Social Media

As most of you know by now, I’m adventuring around Europe. As many of you may have realised, adhering to time frames is not my forte. The blog is currently 3 weeks behind schedule. I’m way too busy actually seeing things to write about them everyday. So when you see me posting about the UK, I’m actually posting from France. I don’t even know the date, let alone what country I’m in!

Some frequently asked questions I’ve recently received include:

When’s your next blog post coming?
Why don’t you post more photos?
Why don’t you post more often?
Can I meet up with you in London?

And the answers to these questions are:

When I write it.
Oh, but I do.
Because I haven’t the time.
No, because I was in London 4 weeks ago. Sorry.

For those who want to see more (I’m extremely flattered!), there’s this thing called social media. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s relatively up-to-date with all my travels. So until the next blog post comes along, you can get your fix here!

Instagram

Search “tiffanymestrinho” or click here.

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I like to think I post quality photos… I don’t know, you be the judge. This is by far my favourite and most-used social media platform.

YouTube

Search “Tiffany Mestrinho” or click here.

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Making videos had become one of my favourite things to do. Subscribe for climbing, hiking, adventuring, pointless chatter, and some of the most incredible scenery you’ll ever see in your life.

Twitter

Search “@tiffmestrinho” or click here.

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I tweet a lot. Not all of it makes sense.

Facebook

Search “Tiffany Mestrinho” or click here.

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My Facebook is private so I will only accept you if I know you and like you. Fellow bloggers and Twitter friends count.

I Left My Heart in York

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I’ve left my heart in more places than one.

It’s an inevitable side-effect of incessant wanderlust. I no longer feel like I have a “home” in Australia – simply a base to come back to and recharge. The idea of staying put in one place is incomprehensible to me. I can’t imagine a life without exploration and freedom.

I fall in love with some places more than others. There are some places I never want to leave; some places I feel innately drawn to. York has become one of these places.

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It’s simply magical. There’s something in the air, a feeling that I can’t describe in words. It’s something that you have to experience first-hand. There’s an energy of complete peace.

York is the quintessential English country town. It’s not small – it was the largest city in northern England for centuries – but it’s certainly not on the mass scale of London. I like this – rather than feeling lost in a sea of busyness and commotion, you are able to soak up the atmosphere. Rather than feeling like an observer, you feel like an active participant in the city’s life and history.

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And what a history! Walking around the streets feels like you’ve stepped back in time. It’s another world. The city actively restores and promotes it’s historical roots – museums take you back to the Roman and Viking settlements, and the current town still retains its medieval charm. It was so refreshing to see a city preserving its history rather than building upon it.

Perhaps my favourite thing about York (or at least on par with its historical charm) were the people! I’m not exaggerating when I say that York is home to the friendliest, kindest people that I’ve ever met in my life. Everyone from the bed & breakfast lady who made me vegetarian breakfasts and did my laundry, to the waitress and chef who spent a great deal of their work time chatting to me instead of serving and cooking… I met some of the loveliest people in the world in York. Like, over-and-above kindness. Bless them.

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I said earlier that I couldn’t see myself staying put in one place. While this is true, if one day I were to retire my tired old bones, I would retire in York. I would get a small farm just outside town, so I could keep my horses and dogs and 214 cats. I would go into town everyday and eat lunch at the vegan cafe I found. I would exchange small-talk with my fellow Yorkers on the street. I would meet my grandma friends for tea and scones at the tea houses. After a life of exploration and adventure, I would live out my days enjoying the peace and friendliness that is inherent in York.

Who knows? It’s a nice idea, but I have no clue what the future holds. For now, I know that I left a piece of myself in York. I know that I will return one day. Because when you leave a part of yourself somewhere, you will inevitably go back to it.

My Top 5: London Edition

Oh, I love London Society! It has immensely improved. It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what Society should be.

– Oscar Wilde

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South Bank

Nothing says quintessential London like the view you get from South Bank. Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, the Thames… This is London. South Bank itself is vibrant and lively, and quite a change of pace from the northern bank of the river. We went for a walk along the bank at dusk and watched the city come alive before I very happily took my “London” shot. If there’s one photo you need to share from your visit to London, this is it.

