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Europe in December: A Dream Tour

Touring Europe was a dream of mine for so long. My partner and I happened upon an amazing Travel Company called C The World, based right here in SA that helped us do just that. One read through the itinerary of the Christmas Tour, and we were hooked. We spent the next year excitedly saving up for our trip, and could hardly believe it was real as the day arrived and we made our way to O R Tambo to meet with our Tour Guide to Be. This was really happening! Next thing we knew, it was Bon Voyage and we were aboard Air France, sipping on Red Wine.

France

Our first stop- Paris really was an incredible experience. A drive through the Arch De Triumph on our arrival and a Bus Tour of the City was just enough to whet our appetites before we explored on foot. We got to see the Eiffel Tower standing tall and glittering against the night sky, the Bright Red and Gold Lights of the Moulin Rouge and hustle and bustle of Montmartre. We swung around on Parisian Lamp Posts like we were living in a cliché Hollywood Romance and we ate hot crepes dripping with Melted Nutella without an ounce of care for our waist sizes- and we discovered why it is called the City of Love. Suddenly we were all speaking French like we had been there for years.

Our days in Paris were just the beginning of France. Over the next few days, we headed north into the picturesque Medieval Towns of Strasbourg and Colmar. In Strasbourg, we got to experience Europe’s oldest and largest Christmas market. Words barely do the sight justice, and you will hardly believe your eyes as you meander through Medieval houses lit up with bright lights, dotted with Snow Men and Reindeers.  The smell of the Spices from the Gluwein brewing at the stalls and the burning wood from fireplaces fills your nostrils as the vintage French music fills your ears, carrying you to a time long gone. By day, you can really appreciate the architecture of these astoundingly old buildings. When I closed my eyes, I could almost hear the fall of horse hooves on the cobble stone beneath my feet.

Switzerland

We had the once in a lifetime opportunity to take a Train through the mountains up to the top of Europe- Jungfrau Joch. And what a breath-taking experience it was. Switzerland was really showing off for us. The Valleys were green while the Alps in the background glittered white with freshly fallen snow. The Log Cabins dressed with tinsel and little Christmas trees reminded me of a magical village and the crisp air was filled with the smell of wood fire. As the train teetered on up along the mountain pass, I had JRR Tolkien’s “Far over the Misty Mountains Cold” playing through my mind. The view unfolding before my eyes made me think of the Shire. Jungfrau Joch and the Swiss Alps was the highlight of my trip. The train ride through the Alps will stay with you for the rest of your life, and once you reach the top, The walk through the Ice Palace and a play in the Snow will take you to a Winter Wonderland. Just a warning- you may never want to leave. Switzerland is a beauty you have to see with your own eyes to believe it really exists.

Austria

What better place is there to spend Christmas than in Austria? It’s something quite amazing to walk through the cobblestone Austrian Streets in the morning with the sound of Cathedral Bells chiming all around you as you make your way towards the mountains in the distance. A cable Car Ride up the mountain took us to a stunning little place called Seegrube- where we were treated to a delicious traditional German Christmas lunch. The Restaurant overlooks the Austrian Alps in all directions, and basking in their beauty while sipping on hot spice wine was something close to paradise.

We also got to enjoy Sleigh Riding in the snow, which was exquisite fun. And then, like a gift from the heavens, Snow began to fall from the sky. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect Christmas.

Germany

Deutschland is the home of delicious beer, and it definitely did not disappoint. On our first night, we were treated to a hearty German dinner at the world renowned Hofbrau Haus. There they have the legendary 1 litre Beers carried to your table in the hands of the waitresses dressed up in their traditional garb. These ladies could carry up to 5 of these monstrous beers in one hand, and I battled just to lift my one! The Beer was so delicious, I barely even noticed it was Beer and wanted to go back for seconds. We also enjoyed some traditional German music and dancing while we enjoyed our Beer and Food. The Rat Haus and Glockenspiel in the very heart of Munich was another wondrous sight to behold, as were the amazing shopping specials that took place on Boxing Day. Shoes- shoes everywhere- and at amazing prices!

From Munich to the Rhine Valley it was, and we took a Boat Cruise along the Rhine River as our Tour Guide beguiled us with tales of the old Castles and the Legend of Lorelei the Mermaid. The Rhine Valley is like stepping into a whole other era with its magnificent old Castles and little Towns made of stone. Our stay there was thoroughly enjoyable.

Netherlands

Our final stop was The Netherlands. A blanket of Icy Frost covered the ground and trees as we made our way through Holland to the little Windmill Village of Zaanse Schans. It was unlike anything we had ever seen. Canals wound their way around ornate old windmills and little doll-house like wooden stores. The smell of the place was organic- deep, wet earth and frost. A little further on into Amsterdam, we got to see how Holland’s famous wooden clogs are made and indulge in some Dutch Cheese and sweet Fruit Wine. We had a creamy, smoked bacon infused cheese that we loved so much we just had to buy some to take home.

And of course, no trip to Amsterdam is complete without a tour of the infamous Red Light District. The scandalous sights, tastes and sounds are definitely a shock to the system- but well worth the unique experience. When you look past the “ladies of the night” posing in their windows and the Coffee Shops that have little to do with Coffee at all, the architecture is actually very intriguing. What makes it so interesting is the signature “lean” in all of the buildings that is unique to Amsterdam. You will notice that the buildings lean forward and tilt to the side slightly, looking as though they are about to topple over. Apparently, the people in Amsterdam aren’t the only ones getting a little bit wonky. I thought maybe the architects had been enjoying the coffee shops a little too much. I also thought maybe I had been. But apparently this actually wasn’t a mistake and our Tour Guide gave us a very interesting and in-depth explanation for the strange design. The Red Light District is also home to, surprisingly, a Church called “Oude Kerk” that dates all the way back to 1213. It is Amsterdam’s oldest building, and certainly is a sight to behold.

When the trip had come to an end, we were left with so many amazing memories, as well as new friends made. Suitcases full of clothes and souvenirs and minds full of new found wisdom and stories to tell, it is a trip that will stay with me for a lifetime. Thank you to companies like C The World, Travelling is no longer such a distant dream.

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