Adventures through Western Europe

Wow this past month has been such an amazing accumulation of experiences. A little over a week ago I returned from an almost 3 week trip around Western Europe. I was able to experience the cultures of eight, yes eight, different countries. Needless to say I was, and still somewhat am, exhausted by the end of the trip. Despite the physical exhaustion, I was mentally refreshed and renewed. I could write a book on everything I experienced, but for this post I’d just like to point out a couple favorites from each stop, along with a memorable photo.

Nyhavn (26)

The Places!

Reykjavik Iceland – A bit colder than I was prepared for, however a beautiful seaside city with unique architecture none the less. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect here, but was greeted by friendly English speaking Icelanders with a passion for all things wool and long names that are impossible to pronounce. Since I had such a limited amount of time here,  I’m already planning a return trip to explore more of this country.

Reykjavik Iceland (42)

Copenhagen Denmark – My first of many experiences with successful biking infrastructure! So exciting. 🙂 But in all seriousness, it was incredible to witness the sheer number of bikers in the city. Biking is the main form of transportation here, utilized by the young and old. I witnessed young dads taking their kids to school on a daily basis via. bikes. The population is incredibly fit, with possibly the healthiest diet I saw on the trip. Finally a place where whole grain seeded bread is the default, no white bread in sight!

Torvehallerne (4)

Malmo Sweden – We just had a short day trip to this city, but were able to see an old castle, the famous Turning Torso, explore the picturesque downtown neighborhoods.

Twisting Torso (3)

Hamburg Germany – Probably most known for its harbor, I found the area around City Hall and in the historic district quite noteworthy as well. I got to experience life as a German on this stop, staying my travel partner’s friend’s home, riding the metro, and venturing around the colorful Reeperbahn neighborhood at night.

Explorations (49)

Amsterdam Netherlands – This was possibly my favorite city on the trip. The beauty of every street, every canal, and every tiny tiny row house was remarkable. Renting bikes was arguably the scariest part, but boy did we feel like locals! Biking is immersing yourself in an entirely different culture, and set of traffic rules. A visit to the Anne Frank Haus was truly emotional and tear-jerking.

Canals (4)

Brussels Belgium – Chocolate and waffles everywhere! Just as you could sample different cheeses in Amsterdam shops, you could sample different chocolates in Brussels. My dream come true. 🙂 The main square, The Grand Place, was the most beautiful square I came across. The buildings were adorned in gold and incredibly ornate.

Belgium Waffles (5)

London England – Londoners know how to dress. Really everyone in Europe was well dressed in my opinion, however I felt London just had it figured out. I was blessed with three beautifully sunny days and three wonderful hosts to show me around. Afternoon tea along the river Thames, was delicious and a tradition I’d like to continue. London, in modern architecture, cost, and language, reminded me of New York. This little touch of home was much welcomed mid-trip.

Hyde Park (6)

Paris France – Despite the very rainy and windy weather, I got to see all the traditional sites here. The Louvre may have been my favorite part of this city. I could have spent days here. I felt a spark in creativity looking at all the art spanning many centuries. My favorite neighborhood was Montmartre, home to the Moulin Rouge and former home to so many famous artists and writers (think Van Gogh, Dali, Toulouse-Lautrec). Each neighborhood in this city was truly unique, and I can say parts brought me back to living in New Orleans.

Sacre Coeur (28)

Grindavik Iceland – Algae, minerals, silica, need I say more? My face has never been so soft and clean. This was after spending a day at the Blue Lagoon spa. I truly felt cleansed after sitting in this geothermal spa for several hours. I also visited the onsite sauna and steam room. I highly recommend going to anyone vacationing in Iceland!

Blue Lagoon Spa (48)

The Food!

The biggest challenge I faced while traveling, was the overwhelming amount of food to try and only so much room in my stomach. Paris was home to fruit and vegetable markets on every corner (when there wasn’t a cafe there). I’d never had (or even seen) a fresh date still on the branch, until Paris. I paired my dates with fresh figs, grapes, berries, and apples.

Montmartre (1)
I would guess there are at least ten cafes and bakeries for every resident in Paris. In every direction you looked, a Parisian was walking and snacking on a fresh baguette. Several croissants, pain au chocolats, and gelatos were also tried. Germany had great pretzels and pastries. Amsterdam was all about the Dutch cheese and Denmark about the whole grain breads and vegetables. Iceland was home to deliciously creamy, yet somehow low in fat, Skyr yogurt. And I can’t forget all the espresso. Everywhere there was delicious espresso to be consumed. I see an espresso machine purchase in the very near future.

Montmartre (10)

Iceland (7)

Blue Cafe (12)

Lifestyle observations

There were several lifestyle differences I noticed, compared to the traditional way of life in the United States. Everyone was walking everywhere (or biking). There were far fewer cars, also improving air quality I’m sure.

In an effort to both be healthier, and save on costs, I walked to destinations whenever possible. According to my Iphone, I averaged around 15 miles per day. There were actually a few days where I surpassed the 24 mile mark!

I also observed smaller food portions, longer meal times, and designated lunch hour gatherings in city squares. I never felt rushed out of a restaurant, but rather welcomed to stay as long as I wanted.  The exact time depended on the city, but around lunch time everyday workers left the office, ventured into city squares, and had leisurely lunches with friends.

Unfortunately I also saw more smoking than I’ve seen in quite awhile. This was most prevalent at dinner time, accompanied by equal amounts of wine and/or beer consumption. I will say I love the idea of coffee in some form for dessert, instead of a sugary and fatty dish. An espresso was most common.

My takeaways

For me traveling means experiencing another culture, observing how others live, and most importantly learning something from your trip. There are several things I’d like to implement in my own life. For one I’d like to share meals more with friends and family. I’m putting in an effort to relax more and slow down, as life already passes by so quickly. Every morning I now meditate for 15 minutes, to start my day peacefully and prepare for any obstacles ahead.

In an effort to be more active throughout the day, I’ve made some changes to my daily routine. I’m prioritizing being out in nature more often through exploring local biking and hiking trails (I already have two hikes under my belt this week). More on these trips next week.

What else is next? Aside from hitting the job search full speed, I just started training for the 2015 Lake Loop, to raise funds for Lake Hopatcong. All donations go to the Lake Hopatcong Foundation, who works to keep the lake clean and beautiful.

Click here to donate!

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Lastly upon my return to the states, I cooked up almost all the recipes in the Minimalist Baker’s Detox Guide. Pictured below is a variation of her “Mexican salad cups with creamy cilantro lime dressing” and also the “Festive Kale salad with sweet apple cinnamon vinaigrette & pecan parmesan” from Oh She Glows. I’ve got several recipes I plan to whip up this week, and will be taking lots of photos (with the new Nixon!). Recipes will be posted in next weekend’s post. 🙂

Mexican detox salad (3)

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