Lindsay’s European Adventure
“Can you drive stick?” was the only question my friend, Tish, asked on a Thursday when he offered up the opportunity to go to Europe for a week. I didn’t know any of the languages, any of the customs, and while I had thought about putting more stamps in my passport before wedding season, this wasn’t even on my radar. That Saturday night I was boarding a plane to Paris. I am still waiting to wake up from the dream that 2012 has been so far.
My head was spinning on the way over. I was grinning from ear to ear, drinking miniature bottles of gratis white wine with my own row of seats and feeling like the luckiest person in the world. “Giddy” barely describes it.
Here’s how it all went down.
(And yes, I absolutely had Indiana Jones music playing in my head on the way over.)
I arrived in France midday on Sunday. After spending 2 hours getting a new GPS and looping around the airport, we were en route to the Eiffel Tower. It was cold and getting dark but the experience was marvelous. We were in the elevator back down as the lights along the outside of the tower first started blinking.
I had decided on a few goals I wanted to realize during my trip. The first was eating a croissant in Paris. Done and done!
We got our frozen selves in the car and drove 6 hours through the night to Weisbaden, Germany.
I took to the streets and wandered around the city’s shopping area and over the Main River through some beautiful residential neighborhoods.
Then I hopped in the car and arrived at Heidelberg Castle, about an hour away.
My goal in Germany: drink German beer out of a stein. Later that night we found a smoky bar along a strip of casinos and shady looking storefronts and it was exactly what I wanted.
I drove the Autobahn to Zurich, Switzerland. In comes goal #3: floor it! Sadly, our little Alfa Romeo let us down. The speedometer read up to 260kph (161mph) but the car would only push 200kph (124mph). Faster than I’ve gone in the states but I really wanted to see that needle all the way over to the right. And no, I don’t have a picture of that.
Switzerland was made for me to eat cheese and chocolate. So we went for fondue that night and had drinks at the hotel bar where we talked with a lovelorn German teenager about girls, beer, and sports.
We spent some time in downtown Zurich, buying Swiss chocolates and window shopping. One of my favorite parts of the day was passing a street vendor, inquiring what he was selling, and buying fresh, hot chestnuts. They were delicious and managed to keep my fingers slightly less frozen.
We walked into the train terminal where there were a few dozen booths with every kind of food imaginable – cheeses like you wouldn’t believe, breads, meats, candies…
While we still had some daylight, we got on the road. Having co-opted the idea from Andy, I was determined to have hot chocolate in the Alps. The ride up the mountains was incredible. Based on the two days I spent there, I’m convinced Switzerland is in a constant state of gorgeous flurries. Everything was coated with a thin layer of white snow and it was breathtaking. We got to Interlaken around dusk and checked out the shoreline and neighborhood.
I got my mug of (lackluster) hot chocolate and we were on our way again.
We stopped in Geneva for dinner because, hey, when’s the next time I have the chance to have Indian food in Geneva?
We stayed in Le Cergne, France that night. The ride to this tiny village was both thrilling and terrifying. It was dark, snowing, and we were winding around some very serious mountains. No streetlights to be seen and hardly any other vehicles either (which was a good thing because I stayed smack in the middle of the road the whole time).
I drove through beautiful little Cours la Ville for a while, winding my way through narrow roads, forests, and some of the most extraordinary landscapes. I swear I would have taken more pictures if it hadn’t been so cold out (-8.5°C).
We went into Lyon and stayed right downtown. Our hotel, the Grand Hotel, was beautiful.
Tish and I wandered out for dinner, past the carousel in the center of the town and down a street with restaurants packed on either side. Each had menus outside the doors. Our aim was to go somewhere French. Tish is a fantastic travel companion; he insisted upon dessert after every meal. We were in Europe and we were to try new things. You can’t say no to that kind of logic. We decided that we were going to go on a dessert tour after dinner. We got through three restaurants before most closed their doors and finally landed in an American bar with an Irish bartender (named Mick, of course).
