My friends know how stingy I am with money, and my family knows I’m not much of a tourist, so some might have been surprised that I took the better part of two and a half weeks off from work to travel around Europe with a couple of friends. It was my first trip outside of Southeast Asia and the first time I took a long haul flight. Other than my concerns regarding the possibility of my luggage getting lost, the trip was relatively smooth and the Singapore Airlines plane had relatively decent food, service and in-flight entertainment.
The first leg of our trip was to Barcelona, Spain (aside from the layover in Singapore). My first impression of Barcelona (and hence my first impression of Europe) was that it was a very… brown city. Most of the buildings were shades of red or brown. Barcelona felt quiet, maybe even rustic. There were a lot of wide-open spaces making it very friendly for walking, with most of the city center structured in well-organised square blocks that made it easy to navigate. The first few days of the trip were very relaxed, we walked around a lot looking at ornately-decorated buildings and hitting the occasional tourist spot like Sagrada Familia and Park Guell. We even managed to do poorly at a pub quiz somewhere in between.
The second leg of the trip took us to Rome, Italy. As opposed to Barcelona, Rome felt busy, crowded and very much a tourist city, easily evidenced by the numerous souvenir stands and sellers of selfie sticks that littered the seemingly unpredictable maze of cobblestone streets interspersed with ruins and fountains and plazas and museums and churches and ornate sculptures and Egyptian obelisks. The city is pretty much an open museum – there’s always something to see around the nearest corner. Unfortunately, the famous Trevi Fountain was undergoing renovation during our visit, but we also managed to visit the Colloseum and the Palatino / Roman Forum (that place is huge).
We allocated one day of the stay in Rome to visit Vatican City. For the first and last time we hired a tour guide (and maybe overpaid) to take us through the Vatican Museum and so we could use the secret tour guide entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica. There was a lot of stuff in the museum, but the Sistine Chapel ceiling and the Basilica itself were the highlights of tour. Or maybe that’s just because I’m a Catholic.
The next leg took us to Paris, France. Paris was cold, very cold, with biting winds. Easily the coldest city I’ve been to. It felt more like a city than either Rome or Barcelona did, with long avenues and high-end shops. Not particularly tourist-friendly, given that there’s less English speakers around. Also the most expensive among the cities we’ve visited – with food costing maybe 1.5 or 2 times as much as it did in the prior two cities. The Louvre and the Eiffel Tower (especially the view from the top) were magnificent though, well worth the cost of entry.
After Paris we spent the last few days of the trip back in Barcelona, relaxing and decompressing. We walked around a bit, visited the beach and I even managed to hit a Magic prerelease the day before our flight home. I managed to get back into work immediately after almost an entire day of travelling, with minimal jet lag even.
There’s more to talk about that I won’t write about at the moment – the on-the-fly planning, the food, the hostels, the budget airline flights, etc. I signed up for the trip on a bit of a whim, but it turned out to be a pretty good trip for me. I’ve never been a culturally inclined guy, but I still found myself immersed in all the ancient sites and museums we visited. The company was good, it was nice to experience an entirely new continent, and it was a welcome break from the usual routine.