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Grand Tour of Europe

0-thelowdown-1The first time I went to Europe, I was in college studying architecture. After my first year, there was a great program put together by the school called “The Grand Tour of Europe”. It was such an amazing experience and anytime I go to Europe I try to recreate it and go to as many cities I can squeeze in. Europe is a must-see for any travel or design enthusiast. Once you pick off the larger cities, there are so many smaller locales that deserve just as much attention as Paris or Rome. It’s also fun to go back to these big cities over and over again. I will never get tired of going to Europe.

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Washington D.C. is a great jumping off point for any trip to Europe. Prices are slightly lower during peak times, like Summer, and they cater to international flights. We used points on American Airlines direct from Miami to D.C. and then my boyfriend used his companion Business Class ticket on British Airways to London. You still have to pay fees which pretty much total what an economy ticket would cost and they make it notoriously difficult to redeem, but if you plan far enough ahead you can get a great deal!

Once in Europe you can find flights easily and cheaply. I like Vueling since it goes to lesser-traveled cities and I pack lightly so I never have any baggage overage issues. Another airline I love is SAS Scandinavian Airlines. When in Europe, they are a great option! Always check if these airlines you don’t normally take are part of any loyalty program. It takes a few minutes and you could be on your way to a free flight, or at least an upgrade.

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Accomodations in Europe can get very pricey! Luckily, we found a great deal in Marrkech at this amazing modern villa, Dar Sabra, in the Palmerie on JetSetter a few months before we decided to go. I check that website weekly. Even if the places on their site are sometimes out of my price range, I still like to know what places have discounts and get some great travel ideas!

In Mallorca and Amsterdam, we got complimentary rooms through Small Luxury Hotels of the World. They have some amazing properties and love that they organize a lot of smaller, family-owned hotels. If I can’t stay in an AirBnB, this is another great website to start with.

For Copenhagen, we wanted to stay in the residences designed by the famous Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels (B.I.G.). We got to stay in two of his world-renowned developments: 8Tallet and VM House. AirBnB is amazing! I cannot recommend the website highly enough. As an architecture aficionado I have been able to stay in buildings that I admire and studied in school, while staying below budget!

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Early afternoon flight to Washington D.C. for our redeye to Marrakech via London. Worth the extra leg to fly business class on British Airways. Amazing service and full bed layout, highly recommend checking out the companion ticket program.

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Arrive in the afternoon to Marrakech airport and greeted by one of the friendly staff from Dar Sabra. One of perks of staying in a hotel versus an AirBnB. Grab an early dinner and wait for our friends to arrive. Head out to Le Comptoir Darna for cocktails and Moroccan cuisine on the posh Avenue Echouhada to beat the jet lag.

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Up early for lunch at the infamous and gorgeous La Mamounia Hotel. The heat is so intense that we order buckets of ice! I think it was around 120F. If you are in Marrakech, I highly recommend stopping here for anything. The attention to architectural details I have only seen in the Oberoi Hotel aesthetic, where I stayed in India. After our return we hire a car to take us to see some of the sights. First stop is the famous Marrakech Souk. It’s not for everyone, especially if you don’t like crowds, but as a designer it is amazing to see how inexpensive all of the authentic handicrafts they have there are. We also see the Koutoubia Mosque. If you are non-Muslim, you cannot enter but the exterior is beautiful in it’s own right. Back to the hotel for a quick dip in the pool and dinner with belly dancing at Cafe Arabe. The Souk really comes alive at night with kids playing soccer, food stalls and sounds from the mosque.

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Up early again and we start the day in the cool Majorelle Gardens. A historic home of the painter Jacques Majorelle and later Yves Saint Laurent. We drive by the ruins of the Badi Palace. It’s amazing to think of how old these ruins are. Another stop at the Menara Gardens and time to head back to the hotel to beat the afternoon heat with some mint tea. Amazing French/Moroccan dinner at Les Jardins de la Medina. It is a boutique hotel and the property is perfection. You feel absolutely transported to another place and time.  

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Sadly, our last day in Morocco and my friends are departing in the morning. Our flights doesn’t depart until 2am, so we hire a driver to take us on a day trip to Essouaira. Driving in Morocco is surreal itself and we stop at an Argan Oil farm on the way. Only two hours from the dessert and you are at the seaside. The town itself is special and designated as an UNESCO Heritage Site. The souk here feels more authentic and we had amazing fresh fish caught that morning.  We have to head back to catch our flight to Mallorca!

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Flight leaves Marrakesh at 2am…next stop Mallorca! Arrive just in time to see the sunrise over Mallorca. I remember reading Architectural Digest as a child and seeing all the beautiful houses from Mallorca, so this part of the trip I was especially looking forward to. We pick up our Europcar rental and head out on the road before we check-in to Hotel Tres. Our first stop is Valldemossa. The most picturesque of Spanish towns. Not only was the drive there breathtaking, the cobblestone streets are exactly what you picture of Mallorca. You can walk the entire town center in a few hours. I love the cafes and all the details of the townhome facades. Hope to return one day! Next stop was the Pilar y Joan Miro Foundation back in Palma. I’m a big fan and it was a great exhibit. Time to check-in to the hotel and take a nap before hitting the town. Great dinner and wine a few blocks away at Forn de Sant Joan. Took the scenic route back to our room wandering the streets, one of my favorite things about travel.