I had the morning to myself and walked around Lyon for a few hours. Still cold, but a gorgeous city. I had my sights set on the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière at the top of the hill. I crept in one of the side doors and caught the end of a mass. Standing in the back, with an old woman shushing everyone coming in, with the prayer candles lit along the walls, and listening to the hymns in French was one of my favorite moments of the trip.
Mass ended and people cleared out. The main sanctuary was closed for renovations but the downstairs crypts were open. I sat in the pews and took in the footsteps and semi-darkness. I purchased my own candle and lit it, thinking how lucky I was to be right there right then.
The views from that cathedral on the hill were incredible.
I walked back down and strolled around town, stopping in at a little bistro (Bistrot de Passerelle – thanks, Brierley) for espresso.
The day got a little hairier as we drove into Paris. Traffic was bumper to bumper and it pained me to have to deal with the highway when there was the most beautiful sunset in the world right there. What I would have given to have been able to witness it from some Parisian Balcony!
On recommendation from the great minds of Facebook, we went to the Musee d’Orsay. They were right. Tish and I wandered around for hours seeing works by some of the greatest artists the world had ever seen – Mary Cassatt, Cezanne, Degas, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, van Gogh and so many, many more.
This left little time for the Louvre though we did join the masses to see the Mona Lisa. I was just as happy with the walk to the Louvre as the Louvre itself.
We stopped for some coffee on the way to our final touristy destination. We heard the bells before we rounded the corner and saw Notre Dame Cathedral. There was a mass just beginning inside. It was gorgeous. The incredible ceilings paired with the reverence and incense… the whole thing was majestic.
We stopped for pizza right down the street with a view of the Seine and Notre Dame before heading out for my last European goal: absinthe in Paris.
I had researched and found out about a tiny bar called the Cantada II which boasts over 20 different absinthes. Parking was impossible in the neighborhood so we ended up about a mile away. It took asking around to get back to the bar. It was a small, dark place with red walls and skull décor, men in eyeliner and leather pants and women in glitter. Absolutely perfect. We pointed at the absinthe menu and watched the process of the sugar cube and ice water drip into the green licorice-flavored liquid. It was a great night and we left the bar around midnight after meeting a handful of characters, including Rose Satine, a voluptuous woman who had apparently just been doing a cabaret show in the basement of the bar. I really wish we had known.
We started walking… and walking… and walking. We had lost the car. The car with all of our luggage and my camera equipment. Our intersection was all wrong and there was no OnStar on the rental. This lasted for 3.5 hours! I was tired, cranky, frozen, and coming down with a cold. We eventually jumped in a cab and used my phone to translate that we simply wanted him to slowly drive up and down the streets til we saw something that looked familiar. Seeing that car that night was one of the most beautiful sights I witnessed on the trip.
We got to the hotel at 4am, checked in, and passed out. We were up and out to get back to the States the next morning. Tish got to travel straight through. I had a layover at Heathrow, where a majority of the flights had been canceled due to the weather. I lucked out and made it home, exhausted but happy.
I learned a few things while on this trip:
• Naps are necessary when there’s a 6 hour time difference.
• The radio is filled with American songs. I don’t need to hear Katy Perry’s “The One That Got Away” ever again. I can, however, be completely fine with LMFAO’s “Sexy And I Know It” on repeat.
• Men with glasses and peacoats are right up my alley.
• English is spoken in all of the big cities but asking someone to teach you a word in their language and completely butchering it makes everyone laugh.
• The drivers there are not jerks. They stay in the right lane unless they want to pass. No honking, no tailgating, no rudeness.
• If there’s ever a place to get into the taste of coffee, it’s Europe.
• Cheese at every meal including breakfast is a fantastic idea. Gaining a few pounds of cheese weight is totally worth it.
• The GPS is the most magical invention in the history of the world.
• Future vacations will be better spent in warmer temperatures so that I can be willing to be outside and feel my finger on the shutter.
• I want to learn every language.
• Remember to thank mom for getting me that stick shift car. Thanks, mom!
• I can’t wait to go on my next adventure.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
~ Mark Twain
TL; DR: Lindsay went to Europe. It was awesome.