Wow, this has taken up a lot more time to draw than I thought it would, but I wanted to talk about some of the places I’ve been. I’ve been really fortunate to have travelled
so many countries, and a large majority of these countries are in Europe.
I was born in Vietnam, but grew up in Belgium. For those who don’t know where that is, we’re between France, The Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg and our capital Brussels, is the heart of the EU. The thing about living in Belgium/Europe is that it gives you a great pass to travel to all of the other countries in the EU, very easily – and cheapily if you know when and how to book your flight (leave a comment if you want me to do a blog post on how to book cheap city trips).
I’ve seen quite a bit of Europe, but not half as much as I want to – Scandinavia and Switzerland are still on my bucket list! Some of these travels are from many years ago, so I might not recall all the details, but let me walk you through it and tell you about all the things I DO remember:
So as I said, I grew up in Belgium. I lived in Flanders most of my life, then moved to Brussels for 3 years after I graduated and finally ended up settling in Antwerp a few years ago. Eventhough I’m currently living in Australia, Antwerp is where my actual home base is.
AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands
Amsterdam is about a 3 hour drive from Antwerp. I’ve been there many times and my favourite thing to do when I’m in Amsterdam is to eat “maatjes“. They are basically herrings, soaked in preserving liquid, eaten raw, with a good dose of chopped onions. I’m telling you, it’s de-li-cious! The second best thing about Amsterdam, imho, is the architecture. The Dutch are very open minded and I feel it also reflects in their buildings, especially their modern architecture. Something else that’s typically Dutch is the so called “grachtenpand” (pictured in my drawing). These houses are quite narrow and often quite high as well. You can spot them alongside the canal, one squeezed after another. Doesn’t it make you happy just looking at them? I can’t imagine how wonderful it must be to live in a house like this.
Aah, Pisa and their leaning tower ^^(pictured in my drawing). I visited Pisa with a few friends back in 2014, and because it’s a fairly small town, we only stayed for 1 day. But that’s plenty since the only thing everybody is interested in really, is the famous leaning tower of Pisa. This one monement however, can attract quite a crowd and quite a laugh as well. The one thing I will never forget, was that when you stopped taking silly pictures yourself, and looked around, you could see pretty much 99% of all other people doing the exact same thing: pretending to lean against the tower. What’s even more silly is that you’re not seeing this through the camera. So basically people are trying to align with the tower so it looks like they’re touching the tower in the photo, but what you see is random people standing in awkward positions, which is super awkward and also super hilarious. That being said, everybody is guilty of this iconic pose – including myself!
After Pisa, we headed to Florence for a couple of days. Florence has great architecture and sculptures. You should visit the Bargello National Museum if you have a chance. My friends spent a whole day in it. Me however, I couldn’t last that long. We had great dinner at this one place (of which I’ve forgotten the name). I remembered we looked on Tripadvisor for the best nearest restaurant and were told to go to this place. It was run by an old couple, and I believe it was a little outside of the touristy area. It wasn’t really big and there were a few people dining when we arrived. One of the best pastas of my live I had there. And on top of that, the couple was super friendly. If only I could remember the name of it… .
What I do remember though, was the ridiculous amount of Illy coffees we had in Florence. And like a real Italian, we ordered an espresso and stood at the counter to drink it. Great fun and all, until you had one too many of course. That’s when your heart reminds you that it exist, by beating the hell out of your chest.
I didn’t visit Rome on my Florence trip. I think I must have been there in 2009 or 2010. I booked the trip with my boyfriend at the time and we spent 4 days in Italy’s capital. I think 3 to 4 days is enough to see everything. The touristy part of Rome isn’t that big really, and I remembered we walked everywhere. The food was pretty expensive, but I guess that’s because we’re not locals. And it was so damn hot when we were there! I must have gone back to the hotel to shower at least 2 or 3 times a day.
Naturally, we visited Vatican City – which was a huge queue. And of course also the Colosseum (pictured in my drawing). And I remember seeing a documentary about the gladiators walking outside the building. Now, this can be quite tricky if you don’t know what they’re trying to do. They will approach you, being all friendly and stuff, and maybe even put a helmet on your head. Then they will ask you if you want a picture, which they offer to take for you, ON YOUR OWN PHONE. So you might think: Oh, it’s on MY PHONE, so it’s free right? Or worse case scenario you just tip them a few Euros. Haha, don’t be fooled my friend, it could cost you as much as 20 Euros, per gladiator! So you’ll quickly realise how expensive that could get. Just avoid them, do not make eye contact and especially don’t let them force you into posing with them, or just simply say ‘Sorry, I don’t have any money” and walk away.
Honestly, one of my least favourite trips, but that’s because I’m not so into calm and relaxing holidays. We were on the island for 6 days and all there was to do was eat, tan and sleep. You could sit beside the hotel pool all day or just go across the street and hit up a spot at the beach. My favourite thing at this point was the hotel’s buffet. I truly ejoyed my food, plus I would eat all kinds of desserts too!
