3 Famous Things I Didn’t See in Europe {and What I Did Instead}
Leah Walker December 13, 2012

Traveling is all about seeing stuff, right? I used to think so, but now I’m not so sure. For each city I had a punch card listing the places I had to see, but as the days passed, I realized that I wasn’t actually checking those items off.

I may not have seen everything that I was “supposed” to see, but I sure as hell got to do a lot. I’ve already written about how I said “screw the Louvre” in favor of dinner with Lionel Richie, but this was not a one-time incident. Here are the top three things I didn’t see in Europe and what I did instead.

#1 Colosseum

Rome Colosseum

You could also put the Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and Roman Forum onto this list. I didn’t so much as get a glimpse of them. Granted, I have been to Rome and have seen all these typical tourist spots. I didn’t not see them on purpose. In fact, I had every intention of revisiting all of these places. It just didn’t happen. And guess what? I still had the best time in Rome! Here’s what I did instead:

Roman Food Tour

Rome Food Tour 4

The best moments from this trip centered around food and/or booze and not on a bunch of old buildings, and the Walks of Italy Rome Food Tour reinforced that. Instead of getting the gratuitous photo op of me throwing a coin into the Trevi, I met my guide in Campo dei Fiori on the morning of my second day in Rome. Loaded with stalls of fresh food from local farmers, Campo dei Fiori offered a glimpse into Roman life.

Rome Food Tour 3

The first stop was a bakery where I tried white pizza, which is a typical Roman breakfast food. From there, I stopped at a stall and sampled olive oils from several Italian regions {Sicily was my favorite}, balsamic vinegar of varying ages, and homemade limoncello.

Rome Food Tour 7

Rome Food Tour 6

Rome Food Tour 5

After a little early-morning buzz from the limoncello, I left the stalls and dropped into a cheese shop. There I tried several different kinds of cheeses. Mmmm…buffalo mozzarella. I then crossed Campo dei Fiori to visit Antica Norcineria Viola, a butcher shop that’s been in the same location since 1890. Prosciutto…Pancetta…Salami…Oh My!

Rome Food Tour 2

As if I hadn’t had enough to eat, it was time for lunch and pizza making was on the agenda. A short and much-needed walk took me to a restaurant with a wood-fired pizza oven. Thank goodness the dough was ready and waiting; I’m not sure that my cooking skills are that advanced. After some instruction from the chef, I was rolling out my dough, ladling the red sauce, perfectly arranging my toppings, and piling on the cheese. A quick three minutes in the oven and lunch was served.

Rome Food Tour 1

I’d like for it to be known that although I gorged myself on plenty of pasta, Parmesan, and prosciutto while in Italy, I only had gelato once and it was on this tour. Given my affinity for all things sweet, this might be even more unbelievable than not seeing the Forum. Although stuffed, I somehow found room for some pistachio gelato. When in Rome, right?

Rome Food Tour 9

The final stop was at Sant’Eustachio Il Caffé, which is widely known to have the best coffee in Rome. I’d have to agree, and like a true Roman, I drank my long coffee standing up at the bar.

Rome Food Tour 10

And with that jolt of caffeine, my five-hour food tour was over. Armed with leftover pizza and a satisfied stomach, I made my way back to my space-aged Go with Oh apartment for a nap. After all, don’t they do siestas in Italy.

#2 Prague Castle


I got really close to the Prague Castle. I even walked half way across the Charles Bridge, but alas, I never made it to Lesser Town. I’m not broken up about it either. It’s been around since 870 AD and I figure it’ll still be standing when I return to Prague. What did I do instead? Well, I played with dolls, of course.

Marionette Making

Marionette Making Prague 7

I’ve already written about my marionette making experience in my post, “Three Things I’ll Miss about Prague” and I know many of you thought it was creepy, if not extremely weird.

Marionette Making Prague 6

Initially, I wasn’t so thrilled about doing this. In fact, it was Lola who had her heart set on creating her own marionette. She sought out Obchod Pon Lampou, and with the help of the fine folks at Four Seasons Prague, we had a private workshop scheduled. I was going to make a marionette whether I liked it or not.

Marionette Making Prague 5

Dating back to the 18th century, Czech marionette and puppet making is an art form. Representing various characters that include princesses, angels, witches, devils, kings, and clowns, they are traditionally made using plaster or hand carved from wood.

Marionette Making Prague 10

When I arrived, I was first shown a variety of characters and told to pick one. Then I was given a piece of paper to practice sketching my doll’s face. I’m not what you’d call artistic, but something about having a million map colors and paint turned me into Georgia O’Keeffe. Once satisfied with my sketch, I was given a wooden head and told to draw in my facial features. It was much easier on flat paper; the curvature of the head proved to be a bit challenging.

Marionette Making Prague 9

After the face was colored, I painted the torso and limbs of my doll’s body. They were a blank canvass and I could have made her look however I wanted. This was my marionette and there were no rules. Doing something that I didn’t think I could do and making something from basically nothing is probably what I enjoyed most about this process.

