Europe

My love affair with Europe began in college when I was fortunate enough to study abroad in Italy (Rome and Florence) and then travel to 14 additional countries from there.  Since then, I've been so blessed to head back several times embracing the magic, history and timeless elegance that every country in their own right possesses.  In total I've had the pleasure of experiencing 24 countries in this amazing continent, and here is a few of my favorites. 

London  |  Paris  |  Croatia  |  Iceland  |  Ireland  |  Italy  |  Turkey  |  Holland  |  Greece  |  Czech Republic


London

When I was 12 my mom took me to London for the first time. The timelessness, beauty, sophistication....I was hooked and I knew I would be back.  The second time I was in college and it was one of the first big cities I experienced as an adult, and had a blast!  The last time, where these photos are from, I met up with my old roommate from New York and my 3 favorite Brits from Madagascar and fell even more in love with this historic city.

I highly heading to London in the fall, when the colors are changing, because it’s extra beautiful making my way through the tourist hotspots, Notting Hill, Big Ben, Kensington Palace and the beautiful park surrounding it.   I had my amazing tour guides I was fortunate to even get an amazing sunrise and some clear blue skies.  Who says London is always and gray and dreary??  You just have to plan it right and it’s spectacular.  Can’t wait to go back!


Paris

Ever since I was a little girl (like most little girls I would imagine) Paris seemed like the most romantic, perfect place where fairytales come from.  This is why Midnight in Paris is one of my favorite movies, because I've always wanted to live in Paris in the 1920's...how could you not? 

But even today, there is something about Paris that I can't quite explain.  The beauty, the language, the culture, the architecture, the history, the fashion...combined is simply magic. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Paris 3 times in my life, and I’m pretty sure that number will continue to grow considering it’s one of my favorite cities.  There is so much culture and history in Norte Dam, the Louvre, and of course the Eiffel Tower.  As much as a can't seem to get enough of the Eiffel Tower, some of my favorite places were off the beaten path.  I could wander the streets of this city for days and come across something new and exciting at every turn.  I ended up stumbling upon Montmartre by accident, and am convinced it's where enchanted castles originated from.  It sat on a hill that overlooked the whole city and was magnificent.  And to top it off when you walk around the back the streets behind they are lined with what you would imagine old time Paris being with street vendors, novelty shops and French bistros.  J’aime Paris!


Croatia

Spending a week in Dubrovnik was simply not enough, and we were on a mission of adventure.  We arrived and signed up with Adventure Dubrovnik to kayak, hike, and bike/wine taste, and also decided to take a day tour of Montenegro while we were at it.  Croatia and the surrounding areas are absolutely beautiful, and we got some awesome weather which even enhanced our experience more. 

Croatia is one of those places that has had a recent boom on the popularity scale in the last few years, and rightfully so.  It’s a beautiful place to visit with a good combination of culture and architecture with beautiful landscapes and breathtaking views… and of course the nicest people!  When we first made our way into the gated city of Dubrovnik we happened to come across a flyer for kayaking, bike/wine tasting and hiking photography tour….so our week was pretty much booked by Adventure Dubrovnik.  This family run (2 brothers) adventure company took us out the lesser seen areas of the city and into neighboring towns as well.

Heading out to Montenegro on one of our days we got to see not only the neighboring areas, but ended up going through a few countries as well.  We drove for about 3 hours along the coast line and the combination of sea, mountain ranges and gated cities was truly something to be admired. 

Croatia is definitely a place I plan to return to….maybe up to the north next time, but I will have to stop back in Dubrovnik for a little more adventure for sure!


Iceland

Iceland is so unique to any other place I’ve been.  The level of natural beauty and variety of landscape is unlike anything I could possibly compare it to.  In the 5 days I was in Reykjavik I traveled to the most majestic waterfalls, bursting geysers, volcanic craters, adventured into iceberg filled lakes, dived in some of clearest water I’ve ever seen, and even sought after the Northern Lights.  Iceland is quite literally breathtaking.

When I arrived into Reykjavik I was lucky to be there during the Iceland Film Festival so the town was buzzing.  I even managed to take in the Woody Allen documentary (which was wonderful!) in between sightseeing and strolling around the shops and the landmarks in the quaint township.    Over the course of the next week I managed to dive in some of the coldest, clearest waters in the world fully equipped in a dry suit that made me feel like I could also walk on the moon.  It was quite an experience.  From there I took in several tours that gave me the overview of the country from the golden circle, which included the famous geyser, amazing waterfalls, and volcanic craters.  We were really lucky that the clouds and the sun were on our side so that every time we stopped we were graced with perfect lighting to enhance the natural beauty.  

The following day I got up early to take in the epic Blue Lagoon, which are hot pools that were this remarkable light blue and warmed you too the core when it was about 10 degrees outside.  After that I headed out to the glacier lake, which was only a 5 hour drive each way….but well worth it.  Now it’s been on my list for years to go to Antarctica, but until I can get there, this was the closest I can assume that it would look like.  The glaciers were so “cool” (literally, it was really cold there) and with the backdrop of the mountains behind, it was quite a site to see.  To get a closer look you can go out on ducks, or boats with wheels that you can run right into the ice filled lake.  It was pretty amazing and makes my need to travel to the southern most continent even greater. 

