Photos & Words: Pearce Leal
For me, the main goal was not to do the whole “Europe trip” thing where you go from site to site, country to country, and get lost in the “tourist life.” It was never about cooking my head for days on end with ridiculous amounts of information about history and architecture, all whilst an ice-cream crepe melted in my hand.
It was more about putting myself in random places and getting off the beaten track. I walked the streets with no plan. This mindset led me to some pretty rare and unique cafes and bars, as well as wandering some streets I probably shouldn’t have been walking down with my camera draped over my shoulder. This Europe trip allowed me to see places for what they really are, as well as meet real people, and because of that, I felt I was actually able to capture some genuine imagery.
PACKING & GETTING AROUND
I packed light, keeping everything very minimal (including camera gear) but left enough space to pick up some items on the road. I learnt super quick on one of my first trips to an unknown city that a big old suitcase is impossible to carry on public transport, which I suggest you use to get around. I spent a lot of time on trains. Europe’s public transport system is great for commuting locally and internationally. I always find the railway system a great way to experience the sights and sounds instead of flying over the top of it all.
WHERE TO STAY
Avoid hostels if you can. Sharing a room with a bunch of ‘like minded’ travellers isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A place where everyone’s trying to one-up eachother’s travel stories isn’t a place I want to hang. The added bonus of possible bed bugs and weird stale smelling sheets that hostels usually throw in free of charge is not something I look for when booking accommodation. If you’re low on the Benjamin’s, hostels can be a cost-effective option, just make sure you spend your days exploring instead of hanging in the shared kitchen/common room. I’d suggest staying in Air BnB’s – These things are all over the world. Basically, you can stay in everything from a house in the suburbs to an igloo, it’s rad, and a lot more legit than getting sweaty in a room of 16 strangers sharing the same bathroom. France and Spain I went super cheap and hooked into some low key, small but traditional places for around $40 a night.
BARS, CAFES & NIGHTLIFE
If you see something you like in the way of eating, drinking, and generally hanging out, take advantage of it ASAP. The first couple of days in Europe I got caught in the trap of seeing a rad cafe or bar and thinking, ‘there will be something better around the next corner.’ The thing is, there are so many rad places for a drink or bite to eat it’s hard to make a decision. Whilst touring around Spain it becomes common practice to have a Cerveza around lunch and to keep sipping into the night. I found depending on the type of bar I was in, if I ordered a plate of tapas and spoke a bit of español, they’d chuck in a free beer. That’s life in Spain; you can basically live off tapas. Upper Raval and la Ribera in Barcelona had some good vibes running, I’d hang out there most nights, and mostly everyone speaks a little English which helps you get by, but doesn’t really matter once you’ve had a couple of cervezas. If you’re looking to go on a diet, France isn’t the place to be. A ridiculous amount of bread, pastries, wine and beer await you. Don’t get caught up in the choice of cafe, bar or restaurant, just set up shop in a place where you can people watch and let the day play out.
PEOPLE WATCHING & STREET WANDERING
The Gothic Quarter and Raval in Barcelona, for me, are pretty hard places to pass up. Every day I stepped into the alleys and I’d find something totally different than the day before. Take a step back in time and spend hours getting lost through the concentrated medieval buildings dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries now occupied by bars, restaurants, museums and galleries. Perched on the highest hill of Paris, towards the northern edge of the city, is Montmartre. Montmartre has a village-like vibe going, but it’s overrun with tourists, skip that if you’re not into the hustle bustle and head to the Sacré-Coeur church for a pretty ridiculous overview of the city. On you way down the hill head into the 9th and 10th arrondissement, as there a bunch of interesting Parisian streets to explore. When I was cruising around Europe, I gave myself quality time to walk the streets, with every decision made upon what intrigued me round the next bend. Simple theory, but I wouldn’t have landed in some of those rare cafes, bars and streets if I was just walking aimlessly towards the next iconic landmark.
Check out all of Pearce’s photos in the gallery below, as well as his short film The Portrait I have already said, from his trip.