Europe Anniversary!

March 26th 2015 marks a year since I toured Europe with my close friends. It was one of the most defining moments in my life. For me, life began when I realized there’s a whole world out there that needed to be discovered. My road to finally gaining the courage to travel across the Atlantic wasn’t an easy one. I always believed traveling around the world was a privilege reserved for the rich or famous-definitely not for someone like me. In November 2013, I was like many recent graduates, feeling lost, confused and defeated. I was making very little progress at work and my daily routine was beginning to feel monotonous. All my friends around me were putting down payments on homes and cars and I could barely figure out what I would eat for lunch. My spirit was broken, as it seemed like everyone was progressing so seamlessly into adulthood and I felt so empty. I prayed for the day when I would find my passion and start living for me. One day, while at Barnes and Nobles, I stumbled across a book in the travel section. The Rough Guide to First-Time Europe. I sat down on the floor and read the book cover to cover. My spine tingled as I read about the vineyards of Italy and the vibrant culture of Spain. I yearned to ride on the double decker buses in London and dance the night away in Paris. It hit me; I didn’t want a house or a new car (well eventually I would), what I wanted at that very moment was to see the world.

The best part about traveling is figuring out where you want to go. Pulling out a map, which almost feels like the whole world is at your fingertips. It’s exciting to pinpoint which countries are within close proximity of each other and how to maximize your trip. My friends and I decided to go with London, Paris, Venice, Rome, Vatican City, Barcelona and Amsterdam. We were going to maximize our options some more while in Spain by taking a flight to Ibiza or a ferry to Morocco (which a lot of people don’t know is an option) but decided to figure it out once we got there. I found a multi-city flight that took us to three out of seven cities on our itinerary (NY to London, Barcelona to Amsterdam and Amsterdam back to NYC for $800) and we took trains in between the rest of the countries for as little as 13 Euros. Since I was traveling with three others, everything was split four ways, from our hotel rooms to our taxis. This reduced costs for the overall trip immensely.

London was such a treat. From Heathrow, we took the tube to Lambeth North, which dropped us off across the street from our hotel. We went on the London Eye, followed the audacious sounds of the Big Ben until we were engulfed in his presence and antagonized the Changing Guards outside of St. James Palace. Speaking of palaces, Buckingham Palace was glorious. It’s adorned with gold and highly secure. The London Club scene is so fun. What I liked about London was that it was a European version of New York City. I didn’t feel like I was in another country at all (except when crossing the street).

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After spending some time in London, we took a Eurostar train to Paris. Paris was a dream. I literally was awestruck by its beauty. It was everything I imagined and more. The city is bustling but it retains an air of class and grace. Our hotel was right across the street from the Louvre Museum which was our first stop, followed by dinner on the Champs Elysees, a walk to L’Arc D’Triomphe and a failed attempt at getting into the hottest club in the city, Club 79. Our adventures eventually lead us to having a picnic in the park by the Eiffel Towers where we devoured Nutella Crepes and Vin (Wine). On the Love Lock Bridge, I made a wish to find love again. A few months later I met my boyfriend and we are currently in the honeymoon phase of our relationship. Paris is truly magical.

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From Paris we took an overnight train to Venice Italy. We drove through the mountains of Switzerland and made a quick stop in Milan. It was so fun being on a train for over 14-hours knowing that our final destination would be Italy. We played heads up on our iPhone and pigged out on junk food. When it was time for bed, we told ghost stories until we fell asleep. When we woke up, we were surrounded by the beautiful and vast waters of Venice. Venice was a fairytale. We immediately walked across the Grand Canal until we found our hotel. We made our way to lunch at a quaint restaurant where we had authentic Italian pasta and seafood. It was here that I tried Octopus for the first time. One of the best things you can do in Venice is get lost. Whether you do it on purpose or by accident, it’s inevitable. Don’t freight, somehow you’re going to find your way back. Our perfect Gondola ride was ruined when my friend accidentally got Nutella on the Gondolier’s hat; he cursed us out in Italian and told us to get off his boat. You had to see it to believe it.

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Rome was an historical haven. Our hotel was in the midst of the Roman Forum. Rome was literally like stepping back into time, yet it’s a modern European metropolis. What I grew to love about European culture, especially Rome, was how embracive it is of its past while progressively advancing into its present and future. The merge is almost harmonious. Our first stop was Vatican City, which is considered a country. It’s located in the midst of Rome and is majestic. The art, the columns, the fountains were all remarkable. From Vatican City we made a wish at Trevi Fountain, had authentic Roman Pizza, and explored the city until the middle of the night in search of Italian pastries. We met so many people along the way.

