Oh! Europe!

Paris. It’s always been Paris. I’m sitting on the grass in a park below the Eiffel Tower and after three weeks of travelling I find it hard to believe I’m here.

Twenty-one days, seven cities and five countries; if you’ve ever been to Europe, you know that there aren’t enough hours in the day nor enough days in the week to see everything you want to. When you go, you must go with all your heart.

I’m travelling with my best friend Renée. We meet in Vancouver and nine hours later, jet-lagged but excited, we arrive in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

I’m quickly reminded of what it’s like to be a backpacker. We weave through crowds of people, our packs weighing heavy. But it’s an exciting feeling, wandering down narrow cobblestone streets to places we’ve never been before.

With two days in Amsterdam, we explore it all at once. We visit the Anne Frank House, rent bicycles, race through streets and over canals with the wind blowing through our hair. We walk the Red Light District at night.

And then we venture to Berlin, Germany. The city is so historically rich you can’t possibly see it all. There’s the Berlin Wall, street art and graffiti, the vibrant and grungy nightlife. By the time we leave Berlin my feet are sore and my brain is fuzzy.

After sharing a hysterical giggle attack with Renée on the bus (for it is moments like this that make travelling worthwhile) we take an hour-long flight to Krakow, Poland.

Our intention behind Krakow is to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Renée and I both felt it was something we needed to see.

We join an English-speaking tour guide who leads us through the darkness that clouded Europe during WWII. There aren’t words that can fully explain what it feels like to visit a place like this. Barbed wire fences rust in the rain. It is emotionally overwhelming and exceedingly humbling.

We spend another beautiful day in Krakow with pigeons flying about, eating borscht and perogies with our new friend Sanghwa, from South Korea. She is travelling for five months alone. When Renée tells her the two of us have been friends for 15 years her face lights up.

The joy Sanghwa carries with her is so contagious she leaves me smiling.

The next morning we run frantically through a mall and train station to catch a bus to Vienna with only seconds to spare. Because travelling isn’t travelling unless you’ve nearly missed your ride, sweating and frazzled, just to end up nauseous on a bus weaving through Slovakia.

Two days later we’re on our way to Salzburg, a beautiful city in the Austrian Alps. We find ourselves walking through narrow streets, eating ice cream and feeling refreshed, exploring coffee shops and markets.

On our last afternoon we read our books on beanbag chairs in the city square, the sun warming our skin.

We train back to Stuttgart, Germany and visit the Black Forest. After being dropped off in the middle of nowhere we venture into the woods and find Lichtenstein Castle, sitting atop a tall cliff overlooking a small village.

It’s almost surreal, something you only see in fairytales. Renée can see this is what I’ve been most excited for. That I can share this with her is even better.

With four days left we go to Paris. J’adore Paris! The lights at night reflect against the Seine River and we stay out until 3 a.m. at a jazz club, the melodies dancing around in my head the whole way home. We visit the Eiffel Tower the next day, eat pizzas, and sip on lattés.

I’m sitting outside Notre Dame Cathedral the following afternoon when, lo and behold, a pigeon poops on me. I squeal, arms flailing as onlookers laugh at my expense. I suppose Paris isn’t Paris until you’ve been pooped on by a pigeon.

On our last night in Paris we watch the Moulin Rouge show and drink champagne. At times enchanting, exhausting and illuminating, this trip has been truly wondrous.

Because every once in a while we all need a little escape, if for no other reason than to find ourselves again.