I love Europe in winter. Maybe it's because the first time I ever set foot on the continent was in the early '90s when I landed in Paris on a fabulous icy and snowy December day. there were no cafe terraces spilling onto the frosty sidewalks, elbow-to-elbow with tourists. There were no lovers lounging on the metal chairs and grassy patches of the Tuileries Gardens. Paris had been dressed in snow and with Christmas approaching, had been bejeweled with white twinkle lights. It was as if I'd been given the key to a giant snow globe and had the place all to myself. The unexpected boon of being alone in winter in a place like Paris was the self-scrutiny and liberation that anonymity brought. IN a place rife with foreign tongues, where no one knew who I was, I could be whoever I wanted. The grand boulevards I wandered shot across the city like arrows aimed at distant compass points and ignited my wanderlust. With every footstep and scene, I felt that shiver from being touched anew. By the end of the trip, I was smitten.
On a recent Eurail journey through Austria, Hungary and Slovakia, the same excited feeling returned. And what I remember about my first glimpse of Paris I can now recall about Budapest. High on Castle Hill, overlooking the Danube and the Parliament Building, Budapest had been dusted in fine white powder. The city looked like frosted cake and the memory of it, I suspect, will remain just as sweet. A writer friend, also on the same trip, asked me many times during long stretches of train track travel what I thought were good reasons to visit Europe during winter. We went back and forth and listed the obvious reasons. He summed them up nicely and pragmatically here.
While I agree---there are numerous sensible and economic reasons to count, but my reason is more romantic, sentimental and intangible. I go to recapture that feeling I found 20+ years ago on a Paris street. That first flutter of beginning anew and the breathless euphoria that comes from the touch of an unknown place. Travel, especially in winter, does that to me.