THE PRAGUE CITY GUIDE - HOW TO SPEND AN UNFORGETTABLE WEEKEND IN THE CZECH CAPITAL

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I have heard so much about Prague . I could not imagine I will have a chance to visit or that it will be my first trip after moving to London. Prague was more than just a destination ; it was food for my soul. Part of the reason for moving to London was better work/life balance and the opportunity to travel more; but five months after moving here and I had not made one trip. Work was incredibly busy and very unpredictable those first few month; it was extremely tedious trying to fit in a trip. Thankfully Easter came early (literarily) - Easter was at the end of March and since Good Friday / Easter Monday are bank holidays (public holidays) in the UK - it seemed like the perfect time to take a trip. We caught an evening flight from London Heathrow and spent three unforgettable nights in the capital city of the Czech Republic. This was the first trip with my sister in and we had an excellent time in spite of being dead tired and sick.

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Prague
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TIME OFF WORK. We planned this trip around a holiday weekend in the U.K (and most of Europe); so I did not have to take anytime off work. If you don’t have that option, you can still pull off a trip. Fly in Friday evening (like we did) after work and catch the first flight back on Monday morning. Prague is an hour ahead of the U.K and the flight time is just under two hours; if you are on the 7 a.m. flight out of Prague; that will get you back to the UK by 8 a.m.. That was what we did and we were home by 9:30 a.m. If I had to go to work; this itinerary will have worked as well.

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WHERE TO STAY. We stayed at Park Radisson hotel in Prague - we were not quite at city center but there was a train station right outside the hotel and we were in the heart of the city in three stops. That was very convenient for getting around. Given it was a holiday weekend, all the hotels were booked and staying away from the heart of the city was good for the wallet.

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GETTING AROUND. We did a mix of shared transports; trains and walking. The metro system in Prague is very reliable so we used that as our main mode of transportation. We relied on Uber for our transport to and from the airport and after our visit to the castle. It has started to rain as we left the castle and given we were both tired. The uber seemed like the best option. Old town is best explored on foot which is exactly what we did and I think we may have explored more on foot if we were not fighting a bug.

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WHERE TO EAT. We were pleasantly surprised by the food scene in Prague; every restaurant was incredible. On our last night in the city, we discovered this instagram account with loads of food recommendations in Prague. I have it saved for my next visit to Prague. When you go to Prague, order some bread and butter. I am not sure what they put in their bread dough but it is amazing and the butter is excellent. It was so good, we bought a few tubs on our way back to the UK. While we were in the city, we had amazing brunch at Eska and Cafe Savoy. I had the onion quiche at cafe savoy and it was really good. I highly recommend the rose hip cappuccino at Eska for coffee lovers. We also had some delicious desserts in Prague - if you only have time for one spot; I will recommend IF Cafe; they serve sandwiches and soups but it was their dessert that made us vow to return to Prague. Also their menu reminds me very much of the illustrations in the great British bakeoff. We had a traditional Czech meal at Next Door by Imperial - I could not think of a better meal to round out our time in Prague. We also dined at Gran Fierro - order the chicken wings and salted cucumber as starters (also the flan for dessert). It was delicious. Make sure to try Trdelink while in Prague. While we were informed this was not a tradition Czech dessert; it was incredibly delicious non the less. We purchased one from a vendor while visiting Prague castle (but you can find them in city center).

