My First Eurotrip: Part 2

Here’s the second and final post about the trip I took to Europe this past July. It was nice to look back on it one last time. I actually learned quite a bit about some of the things I saw that I didn’t know about before.

I’m looking forward to my next trip somewhere in Mexico in April. I’m going to make a list of the top 5 places I want to go in Mexico and try to cross at least one of them off the list during the two weeks of vacation I’ll have.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy. Please feel free to send me a message or leave a comment if you want to talk to me about anything you read. I’m always open to having a conversation.

Paris, France

“We’ll always have Paris.” That’s the line that was famously spoken in the 1942 film Casablanca. Hollywood romance is completely out of touch with the reality of love, but it’s a nice one liner from the black-and-white days of film. The meaning of the quote is simple, memories of Paris never parish. I’m too young to know if that’s true, but I’ll do my best to remember the visit I paid to the French capital 7 months ago. 

Paris is a hectic city, unsurprisingly, as France is the top tourist destination in the world, hosting 89.4 million international visitors in 2018. TripAdvisor listed the Louvre Museum and the Eiffel Tower as the fourth and fifth ranked tourist attractions in the world. Add those numbers up and you get a city that’s constantly filled with tourists. As in many cities, the summer months are the busiest, which makes sense because the weather was beautiful in July. I’m still nursing a tank top tan from the burns I suffered while walking around each afternoon.

A cancelled train from London meant a late arrival in Paris. As in most major cities, Uber is the most convenient option to get around an unfamiliar city, especially when you can’t be bothered with the time and energy that taking transit often requires while you’re carrying heavy luggage. That’s the option I’d recommend if you ever arrive late in the evening to any city you’ve never been in before. The hotel was nice, it was located south of the Eiffel Tower, if I remember correctly. The room window had a nice view of the streets outside, making it nice to open in the morning as you sip on your coffee, and to watch the sunset in the evening with a glass of wine. The concierge spoke, who was an older man and a grump, spoke broken English. The next morning I mentioned the grumpiness to the next concierge working the desk and he kindly apologized.

The following day was the first time using Paris transit. It’s easy enough to get around when you use Google Maps as a crutch. It essentially does all of the work for you, telling you which train or bus to catch and where and when to catch it. Guiltless selfies in front of a damaged Notre-Dame Church happened. 

As in any major city beware of scams. If you search on Google you can find the top ten most common ones in most cities. Making the top of the list of one I searched for Paris was the “gold ring” scam. I experienced it firsthand, as an old woman stumbled towards me with a gold ring in her hand. I didn’t understand a word that she said and ignored her and continued walking. It wasn’t until I searched for scams on Google back at the hotel that my suspicions were confirmed. I think if you’re going to be spending some time exploring any big city that it’d be worth quickly checking out what common scams you might encounter. 

The metro blasts announcements, warning travellers to keep an eye out for pickpockets. Some of them are blatantly obvious. I saw a young man staring at the back pockets of people buying metro tickets. In the evening I saw some guys who sell souvenirs on the street shouting that a woman who was looking to buy something had been pickpocketed. You need to be cautious about that, which sucks. It does subconsciously stay with you as you walk around through foot traffic.

The Eiffel Tower really is a beacon of energy in the city. Whether it’s day time or night time, people surround it with bottles of wine and crepes. Rather than watching the sunset beneath the tower, I’d definitely recommend paying the entry fee and watching it from atop the Arc de Triomphe. You get a beautiful panoramic view of the city and the sunset was one of the most memorable I’ve experienced. Maybe I’m romanticizing it because it’s Paris, but I won’t soon forget that one. After the sun does set, it’s worth going to the tower and watching it light up at night. Grab a crepe and enjoy the view.

On the first day I walked something like 23 kilometers. The second day was more relaxing, and the afternoon was spent at Jardin de Luxemourg. It’s a perfect spot to spend an afternoon, really. Although it’s busy, there is space to be found to relax and take a break while enjoying some beautiful gardens, statues and fountains. People freely hold picnics there, something I’d definitely partake in on my next visit. Souvenirs are a lot cheaper if you buy them from the guys who make their living selling them on the street. That’s an easy way to avoid overpaying for miniature towers and trinkets. 

All in all, things never seem to be as bad as they were in hindsight. I honestly didn’t think Paris was that great while I was there, but looking back now I have fond memories and would return some day if the opportunity comes.

