I Survived! My First Trip to Europe
As someone who finds themselves much more comfortable in the confines of their own home, I have to say that traveling to Europe was a pretty massive undertaking in more ways than one. Fortunately, I didn't have to go it alone. I don't think I could've managed it nearly as well on my own and I am very grateful my wonderful girlfriend was there with me every step of the way.
That being said, the experience was a phenomenal one. It's comforting to know that I've seen a little bit more of the world. I'm well aware that I've barely scratched the surface of all that there is, but I'm also grateful to know that my own scope has been expanded drastically from the narrow view I've had up to this point. I'm far from a well-traveled person of the world, but I can appreciate things in a different light with the few experiences I was fortunate enough to have.
In just under a week, I had the chance to experience Copenhagen in Denmark, Kraków in Poland and Keflavík in Iceland. Admittedly, the amount of travel was rough. All in all, we took 8 flights across 8 days. Personally, I don't mind flying. I like to marvel at the engineering and minds it takes to build planes that can do what they do. However, it can take an incredible toll when you do so many for so long. It took 3 flights alone just to get from SeaTac Airport to Copenhagen.
The first layover was in Dallas. No time to look around, but fortunately enough time to relax and prepare for the seven and a half hours it was going to take on our next flight. Thanks to Applebee's for helping with that.
Fun fact, Copenhagen is 9 hours ahead. Despite all my best efforts, I passed out for the first four and a half hours I was there. I didn't want to, it was the middle of the day and everything, but it happened. Didn't really have a whole lot of opportunity to see things that first day. Just a little bit of the town and one amazing dinner.
Nyhavn is beautiful. The atmosphere was very casual and inviting. There's food everywhere. I don't often prescribe to tourist attractions but taking a canal tour was well worth it. The sights and stories were great and it's an experience I'll appreciate for an impossibly long time.
Poland was a very interesting place to experience. Fortunately my girlfriend's friend had moved there a few years ago. She did a phenomenal job helping us as both tour guide and unofficial translator where needed. It was a pleasant shift to go from full-fledged tourists to visitors. She was able to show us around, introduce us to the nightlife, show us hidden gems we would've never found on our own.
One thing I learned; while most of Poland has been destroyed in a lot of really unfortunate moments in history, Kraków somehow managed to survive it all. The town is beautifully historic and the people I met are rightfully proud of its beauty.
I know New York is the city that never sleeps, but I think Kraków means to challenge them for it. As I learned, bars stay open well into the latest hours of the morning. During our time there, we were treated to drinks and dancing at 4am. And it wasn't like going to a bar as the last patrons or being on an empty dance floor. Kraków was alive and well long after we called it a night at 5 in the morning. Praise be to the never ending food services that keep you going.
Admittedly, a lot of the time in Kraków was food and drinking. Nothing wrong with that, of course. It is what it is.
Our time in Iceland was oh so brief. Literally 24 hours from landing to take-off. There's no real way to explain how beautiful Iceland is. It's so rugged and just kind of there being the best island it can possibly be. I'm from Washington State and it's barely half the size of my home state. It's so open and so refreshing just to be in. I spent every day in Denmark and Poland being warm and sweaty. Stepping off into the brisk ocean air was beyond words.
There's way too much to try and capture in a single post. That being said, I wanted to do a quick rundown of some of my favorite and not-so-favorite experiences I had in my oh so brief stint abroad.
1 - The Food
I know this is a cop-out answer, but you can't blame me. It was amazing! I had some amazing dishes!
Restaurant Cofoco in Copenhagen blew my mind. The food was sooooo good. The service was lovely. It was a quick walk from where we were staying and it was worth every penny.
Where we stayed in Copenhagen was just above Mad & Kaffe's. The choose your own adventure menu was great and the food was even better. I'm fortunate I don't live right above this place or it would be hard to ever make anything at home.
Mr. Pancake in Kraków was both tasty and insane. Just look at that menu! Also, glitter mimosa? Yeah...not passing that up. What'd it taste like you ask? Basically just prosecco, but it sparkled! Also, check out that restaurant mantra would ya?
Charlotte's was the last place we ate before leaving Poland and boy did it leave an impression. Breakfast was a literal basket loaded with a variety of breads, 4 different spreads (chocolate, white chocolate, strawberry and raspberry), a glass of juice or coffee, a glass of champagne and a flawlessly fried egg. And it all cost next to nothing.
There was only time enough for one real meal in Iceland but it didn't disappoint. Lamb steak and lobster with a view of the ocean? Hard to beat, really. Didn't see any whales, though, despite our server's optimism.
2 - The architecture
I mean, just look at it...
3 - The public transportation in Copenhagen
I've gotta give it to Copenhagen. For a city I've never been in before, they really make getting around surprisingly convenient. Well them and Google maps, of course. But seriously, they have a pass you can buy for however long you need and it gets you unlimited access to all buses, trains and metro in the city. There wasn't anywhere we couldn't get to if we needed it. Everything ran all hours of the day at impressively short intervals. Waiting was never a problem and the path we had to take was usually straight and easy to follow. Also, literally everyone has a bicycle. I know that sounds like an exaggeration but I swear it's true. We actually saw more bikes than humans in Copenhagen I'm pretty sure.
