Things I miss most about Europe (+ where to stay in Italy)

This is a good one. I actually have been thinking of doing post about the biggest differences (in my opinion) between life in Europe and life in North America. If you are new to my blog (welcome!) I am Belgian and grew up there, now in Canada for the past 10 years. Here, you are all caught up. 🙂

Just a reminder this is completely from my own point of view, and might not be the same for everyone else.

1. THE FOOD.

AKA the GOOD STUFF. But I feel there is just so much to talk about in this category so let me split it in sections.

1.1 Waffles.

Probably the ONE FOOD I miss the MOST about Europe – Belgium in particular. This is always my number one request when I go home, and never ever ever a disappointment when I finally get it. I feel *personally* insulted when I go to a coffee shop here in North America and see “Belgian waffles” in their menu. NO. 99.9% of the time it will be a plastic-y, cold, thin “waffle” (not even sure I can call it like that) that they will charge you $15 for – and then add aaaaaaall the unnecessary extras to it, like ice cream, chocolate, caramel, strawberry syrup,… What is all this?! Belgian waffles are thick, crispy on the outside but soft on the inside, with caramelized sugar crunches, they should be eaten warm and without anything added to them. Period. Ask anyone who has been in Belgium at least once in their lives if they have been able to find anything that compares to a true-to-god real Belgian waffle. They are literally one of a kind. Can you tell I love my waffles?

1.2 Fast food.

In America, fast food is basically a way of life. People get addicted to this stuff, from McDonald to Starbucks to In & Out to Taco Bell to Dunkin Donuts (I think I could go on for maybe 15 more). Growing up, if we went to McDonald it was a special event that would be remembered for weeks and months. It just feels like people don’t care as much about what they put in their bodies here in North America! Also the coffee – oh my god I am still not used to seeing the quantities of sugar-based flavours that can be added to a single cup of coffee! In Europe, people order an espresso or an americano OR JUST TEA and that’s it. No “3 shots of pumpkin spice, with 2 shots of chai, half milk half whip cream, and extra sprinkles on top” kind of thing.

1.3 Cheese.

Do people on the American side of the world know that there are more than, like 3 kinds of cheese? Here you go to a restaurant and order a cheese plate, and you are brought a board with cheddar, American, and maaaaybe a baby portion of parmesan. I have seen cheese boards where one of the cheeses is literally a babybel. Yes. Being a huge cheese lover, living in a place where cheddar is the king of cheeses is ROUGH. There are dozens and dozens of cheeses in Europe that put all of these to shame, my personal favourite being the Orval cheese (nothing compares to it once you’ve tried it!). And the top of the top is when you can order an Orval cheese croquette. I swear there’s barely anything in the world that is worth 2h in a car, but this is.

1.4 Chocolate.

You guys know that smarties aren’t really chocolate right? Like if you go to a dinner party and say “I brought chocolate”, smarties should NOT be what you mean. Even when, by some miracle, I find some kind of “made in Belgium” type of chocolate in the grocery store, trust me it is not Belgian chocolate. You have not lived until you have walked through the streets of Belgium or Switzerland and stopped at family owned chocolateries, or tried a box of quality hand made pralines. Every time someone from Belgium comes to visit me, they know to bring me a bag of Cote D’Or Chokotoff (so so soooo good) or two.

2. TRAVELLING.

In North America, everything is spread apart (which is ironic considering how close your house is to your neighbors, #privacydoesnotexisthere). Travelling anywhere requires weeks of planning, because everything is just so. far. from. everything. else. In Europe, you can hop on a train (or even just your car) for 2h, and be in a different country! You can decide on Thursday that you want to go to Paris on Friday, and you can actually do it. Life is just so much easier and made for travellers to explore and visit anytime they want. Plus, and this is a HUGE difference, travelling is so much cheaper in Europe! Have you ever noticed how expensive it is to fly from Ottawa to Toronto (just 1h flight)? It costs easily a few hundred dollars, especially if it is last minute. However, you can fly from France to the UK (1h flight) for under 100 euros… that’s two different countries! It costs 5x more to fly from one city to the other in Canada, than it does to fly from one country to the other in Europe! I literally just had my brother on the phone and he told me he was in the Netherlands a couple of days ago, just because he had a couple of days off of work. The only place people go here when they have 2 days off work is *maybe* their cottage, but most likely the closest couch they can find (pretty sure “Netflix and chill” was invented in the US, no?)

