I will never forget my first trip to Europe. I waited nearly twenty-four years before I got the chance to travel abroad. I went to France, England, and Amsterdam. Needless to say, it was a bit hectic, but it was still one of the most romantic, dreamlike trips I have been on.
My boyfriend and I flew to Dublin from Orlando, Florida on August 13, 2015, a few days shy of my twenty-forth birthday. We transferred from Dublin with a direct flight to Paris: the city of love, art, and succulent desserts.
We took a train from the Charles de Gaulle Airport to the École Militaire metro stop, and we stayed at Hôtel Kensington.
We spent the bulk of our first night in Paris walking around aimlessly in the pouring rain. I viewed many of the iconic Parisian sights that night, drenched, with only a flimsy, black umbrella to shield me from the downpour. But I will always miss that night, because aside from the occasional passerby, I felt like I had Paris to myself. The city lights danced across the Seine, and the bridges beamed with this ambient glow.
We spent our second day in Paris at the Palace of Versailles. I am a huge fan of everything Sofia Coppola has done, especially Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette, so I stood in awe the moment I saw the golden gates outside Versailles.
Touring the inside of the palace was one of the most visually stimulating experiences of my life thus far, but it was a little claustrophobic at times. Some of the rooms, particularly the bedroom of Marie Antoinette, were packed with tourists. I remember feeling a little overwhelmed at times when I was trying to take pictures, only to end up squashed into a corner, being jabbed by elbows and other cameras as I tried to frame my shot.
The gardens outside Versailles are divine, though. I felt as regal as Marie Antoinette when I strolled along the garden, admiring the carefully designed bushes, trees, and flowers, and, of course, the palace itself.
I spent my last day in Paris exploring the Louvre, eating all the decadent desserts I could find, and strolling along the Seine. I knew on that last night in Paris how much I would miss it. Paris will always be my favorite city.
We traveled to London on the fourth day of our trip, which was my twenty-forth birthday. In London, we explored Big Ben, the famous Abbey Road Crossing, and walked around aimlessly, which is one of my favorite things to do when I travel.
At the end of the night, we had a delicious meal of fish n’ chips by the River Thames.
I enjoyed London, especially riding the Tube and people watching. However, I preferred my stay in the English countryside more.
On the fifth day of our trip, we got a rental car and drove down to Dorset. We explored Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast. This beach was filled with so many smooth, beautiful rocks. The water was freezing, but the sight of that coastline was worth it. The surrounding area near this beach was also very picturesque, for there are many quaint, thatched cottages.
After a few hours in Dorset, we drove to Dartmoor, attempting to see some ancient stone circles. Alas, we underestimated how difficult navigating a new country would be, especially with all of those crazy roundabouts!
We parked the car, and took a stroll through a part of Dartmoor. We didn’t see any stone circles, but we did get one hell of a view of an English sunset, as we passed a field of sheep that were grazing along the hillsides.
We returned to our rental car when the sun went down, and then attempted to make our way to Derbyshire. We had arranged two nights in a cottage within the Peak District through Airbnb. Our host, Elaine, quickly became one of my favorite people. We arrived much later than we had planned, because we got lost somewhere between Dartmoor and Elaine’s cottage in Derbyshire.
She greeted us with a generosity that I thought only existed in those PBS Masterpiece Classics I have always loved. She showed us our room, which was equipped with an adorable electric tea kettle, fresh cream, and packets of the best Earl Gray tea I’ve ever tasted.
She made us traditional English breakfasts in the morning, and praised us for wanting to travel the world. She told us tales of her excursions as a young woman, living in caves in Greece, and about her future plan for a prolonged stay in India. I am writing this a year later, and I hope she has made it to India by now. Few people are charismatic enough to instantly make strangers feel right at home.
During our stay in the Peak District, we visited the Chatsworth House and Castleton. I particularly enjoyed my visit to the Chatsworth House, because I am a huge fan of the 2005 rendition of Pride and Prejudice. In fact, I found myself wishing dashing Mr. Darcy would be around one of the corners of the house or garden, waiting to profess how I had bewitched his body and soul, and that I was the love of his life.
Alas, he never appeared, but Chatsworth itself is worth a visit. The house is beautiful and the staff are lovely.
After Chatsworth, we were eager to see a castle, so we searched for nearby castles in our GPS, and we followed the directions to Peveril Castle, which is in Castleton.
Castleton is one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen. The stone cottages and the surrounding hills all made me feel like I had gone back in time.
One area in Castleton is especially breathtaking: the Cavedale Cave. It was closed by the time we passed by. But the surrounding view was too good to pass up, so I hopped the fence and took a few pictures. On the right side of the hills is Peveril Castle. It sits atop a steep hillside.
I considered hiking up to see the castle, but the sheep seemed somewhat annoyed by my presence, and my thin Converse shoes didn’t provide me with proper traction for such a climb, so I left after a few minutes.
I hope to return one day. I am still curious to see what that dilapidated castle looks like up-close.
We spent our last day in England in the Lake District. We drove up from Derbyshire, hoping to hike through sections of the Lake District, but we seriously underestimated how long of a drive it would be, so we only saw a small fragment of it.
We explored Sizergh Castle on a whim, because we had only a few hours left before we had to reach the Manchester airport for our flight to Amsterdam.
The castle was lovely, and certainly made up for missing a chance to see Peveril Castle; however, we got stuck in some heavy traffic outside the airport in Manchester. And then to make matters worse, a really irate lady in the airport security line gave me a hard time about how many liquids I had in my carry-on.
I stubbornly attempted to keep my items, but she urged me to throw them away. It was a learning experience, because as a result of my stubbornness, I missed my flight, and my poor boyfriend had to buy us the next flight to Amsterdam, which wouldn’t leave until the next morning. So we were stuck in the Manchester airport for the entire night.
I feel it is important to note that traveling is always stressful, especially abroad. Navigating a new place and culture can lead to a lot of confusion, exhaustion, and failed plans. However, I have learned to appreciate even the hiccups during a trip. After all, traveling is meant to be an experience, one that pushes you outside your comfort zone and towards fresh perspectives. I typically gain the best lessons on my trips when something goes wrong.
Because we missed our evening flight to Amsterdam, we only had half a day to explore the city, so when we arrived late in the morning on the last day of our trip, we took quick showers and headed out to explore the city.
We visited the Anne Frank Annex, devoured some of the best burgers I have ever tasted at Burgermeester, explored the artsy flea markets, enjoyed a scrumptious apple strudel at Winkel 43, and strolled along the canals until our jetlag kicked in.
This trip was full of beautiful scenery, lessons, and best of all, new experiences. I highly recommend a trip to Europe. Remember to plan your days well, but also give yourself space within your schedule to wander, too!