IMG_2823 IMG_2881 Baila Mi Cha-Cha, this tune was in my head when we landed in Barcelona. Monica (Sanaa Lathan) from Love and Basketball played ball in Spain and this song was the opening soundtrack to her new life abroad. I couldn’t shake the tune as we took walks along the beach, ate lunch on the boardwalk and partied until the wee hours of the morning in Barcelona clubs. One of the most memorable things about Barcelona was the food, from the paella to the tapas, it’s all so flavorful. Although we planned to take a day trip to Morocco or Ibiza, we became so engulfed in Barcelona’s culture that we decided against it.

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Amsterdam was one of my favorite European cities. From the cool trams to the canals and lofty buildings, it’s just one of a kind. The vibe was super relaxed and the Dutch are so friendly. Our first stop was Museumplein to witness the genius of Van Gogh’s artwork and the infamous Red Light District before dark; beautiful women in windows waiting to be sold for sex was heartbreaking but in the Netherlands this act is totally legal. Next up, The Anne Frank Museum, which singlehandedly changed my life. At the risk of sounding cliché I learned the true meaning of freedom while standing in that tiny attic that Anne and her family lived in for years to escape execution. We are so privileged, we have so many freedoms and liberties and we literally have the resources to make a difference and change the world; after leaving Anne’s attic, I knew my life would never be the same again.

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We covered all of these cities in the span of 13 days. We were constantly on the move, which was awesome. We were able to do everything on our itinerary and more with hopes of returning to each of the countries we visited one day in the near future.

My first trip to Europe changed my life and now travel has become my addiction.

European Trains

EurostarTaking trains between countries was easier than I thought. In all honesty it was a breeze. As a point of comparison I would compare it to taking a bus from New York to Virginia, only the scenery is much more gratifying.

Eurostar from London to Paris was fast. It actually got us into Paris 20 minutes earlier then expected. I literally fell in and out of sleep and before I knew it, we were there. The train ride was about 2-hours long. The annoying part was finding a place to put my bags. I ended up putting it in a storage shelf in the back of the car which was risky because I couldn’t keep watch of my bag; but there was nothing else I could do.

TranItalia’s14-hour train ride from Paris to Venice, was cheap and fun. We ate before we got on the train but I should’ve brought a snack with me because I got hungry along the way. The train cart we were in had 6 bunks and we shared it with an Italian couple from Milan. They were really kind people. They chose the top bunks and we chose the bottom four. We played games and snacked on cookies and wine. Shadesha and I stayed up and told scary ghost stories with our flashlights. We just made the best of the long ride. We passed through Switzerland and Milan but it was night time so we couldn’t see much. It was still exciting nonetheless. The train car was so cold. I was freezing. Tranitalia did provide blankets and pillows but I questioned how clean they were. Besides, the freezing temperatures I would totally take an overnight train like this again. It was so much fun.

Tranitalia from Venice to Rome, was a 6-hour duration and it went by quite fast as well. Again the scenery in Europe is to die for, and I could not complain about the beauty of the Italian cities we passed through including Florence and Tuscany. The wineries, colorful houses and mountainous regions were a beautiful sight to see.

I am all for trains when traveling through Europe. Not only do they tend to be cheaper than other intercontinental transportation options but it’s also fun. Train systems in Europe are way better than what we have in the States. I would recommend train routes for those who are traveling throughout Europe in a heart beat.

Ky Tips:

  • Get train tickets early!
  • Unlike flexible prices of flights (Where Tuesday could be $503 and Wednesday could be $490), train ticket prices are not as flexible, which is a good thing. As the departure date get’s closer the prices increase.
  • Set up alerts for prospective train routes you are seeking. I did this for trains from Venice to Rome and we ended up paying 13 Euro for our train ticket. Amazing prices.

Barcelona Remixed

“Maria Maria you remind me of the West Side Story”-Carlos Santana
Kydee WilliamsDay Two in Barcelona was way better. We had an early start and made our way to the beach. Barceloneta was calling our names, as the sun shined bright and was beaming in our faces. We were in SPAIN and it finally felt like it. We took a bus to the boardwalk and settled at a cozy restaurant where we shared an array of Tapas and Paella. AHHH! Spain food was to die for. So rich with flavor. I loved how much seafood they used in their dishes. We then walked to the beach and relaxed there for hours.

