Western Europe is more than just a slew of hugely commercialized cities filled with tour groups wearing fanny packs and carrying SLR cameras trying to capture the infamous sites. The real compelling aspect of traveling here is learning the day to day life of a European. Europeans, with their shockingly fatty foods, strong caffeinated beverages and fashion-forward clothing choices, are a breed of creature we as Americans can learn a lot from.
Europe has taught me...
Gluttony: There is nothing that will teach you the love of carbohydrates more than watching Italians guzzle down pastries in front of the most galvanized churches on the planet. There is something poetic about eating in Europe, like a Baudelaire poem should be read while you eat your salami and baguette. In these countries you'll eat snails and way too much bread and stinky cheeses and calorie-filled chocolates and teas and espressos. You'll consume all these things in restaurants, cafes, on the streets, on steps on famous monuments. I feel like everyone in Europe is just killing time between meals. You'll take pride in the things you'll consume that don't come out of plastic wrappers but from rancid smelling stores that stock items from farms a few miles away from the city. Nothing is filled with preservatives. It's au natural. And the food is just tasty. In America, I miss eating like that.
History & Culture: Europeans are modern people living in their history and traditions. In Ireland people are Irish. In France people are French. In America, we just don't know who we are. We are always trying to evolve and redevelop. We have roots everywhere and can't decide which ones define us the most. Everywhere I go in Europe the people are woven together to create the country. In America we are less of one brand, and more a group of puzzle pieces that don't quite fit together yet. Some of the magic of Europe is speaking Italian for a week or eating cheese like a French man for the evening. You get to try on their culture and wear it around. When you come back to America, some of it sticks with you.
Enjoying the journey: Watching a dutch boy in Amsterdam ride his bike through the Museumplein with a radio strapped on the handle bars playing will.i.am (yes they pretty much listen to all American top 40 hits) made me appreciate bicycling in a totally different light. It's not just about where you are going on that bike but how you are traveling there. Life is about enjoying that 5 euro bottle of wine on your front porch. Europe taught me how to slow down my anxieties. In America we are of the mentality, "I finished this project, now what do I do?" Europeans take siestas (days off) and don't worry about the cost-savings benefits. There's a permanence of relaxation in each European city that lacks in many other places.
Style: Besides the enumerable iconic things to see in Europe there is certain posh style that only exists in Western Europe. We try in America to meet the chicness of Paris, London, and Milan, but we are only replicators. I'm not saying that we don't have fashion here in our sea of long champ bags, Zara/H&M clothes, and Burberry trench coats... but to really understand it all... you have to go to where fashion was born. I learned the elegance of street style from a Parisenne woman who wore Chanel shoes while leading a tour group through the Louvre. Europeans are modest and old-fashioned but avant-garde at the same time.
Right now men that read my blog are rolling their eyes, "Why do I care about clothes and shopping, Jessica?" But it's not about the clothes. It's about what you feel like when you walk up the Colosseum Steps and look out on the rubble of ancient Rome that stretches out far beyond what you imagined. You see a girl in a plain red dress against the gray stones. These colors and pictures create a mark on you that inherently will change the way you carry yourself on a day to day basis. And that is style.