My final night I was so excited to go out and see the northern lights since the weather was not too cooperative earlier in the week I thought the last night with clear skies in the forecast would be perfect….sadly I was wrong.  We sat out there until about 1am and not a green flicker in the sky, just a full moon and stars.  Oh well, just means I’ll have to go back.  I can handle that!


Ireland

I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing Ireland on 2 separate occasions. The first was a whirlwind 2-week adventure through the country.  Taking off to take on the narrow streets of Ireland heading to 9 different cities and driving more than 750 miles was an undertaking to say the least.  The 2nd time was a short stop off to connect with friends and even then, this country consumes you.  The culture, countryside and most of all the amazing people….driving on the other hand is a different story.

I’m not sure who measured the roads out there, but I don’t think they actually measured for cars…or at least not for 2 at a time.  Then there is the lack of actual signage.  I mean the highways are amazing, but when you want to get to the small town of Wicklow it gets much more interesting.  To say the least I got lost so many times that once I got to a town I would just stop and ask if they could point me in the right direction.  This direction often was drawn out and had the pinnacle turns designated by bar locations.  I don’t think I ever met anyone who gave me street names, just the bars to make rights and lefts at. Gotta love it!

After the small town of Wicklow I headed on to Killkenny and then down to the lovely Cork. After going from city to city, Killarney was a welcomed change of pace filled with pure natural beauty, and could be one of my favorite places in Ireland.  The landscape was awe inspiring, especially when you arrive in time for sunset and watch as the sky is painted pink behind the mountains, reflecting back up from the glass lake.  Breathtaking doesn’t begin to capture it.  From there I took a long day of driving and heading up to Galway, Cliffs of Moher and the Kylemore Abbey (my favorite!!). It was made even better by the sheep scattered around the roads.  They didn’t seem to fear the cars, but when I came at them with a camera it definitely sent them running for the hills.  They cracked me up!!  Heading into Belfast, I didn’t really know what to expect.  I mean you hear so much about the negative connotations that are associated with this city, but in reality they have made a lot of big measures to repair their image, starting with the Titanic Museum.  Seeing that the Titanic was constructed in Belfast and it was the first point of departure on its maiden voyage, it only makes sense that they honor the legacy….especially in time for the 100 year anniversary.  And they did an amazing job!  It totally fed into my slightly obsessed fascination with Titanic since I was 15 and the movie came out…..I have posters, documentaries and scrapbooks to prove it.

Overall Ireland is an amazing country filled with lavish greenery, tons of sheep, epic castles, narrow roads, the friendliest people, and most importantly landscapes that make a photographer’s dreams come true.  


Italy

It had been 10 years since I studied for 4 months in Rome and while some memories were resurrected once I stepped off the plane, I didn’t remember just how truly confusing the city can be.  Living in NYC for 7 years I’m used to a bustling metropolis, but something about Rome just screamed chaos.  And there is just SOOO much to see.  This city is filled to the brim with history, art, artifacts….and people. 

Now as much as Rome holds a place in my heart, the Amalfi Coast was ridiculous.  Did I mention that we managed to find a room with a balcony that overlooked the entire ocean?  We could see the sun set every night with a bottle of wine without having to move.  It was a little ridiculous.  Even though the sleepy town of Vietri pretty much closed around 7pm, we made our way by boat to the more popular coastal towns, Portofino and Amalfi, which were by all means beautiful, but also densely populated. It made my mission for a tourist free Italy a little harder.

All and all, Italy will always hold a place in my heart and it was do amazing to go back 10 years later and feel as though nothing had really changed….except this time I was there in during tourist season instead of the dead of winter, so it was pretty hot, rainy and crowded, but still magical all the same. 


Turkey

Turkey is a place I’ve heard so much about during from travels, which had me totally looking forward to going to Istanbul, and it did not disappoint.  Between the skyline, the culture, and the mosques, it proved to be one amazing city. 

I have to say the mosques were absolutely stunning.  The lighting within, and level of detail to the structures are truly majestic.  The Blue and Red Mosques (the most frequented of the mosques) were absolutely spectacular.  Istanbul is also full of historical sites, like the Basilica Cistern, dating all the way back to 565…and it was still in amazing shape!  We also made our way through the Topkapi Palace, which dates back to the mid 1400’s and considering it’s about 700 years old the colors of the tiles have remained amazingly vibrant.  And did I mention the views!  It sits up on the hillside with 180 degree views of the city.  Not too shabby for a palace.  And the best views of the city are probably from the Galata Tower.  On a clear day you can see for ages!