Kydee WilliamsKydee WilliamsKydee WilliamsWe decided to head back to the hotel so we could get ready for the night. Our first stop was Chupitos where they light your drinks on fire. Burn Baby Burn. We then ate dinner at the most amazing restaurant ever…La Flauta (I still look at the pictures of the food and salivate over the mussels and prongs). Dinner was followed by a night on the town where we danced the night away at The Sutton Club.

ChupitosKydee WilliamsKydee WilliamsThe next day, we had a jam packed schedule. After a little R&R by the pool, Parc De Guell was our first stop. At the peak of this attraction, we saw all of Barcelona and it was literally breathtaking. We also saw the amazing artwork of Gaudi. I love all of the bright colors and abstract architecture in Barcelona. It’s such a metropolis, however it still has some out of the ordinary structures that’s exquisite. I spent the rest of my day as a tourist walking around, shopping and just enjoying all it had to offer. I also had an amazing dinner with LaSaundra where we reflected on the trip and everything we learned.

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Kydee WilliamsKydee Williams IMG_3311That night it was time to experience the world famous Opium Nightclub. This club is one of the best clubs in Barcelona, standing out from all of the other clubs I’ve ever been to because the party continues onto the beach. It’s fabulous. We stayed there for a few hours and then found a tapas bar, where we ate some more…the food in Spain is addictive.

Kydee Williams Kydee Williams Kydee WilliamsKy’s Verdict: Barcelona was fun, but probably the one place I enjoyed the least. I think after traveling for so long, you become numb. For me, Spain wasn’t what I expected. I realized I loved the countries that made me feel like I was in Europe, rustic, archaic, historical and Barcelona was just like being in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn with loads of Spanish speaking citizens. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful city. Some people suggested that I may have liked Madrid better…who knows?

Rome If You Want To

“You know literally we can go shopping in Italy…”-Jadakiss

The first time we took a taxi while in Europe was in Rome. Our train to Rome was about 6hours and we had no idea how to navigate the metro system (nor did we want to). The driver was a bit mean and he tried to overcharge us for our ride.

Ky Tip: Beware of this scheme. Taxi drivers will assume you are a stupid American and will try to overcharge you for their services. Make sure they always have their meters on, unless it’s a standard charge from the airport and also go to each country knowing approximately how much the cost of a taxi is. I used the following website for these calculations: http://www.worldtaximeter.comIMG_2775 IMG_2780Kolbe Hotel was absolutely beautiful. It’s in the midst of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. I literally was amazed when I opened the door to the room. It was a 2-story loft of some sort. This was the best hotel we checked in thus far.

Kydee WilliamsWe got dressed (but not fast enough) and headed to Vatican City. It was beautiful and vast. However, when we got there the Sistine Chapel was closed for the day. So we did what anyone would do…take flicks!

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Kydee WilliamsWe headed back into Rome to make a wish at the Fountain de Trevi or Trevi fountain. Trevi had swarms of people surrounding it. I made a simple wish and like everyone whose ever thrown a coin inside, held high hopes of returning to Rome one day.

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Kydee WilliamsIf I can count the amount of times we ran in Rome, whether it was to cross the street or catch a bus it would be endless. We took buses everywhere. Rome was not as strict about paying for transportation which worked to our advantage because we got on and off as we pleased. We wandered around aimlessly, until we unintentionally discovered the Roman Ruins. Honestly, this was one of the greatest moments of my trip. Stepping back into time and and experiencing how the ancient romans lived was the most magnificent experience ever.

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IMG_3642Kydee WilliamsOur walk back to the hotel was creepy to say the least. We got chased by a bunch of Italian children who were looking at us weird and pointing at us. However, once we got to the hotel there was no way we could just stay in for the night. We were in ROMA!!!! So we went roaming around the city in search of adventure. It was around 11PM, but this place was still alive.

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Kydee WilliamsWe went to a local bar that was very chic, followed by a bus ride for the heck of it. We got off the bus at the perfect stop and decided to switch gears and start searching for pastries. A local told us about a bakery where we could get fresh baked treats straight out of the oven. YUM!!!

