I missed my blog while I was away in Europe. I missed being able to download, purge, diarise, reflect, complain, criticise and connect. So, this is the first of many posts about going away, things that struck me, differences, similarities, people, places and new ideas and inspirations.

Today’s post is about fairy lights and decorations. The moment we arrived in Paris, at Charles De Gaulle airport at around midnight, I saw a brilliant modern red Christmas tree made up of rope lights. Immediately, I was struck by how stylish and slick and Paris the holiday lights were, and I hadn’t even left the airport yet. Obviously the street lights and shop decorations blew my mind. The trees along the Champs Elysees were lit up with white fairy lights and dripping lights that looked like melting icicles. The shop windows were decorated with trees and sparkles and leaves and snow and fairy lights. Every single store had their own style and flavour. We were staying in Monmartre, altogether a seedier and more bohemian place, and there the Christmas lights and decorations were cheaper and more garish, but still nothing like I’d seen before.

When we got onto the train in Paris, bound for Venice, it was around 2030 and already pitch dark. After travelling through the Industrial side of Paris we slid into the country side. I don’t know when it became Italy, but I was awake and looking out of the window at about four in the morning. It was gloomily dark, but at even the slightest hint of human habitation there was a Christmas light to guide us train travellers on our way. I saw trees, stars, flashing rope lights, fairy lights and coloured globes. I can’t explain how touching it was.

Venice was the home of the climbing Santas. Every flat had one or two or even three Santas entering a window via a little white rope ladder. But that’s not all. Being on the Grand Canal at night and seeing the hotels and shops on the water’s edge lit for Christmas was absolutely spectacular. It was breathtaking. Hotels lit up their entrances from top to bottom. Waterfront facing rooms had lights in their windows. The little streets and alleys were all strung with lights. The stalls selling souvenirs all had lights. The shops and piazzas were covered in lights, making the whole of Venice even more magical. I felt like I was in fairyland.

But Rome took the Christmas cake, literally and figuratively. I have never seen anything like it. Rome was a sparkling Christmas wonderland, and it was splendid. Some of my favourites were the Piazza Navona, which had a market with stalls selling sweets; toffee apples, candy floss, nougat and long strips of marshmallows, toys like weird laughing witch puppets, Christmas stockings and decorations, a carousel and huge cartoon balloons. Benetton also had a genius Christmas idea for their shop windows; Christmas trees covered in tiny woollen jerseys and cardigans of all colours. There was even a baby tree in the window display for the kids’ stuff. On the floor of our hotel (literally 50 metres from the Trevi Fountain!) there was a Christmas tree with shiny red heart baubles.

It helps to be in a shivery, snowy landscape. Christmas really works in the Northern hemisphere.