Spring Yearnings for Europe


It’s no secret- I love Africa travel. But being here in East Africa for the past four months has me itching to see interesting architecture again. On occasion, I see nice hospitality interiors from chain restaurants… and that’s about it. Here in Kenya and Rwanda, I don’t get excited about architecture in the cities.

A few weeks ago, As We Travel posted a view of Florence’s Duomo on their Facebook page. Suddenly, I was itching… okay like practically dying, to be back in Italy and spending countless hours wandering old streets and imagining what life was like during Michelangelo’s time. I tasted gelato on my tongue and felt the crisp spring air on my face. I even recalled the old Romanian woman I shared a hostel room with in Florence, and despite her eating tuna out of a can (the smell of tuna makes me gag) while sitting in her little white nightgown, I remember how much I admired her passion. She saved for several years for a one-week trip to Florence, and spent countless hours in the art museums day after day. Then a mosquito bit me, and I was brought back to my Nairobi reality. As Spring settles upon us, I wanted to mention some of my favorite places in Europe. While I haven’t traveled extensively in Europe, I have discovered some pretty special spots in my limited travels there (and yes, I  use the word discover as in, I discovered for myself… I realize these are quite well known!). I think the idea of place has become so important to me… a hyper-awareness of my surroundings. Place and space are a huge part of why I travel.

Hagia Sophia

1. Hagia Sophia: Once a church, then a mosque, now a museum. However I would just call it: absolutely stunning. The number of beautiful details and the dramatic rays of lights shining down on the central chandelier were just incredible. It was also a bit like a scavenger hunt. When the church was changed into a mosque, Christian symbols were removed. However, it is visible in places where they have sanded away a cross or covered something up. Some details my friend and I noticed, while other ones were pointed out to us by the guards. It’s also located just across the way from the Blue Mosque and both are worth a visit while in Istanbul. I was only in Turkey for just a few days taking advantage of a free stopover, but it’s somewhere I would love to go back. I think with a group of friends we could stay at a villa and explore some of the smaller towns. I did not think three nights in Istanbul were nearly enough!

Light dances in La Sagrada Familia, drawing the eye up to the treetops.

2. La Sagrada Familia: I know, I know. Lots of people really don’t understand Gaudi or appreciate his work. But the first thing I would like to point out is that the kitschy/tacky fruit and vegetables on the outside are not his design! Other architects have been brought on to complete the structure and unfortunately, someone allowed a Japanese architect to stick an ear of corn on this cathedral. My most favorite thing about this cathedral is the tree topped ceiling inside and the beautiful light from the stained glass. I read a comment from someone the other day that said they had no idea that the interior was meant to mimic trees. I don’t know how you could have missed it and there are signs inside that explain the interiors. If you go to La Sagrada Familia, read the signs!  I could have spent all day inside this space. We went up one of the towers as well, and seeing this cathedral from many viewpoints left me so captivated with Barcelona and Gaudi. Another favorite of mine- the angular Passion facade. The Guardian described it as “the awfulness of which is beyond description,” but I’m slapping that description on the fruit bowls!

Florence’s Duomo at night

3. Duomo: If you’ve been following this blog from the beginning, you might recall my cheesy pun when writing about Florence and the Duomo. I can’t help it- I love the Duomo. Like really, really love it. I wasn’t so much captured by the interior as I was by the glimpses of the massive red dome you get from different street corners. I would walk (or run) the entire city each day, and then as I made my way home, back to the hostel I was staying at, I would turn a corner, and bam- the intruding view of the Duomo was right there. Sometimes it would catch me off guard, and I couldn’t help but pause to internalize its beauty. Though I am also a fan of modern architecture, Florentine structures really struck a chord with me.

Colorful Burano, an easy day trip from Venice

4. Venice: Okay, so Venice isn’t exactly a building, but how can I possibly choose? The whole essence of Venice, wandering alleys that are built on water and seeing these beautiful houses with old doors and peeling paint… and beautiful door knockers- Wow. When I landed in Venice it was practically a blizzard. I froze for the better part of my time there. However, I am happy that I avoided the overcrowdedness that comes with summer and really got to explore and have some space to myself. Venice and Burano really encouraged my sense of wanderlust.

Trevi Fountain at night

5. Trevi Fountain: The Trevi Fountain in Rome is a magical gathering place at night. The first time I saw it was during the day. I ran a marathon in Rome before I ever went sightseeing, and it was a great introduction to the city. However, I heard that one must visit the fountain in the evening. My mother and I arrived one evening before going to dinner and found it was really crowded. After taking some photos, we managed to find a seat somewhere. We soaked up the ambiance, watched kids run around, listened to laughter, and enjoyed the good vibes. In this regard, the Trevi Fountain is very much about sense of place for me and less about its physical existence.

So now the real question is, when can I make it back to Italy? Or Istanbul or Barcelona? I haven’t even stepped foot in Paris or Prague, and yet I’m already yearning to go back to places I’ve been. I can’t help it, and I’ve said it before- I’m a creature of comfort, and I really like to revisit places. Plus, who doesn’t want to return to Italy? They have gelato!

11 thoughts on “Spring Yearnings for Europe

  • Hi laura, I can certainly relate to missing Europe! – except I’m pining for Europe’s gorgeousness from my hot and humid home in Singapore instead of your more exotic Nairobi!

    I love all the buildings on your list – except the Trevi Fountain! It was so beautiful but it was also so SUPER crowded! I’m not sure I’d want to go back to that chaos!

    I’ve been told that the best time to visit the Trevi Fountain is in the middle of the night, just before dawn breaks since that’s the only time it’s NOT crowded! Maybe on my next trip to Italy!

    • I know. I saw that photo of Florence and thought, Oh my god, what am I doing here in Nairobi??? Maybe eventually I’ll make my way back to Europe :)

  • I so relate! I recently found myself daydreaming of living on the East Coast so I could go to Europe more often. And I am dying to see the Sagrada Familia. I see current photos, and it has changed sooo much since the last time I saw it!

  • Although the weather can be a bit unpredictable this time of year! We just got back a week ago from Prague, Vienna and Bratislava – snowed about half the time we were there!

    • Yes, I was in Venice in March and it was a blizzard. Best to stick to warmer late spring or summer :) Of course then you have more crowds to contend with.

  • Great chices Laura. I live in Europe and I kind of forget how great it is. For me going to Italy, Spain or France is like visiting another city in my country and I’m there so many time over a year that I catch myself not paying attention sometimes. I know it is terrible, I’m fighting with it ;) Europe is the best place to live but lets be honest Africa is an amazing place! I’m kind of jealous of people who get to travel there so much!

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