Saturday, October 21, 2006

Val in Europe

When Tommy and I were trying to figure out where to go for vacation our criteria was that it be:
1. As inexpensive as possible
2. Somewhere we had never been before
3. Nice to visit in October (the only time we could go)
4. A place we could get to with Frequent Flier miles.

First we considered Vietnam. It is cheap. We had never been there before. We didn't get as far as checking the weather because first, I am lame and am scared of the Bird flu. Second, one of their main ingredients is fish oil. Tommy hates fish. Third, I don't eat port or cilantro, and Vietnamese food is chock-full of both. I am not saying that you should rule out a country because of their food, but if you go on vacation every 3 years or so, hating the food will put a damper on the whole trip, especially when you can't read the menu to find out if you are ordering a fish oil, pork, cilantro stew! So Vietnam was OUT.

Next we considered Argentina. A good friend of mine loves the city and I trust his taste. Everything I read about it sounded amazing. It seemed like Buenos Aires was one of those cities that in five years will be considered "ruined" by a growing number of tourists (uh, like me?) It sounded promising.

Then, a good friend moved to Amsterdam and a friend in London had her own big news: she was pregnant. Tommy and I have been to both cities and with the exchange rate, neither city was a deal. Ahh, but we have friends......and we could stay with them!

Staying with friends is definitely the way to go. We got to spend time with people we rarely see on their home turf. A vacation is much more relaxed when you are staying in a home. Hotels require that every meal be eaten out and time spent in a hotel room feels like wasted vacation time. Why sit around watching International CNN when you could be exploring?

If you haven't been to Amsterdam, you should definitely go. The canals are gorgeous and the city is really small.

Give yourself a week and you can easily get the lay of the land. Also, nobody drives. People get around on bikes. I think that Amsterdam is an overlooked city. Maybe that's a good thing though. We stayed with our friend there for almost 10 days (thanks, Tad!) and it was great. We had a real home base. We went grocery shopping in local markets which saved us money and gave us a peek into a more real Amsterdam. What do people eat? What kind of weird chips do they have? What the hell is BioYogurt?

For some reason, stopping in mid-day at Tad's didn't feel like wasted time. It felt like we lived in the city.

We did get out of the city for a few days. Tommy and I rented a car (an Opal that rocked) and drove along the Rhine. It was as if we were transported to "Once Upon a Time" territory: medieval towns, castles, fortresses. Amazing.

I recommend spending at least a week in one city. Most of us go to Europe and try to pack in as much as possible. Sort of a "how many countries can I see in 14 days" thing. Staying in one place takes some of the pressure off. You don't feel like you have to pack each day we visiting culturally significant places. You can spend a day just wandering, or hang out in a cafe for hours without feeling like you are "wasting time."

Parting question: why is it that we don't frequent museums in our own cities, but when we travel we feel like we have to see every museum and monument we can?


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