Then after our 3rd day, we decided to go and rent a scooter to drive around the island. This was such a great idea. We were able to see some fantastic places with clear blue water. But then I realised I tend to doze off when I was sitting on the back of the scooter. Mainly because it was so hot and I get very sleepy with the warm weather. So then we decided to oomph up our game and rented a small car (Fiat of course!). With the car we could actually do a full circle around the island and we came across this really great place where they were kitesurfing. It was pretty awesome, but also really packed with people. Oh well, you can’t always win.
Madrid wasn’t as memorable to me as Barcelona, but we did have quite an adventure here. A friend of mine was doing some shopping at Zara, and I remembered she was trying on different kind of coats. So she couldn’t be bothered to go into a dressing room. She just tried it on in front of a mirror and she would put her bag on the floor or somewhere close to her. Then one time she put it on one of the display tables and turned to look at the mirror. When she turned back, her bag was gone! And luckily, I mean seriously luckily, she looked around and spotted this girl holding her handbag, she runs towards her and snatches the bag back, but the other girl claimed it was HER bag. She even scratched my friend’s hand when she threatened to call the police. Eventually the security guard spotted us and called the police. The thing is, people in Madrid – or at least the people who we spoke to that evening (yes, this happened at 8pm!); they don’t speak much English, so we ended up discussing for another hour or so at Zara, before the police drove us to a small hospital facility, where they desinfected my friend’s hand and after that dropped us off at the police station, where we had to wait for somebody to take our statements.
Thank god this one officer was on duty that night and she spoke pretty fluent English. What I took away from that conversation was: yes, Madrid has a lot of petty thiefs, but it’s also our responsibility to keep your belongings safe, which my friend failed to do. They gave us a ride back to our hotel and it was almost midnight. We didn’t even had dinner yet! Talking about food, Madrid is known for one of the best tapas in the world (pictured in my drawing). I realised tapas aren’t the cheapest things to order, but oh man, those tapas are so goooood!
My favourite city in Europe! I’ve been to Barcelona 3 times and I just can’t get enough of it. There’s something I really love about this city. I remembered the first time I went there, we took a bus out of the city centre and ended up riding a cable car up to this incredible place, which had a sort of amusement park AND a fantastic view over the city. The last time I was there, was back in 2015. It was only for the weekend, but I had such a great time. We didn’t have any plans, just a few restaurants we wanted to check out. And one of the most memorable meals I had was at a restaurant called Luzia. We ordered some entrees and then pizzas as a main. Wow, it was so good. Woodfire pizzas, so simple, but so right. Everything about it was so right. And the atmosphere was fantastic. I think we went there around 8pm and the place was full – Spaniards eat quite late; but it wasn’t hectic or anything. It was very pleasant, just what you want a restaurant visit to be. Oh, and they also had a juice bar. I can’t remember exactly which one I ordered, but feel free to order any. I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed.
Oh Paris, the most romantic city in the world – or at least that’s what they say. Paris is only a 3 hour drive from my mom’s house. And I remembered going there a lot when I was little. Paris has changed a lot over the past decade. I’m sure it still holds its title of most romantic city, but truth be told, it was a lot more romantic without the armed guards patrolling the Eiffel Tower. But Paris to me is more than the tourist attractions, I’ve seen them more than once, and I’m okay with not seeing them each time I visit the city. Nowadays when I go to Paris, I usually go shopping at Champs-Elysees and eat some great French pastries. One of our longtime family traditions however, is to visit Chinatown. Not really to hang out there, but to do grocery shopping at Tang Freres AND buy a dozen of “banh mi“: Vietnamese bread rolls, mostly with pate, meat, coriander and pickled carrots (pictured in my drawing) to bring back to Belgium. We always end up distributing it amongst friends and family, because nobody says no to banh mi from Paris!
When I think of London, I usually think of rain and overcast weather. Same goes for Belgium really. We don’t get many sunny days in a year. I don’t think any North European countries does really, but I think the UK might have the biggest share of downpours of all. The good thing is that London is only 1,5 hour away by Eurostar train. That’s super fast! So if I crave some high tea in the morning, I just go online and book a return ticket for 100/150 Euros and be there by noon to sip on my tea and nibble my selection of sandwiches and desserts. How delightful indeed!
I’ve been to London twice and each time, for some reason, I always end up on one of those tourist buses. Maybe it’s because I’m not so familiar with the London Tube system, or maybe simply because it’s just easier to sit on the bus and let it take you to all the main places without you worrying about heading the wrong way. The buses aren’t cheap, but they normally offer a 48hour ticket as well, which usually covers my stay, so that’s pretty easy.
That’s it for my European tour. I’ve been to other places here and there as well, but it would take me forever to list all of them. And I’m sorry if this blogpost is a little long, compared to my previous posts. However, I do hope you’ve enjoyed reading it and if you did, please give it a like. And I’m also very curious to know if anybody else lives in Europe and loves the advantage of travelling within the EU, or if anybody’s been to any of the cities I’ve listed. Please feel free to share any of your great tips in the comments.