Category Archives: Blog

7 Tips to Give You Cheaper Bahn Travel

When I first moved to Germany, one of the things I was most excited about was being able to take the train to different countries at will. Much cheaper than the British National Rail and with Paris, Basel, Prague, Brussels and Amsterdam all within easy reach of Frankfurt it was an exciting prospect, particularly coming from a country like Australia where any trains crossing the border would end up in the sea.

The Bahn can be a rather complicated system for first-time travellers and when my mother came to Europe for the first time her local travel agent quoted her prices five times the amount I could see on my computer screen for the train. Through German friends and those who had been expats longer than myself I was able to discover loads of tricks in the German train system to get cheaper deals.

Here’s seven tips for you first-timers in the land of the lederhosen:

  1. Get a Bahn card. If you move to Germany or plan to spend 12 months here it’s a great idea to get the Bahn card – you’ll get your money back within a couple of trips. I always thought that it was like a credit card or beauty shop discount card where you need to rack up a million points to get one euro off, but it’s actually 25, 50 or 100 per cent off all your trips for a year. A friend also gave me the advice that the 25 (around 60 euro) is often better than the 50 one (a few hundred euro) because you get a lot more discount deals, making it cheaper again, and you might not use the 50 one enough to justify the price.
  2. Tick that pesky savings option – when booking your train online, after you’ve selected the English option on the top right corner, you’ll see two tabs at the top of where you enter the details of your trip. One is ‘information and booking’ and the other ‘saver fare finder’. Always check the saver tab first so you can see a list of the cheapest deals and times available for your trip. You might not be able to get a cheap fare for the time you want but it’s always good to compare.
  3. Untick the ICE option – If you’re travelling somewhere that’s not too far away (like less than 4-5 hours) you can try the option of unticking ‘ICE’ trains in the connections section. Just go to ‘more search options’ on the homepage and where it says connections tick ‘all without ICE’. The trip will be longer but possibly a lot cheaper and if you have the time to travel at a slower pace you’ll be thankful for the saving.
  4. Travel with friends – Getting a group ticket in Germany will save you a ton of money. They’re an environmental bunch in this country and like the idea of rewarding groups of people who take public transport over a car, so if you have three to five people check out if it’s cheaper to go for the group option (and if the ticket machines aren’t easy to use they normally speak English in the Bahn customer service).
  5. Buy a state-wide ticket – there’s an option with Bahn to buy a state-wide ticket and you can use it an unlimited amount of times anywhere in the state for a day or weekend. If you have a group and want to travel around the countryside of Bavaria, for example, this would be a very cheap way to do it as it doesn’t include ICE trains. You can also get this option for the whole of Germany.
  6. Only reserve a seat in peak times – this is from my own experience. I never spend the extra 4 euro on a reserved seat if I’m travelling during the week in the day or late at night. Friday and Sunday night is a different story but especially if you’re travelling alone, there’s no point reserving a seat if you can get there on time and be one of the first on the train.
  7. Check Mitfahrgelegenheit – we always check this website before booking our train and compare both bus times and prices and car pooling times and prices. I haven’t been brave enough to car pool on my own, only doing it with my boyfriend, but every time it’s been fine for us and cut the cost of travel considerably. The great thing about this website is it compares all the available buses at the time you want and you can crosscheck that with your train prices and work out what’s best for you.

Doing a luxury South African safari without the price tag

 

The perfect safari park experience.
The perfect safari park experience.

When planning our Christmas trip to South Africa, there was a list of things that simply couldn’t be missed from our itinerary. Firstly, we had to visit my friend in Morgan Bay, a small beach town about an hour an a half’s drive from East London airport. With views like this from a hotel which we paid 35 euro a night each for –

DSC02882

It was obviously impossible to miss it out. Also at the top of our priority list was doing at least one night in a safari camp. I did some research into Kruger and the prices were too high for our budget as well as needing too much time to do it properly. So we settled on visiting a private park near Morgan Bay called Inkenkwezi, which I had visited on a prior trip for the day.

My memories of this place were particularly vivid – occasionally when you are travelling you have perfect days, where everything goes right from the weather to the people you’re with, to the time in your life and the feeling of something totally surpassing your expectations. It happened to me here and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face the entire day we were within Inkenkwezi’s parameters. After such an experience, it didn’t take much to convince me to come back.