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Eska
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WHAT TO SEE / DO. We were looking forward to seeing the Prague Astronomical Clock (Prague Orloj) in the center of the city. Unfortunately , it was under renovations for most of the year and we could only catch a small glimpse of it. That was slightly disappointing but a reason to make a return visit to Prague. I always recommend a stroll around the city center because you discover things that are not found on any guide or travel blog. While we had our wander through the city center we stumbled on a weekend market where we purchase for sweet treats; we also stumbled on a beautiful church that was not on any of the guides we consulted. You never know what you stumble on when you set the map and itinerary aside. We visited the Colloredo-Mansfeldsky palace which is an old palace that is not featured in any guides but by sheer luck we found it and loved exploring it (it only cost 2 euros for entry); we trekked across the Charles Bridge into the old town on our way to Prague Castle. The view from the bridge should not be missed; it is beautiful. Take your time going through old town; there is a lot of see and architecture to admire. I recommend going through the Old town square. The clock is in the old town square and if you are visiting during the weekend, you might stumble on the market here. For some directions on locating the square, it is between the Charles bridge and the Wenceslas square. The Wenceslas square has shops and hotels and is hope to the St. Wenceslas statue and the National museum which is worth visiting. After a long trek (mostly up hill) we arrived at Prague castle and St Vitus cathedral. I recommend planning a few hours here to fully explore the castle and cathedral and the garden around the Castle. Prague is home to one of the largest John Lennon tributes; spare some time to visit the Lennon wall - we did not make it to the tribute wall but recommended it to friends who recently visited - they were very pleased. The Clementium is another stop I recommend; it is home to the mirror chapel and baroque library. The dancing house designed by Franck Gehry is a must see in Prague; if you have time; there is a restaurants on the top floor which offers great views of the city. The area around the river is also worth exploring as it gives another view of the city. After breakfast at Cafe Savoy; we stopped by the IF Cafe location by the river for dessert and walked along the river post dessert to get over the food coma. Outside the Quadric shopping centre, we found the Head of Fraz Kafka (aka Statue of Kafka). This is rotating/spinning outdoor statue of the Czech born literary great. It is a must see. There is so much more to see and do in the city and like I said nothing beats having a stroll around the neighborhoods; we discovered a lot of monuments and art that way.

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Prague castle
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WHY YOU SHOULD TRAVEL EUROPE IN WINTER - THE PROS AND CONS

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Winter in Europe is different - in London it is cold and rainy and the sun goes down at 3 p.m. on certain days. If we have an off day when the wind decides to join the party. Ugh !

I have had the pleasure of traveling this continent in both winter and summer and while I will always been a sunshine no rain kind of girl; most of my travel across this continent has been in the Winter months and I will not have it any other way. There are a lot of advantages to choosing to travel this continent between mid-November and March. At the top of my list for why you should travel Europe in winter - the economics.

Flights and hotels are significantly cheaper in winter than in the summer. It is off peak season and due to less traffic, hotels are deeply discounted and already cheap flights are even cheaper. I have seen flights for as little as £9 on one of the low budget airlines.

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Less foot traffic. During the winter, there are usually less tourist; everyone is hibernating and staying indoors trying to stay warm. If you can brave the outdoors, you will rewarded with less crowds and shorter queues to get into tourist attractions. That said, certain attractions like the Eiffel tower or the London eye will likely have a queue year round. I was in Portugal in December and it was crowded. That might also be because Portugal is one of the warmer countries in the Continent this time of year.

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There is nothing like winter in Europe. While most of the continent is cold (and sometimes rainy); you do get rewarded with an excellent festive season. The continent transforms at Christmas - elaborate decorations; mulled wine and Christmas markets. If you have not experienced Christmas in Europe - it should be on your bucket list. I wrote a post about it - check it out here.

Access to locals. Due to less tourist, you are more likely to engage and interact with locals. I think that is a key to traveling - it not just about the sights but also trying to connect with the local. It makes travel a much richer experience.

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Winter Fashion. A little bit of vanity but winter fashion is very chic so pack your winter bests and come on down. While in Portugal, I saw several couples having a professional photoshoot done in chic winter attires as part of their holidays. I have to say I felt a twinge of jealousy at not having thought about doing that myself.

Certain cities are exceptional in winter. While we may fret about the freezing temperatures; there are certain parts of Europe that are worth visiting in winter. Just search for images of the Black forest in Germany in winter; Montreux and St Moritz in Switzerland; the region of South Tyrol in Italy or the Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France. These are great in summer but their winter ambience is the best.

