Jealous of your friends in Europe? You shouldn't be.
It's around about this time of year you want to unfollow any of your formerly good friends who happen to be in Europe.
They've all flocked over there for the northern summer, for the long evenings on lovely beaches, for the strolls on cobbled lanes, for the market-fresh food, for the Insta-friendly whitewashed villages and the charm-soaked old town streets. They're all capturing this greatness too, spreading it around on social media like they're the first people to ever experience Europe in the warmer months.
I can understand how you'd be jealous of that. I can understand how you would want to chuck your phone out the window, or just hate-scroll a few more times and vow never to talk to these people again.
But I'm here to tell you there's no need for the envy. Europe in summer is great, but it has its downsides. And from someone who's been here for the full extent of the touristy high season, there's plenty about being back in Australia that's worth celebrating.
I realised this a few weeks ago, when I, like so many Antipodean travellers before and after me, posted a jealousy-inducing photo of a beach in Portugal, one of those stretches of golden sand lapped by clear water, lit by a beating sun, strewn with swimsuit-clad bodies and colourful umbrellas. "Europe in summer," I wrote. "Perfection."
And then someone commented: "Looks like Sydney in winter."
Damn, I thought. It does look like Sydney in winter! It looks like those stunning bluebird days you get all through the cooler months up and down the Australian coast, when the beaches are quiet and the sea is calm and the weather is perfect. It's days like that that you can go for a hike through a nearby national park, pick up a great coffee at any old cafe, and go for a bracing swim at the end of it.
That's the greatness of our own backyard that we sometimes forget, particularly at this time of year. Yes, the beaches in Europe have charm, and they also have bars and restaurants right on the sand, a bonus that can't be understated. But Australian beaches are sensationally beautiful, reliably sandy (not a rock in sight) and you often have them all to yourself.
You can't say that over here in Europe. Right now, in peak tourist season, you barely even have towel space to yourself. You barely have space to yourself anywhere, in fact, if your destination is on the tourist radar. Europe is popular this time of year. Really popular.
And don't forget that on some of those beautiful beaches, particularly in Italy, you have to pay for access, you have to hire a lounger and an umbrella to even spend some time there. There's no need to be jealous of that.
What else is not great here… How about the coffee? I dream of the ease of ducking down to any old local cafe for a perfect flat white. European coffee, by and large, is not good. It's excellent in Italy, and it's passable in certain cafes in every city. But for the most part the coffee here is bitter and lifeless.
And then you go to drink it on a sunny terrace and you find yourself next to a smoker. You have to sit there sipping your questionably bitter beverage while someone blows cigar smoke straight into your face. Wow, paradise. No one cares about passive smoking here. If they can light up, they will light up.
Barcelona, to its credit, has just announced a plan to ban smoking on outdoor terraces, but there's a major backlash. Europeans like their ciggies. Too bad that forces everyone else to either sit inside or enjoy their meal while inhaling carcinogens.
There's bad food to be eaten in Europe, too, if you don't know what you're doing. For every #foodporn post that makes its way into your Instagram feed, there are plenty of people out there being served pretty poor cuisine.
You have to know what you're doing here, you have to know where to go. Rome is filled with pretty bad restaurants. (Of course, it's also filled with extremely good restaurants, but do you know which is which?) Spain is the same. France is the same. If you don't know what you're doing in most touristy hotspots, you'll eat badly.
All of this makes me realise Australia in winter is not such a bad place to be stuck. Yes, it's home and it's familiar and it doesn't feel exciting all the time. It doesn't have tables set up on old-town alleyways or long, carefree evenings filled with pasta and Aperol spritzes.
Do you have friends in Europe at the moment? Are you jealous? How do you spend your winters in Australia? Are there upsides to staying at home?
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