Two reasons for this blog post. First, it occurs to me that I have barely mentioned any of my travels through Europe so I feel the need to at least run through the highlights. Second, as a producer of TV shows, I am amused by Anthony Bourdain’s new show called The Layover. Or, to be honest, I’m pissed because I didn’t pitch it first. It’s kind of how I travel. I get antsy if I’m in one place for too long.
The Big Three of world travel, for Americans at least, are and probably always will be, London, Paris and Rome. For anyone who has never been, these are musts. In no particular order of preference, here are some of my favorite things to do in these historic places.
My first stop on my first trip to Europe was London. My mom and I flew in from different cities in the States and met at Gatwick Airport. A show I was working on had just been cancelled so why not blow what little money I have and travel? My step-brother is visiting a friend in London so we decide to pop across the pond and all hang out together.
We get acclimated with a bus tour on what I think is now called the Original Tour with lively multi-lingual guides instead of multi-language recordings. You may have read this here previously, but it bears repeating. When traveling to a new city as a tourist, take advantage of the tourist buses. Invest the first few hours of your first day taking at least one of the bus lines’ routes. Stay on the bus. Get the lay of the land. It will help you plan smarter.
London’s Original Tour includes stops at Westminster Abbey; Buckingham Palace, the Royal Mews, where the royal coaches are kept; and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum where, like millions of goofy tourists before and after me, I pretend to be a guest at Andy & Fergie‘s royal wedding. By buying our tickets through the bus company, we get a discount on admission and get to skip the long queue and enter through the “Group” line saving a lot of time.
At the Tower of London, we marvel at the instruments of torture and I put my head on the chopping block where Ann Boleyn lost hers by the order of her husband Henry the VIII. We have high tea at the Ritz; drool over the delicacies in Harrods’ Food Halls and shop for tea at Fortnum & Mason.
When I return many years later with my husband, we revisit Madam Tussaud’s. Mike always knows the right pose for the shot, so I snap him singing with the Beatles and inspiring Beethoven to turn a simple “dee dee dee daaaah” into a Fifth Symphony. Very touristy but hysterically funny.
My stepfather had been a prisoner of war in a German camp so this bit of history adds another dimension to his stories.
Mike and I hike from the Tower of London (the tools of torture and the block had been removed because, as one guard tells us, they are no longer politically correct) to Brick Lane for a delicious, inexpensive Indian dinner in a hole-in-the-wall that we stumble upon. Another night we get tickets to see the West End version of the acclaimed musical Rent. Remember that I am only hitting highlights in this post. I could easily spend a lot of time here and not be bored.
For Mike’s first trip to Europe, we start in Rome. I had been to Florence and Venice but not Rome. As soon as we touch down and dump our bags at the hotel, we are off for a climb to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica.
This is after being sandwiched in the middle seat on a flight that sat on the ground for two hours at JFK next to a woman who will not stop talking. It is so bad that I rudely put a blanket over my head and she still does not stop! Needless to say, we are exhausted when we land in Italy.
The endless steep stair-climb up the slanted passageway becomes progressively narrower as we approach the top. It’s a bit claustrophobic but the payoff is the glorious view from the top of the dome.
The Trevi Fountain is magnificent. History oozes from the Coliseum and Catacombs. The little-known Capuchin Church in the embassy area cannot be missed – the altars are made from the bones of dead monks. Macabre indeed. Wide-eyed, we buy so many souvenirs in the gift shop (no pictures allowed) that the monk stops adding things up and gives us a round number, takes our money and probably hopes we will just go away.
Even with five days of non-stop sightseeing, we miss the Forum. Rome is on the list for a return trip one of these days.
And then there is Paris. I’ve been there once with my cousin and once with Mike. Both times I have to revisit the Louvre and the Mona Lisa. I first saw the Mona Lisa in the Guggenheim Museum in New York City when I was around four years old. She is always smaller than I expect. But nonetheless stunning. The Louvre looms large and there is never enough time to see it all.
I always stay on the Left Bank in the St. Germain neighborhood. It’s within walking distance of so many attractions including Notre Dame and the Seine. One of my favorite things to do is to take a ride on the Seine because I love all of the bridges. Each one is different. My hands-down favorite is the Pont Alexandre III with all of its gold statues. Spectacular! No city pays for that kind of detail in public works projects anymore.
The Jardin de Tuileries between the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe is simply charming. There’s nothing like watching children sailing their wooden boats in the pond. And the Musée d’Orsay! Light and bright, it’s an old, ornate former train station filled with art from the Impressionist masters. I sit and stare at the beauty of it all!
The iconic Eiffel Tower beckons and Mike and I pay to zip to the top. It’s one of those things that you have to do once in a lifetime. We step off the elevator and simultaneously kind of freak out. I didn’t think I was afraid of heights until I stood on that platform feeling the wind making the Tower sway.
We scaredy cats slink around the top with our backs to the wall until we get back to the elevator. The middle platform seems much more sturdy so we linger there.
A side trip to Versailles pretty much ruins us for other castles. Not many compare to the splendor. Can anyone blame the French for revolting after visiting this place?
Unbelievably, after two trips, I have yet to visit Sacre Couer, the Moulon Rouge or Jim Morrison’s grave. I have to go back and I encourage anyone who has never been to these cities to do whatever they can to go, see and do. It’s life changing.