SMITH COLUMN: Spending a fortnight in Europe
The French Open, the Grand Slam tennis tournament, which is played in Paris in late May and early June, ended on Sunday. This event is the start of a series of competitions in Europe that dominates the sports headlines everywhere, especially in France and the United Kingdom.
After the tournament at Roland Garros, the stadium where the event takes place, there is the running of the bulls at Pamplona. This event, however, can hardly be called sportsmanlike. During the “Feast of San Fermin” the bull always loses — even if he does gore a drunken tourist or two along the way.
Early July is for Wimbledon and the Tour de France, the alluring 12- day bicycle race, gets under way and captures the attention of the sporting world. The third week of the month named for Julius Caesar is for the British Open, the world’s oldest golf championship, which had its beginning one year before the start of the Civil War. If you want to hang around after that, you can take in the Henley Regatta the first week in August at Henley-on-Thames, where tailgating must have originated. Henley should get the prime spot on any sports aficionado’s bucket list. Picnicking with white table cloths and sipping on champagne under a clear blue sky while taking in a spirited rowing competition is an experience to savor. Of course, if you want to add Royal Ascot thoroughbred racing to your summer routine, you would need to arrive in the UK by mid-June.
Having the good fortune to have spent at least a fortnight in Europe for most summers since 1978 not only brought about an exposure to elite sporting activity, it allowed for a most valuable side benefit: seeing the capitals of Europe while wandering through the most spectacular museums and viewing world-renowned landmarks. It’s something one can’t get enough of.
You can not only peruse the inspiring works of the impressionist Claude Monet at the Musee Marmotten Monet in Paris, you can spend time in Honfleur and Giverny and see the landscapes that inspired many of his celebrated works.
The Rosetta Stone at the British Museum. The wine, menus, and local artists displaying their wares at Montmartre in Paris. The pubs of the U.K.. The wine districts of France and the sunbathers at Biarritz. Dover sole in Dover, a Carlsberg on the waterfront in Copenhagen, Hungarian wine on a day cruise out of Budapest on the Blue Danube River.
Playing golf at the venues where the Open championship has been held and also the charming under-the-radar courses such as North Berwick Golf Club in East Lothian, Scotland. (Finding a bad golf course in Scotland would be like opening a bottle of bad wine in Tuscany.)
Single malt scotch in Scotland, Black Bush Irish whiskey in Bushmills, Northern Ireland, a robust Bordeaux at St. Émilion, a sip of Calvados in Normandy, the unheralded wines of Portugal, and the best pasta with the proprietor’s unlabeled wine in the smallest villages of Italy. The Alhambra, the Sistine Chapel, and the Coliseum in Rome, the Plaka and the Parthenon in Athens and Mt. Olympia, retsina and flavorful olives throughout Greece.
The waterways of Brugge, Belgium, Rembrant’s masterpiece, “The Nightwatch” at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (and maybe the red light district so long as you don’t take a camera). Michelangelo’s “David” in Florence, the stunning Bosporus in Istanbul, the overwhelming Amalfi Coast, and the extraordinary face and atmosphere of Prague.
Why spend a week at a classic sports venue and return home? The aforementioned is only a portion of what Europe offers. Getting amongst the people, having a beer at the tavern where Dwight Eisenhower planned the Normandy invasion, and playing the Old Course at St. Andrews where Old Tom Morris played — and visiting the cemetery where he is interred along with his grandson who was born in Darien, Georgia. There are countless places across Europe where you can spend the most enjoyable time being a curious and bonafide tourist. There are countless opportunities to be had, and I regret that COVID has interrupted mine.
There is one European experience that trumps all others: having a family ask you to pull up a chair and enjoy a leisurely meal with them, enjoying a camaraderie that dissolves cultural barriers and reinforces that we are all more alike than we think.