Marionette Making Prague 8

The Obchod Pod Lampou workshop took all of four hours, which was a large time commitment considering I was only in Prague for three nights. Through this lesson, not only was I able to learn and find a new appreciation for the skills needed to make marionettes, but I also was able to spend time with actual people from Prague. For me, that was far better than looking at some stuffy old castle.

#3 Sagrada Familia


If I wanted to, I probably could have hit Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia with a rock as it was that close to the balcony of my Go with Oh apartment. For the five days that I was in Barcelona I walked past the entrance of the famous church. I saw long lines of people strung a block long waiting to get inside.

Each morning I stepped onto my balcony and watched the sun rise over the Mediterranean and saw the early-morning light cast a warm glow onto Sagrada Familia. It was beautiful despite the ever-present cranes, yet I never had the urge to step foot inside. The church has been under construction for 129 years and is said to be completed in 2026. Perhaps I’ll just wait until then. So, what took the place of gawking at Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece?

Flamenco Dance Lessons

Barcelona Flamenco 5

Just as I’m not an artist, I’m not a dancer. In fact, I LOATHE dancing. Basically I look like an idiot and I’m not into doing things that make me look stupid, thus dancing is out. But, just as with the marionette making in Prague, Lola wanted to take flamenco dancing lessons. Since this trip was about experiencing new things, I played along.

Barcelona Flamenco 1

I wasn’t exactly prepared for my lesson as I didn’t have the necessary high heels or frilly dress, so I made due with my lululemon tights and Adidas. I really don’t think that the proper attire would have helped my performance. Let’s just get this out of the way. Flamenco dancing is hard!

Barcelona Flamenco 3

I’m a coordinated person. I’m athletic. I was a college basketball player for goodness sake. HOWEVER, I couldn’t even get the basic wrist roll. Don’t even get me started on the stomp and clap footwork. Add a scarf and some turns and you have a train wreck.

Barcelona Flamenco 4

Our beautiful and talented teacher knew as much English as I do Spanish, so I basically followed by example…at least I tried to follow. Moving my arms in rhythm, stomping, clapping, turning, swirling, and twisting proved to be nearly impossible. Basically, this lesson was a comedy of errors. I’ll probably never take another flamenco lesson again for the rest of my life. I have too much respect to butcher the dance again. But I would never give up the experience of learning and laughing with Lola in that Barcelona studio. I certainly wouldn’t trade it for standing in line to see an unfinished church.

There’s a laundry list of things I’d planned on seeing during my thirty days in Europe that I didn’t get around to. Like “they” say, there’s always next time. And you know what? If there’s not a next time then I’m ok with that. Experiences are much more memorable than looking at a bunch of stone and mortar. For my lifetime, I’ll certainly remember the giggles over Gaudi.

I was a guest of Walks of Italy for the Rome Food Tour, but as always, these views are my own. I was in no way swayed by the plethora of cheese, balsamic vinegar, or olive oil to write a glowing review.

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.


  1. This is something that always happens with me too – usually it’s because you’re having too much fun at the time! Anyway, it’s the perfect excuse for a return visit!

    1. That’s what I kept saying to myself, Fiona. It’s a perfect excuse to come back. I can’t see leaving a good time just to check a few things off of my list. That’d just be silly.

  2. Kudos for your honesty here, Leah. The alternative experiences you had sound like the kind of memories you’ll keep for a lifetime. Although as a good resident of Barcelona I feel honour bound to plug the inside of the Sagrada Familia:) I saw it as a building site and I’ve seen it complete. It is out-of-this-world spectacular. So you need to come back and do it justice!

  3. Leah, I love the alternatives, which were just as beauty and equally compelling! Actually, they’re not really “alternatives”, as the word suggests something almost inferior about them; what you did instead were in the end *much better* experiences for you. Thanks for your post!

    1. I agree. I don’t care for referring to them as “alternatives” as they were experiences that are entirely worthy. Even though I was a terrible dancer, I still like having the story to tell. That’s half the fun, right?

  4. Enjoyed this and definitely think your alternative tourist stops were worthwhile. I did everything you didn’t do, plus a food tour, but with http://www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com. Definitely happy I that I did the main tourist attractions, but like you, I found the food tour to be a more interesting and more unique travel experience. The marionette class sounds awesome and I’d totally be into a Flamenco class if I had a sexy teacher :)

  5. YAYAYAYAY! we had sooooo much fun didn’t we.?! i have my cute marionette mixed in with my nutcrackers right now. AND i think we may at least revive the “look” of flamenco when we return to Spain in March 😉 CANNOT wait to make more long-lasting memories with you in destinations all around the world. xoxo – lola

    1. I could have killed you when I walked into that dance studio. I’m pretty sure I broke out into a cold sweat, but it was totally worthwhile. Thanks for taking me out of my comfort zone. I’d do most anything with you by my side. :-) You’re the best travel partner!

  6. i LOVE all of your alternatives – they’re all things I would much rather do myself than seeing the “usual” sites! (Also, I will have to keep them all in mind for when I eventually visit (or re-visit) all of these cities!)