Inkenkwezi has everything you could ask for in a safari park – you basically have your own butler, on call to take you around the park and keep your fridge stocked with beer and wine. Help and guidance is just a phone call away from your ‘tent’ – we got the cheapest accommodation and it was still very luxurious. It was more like a hotel room and had a shower and bath, air conditioning and nets to keep out any unwanted bugs. And the balcony… from looking into the trees and spotting birds and other animals in the day to star-gazing at night, it gave the perfect balance of feeling like you are in the midst of the wild while still being able to sleep comfortably and smell nice.

The view by day from our balcony.
The view by day from our balcony.
Sort of a tent, sort of a luxury hotel.
Sort of a tent, sort of a luxury hotel.
With our own driver for the two day trip.
With our own driver for the two day trip.
So much nature all around.
So much nature all around.

We spent our first day looking around and spotting animals, coming across young warthogs and impala, and then a baby giraffe taking it’s first steps under mum and dad’s watchful eyes. We travelled by jeep into the lion area and watched closely as the white lions played and gnawed at their bones. After watching the animals eat, we then retired to the most beautiful balcony restaurant for a steak dinner.

Baby pumbas!
Baby pumbas!
Baby bambis!
Baby bambis!
Lions playing next to the car.
Lions playing next to the car.
A family of giraffes.
A family of giraffes.
Watching the sunrise while our dinner was cooking.
Watching the sunrise while our dinner was cooking.
The place where we had dinner.
The place where we had dinner.

The next day we went for a walk with the elephants, learning all about their inner-workings and behaviours from their trainers. We quadbiked around the park once more, and came across an ostrich in the submissive position waiting to mate. We patted cheetahs in a large enclosure and enjoyed a massive lunch before heading onto our next destination.

Smile for the camera!
Smile for the camera!
Quadbiking - so much fun.
Quadbiking – so much fun.
Playing with one of the domesticated cheetahs.
Playing with one of the domesticated cheetahs.

For this all-inclusive two days of action, food and accommodation we paid around 150 euro each. It was far cheaper than what Kruger had on offer and while the animals are more domesticated at Inkenkwezi you still get a very authentic experience if you don’t have the time to spend a week seeking out the real thing.

My favourite part of the experience was leaving dinner to walk back to our tent. We were in the middle of talking when I looked up, and the sky was more white than black with solar systems and universes full of stars presenting themselves. I had forgotten how beautiful that was since leaving Australia; in my homeland it was such a normal every-night kind of thing, I suppose I had taken it for granted that the sky would always be full of visible stars. It’s not such a regular occurrence in Europe, and to remember what it was like to be amongst such nature took my breath away.

One of the things that makes South Africa my favourite destination in the world to visit is the often untouched nature and Inkenkwezi does a good job of showing that off for you in a compact and very price friendly version. We were lucky to get the tip about the place from a local, but when looking for your own safari itinerary make sure you check out the online reviews for the smaller parks rather than thinking Kruger is the only place to go. It’s definitely worth it if you don’t have unlimited time/money!

 

xx

36 Hours of Neuschwanstein and Bavarian Treats

IMG_6140

High on my bucket list since moving to Germany has been to make a visit to the castle that inspired many Disney tales and with Neuschwanstein (not Neuschweinstein as I originally pronounced it) just a couple of hours away from Stuttgart, there was no better time to do it than since moving to this city of wineries and factories.

With a detour via Frankfurt on the Friday so the boyfriend could go to his university graduation, our trip to Schwangau took around six hours on the Saturday with traffic hold-ups the whole way. I’ve come to learn that despite the fantastic roads and unlimited speed limits in Germany, their inability to handle a crash situation in a timely way and lack of emergency lanes means you should always double the amount of time Google tells you it will take to get from A to B.

The drive was made easier by these fantastic views.
The drive was made easier by these fantastic views.

When we arrived, the snow I had been hoping for all week materialised. It had been on-and-off white the whole way but with there being no snow from the sky in the past week I assumed that, like in Stuttgart, it would have died down to nothing more than wet pavements. But I was so wrong – of course the snow was far thicker closer to the Alps and while it was sunny, the heat certainly didn’t look capable of breaking through the white floor any time soon.

