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.

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