We also made our way to the Grand Bazaar which spanned for what seemed like miles with boutique shops selling everything from t-shirts to handcrafted lamp shades and bedazzled converse shoes.  It was quite a blend of tradition and a tourist breeding ground, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I think one of the highlights of Istanbul was going over to the Asian side of the country.  It’s weird to think that a country can split 2 continents, let alone a city, but the boat ride over is beautiful…especially when you’re lucky enough to catch a brilliant sunset behind the skyline.  (Yeah I was pretty lucky!)

I ended up having a great time and would welcome another trip to Turkey any day!


Holland

Most people associate Amsterdam as their primary destination in Holland/The Netherlands, but I was fortunate enough to have a friend in Haarlem known as "Little Amsterdam" and it ended up being one of the cutest places I've been, like a true storybook town.  We rented bikes for the weekend, which is the main mode of transportation, and trekked all over town.  Considering the only other Harlem I could associate with was the one in Manhattan, this version was a welcomed surprise. 

I also made my way into Amsterdam, a place I hadn’t been to since college.  I’d forgotten the beautiful river ferry’s, cobblestone roads, beautiful parks and quaint little store fronts.  It was wonderful to be able to make my way back, and reinforced my love for Europe.


Greece

My tour of Greece began in Athens, a metropolis filled with modern shops, combined with ancient artifacts dating back hundreds of years before Christ...sometimes around the corner from each other.  It’s definitely an interesting mix of culture and convenience.   From Athens I took a short flight to Santorini for a few days basking on the black sand beaches, then concluded my stay with some partying on Mykonos.  It was definitely a fun filled 2 weeks.

Only having time for a full day in Athens, I took off for the much needed down time in Santorini, but I didn’t quite realize that is was the honeymoon island.  I ended up staying at this beautiful hotel 5 minutes from the largest black sand beach on the island, which was delightful to say the least.  I made my way down there for the first few days enjoying the sunshine, cool water and relaxation.  Finally I decided it was time to explore what else this beautiful island had to offer and booked a full day trip of the island.  The tour started by heading up to the mountain of Profitis Ilias, where you can see for miles around the island.  From there we headed out by boat to the volcano island, just off the coast, which was full of lava rock and provided some beautiful views of the “white house” towns across the water.  Next we headed to the natural hot springs that got up to 95 degrees in certain spots.  It was crazy to jump off the boat into the brisk ocean and then swim into this canal that steamed from the sulfur springs of the volcano.  Nature is amazing. After our little swim we sailed over to the island of Thirasia and wondered around there for a few hours hiking up the 150 steps to the top, which seemed to be inhabited by what I would consider an older retirement community.  I couldn't help but wonder how they made the trek up and down every day, considering I was out of breath and sweating profusely after our ascend, but I guess if you have everything you need on the top of the hill, there is no reason to leave.  

The next day it was time to say farewell to Santorini and I took off on a ferry over to Mykonos (aka "The Party Island") for a few days.  Again the beaches were perfect and most attach to restaurants that provide you with lounge chairs and umbrellas as they serve you mojitos.  Amazing!  Downtown Mykonos was windy maze of shops, restaurants, bars and ice cream parlors that literally had me doing circles around them.  It's a beautiful island covered with cobblestone streets, restaurants on the water, and beach resorts that turn into nightclubs when the sun goes down.  It was perfect way to end this beautiful tour of Greece.  I have a feeling I'll be back again someday soon.


Czech Republic

Going on a 9-day REI bike tour from Vienna to Prague through the Czech country side, is not your typical vacation, but one I will treasure. 

Our trip began simple enough, boarding the plane to Prague with a layover in Amsterdam and then taking a train to Vienna where our tour commenced.  We definitely lucked out and had an amazingly diverse, dynamic and funny group.  There was a couple in their 20's traveling on their honeymoon, a couple on their 40th wedding anniversary, several seasoned couples who have done these trips all over the world and were avid bikers...and then there was Vickie and I.  All together 15 of us made up the tour, including 2 amazing tour guides and Jerry the driver.

On this tour we were given maps to guide us through the countryside, allowing us to go at our own pace and explore a bit as well.  So needless to say, I basically I made my own tour of the Czech country side by missing turns, back tracking and inevitably making friends with the locals who spoke every language except English.  Good thing I'm a master of charades and found the universal language of gesturing seemed to do the trick to get me back on track. The upside to constantly getting derailed from the route is that I got to bond with the countryside.  From the vast fields of golden sunflowers to the countless haystacks and barns, the stretches between the towns exuded a sense of calm and peacefulness that I welcomed. 

Throughout the tour, our 30 - 40 mile a day bike rides were broken up by castle tours, eating, coffee breaks, more castle tours, more eating and more coffee breaks.  I can honestly say I don't think I have toured so many castles in my whole life combined as I did on this tour, and it seemed that every castle had been burned down at least once and rebuilt.  It became the running joke on every tour. 

The last town we visited was my favorite.  It was the story book town of Cesky Krumlov.  It was straight out of a fairytale with quaint cottages, a winding river and of course a beautiful castle on a hill.  We rounded out the tour ending in the streets of Prague.  Prague is an amazing city that has the ability to combine modern lifestyle with incredibly detailed architecture centuries old.