The wings dipped down, veering vertically over the forest backdrop below. “It’s so green,” muttered a girl in the seat behind me. “It’s definitely not New York City.” No. It wasn’t New York, but it was the end of Souled Out Europe.
The humid air and sea of oak leaves below meant we were over Memphis, Tennessee. It meant the vacation destination for two girls in row 18 was the home for the lone traveler in row 17. And it meant that after weeks of wandering in the streets of the world’s great cities—London, Paris, Rome, New York—I was finally touching down in the only city I wanted to see.
It’s been nearly a month since I left the States, and I’m ready to get back to some BBQ now, but before I can, it’s time to hand out the awards to the winners and losers of Souled Out Europe. Some go to readers, many go to places, all were hard earned.
Winner: Scotland, for incredibly friendly people with surprisingly great weather. When people ask what my favorite place to visit was, Scotland always makes the conversation. Scotland doesn’t have Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum. But it doesn’t need them. Its open roads and never-ending swells of sun-streaked highways left a massive impression. I’d consider moving there.
Loser: Fish and chips. I’ll just say it—I don’t get fish and chips. I tried fish and chips in both Wales and England and couldn’t understand what people see in it. Obviously, it’s the ubiquitous U.K. fast food, but it all tasted like a rubber glove to me.
Winner: French food. Best food award goes to France. Swooping in with the surprise upset over the Italians, the French get bonus points for consistently delicious food at every stop. I never had a bad meal in France, and half the time I wasn’t exactly sure what I was ordering. Particularly delicious salmon crepes and a honey and goat cheese salad stick out in my mind as meals to have again. Also, their pizza game was weirdly stronger than the Italian pizza I’ve had. Maybe that’s a fluke, or maybe it’s because the French aren’t afraid of cranking up the spice.
Loser: Italy, for being a public garbage dump. The food here was some of the best I’ve had. The landscape was spectacular, public transportation was easy to use and the language barrier was not difficult to overcome. In Rome, locals were friendly—I had one of the best AirBnB hosts of the voyage there— but this place needs the world’s largest bath. Glass bottles, piles of trash, and even a few scattered shipwrecks boggle the mind in one of the world’s most developed and most politically relevant countries.
I had so much reverence for Italy, particularly Rome, that it was difficult to stomach the scene of so much trash lining its ancient streets.
Winner: England, step up. I wasn’t expecting great food in England, but it only took one night in London to change that perception immediately. I had a legitimate food moment in London thanks to some sticky toffee pudding. Also, London proved to be a walkable and endlessly entertaining town. Outside of London, the best of the English landscape at Yorkshire Dales National Park stood toe-to-toe with anywhere in the world.
Winner: AirBnB. First off, this trip wouldn’t have been possible without AirBnB. The airline problem on Day One set me back nearly $2,000. AirBnB costs averaged around $40 per night, which made this trip infinitely more affordable than if it had been done in hotels.
Naming a favorite is hard to do, but I have to give the nod to Llantysilio in Wales. That places was absurd.
Loser: Airlines. Why is air travel consistently one of the most frustrating experiences known to humanity? It shouldn’t be this hard. Of the seven flights taken on this trip, only two were not a lesson in mental yoga. Surprisingly, they were the cheapest flights I booked. Major airlines get a fail for treating passengers like steerage passengers on the Titanic. Delta, particularly, fails here. Though I can’t place the blame entirely on major airlines, as budget vendor WOW Air placed me in Delta’s waiting, predatory, arms to begin with. Transavia and Ryanair—hats off to you for a job well done. Air France, Delta, Air Italy. and Vueling, take a hike.
Winner: Paris. There must be something magical in the sparkling water of Paris. I’ve never taken so many of my favorite photos in one place in such a short amount of time. More on that later. I’ll break down the top photos of Souled Out Europe in the next post. But for now, suffice to say that Paris exceeded all expectations (and they were lofty). If the world ever has a capital city, Paris would be a fine choice.
