Ahh the narrow streets of Europe. Many were definitely not built for cars, or for tourists for that matter. But they have so much character!
Isn’t it amazing to find a surprise, like the cathedral of Barcelona above, waiting for you at the end of one of these old streets?
Once, in Toledo, Spain, my friends and I didn’t even bother picking up a map just so we could wander around all the twisted little old streets. (Don’t worry, we didn’t get lost; Toledo is not a very big city.)
You never know what you will find down one of these tiny alleys between buildings, like this one in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Even Venice, a city without many streets, has narrow, convoluted pathways–they are just canals instead!
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!
San Gimignano is a quintessential Tuscan town, with medieval architecture and beautiful hilly, countryside views.
Fourteen tower houses have been well preserved, giving the city its unique skyline. (There were originally 72.) The city wall dates from the 12th/13th centuries. San Gimignano flourished until the Black Death swept through Italy in the mid-1300s.
My husband took this cool picture from the city wall; I love the way the corner of the wall points to the buildings below.
And, as a bonus, one of my favorite “leading lines” pictures I’ve ever taken, from the Maumturk Mountains in Ireland.