Looking back: London

When I returned from my first trip to Europe in 2010, everyone asked me what my favorite place was, and the answer was always the same: Florence was my favorite city to visit, but London was a city I could imagine myself living in.

Looking back at my photos, it makes sense: All I have pictures of is St. Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace. Lest you think I was only there for a day, I actually spent a week and a half in the city, and spent most of it living as a local – visiting coffee shops, exploring lesser-visited neighborhoods, and, well, working. It was study abroad, after all. I missed many touristy things I’d love to go back and see someday, including the London Eye and the British Museum. But for now, here the photos I do have from that first trip.

Outside Buckingham Palace, LondonOutside Buckingham Palace, LondonUnion Jack outside Buckingham Palace, LondonBuckingham Palace, LondonInside St. Paul's Cathedral, LondonView from St. Paul's Cathedral, LondonView from St. Paul's Cathedral, London

London will always hold a special place in my heart. Can’t wait to go back – and take some higher-quality photos!

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Looking back: Paris

When I was a preteen, my dad went to Paris.

The Eiffel Tower, Paris

Well, that’s not quite how the story goes.

When I was a preteen, my dad had a layover in Paris. Before he left, I begged and begged him to bring me back a miniature figure of the Eiffel Tower from an airport gift shop. As an Olsen-obsessed ’90s kid who watched Passport to Paris on a loop, it was basically all I had ever wanted. Over the phone, Dad regaled me with stories of spotting the Eiffel Tower out the airplane window and listening to everyone speaking French while he waited for his next flight. He assured me he had picked me up a Parisian gift, and I waited not-so-patiently for his return.

After a week or so, he walked into the house and pulled a tiny Eiffel Tower out of his bag… and handed it to my younger sister.

He had mixed us up in his head. I got a postcard. (My mom did kindly frame it for me in an attempt to lessen the blow).

And thus my obsession with the City of Lights only intensified.

The Arc de Triomphe, ParisMacarons at Ladurée in Paris

When I took my first trip to Europe, in 2010, I chose a program that visited Italy instead of one that went to France. Italy, another country I’d always dreamed of visiting, was a bit of a letdown, and that fueled me to make my Paris dream come true – to not only visit, but to love it in a way that I hadn’t quite loved Italy. I had to do it right.

When I was planning my Europe trip for 2014 – the same trip that took me to Switzerland – I was deliberate about making sure I’d have a couple days in Paris. I looked forward to that trip for months, but along with excitement I felt some dread. What if it didn’t live up to my expectations? What if I left with the same tinge of regret I’d felt after visiting Rome?

The Eiffel Tower, ParisLove locks on the Pont de Arts bridge, paris

Luckily, that was not the case. My love for France only intensified during that visit and in the years that have followed. That trip inspired me to start learning to speak French, so I can one day return independently, without a guide to translate. So that I can experience Paris as it’s meant to be experienced: As a local, someone who visits the coffeshops instead of the tourist sites.

Sacre Coeur, paris

I am now looking forward to my next, unplanned visit to Paris. I suspect the rest of my life may be spent constantly anticipating my next arrival. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Eiffel Tower, Paris, at sunset

Looking back: Monaco

One of my favorite travel days ever was last spring, when I spent two weeks gallivanting around western Europe. After our time in Switzerland, we moved on to Nice, France, and spent an evening in the tiny nation of Monaco. Monaco happens to have one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world, and so it’s rather wealthy and fancy – a great excuse to get dressed up, have a fancy dinner and gamble (for the gents) or sip cocktails (for the ladies) at the famous Monte Carlo Casino. The experience was so far outside my everyday experience, but at the same time it was so fun to pretend to be sophisticated for an evening.

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Monaco also happens to be gorgeous, located on the French Riviera with cliffs and hills, and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. We stopped at many points throughout the evening to snap photos from slightly different angles.

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It was also an interesting night because Grand Prix car race was coming up. Parts of the nation were shut off from traffic completely, and it took us an hour longer than planned to get to the restaurant because of the detours (and we had only planned on it taking a half hour or so from the hotel in Nice!) Still, we were perfectly happy to have such a surreal excuse for our tardiness: How many people get to say they drove – and then walked  – the path that the sport’s best drivers race on?

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Monaco is the second-smallest nation in the world – to Vatican City, which I explored in 2010! I’ve since thought about making it my mission to visit all of the smallest nations in order. The next two (Nauru and Tuvalu) are tiny Pacific islands. Yes please!

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Beyond the glitz, Monaco felt like any other European nation I’ve visited so far, albeit slightly fancier. The cobblestone streets, tiny alleyways and vibrant buildings are commonplace for most Europeans, yet I am enthralled by them every time. I do have to say, however, that after paying double what I had been for a cocktail, I was more than ready to head back to France at the end of the night.

Have you ever been to Monaco, or even thought about traveling there?