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The Secret Sides of Europe

If there is one thing (among many, many things) I fell in love with while living in Europe it’s how accessible international travel is. I was fortunate to visit the big landmarks, such as Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower. I mean, what girl doesn’t wanna visit Paris? But what I found was that I preferred visiting and experiencing the lesser known areas more. These places truly embodied the culture and history of the country. I felt dramatically more impacted when I broke away from tourist-ridden cities and towns. Here’s my list of the best kept secrets in Europe.

 

1. Verona, Italy

If you are a Romeo and Juliet fanatic like I am, you will know that Verona is the real city of love. Verona shows the true Italian lifestyle, which includes lots and lots of wine, or as the Italians say, vino. In Verona, I stayed at a resort near a vineyard which produced Tommasi wine; my mother stocked up on as many bottles as she could. What I enjoyed most was the indoor pool, it was too cold to lay outside, but inside there were heated stone chairs. The estate was beautiful in early November, just when it was starting to get cold in Northern Italy. Although I only stayed there a couple nights, the city and the countryside resonated with me.

 

2. Kølding, Denmark

About two and a half hours away from Copenhagen is the city of Kølding. My mother had an exchange student live with her when she was 16 from here. We visited her exchange student and his family. Visiting Kølding was almost surreal. I had never visited a socialist country, like Denmark, everyone lived in houses that looked similar, and they all drove similar cars. It was eye-opening to say the least. We stayed in this amazing sanatorium turned hotel right on the river, it was gorgeous, and uncharacteristically warm. Unlike Americans, the Danish do not go to grocery stores, they go to the town centers to pick up their meat, vegetables, milk, and cheeses from different vendors. This was refreshing to experience because you can see where and how all the products you are consuming and made, and it was nice to feel such a strong sense of community. Although this was not in Kølding, I visited the original Legoland in Billund. I grew up with Legos in the house (thanks to my brother) so it was cool to see where they originated.

 

3. Quarteira, Portugal

Don’t ask me how, but I was able to convince my parents to let me and six other friends go to Portugal right after we graduated. I was able to find a sweet Airbnb apartment that fit me and all my friends that was 100 feet from the beach. We were one block over from a supermarket where every morning we bought beer, wine, and spirits to last us the day while we were laying on the beach. The sun was hot but the Mediterranean water was cold. There was a strip with lots of touristy shops, but no tourists, and restaurants of all kinds. We ate at this one restaurant that served what we would consider “bar food,” and ordered all the sangria we could drink. If you’ve never had Strongbow sangria, I would definitely give it a try.

 

4. Oświęcim, Poland

This town, better known as Auswitchz, was probably the town that had the most impact on me throughout all of my European travel. Walking through history is unbelievable at times, it’s hard to imagine that so many lives were lost in the place you were standing and learning about. In American education, we learn in depth of the horrors that happened at the concentration and death camps located here, but in Europe, that history is erased. What was most shocking to me was that I had seen a group of teenagers coming out of their school and walking across the street, laughing. Life in Oświęcim was as normal as it was in Tampa, but for me, I couldn’t get over the history that remained in that town.

 

5. Stuttgart, Germany

There is not enough I can say about Stuttgart, Germany. This is where I lived for two years (2017-2019). The above picture is Schloss Solitude, located out the outskirts of the city. This was a popular place for those to take pictures, although there is not much to walk through and see. Two main attractions that Stuttgart had to offer were Oktoberfest, and Fruhlingsfest (spring fest). People come from all over the world to attend these festivals, as Stuttgart had the second biggest Oktoberfest (next to Munich), and the biggest Fruhlingsfest in the world. Another attraction was the car museums and manufacturer sites. Cars like Porsche, BMW, MINI, and Audi were all made in Stuttgart. Seeing a Porsche on the road in Germany was like seeing a Honda on the road in the United States. The best part of Stuttgart was the nightlife. In downtown Stuttgart, on every block, you could find a handful of bars, clubs, and restaurants. There was always something to do and somewhere to go. My friends and I were commonly coming home on the train, as people were headed into work. It was two years I will never forget, and wouldn’t trade for the world.