Rekindling my love affair with London

 

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After feeling slightly more settled in my jobs and Stuttgart, RZ and I decided it was time for a holiday. With his birthday coming up London seemed the perfect place to go – the first visit for him and a return to the place that used to be called home for myself.

Having lived there for two years, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about coming back as a tourist. Would I miss it too much and become unsettled in my German bubble? Would I be reminded of the things I didn’t like about the place, the things that made it feel like a temporary home rather than a permanent one? The end result was somewhat mixed. I loved seeing my friends again and it made me miss being there a lot, and I felt quite sad on the last night knowing we were going home. But after a few trips on the tube in peak hour and realising how much my body is not used to hangovers on the back of too many jagerbombs and bottles of wine, I was pleased to get back to a place where a cocktail with dinner is standard on a night out rather than a bottle of cheap vodka and there’s always a seat on the train home.

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The castle at Tower Hill with the poppy memorial – so beautiful

Living in London was a fantastic party for me, but the party was always going to end. A lot like many of the parties we had in London, this trip felt like the end of the night where only your good friends are left reminiscing over what happened and who was the most ridiculous, drinking the last of the alcohol and pushing thoughts of tomorrow to the back of your mind. I loved it, and knowing that I can now enjoy this place whenever I like is a lovely feeling without having to pay the exorbitant rental prices and work 15 hour days.

We took a whole day out of our itinerary for shopping at places like Carnaby Street and we needed it!

We took a whole day out of our itinerary for shopping at places like Carnaby Street and we needed it!

For those of you who might be considering visiting London for a weekend, it is certainly doable, and on a budget as we found (apart from one extravagant night to celebrate our 3 year anniversary). But when you’re not a local, this can be difficult. Some things I found –

  • There’s an online oyster card you can buy that covers 7 zones and costs £20 a day. Unless you’re planning on going all over outer-London –I’m talking an hour to an hour and a half each way – don’t buy it. You can buy an oyster card at the station for a small deposit which you get back, and it caps at £8.40 in the first two zones each day making it slightly cheaper than a day ticket.
  • There’s a great site – afternoontea.co.uk – which offers amazing deals on afternoon tea. We chose the Harlequin restaurant and it was fantastic, the service and the all-you-can-eat macaroons were worth£20 per person.

A delightful afternoon tea!

  • If you want the novelty of the open top bus tour do it, but for the price of a daily oyster card –£8.40 – you can see the same things by foot in two days. The first day we went to London Bridge, the London Eye, Tower Bridge, Tower Hill, Covent Garden and Trafalga Square, Big Ben, the Queen’s Guards, and walked around Waterloo. The second day we walked around Hyde Park and saw Buckingham Palace as well as Harrod’s. When you see the prices for the buses it works out a lot more expensive!
  • If you have a day trip somewhere and it’s in the summer, you can’t go past Brighton. It’s £15 for a return ticket if you book a couple of weeks in advance, and just walking around the laneways, the Pavillion, and having Pims on the beach is so very English. We also got a fantastic roast at The Pond for £12. It’s cheap and will fulfill many of your wishes on a trip to London!
Beautiful Brighton

Beautiful Brighton.

  • When you’re looking for trips and things to do, make sure you check out the English Groupon. They have trips to Bath and Stonehenge for half price on there, as well as boat tours in the Thames.
  • If you spend an afternoon at one of London’s markets you will find so many treasures and the food is one of a kind. I love the Spitalfields markets as well as Portobello. If you go to Borough market it will make for a brilliant few hours and you can put together a picnic for later that’s far cheaper than what’s on offer at many of London’s restaurants.
  • Lastly, do your research on the internet for prices on London’s musicals. I got 2 tickets to Jersey Boys for £20 each through Love Theatre and although we were at the back we could see everything really well. You can also wait until you get to London and check the ticket shops at Covent Garden which always have sales.
A great night out for our anniversary with only minimal translating for RZ when they spoke gangster :p

A great night out for our anniversary with only minimal translating for RZ when they spoke gangster :p

Taking To The German Wilderness – A Camping Trip in Chiemsee

It has taken me quite a while to get back into the blogging routine – with two new jobs starting, I have hardly had time to think about anything apart from the classes the next day, which footballer is going where and sleep. But just before my birthday, as I prepared for a girls trip to Budapest to celebrate with a fellow June 27th-er and began my first week teaching at separate companies along with my journalism job, I came up with an ambitious plan to spend a weekend in Austria with my boyfriend.

