From June 20th through July 4th, 2010, Emily and I vacationed in Europe. We spent a week in Sweden, then a day or two in various cities in Italy and France.
Sorry for waiting a year and a half to post this! I typed most of it shortly after we got back, but didn’t get around to editing it until now.
Sweden has got their act together. People were polite. Their subway system is great—easy to use, with signs all over the place. Their school system teaches English starting in like 3rd grade. Our hotel was classy and elegant and had a fancy free wifi system. People cleaned up after their pets and didn’t litter much. Drivers were sane. Seeing the Vasa was really cool.
We were lucky enough to be here during midsummer, which Swedes typically celebrate with a joyous party. We celebrated with Martin’s family, which was awesome. There was a maypole, akvavit, snapsvisa, and general merriment. Another interesting aspect of being here during midsummer is that there was only around 3 hours of mostly-darkness each night.
Popular night spot: Stureplan on Birger Jarlsgatan.
Emily’s picture’s from Stockholm
Emily’s pictures from dinner in Täby with Martin’s family
Emily’s pictures from Finnhamn, an island we took a day trip to by boat
Emily’s pictures from the midsummer celebration
Penney’s pictures from Sweden
Amy’s pictures from Sweden
Pictures from my phone (from Sweden, Italy and France)
Go here if you want:
- Random ruins strewn about
- The Vatican
- The Pantheon
- The Coliseum
- Crazy drivers. Like, they might not have laws
- Crazy people
- Not a relaxing environment
Popular night spots: Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Navona
Go here if you want:
- An amazing, relaxing, and beautiful big city
- Lots of shopping (not so much department stores, but definitely some high-end retail brands and lots of little street shops)
Watching the sun set from the hill south of the city is a must (we sat on the steps of San Miniato al Monte). Walking around between Piazza del Duomo, Piazza della Signoria and Piazza della Repubblica is also fun. We stayed in the Beatrice room in the Casa del Garbo bed and breakfast and recommend it.
Popular night spots: Piazza della Signoria and maybe near the corner of Via de Castellani and Via dei Neri.
Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy
Highly recommended! Taking the train from La Spezia to Vernazza is incredible. You’re in a tunnel for 10 minutes, then are teased with a fleeting glimpse of a mountain falling into the sea. Beauty lies where mountains meet water.
Cinque Terre is a string of five small towns on the west coast of Italy. They’re all amazing, but I definitely liked Vernazza the most. Unfortunately a massive mudslide in October 2011 devastated the city. For more information, see Rick Steves, Save Vernazza, and Vernazza Flood Blog.
One of my favorite parts of the vacation was the day we spent hiking from the southern-most town to the northern-most town.
Popular night spot: By the water.
Nice was nice. Not a bad place to go, but maybe not worth going very far out of the way for. French drivers are much less crazy than Italian drivers. But French scooterists might be more crazy. (Please forgive the gratuitous generalizations.)
Popular night spots: Cours Saleya. Place Masséna? Place Rossetti?
Monte Carlo, Monaco
Method of transportation is car(/bus/taxi/scooter/motorcycle). But especially not on foot. The city is crammed into a valley on the Mediterranean coast. The (small part of the) casino that we went in was certainly extravagant. Large and marbley, with big columns, open floor space, and formal staff. Other than the casino and some crazy expensive stores, I guess there is maybe a castle on a hill? I’d say skip it unless you’re a high roller or a big spender. There were some nice cars, though—I saw another Mercedes SLR McClaren.
- We bought popout maps for each of the cities we went to. They worked out really well! Small enough to fit in a pocket or purse, durable enough to last at least a few days, and they include points of interest.
- It’s good to have in mind a few places where you want to go before you get to a city. Otherwise you end up sitting around feeling bored.
- Living in the San Francisco Bay Area has probably given me a skewed frame of reference, but Europeans smoke a lot. Ordered vaguely from “least smokers” to “most”: Sweden, Nice, Italy. I also felt like people littered their cigarette butts more than they do in the US.
- I didn’t feel like recycling bins were as prevalent as they should have been, especially in public parks and large common areas.
- Unsurprisingly there were way fewer smartphones in Europe than in Silicon Valley. Ordered vaguely from “most smartphones” to “least”: Sweden, Nice, Italy.
- Saw a lot of people commuting on bicycles in all cities.
- Didn’t see many recreational cyclists until we got to Nice. Maybe because we were in large cities everywhere, and Nice has a nice long bike-friendly sidewalk that runs along the coast.
- We were on an Airbus A320-200 at some point and I thought the seats were more comfortable than the standard Boeing seat. I felt like the seat was less concave shaped, and the headrest didn’t cause my body to curl up into a horrible little ball.
- What’s the deal with bottled water in restaurants in Europe? Do people just not drink tap water?
- The rail systems in Italy and France could have been easier to use. Especially if stations had a large map of all the stops. And a timetable for each train. And tickets listed where you need to change trains. And automated ticket machines had good English translations. And the monitors that listed train platforms were accurate. And trains had signs listing where they were going. Probably worth buying rail tickets ahead of time.