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Things I learned on my Eurotrip

You save and save and save and then, one day, you’ve scraped together enough of your cents (I haven’t bought shoes in six months!) to go gallivant around Europe… Or at least, Italy and Spain. In their off-seasons, too, but hey, that doesn’t take any of the magic away! It just means that those two pairs of bikinis you packed don’t ever see the light of day… The trip was a kaleidoscope of colours, smells, pictures, tastes and sounds… To write about every aspect of it would just be a massive task. So here are a few things I learned…

A statue in Rome... They're big on angels and pointing!
Rome. The vibe: Historical. Dignified. The soundtrack: Police sirens.

The village of San Donato in Tuscany... Sleepy, beautiful, cold in Autumn!
Tuscany. The vibe: Sleepy. Chilly. The soundtrack: Virgin radio: yay for David Bowie, Hole, Aerosmith and Pink Floyd!

Food, fabulous food!

  • Pizza is pizza is pizza. Anywhere and everywhere. The tomato-to-cheese ratio just differs.
  • When in Tuscany, opt for self-service accommodation. Once you walk though the little shops and cafes, all you’ll want to do is cook…
  • The open-air market in Barcelona is an experience that cannot be put into words. Heaps of exotic fruits, fish, vegetables, gourmet cheeses… You could spend hours browsing.
  • Sometimes, McDonald’s is the only way to go. But if you have a choice, Burger King is way better. And yes, we ate at both!
  • It is possible to get sick and tired of cheese and ham. Even the juiciest parma ham combined with the most delicate of pecorino cheese tastes crap if that’s what lunch and breakfast has been for the past three weeks…
  • It is entirely possible to have a love affair with pasta.
  • The sheer amount and variety of mushrooms in Italy is enough to convince me to move there and live on mushroom pasta for the rest of my life. With black truffle sauce.
  • My personal favourite: you have to actually order a hamburger with tomato on it – it doesn’t come standard. Bliss for all tomato haters!
  • Just because it’s vegetable soup doesn’t mean it’s suitable for vegetarians… The soup we ate at La Toppa in San Donato had real personality – and it wasn’t of the lettuce-stock kind! More the puts-hairs-on-your-chest and warms-up-your-bed personality…
  • Parmesan does not come standard with pizza or pasta in Italy.
  • Neither does a spoon. You know, for twirling your spaghetti around.
  • If the wine comes with tiny shot-sized glasses, you know you’re in for one helluva Greek evening. You’ll also possibly have to replace your fillings.

This old merry-go-round in Florence was magical...
Florence. The vibe: Sassy. Cosmopolitan. The soundtrack: Them damn church bells! Pop music in the stores, street musicians wielding double basses on the squares.

  • Fresh bread plus olive oil plus rough salt equals me putting on several kilograms in short order.
  • Beer is an universal language.
  • Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough: I’ve found my price.

Sounds and silence…

  • It’s impossible to sleep late anywhere in Italy. (Or Spain, for that matter.) The church bells play tag across the big cities, and in the smaller towns you usually have two – out of sync, obviously. So midnight comes twice, staggered about five minutes apart.
  • The police seem very active – at least, there are a helluva lot of sirens going around. Cop cars, motorcycles, motorboats, and old fogeys wielding shrill whistles… The voice of the law is a constant presence!
  • Nowhere is as quiet as a tiny medieval town in Tuscany at round about five in the afternoon…

Hotels

  • If there’s a toaster on the breakfast buffet, you’re staying at a five-star hotel.
  • They usually tell you that your breakfast wasn’t included in your booking when you’re halfway through the Nutella tower and on your fifth croissant.
  • Most of them have free Internet access. Brilliant.
  • Some of them allow smoking in the breakfast room/restaurant. Not so brilliant.

Travel

  • Pedestrians have right of way. Anywhere and everywhere. It’s weird not to hear cars hooting for the people randomly wandering in front of them.
  • If you value your sanity, don’t ever drive in Florence.
  • Water taxis are the coolest invention ever.

Venice... Where light dances on water.
Venice. The vibe: Frenetic. Run-down. The soundtrack: Classical music. Ze violins!

  • Gondolas are overpriced and overrated.
  • Vespas and Mopeds are everywhere.
  • Getting lost in Tuscany makes for a magical ride.
  • Travelling by train makes you feel like you’re on the way to Hogwarts. Sort of.
  • Lufthansa is the crappest airline in living memory. More on this later.
  • It is not a good idea to drink your bottle of water in front of the security guy who took it out your luggage and wanted to throw it away.

People

  • That Scotsman in Rome? He’s the best tour guide you’ll ever meet. With the sexiest accent.
  • Everybody loves South Africans. It’s weird. But customs hates us.
  • Most foreign travelers who want to come to South Africa lower their voices and go conspiratorial when they ask you about the “crime” and how “horrible” Jozi is. They really think they’ll die the moment they set foot here.
  • Greek taxi telephone operators are consummate charmers. I’m going back to find that man…

A market in Barcelona.
Barcelona. The vibe: Gaudy! Energetic! The music: The green parrots in the palm trees and the soft elevator music of the tourist bus earphones.

  • Americans… Are weird. Especially Americans who’re crazy about golf and go teary eyed when you talk about Gary Player.

Coming home is, in a way, the best part of travelling. Your own bed, your own garden, the prospect of a long, hot bubble-bath and her Royal Highness Queen Peroni making like a dog and rolling around for an extended stomach rub. And, of course, having a truly South-African experience in the form of some meat on the braai. The perfect place to start planning your next trip…

The Costa Brava experience
Begur, Costa Brava. The vibe: Relaxing, rich. The music: Madeleine Peyroux, Antony And The Johnsons, Shakira on every Spanish station in existence.
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