Kydee Williams Kydee WilliamsKydee WilliamsTime was of the essence for our last morning in Rome. We had a plane to catch at 2pm which meant we only had a few precious hours left in Italy. Our morning consisted of the Roman Forum and the Coliseum.

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Kydee WilliamsKydee WilliamsIMG_2981 IMG_2983Shortly after it was time to say Arrivederci Italia. España here we come!

Ky’s Verdict: I like to think of Rome as a hybrid that merges the elements of city life with its historical past. I can’t wait to go back. This city has too much history and attractions to experience in one day. I just didn’t have enough time and I yearn to return. FYI- Italian men, love chocolate woman. This is a gorgeous city and it’s preservation of its ruins were captivating.

Dealing with Anticipation…Ahhh!

I don’t know many first-time to Europe travelers who wouldn’t be anxious about their upcoming trip. I couldn’t wait. I counted down the days, and did many things to distract myself including hosting two events and becoming completely involved in my projects and work obligations in hopes that time would pass by faster. I just wanted to go already!!!! Anyway, in true Kydee fashion I did some “corny” things to prepare for my trip which I share below:

  1. Watched “Mahogany” with Diana Ross in preparation to sing Do you know where you’re going to do you like the things that life is showing you…” while in Rome
  2. Watched Sex and the City-American Girl in Paris Part I and Part II. Carrie was so miserable, but it didn’t take away from how beautiful the city of Paris is. It actually illustrated to me the importance of being in Paris with the right person or people.
  3. Watched Spice World just because the group travelled all over London and I wanted to get a feel for it too…#dontjudgeme
  4. Read an excerpt of A Belle in Brooklyn by Demetria Lucas which told a story of chance encounters while in Paris.
  5. Spent my Sunday afternoons in Barnes and Nobles reading about all the countries I would soon be visiting.
  6. Google Maps became my best friend. Did you know you could discover the make up of a country or city using this? It gave me the exact feel for where I was going.
  7. Fashion for this trip was important, like Carrie from SATC said going to Paris (or Europe for that matter) meant bringing out those once in a lifetime outfits. I literally created a fashion collage on my walls.
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I eventually started dressing like a parisienne, imitating their style and love for hats…this was about 2-wks before I finally left

Hotel. Motel. Holiday Inn…Say WHAT?

One of the hardest parts about planning a trip to Europe is finding the right hotels. I can’t even begin to count the amount of hours spent on hotel research to ensure that the accommodations were just what my friends and I wanted. We didn’t want to stay in hostels and although hotels are expensive in Europe, I felt I could find some well within our budget (and modern as per my friend’s requests).

Ky Facts

  • Airbnb is great, however I feel like this site is best for people who are staying in a certain place for an extended period of time (more than 3-days) and unfortunately we were only in each city for 1-3days so it didn’t make sense.
  • Google Hotels started out as my source to finding hotels but they weren’t giving me totals on prices so I didn’t really use this once I found other websites.
  • Booking.com, is where I found all the hotels we stayed in because it’s reliable and gives the total price of the stay. It’s very accurate and although I booked all of our hotels on the actual hotel website, it equipped me with the information I needed to move forward with the reservations.
  • Tripadvisior, was excellent when I wanted to see the actual pictures of hotels that guests took.
  • GoogleMaps, is excellent. I found our hotel in Venice via GoogleMaps. I was using the site to look at the area by the Santa Lucia train station when I discovered Hotel Papadopoli.

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Tune Hotel Westminster
Kydee Rating: 6.0

I liked Tune hotel but it’s quite small. There was construction going on outside of our hotel room door which was a bit distracting but what can you expect for the price? They charge for everything including television and towels. There is also no daily housekeeping service. We requested the handicap room/bathroom but the shower was terrible. Water would leak out of the bathroom and into our room at times. If I was to ever stay here again, I would definitely get a regular room with a regular shower and toilet. Although it sounds like a terrible hotel, it really wasn’t that bad. The location was great, right across from the Lambeth North tube stop and 3-4 blocks away from the London Eye. It was very easy to get around, as buses were also within close vicinity to us and we were able to get from Picadilly Circus to our neighborhood in about 7mins. We also walked from the London bridge and Buckingham palace back to our hotel which proved our hotel was in an awesome area.