We checked in at our ‘Romatik Pension’, a quaint little hotel with a balcony and view of both castles, and set off for a walk into the town. The houses’ roofs were covered with snow and they looked every bit the typical Bavarian delights I picture the state to have. I’ve been to Munich and Chiemsee but this was something else in the way of a stereotypical Bavarian-style community; likely for tourists as much as for the locals, it smacked of a very traditional history and you could just imagine walking around hundreds of years ago under the watchful eye of royalty from the top of the hill.

Cuckoo-clock like houses.
Snow-filled streets.
View of the castle from below.
Our quaint little hotel.
Sunset over the snowy houses.

We made our way up to Neuschwantsein which by the late afternoon had closed it’s last tour for the day. It was the perfect time to have a look around the outside area as almost everyone had left for the day – photos could be taken without multitudes of people in the background and there was a peacefulness we knew wouldn’t be present on the following Sunday morning. After a walk around the area and taking in the view we headed for town to find some Bavarian food, and came across a cute little corner restaurant serving fantastic pork knuckle (haxe) and duck, with chocolate nut cake for dessert. Getting our fix of German meat and potato dumplings was well and truly ticked off the list, and upon returning to our hotel, we had a cheeky bottle of champagne on the balcony with layers and blankets shielding us from the cold.

Neuchwanstein from the side.
Hohenschwangau Castle, adjacent from Neuschwanstein.
The lookout point next to the castle.
Dinner at one of Schwangau's little Bavarian restaurants. Suffice to say I got through hardly half of that...
Dinner at one of Schwangau’s little Bavarian restaurants. Suffice to say I got through hardly half of that…

The next day we headed back up to the castle and took the tour of the inside. Having been to Ludwig’s Chiemsee castle I was expecting greatness but as only 16 rooms were available for viewing, it wasn’t quite what the other palace had on offer. We got to see things like the first telephone in Germany, the first automatic flushing toilet and an amazingly modern kitchen for it’s time, and like in Chiemsee, part of the interest with this castle is that despite all the efforts (and money) that Ludwig put into building it, he hardly got to enjoy it as he died not long after the first rooms were finished. What a legacy to leave!

Heading down to one of the restaurants to fulfil our craving for weisswurst, we took in the beautiful snowy views for the last time. We had planned to take a look around the Schloss Hohenschangau, sitting beautifully opposite Neuschwanstein and lit up orange at night while it’s counterpart is white, but we felt a bit castled-out and decided this wouldn’t likely be the last time we’d come here.

IMG_6094
A perfect view.

So for me now, that’s 2 Ludwig castles down. I really want to make it 3 out of 3 but this one will be hard to beat – it’s definitely the most beautiful castle from the outside I’ve seen in my time in Europe.

Some tips for if you’re planning on visiting Neuschwanstein:

  • Romantik Pension Albrecht was a lovely place to stay and I’d highly recommend it – the view comes at a very affordable price and a fantastic breakfast was included as well. They also let us park the car there after checking out, saving us the €5 parking fee at the bottom of the hill.
  • Don’t bother taking the horse and carriage up the hill – it’s such a nice walk and if you really want to have a picture/experience in one it’s half the price and a shorter line to take it down the hill instead.
  • If you’re new to Germany, try the weisswurst in Bavaria! It’s very tasty and comes in a super-cute pot in most places with a bretzel. Just make sure you peel the sausages before eating or they’ll be rather chewy.
  • Don’t go to the castle in the summer time if you can avoid it – while it’s unpredictable when it will snow, far less tourists are there in winter and you’ll have the chance to enjoy the place without it being too overcrowded (figures claim 6,000 people visit this tiny town a day in the hotter months).
  • As mentioned above, if you’re driving from somewhere in Germany leave a lot of extra time, and double any time calculations by Google maps to allow for traffic problems. There’s nothing worse than missing a whole day when you’re stressed for time.

Why Valentine’s Day Isn’t SO Bad (Take Note Germans!)

I used to be an absolute sucker for Valentine’s Day. The gifts had to be perfect, the night had to be perfect, and yet no matter how perfect it all was – think trips to Paris, flowers, messages in newspapers and fucking giant teddy bears – it never felt quite right. The problem with all this consumeristic romance is that it never lives up to what you’ve seen in the movies. There’s no backing romantic music, the perfect ending leads to a much more mundane sequel, and often the reality of big gestures is that they’re masking a relationship devoid of what it actually important.