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Shakespeare’s Globe

Ok, so this isn’t the actual Globe Theatre used by Shakespeare; that got closed down and demolished by the Puritans in 1642 because the theatre is, of course, evil. However, the theatre that has been built to replace it was made in the exact style and with the same materials that would have been used on the original, all the way up to the thatched roof. It’s incredible. I was fortunate enough to see The Changeling in the indoor playhouse (plays don’t run in the outdoor theatre in winter). The playhouse is, again, as authentic as the original indoor theatre, and lit only by candlelight. As a drama student, this was absolutely amazing. Life can only go downhill from here.

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Westminster Abbey

Although the Abbey is impressive and vast and grand and beautiful, Westminster actually made it on my list because of the southern transept, dubbed the Poet’s Corner. This is exactly what it sounds like. Here rest some of the greatest literary figures to have walked the earth: everyone from Geoffrey Chaucer to Charles Dickens. Even Lawrence Olivier somehow slipped in!

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Museums

In truth, I only went to two of London’s museums, but I loved them both so much that I couldn’t leave them off the list! London’s Natural History Museum is hands-down the best natural history museum I’ve ever been to. It will take you through the earth’s 4.5 billion year history, explaining how things happen, why things happen, and what things will happen in the future. It’s got animals, it’s got ecosystems, it’s got astronomy. It’s got everything. If cultural history is more your thing, the Museum of London takes you through the city’s history, from prehistory, through Roman occupation, to the Medieval and Renaissance periods, and all the way up to modern 21st-century history. And the best thing about the museums in London: they’re free!

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Harry Potter Studio Tour

I had one of the best days of my life at the Harry Potter Studio Tour. This is where the magic happens. The sets, costumes, props, production artwork, everything that went into making the Harry Potter films – it’s all here. It’s all real. It’s right in front of you. Everything from the Great Hall, to Diagon Alley, to Dumbledore’s office, to the classrooms, to the wands, even Dobby! The tour finishes off with the Hogwarts model that was used for all the outdoor shots of the school, and it’s simply breathtaking. You can fly a broomstick on the green-screen. You can drink butter beer. You can buy wands, the Nimbus 2000 and 2001, robes, and scarves in every colour from Gryffindor to Slytherin. You go behind the scenes in a way that no DVD bonus features can take you. It’s literally the most magical place on earth.

My Top 5: Rome Edition

Ah, Rome. The Eternal City. Romanticised in art, literature, music and film. And I know why. In Rome you are able to appreciate just how small you are, as you stand amongst centuries of history. It really is eternal; the time and space we occupy is but a fraction in the life of this city.

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Roman Ruins

No where else in the world can you experience and appreciate Roman history as in its birthplace. The city is scattered with remnants from its glorious past, but the most well-known (and deservedly so) are the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Seeing these ruins for the first time is awe-inspiring. You are face-to-face with the great Roman Empire. You don’t need to have studied Roman history to appreciate that this era was one of incredible innovation. But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

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Piazza Navona

One word: carnival. Piazza Navona is one of the liveliest, most colourful places in the entire city. From the occasional ferris wheel, to street artists, to those carnival games that are impossible to win – you will wander around in awe and amazement. Or maybe I’m just a child at heart.

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Vatican City

Rome has been the centre of Christendom since 323 when Emperor Constantine made it not-illegal to practice Christianity in his empire. Sure, there have been a few ups and downs, but historically the head of the Catholic Church has had his seat in St Peters, the heart of Vatican City. This is the epitomisation of Renaissance Rome. The highlight of the Vatican for me was the museums. Every historical and contemporary piece of artwork that the Papacy has ever stolen is contained here, now so graciously put on display for us laymen to admire. Everything from Greek to Roman to Medieval to Renaissance, even with some modern art thrown in. It’s art history Mecca. Except that it’s Christian.

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Castel Sant’Angelo

Originally the mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian (yes, he built things other than the wall), Castel Sant’Angelo became a papal fortress and prison during the early Renaissance. It captured my attention long ago after hearing the stories of torture and death that occurred within its walls, but it’s bloody history is a stark contrast to the lavish papal apartments contained in the upper storeys. It’s a comfortable hiding place when the plebs decide to riot.

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Piazza del Popolo

This spot made the list for two reasons. First of all, the piazza itself is always bustling with activity. At night it turns into an amazing spectacle of insanely-talented street musicians and people wandering around with gelati. Secondly, if you hike up the hill right beside it, you will get one of the best views over the city. And you know how I love climbing.

Pompeii: Where Past Meets Present

You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men… People bewailed their own fate… and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore… I could boast that not a groan or cry of fear escaped me in these perils, but I admit that I derived some poor consolation in my mortal lot from the belief that the whole world was dying with me and I with it.

