One night a few years back, I found my way home, a little tipsy after an evening in the Belgian town of Bruges. I’d been at my favorite bar in town, the ’t Brugs Beertje, where not only did I get schooled in the many varieties of local beer, but also learned a few things about modern-day Belgian life.
I was a bit down on Bruges after a long...Read more
Many consider Germany’s Rothenburg ob der Tauber to be the best-preserved medieval town in Europe…and many also consider it a horrible tourist trap. It’s true that everyone in the town makes their living from tourism, and the storybook streets are indeed stampeded midday with visiting tour groups. The town even created its own “...Read more
For years I'd flown over Stockholm's famed archipelago, or glided by it on a big cruise ship heading for Helsinki. When I finally dived into the 80 miles of scenic islands that stretch out from downtown Stockholm, I wondered why I’d waited so long.
It's hard to put a number on just how extensive the archipelago is. Locals brag that it has 34,...Read more
I’m up early in my favorite village on the Italian Riviera, as the morning sun touches the tip of Vernazza’s bell tower and greets a peaceful world. The air is damp, cool, and refreshing as I wander downhill, passing underneath the train tracks. I enjoy the fact that the town is essentially traffic-free, and realize that many of my favorite ...Read more
I'm under the towering church spire in the tidy Dutch market town of Haarlem, tempted to eat a pickled herring. The sign atop the mobile van reads: "Jos Haring — Gezond en Lekkerrr" (healthy and deeeeeelicious).
I order by pointing and ask, "Gezond?"
Jos hands me what looks more like bait than lunch, and says, "En lekkerrr."
I stand there �...Read more
Budapest, the cultural capital of Hungary and much of Central Europe, has no shortage of nightlife. You can go there for grand opera, folk music and dancing, a twilight boat trip, or live music in a nightclub.
But there’s also an edgy side to Budapest evenings — “ruin pubs” (romkocsma), which are ramshackle, cavern-like bars crammed ...Read more
As I dodge Parisians walking their poodles and pushing baby strollers down a busy market street, I’m reminded that one of the reasons Paris is endlessly entertaining is its thriving neighborhoods. On streets such as Rue des Martyrs, everyday people make cozy communities in the midst of this vast, high-powered, and touristy city. Along these ...Read more
At Vienna's Hofburg Palace complex, ground zero of the Habsburg Empire, I'm particularly entertained by its butterfly house, a tropical wonderland on the Danube. In this community of royal butterflies, the trays serving up rotting slices of banana are the tavern. Fluttery slackers lick the fermented banana juice as it beads, and then just hang ...Read more
At Padua's Piazza delle Erbe, the market is closed, the merchants are gone, and shadows have replaced harsh sunlight. As if waiting to reclaim their square, students spill out of colorful bars – drinks in hand. Clustered around tall but tiny round tables – tipsy on the big, rough cobbles – they sip their drinks and dip bread in shallow ...Read more
Biking the back lanes of the island of Ærø, I come to a lonely little church. Wandering through its graveyard, I notice the name on every tombstone ended in “sen.” The inscriptions, such as “Here lies Christian Hansen at anchor with his wife. He’ll not weigh until he stands before God” seem to fit the salty charm of this tiny island ...Read more
Swiss people are experts at living with nature. Like people who live along the coast have telescopes to watch the ships, Swiss mountain dwellers have telescopes on their back decks to watch the mountain face across the valley – they know their mountains intimately ... where the ibex graze, where little avalanches tumble, and where the rock ...Read more
In Croatia's rugged interior, a stone's throw from the Bosnian border, hides one of Europe's most exotic hikes: through Plitvice (PLEET-veet-seh) Lakes National Park. There’s nothing like this leafy valley of 16 terraced lakes, laced together by waterfalls and miles of pleasant plank walks. Years ago, after a dozen or so visits, I thought I ...Read more
My grandparents came over on the boat from Norway, so I’m partial to that corner of Europe. But even if you’re not from Viking stock, don’t miss the fjords. From Oslo, northern Europe’s most scenic train ride takes you up and over the country’s mountainous spine and into the land of shiplap dreams. The tourist board calls it “Norway ...Read more
When I need a dose of quaint cobbled towns and storybook castles while in Germany, I drop into the dreamy Mosel Valley. The Mosel, located near Germany’s western border, is the Rhine's peaceful little sister.
The main tourist town of Cochem, tucked between steep vineyards and the river, boasts picturesque medieval streets. Stroll the ...Read more
Imagine that happy day around 1700 when the monk Dom Pérignon, after much fiddling with the double fermentation of his grape juice, stumbled onto a bubbly delight. Having tasted the very first glass of Champagne, he ran through the abbey shouting, “Brothers, come quickly … I’m drinking stars!”
The drink he invented ultimately put the ...Read more
The sidewalk along the Aare River is congested with wet and happy Swiss, hiking upstream in swimsuits just to float back into town. I join them – marveling at how this exercise brings out the silly in a people who are generally anything but goofy.
Every hundred yards a railing with concrete steps leads into the rushing river, which looks ...Read more