To start with we found a fantastic campsite on the edge of a lake that looked absolutely perfect; and only 3 or so hours away from Stuttgart. But as the weekend drew closer, the weather was sending out serious warning signs and the forecast wasn’t in our favour. Our tent was supposed to be waterproof, but I wasn’t 100% trusting of ebay’s guarantee, so I searched the entire southern region of Germany, the north of Switzerland, the east of France and the west of Austria, going all the way up to Czech Republic, for somewhere, anywhere!, that gave us hope of a sunny day.

And of all the places Chiemsee appeared to be the kindest weather-wise. In worst case scenario we figured we could visit Ludwig’s palace on the Herr Island and drive home early if our tent rained on us. So we drove to Bayern, hoped for the best and insisted we would have fun no matter what happened.

The rain came, but not as much as we had expected. It was just enough to spend a day in the palace, which was well worth it, and otherwise we were able to grill, relax on the lake and explore the area without much bother and only the occasional usage of an umbrella. Chiemsee surprised me – my research had failed to bring up the blue and picturesque scenery many of Austria’s lakes seemed to easily produce – but in real life it was just as amazing as any idyllic European getaway. Walking around the lake, there were beach bars and I felt like I could well have been at any beach getaway.

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The palace was equally stunning, with Ludwig spending more on it than his other two castles combined. He ran the country broke in the process and died under suspicious circumstances thereafter, and while this palace is still unfinished the rooms he did complete are exquisite. The only downside was not being able to take pictures, which we ignored until RZ was caught and called out by the tour guide ;).

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Nights spent grilling and making punch with vodka and lemons made for a fantastic camping experience. The people nearby were too happy to help with the little things we forgot and strawberries with melted chocolate one night for dessert topped off a perfect pre-birthday weekend for me.

On the final day we headed for one of the ski mountains, which had cable cars open for hikers and people looking to enjoy the sky-high views in the summer. We arrived feeling somewhat underdressed in our singlets while everyone had ski jackets on, and when we got to the top we realised why, as the temperature dropped about 10 degrees. Walking through the top of the mountains was a fantastic experience, with the peace and quiet only interrupted by the constant ringing of the bells around the roaming cows’ necks.

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After eating our picnic atop one of the rocks – with the cows watching us rather inquisitively as they constantly mounted each other (and oddly they were all female, leading to a discussion over whether female cows can be lesbians) – we headed back to Stuttgart. In the car the boyfriend was already on the phone to his friends planning a return for his birthday, with the usual trip to Oktoberfest off the list for a chance to see this little slice of paradise again.

World Cup Memories

Memories... one of the best nights of my life!

Memories… one of the best nights of my life!

Four years ago to the day I was in South Africa, having the experience of a lifetime and meeting people who would change life as I knew it. The 2010 World Cup was one of many travelling experiences I would have but it was also by far the best. Spending six weeks travelling across the country for the sake of football, and jumping over to Namibia and Botswana for a time as well, getting to know a country when it’s at it’s happiest and best – a particular achievement for South Africa considering the recent hardships they’ve been through – was something I’ll never forget.

Travelling to South Africa made me realise how much I wanted to live abroad, and upon meeting some English guys who asked what my plans were after the tournament, I immediately said I was moving to England – it was a decision that happened so fast and without any thought and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Naturally, when the final game was over in Johannesburg my mind turned to planning a trip to Brazil. But the last four years have brought so much change, and going from a carefree singleton with no job and a dream to travel to living with my boyfriend, setting up my own company and considering the possibility of starting a family, it would appear that life has made it much more difficult to drop everything for six weeks and let the wind take me to new and amazing places and people.