3. NO TAXES/TIPS ADDED.

One of the nicest things about shopping in Europe is that you pay what you see on the price tag. So if you go to H&M and see a dress for 9.99 you will pay 9.99 at the cashier (and they still use pennies, so you will *actually* pay 9.99 and not 10). Something else I personally love when I am in Europe is that tipping is not expected when you go to restaurants/bars. The waiters/bartenders don’t make their salary based on how many tips they receive, which means that you can leave some pocket change on the table and they are perfectly happy with that! That’s literally the one thing I have never been able to get used to in North America. I am the worst tipper ever. I feel terrible about it, and I know I need to change but I just can’t bring myself to leave 20% extra as a tip!

4. TAKING TIME.

North Americans are always in a hurry. Everything needs to be done as fast as possible, especially eating. In Europe, everyone takes their time, if you go out to eat at a restaurant you are usually there for several hours. It is basically a way to live life. Have you ever heard of the phrase “time is money”? It has never been more true than when you go to a restaurant in America and are done eating. The waiters basically push you out of the place! You get the bill the moment your cutlery touches your plate, and you get the “looks” until you feel so uncomfortable you end up leaving. Europeans are a lot more laid back and chill when it comes to time management. For example, you’ll never feel rushed to leave when you are in a cafe, restaurant, bar,… You basically own the table you are sitting at (as long as you have ordered something, even just a cup of coffee). Same thing when you walk in the street, people are a lot more relaxed and not in any hurry to get to their next destination. Time is meant to be lived, not meant to earn extra $$$. Europeans work to live, while Americans live to work.

5. FASHION.

I feel like I don’t even need to explain this. You would never see someone walk inside a store in sweatpants like you do here in Walmart (or let’s be honest, anywhere). But to me the most horrifying thing to see here is people wearing sandals with socks! What is UP with that?! I get you want to “keep warm” but then just wear shoes. Seriously, the fashion is way better on the other side of the Atlantic, and granted people are more open-minded in North America but that doesn’t mean it is *fashionable*. I seriously miss seeing people dress up – actually dress up – when going out to dinner, or just walking down the streets and being inspired by what people are wearing and the way they put things together. There’s a reason 3 out of 4 fashion weeks are in Europe… JUST SAYING.


Here are a few of my recommendations if you take a trip to Italy:

1. Rome.
Stay: The Fellini hotel. It is tiny, but it is RIGHT in the middle of all the action. Seriously, talking 2 minutes walking to the Trevi Fountain, 1o minutes from the Spanish Steps, 30 minutes from the Vatican, and so many things in between. 
Eat: Breakfast at Coromandel. BEST. BREAKFAST. I. EVER. HAD. And not too expensive either. Dinner at Tonnarello in the Trastevere area. Best meatball spaghetti of my life.
Do: Book a tour with City Wonders (they have tours of everything in the city). I recommend their Trastevere evening tour. Make sure to go to the Vatican and see the museums.  

2. Venice.
Stay: Ca’ Alvise hotel. Slightly bigger budget, but the location is absolutely worth it. You are right by the canals where the gondolas pass (photo below is literally outside of our hotel). The rooms are a *dream*, you are stepping back in time!
Eat: Coffee at Florian, which is the oldest cafe in the world. Prices are expensive (and you’ll end up having to pay a supplement for the music – ha!), but it is such an experience. Dinner at Al Buso, just behind the Rialto Bridge. Get the alfredo pasta!!
Do: Definitely a gondola ride, but make sure you walk around and look at different ones. We did the first one we walked to, and it was great but could have been better (the gondola itself was very minimalistic and the gondolier didn’t sing… sad sigh). Also, get lost in the tiny streets. Venice is a maze, and it might be crowded but there are hundreds of little streets with no one, and often you’ll find the most charming views from there. One more thing: go to the Piazza San Marco at night to listen to the orchestra playing!

3. Florence.
Stay: NH Anglo American hotel. Slightly outside of downtown, so you might have to walk about 20 minutes to get to the Duomo. Worth it for the room! 
Eat: Dinner at Za Za. Cannot recommend this place enough. We LOVED it. Ordered 3 meals for just us two. Prices are totally reasonable, and the food is delicious. But try to make a reservation before, or you’ll end up spending 30 minutes in the line outside like we did.
Do: We didn’t spend much time in Florence but definitely get yourself to the Duomo and see the Ponte Vecchio. Major tip: do NOT take a car inside the city. Parking is a nightmare.

Extra recommendations on where to visit if you rent a car:

1. Pisa
2. Lecco
3. Milan
4. Verona
5. Cinque Terre

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