Europe 2014: Highlights

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The best things I learnt while travelling through Europe this summer.

1. Ampelmann, Berlin

Ampelmann is essentially East Berlin’s answer to the green-man, but he is so much more. Devised during Soviet rule Ampelmann’s aim was to make crossing the road fun and engaging for children. And man does he succeed. He now not only does a fantastic job of telling when, and when not to cross the road, but also does an absolutely roaring trade in branded Ampelmann everything courtesy of a chain of stores across the German capital. You want Ampelmann themed sweets? Mugs? T-shirt? No problem. How about a nail file? A bike flag? A phone case? A stationary set. Absolute legend.

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2. The Rolling Stones and Prague Castle, Prague

Prague is a beautiful, magical, gothic and enchanting city with bustling cobbled streets and a castle that stands on a hill looking down over the town. A castle you can see by the way, at night- a spectacle that is apparently thanks to The Rolling Stones, who after playing in the newly de-Soveitised city commented to Victor Havel (who no doubt had more pressing matters on his mind) that the castle was pointless in the dark and should be “Taj Mahal’ed up”. The Stones promptly gifted Havel with a floodlighting system that turns Prague Castle into a wonderous spectacle every night. How very rock n roll.

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3. Sturm, sausage and lederhosen, Vienna

I’m a fan of a food and drink festival at the best of times, so when we saw one advertised in Austria we just knew we had to make a pitstop. We were hoping for sausage and maybe some beer, but we were treated to traditional Austrian delights. We supped on Sturm, which is a fun by product of wine-making and ate a sausage that was entirely stuffed full of cheese. This wasn’t the half of it though, as every where we looked people were dressed in varying degrees of traditional dress. Knee length leather shorts, petticoats and aprons, dirndl’s and tyrolean hat’s were just everywhere. Never was our tourist status more apparent than in a field full of boozy Austrians.

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4. A flooded bookshop, Venice

Hidden down one of the many winding and wonderful streets of Venice is a charming and beautiful enterprising bookshop which stores its books in the most quirky of ways. A number of years a go when the city flooded, as the city built on water is want to do, a whole heap of books were waterlogged, destroyed, ruined. The ingenious owners however, knew that a book can serve a higher purpose however and formed a (questionably) stable, totally pointless but ever so cool set of decorative stairs out of the soggy novels. Since then, as well as the usual use of shelves and cupboards the shop decided to keep the stock in water friendly objects, such as baths and gondolas.

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5. Focaccia, Florence

Italy is famous for food; for pizza, for pasta, for cheese and for tiramisu. I was expecting to eat huge carb heavy portions, and I did. What I wasn’t expecting was to eat the best sandwich of my entire life. My cousin is living in Florence at the moment, and though he’d only been there a matter of days before we met up, he had managed to suss out the best place to eat every day. It’s called All’Antico Vinaio and their are queues a mile long outside all day. It is so worth the wait. Having the sandwich equivalent of a barista whip you up a divine slice of  heavy. Laden with meat, cheese and dressings each focaccia is unique and each one is incredible. Urgh, I’m making myself hungry.

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6. A very Italian family, Positano

The last leg of our holiday was a few days by the sea on the Amalfi coast during which we stayed with the most adorable, crazy Italian family. We walked into Casa Celeste on a whim, in the vain hope that they’d be able to put us up for a couple of nights. After muddling through in Italian and English with many successful gestures and paralinguistic queues we found ourselves ensconced in the family home of a bunch of very friendly Italians. Mama Celeste runs the B&B, her son Marco has a beach bar by the harbour and all the others do whatever they’re told, including Papa Ferdinando, whose non-existent grasp of English and modern technology led to him thinking I wanted a coca cola when I was really after the wifi code. The home-made limoncello and croissants made me think I’d died and gone to heavy, especially as they were enjoyed with the view below….

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