So the decision was made to sit this one out – to enjoy it in Europe for the first time, and in a country who are one of the favourites to win it – and I know it was the right one to make. Money is now going towards things like paying accountants and saving for a house. And with RZ currently finishing his thesis for his Masters, the thought of taking a big life-changing trip without him was something I didn’t want to do.

But when the first game began on Thursday night, as we sat in a small Mexican bar in the middle of Stuttgart, I really missed being there. I missed being able to witness the happiness and excitement in the streets, the sounds of horns and signing and the feeling that life itself really can be a big party. As the tournament continues I’m sure the interest in Germany will increase – we’re off tonight to the local beer garden to watch their first group match and I’ll definitely get a good taste of the World Cup atmosphere – but I couldn’t help but feel a longing deep down watching a news piece on the Copacabana beach last night that I’m missing something amazing.

Anyone considering travelling to a World Cup, even if you don’t like football – just do it. It was the best travelling experience I have ever had and though it cost a fortune and left me broke afterwards I don’t regret a thing. If it wasn’t for that trip I wouldn’t be the person I am now or in the place I am now. And while I’ve been happy to sit this one out thanks to life getting in the way, when 2018 rolls around and my boyfriend’s native Russia is hosting… just try and keep me away.

 

xx

A Wonderful, Relaxing, Hyggelig Time in Copenhagan

The Danish have a special word for the feeling of contentment and the experience of a good time – Hygge. If you mess with their hygge, you mess with the whole of Denmark and the entire country will fight to the death to protect their hyggely lifestyle and sense of being. That’s why the country is one of the most equal in the world in terms of minority and gender rights and that’s also why they saved 99.7% of their Jewish population when Hitler was desperately trying to send them to concentration camps. And after visiting Copenhagen for a long weekend, I can see why this country is so intent on preserving a state of mind which is so positive and has made them the happiest nation in the world, despite their abhorrent winter weather.

Walking through Copenhagen will lead you on a host of interesting trails, from the canals to the Hans Christian Andersen sights to the beautiful streets and the palace and parliament with horses always guarding out front. The weather was on our side as we arrived from rainy Berlin and quickly dropping our things at the Sleep in Heaven hostel, we headed out for the free walking tour at 11am, which leaves from the town square every day.

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Danish Parliament

Danish Parliament

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Markets in the town square

Markets in the town square

Our guide, who was a born-and-bred Dane, was the perfect person to show us through the sites from the second oldest theme park in the world, to the war sites with tales of Danish James Bonds and a Parliament standing tall against the Nazis, to the reasons behind the rivalries between the Nordic countries. Finishing near the Little Mermaid we wandered along the docks where every building had an artistic story behind it and music, food and festivals lit up the shoreline. By night we headed for the nightclub district and found bars to fulfil our need to dance and have jager shots. The prices weren’t cheap, but the happy hour deals made it affordable, and at around 3am we wandered home past the waterfront with a brightly lit boat that looked more like a castle from a fairytale.

The next day we headed for Christiana. Arriving at the train station we were a little confused; it looked a lot like the rest of Copenhagen and not the hippy town I had pictured. But after getting orientated and heading up the Church of our Saviour for a good view of the city – and catching a wedding while we were doing it – we found this place were there is a law unto itself and anything goes. Proclaimed the ‘green light district’, it’s no surprise that no photos were allowed to be taken inside the area. I did, however, get some good ones of the outside.

The church we climbed before heading into Christiana

The church we climbed before heading into Christiana

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The night brought a search for sushi, and after finding the Trivoli hotel was booked we headed for our area in Forum and found multiple places offering deals on our favourite Japanese fanfare. Of course, it was ridiculously expensive compared to Germany – in Berlin we had all-you-can-eat sushi for 13 euro. In Copenhagen? 20 euro for six pieces and a small drink.

I found that making a visit to the supermarket in the mornings helped to ease my cash flow to an extent; Copenhagen has a Lidl, which is a German supermarket well known for being cheap, and dropping in there for some water, fruit and baguettes to take along the way made the search for cheap food a lot easier throughout the day.