Rome, Italy

Rome must be one of the most adored cities in the world. It’s historic, as one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in Europe. It’s also home to the smallest country in the world in Vatican City. Upon arriving in the afternoon at the train station, the hotel was a walkable distance. The hotel was in an old apartment building, where apartments have been renovated in a way that they contain a few separate rooms and a hallway as the lobby area. It’s a bit of a strange setup, but it’s essentially not much different than the experience you get from a hotel while you’re travelling. They’re pretty much just used as a place to store your luggage and to sleep, not really a place to spend much time in. The entire city is quite walkable so you won’t spend much time on the train as you would in other cities.

I’m not sure when or if it was resolved, but in July there was an issue with trash collection in Rome. Trash wasn’t being collected due to shutdowns at some of the local landfills. There were health warnings, rat infestations, and people began to resort to lighting dumpsters on fire to get rid of the trash. It was a pretty embarrassing problem for a city that must see a ridiculous amount of tourism money. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t leave an impression on me about how nice of a city it is. 

Rome has 280 fountains, none more famous than Trevi Fountain. Over 700,00 euros worth of coins are tossed into it each year. I don’t know if that’s enough money to cover the cost of making the wishes made in the process come true (mine hasn’t yet). Good luck getting a good photo of yourself there in the afternoon, it’s filled with about 500 other people trying to do the exact same thing. I think it’s better to just enjoy the view and snap a picture of it from an angle where less people will be visible. The same TripAdvisor list that ranked Paris’ main attractions as the 4th and 5th most popular tourist attractions in the world also ranked the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums as the numbers 1 and 2. If you’re going to get into the museum, be prepared to wait in line for a long time (I wasn’t prepared for that so I didn’t). The Colosseum, though, is pretty incredible. I preferred how it looked at night as it was illuminated and there was much less foot traffic. I got some nice night photos of it.

The Spanish Steps were built early in the 18th century to connect the Trinità dei Monti church that was under the patronage of the king of France, with the Spanish square below. Nowadays the Steps are popular for painters, artists and poets. People also love to sit on them. I’ve noticed this in pictures I’ve seen of the Steps, but that didn’t appear to be allowed anymore, as officers blew whistles and chased away those people who were making attempts to sit down to either eat their lunch or have a photo taken. They’re worth seeing as there’s a certain romance to them.

Everyone told me you have to visit Rome once to say you’ve been there. That’s the exact feeling I got from it. I don’t feel the need to ever go back, but I’m glad that I went. 

Milan/Lake Como, Italy

I’ll start by saying aperitivo is pretty much the best thing ever. It’s like happy hour, but with food involved. You pay a certain amount of money per head, and get a nice cocktail and access to a buffet for a couple of hours. Milan is supposedly the best place in Italy for it. Bars and restaurants fill up and the nightlife begins. According to some articles that I read, the food and drink selection for aperitivo in Milan is known as the best in the country. It’s the only place I got to experience it in Italy, but I have to believe that opinion. Apparently the more south you go in Italy, the more difficult it is to find an aperitivo that’s comparable to the ones you can find in Milan.

Milan is one of the “big four” fashion capitals of the world (London, New York and Paris round out the list). It was settled 2500 years ago by the Insurbes (a Celtic tribe of the Italian peninsula) under the name Mediolanum. It was conquered by the Romans in 222 BC and subsequently renamed Milan. Milan was ruled by the Spanish in the 1500s and by the Austrians in the 1700s. In the Second World War the city fell victim to bombings carried out by the Allied forces, and following the war in the 50s and 60s, began its growth into the city you see today in the 50s and 60s. Urbanization became a global trend at that time, so Milan wasn’t unique beginning its sporadic growth in the middle of the 20th century. 

You can’t visit Milan without paying a visit to one of the largest cathedrals in the world, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Nascente. The locals simply call it Il Duomo. The interior is strikingly different from the exterior. The exterior has 2,245 marble statues. The roof has 135 carved stone pinnacles that give it its unique look. The entry fee gives you access to the roof and the interior. The walk on the roof gives you a nice view of Milan and gives you a close look at the details of the marble and carved stone. The interior is dimly lit and home to the largest stained glass windows in the world. 52 large pillars act as a skeleton to Il Duomo. You can access the crypt, the tomb of Gian Giacomo Medici. Mercidi was an Italian Condotierri (contractor in English), who captained Italian mercenaries and was named the Duke of Marignano at one point. Mercidi’s life story is worth reading about if you’re going to view his tomb. You also get a view of the treasury where you’ll see gold and silver work that dates back as far as the 4th century. 

Upon leaving Il Dumo, you can walk to the left and quickly access one of the most luxurious shopping centres in the world, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. You can grab a gelato (ice cream) and window shop at stores that you’ll never end up actually venturing into. When it was finished being built in 1877, it was the largest shopping centre in Europe. It’s utterly impressive to look at when you realize the date of its construction. It’s thought of as the beginning of modern architecture in Italy.