– Pliny the Younger

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It’s a strange feeling walking around the streets of a city that was literally buried in time. Pompeii was lost in 79 AD, and it lay preserved underground until it was rediscovered hundreds of years later. Nothing had changed; time had just stopped.

Due to the 4+ metre layer of ash, the city is almost perfectly preserved. You can wander around the ancient city on the very streets that the people used to try and escape. You can explore their houses, their temples, their bakeries, and their public spaces. You can discover how they lived, right up until their last moments. You can walk in their final footsteps.

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And the really eerie thing is, they literally were their final moments. The plaster casts of people and animals as they lay dying take on a whole new meaning when you see them in their context rather than in a museum. The contorted postures reveal just how unbearable the heat and suffocation must have been. It’s a very strange thing looking at someone as they died in perhaps the most horrific way imaginable.

We can only imagine how horrific it must have been for them. They lived in a completely different world. Volcanoes only erupt like this once every thousands of years. It was certainly something the likes of which had never been seen by anyone remotely close to their generation. As terrifying as the situation would be today, it must have been a hundred times worse for them because they had no idea what was happening, Their whole world was ending.

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Looking up from the ruins you see a looming reminder of the events of 79 AD in Mount Vesuvius. Despite there being not a cloud in the sky, an eerie shadow remained over the mountain all day. There was a point where I was looking at the volcano from the remnants of the forum and I realised that I was looking at the very same entity that they had been observing, in entirely different circumstances.

Pompeii has been on my bucket-list for a long time – well before I studied it as part of my archaeology major. It’s always held a certain fascination for me, purely for the fact that it literally disappeared overnight. Everything that defined the city – buildings, arenas, forums, people – was buried along with it, frozen in time only to be discovered hundreds of years later. It’s one of very few places in the world where the past has remained untouched by subsequent developments and cultures.

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The fact that the site has become a major tourist destination is both good and bad. I think that history plays such an important part in crafting who we are as a society that people should be interested and want to learn about the cultures that preceded them. I think it’s amazing that we all share this fascination about the city that was buried alive.

However, hoards of tourists meandering through the ruins every year means that conservation is impossible. The city is falling apart. The respect for the site and for its people is, for the most part, non-existent. It’s a tough debate, but maybe there comes a time when, after we’ve discovered all there is to discover, we should rebury these sites and leave them as we found them. Maybe there comes a time when we should let the city and its inhabitants rest in peace.

My Top 10: Florence Edition

Florence will forever be my favourite city in the world. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve studied here twice, or maybe it’s just that amazing, but every time I come back it feels like I’m returning home. So this list was especially hard, because trying to narrow down a city as diverse and fantastic as Florence into a “Top 10” just can’t be done. This just scratches the surface of centuries worth of history, culture, art, architecture and food.

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Piazza del Duomo

Comprised of the Duomo, Campanile, and Baptistery, the Piazza del Duomo is probably the most iconic site in Florence. For centuries, this has been the centre of Florence’s religious life, and the iconic image of Brunelleschi’s dome is what distinguishes the Florentine skyline. Climbing the Duomo and/or Giotto’s Campanile will give you a fantastic view of the city and it’s immediate layout – just maybe don’t plan to do them both on the same day like we did, unless you relish that lactic acid!

Fratellini

If there’s only one place you go in Florence, make it Fratellini’s. Best. Panini. Ever. Seriously, these guys make the best sandwiches I’ve ever tasted in my life. Just go there, it will be worth it, I promise.

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Ponte Vecchio

Another iconic Florentine symbol, the Ponte Vecchio or “Old Bridge” is another must-see tourist destination. It’s the oldest bridge in Florence, and was the only bridge along the Arno that wasn’t destroyed in WWII. Historically, it has always been home to merchants trying to sell their wares; however now the expensive gold jewellery is a little out of my price range.

The Uffizi 

One of my favourite galleries in the world. For someone who studied Renaissance art, this is Mecca. Probably the most well-known pieces to marvel at are Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and La Primavera, and my personal favourite, da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi… Which I still haven’t seen in person because for the last 3 years its been under restoration. One day…

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The Oltrarno

Many people forget that there is another side to Florence. Literally, the city continues on the opposite banks of the Arno river. Historically, this was the poorer side of town, and perhaps this is why many people skip it today. However, it’s home to some must-see sites, including Palazzo Pitti and the enormous Boboli Gardens, Piazzale Michelangelo, and my personal favourite, San Miniato al Monte.

