White Christmas : Our Trip Through Europe19  Jan 2015         Jessica Ratty

We are back!! We have arrived home from our incredible, whirlwind trip around Europe! We spent just under 6 weeks, travelling through Dubai, France, The UK and Italy. My Mum was born in Italy and her family left when she was 3 to come to Australia. Mum has never been back to Italy or Europe since they left 58 years ago, so she came along with us to see it all. Being in Europe at Christmas time was beautiful, it was like being in a fairytale. Christmas Markets lined the streets, Christmas Carollers singing where ever you went, Ice Rinks set up in the middle of streets, roasted chestnuts, toasting marshmallows on the fire and mulled wine... It was the most amazing holiday we have ever been on.

Our first stop was the incredible and warm Dubai. There is so many exciting and adventurous things to do.. but some are a little too adventurous for me, so I left Stuart to do them on his own. The World's fastest roller coaster at Ferrari World being one of those things! 0-240kms in 4.9 seconds was a little too fast for me. 

Our next stop was the most amazing place in the world - France. It is definitely my favourite country in the World. We visited Paris and then travelled across to Reims & Epernay to visit the Champagne Region. We timed our stay, so that we would be in Epernay for the annual famous "Habits de Lumiere" the Champagne Festival - where all of the Champagne Houses come out to celebrate Champagne. This is only held one weekend of the year, in December and it is held on "Avenue de Champagne", which is the Avenue where a lot of the famous Champagne Houses line the whole street (including Moet & Chandon, Mercier and Perrier-Jouet). It was the most incredible experience, all of the Champagne Houses open their grounds in the evening and you can walk down the Avenue, stopping in to each Champagne House. 

We travelled back to Paris and of course visited Disneyland - the happiest place on Earth and the Moulin Rouge. It was Mum's first time visiting Disneyland and she was just like a little kid again... waiving to Micky and Minnie Mouse and so excited! 

Some of the Churches in France, were the most incredible ones we saw on the trip. They had so much detail and were so beautiful.

The UK was our next stop. First was London, where we had some of the most unforgettable, once in a lifetime experiences. We had the most beautiful Afternoon Tea at the Ritz in London and then that evening we went to see The Nutcracker Ballet at the London Coliseum. I have always wanted to see The Nutcracker and it definitely lived up to all of the hype. It was the most amazing ballet we have ever seen! One of the best things we did in London though was to have dinner at Heston Blumenthal's restaurant, "The Fat Duck". We were lucky enough to be able to book a table on the last night of dinner service (the next day they closed the restaurant to bring it to Melbourne for 6 months). It was 15 courses and went over 4 and half hours. It wasn't just a dinner, each course was so exciting and like a little theatrical show. It was definitely one of the best experiences of our lives. Every course has a story to it and there are so many elements and details that go with the dish, to bring you in to the story. From London, we travelled to Birmingham to visit Stuart's family. We spent a beautiful Winter Christmas Day with them, complete with a real Christmas tree!

After we left The UK, we continued on to Italy, where we visited Venice, Milan, Florence, Spoleto and Rome. 

The highlight of the entire trip for me, was when it started snowing in Venice! We had all seen snow before, but had never seen it actually snowing, which was one thing I really hoped would happen on the trip. We had missed it snowing in Birmingham by only a few hours, as we were on the morning flight. We hadn't expected it to snow while we were in Italy, as it is warmer than the other countries we had visited. It had been raining the entire day and evening, we then went into a shop. While Mum was looking in the shop, Stuart and I were looking out the windows to the street.. all of a sudden we started seeing tiny white flakes falling to the ground. It was so light at that stage and we had been told by many people in Europe, that it doesn't usually snow if it is raining. So we just assumed it couldn't possibly be snow. We walked out on to the street and it took a few moments to realise that it WAS ACTUALLY SNOWING! It was so amazing and exciting, that we just had to keep stopping to take photos and to try and catch some!

While we were in Italy, we visited my Mum's family that she hasn't seen in many many years, as well as her Mum's only remaining sibling. A few days later, we began the long drive to the little town of Morcone, where Mum was born. Some of our family met us there, where they took us through the town, to see the house where Mum was born and lived in (it is all still standing), the fields where my Nonno worked in, the cemetery where my Mum's Nonna is buried, the houses where people we know lived. There were even little old Italian's coming out of their homes and talking to us, who remembered my Nonna and Nonno. It was such a nice experience.

Assisi, a tiny little town in Umbria (where Saint Francis of Assisi is from), was one of my favourite places we visited. It was unlike anywhere else, we have ever been to! Like a lot of Italy, the entire town was built on the side of a mountain. It is a Medieval high walled town, it is filled with old Churches and sweet little tiny shops, medieval winding streets that are lit with beautiful lanterns hanging from the walls. As you walk down the streets, you see groups of Nuns and Priests walking past you. It is just so beautiful and peaceful. 

Our last stop was Rome, where we happened to meet the illusionist - Dynamo, where he even did a card trick on Stuart. Rome was beautiful and walking down the street, surrounded by old ruins everywhere, was so surreal!
Europe was the most amazing place we have ever visited and being there at Christmas time made it even more magical!

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