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Hotel De La Place Du Louvre
Kydee Rating 7.5

The Hotel De La Place Du Louvre was a small but gorgeous boutique hotel, located in front of the Louvre museum. I can’t begin to describe how close this hotel was to the Louvre and to the Rivoli Metro. The hotel itself is petite. The elevator is the equivalent to what Polly Pocket might use; two people at once would be pushing it. However the rooms are decent; very simple but cozy. The shower is the best part of the room and almost feels like it shouldn’t be in the room. The hotel offers breakfast and the service is awesome.

The only problem with this hotel is that no more than two people can be in the room. If you say you are going to have 2-people in the room make sure it’s 2-people. We tried to act like we didn’t understand english when we were questioned by the mean concierge as to why so many of us were in one room (as you may already know it was four of us). After 11PM the hotel completely shuts down and it’s almost impossible to get back in without waking up the mean concierge. However that doesn’t take away from all the positives of this hotel which was the location, location and the location. It’s right by the Rue Rivoli which is filled with amazing parisienne shopping and also within close proximity to the Seine River and the love lock bridge; Hotel De La Place Du Louvre is truly a gem.

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Hotel Papadopoli Venezia-MGallery Collection-Accorhotels
Kydee Rating 8

Since we weren’t staying in Venice for long, I decided it would be best to find a hotel in Cannaregio or Santa Croce which is within the vicinity of the Venezia S. Lucia train station. Believe it or not I found Hotel Papadopoli while looking at the area surrounding the Santa Lucia train station and Hotel Carlton which is another hotel on the Grand Canal. I probably wouldn’t have discovered it because it’s a relatively new hotel and up until the Google Maps discovery I didn’t see this hotel anywhere. It is a beautiful and rich hotel. The elevators were small but our room and bathroom were to die for; traditional Venice with a modern feel to it. Each of us received a robe from the hotel. The décor was that of a royal and decadent mansion. The service was exquisite. The free drinks at the bar were amazing and the candy that they keep at the front desk is still being craved by my sweet tooth. In terms of the location, it was perfect for us. We walked just about everywhere, and in the morning when it was time to catch our train we just walked across a bridge to the station.

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Kolbe Hotel
Kydee Rating: 10

When booking for Rome, I wanted to make sure I found a hotel that was in the midst of the Roman Ruins and the coliseum. Although I now know that Rome is a booming and fast-paced city I still wanted to feel like I was in Rome, and ancient Rome at that. Kolbe was about 15 minutes from the Rome Termini train station and 35minutes from the Airport. It was probably the most amazing hotel I’ve ever been to in my life. The front looks like a regular hotel, decked in brick seemingly archaic architecture. However when I got inside the room I was awe-stricken by its massive interior. The room had 2-stories. The first floor has a pull out couch, beautiful bathroom and a desk that was decked with a welcome present which included sparkling water and a basket of fruit. On the top floor were two twin beds . The walls were brick and the furniture was a mixture of cloth and leather. In the morning, we were treated to a buffet breakfast which included eggs, bacon, sausages croissants, cupcakes fruit and so much more. I was in utter awe and didn’t want to leave Rome. Our hotels were just getting better and better

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Hotel Barcelona Princess
Kydee Rating: 8.5

Hotel Princess was a great hotel however it’s location…not so much. I was doing so well on our hotel choices in Europe but I didn’t do enough research on Spain to know that Diagonal was not the area we wanted to be in…DARN! But, I can’t take away from the hotel. It was a nice hotel with 2-pools and a cute girly common area where we spent one night drinking wine and having girl talk. Overall the hotel stay was pretty cool and cheap about $413 total for 3 nights however, it wasn’t in the lively part of Barcelona which took away from the experience. After a day there we learned to maneuver the train system to our advantage and were in Las Ramblas and Barceloneta in no time.

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CitizenM Amsterdam
Kydee Rating: 9

CitizenM hotel in Amsterdam Schiphol is amazing. The décor is so weird and funky. The colors seemed like it shouldn’t be together but it worked. Everything is high tech. Check in and check out is done by a computer. The room is controlled electronically by a single remote. The colors of the room changed with my mood. It would go from pink to green to blue…so cool. The shower and bathroom is pretty futuristic as well. To get into the city, I took a bus because the trains were out of service, it was pretty simple. I would definitely stay here again. The price didn’t hurt either 88 Euro for a night.

CitizenM amsterdamIf you want exact prices for each hotel email me at travelbyky@gmail.com I’ll send over the break down. Nevertheless each hotel per night was between 88-185 Euros