I studied Architecture in Europe

February 24, 2011 — 34 Comments

I studied architecture in Europe when I was in college – so what.

It’s 1990 and I am heading across the Atlantic to spend the next 6 months taking in all the architecture Europe has to offer me. I was getting a little burned out at school and I had never been to Europe before so this was a big deal. Fast forward 20 years and guess what? Nobody cares that I spent 6 months studying architecture in Europe in 1990.


Bob in Europe circa 1990


What I got out of my time in Europe was not what I expected. At the time, it was nothing but architecture – every waking moment of every single day. I lived it, saw it, talked about it and on and on. So am I a better architect as a result? Maybe, I’m not sure that is was those 6 months in 1990 that made me the architect I am today … but it forever impacted the way I view things and I am a better person as a result. One of the main reasons I didn’t get out of my trip that I thought I would is because I was a kid and I don’t process information the same way I do now.

Things I learned in 1990 Europe:

how to move around a city where I don’t speak the language

that I am capable of washing my hair/ body with water from a sink on a train for 5 days

you can survive on Ritz crackers, dried sausage and apple juice for a long time and still be “regular”

good looking women in Europe pay as much attention to me as good looking women in America

I don’t mind if people yell at me if I don’t understand what they are saying

you can dry your socks after washing them in the sink by jamming them into the radiator

I don’t buy knick-knacks, doodads, or bric-a-brac

trying to understand somebody with only 2 years of high school German is exhausting

it’s easier to get a bottle of wine for dinner than a bottle of water

I can recover from getting on the wrong train to the wrong place even if it is East Berlin and I have to sleep in the train station for the night

clean clothes go a long way to making me happy

they fold the meat in the sandwiches so it’s all on the edge and you think there’s a ton in there (tricksters!)

sheep’s brain looks a lot like lasagna when you put enough cheese on the top (but it’s way more watery than actual lasagna)


Other than that, it was architecture sensory overload. I simply saw too much to have it make a specific lasting impression. I saw so many things that at times I barely got anything out of my trip other than general exposure and acknowledgement of existence that there was another way of doing things. Do not discount that last sentence, exposure regardless of comprehension is still incredibly important – so much so that I have already brought my 6 year old daughter to Europe just so she knows that there are other people out there that live differently than we do.

Spending time in a place far different from your own environment is important, and it doesn’t have to be Europe. Go to Eastern Europe, South America or the Pacific Rim, I don’t care, and it doesn’t matter. Traveling when you are younger is a life changing process, you will learn a lot about yourself as a person. Going back to Europe as an adult was a far different experience. I prepared, I took notes, I understood history as a subtext to what I was looking at. I had money to eat local cuisine, and I had the patience to slow down enough to see the things around the thing I was looking at. If I had stopped for a coffee when I was in school it would have been goofing off. Now, it’s part of the experience.

So here I was, 20 years later exploring the culture and architecture of Spain. Based on the picture below, there is some evidence at hand that I didn’t completely grow up during the time I spent growing up.


Bob in Europe – 20 years later




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  • Leah K Sturges Mayer

    Love this. I studied in Finland for a summer in 1986 and travelled Europe for 30 more days. When I came home and had the obligatory slide show for the family (not architects) they said, “why aren’t there any people in your photos?” Duh, because I would wait patiently for all native and non native humans to get away from the architecture! Great memories.

    • native and non-native – haven’t heard it put that way before, that’s way more specific than just “humans”. That’s pretty funny.

  • You are awesome. I love your sense of humor.

  • Bob, what a funny and nostalgic look at travelling as a student. Brings back such memories!! I studied architecture in Rome during my fourth year, and took a year off  before my thesis to work in the UK and travel throughout Europe (all of my images are on slides…). I found those years had such an impact on so many things in my life. 