After another night out we had to check out by 11am and found Danish hotdogs to soothe our hangovers as we sat in the park in the sunshine. We questioned how people can afford to live in a country where tax is at least 50%, VAT is 25% and car taxes are 200% and then food is triple the price of Germany. But like our guide explained with the metaphor of a bumble bee, somehow Copenhagen makes it work even though the fat body and the little wings make it seem impossible to fly.

Copenhagen was my first taste of the Nordic countries and now I desperately want to see more. Luckily my mother is visiting in November and plans to do Norway and Sweden, and will likely be paying for me if I join her.

Denmark is were Lego was invented and the store is lots of fun even for grown ups!

Denmark is were Lego was invented and the store is lots of fun even for grown ups!

Watching the changing of the guards, worth doing as they're right in front of you

Watching the changing of the guards, worth doing as they’re right in front of you

Where Hans Christian Andersen lived, and coined the term 'to travel is to live'

Where Hans Christian Andersen lived, and coined the term ‘to travel is to live’

The little mermaid - a little overrated but I'm glad we saw it

The little mermaid – a little overrated but I’m glad we saw it

Berlin; not a town for the faint-hearted

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There’s been a slight amount of radio-silence over the last week as I’ve been away in Berlin, Copenhagen and sorting the beginning of two teaching jobs and making sure I actually have a working visa. Now, today is the first chance I’ve had to rest and recover from what has been a manic seven days, and a very successful seven days at that. I’m now the proud owner of German residency and after the hoops we’ve had to jump through to get this it’s quite a miracle; and having taught my first business English class on Tuesday it feels like everything is coming together.

Heading for Berlin last Wednesday, it would be the third time I have visited Germany’s capital and one of Europe’s top cities for art, nightlife and culture. The problem is though that the last two times I’ve been to this place I’ve left feeling worse for wear; the city has something about it that makes you forget the need to sleep and find solace in one of the many brilliant bars on offer. I love a good party and I love to go out late, but in the last year these habits have dwindled as I start to consider my health more and make plans for the future, as well as making friends with people who feel the same. But Berlin is like a bubble where the party will never stop and no matter how much you insist it won’t be a big night because you’ve got an early flight/want to do some sightseeing/want to make it for the free breakfast, somehow at 1am you’re looking for dinner and complaining that you can’t find any sushi (possibly happened on this trip).

So we went to Berlin to see Robbie Williams and thought we’d start the trip with a bang, attending the Alternative Berlin pub crawl on our first night. The bars they take you to are more interesting than what the usual pub crawl offers and after making friends with some Australians and visiting death metal, ping pong and upside-down (yep, this actually exists) establishments we ended up at a reggae club dancing for hours on end.

It got to 3am and felt like time to go home. But as we were walking through one of the best nightlife districts we couldn’t help but hear some fantastic music coming from one well-lit bar. Wandering in to see what it was all about, in what felt like minutes later we were still dancing as the sun was coming up through the windows. At about 6:30am we headed out for some of the finest currywurst and walked home to find our hostel friends getting ready for their day ahead.

Before this visit, I was in Berlin with a group of friends and my family for New Years Eve. We spent the night on a boat and New Years Day was mostly spent at McDonalds and the hotel club room with my parents, trying desperately to get over our hangover. The time before that, I was in Berlin on the back of a two week trip to Poland for the Euro football tournament. My voice was on it’s last ropes and as a result of a night out with the hostel staff it was completely gone for three days afterwards.

While I don’t think I could live in Berlin at this point in my life – I loved big-cities throughout my 20s, but as I edge closer to 30 I appreciate things like space and peace – to visit this place is like entering an alternate reality where night and day don’t exist, everyone is your best friend and art is all around you in every form. I’ll always love travelling to Berlin, though I think I’ll always need a day to recover when I return.

My favourite nightspots in Berlin:

Matrix – Great for if you want to spend the night in one place, the music is really good (mostly commercial) and there’s lots of rooms to mix it up. Expect a long wait in the queue and have your ID ready.