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Santa Croce

If you’re a history nerd like myself, this will fast become one of your favourite churches. This is where anyone who was anyone in Florentine society was buried. From the likes of Michelangelo to Raphael, and Galileo to Machiavelli, this Franciscan cathedral contains all your favourite Florentines in one convenient place. No really, the fact that all these historical figures are metres away is really mind-blowing. Eerily fascinating.

The Accademia

If you only go here to see Michelangelo’s David, it will be worth it. The man is freaking perfect. Seriously, I’ve never seen such perfection in my life. It’s possible to spend hours sitting in awe of this one sculpture. The rest of the gallery isn’t bad either.

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Piazza della Repubblica 

Florentine nightlife comes alive in the Piazza della Repubblica. Ferris wheels, temporary displays and workshops, Champagne tasting, and people trying to sell you weird light-up flying mechanisms… This place has it all. It’s bright, it’s bustling, and its the gateway to some amazing restaurants.

La Spada

So I’ve eaten here each time I’ve been in Florence because the food is so delicious, and this time was no different. La Spada is home to the best waiter in the world, Ivan, who will go above and beyond to make sure you have the best culinary experience ever. And we did. So we went back twice more! Best service I’ve ever had. However much Ivan is being paid, it isn’t enough! I seriously cannot recommend this place highly enough.

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San Miniato al Monte

This spot is on the list not so much for the 11th-century church, but for its panoramic views over the city. However, if you’ve made the trek, you might as well see the Romanesque church too – it’s beautiful. Hike up here at sunset, the lighting is perfect. And if you feel like braving the cold, staying after the sun goes down and the lights come out is definitely worth it. This will forever be one of my favourite spots in the world.

In Fair Verona

I’ve had a love affair with Verona from about the age of 11, when I first discovered the glorious specimen that is Leonardo DiCaprio. Though I didn’t understand a word of Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation at that time, the appeal of the star-crossed lovers was enough to romanticise fair Verona.

Fast-forward three years and I was studying Shakespeare’s tragedy at school. I still question the judgement of whoever thought it was a good idea to give 14-year-olds a story about kids falling in love after an hour, getting married the next day, and killing themselves after a series of extremely frustrating twists of fate. Not to mention our school’s attempted censorship of the sex scene in Zeffirelli’s 1968 adaptation starring Olivia Hussey and the Zac Efron lookalike.

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If I had to pick one word to describe Verona it would be magical. The city still carries it’s Shakespearian charm, and tributes to Romeo and Juliet are everywhere. The old city walls bear a plaque famously quoting that “There is no world without Verona walls, but purgatory, torture, hell itself”. And busts of Shakespeare. Everywhere.

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Although I’m about as far away from the lovelorn tourist as you can get, you absolutely cannot go to Verona and not go to Juliet’s house, Casa di Giulietta. Let me preface this by saying that Juliet probably didn’t live here; yes, the Shakespearian tragedy is fictional. However, the house did belong to the Cappelletti family, whom the story is likely to have been based upon. Despite the extremely distant connections, tourists flock here to post their letters to Juliet on the walls in the courtyard, and to stand on her balcony and await their Romeo. So we did. When in Verona, right?

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But Verona isn’t just a pilgrimage site for romantics. Any history nerd will feel right at home, with remnants dating back to the Roman Empire. The Veronese Arena is at the centre of the city, and still hosts entertainment for its citizens. Sure, it’s not the bloodbaths of ancient Rome, but if you don’t mind more sedated events like live music… If not, you can tour around the arena by day like we did, all the way from being spectator in the top tier to walking through the archway to begin a glorious and bloody fight to the death.

And just a side note on why Verona will forever by one of my favourite cities: vegetarian heaven. I’ve never seen so much vegetarian and vegan food in my life! As a vegetarian in Italy, I’m usually limited to pastas and pizzas (not complaining), but it to have vegan food that was based solely on vegetables and legumes… Freaking amazing. And you know how everything tastes better in Italy? Vegan food does too.

My Top 5: Venice Edition

Venice has always held a magical allure for me, and my second visit to the city was just as incredible as the first. There is no place like it. It’s the place where east meets west, and where the land meets the sea. It’s an amazing little piece of Byzantium in Italy. I hate choosing favourites, and my list was endless, but I’ve managed to narrow a busy itinerary down to my five top picks.

(These are all fairly touristy, and to get a real feel for the city you actually need to get lost in it’s maze of alleyways, but this will inevitably happen anyway!)