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There are actually Cities and Countries with mild-ish winter temperatures. While a lot of the continent is cold and certain parts are covered in snow; there are also several cities and countries that have milder temperatures if you are craving some sun and warmth on your winter excursion to Europe. We visited south of Spain in December and we had sunshine and warmth most of the time we were there. Portugal in December/January was quite warm - I could have gotten by with just a thick jumper and scarf; you can lay beach side in south of France in November. Gibraltar is also another warm destination.

While I believe the pros outweigh the cons, it is important to know the downside of traveling this continent in winter as well….

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Days are shorter. The sun does not rise till about 7:15 a.m. in London and there are days the sun goes down by 3:30 p.m. so you will have shorter days. My advice to make the most of day light is to start off your days early and wind down early (if you so choose).

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Weather is unpredictable. Even in the warmer parts of the continent; it does not hurt to pack some winter options including a rain coat or umbrella; gloves; hat; boot; scarfs and coat. The weather is unpredictable and you can have sunshine; rain and snow in the same day or week.

Winter closures. Certain hotels and restaurants shut down for the winter. I have had to rethink trips to Santorini and parts of Croatia due to several hotel closures. There are also tours that close down for the winter. Take that into account when planning your trip. If you are not sure, call or email the hotels to confirm they will be open during your visit.

Plan some bad weather days. While in Paris last November - it rained non stop for twenty-four hours. That was not part of the plan. Thankfully, I always plan a bad weather day itinerary to ensure I make the most of my time in any city. That may include treating yourself (shopping; spas) ; museum hopping; catch a movie; see a play.

2019 TRAVEL BUCKETLIST - TEN PLACES I AM DYING TO VISIT

As someone who enjoys traveling, one of the top three question I am asked is with regards to my bucket list; Usually starts with a question about where I have been and then a question about where I want to go. Before I get into my list, I have to say keep an open mind on destinations; take advantage of flight and travel deals and don’t limit yourself to a bucket list. Essentially, make a list but don’t be afraid to toss it out. 2018 was an incredible year of travel and ninety percent of the destinations were not on my bucket list. The opportunities presented themselves and I took advantage of it and had an incredible time. I have got 10 countries listed here - some I can knock off in a long weekend and others will require a bit more planning; time and money. If you have been to any of these places - I will love recommendations of what to do and where to eat.

[Disclaimer: None of the pictures in this post is mine, click on picture to visit the respective source]

1. South Korea - Looking forward to exploring the capital city of Seoul ; seaside city of Jeju. Visiting night markets and eating the local food. I have loved this Country for so long and I have been lucky to meet a few Koreans who have made me love the Country even more and the desire to visit has only grown. A few areas I am looking forward to visiting in the capital city - Apgujeong-dong aka the Rodeo drive of Seoul; Insa-dong for street food and teahouses; Sisa-Dong; Songhyeon-dong for its close proximity to Gyeongbokgung Palace walls with traditional hanok houses and Yeonnan-dong.

2. Morrocco - I have not heard or read one negative thing about this Country. I will love to visit Marrakech ; Essaouira and Casablanca. If I can squeeze Chefchaouen into the same trip; I will be over the moon. I am looking forward to visiting out souks and medina and lounging in Raids. Also the architecture - beautiful and tiled colorful goodness to feast my eyes on and capture through my lens and in my heart.

3. Iceland - I have always wanted to see the Northern lights and while there is no guarantee that I will see it; the potential is very exciting. I am also looking forward to visiting Reynisfjara for the black sand beaches ; the waterfalls at Skogafoss and the lagoons (blue lagoon and secret lagoon).

4. South Africa - I have done a piss poor job of exploring my continent and I will very much like that to change in 2019. I am hoping to visit South Africa as my first big trip of 2019. I will like to spend most of my time in Jo’burg and Cape town (maybe Durban as well). Looking forward to wine tasting; “hiking” to table mountain; Chapman’s peak; Simon’s town ; Robben Island; Cape of good hope; Bo-Kaap and Boulder beach. I will also like to go on Safari in Kruger National park.

