Time for some Power Rankings. Pick your favorite. OK, this should be easy. Let’s start with the MVP,
Kris Bryant. But what about the team leader. Anthony Rizzo. Then why do I want someone else’s number on my jersey. Addison Russell. How about the NLCS MVP? Javy Baez, Jon Lester. No, can’t have a tie for the top spot. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist? Ah, the heck with this, let’s rank something easier.
We sat down a few weeks ago to compile our list of favorite cities from our European sabbatical adventure and we counted 67. Sixty-seven cities in ten countries in seven months. It was quite a ride.We constructed our mid-season top ten Power Rankings at the halfway mark, and now it was time to do the final rankings. After we counted cities, it was clear we were gonna need a bigger list.
We decided to expand to fifteen this time, but even that wasn’t quite enough, as Cordoba and Perugia tied for the last slot. So here they are–our sixteen favorite cities from our great sabbatical adventure. The top two spots remained the same, but the rest of the list bears almost no resemblance to the midseason rankings.
Budapest holds onto the top spot, partly because of the spectacular views of Parliament and Buda Hill, but also for the ruin pubs, an amazing intersection of capitalism, urban sustainability, and youthful energy. Mr. N, Miss A and I all put Budapest on top, with Miss A switching from her midseason top pick of Eger, Hungary. (Corniglia, Italy took Kristy’s top spot; although it was close.)
Madrid checks in at number 2, and this little tapas bar was the site of one of our favorite moments.
Sorry, no inside pictures. We strolled into this relatively empty tapas bar about five minutes before work let out, and by the time we had our first plate of olives, we were surrounded by dozens and dozens of Spanish revelers, singing songs we didn’t understand that clearly were celebrating something. Or maybe they weren’t. I don’t know. I do know we were basically pinned at our table, with cameras not easily grabbed, and that even if we weren’t trapped, we didn’t want to leave.
The first new entrant on our list is Corniglia, the middle city in the Cinque Terre and the top on Kristy’s ballot. There is a small grocery store in the center of town that is operated by an English-speaking woman (Irish, I’m guessing) that I admire as much as anyone I’ve never met. I’m 100% positive that she came here much like us, looked around, and said, screw it, I’m staying. I wish I had her guts.
Our morning in this beautiful town, believe it or not, was crummy. We were tired, Miss A was having a seven-year old day, and Mr. N was getting the brunt of it. We’d hiked the day before from Corniglia to Vernazza, a beautiful walk, and had planned to hike south to Manarola on this day. We almost didn’t go, and we almost turned around soon after we left. The first hour or so is up into the hillside, with lots of work and little payoff for impatient and outspoken children before it turns back toward the Mediterranean and down into the town. The second hour or so is the most beautiful walk I’ve ever been on. Even the kids were brought to their metaphorical knees.
In a three-way tie for fourth are Rome, Prague and Venice, three very unique cities, all impressive in their own way. Venice with its legendary canals, Rome as the capital of civilization for a millennium, and Prague as the crown jewel of Eastern Europe.
Our rankings are purely subjective. Rank the top 15 cities we saw, no criteria, no restrictions, no guidelines. Volterra makes the list at number 7 because we had a great time. The small, old towns in Umbria and Tuscany, like Assisi, Montalcino, Montepulciano or Marsciano are all amazing places and it gets hard (#sabbaticalproblems) to make distinctions sometimes from one to the next, but Volterra was a place we really enjoyed. It had some great old Roman ruins, an Etruscan gate, fantastic food, and a cute little hotel that kept us when we decided on a whim to stay a little longer.
Berlin came in next, and I think we were a little surprised to see it ranked so high. I don’t think we would have guessed that while we were there. We had a really great time, though, and it’s stayed with us more than we probably expected. The big WWII museums are fascinating and well done, with very difficult subject matter, and currywurst is fun street food, but the very obscure Museum of Magic and a fun family dinner at a touristy Indian restaurant seemed to show up at the right time and will probably be the things I remember. And Ampelmann is cool.
Checking in at number 9 is the little wine town of Eger, Hungary. Eger was Annie’s favorite in the mid-season rankings, but dropped to second in this update. Eger and its 40-something wine caves tucked into a little cul-de-sac just outside of town is a must-visit for wine lovers, and was great fun for the kids too, thanks in large part to Beatrix.
In a tie for tenth, we find the city with perhaps the best square in Europe, Krakow. Krakow is also a wonderful walking city–the old city, the castle, the park around the old wall, and even Kazimierz are very easy to get around.
Tied for tenth is Arcos de la Frontera, which is absolutely not a walking town. This awesome little Spanish hill town got us in shape for the steps we would take for the rest of the trip. I’m sure we’d have never made it up the hill in Bellano in June were it not for the many January trips up into this fortified hill town from the parking lot down below.
Next up is Vienna, which probably has more cool stuff than any other place we visited. Its highs aren’t quite as high as Budapest, but it’s deeper. It doesn’t have just one world class palace, it’s got three. Plus a great museum campus, river walk, heurigers and Sacher tort.
At thirteen we have Cesky Krumlov, a gorgeous, well-preserved historic city that’s way off the beaten path in the Czech Republic. I am not sure if we’ll ever make it back there, but I hope we do. It’s a gem, and I wish we’d had enough time to kayak down the river
Strasbourg is fourteenth, and another city I hope we’ll get back to some day. We only had a short time there in drizzly weather, but we liked nearly everything about it. It’s in France, but it’s also been German and manages to combine the most charming parts of both.
And last, but certainly not least, we had a tie for the fifteenth spot in our rankings between Cordoba and Perugia. It was very hard to decide between Sevilla, Cordoba and Granada among Spanish cities, but ultimately, Cordoba got the nod. The Mezquita is spectacular, but we’d be remiss not to mention the coolest kids’ park we’ve ever been to.
Finally, Perugia. We hit a museum on the outskirts, down the hill from the main town and had a very nice time. It was a good museum, with some artifacts dating back 5,000 years and more. Then we finished and were trying to decide whether to stick around or head for some other Italian town. It was basically a coin toss. I was glad we went to the museum, but from the bottom of the hill, it wasn’t obvious that we were ever going to get beyond “nice.” The coin came up “stay” and I’m glad we did. We wandered around a corner and into a medieval fortress built into the cliff, complete with a jazz club. The jazz club wasn’t really jumping yet, but we went through the fortress and into the town to find even more jazz–the Umbria Jazz Festival, in fact, with stages scattered throughout the city and live music at every turn. We took in some of the music and some of the views, then eventually made our way back to the jazz club in the fortress for an amazing experience and a real highlight of the trip.
Well, there you have it. The final power rankings, or at least final for now. Many of these places are calling us back, and there are still many more we need to see. I don’t know when we’ll visit Europe again, but I can promise it won’t be too long.