It’s a small detail in this photo, but you can see the Pride flags waving proudly above the Liffey in Dublin, Ireland. It was the weekend of the Pride festival when we visited, and the country had recently approved gay marriage via referendum. In addition, while we were there we heard the news that the U.S. Supreme Court had also guaranteed the right of same-sex couples to marry with their landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. It felt like a significant moment, like a look into a brighter future.
A visit to the Sagrada Família in Barcelona also requires a look into the future. The masterwork of architect Antoni Gaudí, the church was begun in 1882 and is scheduled to be finished in 2026. It was amazing even under construction, so I look forward to returning to see the completed building in the future.
Let’s take a little trip to the four capital cities I’ve visited in Europe!
Dublin, Ireland: History mixed with modernity
I visited Dublin in 2015 and found the city very friendly, full of history and culture, and surprisingly metropolitan. I happened to be there during the Pride festival, so there was a very fun atmosphere in Ireland’s capital. As a liberal Catholic myself, I felt very much at home. I think this shot of the Famine Memorial on the banks of the River Liffey shows how the city honors the past while also looking towards the future.
Rome, Italy: Centuries of history
I visited Rome in 2012, and while I saw most of the city while on a bus, I was still able to appreciate the rich history of the city. In some ways, Rome is the capital of not just Italy but also Western history. I loved seeing centuries of different buildings cohabiting right next to each other. The Colosseum in particular is an amazing view into the past.
Lisboa, Portugal: A Hidden Gem
My friends and I took a weekend trip to Lisboa in 2007: my first time in a country where I didn’t speak the language. We managed with a mix of English and Spanish, and the people we met happily taught us a few useful phrases in Portuguese. I was surprised how beautiful the city was; I have wanted to return here with my husband ever since to really explore the city in depth. This is the Tower of Belém on the banks of the Tagus River, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Madrid, Spain: A Trove of Art
We took a class trip to Madrid during my semester in Spain, mostly to see the art. And what art it was. In addition the the architecture of the capital, the city hosts the Prado and Reina Sofía museums, where you can view such masterpieces as Las Meninas and Guernica. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience; I even had someone take my picture with Velazquez’s Las Meninas (which I went on to write an essay about for art history).
Lastly, a slightly different take on the word “capital.”
I was fascinated by the detail on the capitals of the columns in Venice, Italy.
When you think of Ireland, you might immediately think of the color green, but actually it is a country of many colors.
Dublin especially is very colorful in its architecture, plus there are flowers everywhere. I have never seen more window baskets! Someone had even added fresh flowers to the haunting statues at the Famine Memorial.
Red pops up everywhere, especially on doors.
I was also surprised by the food! It’s not just pub food (though that was good, too). We had a lot of fresh meat and fish, fresh vegetables, even curry and tapas in Dublin. And everything had such beautiful presentation! I don’t normally take pictures of my food, but I did it all the time in Ireland!
One of the my favorite things about Rome was the constant juxtaposition of things modern and ancient…and plenty of things in between! There is so much history in this city, but it is living history. Imagine seeing these buildings on your commute every day!
Like many European cities, Dublin has bikes widely available for rental. I loved seeing the long rows of them, broken only when someone had borrowed one. The ads on the bikes are for Coke Zero (is that as popular in Europe as here?), but the Dublin Bikes logo is in blue.
Even the little details in Dublin feel distinctly Irish: the lampposts have little shamrocks embedded in the swirls. The shamrock has been a national symbol of Ireland for centuries; it comes from the legend of St. Patrick using the plant with three leaves to explain the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity (three persons, one God).
I particularly like this image of the lamppost because its curves contrast well with all the straight lines in the Georgian building behind it.