Every since I can remember, I’ve been a Europhile. When I saw Sound of Music more than a hundred times, I gazed at the landscapes and wondered where in the world things would be so beautiful and charming. When I heard the Beatles and Pink Floyd for the first time, I dreamt about the first studios they would have recorded their music. When we used to fight as kids for a plate of French fries (unhealthy as it gets according to my mother), I wondered whether all French mums would do the same. To cut a long story short, I always wanted to visit Europe. And like any other middle class kid from India, it was a far fetch. I kept myself happy by visiting every nook and corner of India with anyone who would leave Chennai. Whether it was a religious trip to Haridwar, Rishikesh, Badrinath with my grandparents or an adventure trip with my best friend’s family to Sikkim, I escaped hot Chennai by cajoling my parents. But, I never stopped dreaming about Europe.
It was a little after I passed out of school, 2nd year of college, to be precise, that a miracle happened. Firstly, I had turned 18. Secondly, I had topped my school when I was 16. It took my parents two years to surprise me with a trip to Europe. Not very long ago had Dilwale Duljaniya Le Jayenge released in the movie halls and every girl dreamt of meeting Raj in Eurail. My only dream was to step foot in any European country and experience being away on my own. Ooops, did I speak too soon. Alone was out of question when I was 18. So, my parents decided to send my 15 year old sister with me. Not only would that push me to be responsible, there was no way I could have entered a bar with her. So, a 6 week trip was planned to Germany, France and England, three places where I had some family or friends so that I would never be on my own. That was my dad’s comfort zone. In anycase, from the day I landed in Frankfurt airport in the summer of 1999 till date, I get goosebumps when Im in Europe. It could be the cold. But, Ill leave it to travelers thrill.
Its been 11 years since I started traveling and I’ve somehow managed to tuck away money every once in a while to visit a new country in Europe. So, here are my top 5 quaint European getaways, places and experiences that have made me fall in love with travel even more.
Cinque Terre, Italy – When you hear about Italy, you hear about Pizzas and Gondolas. Most people head to Florence, Rome and Venice and get an art overdose. As sheer luck may have it, we landed up traveling through this untouched region called Cinque Terre. A Unesco World Heritage site that has a beautiful sea face, a winding walking path for nature lovers, quaint villages with murals in the stations and colourful catamarans, it is an Italian hideout that I hope the tourists never find. From the first village Monterosso till the fifth village Riomaggiore, our mouths hung open awe struck for a few days. Cinque Terre means Five lands and in my books, I’ll remember it as Cinque Gioielli – Five jewels.
Bruges, Belgium – So, who says Venice is the only place with little canals. Bruges, this little town an hour away from Brussels is probably the place which inspired the word ‘quaint’. With vine covered houses, little cobble stone streets winding away alongside canals, small stores vending cheesy waffles and Belgian chocolate in all forms, Bruges is just the kind of town you want to laze around when traveling overwhelms you. Don’t miss the musicians with instruments you can’t put a name to charm you with their little hats. As medieval as it gets, witness time slowing down and a calmness taking over you as you literally float through the alleyways. Travel like a crazy obsessed traveler, but find Bruges for a pitstop.
Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic – When you think of beer, you probably think of Oktoberfest. Well, in this little town called Ceske Budejovice in south of Czech Republic, a true beer connoisseur will love the vibes. You ever wondered where Budweiser came from? For a town that has been known for its beer since the 13th century, Ceske Budejovice is the home of Budweiser, or Budvar as they like to call it. Wearing the crown for being the largest city in the Bohemian region, it hosts some of the finest brewerys (Pivovar something or the other) and is a must for everyone in search of the holy grail – oops, beer trail.
Toledo, Spain – Every adventurer would have heard of Don Quixote. The Don Quixote route begins in this city Toledo, the capital of the Castilla – La Mancha region of spain. This small town just an hour or so away from Madrid is the surprise package that Spain has in store for you when the capital city of Madrid leaves you confused and disappointed. Whether it is the Iberian kingdom or the Muslim kingdom, Toledo’s architecture stuns you and its the perfect blend of old and new. More than the winding streets and the history, I remember the tiny stores selling tiled souvenirs, the windows with little flower pots popping out of nowhere and most certainly the delicious roast suckling pig that was available in practically every little restaurant. Visit Toledo if you are hungry for some culture or just plain hungry.
Costa Nova, Portugal – Visiting friends in the small town of Aveiro in Portugal, we were treated to an afternoon at Costa Nova, one of the best stretch of beaches I’ve seen in Europe. What stood out was the little town of Barra with striped houses in various colours, bright and completely out of the box. A lazy summer vacation spot for the Portuguese, the entire stretch offers you all the variety you want from a beach town – the golden dunes to boat rides to watersports. And like every place in the world has something famous to eat, this region does too. The local egg-based sweet speciality is called ‘ovos-moles de Aveiro’. Pop one before you bid goodbye to Portugal.
With these 5 little European secrets, I hope I have passed on some of my European addiction to all you readers.
Visit Europe, and you’ll be a certified Europhile in a few minutes, I guarantee.