    Like you, my husband and I have enjoyed taking our son with us on trips abroad. “It’s good for you!” as I always tell him. We took him to Paris with us a few years back, and stopped at a location where my husband had proposed to me years ago. While we were enjoying the moment, now with our son, we were discussing where we should go next. As we were mentioning possible routes to different areas, my son asks, “Hey! Have you guys been here before?” It was a funny moment, but it made me realize, he’s seeing everything for the first time. It’s all new to him!  Suffice it to say, we had to endure the unbearably long line ups to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower after that.

    I love reading your posts!! Keep writing – I’ll keep reading!

    • Thank you – very kind of you to say and thank you for sharing your memory. Despite having been to Paris a few times now, I still have never been to the top of the Eiffel Tower – your son call can scoreboard on me.

  • Michael Voit

    Working in Zurich (also in ’90) was one of the better experiences in my life. Unfortunately, I had this compulsion  to get back to the States, finish school, a get on with life. Oh… I also had the Swiss Army wanting to draft me into military service.

    I’ve since had the opportunity to take my wife and kids to Switzerland.  All wish to move to Zurich…However, what seemed so fun and carefree 20 years ago would be very challenging with a family and my love for 48oz diet cokes.  Fifty years ago my parents found the courage to make the move to the States, but I’m not sure I could do the same in return (sorry, way off topic)

    Thanks again for the great post.  By the way, I learned about Swedish au pairs, butter as a sandwich condiment, 50 different ways to flush a toilet (including toilets that do not flush), French highways never have the last most critical sign needed to find your obscure destination, and that Americans can be really loud. 

    Many thanks once again.

  • Paul Anderson

    Ah yes – the Hotel Eurail, a tube of mustard, and thou . . . – I’ve got the slide carousels still full of images from my summer of study at Fontainebleau in ’83 ( and more impactful on my life ) the travel before and after.  Thanks for the post and flood of memories Bob!

    • Glad to contribute in some small way – all my pictures from my early trip are also of the “slide” variety

      good times

  • Denese

    I don’t do bric-a-brac or doodads either, but I could not stay regular on Ritz and sausage. That’s definitely the sign of a 20-something digestive system. Great post, Bob.

  • Haha – thanks for the Eurail reminders. Why pay for a hostel when you can ride the train at night? Although I have to share that wet wool socks washed in a bidet will dry in less than an hour on the balcony under Thessaloniki sun…at least that’s what I’ve heard. *cough*

    • I always wondered what a bidet was for!! I knew it was for washing something dirty and now I know.

      So glad you took time to comment, haven’t seen you around in a while.

  • Steve Mays

    Bob – My daughter does her UT European architecture thing starting in August. Thank you for this post. When she started the program she asked if she could go to Europe with the program. I replied “yes, sure”. Well, inside I was thinking “are freaking kidding me! This is MANDATORY.” I am going to encourage her to drink some coffee and if there is time she should photograph a few buildings.

    • Steve,

      Is she going on the London/ Lugano trip? That’s the one I did – it was exhausting but so worth it!

      • Steve Mays

        The studio time will be in Paris. Prior to that she will be traveling around Europe.

  • Brenda Lynn

    Bob! I love the pictures, all of them. I do have to agree with Emily, the first one is a tad “Frank Zappa-ish” at first glance, but you are much better looking than he was! You were (and are still) a hottie!

    One of our former neighbors and one of my younger daughter’s best friend from elementary school is in the middle of a 13 month stay in Germany. She and a bunch of her friends have jobs over there, although with all of the traveling that she does, I am not sure when they actually have time to work. They have or will have visited every country in Europe and some in north Africa by the time they come back to the states in July. She has been chronicalling her trip on her Facebook account and I have been living vicariouslyy through that.

    Thanks for the post, it was great. The picture from your recent trip is truly stunning, definitely frame-worthy.

    Have a good one, Bob and thanks, again for sharing.

    Brenda Lynn

    • Thanks for commenting Brenda.

      13 months traveling Europe sounds great, I wish I could go back and change things enough to allow me to stay longer but all the same, I like where I live now. For me, I think if I was able to travel somewhere out of the country for 4 weeks a year, that would be ideal.


