“How was Europe?”
“Where did you go?”
“What did you see?”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“What was your favorite part?”
Since we got back from Europe, there has been an onslaught of questions like these, and each time I felt bad giving an answer; I didn’t think I had had enough time to seriously process the trip and what it meant. I wanted to take a step back and see the whole trip for what it was instead of focusing on minute details, which I think is what people tend to do right after they experience something like watching a movie or trying a new restaurant.
However, it’s been a few months now so I think I can honestly weigh in on what I thought of Europe.
Europe was amazing.
The trip we planned was ambitious, but I think it was perfect for a first-time-to-Europe expedition. We stayed in enough countries for enough days to get a sense of the culture in each country, then moved on. From the seriously simple and efficient in Germany to the delicious and ornate in France, the sexy and beautiful in Spain to the friendly and rugged in Ireland, it was all breathtaking in its own way and no two places were alike.
I think that’s what I admired the most about Europe; the sheer amount of diversity crammed into such a small location. Some of our states are similar in size to their countries, but a change from one state to another doesn’t even come close to the change in culture from one European nation to the next. It was impossible to look at any two countries from the same perspective because the history and the people and the geography and the food diversified each experience enough to make them incomparable.
“What was your favorite part?” is probably my least favorite question people have asked since getting back because it’s such a difficult question to answer, so what I think I’ll do is go down the list and name what I liked most about each country and, at the end, reveal my favorite part overall. Don’t skip ahead. And keep in mind that these views are formulated after just a few days in each country.
Germany – Our first stop was in Germany and I immediately noticed how matter-of-fact everyone is. Everything was ruthlessly efficient from their use of public transportation to their supermarkets to their highways. I appreciated the simplicity too, their meals weren’t overly complex and their homes weren’t filled with overly complicated electronics (except in their bathrooms apparently). At times it was impossible to even find a wifi connection, but I was okay with that since it forced me to lift my head from my phone and appreciate the beautiful weather and rolling hills of wineries covering most of the countryside.
England – I felt right at home in England, for obvious reasons. The first thing that impressed me upon arriving was the Underground and how easy and clean it was to use. It was also nice, especially in retrospect, being in a country where I understood the language. It allowed us to create more meaningful connections with people we had never met, which were so many! We made so many friends in London, way more than we anticipated. Another thing was the sheer amount of history, and we’re talking just in London (this kinda goes for all of Europe in general but you know what I mean). From one little square you can see Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, statues of famous men throughout history, and a shitload of tourists snapping selfies with it all.
Ireland – Flying in, you can understand why the primary colors of Ireland are green and orange – most of the countryside is covered with crops and plains of the same colors. Landing into Dublin was amazingly simple; the security guard at customs didn’t even look me in the eye when he stamped my passport. We would soon find out that the rest of the city had the same no-shits-given attitude, especially when we would hang out with the locals later on that night. I have never met such a friendly group of people that was so okay with making friends with complete strangers. They almost seemed surprised that other people in different countries aren’t as friendly as they are. You could gather a dozen random strangers from Dublin in a bar and after 10 minutes they’d all be best friends.
Portugal – After Ireland we flew to Porto, which was super interesting from a geography standpoint. The city is situated on steep hills that slope down to a river, which allows for some absolutely stunning views of orange roofs and massive bridges. Stepping into Porto was almost like stepping into a different era; the tight, winding streets of rough cobble didn’t seem like they were made for more than foot traffic, but at the same time you would round a corner and come across a massive dance flash mob promoting exercise and healthy living. The buildings were either elegant and ornate or simple and modern, almost like the whole city was having a massive identity crisis.
Spain – People are beautiful in Spain, or at least they are in Barcelona. However, I don’t think Barcelona is a good representation of Spain, especially since it seemed like the majority of the people were there on vacation. The wide streets were a stark contrast to Porto, but the languages sounded pretty similar. The nightlife was absolutely insane and went until 6 in the morning even though I had to call it quits at 5AM. We met another couple there that we ended up befriending and spent the majority of our time exploring the city with them, seeing La Sagrada Familia and Montjuic, which made the experience that much more amazing.
France – The allure of history in London was only matched by that in Paris. The sights were absolutely breathtaking and so humbling since we were finally able to lay eyes on some of the most impressive creations in human history. The Louvre was palatial. The Eiffel Tower was tall. The Arc de Triomphe was massive. And the Paris subway system was absolutely confusing. Being able to lay eyes on the Mona Lisa or sitting on the river overlooking Notre Dame was something I’ll never forget. Thanks to Luke for showing us a great time while we were there.
Netherlands – This country has a reputation, at least for Americans. It’s where you go to get high and drunk and have sex with prostitutes, so I had some misconceptions going in, but Holland was pretty tame compared to what I was expecting. My favorite part was probably visiting the Anne Frank house. We didn’t actually go in since we were short on time, but I did manage to sneak into the gift shop and buy my own copy of the diary that everyone has read. We also attended Amsterdam Pride which was so much fun, even when it started raining. Apparently this city was where the very first Pride ever took place, so even though Amsterdam has a reputation for debauchery, this country has paved the way for human rights and I’m so thankful to have gone. Oh, and your licorice is weird.
Prague – By the time we arrived in Prague, we were sooo exhausted and missed our puppy so much, but the sights of Prague quickly drew us back. We stayed at an amazing apartment near a park that had a magnificent view over the river where you could see all of Prague and how beautiful it was. We were also surprised by how cheap everything was, but what was the most surprising was definitely the meet up. Out of all of the meetups we attended, these people were by far the most boisterous, making for a great way to end the Europe trip. My favorite part was probably just roaming around the tight streets at night with some of the most amazing people we met on the trip. You know who you are.
Lastly, I have to take a minute to thank the amazing Sabine for putting the entire trip together. Without her dedication to connecting the members of the Shep689 community, the trip would have never happened. It was through her generosity that we were able to see sights we’ve never seen and meet people we probably never would have met. Check out her thoughts on the trip here:
Grand finale: my favorite part. After months of thought, I think I’ve comfortably identified my favorite part of Europe689: Dublin. I was, and still am, absolutely floored at the amount of friendliness we experienced from complete strangers. The group of people we met, shepsexuals and non-shepsexuals alike, were all absolutely amazing and… I can’t wait to meet you again. 😉