Lake Como is the perfect spot for a day trip while staying in Milan. By train from Porta Garibaldi you can get there in just over an hour. Upon arriving in Lake Como you can take a ferry that has different drop-off points all around the lake. If you’re into Hollywood, George Clooney’s villa sits lakeside. As you walk along the quiet roads you see amazing houses and luxurious sports cars parked in their driveways. When you finally find a beach to relax on, you likely won’t be impressed by its size. The sand is littered with weather glass and the water is chilly, but tolerable. I can’t imagine how many wine bottles have been tossed overboard from boats over the years. The ferry might run a little bit late so many sure you get back in time to make the train back to Milan. I remember running through the streets of Lake Como trying to cut a ten minute walk into a five minute run in order to make the train, which ended up being delayed anyway. 

So long as I have friends in Milan, I’d gladly go there again to join them for aperitivo, and an espresso at Lake Como.

London, England

London was the first and final stop on this Eurotrip. Spending three weeks constantly moving cities did get exhausting, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The train from Edinburgh to London was just under 5 hours and was a comfortable and relaxing ride. The accommodations in London were very close to Wembley Stadium, and quite a long train ride from the centre of London. I think the train ride was roughly 40 minutes each way. It was a nice area, though, with a shopping centre around the corner. The Yankee Candle store made some money off of me as a result.

I was immediately surprised by London’s size. It’s the third most populated city in Europe and covers a huge geographic area. Getting around can take awhile depending on where you want to go. It’s important to plan out which attractions you want to see and map them out so that you’re not going back and forth to different destinations, or too far out of the way. 

The first afternoon was spent exploring the city centre and photographing some of the main attractions like the London Eye and the Tower Bridge. Big Ben is still under construction so it sadly wasn’t exactly worth photographing. The weather was nice for the entire three days, with sun or variable clouds during the day. The evening was spent having some pints at a couple of bars and then heading back to the hotel. It gets cold at night in London and the climate reminded me of back home on Vancouver Island. The breeze off the water is cool enough that you’d be uncomfortable without a light jacket or sweater when the sun goes down.

The second day included a visit to Buckingham Palace. I’ve been seeing the Queen’s face on every piece of cash I’ve ever spent in Canada, so it was nice to finally get a look at where she lives. It’s quite incredible how much attention the royal family gets. I don’t blame Prince Harry for moving his family to Vancouver Island, very near to my dad’s house. It’s so much quieter and I think the people are more respectful of privacy back home. The evening was again spent with some overpriced London pints. The Anchor pub on Thames River was a beautiful spot to chill out and watch the sunset. I took advantage and grabbed some nice night photos of the river.

By the final day, the exhaustion had hit and it wasn’t worth going back down to the city centre. On a long trip, and on the 20th and final day, I don’t think you’ll regret spending a day doing nothing spectacular. Flights between Vancouver and London are typically cheaper than I see to anywhere else in Europe, so there’s a good chance I’ll be back there sooner rather than later.

40 Hours in Mexico City

I went to one of the world’s great cities for 40 hours this weekend. I’m not sure about the exact number of times I’ve visited Mexico City (CDMX), but I would imagine the number is now somewhere between five and ten.

The first several trips there were essentially bar hopping visits with friends. They have great bars in Condesa and very nice restaurants in Polanco. I was a younger man then, which probably explains why I chose to go that route, rather than actually sight-see and experience the plethora of culture CDMX has to offer.

Prior to this weekend, the last time I visited was in November to watch the NFL Mexico game, where my beloved Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Diego Chargers at Estadio Azteca. It would be cool knowing I watched them live in their Superbowl winning season (fingers crossed).

NFL Mexico game on November 18th, 2019.

I didn’t see much else that trip, as I wasn’t in the mood to, but I did manage to visit the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, which was incredible and is often thought of as the golden hen of museums (there are over 150 of them!) in Mexico City. You’d need multiple visits to even come close to actually soaking in all of the history there, and even then I don’t know if you’d be able to fully process what’s to be found in the 11 rooms of permanent exhibits, not to mention the temporary ones.

This time, though, with essentially only a Saturday to be spent in the city, I decided to dedicate the time towards crossing off some tourist attractions that I’d skipped in prior visits. While sitting at work on Friday, I did some research and decided on three attractions that I could fit in on Saturday: Museo Frida Kahlo, Parque La Mexico and Palacio de Bellas Artes in the Centro Historico.

