15 First Dates with Europe plus a tiny bit of North Africa

Showing up in a new city is like showing up to a date. Some are blind dates, some are dates with people you’ve spent some time previously getting to know, and sometimes, you don’t even know it’s a date. My name is Ayo and I love metaphors. At the time of writing this, I was a Texas Law Student who decided a long time ago to study abroad in my 3rd year of law school. So, on September 2, 2014, I took off. The plan: Go to class in London and spend my free time in a different type of classroom: Wanderlust University, my real passion.

Overall, it was nearly impossible to attempt to write a single blog post on 4 months of travels, but I wanted something concise. So my attempt at in-depth posts about travel in general and applications to real life lead me to these cities visited in order: Rome, Florence, Pisa, Barcelona, Madrid, Marrakech, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Athens, Berlin, Hamburg, Lisbon, Istanbul and Budapest. Most of the trips were made with company, whether a group of friends, or a single friend, or Most Exciting: Alone.


Italy

September 2014

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Rome
Felt like the kind of date that is nice at the beginning but by the time you left, you were more than okay to leave and mayb
e the date went too long. I was in Rome with 3 law school friends and so we hit the major sites, the Colosseum, Ancient Roman ruins. I have to admit, I did not know much about the Ancient Roman Empire. Whatever I knew was learned in the 9th grade and has long since evaporated. Needless to say my time in Rome was nice but forgettable. Though what was unforgettable was the delicious Ravioli I had at Ristorante Renovatio near the Vatican.

Likelihood of returning: 5

Florence
Compared to Rome, Florence was warm, the people were nice, it felt like a college town which I think might be exactly what it is. As for the date metaphor, Florence was the welcome relief after a forgettable first date. I bought a leather belt, walked everywhere till days where I could not feel my feet. Honestly, I don’t even remember if we did anything special in Florence. Dining Memories: I ordered a beautiful drink that I think is called an Orange Spritzer. It looked like a beautiful orange colored sprite drink. It tasted like disgusting medicine and two sips in, I gave up. The waitress was more than happy to take it off my table but to my (very American norms, I guess) surprise, it was still on my bill which I paid without so much as a complaint. What can I say, I try to go with the flow, especially when there’s a 800 ft language barrier between myself and the person I’d be speaking to.

Likelihood of returning: 9

Pisa
Quick Day trip, it was raining but it was nice to have a Leaning Tower of Pisa picture. We spent less than 4 hours total there before scurrying back to Florence.

Likelihood of Returning: Pisa: 6.


SPAIN

September 2014

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Barcelona
OH BARCA! My heart still beats for you. Barcelona for me was like a first date with your high school crush who still makes your heart flutter. And you are expecting it to be just OK since you may have built it up in your mind, but then it turns out to be AMAZING. We got off the train heading to our AIRBNB and I was just excited. There were lots of people in the street wearing yellow and red and we assumed some big football game had just ended. We later learned from our tour guide (Shout out to Billy from Sandemann Tours) that we arrived on September 11, a date that is special for the Catalan people in a very different way than for Americans. It was the celebration of the Catalan (In)dependence day. Yea, they actually lost their independence on that day. I fell in love with the cool California vibe of the city with its beautiful beach. It is certainly a city to be in. I also fell in love with FCB Barcelona (BARCA) during this time when I bought a ticket from some random guy in front of the Stadium and attended ALL BY MY LONESOME, the game between Barcelona and A.C Bilboa. It is certainly one of the highlights of my 4 months abroad! MES QUE UN CLUB!

Likelihood of Returning: 10

Madrid 
Nice city, went by quickly. Felt more like a NYC as compared to Barcelona’s California feel. One regret from Madrid: Our tour guide told us about a place you could buy homemade cookies from nuns if you knew the secret code and knock and what not. My friends and I fully intended to go, but it just didnt happen.

Likelihood of Returning: 6


Morocco

September 2014

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MARRAKESH (Or is it Marrakech)
As a West African born, U.S. Resident, I always wondered about other parts of Africa. Would I feel like a westerner, or one of their own people? Northern Africa is especially different from West Africa because of the people, temperature, history and even the spices they cook with. The locals are from Berber descent and speak Arabic, and in the case of Morocco, French too. It was such a strange experience. The moments of extreme nostalgia reminded me of what Nigeria truly can be. A tourist abode, a beautiful city with so much to offer the world. I really enjoyed my time in Marrakesh and likely most enjoyed my bargaining fun time in the Jemma el Fna though I had to stay away from the snake charmers. Snakes are not my reptiles of choice. In fact, reptiles are not my animal of choice. Fighting and joking with shopkeepers, and in one case, a very young boy who was at most 14 years old and was selling me spices. Needless to say, this first date experience made me long for my first love, Nigeria.

Likelihood of Returning: 8.5


France and Belgium

October 2014

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Paris and Brussels
Oh What fun. Paris was a return visit for me, but this time, I had a friend who had never been with me. It was really nice seeing the city with a new pair of eyes and taking some amazing pictures that were not selfies. Brussels on the other hand was a solo trip I made by bus. This experience of traveling by road in the EU was fascinating and I have to mention that the E.U. is quite nice. I did not feel at all as though I went from one country to another. My most treasured experience in Brussels was a tour I took of the E.U. Visitor Center which ended with an exhibit titled, the Museum of Broken Relationships. It featured items and connected stories linked with the end of relationships, many romantic, some platonic and some not even real. That was an exhibit I felt like, if not for the total autonomy of traveling solo, I may have missed the opportunity.