Loser: Stereotypes. Here’s the deal: the world is not what you’ve been lead to believe. Some of the most helpful people I encountered were in France. Some of the best food I had was in England. Nobody robbed me in the streets of Brooklyn. And I think most of that boils down to this…nobody cares what you do. And, most people are willing to help other people out if they just ask nicely.
It’s that simple, really. No, the world isn’t perfect. Bad things happen to good people. But for the most part, you get back what you put out.
PRIZE Winner: I talked all trip about various prizes for readers. One of the biggest of those—the Souled Out Haunted Prize Pack—goes to Kim H and family, who’ll be spending a weekend in downtown Memphis, complete with ghost tour, Ghost River beer, and Soul Burgers at Earnestine & Hazels, on me. Congrats, Kim.
Loser: Camera lenses. I took four camera lenses to Europe. Two of them are basically toast. Goodbye Nikkor 35mm and Nikkor 55-200mm. Your memory lives on at this website.
Winner: New York City for being an affordable place to get to from anywhere in Europe. As readers know, the airline debacle on Day One put me in a bind. I went to Europe with no return flight. But New York saved the day, and also served up some killer ramen, an unforgettable night at the New York Comedy Club where I was dubbed “less healthy Thor” and a free office bar. Way to roll out the welcome mat, NYC.
Winner: Technology, for bringing a Brit with limited mobility and an American with a thirst for adventure to the same places on planet Earth. There are moments burned in my mind from this trip, moments that will never leave my mind. I’ll never forget sunset over Hadrian’s Wall, or the the day-long trek to a gorge in the Scottish highlands, just to film a shot over the same bridge Top Gear did. When I think about those moments, I’ll remember the burning orange sun, and the feeling of the old Roman walls under my feet. I’ll remember accelerating my friend’s car over that gorge and dodging sheep on the wrong side of the road. But most of all, I’ll remember the little drone that flew beside me the entire time, the sign that I was not alone, and that despite a bad hand from the genetic lottery, my brash, British friend wasn’t letting that stop him from taking on the world. Kudos to you, technology.
The Wrap Up
Souled Outside has always been about personal growth, about pushing your boundaries and getting out of your comfort zone. A year ago, that comfort zone was blasted in half by a nationwide road trip of the U.S. Its most uncomfortable moments had more to do with bears and lightning than people. But Europe was an adventure of a different sort. It was a total immersion into a world of people that came from an entirely different place than me.
So what did I learn? Listen up, America. Europe doesn’t hate you.
Europeans are, in my experience, universally friendly—if you know how to approach them.
However, from Scotland to France, to Italy and Wales, its people were worried about our politics, about where America is taking the world. When you hear presidents talk about America being a world leader, it’s not just rhetoric. Our flag flies on foreign shores. I saw it on the banks of the Tiber, in the hills of Normandy and in the center of Glasgow. Like it or not, our history is inseparably linked to our friends in Europe.
It’s our duty, then, to be a beacon of freedom and equality, to stare down the faces of tyranny around the globe and actually be the country that Hollywood pretends we are.
I’m not here to tell you whether or not tyranny lives in North Korea or Washington D.C. or Moscow. But I’m here to tell you that the people of Europe have had an up-close relationship with that word that is worth remembering. And if you know someone from Europe, it might just be worth asking them what they think of the state of freedom…because many of their countries know what it’s like to live without it.
If the original Souled Outside taught me that I can travel the world alone, this Souled Outside has taught me that I can reach across borders to make the world a better place. And it taught me, most of all, that we’re all in this together.
Special thanks to Souled Out Donors:
- Sara Grace
Souled Out Hosts:
- Anna & Matthieu
- Elisabeth & Lagon
- Deborah & Robert
- Doug & Annie
Extra special thanks to Souled Out Sponsors:
- Ferocious Graphix
- Parker Prints
- Metal Potato
- Wrapworx (UK)
And Souled Out Inspirations:
Mom & Dad
Until next time. Get Lost.