EUROPE ROAD TRIP

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Back in November, Brendan and I spent three weeks road tripping through western Europe.  I had lived abroad in college and had visited most of the big cities across the western side of the continent; however, I never really visited the small towns, the ones with more culture than tourists.  It had been a big bucket list item to check off before we start a family, and in November, we finally had the opportunity.

Brendan made it through first stage of qualifying for the European Tour, and we had started to plan for second + final stages, which happen to be back-to-back in Spain.  We had just enough miles through Delta (plus a few extra from my parents) to book flights for under $300 total to both go to Spain.  We planned our trip as if he were going to make it to final stage, but when he missed the cut, we had two weeks in Europe to spare.  After crunching the numbers, it made sense to stay and finally check off Europe on our list!

I’m pretty laid-back but definitely “Type-A” when it comes to planning.  I don’t think I’d ever planned a trip of this magnitude in less than five hours.  We sat on the couch in our amazing apartment in Tarragona and planned a general sketch of where we wanted to drive in two weeks. Somehow, it all came together, but the driving time was a bit intimidating to look at on a map.  We knew we wanted to airbnb-it as much as possible because we could cook, connect more with local culture, and save some $$. Every night we would book our airbnb place for the next evening and figure out the logistics as we went.  We were freaking flying by the seat of our pants!
Here is a list of the places we ended up spending significant time in and links to our amazing airbnb apartments + hotels:

>> Tarragona, Spain  //  9 nights airbnb
>> Geneva, Switzerland // 1 night at Ibis
>> Lutry, Switzerland // 1 night at Le Bourg7
>> Lucerne, Switzerland
>> Munich, Germany // 3 nights airbnb
>> Monsagrati Alto, Italy // 2 nights airbnb
>> Lucca, Italy
>> Cinque Terre, Italy
>> Nice, France // 1 night airbnb
>> Aix-En-Provence, France
>> Orgon, France // 2 nights airbnb
>> Gordes, Lacoste, Menerbes, Roussillon, France (day trip)
>> Barcelona, Spain // 1 night at Marriott

I’ll explain more of our adventures in the captions below.  Most of these images were taken on my iPhone or with the pancake lens (40 2.8).  I wanted to travel light, so we kept it simple.

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We spent a week in Tarragona for second stage of qualifying.  While Brendan was working, I explored, went grocery shopping (we did a lot of cooking to save money), visited LOTS of cafes to read and people-watch.  We absolutely adored our airbnb flat.  It had incredible light and lots of white walls and furniture.  Anna also left us some food to make a traditional Spanish breakfast (chorizo, bread, olive oil, smashed tomatoes).

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I took the train to Barcelona for an afternoon to visit Casa Batlló, another Gaudí masterpiece (had visited a few when I lived abroad back in 2007), and wandered into a free photo exhibit by Ai Weiwei. His work is mostly about protesting the communist regime and government in China.  His work was beautifully honest with a strong voice.  Inspiring for sure.tarragona beachtarragonabarcelona photojournalismgauditarragona buildings9N catalonia

Catalonia was protesting for the 9N conference while we were there.  Apparently, most of the people of Catalonia (a region in Spain) want to separate from Spain to form their own country. The proposal was denied (again) by the government, but we saw lots of these posters and protesters while we stayed there.

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We drove a really long way through France, and realized how extremely expensive it is to drive in Europe.  The tolls. are. ridiculous. I think we ended up spending close to $500 in tolls alone (our gas was not even half that amount).  We promised we would never complain about a $1.00 toll in the U.S. ever again.

However, the French countryside was stunning and worth every cent we spent. We saw a ton of gorgeous vistas, numerous vineyards, abandoned chateaus, incredible light, and on and on. A photograph could never totally encapsulate the beauty of the vistas.

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We stayed the night close to Geneva and realized that we needed to pay 40 Euros to obtain a permit to drive on the highway in Switzerland (what?!).  We spent the morning wandering around Geneva, admiring the bright fall leaves that had just fallen, and then spent a good chunk of the afternoon trying to find a post office that would sell us the permit.