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Up early to see the sights in town. First stop is the Catedral. History and architecture buffs will be very pleased with this building. We walk around town for awhile and head back out on the road. Cala de Deia is a great stop for a quick swim on your way to Cap de Formentor. Amazing views and perfect place to watch the sunset. We walk a bit further from the hotel tonight to get some healthy Asian food at KOH. It’s nice to get a healthy meal in-between all the heavy wine and tapas. We walk to some of the local bars to watch the end of the Real Madrid soccer match.

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Drive to Fornalutx in the morning. The roadways in Mallorca are some of the most beautiful I have ever been on. Luckily I was in the passenger seat so I could enjoy! We head next to Pollença to see the Roman settlement. Another beautiful town and day. Time to celebrate with a glass of wine. Last dinner at one of the oldest restaurants in Mallorca and authentic tapas bar, La Boveda. I usually prefer to sit at the bar if it’s just the two of us and in Spain it is a real treat. They give you extra shots of liquor I have never heard of and speciality cuts. Don’t miss sitting in one of the coveted barstools at this place.

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Up early yet again for our flight to Amsterdam. When you think of Amsterdam, stereotypes of marijuana and prostitutes everywhere is prevalent, but I couldn’t find it farther from the truth. Sure you get whiffs of a particular smell every now and then, but no worse than at Coachella! We take the train into town and then a taxi to check-in at Canal House. What a beautiful property! Amsterdam is so quaint and the scale of the city perfectly fits how walkable it is to get pretty much anywhere. We walk around the beautiful Jordaan neighborhood where the hotel is located for hours, just taking photos. Wound up at an amazing restaurant for dinner, Café George. Stayed in the Jordaan area for after dinner drinks and fun.

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Our only full day in Amsterdam and we are off to see the sights. We walk to the Museumplein and first stop is the Van Gogh Museum.  Buy your tickets from your smartphone so you don’t have to wait in line. Most people only spend a few days in Amsterdam and see the same sights, so if you can buy your tickets for expedited entrance, I highly recommend it. One of my favorite painters and absolutely amazing to get up close. They also have a great film about his tragic life as an artist. We go across the park to the modern art museum, Stedelijk. Really fun and interactive exhibits. I especially love how they renovated parts of the interior while keeping some historical bones of the building. Last stop is the traditional Rijksmuseum before dinner. Walk back to the Prinsengracht for libations at Vyne and then amazing dinner at sister restaurant Envy

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Early morning at the Anne Frank Museum before our flight departs to Copenhagen. Important part of history that you really shouldn’t miss during your stay. Arrive in Copenhagen and grab the efficient train to Orestad where we will be staying in an AirBnB. The complex is by the famous architect Bjarke Ingels Group, the 8 House. Head to the Tivoli Gardens, the first amusement park in the world and one of the reasons Copenhagen is distinguished as “one of the happiest places on Earth”. You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy this place. Don’t miss the gardens and the water fountain show.

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Grab an espresso and hop of the train to explore the city center. We want to hit up all of the major sites like tourists. My favorite Disney movie is The Little Mermaid, so we head to her statue. Very crowded and I recommend getting there early before the cruise and bus tours. Second stop is The Royal Library, known as The Black Diamond for it’s modern facade. Head to the famous harbor, Nyhavn. Live music and great atmosphere.  They have interesting exhibits and the traditional interior is stunning. Walk through one of the many parks and you can see why people love the lifestyle here. Last tourist stop for the day is Amalienborg, the royal palace. Stunning public space and great history lesson. Late dinner at Geist. Beautiful pure ingredients and great end to a full day.

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Catch up a little bit on sleep and head on the train out to the infamous Elsinore (Kronborg) Castle. The backdrop to Hamlet, the walk there is beautiful in itself. Rolling hills, waterfront, and hidden buildings throughout. We decide to get some ice cream and make an entire day out of it. Head back to the town center and dinner at Radio. Another great meal focused on foraged and seasonal ingredients.

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Last full day in town, so we decide to spend it at the Louisiana Museum. A former private residence, the museum has turned into one of the most prominent modern art collections in the world. Beautiful building and great smørrebrød for lunch. This was my absolute favorite thing we did in Copenhagen and I’m glad we saved it for last. Craving more smørrebrød, so back in town we head to Aamanns. They look almost too good to eat. 

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Early morning flight back to the United States on British Airways. The trip was quite the whirlwind, but I can’t wait to do another “Grand Tour” next summer!

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In the 18th century the so-called Grand Tour became a rite of passage for aristocratic young men. The journey typically involved three or four years of travel around Europe and included an extensive sojourn in Italy, as Rome was considered the ultimate destination for what might now be characterized as cultural tourism.

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Marrakech, unlike many other areas of the Middle East, is quite liberal. However keep in mind that it is still an Islamic, male-dominated city.

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People have lived on the island of Mallorca since about 5000 BC and it was occupied by the Romans in 123 BC. Tourists have only been coming to the island since 1952! The island has been invaded a number of times over the years, the most famous being King James I of Aragon who launched an invasion which landed on Santa Ponsa, Majorca, on September 8-9, 1229 with 15,000 men and 1,500 horses.

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There’s a reason why Amsterdam is known as ‘Venice of the North’. First off, that’s a pretty cool sobriquet. Secondly, this is because of the sheer number of canals that dot this city. In fact, Amsterdam has more canals even than Venice. With a comprehensive network comprising more than 165 canals over 100 km of navigable waters.

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