And yet, though I’ve gone off the idea of Valentines’ Day being perfect, I still like a little celebration. RZ and I have established through much negotiation that for this and our anniversary, one of us will organize a present and the other will organize a night out. It doesn’t have to be on the night, but just something a little different and special to celebrate the fact that we are a little different and special together.

Meeting up with a fellow former-CELTA student last weekend, I told her about our possible plans for this Valentines’ Day, which falls conveniently on a Saturday this year. If there’s any time to be a little cheesy, now is it, and I want to take us to Neuschwanstein, one of the major influences behind Disney’s fairytale castles. Her reaction was one that is becoming all-too typical; that such a day is just for businesses to make money off cards and flowers and charge too much for dinner. She suggested I try it as a class topic with my students this week and I did – with extremely one-sided results.

Only one student I asked has any plans for the weekend – to buy his wife some flowers. The Germans I asked look at Valentines’ Day with such disdain they couldn’t hide the looks of disgust from their faces when the mere name came up. They scowled and shook their heads as though I asked them if England might win the next World Cup.

It’s a funny thing, people’s attitudes towards celebrations and holidays. You have the Christians who tell us that we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas if we’re not religious, even though the holiday came from Pagan origins. You have Australians claiming that Halloween is too American, and then spraying their Christmas Trees with fake snow so they glimmer in the summery windows over December. You have those who say Valentines’ Day is too commercial and just after your money, who then spend every free day at the Christmas markets handing out cash for Gluhwein, decorations and christmasy themed goodies.

Come to think of it, it seems Christmas in general gets totally let off the hook in the holiday complaining category. People complain that the shops go christmasy too early in the year but that’s about it. It can be Americanised to death – Coca Cola invented Santa for goodness sake – and totally commercial and we all go about it like it’s the family highlight of the year.

Perhaps being ‘commercial’ is not actually such a bad thing – in a time when Europe are recovering from an economic crisis, buying one or two things here and there and a dinner out doesn’t have to mean the end of the world. To me, Valentines’ Day is a time to remind yourself how lucky you are to have that special someone, and if you’re single it’s a great time to go out, find all the other single people who don’t want to be alone on such a day and have a fantastic drunken kiss or 6.

My Tips to Help You Pack Cabin Luggage for Budget Airlines

After four years living in Europe, I’ve come to learn a thing or two about cheap airlines and their little tricks to make extra money out of you. I know how to find the ‘I don’t want insurance’ tab when booking a Ryanair flight; I know to refuse any request to choose my seat no matter how well hidden the extra cost is; and I am also very well-versed at avoiding the extra fees that come with scary baggage checkers at the boarding gate, often with boxes in tow to shove over your luggage as they seek to squeeze some extra coins out of you before you step on the plane.

With a mixture of packing well and knowing how to avoid being caught when I am a little over the regulated amount, here are a few tips you can use in order to make sure you can afford a few extra cocktails on your long weekend away:

  1. Don’t take a toilet bag

I stopped using a toilet bag a very long time ago. Your 100ml bottles can go in your zip-lock bag all ready for airport security; your make-up can go in one of the pockets in your cabin luggage bag. As for the bulky things like hair brushes, hair straighteners etc. they can just go free in your bag. It’s a known fact that packing lots of little things into the cracks is much easier than trying to shove a bulky thing into an already tight space.

  1. Repack your handbag

Think about the things you’ll need to carry around with you while you’re on holiday – you definitely don’t need your entire wallet (nor should you take it in case it’s stolen) and you don’t need your house keys. So keep them in your luggage and rather than your bulky handbag, take a small travel wallet with a shoulder strap. Mine is big enough to carry my cards, some cash, camera, phone and gum and lipgloss. If you have to carry an umbrella or bottle of water then bring a plastic bag. You’ll easily be able to hide a travel wallet under your jacket when the airhosts check your baggage at the boarding gate as well, if their restrictions require only one bag.

