I recently read an article called, "Nine Real Life Fairytale Villages," wherein the author discussed different places in Europe that, for whatever reason, seem like they are part of a real-life fairytale. Fairy tales themselves are stories about mythical tales and lands filled with fantastic heroes and terrible monsters. On the flip side, they can also be stories that are so far-fetched they are intended to deceive. However, in this case I believe a fairy tale place can mean something much more. A fairy tale place can be a place that denotes a sense of the mythical and the mysterious, or a place so grand and filled with happiness it seems like it can't possibly be real (a deception.) We saw our fair share of these places while we were in Europe. And so, I present to you a list of our fairy tale places. These are the places we saw that still fill my head with daydreams and places I hope we see again someday. They are the greatest kind of magic.
1. Sintra, Portugal
Portugal itself is a place filled with otherness. From the way the buildings skip from one multicolored tile to another to the sunsets that settle into hues of deep blue and purple just over the horizon, it is extraordinary. So Sintra then, is a place where the magic of Portugal is somehow amplified. From the quiet solitude and dripping waterfalls in La Quinta Regaleira to the sea breeze whipping around the coral and turquoise hued Pena Palace at the top of Sintra's highest hill, I could hardly believe my eyes the entire time I was there. We took a tuk-tuk ride up a mountain top and accidentally hitchhiked with two Brazilians when we couldn't find a ride down from the mountain. We were blown away by the tilework, Moorish architecture, and seashell carvings inside the palace and were a bit scared when the wind was so strong it pushed me a couple feet backwards. We traipsed down a spiral staircase to the bottom of an old well covered in moss. We splashed each other with water from a stream guarded by a statue of a mermaid. In short, we did all the things I never thought I'd end up doing and it was like living inside a dream.
2. Garmisch Partenkirchen, Germany.
As our German host informed us, you go to Garmisch Partenkirchen to drink beer and to hike. So that's exactly what we did. We spent the day hiking up and down mountainsides (at the base of the Alps,) and walked alongside both sheep and horses before dipping into a long series of caves sprawling just alongside a waterfall filled gorge. We were covered in mud by the end of our hike (as it had just rained the day prior to us being there,) but when we emerged into a wide-open valley set between countless snow-covered mountains, it felt like we were living inside the Sound of Music. (Remember how Julie Andrews looks on the Sound of Music DVD cover? Yeah, that was how we felt.) A small train moved around the wide open space just in front of us, and when it sounded its horn, we could hear the deep cooing echoing from every mountain.
3. Lucca, Italy.
I'm not going to lie, we had a difficult time in Italy. It was hard to get used to the sheer amount of tourists present at all times (though, as we visited during the busiest time of year I am more inclined to say that this was our own fault,) and the heat was unbelievable. That being said, by the time we finally made it to Lucca (after surviving our first Italian train strike,) I have to say it was worth the wait. Lucca is a small(er) Italian town about an hour and a half outside of Florence with city walls that circle the entirety of the city. However, the unusual thing about the walls is that they are large enough that you can walk, run, or ride bikes alongside them. Trees line the pathways and it is just so romantic when the breeze sweeps beside you and you can smell delicious Italian food cooking nearby. And trust me, we had our fair share of it. Another great thing about Lucca? Way, way fewer tourists. We didn't have to hang out in a line to get the best gelato of our lives, we had actual personal space, and you can wander down some of the side streets in the middle of summer without seeing any other actual people.
4. Disneyland Paris, France.
We did it you guys. We did a super American touristy thing while we were in Europe. We tried not to, but eventually we succumbed to the allure of Disneyland. And you know what? It was amazing. Four rides broke down while we were in line, endless toddlers dressed as princesses broke down sobbing all around us, and we paid 20 euro to split a small, personal size pizza. I got sick on all the rides Chris forced me to go on even though they went upside down and our bodies were so sore the next day it took us FOREVER to get out of bed. But then we also got to act like kids for a day, which meant singing along to a fireworks show at the end of the night, riding a Pirates of the Caribbean ride 3 times, and watching a parade filled with princesses, dancing animals, and the same song played over and over again. We watched little kids waving to their movie heroes, tried on a Yoda backpack, and pretended like we were flying on a magic ship in the Peter Pan ride. It was everything Disney is supposed to be, a fairy tale sometimes and other times a hilarious example of what happens when kids are too tired to move anymore. I'd go back in a heartbeat.
5. Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona, Spain.
Barcelona was similar to Italy in that is was so hot it made movement difficult. However, the warm evenings we spent in Barcelona were still some of my favorites. It had everything to do with this park. Parc de la Ciutadella is wonderful in that it feels like part romance novel and part wild circus. There were trapeze artists unfolding themselves from red silks hung in palm trees. There were people tangled up in each other, kissing while they laid on blankets spread in the grass. There were jam bands and crowds of dancing people and acro-yogis practicing their asanas by folding their bodies into pretzel-like shapes. There was a woman selling multicolored balloons and when she walked down the dirt pathways, the sun streamed through the colored plastic to make circles of red and purple on the ground. There were birthday parties and babies laughing and families all talking in rapid fire Spanish to one another. There were artists and skateboarders and even an opera that was live-streamed under the Arc de Triomf (yes there is one in Barcelona too.) It felt like a place that was truly wild and free, and it will stick in my memory as a place that is uniquely its own.
