Five European Vignettes


Mid last year, my older sister Cindy ventured into her six month adventure all around Europe. Of course, I was insanely jealous and the constant stream of photos on Facebook made me wild with wanderlust. It was so amazing simply just seeing the photos I don't know how I could have coped actually being to places such as London, Spain and Amsterdam. And who better to write about her travels than Cindy herself? So here are five musts of Europe - if you're heading to that side of the world anytime soon, these are a few things you won't wanna miss.

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     Words by Cindy Zhou
1. THEATRELAND IN LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM. 
For lovers of the theatre, musical and plays, London is the place to be. The place oozes with culch and there's always something to see - and you do get a lot of bang for your buck pound! My favourite playhouse was The Globe, just across the way from the death eaters' Millennium Bridge. For just five pounds a groundling, you can see some of the best up-close-and-personal Shakespeare, etc, but mind that with an open roof, the potential for rain is a part of the experience! The strangest thing that happened to me there was getting a (fake) testicle thrown at me (complete with fake blood) during the schizoid performance of Pitcairn. In the heart of the city, the West End is all lit up at night, and with its bustling buzz and chatter, streams of people pouring into the theatres  (which are literally lined up block upon block), is a theatre-lover's haven. From the supremely, large-scale productions to the the very small, niche fringe plays, every penny put into seeing performances here is a penny well spent.
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2. BIKING AROUND IN AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS. 
Freddie Mercury once sang "I want to ride my bicycle (bicycle, bicycle, bicycle)", but what he really meant was "I want to ride my bicycle (bicycle, bicycle, bicycle) in Amsterdam." Cyclists are the big kahunas in this city, the kings of road hierarchy, and all else (cars and pedestrians) must give way to them. This is the bicycle capital of the world; perched upon two spindly wheels, you are able to see one of the most beautiful and elegant cities in the world. There are flowing canals, boat-houses which all look distinctly different from one another, flower gardens, wonderful museums, and generally really nice, lovely people with lilting accents (sigh). Hot tip: taking the free, five minute ferry to North Amsterdam opens up a lush, green, suburban world with winding roads where your bike won't be confronted by the thousands of locals who are on their way to work/home/absolutely everywhere they need to go.
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3. LA TOMATINA IN VALENCIA, SPAIN.
Everybody loves a good food fight, right? Well, it seems, nobody more than the town of Buñol. Every year, 40,000 people from all across the globe gather to throw more than 115,000 kilograms of tomatoes at each other. Massive trucks haul the bounty of tomatoes in from Plaza del Pueblo, and the festival technically starts from when a brave member of the crowd climbs atop a two-storey-high, greased-up pole to retrieve the coveted Ham (though, nobody has achieved this meaty prize for the past decade). Water cannons are fired, and locals throw down water bombs at the masses of tourists (let's be honest) below. Then, it's every man for himself. By the end of it, I had tomatoes everywhere. You could say, from my head, to-ma-toes... (in the ears was the most invasive). Afterwards, you are hosed down by water provided from Roman aqueducts, and your clothes will smell like tomato soup, but don't worry, the scorching Spanish sun will dry you off in no time! You will need to wash at least three times. And no, this did not put me off tomatoes.
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4. CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN COLOGNE, GERMANY.
Close your eyes and picture this: spiced mulled wine, aromas of gingerbread, pretzels, fried donuts, apple strudel, roasted almonds, cheese-lathered-potatoes, and the best-sausages-you'll-ever-taste-in-your-life filling the air, as you walk through stalls of handcrafted toys, candles, lambskin shoes, traditional yuletide wares. Carols, fairy tales and festive illuminations wrap around you like a baby in a blanket. My goodness, Germany's Weihnachtsmärkte will make you never wank to go back to summer Christmas Down Under. The Germans do this the best - from visiting Santa's grotto, seeing impromptu puppet theatres, to being transported to the world of the Brothers Grimm, having a skate on an outdoor ice-rink, going on a mobile toboggan run or drinking rich and malty doppelbock or eisbock to crisp pilsners (see: Munich's beer halls... and a beer called Augustiner - prost!), this is the place to be to experience Winter Wonderland at its finest.
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5. SOAKING UP THE SUN IN LAGOS, PORTUGAL.
Without a tear in their ozone layer overhead, the sun in Portugal (and Spain, for that matter) is hot, but not so unforgiving as ours here back at home. The alluring coast of Algarve is postcard-perfect, complete with breathtaking cliffs, golden beaches, scalloped bays, and sandy islands. It is a 'drop in the ocean' and is an enchanting retreat from the bustle of the city. Being in Lagos feels like being encapsulated in a relaxation bubble, and time freezes so that you can enjoy working on your tan, sample every flavour of ice-cream on offer, or go kayaking to the magical caves or grottos tucked under gorgeous rock formations. If you enjoy the sand and the sea, this is your ideal playground.
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I hope you all enjoyed (envied) these gorgeous places and hopefully one day your experiences will lead you to countries as beautiful as these.

Until next time,
Maggie XX

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