Nathalie Ouellet was feeling the usual letdown after returning from a European vacation, when she saw an advertisement for the Foreign Correspondent Contest in What’s Up Yukon.

“I love writing when I travel,” she says. “It re-enforces the experience.”

Writing a story that pointed out the everyday whimsy of Europe, and the ironie

s, and the beauty of typical streets in typical towns, her humour and enthusiasm impressed the judges.

They chose her as the winner of the Foreign Correspondent Contest from among 50 entries.

Condor Airlines will give her two tickets to Frankfurt, Germany, which it advertises as the “Gateway to Europe”.

From there, she will write two travel stories to tell What’s Up Yukon readers why Europe is a fantastic place to visit.

Ouellet, a Yukon government communications analyst with a six- and eight-year-old at home, says she will look for “the many little surprises over there”. Perhaps she will go to Spain, Northern France or Italy – anywhere that wine is good and train travel is available.

“I’m going to find that magic.”

You may see her winning story on this page. Enjoy.

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Small Moments in Europe Have Big Effect

BY NATHALIE OUELLET

o, you’ve caught the travel bug – and you’re thinking Europe. Good call.

It’s a fantastic place to go find yourself if you’re lost or, better yet, to get lost if you’re not.

Europe is a place of wonder and awe. Sure, there are the classics you’ll find in all of the guidebooks — the Eiffel Tower, gondolas in Venice, fairytale castles in Bavaria, famous museums and monuments, cafés where renowned poets once sipped coffee from tiny cups — and they should not be discounted.

However, the real wonders of Europe are right in front of your eyes, and they unfold like magic to the open mind: old men in berets, perfect pastries, statues of former kings in Peter Pan shoes, fun local pubs and, if you’re lucky, a random sighting of the euro-mullet …

Europe is enchanting, like stepping into childhood again – right into the pages of the fairy tales and Prince Charmings (although I confess I don’t recall ever spotting a beguiling man in tights in any of my travels) or like dropping onto the set of one of the Bourne trilogy movies … or Mary Poppins.

It’s the exotic, blended with the familiar; the modern, juxtaposed with the ancient. It’s the McDonald’s tucked into the 300-year-old building with carved cornices. It’s the gypsy flamenco on the radio followed by Celine Dion and Nickelback.

It’s the Muslim vendor selling hand-painted Japanese symbol sketches on the steps of a Gothic cathedral. It’s the thrill of recognizing a word in a different language. It’s the intoxicating smell of orange blossoms cut by whiffs of cigarette smoke. It’s the palm trees framing the snow-capped mountains in your viewfinder.

Gastronomically speaking, Europe has it all. Except peanut butter. But that aside, there’s something for all tastes, budgets and adventure levels.

My first evening in Spain, I accidentally ordered baby eels and, although it looked like worms on toast, pride dictated that I had to try it. Two lessons to be learned here: 1) just because it’s cooked in garlic doesn’t mean it’s good, and 2) don’t try to impress your friends with your “mastery” of the foreign language.

But I digress.

European cuisine is actually fantastic, and it’s easy to eat well on a budget, too. All of those fancy cheeses and sausages that we covet from The Deli on Hanson? They’re the regular stuff in Europe.

Local pubs often have cheap meals, too, and you might even catch a match of football (AKA, soccer) while you’re there. Same status as our hockey, except the players are in shorts and have shampoo-commercial hair.

It’s also an invaluable opportunity to learn to swear in a foreign language.

Europe is lively and colourful. It is rich in culture, architecture, art and history. There’s a certain feeling about these places that emanates whether you know what happened here or not.

Stroll around, take in the smells, the sounds (like the clop of your shoes on cobblestone streets), the incredible sights all around. Marvel at how Europeans manage to parallel park in narrow streets with two inches of clearance (makes my inner Yukoner cringe!).

So grab your passport and go! I bet you’re smiling already …