  • Small Town

    So true. Brilliant post. I too spent a semester in Europe (Rome) in 1990. I have a huge box of photos somewhere to prove it. Unfortunately so many of them were of “architecture” and so few of culture. I have even used Google Streetview to wander my old haunts, which really brought back memories. Permit me to add to your list:

    Dark clothes can hide dirt better than light ones, hence you can go longer between washes (I still don’t understand why nobody ever had the idea to open a laundromat in Rome).

    You can live on bread, cheese and wine (I lost 20 pounds while living in Italy, that defies logic).

    It seemed everyone in Europe based their idea of America on either LA or NYC, usually because of a relative, vacation or TV.

    • Whenever I told people I was from Dallas, Texas they all assumed we rode horses and drilled oil wells for fun. It didn’t help that the TV show Dallas had been so popular. I think it was still playing in Europe when I was there.

      (of course, JR Ewing was absolutely my next door neighbor!)

      Who knows, since you and I were there at the same time, maybe we were in the same place!

  • Emily

    Great post Bob. The picture at the very top is my favorite. Did you also meet Frank Zappa on your first trip?

    • I did grow a thick and lustrous beard while in Europe but I am wearing a wig the post thumbnail photo. It was the only photo I could find from the very short time after I returned when I kept my beard (what, am I Dan Haggerty or something? I live in Texas not the Rockies).

      • Emily

        I love how nonchalantly you tied a wig into this. Beard what?

  • WOW! i`m still laughing… and do not worry abouT 20 years gone by… you still good loking, even better looking nowdays. =)

    • Thanks, I’d like to think Mrs. Life of an Architect thinks I turned out okay but there is always some buyer beware – I looked like the ID card when she met me, and now I look like my grandfather!

  • Flashback photo of you is rockin’ awesome- Love the perspectives on then and now and how you’ve approached your travels. It’s been really cool to live vicariously through you guys(and the pictures, of course)!

    • Nick,

      Really, including the pictures is my technique for lowering the bar should I actually ever meet anyone who reads this stuff. My recent trip to Spain brought all this back up since I was surrounded by other architecturally minded travelers. I had a great time.

      Thanks for commenting

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  • I am with Mike. Great post. It has been 16 years since I lived in France for a summer. This post made me want to go back.

    • Maybe you can send Henry Woods to France? That could be really interesting don’t you think?

      Thanks Brian

  • Bob,

    I devoured this post with vigor…in fact, I could have written it myself, sans the architecture bit and certainly without a fixed agenda or any hint of an organized itinerary. After undergrad I spent a few months living on trains, on train platforms (by choice and planned frugality), tenting on farmers fields and just seeing the sights. Arguably the most intense and edifying use of three months before or since. Eurail pass in tow, jump on the train at night, wake up in a new city with a different culture…and set off like a sponge soaking up not-so-new but still remarkable sights. I highly recommend such adventures and hope to repeat my trip during retirement…with a few more showers and regular changes of clothing. Incredibly nervous at first, far outside my comfort zone, I found most everyone I encountered friendly and helpful and memories of them serve to keep my outlook in life very positive.

    Thanks for posting!


    PS My teenage daughter returns from Paris on Saturday…an organized visit through school and her first European exposure independent of mom and dad…the torch is being passed…I presume she showered:-)

    • Maybe if your lucky, she didn’t shower – that seems to be part of the experience.

      The entire Eurail pass, sleeping on the train and waking up in another city is a distinctly unique experience. One thing that I do recall is that it made Europe feel much, much smaller than it really is and I cam home wondering why I was willing to take a day trip to something 300 miles each way yet I would never consider doing that here.

      It impacts you as a human rather than someone with an agenda. Thanks for commenting Mike.

      • jbushkey

        I am guessing 12 hours in a car for a day trip is considerably different than being able to relax on a train for a day trip. Does it have anything to do with the the seeing the same big box stores and fry pits wherever you go in the US?

  • Kerrie

    HaHa, love it Bob!

    – Food*Sparks

    • Thanks for commenting Kerrie! Hopefully I’ll see you around here a little more often!