…as told through Audrey Hepburn gifs.
If you followed along with my rabid Instagram story frenzy, you may have noticed that I flew the coop, jumped the pond, and had me a good old-fashioned Roman holiday for a couple weeks.
Don’t begrudge a classic film nerd her classic film gif use 😜
It was a whirlwind adventure, with (thankfully!) minimal logistical snags: no flight debacles or lost luggage, new experiences and sights every day, catching up with old friends and making a handful of new ones along the way. And I kept finding inspiration for new post ideas– everything from how to stay fresh coming off the red-eye to the lessons learned from the overall experience. But for now, I’ll just start with some of my highlights.
10) The train rides through Switzerland
If anyone hasn’t let you in on this secret yet, the Swiss Alps are stunning– particularly as the backdrop to the pastel blue Alpine lakes. This was my first time visiting the country, and taking the trains from Zürich → Bern → Lucerne → Bern → Interlaken → Mürren → Interlaken → Zürich was more than just getting from one place to another. It was its own form of sight-seeing. The Swiss must know this because getting a day pass for public transportation costs about 10 times as much as it had cost me in Madrid 😂 Regardless, I think it was worth every penny.
9) s h o p p i n g
Because shopping. In Europe. Need I say more.
8) The cathedrals
I wouldn’t describe myself as rigorously religious per se, but definitely spiritual (how millennial of me) in the vein of Christianity. Either way, as a self-diagnosed architecture nutcase, European cathedrals offer a particular draw to me. I explored four on this trip, including the Habsburg monastery of Königsfelden in Windisch, the Münster cathedral in Bern, the Reformierte Kirche Enge in Zürich, and the Catedral de la Almudena in Madrid. The art and architecture of these magnificent structures makes me wish I’d paid a bit more attention in my humanities classes in 11th grade– perhaps I’ll do a review before my next trip.
7) European nightlife
Even though salsa dancing didn’t quite work out like I’d hoped, I did manage to experience the infamous Madrid nightlife!… Except I got tired and went home around 4AM rather than the customary 6AM when public transportation reopens 😴 thankfully Ubers are fairly cheap, and the driver was considerate enough to help me when my building key wouldn’t open the front door.
6) Ambling through the Prado
(honorable mentions: the Rosengart Collection in Lucerne & the Landesmuseum in Zürich)
I love art museums. The Met is probably my favorite, followed closely by the Prado and then the Louvre & Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Going into the Prado with absolutely no knowledge of the art it housed, I was anything but disappointed. Everything from Goya’s dark canvases to Las Meninas by Velázquez to the ancient Greek and Roman sculptural artifacts, I loved it all. I will say, however, that the late-Gothic and early-Renaissance biblical scenes got very old very quickly.
However, I’ve also never really understood art beyond the modern era– Picasso is about as far along the modern art spectrum as I can enjoy. Perhaps this is due to the fact that I’ve never studied much art beyond the early Modern art movement/the early days of Picasso. Either way, the Rosengarts were great friends of Picasso’s and got first dibs on whichever of his pieces they took a liking to, so the exhibits there were truly something to behold. They also have a great collection of Paul Klee sketches, whom I had never heard of before.
And while I had originally thought the Landesmuseum in Zürich (a.k.a. the Swiss National Museum) was in a repurposed cathedral, I was actually mistaken– but it is still a very well-done museum and I definitely dropped some cash in the gift shop 🛍️🎁
5) The fooooooood
Okay, so I didn’t have much in the way of gelato, but I did try a few local cuisines! Birchermüesli is a traditional Swiss healthy breakfast food– it’s commonly described as very soggy oatmeal but it reminded me more of a light yogurt with a looottttt of fresh fruit mixed in with some granola. A classic breakfast there would also include some freshly baked local bread, butter, homemade confiture, and a coffee (which is what we’d normally think of as a double shot of espresso ☕). Birchermüesli may be one of my new favorite breakfast foods.
In Spain, the tapas blew me away. The Spanish people have very laid back days, but they tend to be rather long. Rather than 3 full meals, they start with a light breakfast, some meriendas throughout the day, a fairly heavy lunch around 2PM, more meriendas throughout the afternoon, and then a light dinner around 10PM before bedtime. Most local restaurants will have what looks like a sushi-bar full of meriendas/tapas, usually priced at 1-2 euros per (sizeable) piece, for people to snack on if they’re feeling peckish.
One market stood out to me in particular: el Mercado de San Miguel. The bites were a bit more expensive there but the quality of the food was also much higher, and the setting more beautiful. And having come from Switzerland a few days previously, everything in Spain felt refreshingly affordable.
(honorable mention: the WINE, but I don’t remember any of the vineyard labels 💔😭🍷)
4) Rediscovering my long-unexercised knack for (and interest in) languages
I was always very good at foreign languages in school– I studied some French up through 8th grade and enjoyed it, then switched to Spanish for the duration of high school because it was more practical to know in Texas. Having grown up in a German town, however, I was also peripherally interested in understanding a few basic German nouns and phrases, and I think I ended up quizzing my Swiss friend about German grammar just a bit too much 😝
In Spain, however, more of my vocabulary came back to me than I expected would, seeing as I’ve barely used Spanish in the last seven years. One particularly fun moment was wowing one of my American friends living in Madrid by using “cuál” instead of “que” in a counterintuitive-yet-grammatically-correct context. I found myself wondering how long it would take me to be conversational (and eventually fluent) in Spanish and French and any other languages I might want to pick up in/for Europe.
3) Lunch in the Alps
At the suggestion of an Interlaken local, I eventually found myself (almost) at the top of one of the Alps’ highest peaks, Schiltorn. There’s a restaurant at Birg, the second-highest lift stop, so of course I had to have a schnitzel with a glass of Swiss cabernet while taking in the view.
2) Hammam al Andalus Madrid
When I’m traveling, I often find it hard to a) relax from the logistical and physical stress of sightseeing and b) feel fresh & clean. On the suggestion of my friend Carlen in Madrid, I booked myself a spa bath at the Hammam al Andalus bath house in the city center, which has historically been a traditional Arab-style bath house for several centuries. It was definitely no Therme Vals (which I had been hoping to work into my Swiss adventure– next time!) but the pools and steam rooms were very relaxing and gave me a nice respite from the crowds. A perfect way to relax and reset midway through my trip and kick off the Spanish leg of it.
1) Seeing friends, old and new
Previous nine highlights aside, the primary reason (and therefore the primary highlight) of my trip was seeing a handful of my friends abroad. Christina, a childhood friend of mine from Windisch, Switzerland that I hadn’t seen in more than a decade, was kind enough to host me in her home in Bern for a few days and show me around a few northern regions of her country. It was really cool catching up with someone after having lost touch for so long and seeing where we’d ended up in life, what we had in common, and practicing each other’s languages.
In Madrid, Carlen, a friend of mine from my first high school in Austin (slowly turning expat in Spain), was a bonafide superhost for pointing me in the right directions on all the things I should check out during my visit and also planning a day hike to a small pueblo outside the city. I also managed to meet up/catch up with a college friend of mine, Alex, who is teaching English in Madrid much like Carlen.
I made other acquaintances along the way, and I’m stoked to keep in touch and maybe see a few of them again down the road. I was truly blown away by how nice total strangers were on this trip– maybe it’s something in that crystal blue water.
Stay tuned for more posts coming soon!