The colds we picked up have kept us pretty much stuck inside here in Lisbon, although on the positive side of things we’ve spent more time exploring and enjoying our neighborhood than we would have otherwise. To pass the time while we recover (and we are nearly there – yeah!), Brett and I have been talking about all we’ve seen and done, the places we’ve stayed, and how we felt about them. We knew from the beginning that not every part of our trip was going to go perfectly, and that we’d be both pleasantly surprised and disappointed along the way so it has been fun to talk about it all in hindsight. Our rankings are rather informal, and it was interesting to discover and discuss what we agreed on, and what we differed on, and why.
- Favorite city: Strasbourg, France tops the list for both of us. We both thoroughly enjoyed our time in the city from start to finish, loved the local Alsatian cuisine and the city’s proximity to other countries and cities. Strasbourg was also a very walkable city, had an easy-to-use public transportation system, a wonderful mix of old and new, and also was set up to encourage bike riding. Locals were very friendly and helpful. Florence ranks right up behind Strasbourg, for many of the same reasons, especially how walkable the city was. Our third favorite city was Buenos Aires – we’d definitely love to go back.
- Least favorite city: Although we don’t regret including these cities in our itinerary, Rome was unfortunately our least favorite place. Although we liked all the historical sites, piazzas, and museums we visited, after we left we realized how on edge we had been the whole time we were there because of the constant reminders and warnings about pickpockets, etc. We also felt it was a big place where we just rattled around. Montevideo comes in as our second least favorite city – we were glad we went, but were also on edge the whole time we were there.
- Best Airbnb experience: Our stay at the Swiss farmhouse was hands down the favorite Airbnb experience for both of us. Besides getting to visit Lucerne, we got to enjoy authentic experiences with the family. Their hosting was exceptional, including having us join them for a traditional Swiss meal one evening.
- Favorite Airbnb apartment: Our Florence apartment was my favorite, even though we had to climb four flights of stone steps to get up to it! However, the ambience inside was comfortable and welcoming, the apartment was well-equipped, and the host friendly, communicative, and very helpful. There was also that beautiful view from the kitchen window! Brett’s favorite apartment was our tiny studio in Strasbourg – it was comfortable, had everything we needed and was in a wonderful location in the city (it’s my second favorite). We learned during our time there we could live in very close quarters and not get on each other’s nerves! We also had a wonderful host, and were privileged to dine with her family one evening. We also both liked our apartments in Buenos Aires and Montmartre, Paris, and our place here in Lisbon is also very nice. By the way, every single one of our Airbnb apartments has had a very comfortable bed – that was one of our big worries ahead of time.
- Least favorite Airbnb apartment: After some discussion we decided we least liked the apartment in Rome. The location was OK, but the apartment itself was huge and cold (marble everywhere) and we never seemed to be able to settle in or relax there as we did in other places. There was also construction going on above us from time to time (sometimes very early in the morning) which could be very noisy and annoying. Second on the list was our apartment in Montevideo. The apartment itself was comfortable, and was in a great location for getting out to visit the old town and La Rambla during the day, but the neighborhood was somewhat sketchy at night and we were warned against going out.
- Favorite travel day: Our three train trips through France from city to city, and our train trip from Florence to Rome are at the top of both of our lists for travel days – all were comfortable, affordable, and easy to manage.
- Least favorite travel day: The extremely uncomfortable 12-hour flight from Montevideo to Paris was pretty awful, but so was the river crossing and bus trip from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, and that trip from Bordeaux to Florence was one for the books.
- Favorite work of art: Brett’s favorite work was the Bayeaux Tapestry, an amazing historical work of art that has survived all these years. My favorite was Michelangelo’s David – it was breathtaking and more than I expected. I also found the unfinished carvings by Michelangelo in L’Accademia to be an emotional experience, seeing the figures emerging from the stone and his chisel work, and I could not take my eyes off of The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. I have always been a big Michelangelo fan, and I more than got my fill.
- Work of art that we should have liked but didn’t: None.
- Favorite museum: Both of us put the cathedral museum in Strasbourg (Musée Œuvre Notre Dame) at the top of our list. The Alsace museum in Strasbourg was also very interesting and engaging.
- Least favorite museum: We were totally overwhelmed and exhausted by the Uffizi Museum in Florence. We felt we were drowning in the amount of art and as a result couldn’t appreciate it as we should have. L’Accademia, Palazzo Pitti, and the Bargello museums all offered a better experience in our opinion.
- Favorite cathedral: The beautiful Duomo in Siena tops my list, followed by the Strasbourg Cathedral and St. Peter’s (including the Sistine Chapel). Brett especially like the Duomo in Florence, especially the experience of climbing up to the dome.
- Least favorite cathedral: There is no such thing. They were all different and fascinating to see.
- Favorite historical site: Both of us were surprisingly awe-inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris – we gasped when we saw it and then stayed and looked at it for a long time before moving on. Also, the Normandy beaches and the American cemetery were very special experiences for me, and we were both deeply affected by the Pont du Hoc site. Brett’s favorite historical site was the Lion Memorial in Lucerne, an emotional experience for him.
- Least favorite historical site: Nothing we visited was disappointing – we enjoyed every site we visited, from the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires to the Colosseum in Rome. It was thrilling to visit these places.
- Favorite tour: My favorite was the wine tour south of Bordeaux, while Brett liked the one to St. Emilion more. We had the same guide for each tour – she was a delight! The tour through the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Forum was also good, but exhausting.
- Least favorite tour: The street art tour in Buenos Aires started out well, but strayed from its premise so we bugged out.
- Favorite meal: The best meal for both of us was the traditional Tuscan meal we enjoyed in Siena – so delicious! And, while I loved the pizza, pasta and risotto we enjoyed in Florence and Rome, and baguettes, pate, cheese, pastries and quiche in Paris, the one thing I really want to have again is a tarte flambée like the ones I enjoyed in Strasbourg. The pasta with fresh pesto in Riomaggiore was also something pretty special as was the cheese fondue in Switzerland.
- Least favorite meal: I don’t think we had a disappointing meal.
- Best overall travel experience: Flying first class from Kaua’i to Portland at the beginning of our travels was pretty special. So was getting to eat gelato every day in Florence. We’ve also been pleasantly surprised that so many things have cost a lot less than we thought they would, and we’ve been given senior discounts in several places where they weren’t advertised. And, with a couple of exceptions, everyone we have come into contact with has been very, very kind and helpful!
- Worst overall travel experience: Getting sick in Lisbon has been the worst – we have only gotten to do a tiny of fraction of what we hoped for besides feeling miserable for days. I guess we’re going to have to come back some day.
One thing that struck both of us while we were talking about all of this is that if we had to do it over again, we would stay a longer time in one place and then branch out from there. Strasbourg and Florence top our lists for a variety of reasons, but most of all because of the time we spent in each of those cities. We never felt rushed, or guilty of missing out on something if we stayed in our apartment for the day to rest. We also enjoyed having the opportunity to get to know our neighborhoods in more depth, of having shopkeepers and neighbors recognize and greet us when we went out.
It’s time to go home for a while though. And, Part II of The Big Adventure begins in just another month!