I flew in on Friday night, met a friend at a house in the area of Coyoacan, which is in the southern part of the city, and ordered in some tacos al pastor (my favorite tacos in Mexico). I was dead tired from a bout of insomnia the night before so we didn’t do anything noteworthy on Friday night.

Tacos al pastor.

Museo Frida Kahlo

I woke up fairly early on Saturday and decided to make Museo Frida Kahlo my first stop, as it’s located in Coyoacan and was $50 peso Uber ride away from where I was staying, making it the closest of the three attractions. When I arrived there was a line that stretched around the corner of the museum. I ended up waiting in line for a little over an hour and paid $270 pesos to enter. Aside from knowing Frida was a famous artist and had one eyebrow, I entered without knowing much else about her. I listened to some of the other English speaking visitors and overheard them about her marriage to fellow artist Diego Rivera and found their love story to be very interesting. One woman pointed out an image of Diego and said he looked like such a nice man, while her friend said that he most certainly wasn’t. He was constantly unfaithful to Frida, even by having an affair with her younger sister, yet she stuck by him for some reason (I guess some people might call that love). She accepted his cheating and then became unfaithful to Diego in return, and had a well-known affair with Leon Trusky — an exiled communist from the Ukraine (she knew how to pick ’em).

They lived in the house where the museum is located from the year they were married in 1929 until 1954. During those years they divorced in 1940 but remarried the same year. Their love for each other seemed toxic when you read about it, but they were clearly never able to fully quit one another. A lot of Frida’s work are self portraits that reflect her personal trials, which if you read through some famous quotes by her, probably included bouts of depression.

Caza Azul was Frida’s childhood home and it’s where she was born and where she died. Walking through the property you get to look at not only her paintings, but personal objects that give a very close look at what her life was like and how well respected she was by fellow artists as her personal items included a lot of gifts she’d received from them. I walked through each room and soaked in as much as I could. The gardens outside were beautiful and on a pleasant January morning, were a nice place to sit and soak in the sun. It was more expensive than any other museum I’ve been to, which was surprising for its size, but it gives you such a close view of one of history’s most appreciated female artists, that it’s worth the price of admission.

Parque La Mexico

I did make it to Parque La Mexico in Condesa, albeit briefly. I was hungry when I arrived and my friend wanted to try some tacos al pastor himself (I have no idea how it was even possible he hadn’t yet). We ended up getting some which weren’t the traditional take on them, but were tasty nonetheless. A quick look at the park actually left me underwhelmed as I couldn’t help but compare it Parque Chapultepec, which is easily superior in size and attractions. A quick walk through, however, reminded me of the parks you’d find in Europe, with stone pathways, fountains, waterfalls and ponds. I’d compare it to some that I waked through in Paris and in Milan in the summer. If you’re staying in Condesa, it’s definitely worth checking out for a bit of an escape from the concrete jungle.

Palacio de Bellas Artes

Palacio de Bellas Artes is thought of as the “Cathedral of of Art” in Mexico. It’s an appropriate name when you see it in person. The architecture is impressively beautiful. I won’t pretend I know much about art styles, but I can say that it’s a fairly recent construct, with it being inaugurated in 1934. One thing I found interesting is that the palace has sunken 4 meters into the ground since it was built, all thanks to Mexico City’s construction on top of the drained lake bed of Tenochtitlan, the former capital of the Aztec empire. That’s the same reason the city is so prone to earthquake damage.

If you enter, you’ll see murals painted in the early-mid 20th century that pay tribute to the creation of Mexican identity (the mixture of Spanish and indigenous). The capacity of the theater is 1000 and it is the home to ballet and orchestra groups that perform there regularly.

While I was there snapping photos, I witnessed a few hundred Mexican women protesting the murders of a couple of other female activists earlier in January. They threw red paint at police officers (who were ironically mostly women as well) and chanted for justice in a country where, sadly, such a thing is hard to come by. One sad statistic that I read while researching what the protest was about stated that 10 women are killed in Mexico every day, making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman.

Wallace Whisky Bar

This is the first bar I ever visited in Mexico City, I think back in 2015 or 2016. It’s located in Condesa in an area full of bars and restaurants, making it a good spot for a night out. We stopped off after sightseeing for a couple of pints. It’s darkly lit, has a wide genre of music on its playlist and is a nice place to grab a pint or a cocktail. We had a couple and ended Saturday earlier than I normally would, but it was a nice way to end the day before the flight back to Monterrey the following day.

Wallace Whisky Bar in Condesa.

No matter how many times you visit Mexico City, a single day is an opportunity to make and tick off a list of a few things to see or do.