5. Southern Italy - I have visited Italy a few times and it never disappoints. In all of my visits, I have not spent a lot of time in Southern part of the Country and I will very much like to do remedy that this year. Looking forward to visiting Cinque Terre and the towns of Amalfi cost. Have you seen pictures of the colorful homes stacked on a hill-side ? I will also love to visit Sicily and the Isle of Capri. Maybe I will just move to Italy (might be easier).

6. Costa Rica - Some dear friends honey mooned here several years ago and they loved it and have not stopped recommending it. While planning my Christmas trip this year - this was a very top option but Portugal won out. Costa Rica is often recommended as a great geo-tourism destination. Looking forward to wander through Las Baulas National Marine Park; explore Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Manuel Antonio National Park.

7. Greece - Do I really need to justify this ? I definitely want to visit Athens for its historical and architectural significance and the islands of Mykonos and Santorini. However, the place I am most looking forward to visiting is Zakynthos - (Navagio and the shipwreck beach) because it is incredibly beautiful and it is one of the locations of one of my favorite shows of all time - Descendants of the Sun and I cannot wait to see it in person.

8. Maldives - Have you seen pictures of Maldives ? It sells itself - this nation in the Indian ocean is known for its beaches; lagoons and extensive reefs and I cannot wait to see all of it. Looking forward to the fish markets; Madjeedhee Magu and Hukuru Miskly in the capital city of Male.

9. Hong Kong and Macau - Yes ! I know these are not the same Country but the ferry ride from Hong Kong to Macau is only 55 mins so why not combine both, right ? Looking forward to exploring the Portuguese influences of Macau - from Ruinas de Sao Paulo ; Taipa village; Coloane; egg tarts from Lord stow’s; long wa tea house; and lou lim leoc. In Hong Kong, I cannot wait to see the views from Victoria hill; the Victoria harbour; markets at Mong Kok; climb the 260 steps to Tian Tan Buddha and Lantau Island.

10. Thailand - From Bangkok to Chiang Mai - I want to see and experience it all. This was another destination I considered for Christmas but could not free up my schedule to get the travel papers sorted. However, I did the research for this trip and I cannot wait to get there. Friends told me to avoid Phuket because of the crowds and go to Koh Phi Phi Island or Koh Lipe, instead. Stay at the Chai Lai Orchid elephant sanctuary and visit the white temple at Chiang Mia; floating market ; riding in tuk tuk and temple hop (Wat Arun ; Wat Pho ; Grand Palace) in Bangkok and lounging on the beach in Koh Phi Phi.

Any others I should consider ? What is on your travel bucket list ?

A SOLO TRAVELER'S GUIDE TO A WEEKEND IN PARIS // PARIS, FRANCE

Each year, I make my pilgrimage to Paris. Some years it is intentional and others (who am I kidding - it is always intentional). Paris - feels like home to me. While some of it may be cliche, I don’t think you can go wrong with a trip to Paris. Walking along Champ d’elysses and seeing the Eiffel tower never gets old - no matter how many times I visit. I always travel Paris solo; it is one of those cities that is made for every kind of traveller - solo or otherwise. So ! If you have been thinking about a trip to Paris - you don’t have to wait till you can get friends on board; this is a destination you can explore on your own and have an incredible time. To help you plan your Solo trip, I thought I will share an itinerary from one of my trips. I stayed in the Montmartre area which is quickly becoming one of my favorites neighborhoods in Paris. I have stayed here my last three trips. I visited during the week; but this itinerary also works for a weekend getaway (returning late Sunday or early Monday morning).

If you want a more detailed itinerary of Paris - You can find it here

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DAY 1 - Arrival and Dinner at La boîte aux lettres.

I arrived early evening and did not feel like doing much. I took a stroll around the neighborhood to get my bearing and sort out where the nearest train station / bus stop is located ; find the supermarket and pharmacy (because French beauty products). After my usual familiarize myself to the area ritual; it was time for dinner.

Based on my research, La boîte aux lettres was one of the highly recommended restaurants in the area (and the only I could get reservation to with such short notice). Dinner was excellent - do not miss out on dessert - the Oreo Tiramisu incredible. Follow dinner up with a leisure stroll around the neighborhood. Keep an eye out for one of the three remaining original windmills. There are several bars and coffee shops scattered around for a nightcap if you don’t want to call it a night just yet.