  1. Layer up!

When you’re packing, as much thought should go into your plane outfit as what goes in the bag. Not because you should be looking fashionable at the airport , but because you need to wear the most bulky items. Boots, your coat (even if it’s not that cold), the thick jumper rather than your nice cardigan and jeans rather than tights. Or both jeans and tights if you’re not going to overheat. Also a pajama top underneath your clothes – you can always change when you get to the hotel!

  1. Don’t take a suitcase on the plane

Material bags, backpacks, overnight bags and even sports bags are a better option than cabin luggage suitcases. They can be shoved and fitted into the required measurements if you’re asked by plane staff and they don’t have bulky metal and wheels taking up space. Realistically, if you’re carrying less that 10kg, is it such a big deal to take a carry bag rather than having the convenience of wheeling it around? And besides, airplane staff hardly check these bags properly because they know you can fit it into their dimensions if required. My boyfriend takes his sports bag, it’s a little too big for the box with Ryanair, but it’s NEVER been checked. They always go for the suitcases because you can’t do anything if they’re too wide or long.

  1. Purchase travel-sized items

Travel-size brushes, travel hairdryers and straighteners: these have been my lifesavers when packing light. The hairdryer in particular is a quarter of the size of my normal one and takes up hardly any space. Even if you don’t need to pack 100ml liquids, that’s all you’ll need for a long weekend anyway so don’t pack the bulky shampoo and conditioner or moisturiser.

Happy travels! xx

Ooh baby it’s cold outside

 

IMG_5929

Snow in Europe has always brought with it many happy memories for me – the first time I saw the real thing in England was exactly a year after taking a one-way trip to the country and getting my working visa stamped. It was amazing having it on my doorstep and between building snowmen in our backyard and having snowball fights with friends I knew the European winter wasn’t as bad as the naysayers in Australia told me.

Claude - our London snowman and house protector.
Claude – our London snowman and house protector.

The next time I saw it was in Chamonix, just next to Mont Blanc, two years later almost to the day. The 2013-14 winter brought no snow – something which was particularly frustrating as my parents had come to visit for a white Christmas and just got rain instead – but my first skiing trip with my snowboarding-obsessed boyfriend couldn’t have been more spectacular. We didn’t have a chance to build a snowman and my skiing was as terrible as I remember but I was introduced to a new and wonderful concept called ‘apres ski’ :)

This year, I’ve been pleading to the weather gods to bring me some snow. We’re still stuck in this little village just outside Stuttgart while we look at apartments closer to the centre, which is not so bad now that my schedule at work is dying down, but one of the positives of living so far out of the city is that when it snows, it’s like someone has taken some whiteout and turned your whole area into something from a wintery Christmas cartoon.

IMG_5938

IMG_5928
IMG_5932

IMG_5927

The trees sparkle and snow covers your coat and scarf as you walk along the street. It’s perfectly soft under your feet and as you find parks and long walkways nearby you really start to feel like you’re in that Christmas movie.

IMG_5939

So many Europeans complain about the snow, in the same way we Australians complain about the hot weather. I hope I never lose this excited feeling over seeing it fall and settle around me, because it makes the winter so much more enjoyable. When we noticed the flakes falling at rapid rates on Friday night, despite being in my pyjamas and suffering from a bad cold, I was dressed and ready to explore within minutes. And what we found, even in the dark, was pretty spectacular. Perhaps it’s partly that it reminds me how far away from home I am, and how happy I am to still be having this adventure.

IMG_5937

IMG_5926

Let it snow! xx

What do to, and what not to do, on a wintery weekend in Paris

Galleries Lafayette's Christmas decorations
Galleries Lafayette’s Christmas decorations

After a whirlwind trip to Liverpool I booked another weekend away with a different group of girlfriends – my last one before the big South African holiday – to Paris. Having never experienced the Christmas markets in France I was quite excited to compare them to the German ones, and a friend of mine had a bunch of tips she wanted to make use of after her brother lived in the city for two years.

This would be my sixth time to Paris – I’d certainly experienced a lot on the first five trips and yet somehow I wanted to go back and explore again. I’ve been in happy relationships, in toxic relationships, with family, with my high school and with friends in this city. I’ve seen every museum on the lonely planet list, walked all the shopping strips, done every view point except for the Arc De Triumph and seen every part of history and popular culture reference I could find. Not to mention the three trips I’ve now done to Versaille, one of which I picnicked on the lake rather than going inside and discovered a completely different way of enjoying the gardens than the usual snap-happy walk around before dashing for the train back to Paris.