6. Prague, Czech Republic.
I am hardly the first person to refer to Prague as being like something out of a fairytale, but I want to reiterate that Prague lives up to all the hype. As soon as we took the train into the city, we passed by forests filled with matchstick thin trees and into a city that looked as if it had been drawn with chalk. The whole place rose up above the skyline in shades of brick red and mossy green and gold. We visited St. Charles bridge at sunset to listen to the various violin players stationed along the way. We ate trdelniks coated in warm cinnamon sugar. We climbed to Prague Castle and sat reading while we overlooked the famous red rooftops of the city. We visited the astronomical clock, looked at each and every painting we passed, and walked through a variety of puppet shops. We even walked through the old Jewish cemetery where the gravestones were so old they had cracked open and been covered in thick layers of ivy. One of our most memorable moments included dancing beneath a shower of bubbles smelling of grapes and chemicals in the town's square while the sunset leaked through the glassy surface of the soapy water. Prague's magic simply cannot be replicated. If there's any place in the world where you can go and live a life filled with art, it most certainly is in Prague.
7. Prater Park, Vienna, Austria.
When we visited Vienna, we were lucky enough to be staying in an apartment only a couple blocks from the famous Prater amusement park. If you've seen the film Before Sunrise, then you'll know the place I'm talking about (first kiss on the ferris wheel anyone?) On the surface, it seems like any other amusement park where you can buy greasy food and ride typical carnival rides until you puke, but beneath that it's a place filled with the magic where you can stay up all night and dance beneath multicolored twinkling lights (and who doesn't want to do that?) While we were there, we rode a giant ferris wheel at sunset, went on a dinosaur ride with a solo ten-year-old who was so scared he kept hiding behind us, and drank ice-cold Austrian beer in a beer garden next to a haunted house. We rode broken rides that played the song, "Who Let The Dogs Out?" on repeat, practiced archery in a rundown arena, and got so scared in a haunted house that we vowed to never go in one ever again. In fact, we had so much fun there that we went to Prater every night we were in Vienna (it's free admission,) and I still feel like I didn't get my full fill of the magic of that place. It's enchanting in it's brokenness and in its ability to draw large crowds to rides that are mediocre at best. Whatever the case, in Prater you can be a kid again. For that reason alone, I think it's worth a visit.
8. Venice, Italy.
Venice has a photo opportunity waiting around every corner. The whole city drips with magic, as if the canals, gondolas, and mossy building were all part of an elaborate fantasy. We got lost while we were there (legitimately "where the hell are we?" lost,) and spent our time wandering through alleyways where Murano glass lurked around every corner, freshly laundered clothes were hung up to dry in small patches of sunlight, and street performers danced with circular glass bubbles in hand. I had the best gnocchi of my life in Venice and washed it down with fresh Italian wine. We listened to a violin player while a gondola whipped beneath the bridge where we were standing. We tried a cannoli for the first time, shared a bellini, and were amazed at the sheer number of people who were drinking Aperol Spritz, the bright orange beverage seeming to glint from every corner of the place. The only time our magic bubble seemed to break while we were there was when we saw a trail of blood leaking from the top of a bridge in a back corner all the way down into a dark alleyway when nobody else was around (and I believe finding yourself alone is somewhat of a feat in Venice.) But when we raced away from the "crime scene," we found ourselves rushing past shops filled with masks, Venetian puppets, swirled glass vases, and a bookstore filled with bathtubs. I can't think of any reason why a bit of blood on a staircase should detract from the undeniable magic of Venice and the world that lies within it.
9. Clifden, Ireland.
Clifden was one of the last places we visited on our trip, and by the time we arrived we were both feeling like we were done. Traveling for two months can take a toll on you, and make you feel like you aren't observing the full happiness of each place. The last thing I want to do is complain, but that being said, all the train rides, plane rides, planning and general time spent traveling can really make you feel the full extent of your own exhaustion. But Clifden was restorative. Chris's grandmother is from Clifden, and when we went I couldn't help but to feel like we were truly a part of something greater than ourselves. We took a car ride up Sky Road (the actual road she lived on,) and we passed over the narrow roadway smushed between the confines of a grassy hillside on our right and the ocean spreading far to our left. The color of the water was the gray blue of a deep fog, but the sun danced across the surface so that every once in awhile a splash of serene white would tumble over the depths of the ocean. We passed ruins of castles, spent our time talking to everyone in town about what it was like to live there, and shared a baked potato and a Guinness in one of Clifden's most famous pubs. We passed sheep on the roadway who had escaped from their gates and were busy munching grass on the side of the road. We took pictures of stone cottages and imagined what kinds of furniture we would place inside if we lived there. We saw cows and horses and bought a stuffed animal lamb in a shop on the main street. After having traveled to so many different cities in Europe, we found that Clifden was a fairytale because of what it offered: peace, serenity, and a feeling that made us think we were right at home.
What's your favorite "fairy tale" place? What fairy tale places would you like to visit next?