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We ended up staying in Lutry that evening, and we adored this little town on the lake. It didn’t feel as touristy as Geneva.  It was incredibly quaint with gorgeous views.  We loved our (tiny) hotel room and the character of the town.  We sat outside at a créperie for breakfast and couldn’t understand the waitress or the menu.  I can speak/understand Spanish well, but I only know a few words in French.  We somehow ordered really delicious crêpes and Brendan had the best hot chocolate of his life.

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We had a really long drive to Munich, but stopped in Lucerne on the way.  I didn’t shoot much there because it was our least favorite.  We did pick up some incredible chocolate, but didn’t love how touristy the city was.

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We woke up in Munich and fell in love with the city. Neither of us had ever been to Germany before, and this small taste of the country made me want to come back and explore more.  We spend the first day wandering around the old part of the city, shopping, eating (our favorite thing to do when we travel), and visiting the local market. We picked up some incredible sandwiches, bread, and cheese while there.

I should note that we probably ate our weight in bread and cheese while on this trip–two things that I don’t eat much of at home with our “clean” eating regime.  Not going to lie, my tongue loved every morsel, but my body was not happy with the diet change! I gained a few extra pounds, but that could have been from all of the Swiss chocolate ;)

Two of my favorite stops in Munich were two very different cafes.  One had 37 different types of hot chocolate.  Another was decorated with recycled gymnastics materials from the olympics in Munich in 1972.  Overall, the city is quaint, brimming with artists and boutique shops.

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Our second day in Munich was spent at Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site.  I don’t know if I will ever be able to put into words the things that I saw and felt. I read hundreds of haunting stories from the concentration camps. Having always been interested in WWII history, I was fascinated by the amount of information at the memorial site.

We left in silence, taking in everything we saw.  I highly recommend visiting the memorial sites if you’re ever in Germany. It truly brings light to the horrible things of war.  I can’t believe that similar genocidal events occur today.

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On a lighter note, we stopped at the Hofbrauhaus, ate a pretzel and drank a beer larger than the size of my face.  A fun experience, for sure.

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One of my favorite drives I’ve ever taken in my lifetime was from Germany to Italy.  I’ve never seen mountain ranges like that in my life. We were driving right through snow-capped peaks, gorgeous forests, and small mountain towns. The photos can’t do it justice, but just trust me:  it took my breath away.

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Our favorite airbnb stop was in Monsagrati Alto in Tuscany.  We stayed in an “artist’s cottage” on top of a windy hill, overlooking olive trees and vineyards. The ancient house was covered in colorful paintings (by our host, Damema), and it was dreamy.  We woke up to the rain hitting the terra-cotta roof, and adored the wood burning stove, the colored walls, and charm of such an old cottage.  I think Damema mentioned that it had been built a few hundred years ago, but I can’t remember the exact date.

Another highlight was being invited to celebrate her husband’s birthday with her family. We enjoyed chatting with them about life, eating delicious cake, and watching her kids run around. We also received a tour of her studio.  All of this speaks to the fact that we love staying with hosts instead of a hotel.

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On our way to the French Riviera, we stopped in Cinque Terre.  We didn’t have time to hike, unfortunately, but we did get an idea for how INSANE this part of the world is.  These colorful houses are built upon steep cliffs with breathtaking views. I’ve never seen another place like it. Also, the drive up the Italian coast was stunning. We saw rolling hills, deep valleys, and ocean views for miles. I wanted to go back to visit each town.

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We stopped in Nice before visiting Aix-En-Provence.  Nice was nice, but too touristy for our taste. We felt that Aix had more character with adorable shops, cobblestone streets, and the colorful buildings.

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Another favorite airbnb stop was in Orgon, France. We stayed at this chateau, just below cliffs that rose above the rooftop. We took a day trip through Gordes (out of this world beautiful), Menerbes, Lacoste, and walked through the Ocres de Roussillon.  We loved the sleepy small towns that sprang out of nowhere.

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I forgot to mention the FOOD we were served in the morning in a few of our airbnb places.  Damema made us this incredible breakfast every morning with meat, cheese, fresh bread, jam, and pastries.  Aurore also brought us delicious pastries, bread, and granola in a cute basket outside of the chateau.

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Our final stop was back in Barcelona.  This time, I took Brendan around town, and we wandered into Chök. OH MY WORD this place was delicious. We almost went back for seconds…

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Overall, we had quite the adventure. Wandering around the world with Brendan has to be one of my favorite things to do.

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