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La boite aux lettres

DAY 2. Breakfast at Fragments to start off the day

This is a cash only restaurant in Le Marias serving up incredible brunch options. If you need a quiet place to plan your itinerary or get some work done. This is a perfect spot.

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Fragments Paris

DAY 2 - Visit Shakespeare and Company.

The iconic bookstore on the left bank is probably the most famous bookstore in the world and known as home to literary greats like Hemingway and Fitzgerald. It gets crowded with fellow tourist at certain times, but if you can find a spot, grab a book from the cart and catch up on some reading (if you have the time). If you are in a hurry - take your pictures and head on to the Notre Dame.

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DAY 2 - Notre dame

The Notre Dame cathedral is one of the most famous cathedrals in France (and the world). Take a stroll around it ; if the queue is not too long; get in line to climb up the tower for incredible views of the city. There are intricate architecture details on the facade and entry way so make sure to look up so you don’t miss it.

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DAY 2 - Visit Sainte-Chapelle on the Ile de la Cite

Admire the beauty of the magnificent glass stained windows. This is said to have been built to receive the crown of thorns of Christ and a piece of the real cross. How incredible is that history ?

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DAY 2- Explore Jardin de Luxembourg.

The lavish gardens and fountains seems like another world. It is located in the 6th arrondissement. If you can pack a picnic - this is a great picnic spot for locals and tourists alike. There is a fountain tucked away that is a great place to rest your feel and enjoy some serenity.

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DAY 2- Visit Maison de Victor Hugo’s

Explore the grounds Victor Hugo’s home. The author of Les Miserables lived here for sixteen years. The structure is now a museum celebrating his life and work. There is a park across the street that is perfect spot to rest up or to reassess your itinerary.

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DAY 2 - Have falafel at L’As Du Falafel in Le Marais and explore Le Marais

These are the best Falafel I have ever had. Be prepared to queue and have cash on hand. Just around the corner is Chez Marianne - the exterior of this famous restaurants is synonymous to this area of the city; Le Marais is another great Paris neighborhood; If you the time - stroll around and discover another area of the city.

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DAY 2 - Relax at Palais-Royal. You know those stripped columns that pop up in all the Paris Instagram feeds ? This is where you find them.

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DAY 2 - Visit the Lourve pyramids

The Lourve pyramids are just as famous as the museum itself. I always visit when I am in Paris; it is great spot for a quick break and people watching. If you want to explore the Lourve , you should plan at least a half day to fully explore the museum. If you don’t have the time - then make sure to visit the courtyards and the pyramids at least.

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DAY 2 - [Window] Shop at Galeries Lafayette

I don’t usually shop when I travel, but I enjoy visiting this department store in Paris. The decor and opulence should not be missed and if you are one who likes to shop while traveling, this stop is a win-win.

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DAY 2 - Dinner at Le Coq Rico

This is another highly recommended restaurant in Montmartre. Make sure you call ahead to reserve a table. If you are traveling solo ask for a chair at the bar - you get a view of the kitchen and can watch the chefs prepare your meal. If you enjoy that sort of thing, then I recommend it. After dinner, take a stroll around the neighborhood; don’t miss Moulin Rouge (at least the exterior facade). You will need to purchase a ticket if you want to see a show.

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DAY 3 - Brunch at Holy Bell

This is an American-esque restaurant with Parisian flair. I highly recommend the pancakes. You will thank me later. There are two locations of this restaurant . Go early to avoid a wait.

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DAY 3 - Visit the Eiffel Tower

It is a symbol of the city and you should not miss it. I recommend seeing it twice - once in day light and once at night when it lights up. If you have got time, you should book a ticket to go to the top of the Tower. Get your tickets online in advance and save yourself time queuing up.

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DAY 3 - Make a stop at the Arc d’ Triomphe

If you have the time and wish to get a great view of Paris or the Eiffel tower; you can get tickets to go the top. Wear comfortable shoes and grab a bottle of water. There are over two hundred steps to get to the top.