  7. Sounds incredible! Your food tour through Rome is exactly what I would love to do! Sounds like a perfect day! The flamenco sounds like good fun too! Sounds like you and Lola had such an amazing time….you experienced the places rather than just saw them! That is the great way to travel!

    1. Let me tell you, that food tour was so good. Looking back, I really am not sure how I was able to eat so much during that entire month. I’m so not an eater. You should totally do the tour the next time you’re in Rome.

  8. Great post! I agree… you don’t have to do the standard tourist spots to see a country. Sometimes you find you get a better feel for the country and have more fun if you don’t. Love the food tour idea xxx

    1. I’m a sucker for a good food tour. It really gives insight to the place you’re visiting. You get a feel for not only the culture, but how they eat, which is a huge part of people’s lives.

  9. Good choices- all three things you skipped were underwhelming and the experiences you got instead of those looked priceless.

    Loved following your and Lola’s adventures!!!!

  10. I think Sagrada Familia are better seen from a distance anyway, so you got the best of those two places. I think travel is more about experience than places or at least 50/50. Looks like you did some great places and had some awesome experiences. You will never get to see all that you want to unless you have unlimited time.

  11. Do not stress.. those places will ALWAYS be there – but the exciting things you have done instead may not be. I never went to the Sagrada Familia either – and I used to go to BCN every other week for 4 years. Prague Castle? Had dinner there but didn’t see much. Actually saw very little of Prague, so I need to go back. Colosseum, I went in once. Interesting – but would prefer to go on the food tour 😉

  12. I think that those who go and see only the things you are “supposed” to see as a tourist are doing themselves a great diservice. There is so much more to learn about the culture and the people of the destination by staying away from the normal tourist sights. Get out there and learn about where you are traveling.

    It looks like the two of you had a blast. I’m glad I was a part of helping you get this experience.

    1. Yes, Nathan, your cow photo was one of my favorites. :-) You said it, people do themselves a grave disservice if they only do what the guide books say to do. Be different! You’ll be surprised at what you may like.

  13. I love your statement – “I’ll certainly remember the giggles over Gaudi.” After all, travel is all about the memories built, experiences felt & things learned and not just monuments visited!

    And, heck yeah, you did all the three! :)

  14. Leah, the colossus and other famed Roman structure have always been a fantasy of mine to visit, so at first I was shocked you skipped until you noted you had been before! And I’m sure the Italian food tour well scrumptious and worth it. The marionette doll making looks awesome, would have loved that. Glad to see there aren’t many regrets for things you missed. Though being a castle lover, I would have def gone to Pragues castle!

  15. I would have done all three of the ones you skipped and missed out on the things you did. That’s why we are different though. However, with the right partner I would have been down for the flamenco lessons.

    However, why isn’t the Louvre on here since you skipped it to have dinner and make out with Lionel Richie? :)

    1. I said in the first paragraph (and linked to the story) about Lionel and the Louvre. No need to rehash that story. There are countless other things I skipped, too. Just give me time. I’ll get to all of them. :-)

  16. That’s so great that you got to do such things! You really got beyond the usual tourist routine and experienced these countries! I have to say, when I was traveling Europe I missed most of this stuff too but simply because I was poor and couldn’t afford to enter, haha!

    Driftwood and Daydreams

    1. I’m sorry I’m just getting around to your comment! That workshop can be booked. I’m not sure of it, but tweet the Four Seasons in Prague and ask them the name. I know they’ll have it.

  17. Leah, I just came back from China and was thinking the same thing!! The first time around, I went to the most touristy spots like The Great Wall & The Forbidden City and kind of hated it. It gave me a very bad impression of Beijing because it was so touristy. I left, went to Shanghai for a week, then came back and went off the beaten path. Seeing the “real” Beijing was so much better!

    You make a very good point and these are good lessons learned for travelers. It’s not about the “must see” spots anymore. And yes, I’d screw the Louvre for dinner with Lionel Ritchie!!!!!

    1. I loved following your China trip. Perhaps I should give China another shot. I was there for a month and just really didn’t like it. I can say I checked off the Great Wall and Forbidden City off my list, but have no desire to return. Maybe I should just take your suggestion and get off the beaten path.

      1. There’s still things about China I don’t care for (mostly Beijing, maybe), but there’s a lot that I absolutely love now. Maybe you can hook up with some ex-pats to see more insider stuff…..if you decide to go to Shanghai, please let me know and I’ll put you in touch with my niece, and my friend Candice. In the meantime, I’m gonna link this post to my blog today, wrapping up the trip. Hope you are well!

  18. Marionette making looks like a lot of fun! Most of the time I find the big attractions to be a bit of a disappointment. I always feel like I have to see them, but often the crowds, touts and general commercialisation of places ruins them. Interesting article thanks!

    1. I say go see the main things, but also do some lesser-known things as well. That way you get a well-rounded experience and are not just surrounded by other tourists.

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