4 - The communication/service
I can't express how grateful I am that everywhere I went seemed prepared to deal with someone like me who was travelling from abroad and didn't know a single word in the local language. I am so appreciative of everyone smarter than me that knew not just their own language but enough to help me out when I needed it and no one ever made me feel bad about it
5 - The price of everything in Kraków
Seriously, everything was so cheap. It was mind blowing.
6 - Chipsy King
I know I already talked about food but Chipsy King deserves a special mention. A shop that specializes in giving you a cone loaded with fresh french fries and dipping sauce in the middle of the night? Like heaven in food form.
I feel like I've thoroughly learned that nothing makes you appreciate home like leaving it. The places I saw were absolutely beautiful and amazing and I wouldn't make any claims about what's better or worse. All I have are opinions based on what I'm used to that definitely make me see things in a different light.
1 - The Water
There's nothing wrong with the water per se? It's clean and safe and all that. But as someone from Washington State, I've been oh so spoiled with my tap water. And oh how I can't stand the taste of mineral water. It was a genuine effort to find water that tasted refreshing and crisp
2 - WOW Airlines
Much as it breaks my heart, you don't get to play unlimited world of warcraft on this company's airlines. Imagine, if you will, a 7.5 hour flight. No in-flight movie. No Wi-Fi. No outlets. No complimentary snack or water. Nothing. Oh, and the most uncomfortable airline seats I've ever sat in. You could purchase something to eat or drink, but at over 3 bucks for about 6 ounces of hot tea? I'm not cool with that. That was a long...long flight. I know I'm coming off as spoiled but seriously, some airlines spend a lot of effort trying to make their passengers as comfortable as possible with as many accommodations as make sense to offer on a plane. You don't get to lock me in a steel tube for over 7 hours with no creature comforts and ask if you "wow'ed" me. You didn't. Oh, and WOW is the only airline I've ever had to pay to carry on baggage. Not checked baggage, carry on. Yup, 60 bucks to bring my overhead bin suitcase on 2 flights with "wow, you seriously don't have anything on this flight at all do you?" airlines.
*Note: Alaska Air and Iceland Air killed it
3 - Air pollution
My spoiled lungs have had years to acclimate to the smoking laws where I live. Aside from the occasional passerby, I have to make a concerted effort (like going to the casino) to deal with cigarette smoke. Poland? A little less so. And as someone who's not used to it, I gotta say, it was really hard to deal with. Breathing over that long weekend was genuine effort. I could feel the strain to just explore town on foot. I was warned it gets much worse in the winter when they burn coal. The buildings were covered in the stuff. Fortunately, I only had to hear about it.
4 - Sleep since I got back
Since coming home, I've had a bit of an issue. Have you ever half-woken up and had it last long enough to process thoughts? On a few occasions since getting back, I've had that moment. The prevalent thought was always the same, that I was lost. I had the crushing sensation that I was somewhere I didn't know, far away from anyone or anything I recognized with no real way to get in contact with anyone I knew. I don't know how to explain it exactly except the sensation was terrifying. Naturally, I'd always finish waking the rest of the way up, recognize the place I was in was my own, and realize everything was fine. But that feeling was always hard to shake off even after I knew it was nonsense.
5 - My own stupid ears
Not once, but twice my ears screwed me over on flights. There were two we took that were barely over an hour long. Getting up to elevation, no problems, everything was smooth sailing. Coming back down? Not so much. On both of those shorter flights, my right ear refused to pop on the way back down. I can't tell you how much that sucked. The pain was awful. I tried every trick in the book but nothing helped. I spent a few hours after each of those flights with some seriously muffled hearing in my right ear and a lot of surly attitude.
There were a few things that were just strange or interesting to me in my time that I don't really have an opinion on one way or another.
1 - The Bathrooms
To say we've got it good is an understatement, I'd say. The bathrooms! The bathrooms were all so small! And never a tub in sight. I'm not a big bubble bath kinda guy but still! There was only a shower curtain between the showers and the rest of the bathroom so...yep! Water everywhere. One toilet was just square. I don't know about you but I'm not a square shape by a long shot.
2 - Sitting at a restaurant
No matter what, I never got used to the idea of just grabbing a seat. I'm so conditioned to stand idly by and wait for someone to show me around. But everywhere I went was quite the opposite and I always looked like a fool when the staff politely indicated what to do while I made my status as a tourist plainly clear.
3 - Napkins in Kraków
This is one of those things that just made me scratch my head. The napkins were just the tiniest, thinnest sheets of "paper", if you can call them that, I've ever seen. Picking one up almost used up all of its absorption power before it ever reached your mouth. I didn't want to use so many but it couldn't be helped.
All in all, I absolutely adored my trip to Europe. For a first time, it definitely showed me a lot of beauty and culture I could never have hoped to understand without experiencing it first-hand. The whole experience left me with a painfully strong desire to go back and see more someday. There's so many other places that I can only imagine what they must be like, either for better or worse. Perhaps someday I'll have the chance and I can share those experiences too.
Thank you for joining me in my crazy world. It's gotten just a little bit bigger now.