But in a city like Paris there’s always something more to do and see, much like London or Berlin – and on this weekend I got to experience some of the best and worst of the most popular tourist destination in the world.

We arrived on the Friday night to a fantastic apartment (thanks airbnb), and with my train leaving in the day I had a few hours to explore the area before the others arrived. We were all tired and took to bed early in order to prepare for a big Saturday of ticking things off our bucket list.

First up was jazz brunch at Le Reservoir – a friend had heard great things about it and we weren’t disappointed. For around 27 euro you got an all-you-can-eat and drink buffet, with fantastic pastries, meats, cheeses and seafood, while the singer for the day crooned songs ranging from 1970s disco to current hip hop hits as though he had written them himself. Everyone was dancing around by the end, which by the way was 4 hours after we got there – it was a great serving of breakfast and lunch in one.

Just starting our food... it was a delicious four hours!
Just starting our food… it was a delicious four hours!
Brilliant jazz singer kept us entertained all day
Brilliant jazz singer kept us entertained all day

Then we headed for Galleries Lafayette which had a beautiful view of the city from the top – I had missed this very time I visited the shopping centre in the past, and it was totally free to go up there! Simply taking the escalators to the top floor, we took some time to take in the sights of the city, then headed for our next stop – the macaroon shop Laduree.

Paris looking all inception-like at the top of Galleries Lafayette
Paris looking all Inception-like at the top of Galleries Lafayette
Macaroons - so delish!
Macaroons – so delish!
Thickest hot chocolate I've ever had
Thickest hot chocolate I’ve ever had

On Boulevard Hausmann, the dessert restaurant was more than devine. It had a price tag to match the elegance – with a hot chocolate costing 8 euro and a macaroon at least 2.50 – but the hot chocolate at least was definitely worth it, more of spooning melted chocolate into your mouth than the sense of the word ‘drink’, and only half of us got through our treats. When the sugar rush kicked in, we made our way to Zero de Conduite – the bar with cocktail baby bottles where you have to draw what you want to order and make the waiter guess. It was slightly odd, but I loved it, and although they were pricey at 18 euro you could refill for much cheaper.

My Pocahontas cocktail and Jen's Snoopy drink
My Pocahontas cocktail and Jen’s Snoopy drink

With the added sugar from our drinks in our systems, we skipped through the cold to the Christmas market on the Champs Elysee to fill up on vin chaud. The markets were really expensive compared to Germany, but I suppose that is no surprise on such fine real estate, and baked camembert with a glass or two from the champagne bars was a welcome addition to the stalls.

FIrst sighting of the Eiffel Tower lights for the weekend
FIrst sighting of the Eiffel Tower lights for the weekend
Champagne bar - my favourite stall!
Champagne bar – my favourite stall!
The lights along the street
The lights along the street
At the top of the Champs Elysee
At the top of the Champs Elysee
Soooo much cheese...
Soooo much cheese…

We made our way up the street slowly, taking in the atmosphere and not really feeling the cold, and while we were supposed to head out to the nightclubs, we decided it would be much more Parisian to just go to a small dark bar and spend hours drinking red wine and eating cheese. It was definitely a good choice after a busy day.

Sunday brought what not to do – we thought it would be a brilliant idea to book a ticket up the Eiffel Tower. The weather was predictably foggy at such a time of year and as we climbed higher and higher, it got colder and colder – the below photo was about the entire time I spent at the top before running to the lift to get down and somewhere I could feel my hands and feet again.

In a big, cold, foggy cloud.
In a big, cold, foggy cloud.

But climbing the Eiffel Tower isn’t great anyway – when you take in the view of Paris it’s missing the one thing that makes it, well, Paris – and it’s probably not something I will bother to do again.

After getting down, I had a sprint to make my train home, and snaring some chips from the convenience store on the way my dinner certainly wasn’t up to the scratch of the jazz brunch the day before. Still, when I arrived home my first comments to my boyfriend were that we need to go back – I haven’t seen the catacombs and want to explore the cafes more and still haven’t been inside Notre Dame.

One day I’m sure I’ll be making a seventh trip!

xx