Piazza San Marco

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No visit to Venice would be complete without a visit to the tourist destination of Piazza San Marco. The square itself is the ideal place to sit and eat and people-watch. San Marco would have to be my favourite Italian church, possibly because it’s unlike any other Italian basilica I’ve ever seen. Inside it is a golden mosaic masterpiece, more Byzantine than Italian. Next door is Palazzo Ducale, the palace of the Doge. If you enjoy art, or if you simply want to step into the shoes of the uppermost echelon of Venetian society, the Palazzo is not to be missed.

Ponte Rialto

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The Rialto bridge is a Venetian icon. It’s the main causeway connecting the two islands that comprise the city, and has arguably the best vantage point from which to view the Canale Grande in it’s romantic glory. Although the boutique shops along the bridge are a tad pricey, wandering the streets around it you will find some incredible examples of Venetian craftsmanship – from iconic Murino glass, to eccentric Venetian masks.

Ice Skating

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When people ask me why I travel to Europe in winter, I usually cite the reduced prices and smaller number of tourists. But perhaps the best part of Europe in winter are the outdoor ice skating rinks! There’s something magical about ice skating in winter. Maybe it’s because we have nothing like it in Australia. At any rate, when we stumbled across the rink in Campo San Polo, we knew we had to go for it. Despite being double the age of everyone else there, this was definitely one of my highlights in Venice.

Gondolas

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What epitomises Venice better than the gondola? The romanticism of the city surely lies in the icon of the long boat, commandeered by a serenading gondolier. It’s something you have to do at least once in your life. Seeing the city from the canals gives you a completely different perspective, and watching the gondoliers expertly navigate the narrow causeways is captivating. It’s a side of Venice that you’re unable to see from the land.

The Ghetto

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Venice is home to the first ever Ghetto. It dates to 1516, when the Doge of Venice so graciously allowed the Jews to continue living in Venice, so long as they were quarantined in their own tiny enclave. Wandering through the ghetto, which is still home to some of the Venetian Jewish population, it is the only place that actually feels lived-in. In a city that feels extremely touristy, it’s a welcome escape.

Christmas: Why Europe Does it Better

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I’ll be honest: Christmas has never been my favourite holiday. I don’t like crowds; I don’t like carols; I don’t like tacky lawn decorations. Here in the Southern Hemisphere it feels like we are trying too hard. The White Christmases we grow up watching on childhood favourites like Home Alone in no way reflect the scorching summer barbeques that epitomise the Australian Christmas. And how does Santa not die of heatstroke delivering presents to every Australian child in 40-degree heat? It’s just all wrong.

After spending the holiday season in Europe last year, I realised that it’s not Christmas that I dislike; it’s just the Australian Christmas. The European festive season transformed me from The Grinch into Cindy Lou Who. And so, in the holiday spirit, I present my top 10 reasons why Europe does Christmas better. And why you should venture over there and experience the festive season the way it should be experienced.

Snow

Need I say more? You haven’t had a Christmas until you’ve had a White Christmas. It gives you an excuse to bundle up in layers and wear scarves and gloves and beanies and…

Christmas sweaters

Ah, the Ugly Christmas Sweater. Who can forget Colin Firth’s hideous number in Bridget Jones’ Diary? And it doesn’t stop at the sweaters. Europe is full of ugly Christmas scarves, beanies, socks, gloves… And the tackier the better.

Lights

I’m not talking about competitive house-decoration. Every city in Europe gets into the festive spirit by adorning its streets with Christmas lights. It’s like walking through a magical Christmas wonderland.

Trees

Massive trees. In every town square. And not the trees that look like they belong in MoMA. Actual trees!

Carols

As previously stated, I hate Christmas carols. But for those of you who are more tolerant of groups of schoolchildren singing songs of snow and bells and reindeer with red noses, Europe is for you!

Christmas markets

These are possibly the best part of a European Christmas. There’s nothing like bundling up and walking through the Christmas markets at night, eating everything on offer and buying tacky ornaments.

Ice-skating

Outdoor ice-skating. At night.

Food

So much food. Enough to render you in a coma until New Years.

Tradition

Every country has its own Christmas traditions. Although many places are becoming increasingly Westernized, it was nice to learn that some still hold on to local traditions and that not everywhere has been corrupted by corporate materialism and greed.

Christmas spirit

Everything on this list contributes to something that I’d never experienced in Australia: Christmas spirit. Go out and find it.