After a mere five weeks in Central and Eastern Europe, I have grown to adore many hallmarks about this part of the world. Here are a few of the traits that I simply love about Eastern Europe thus far.
The Fashion: My dear Americans, we have no idea how to dress. At all. Actually, we are quite sloppy.
Okay, yes, there is some fashion on the streets of New York City, but honestly, nowhere compares to the fashion savvy I see in Europe. Even when we (as Americans) try to dress up, we cannot compete with European sense of style.
For instance, on the streets of Europe, you will not find sweatpants or pajama pants. You will not see the “yoga pants-Ugg boots” combination that Americans love for afternoons at Target. Baggy jeans, “fashionably” torn jeans, t-shirts with graphics on the front, (or many t-shirts at all really), baseball caps, cut-off shorts, or white athletic socks do not grace the streets of any of the cities I have visited thus far. And I haven’t seen a sweatshirt since I arrived.
Europeans know how to dress, and they do it well and with ease. Whether in the grocery store, walking babies, shopping downtown, lounging in city squares, or grabbing a quick coffee, they always look put together, slick, and fashionable. And it is not just the fashion elite of Prague, Budapest and Zagreb – it’s everyone, from the police and bakery cashiers to the bank teller and hostel receptionist. Old and young, men and women – even the darn kids look like they have fashion sense. Where did we go wrong, America?
A perky beret: Berets are the best hat one can possibly imagine. I love the beret. Why doesn’t anyone wear these delightful hats where I come from?
These pert little caps adorn heads of all shapes, sizes, and ages. Even women wear them! They are cute, colorful, and so much more sophisticated than scruffy baseball hats or stocking caps. Please, bring the beret back home!
Coffee Culture: Goodbye Starbucks! Adios Dunkin Donuts! Quaint (non name-branded) coffee cafes adorn street corners, squares, hidden alleyways, and cobblestone paths. Every morning, these lovely little cafes buzz with the flow of locals, old men chatting over espresso, and backpackers seeking a dose of atmosphere and culture.
Sometimes it is even difficult to find a cafe willing to give you a “to-go cup” with a cardboard cozzee. This is completely fine with me for it gives my busy mind a time-out to sit, relax, grab an espresso or two, and while away the hours with a newspaper. Plus the people watching is awesome. Like these coffee loving chaps.
Majestic, beautiful churches: Europe is the country of grand, old churches. It is easy to become aloof to their brilliance and individuality since beautiful churches are simply everywhere, and they honestly start to blend together after twenty – thirty plus church sightings.
I love that European towns are built around one impressive church, and everything else sprawls away from the church’s central location. Look at a map of a European city and a cathedral will usually be smack dab in the middle. (On a side note, this makes it awfully handy for those of us who get lost frequently. Many times, I have wandered aimlessly until I just look up and search for a towering spire to lead me back to the central area.)
Whether a capital city, a small village, or a cluster of country homes, most municipalities have at least one cathedral. When traveling via bus or train, I like to watch out for a village’s steeple visible from miles away, poking up through the farmland to announce the little city’s presence.
In Europe, there is always a rambling story behind how the church was built, and the interiors often flaunt resplendent paintings, sculptures, and stained glass windows. All city tours make at least one visit to a significant, historical church. Yes, I have almost become desensitized to the beauty of the European church as I have already seen so many. Almost….but not yet.
City Squares: Like churches, every city and village has a center square. The larger cities have main squares that are slightly more impressive and grander as sometimes a village square consists of a single bench and cobblestone block. Nevertheless, all city squares serve as gathering points for the city’s inhabitants, and people interact in them as if they’re extensions of their homes. It is a place to hang out with neighbors and catch up on the days happenings.
In larger cities, the main squares seem to be dominated by huge bronze or iron statues, most often of a man wielding a sword or sitting on a horse. Without a doubt, the statue will serve as a seating area for locals to smoke and for pigeons to roost.
Bread and bakeries: Seriously, one has not lived until fully divulging in decadent European pastries. I know I talk about pastries and bread a lot during my blogging (I do love sweets). But, the rich, dark, multigrain bread here is nothing like the poor quality bread we eat in the States and I have to keep talking about it! Actually nobody seems to buy packaged bread here since bakeries with fresh, delicious goodness are everywhere, and their doors are constantly revolving with locals picking up daily loafs and pastries. I would send some home if I could.
Castles on hills: Medieval, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque are just some of the stunning architectural styles adopted when building (and refurbishing) European castles. Colorful and colossal with the typical turrets and towers you would expect from a perfect storybook castle.
Though a visit to any castle often requires a rather steep hike, there is always a stunning view of the rambling town below.
Castles don’t always command over large cities. I found this little gem outside of Budapest, Hungary. After a ferry ride from the opposite bank, I hiked to the top of the hill to view the inside of the castle and snap some photos of the Danube bend below.
European trains: Well, they are not always comfortable, but trains in Europe are full of character and romance. A ride through the European countryside is inspiring and almost magical. As most of my travels and sightseeing have been predominantly in big cities, riding a regional train is a way for me to see a bit of rural life instead of just flashy big cities. And it is a fantastic way to meet locals. On my most recent train ride, I met a cute couple from Croatia. They had been in Budapest for the weekend, and we had six hours of conversation on our way down to Zagreb.
I have several weeks before meeting my mom in Italy, and I am sure that my “I love Europe list” will grow exponentially. I will probably have to make my own lists for Italy’s food and wine alone!