Likelihood of Returning: 8, 7.


Netherlands

October 2014

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AMSTERDAM
Red Light District, Legal Marijuana and Anne Frank Huis, whats not to love.
Amsterdam was a great first date. I was there with two friends and we walked the city till our shoes suffered. The around-the-block long line for the Anne Frank Huis was not nearly enough to prepare me for the emotional gravity of the house itself. Anne came back to life for most of the visitors in that house and most of us needed a tissue when it was over.

Likelihood of Retuning: 7.5


Germany

November 2014

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BERLIN and HAMBURG
I did these cities in the same weekend and I regret it a little. I was by myself in Berlin Thursday afternoon to Saturday morning. Left wishing I had more time. Met some beautiful people (insert winking emoji) on a very fun pub crawl on my last night there. I reaaaally enjoyed the city. Save for the Turkish mobster who threatened my (new)Swedish friend for taking a picture of him. Of course John denied taking the picture, only to tell us after the gangsters left, that he did actually take the picture. My Australian roommate/bff for the weekend on her post-secondary school gap year trip certainly made it more interesting, especially when I started speaking Yoruba (my second language) to two Yoruba men we met on the street at 3a.m. Yes, Genius move! But still, who would have imagined that I’d be speaking Yoruba to my people in Berlin of all places.
I also had a life changing bbq cheeseburger from Burgermeister.

Finally, I realized I saw a significant rise in the black population in Hamburg. Its status as a large European port city may have contributed to it, but I certainly enjoyed seeing some people who look like me. My favorite part of Hamburg, was getting to meet and crash on the couch of the brother of a good friend from home. Shout out to Paul for the hospitality.

Likelihood of Returning: 9


Greece

November 2014

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ATHENS
As first dates go, Athens treated me well. Got in on Thursday and ate, walked around a lot. Like Ancient Rome, I knew very little about Ancient Greece, but the top of the Acropolis made for some phenomenal pictures. Also, I noticed a scarcity of black people in Greece so I jumped at the chance to hang out with some when I saw some black people at the Acropolis and essentially stalked them until I had a chance to speak to them. We all went to dinner atop a gorgeous hotel with a view. On this trip I was alone for the first two days and with a friend on the last. Anyway, Athens was fabulous and I would return for a chance to get to some other greek islands.

Likelihood of Returning: 8.5


Portugal

December 2014

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LISBON
As far as first dates go, this one was phenomenal. It was a first date with someone who you knew enough to be curious but weren’t interested in until you walked in. Lisbon was perfect. It stormed out first night and we had to sit in the dark for a couple of hours, but the rest of the stay was fabulous. A walking tour with a local who was clearly in love with his city. A visit to Sintra, the city of magnificent castles, a dessert from Pasteis de Belem and just delicious cheap food puts Lisbon atop my lesser known but EXQUISITE Western European destinations. I can still taste the pasteis de nata. I was in Lisbon on US Thanksgiving so after that trip, I took a break until January. I was studying abroad, so it would have been a shame to fail my classes, so my break was related to that.

Likelihood of Returning: 9.5


Turkey

JANUARY 2015

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Istanbul
Bad first date experience. As a Texan in Europe in January, I had limited appreciation for the cold and Istanbul was certainly a big part of that. We got to the meeting point for our tour guide but found no one, so we explored the Blue Mosque by ourselves and some other neat monuments in the area, as it snowed. Yes, It Snowed. It was the most snow I have ever seen and I was just appalled. I wanted a dreamy first date experience with Turkey but for the better part of our 3 day stay, we had to summon willpower to go anywhere. We had one especially bad incident with a cab driver. My friend gave him a 50 TL note expecting 10TL in change and he switched the note in the swiftest motion I’ve ever seen and claimed she’d only given him a 5TL note. Luckily, I’d looked and was able to retort with full confidence that he was sorely mistaken. He then apologized profusely and gave her appropriate change. Thanks to Tripadvisor because I’d read of this “strategy” before and thankfully we didn’t get swindled. I guess the American accent confusion for wealth is alive and well. I should explain that though it snowed and almost got swindled, I think Istanbul has significant potential and I would certainly return under the right circumstance, aka Good weather.

Likelihood of Returning: 8.5


Hungary

JANUARY 2015

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Budapest!!!
MY beloved. As far as first dates go, Budapest was my favorite. It was the type of date with someone you know a little about and have average expectations and then you fall in love. Budapest pronounced (Buda-peSHTe) was absolutely fantastic. Beautiful partly because the city is really 2 cities, buda and pest separated by a river and connected by several beautiful bridges. Buda is beautiful and hilly like Athens or Lisbon and has phenomenal views of flatter Pest. Our exceptional tour guide via Sandemann Free walking tours was really informative. The tip I initially planned to give him doubled when the tour was over. He invited those who were so inclined to join him for lunch at a cafeteria style traditional Hungarian style restaurant where I had such amazing food that it is reason alone to return to Budapest. It is now one of my favorite European cities.

Likelihood of Returning: 9.5

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About the Author
ayoAyo Shittu loves life and prefers to live it to the fullest. She is a Houston-based Bankruptcy Attorney who loves people, culture and travel. She was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria and has lived in Houston, Huntsville, and Austin, TX and London, UK in the past 12 years. She is never too far from her passport and believes travel is the spice of life. When she is not getting lost in a foreign city, she relaxes by cooking, reading murder mysteries and occasionally pretending to work out.
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