Sadly, our European adventure has come to an end. What a tremendous experience! I hesitate to use the phrase ‘once-in-a-lifetime’, as we hope and expect that this has launched a life of travel and adventure.
Friday was our last full day in Spain. I’m happy to report that our trip ended much the same way it started; meeting an amazing Canadian couple (well, 1/2 Canadian) and spending most of the day with them hiking and having lunch overlooking a beautiful lake. Who knew that you had to travel so far to make friends with Canadians?
This is the primary reason we love travel; you wake up never knowing what conversations you are going to have, who you are going to share a meal with, and what the day holds. Who knows, you could even have lunch under a cliff (see image below). The only certainty is that there will be amazing local food and drink – which is another reason we love it!
Our final day, Saturday, was spent blissfully in the City of Light, Paris. What better way to end our adventure than to come back to the place that we fell in love with back in August! Somehow in the tail end of Autumn the city came alive even more for us. We also (finally) decided to visit The Louvre and it was an incredible experience.
As we are flying over Greenland en route to Seattle I’m reflecting on the overall experience, comparing our pre-conceived notions to the reality of our travels. At the beginning of this trip we were excited but uncertain – about safety, communicating with those who don’t speak English, navigating cities, among other things. We had very little overseas travel experience together and didn’t (and still don’t) speak any additional languages. We were by no means (and still aren’t) travel pros.
Although there were a few dicey situations, in general our travels turned out to encompass all of the good, exciting things and none of the dark, scary ones. But of course, not to disappoint my fans, there were a healthy amount of Nate stories.
In my opinion, the most difficult thing about traveling is determining how and where to do the laundry. Well, on second thought, the most difficult thing when traveling is deciding where NOT to go. How, someone will ask, were you in Paris for 25 days without stepping in The Louvre? (well as I noted above we put that one to rest) How could you be so close to Granada and decide not to go to The Alhambra? How, on Earth, can you be in Europe for over 3 months and not go to Greece!?! These questions were swirling around my brain all the time, and it ultimately came down to maximizing our experience within our budget and the context of our preferred pace of travel.
I’ll likely post on what I’ve learned from the planning part later on – but for now, while the trip is still fresh, let’s go through the very first edition of the 1st ever Joy Awards!
In the Mix:
Cinque Terre, Italy
Iceland (all of it)
The French Alps (near Le Bourg d’ Oisans)
The Croatian coast
Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, Spain
Lake Annecy, France
No other city we’ve ever been to compares to the magic that we feel in Paris, with the elegance and openness of the city design, fresh baguettes at every corner, the beautiful French language all around, the glorious Seine and the amazing monuments everywhere. It actually took a couple of weeks back in August to really appreciate this place, but once we did we never looked back. Our last day really sealed the deal for us, as it felt like we were coming back to visit an old friend, but one that had changed in Autumn and somehow gotten better.
Fontainebleau was really the only place we made the effort to visit on three separate occasions. What other place boasts a beautiful palace first built in the 12th Century, a vibrant outdoor scene which includes 20,000 boulders to climb, and all the French pastries you can eat – all a stone’s throw from Paris?
The Croatian Coast
Life was just about as perfect as can be during our time near Zadar. Nearly every day had spectacular weather, we made some great friends and were completely taken care of by Sandra and Alex (and family), the seafood was excellent, and the prices were cheap. It was quite difficult to leave!
In the mix:
Olive picking in Tuscany
Watching flamenco dancing in Seville
Bouldering in Fontainebleau
Taking a gondola ride in Venice
Biking around Lake Annecy
Cooking in Tuscany
Evening Walk in the French Alps to catch the sunset
Attempting to play futbol (soccer) with some Croatian friends
Dipping into the Blue Lagoon in Iceland
Dipping into the Blue Lagoon in Iceland
This is really an impossible one to choose; every single one of those was an amazing experience. I’m choosing our Blue Lagoon visit simply because Iceland was so unique. Dipping in an enormous geothermal pool amidst the otherworldly beauty of the Iceland is simply a unique experience that’s not to be missed. (Now we just need to go back and see the Northern Lights like our friends Omar and Tomomi!)
All of the others
I can’t pick! I’ve added pictures from a few of our favorites below. If I had to pick another ‘most unique’ opportunity it would be olive picking in Tuscany. That was quite a rare time when the timing worked out perfectly to do something we never otherwise would have been able to do. If I had to pick ‘most spectacular’ I would pick the time in the French Alps that Marvin and Lisa took us out to see the sunset with the amazing Alps as a backdrop. If I had to pick ‘Most Iconic’ it would probably be the quintessential gondola ride we experienced with a gondolier who actually sang. If I had to pick “Most Picture-Perfect Day” it would probably be our bike ride around Lake Annecy. But truly I could go on and on with each of the experiences I listed (and many others).
Best Nate Story
In the mix:
Ruining keys in Croatia
The Snail Episode in Paris
Getting our Metro Pass in Paris
The Noise in the Woods in the French Alps
The Elevator Plunge
Losing Keys in Croatia
This one had all of the elements of a good Nate story, including the set-up (basking in complete oblivion soaking up the sun), the fall itself, the immediate aftermath (being excited I saved my phone before realizing that I had ruined the keys), the longer-term aftermath (being unable to open our gate for two days which made our rental car unusable), and the positive conclusion (making some friends as a result of the whole thing).
The Snail Episode in Paris
Again, a number of things came together at just the right time to make this a story to remember. Actors in this Nate-story included the amused French chef and the innocent person who walked by and was splattered with snail. Let’s just say that I did not have much snail after this attempt.
One thing that I’d like to point out is that our trip was made so much better because of the generosity of many different people that we met along the way. There are a few folks I’d like to point out while I’m thinking of it:
- Adeline and Stephan, the French couple who took a chance on us and had us watch their cats and housesit while in Paris. They were so incredibly generous to us, and we hope to be back to housesit for them in the future!
- Sandra and Alex in Croatia (and really their entire family), who set us up in an awesome apartment on the coast and then completely took care of us while we stayed in their house near the Slovenian border. Their generosity really amazed us; it truly helped put the Croatian part of the trip in the ‘special’ category.
- Marvin and Lisa in the French Alps – Ditto with what I mentioned about Sandra and Alex. Marvin and Lisa were so incredibly generous, and (this is a Nate story that didn’t even make the blog) Marvin wasn’t even upset when I lost his cell phone. Their graciousness and generosity were simply amazing, and we’re excited to see them in Seattle soon during their visit!
- We also want to say thank you to everyone else we met along the way (you know who you are). We learned from you, we had adventures with you, we ate (a lot) with you, and we even cried with you. You are in our hearts now, and we are hopeful for future adventures with each and every one of you. Let’s stay in touch, okay?
The trip is over, but take heart, the blogging will continue. We have a lot of different topics yet to explore!