Unveiling the hidden charms of Europe: a South African couple's journey through Amsterdam, Portugal and Spain

El-Joh Lotter and Cindy Lee Sylvester. Picture: Supplied

El-Joh Lotter and Cindy Lee Sylvester. Picture: Supplied

Published Jul 6, 2023


As their plane descended, the sprawling water masses and the carefully crafted landscapes surrounding Amsterdam greeted them with a breathtaking sight.

The city's intricate canal system, an iconic feature that has earned it the title of "Venice of the North," was a testament to the harmonious coexistence of man and nature.


Amsterdam, a city known for its enchanting canals and vibrant atmosphere, has long been a magnet for travellers seeking to explore its unique blend of history, culture, and progressive values.

Summertime in Amsterdam is a vibrant season that never seems to rest. As they strolled along the banks, they marvelled at the sight of people leisurely cruising the waters, their laughter echoing through the streets.

Sylvester says, ‘’The culture is very alive, always seeing people with their dogs even when riding their bicycles. People in Amsterdam are very friendly and fortunately/ unfortunately very direct which can boarder-line to extreme rudeness if heard by the wrong ears.’’

Amsterdam's architectural marvels revealed layers of history and culture at every turn. The narrow houses, a defining characteristic of the city, showcased the ingenuity of its inhabitants throughout the ages.

These tall and slender structures, standing shoulder to shoulder like steadfast sentinels, became a captivating sight to behold.

The couple immersed themselves in the tales that each building told, a testament to the rich tapestry of Amsterdam's past.

Canal cruise is a must-see when in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam's plains, adorned with an array of magnificent buildings, beckoned the couple to explore further.

Two museum plains, in particular, captured their attention. The Van Gogh Museum, home to an extensive collection of the Dutch master's works, offered a captivating journey through the artist's life and his breathtaking brush strokes.

The Rijksmuseum, a treasure trove of Dutch art and history, opened their eyes to the splendour of the country's cultural heritage.

And what better way to celebrate their visit to these hallowed halls of art than by indulging in traditional poffertjes which are small and fluffy pancakes that delighted their taste buds.

traditional poffertjes

In their quest for knowledge and understanding, the couple also visited the Anne Frank House historic landmark. The house's unassuming exterior belied its spacious interiors, a realization that struck them with profound wonder.

‘’Another gem to explore while in Amsterdam is Westergas, it’s an old factory that has been revamped into markets and restaurants, similar to the Neighbourgood Market in South Africa,’’ she adds.


Boat trip on the Douro valley

Porto, renowned for its port wines, granted them the privilege of embarking on a full-day trip to the mesmerizing Douro Valley region.

’’The experience was a feast for the senses as we indulged in the rich flavours of the wines and immersed ourselves in the picturesque landscapes that stretched before us,’’ says Lotter.

Thereafter the two set on a unique adventure to the pristine beaches of Porto, known as Praia, on E-bikes, introducing them to a whole new approach to exploring a destination.

With clearly marked cycling paths, navigating the coastal terrain became effortless, enabling them to fully immerse themselves in the sun-drenched shores and invigorating sea breeze.

Portugal offers a unique adventure to the pristine beaches on E-bikes, introducing a whole new approach to exploring a destination.

‘’The Portuguese are very friendly and helpful. We were always felt welcome at restaurants and the locals never missed asking where we are from.

They enjoy helping you to understand their language - and their language is very specific as women will say obrigada (thank you) and men will say obrigado (also thank you),’’ Sylvester adds.

Additionally the couple stumbled upon the colourful streets of Porto. The street art adds a vibrant touch to an already colourful place. Some of the street art is made of 100% recycled goods.

Street art in Porto.

Often time we visit various destinations and it somehow reminds us of home away from home.

‘’Beautiful Costa Nova, a little coastal town, made us think of our west coast, old fisherman’s village with its beautiful colourful houses,’’ says Sylvester.

What sets Costa Nova apart and makes it truly special is its iconic striped houses, known as palheiros. These charming wooden structures feature vibrant vertical stripes painted in various pastel colours, creating a picturesque and whimsical atmosphere.

The origins of these striped houses date back to the 19th century when local fishermen used them as storage spaces for their fishing equipment.

The origins of these striped houses date back to the 19th century when local fishermen used them as storage spaces for their fishing equipment.

Over time, the fishermen began to transform these humble structures into their homes, adorning them with colourful stripes to distinguish their individual properties.

Today, the palheiros of Costa Nova stand as a testament to the town's rich maritime heritage and serve as a distinctive backdrop for visitors and photographers.


Within its borders, one can encounter an extraordinary amalgamation of cultures, languages, and traditions, all waiting to be discovered.

Their time in Madrid coincided with a festive celebration, where older couples adorned themselves in traditional attire and delighted visitors with lively Spanish dances.

Lotter expressed the highlight of their Spanish tradition experience: ‘’We’ve had the privilege to experience two flamenco shows, one in Madrid and one in Sevilla.

Whenever in Spain we always ensure to attend one of these, the passion of the dancers is an unforgettable experience.’’


Two-hour train ride from Madrid to Barcelona

Another two-hour train ride from Madrid to Barcelona transported them to Montserrat, an ancient city graced by the presence of old cathedrals.

“It was here that we encountered the original Black Madonna, a profound spiritual experience that left a lasting impression,’’ says Sylvester.

One of the best parts to travelling is learning about the destinations heritage and culture as it forms a crucial part of your journey.

Montserrat, Barcelona.

La Boqueria Market, situated in the heart of Barcelona, is a food lover's paradise and an absolute must-visit destination for both locals and tourists.

With its rich history, colourful ambiance, and an impressive array of fresh produce, spices, and delectable treats, this bustling market offers an authentic culinary experience like no other.

Let's delve into the captivating world of La Boqueria Market and discover why it has become an iconic landmark in Barcelona.

La Boqueria Market.

No visit to Barcelona would be complete without a visit to the La Sagrada Familia which makes it a must visit for travellers.

It’s the largest Catholic church designed by the renowned architect Gaudi. Begun in 1882, this architectural masterpiece remains unfinished, its intricate details and soaring spires captivating visitors from around the world.

Cindy-Lee Sylvester and El-Joh Lotter outside the La Sagrada Familia.

Whether strolling through the bustling streets of Amsterdam or enjoying delights of local eateries and street food markets, Europe offers a kaleidoscope of experiences that ignite the senses and ignite a profound sense of wonder,’’ Lotter concludes.

Sylvester encourages South Africans to explore what the world has to offer: ‘’Experiencing different cultures, countries, and their traditions is what travelling is all about.

“It's an indescribable feeling that broadens the mind and imparts invaluable lessons that no book in the world can teach.’’

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