About 10 years ago I had the opportunity to live and work in the UK for a year. Prior to this trip I had been to England twice for vacations. Why do I bring this up? Well over the last few years I have noticed that many people are creating personal bucket lists and traveling through Europe is often on their list. I’ve never written a bucket list, and prior to ten years ago I never had any intention of traveling to Europe at any point in my life.
But then this amazing opportunity presented itself and I literally had 24 hours to say yes or no. I said yes, of course, and 4 days later I was on a 747 heading to London.
I began working in a small town in England several days after arriving. I settled in, met lots of very friendly people, and learned how to get around on my own. I even learned how to drive again, on the other side of the road, without hitting too many things (the roads are so bloody narrow).
Traveling between the UK and anywhere in Europe is quite cheap. You can either fly for next to nothing or take the train. Having discovered this I made a plan to visit a new location one weekend each month.
Initially my travels took me to Manchester, Liverpool, Stratford-upon-Avon (home of Shakespeare), Birmingham, Bath, and many other small towns. I have to say one of my all time favorite stops was in Windsor. The entire town is absolutely incredible and I really loved touring Windsor Castle and watching the changing of the guards.
After a few months it was time to start exploring Europe.
I flew to Rome in Italy and spent several days eating delicious pizza and Gelato while visiting beautiful places such as St Peter’s Basilica, the Trevi Fountain, and of course the Colosseum.
I did two trips to Spain, and I would go back any time. The first trip was to Barcelona where we spent our days either on the very popular Nova Icària Beach or down by the marina known as PortOlimpic, home of some delicious restaurants and very popular bars.
The second trip was a weekend in Madrid which included a trip to the bull fights. Even though it was already October the sidewalks were packed with people everywhere we went. I remember wondering why it was so busy. And the pickpockets, oh, they were everywhere too. They bumped into us a few times but thankfully we didn't lose anything.
On each trip I noticed that the culture in Spain seemed quite similar to the culture in France. The people are very laid back. The ones that live in the heart of any of the popular cities typically live in small, quaint apartments. They shop at local outdoor markets several times a week and their work schedule is quite different from what we are accustomed to in North America. For example, I noticed in Barcelona that many people started work around 8 a.m. They took 3 or 4 hours off in the afternoon to enjoy lunch outside at a local restaurant, and then went back to work for a few hours before heading home. Their lives don’t revolve around their work, like ours do.
Ah, yes, Heidelberg, Germany was the perfect place to visit in the fall. All of the leaves were changing color, and the countryside was absolutely breathtaking.
We visited the ruins of the Heidelberg Castle, the outdoor markets, and a brewery where we ate German pretzels, sauerkraut and Spätzle. The 3 day weekend was over way too fast.
While I was overseas I managed to visit many different places in England. As well, I went to Wales and to Dublin, Ireland. My one regret is that I didn’t make time to go to Scotland, especially after listening to everyone else’s wonderful stories about Scotland.
My 3 day weekend in Dublin seemed to be focused on visiting as many pubs as possible except for the time we spent taking a tour through Dublin on the double-decker tour bus.
As we walked through the streets of Dublin we found that in many areas there was literally a pub on every corner. We had breakfast at a pub, lunch at a different pub and spent the evening drinking at yet a different pub. And of course the evening didn’t end there. Just when I thought we were ready to go back to the hotel I was told that it was time for Indian food. So we headed over and ate curry at 3 a.m. before going back to the hotel.
Saturday afternoon was spent standing amongst the locals watching football at, of course, a pub.
We had a wonderful time, but perhaps we would have actually visited more sights if we had done some planning ahead of time. Or maybe not.
My trip to Paris, France was very special. I signed up for a senior’s bus tour (coach holiday). Aside from one other woman, everyone on the bus was 30 to 50 years older than me. They were so much fun! Every morning when I boarded the bus they would all ask if I slept well, and their favorite song to sing on the bus was “Build Me Up Buttercup”. If that doesn’t put you in a happy mood, nothing will.
We boarded the coach on Friday morning in England and by dinner time we were in the heart of Paris. It was the one and only time that I traveled through the super-fast Channel Tunnel. We stayed on our coach and it actually boarded the high-speed train. Thirty-five minutes after leaving England we were in France.
Saturday was the first day of summer and the first time in years that they decided to turn the lights back on at night on the Eiffel Tower. The line up to go to the top of the tower was 3 hours long. We didn’t wait because we only had a day to see so many other places. We visited the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Elysees on Saturday.
After a wonderful 4 hour visit to the Palace of Versailles (once home of Louis XIV) on Sunday morning, we were ready to head home.
Actually I don’t really think I was ready to leave. The weekend flew by and there was so much more to see and do, but at the same time, when you know you only have a few days at a certain location it is amazing how much you can accomplish in a short period of time. I will never forget my senior’s bus tour!
I haven’t been back to Europe but I hope to one day. I would love to visit Austria and Switzerland and maybe do a stop in Barcelona again. We’ll see.