The days of four cheap coffees a day and day trips whenever possible have come to a close. I’ve been back at home for over a week now and am already getting back into the swing of things: going to the gym (something I missed because Italians don’t seem to really exercise), driving everywhere, getting Christmas presents together and gearing up for the holidays, and picking up some hours at the coffee shop where I work. My day trips now consist of going to Staples in Fall River or the gym in Middletown. It’s honestly been a culture shock readjusting to life here (which becomes dangerous when you make to cross the street and forget that cars will not stop for you). At any rate, I put together a slideshow to show family about my last four months during the holidays. Some destinations, like Paris or Madrid, really stand out on their own, but there are some others that were my favorites that don’t get as much time in the limelight.
1.) Toledo, Spain–This was one of my last stops in Spain when I visited back in August, and I did it only as a day trip from Madrid. This beautiful, walled city on a river is a welcome change of pace from the bustling and metropolitan capital. Spain’s three religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) all leak through the fabric of this ancient city. El Greco, a famous Spanish painter, made his home here, and two of his masterpieces can be found here.
2.) Salamanca, Spain—Salamanca is primarily known for its famous university, historically on par with the Sorbonne in Paris and the University of Bologna in Italy, and today it is another delightful city to visit, not too far from Madrid. I only had a day in this city when I visited with the tour, so it became a sort of challenge to see as much of the city as possible in only a few hours. That said, what I did see was beautiful: the architecture in the historic center was all very unified, its famous Plaza Mayor was more impressive than Madrid’s main squares, and the city at night is splendid. People alight on the square to eat, drink, and, essentially, be merry. Tuna groups compete for tips and liven up the atmosphere and serve as a fun reminder of the city’s past.
3.) Padua, Italy—While Padua is also a university like Salamanca, it stands out for some other reasons as well, according to me. Located in Veneto, Padua is overshadowed by the more famous Venice. While Venice is like nothing else, Padua draws much smaller crowds and can be a true pleasure for Italophiles. Caffè Pedrocchi puts an interesting spin on the classic Italian coffee with their minty, sugary, and chocolatey specialty drink. Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel is a frescoed masterpiece: while you only get fifteen minutes to visit due to preservation reasons, those fifteen minutes are spent in awe of Giotto’s work. The city has an enjoyable botanical garden and beautiful, open spaces all over.
4.)Ravenna, Italy—Continuing down the peninsula, Ravenna is another Italian treasure (which I was lucky enough to visit twice). Mosaic lovers should certainly put this city on the top of their Italy itinerary. I personally didn’t know much about mosaics before visiting, but was smitten once I visited Ravenna’s different cathedrals, baptisteries, and churches adorned with gilded and colorful mosaics dating back to 500 A.D. Dante, the bastion of Italian literature, is buried here in a surprisingly untouristy grave. For some traditional Romagnolo fare, have a piadina for lunch at Ca’ de Vèn with a San Giovese wine.
5.)Verona, Italy—Famous as the background for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Verona manages to both pander to tourists with the kitschy Casa di Giulietta and offer a wealth of beautiful scenery and architecture for Italy-lovers. When I went, I mainly just walked around the city with a friend from the program, but it was a really relaxing, pleasant experience. The city is home to the third biggest Roman amphitheater in Italy, from which you can get great views of this charming city. It’s not far from Venice, and, in my opinion, its subtle beauty can easily give one of Italy’s biggest tourist cities a run for its money.
6.) Oslo, Norway—To venture up north, Oslo is another “gem” in my books. The city has a much more modern flare than other parts of Europe (think the Oslo Opera House). Vigelandsparken is an impressive, modern sculpture garden which would be great for a morning run followed by a nice, long coffee which you can find throughout the capital. The Nobel Peace Prize Center in the city is a cool spot to check out, and the Munch Museum with its famous “The Scream” is sure to be a treat. I really enjoyed visiting in the fall with the impressive foliage, but if you go make sure to plan accordingly: they don’t get much in the way of sunlight later in the fall and it gets very cold early on. I only had a weekend in Oslo, but it made me really want to revisit Norway’s capital and explore more of Scandinavia.
7.)Berlin, Germany—Berlin is certainly on the stage for tourist destinations, but I feel like it still deserves a spot on this list. It’s decidedly more modern aesthetically than Paris or Barcelona, and while some call it ugly, its history is among the richest and most fascinating. The city’s monuments are heavy hitters: Potsdamer Platz was the city’s biggest crossroads but was bombed out during the war and then abandoned in the Death Strip between East and West Berlin and is now a modern hub (inside the Sony Center there’s an incredible film museum too). The Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, and Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe all offer glimpses into the city’s diverse and complicated history within a few steps of each other. For food, don’t miss currywurst and German beer.
8.) Naples, Italy—In a similar vein as Berlin, Naples often gets a bad rap from tourists and Italians alike: people say it’s dirty and that the locals are dangerous and pickpockets. While I can’t provide any guarantees, my experience was far from that. The city has a vibrant fabric with its colorful buildings, the bustling street life, and the incredible food. Take a gastronomic tour of the city with its top of the line pizza, sfogliatelle, coffee, and babà.
9.)Torino, Italy—Milan may be the biggest city of the north, but Torino (Turin) is a much more particular destination. Located in Italy’s Piedmont region, Torino is very close to the French border and looks more like a French city than an Italian one. Like Berlin, Torino also has a wonderful film museum, located inside the iconic Mole. If you go, sip on some bicerin, the city’s specialty coffee, at a cafe on one of the many piazzas and enjoy Piedmont wine, some of Italy’s finest.
10.) Bologna, Italy—Last, but most obviously meriting a place on this list, is Bologna. It gets passed over by a lot of tourists who venture instead to Milan, Venice, or Florence, but offers an Italy much more accessible to visitors as there are fewer tourists in the city. Bologna is known for its fine food (try ragù from Osteria dell’Orsa), porticoes, and towers which shaped the city into a medieval Manhattan. Enjoy exploring the city’s historic churches, Santo Stefano and San Petronio, and take a walk up to San Luca, following the longest portico in the world (or head up to San Michele for a better view).