing. We always found our place, even if it meant walking past our road numerous times before seeing it. We only waited for our hosts twice and most of them were organised and ready for us. We really liked staying at people’s houses where they lived too – and where we could cook. If you visit a place and see its beauty then you’d be crazy not to spend time with locals, listening to their view of a city and country. Some of my favourite times on our holiday were sitting with foreign people (either locals or people from other countries) and chatting to them. We met French and Irish tourists during our stays in Airbnb places, as well as local Germans, local Italians and people from other parts of the world. We waaay preferred places with kitchens and on-site hosts! It was much more authentic. Our stay in Florence came packaged with a granny, a builder and a big dog called Archie – and they spoke English well (except for Archie) and were very friendly. They also made the best breakfasts ever!

Foooood!

We even tried a BonAppetour evening, which is like Airbnb, but for dining. In Florence, we went to a local’s house for dinner and she cooked us some really good food. The only problem was that her English was about as good as my Italian, so our conversation wasn’t so good that evening – but it was a great experience! Excluding that night we ate out seldom, so that when we did we could have a good experience, rather than searching for the cheapest restaurant in town – which would probably be McDonalds. We made eating out an occasion. We ate in, and bought supplies from supermarkets where we could – especially if there was a kitchen in the place we were staying at. Most things are more expensive in Europe, especially eating out. The supermarkets are only marginally more expensive, and strawberries are actually cheaper. We normally ate rice-cakes and bread and crackers for lunch. We would get cheese and ham or cured meat where possible and then we’d either end off with chocolate or with Nutella-topped rice-cakes (a new favourite of mine). I’ve taken on a few European foodie things now – adding curry powder to tomato sauce is the best (form Berlin), and topping rice cakes with Nutella (I think Nutella is Polish) is a win. All the beer was good. All the coffee was good.

I’m sure there’s a lot of stuff I’ve mistakenly left out, and some I’ve purposefully left out – but the more time you spend with me, the more you’ll hear. Here are some of our photos. We took a lot more.

Watching some river surfing in Munich.

Having dinner with Gaëlle and Alexander

Great dinner and an Italian test in Verona!

I mean, how ridiculous is that Milan train station!

Rome was so old and beautiful.

Marken and Volendam were quaint, beautiful and tasty!

Staying in Amsterdam with Brad was amazing. We loved it there.

Germans in the river – what a sight!