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DAY 3 - Visit Place de Vendôme

The Place de Vendome is on the other end of the Avenue from The Arc d’ Triomphe. You can get there either by metro or you can choose to take a leisure trek from the Arc to Place de Vendome. This is one of the most beautiful squares in France. It is flanked by high end stores like Louis Vuitton and five star hotels including the Park Hyatt - Vendome.

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DAY 3 - Sweet Treats at Angelina

Order a dessert and their famous hot chocolate. Don’t worry this is not one those places that automatically assigns the solo diner to the bar. You get a proper table. There will most likely be a line so be prepared to wait. During this visit, the line was incredibly long when I stopped by and I had a tour booked so I left and returned after my tour. They are open till 9 p.m.

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DAY 3 - Relax at the Tulleries Garden

The public garden is a great place to relax from your itinerary; maybe picnic as well. If you to do neither, it is a great stop in Paris and within proximity of the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde.

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DAY 3 - Take a walking tour of one of Parisian neighborhoods

There are several neighborhoods in Paris worth exploring and several walking tour available to choose from. I have always wanted to explore Montmartre. It is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city and has such an incredible history. The tour started at the Blanche train station and ended at Sacre Coeur.

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DAY 3 - The Lourve pyramids at night

Similar to Eiffel tower, the view of the Lourve pyramids at night is completely different to the view in daylight. if you can, I recommend visiting in the evening as well. An alternative is to visit the Eiffel tower in the evening. There is a light show runs every night, every hour on the hour.

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CHRISTMAS IN EUROPE 2018 - A PHOTO DIARY

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MERRY CHRISTMAS

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It is Christmas Eve !!! I hope you are spending the day away from work; sleeping in; drinking mulled wine; eating minced pie and spending time with family and friends. I love this time of year in London (and Europe). Spending this time of year in London, Paris, any where in Europe is an absolute must once in a lifetime. The cities transform and in spite of the rain and cold (and snow); the Cities are vibrant; beautiful and merry. From corners filled with elaborate; uplifting decors; to Christmas markets; Mulled wine; wreaths hanging from doors; carols. I am here for all of it.

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I was going to limit this post to Christmas in London; but we got a chance to visit Amsterdam; Paris ; Lille and Brugge in the last month and the sights and sounds of Christmas in all of those cities are worth sharing. I am yet to explore Berlin, Strasbourg and Alsace/Colmar during this season but I hear it is a must-see which means I have got three trips lined up for next Christmas.

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Every time I find myself in Europe this time of year, I always take some time out to explore and soak up all the Christmas bits the city has to offer; This year I took pictures and a few video clips. I am currently running a Christmas series on my Instagram page. You can follow along at #TSE12DaysofChristmas. The video clips are in my highlight tagged “Christmas EUR”

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London transforms at Christmas - Somerset house and National history museum is completely transformed and Hyde park becomes Winter wonderland. Oxford street and Carnaby street light up and the tree and reindeers at covent garden while traditions of this season; they still draw the crowd. Beyond that - there are Christmas markets serving up the best minced pies; hot chocolate and mulled wine. How could I forget the annual gift from Norway which is on display at Trafalgar square and special displays like the Diane Van Furstenburg tree of Love at Claridges and St Pancras International.

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Brugge, Belgium - There are day trips from Paris and London to the Brugge Christmas market. Brugge itself is a dream to explore and the Christmas market is the cherry on top.

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Lille, France - Honestly I was not sure what to expect from Lille but I was pleasantly surprised. Compared to London and Paris - the Christmas scene is not at an obscene elaborate scene but it is still worth a trip to explore the city and its market. There is an impressive Christmas tree in the city center.

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Paris, France - This is probably the only time I will gladly indulge Opulence. The window displays on avenue Champ elysees to the elaborate decors at galleries de lafayette and Le Bon Marche. Paris takes Christmas decor; and takes it up twenty notches - just look at the decor at Dior ; Louis Vuitton and the avenue. Feast your eyes on the opulence and beauty. of the window displays and decor.

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