Yesterday Bar – Where the Alternative pub crawl starts, but it’s great to visit on it’s own as well – the cocktails are lovely and the decor is vintage and will keep you amused for hours.

Monster Ronson’s Karaoke Bar – One of my favourite things about Berlin is the multicultural nature of it, and there are certainly a number of karaoke bars that have a great atmosphere. Monster Ronson’s is the best I’ve been to, with booths galore and foosball and pool as well.

Berlin Warschauer Strasse U Bahn/S Bahn – One of the great things about Berlin is that you can just head for an area and wander around checking out any bar that takes your fancy. If you get off at this station and walk across the bridge (passing the view of the o2 arena) you’ll find countless bars behind a host of currywurst stands to provide breakfast when you’re done.

Boat parties – the summer brings a host of boat parties all over Germany and the prices are very decent and often include drinks. We spent New Years on a boat (this one) and it was perfect – 70 euro for all we could drink (with good quality ones on offer) and although it wasn’t exactly summer there are indoor areas and the music is always good. So if you’re visiting Berlin it pays to have a quick google to see if there’s any going on!

A Trip To Our Local Palace

Coming from Australia, continental Europe’s palaces never fail to impress me. Our country is not nearly as old as many of these beautiful buildings and the places in history which they hold are so interesting – they’re like time machines that take you back to a time that you can only imagine what it would have been like to live in.

On Friday afternoon, my boyfriend surprised me with an early return from work and some wine. ‘We’re going to Ludwigsburg to take advantage of this weather’ he announced, and with that we were on the bus in half an hour and headed for the residential palace.

I can’t believe it’s taken us so long – we’ve been living here nearly three months now – to finally see this wonderful place. It went beyond my expectations and I imagine we’ll be having many summer picnics here in the coming months. The best thing about it is how quiet it is – we arrived at 7pm on a Friday night with hours of sunlight left, and at one point it felt like we were the only people in the park!

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The gardens felt like they went for miles and every one had perfectly manicured flowers

The gardens felt like they went for miles and every one had perfectly manicured flowers

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The baroque style gardens had a quirky touch

The baroque style gardens had a quirky touch

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Rapunzel's hair!

Rapunzel’s hair!

An old-school carousel

An old-school carousel

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The gardens remind me of Versailles

The gardens remind me of Versailles

Can you find the pig?

Can you find the pig?

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Planning ahead of time; A fourth trip to South Africa

These last couple of weeks have been a mixture of job hunting, settling, exploring, language school searching and travel planning. Normally around this time of year I’m looking ahead to summer travels, but with the uncertainty surrounding my work and how I’m going to juggle everything, my attentions have turned to where we will spend our next Christmas.

The option of Australia was always unlikely as my boyfriend is also unsure of where he’ll be job-wise around then and with flights going up in price we decided to leave the big Aus trip for when we are both settled in our work and know how much time we can take. He still wants somewhere hot though, leaving Europe and Russia out of the question, and after fleshing out the possibilities South Africa brought so many positives we had to get on the planning straight away.

The beautiful Morgan Bay in South Africa, where we plan to spend Christmas this year

The beautiful Morgan Bay in South Africa, where we plan to spend Christmas this year

As an Australian living in Germany, for me the prospect of calling one place home has become rather complicated of late. And though I don’t have any relatives or connections to South Africa apart from my best friend coming from there, for some reason the country feels like a place I can certainly relate to in many ways and despite going there three times in the last seven years I want to visit more.

South Africa is a lot like Australia in certain aspects, with it’s vast landscape offering so many things to see and do. I was there for six weeks during the World Cup, and only got part of my list of things I wanted to do finished. I have been to Cape Town twice and still haven’t gotten around to climbing Table Mountain.

South Africa obviously can bring up some uncertainty when travellers are considering their next getaway, with safety a huge concern for someone who isn’t aware of local customs or cultures. I wouldn’t claim to be even close to understanding how life really is in South Africa; on my second trip there I was nearly robbed at a cash machine and had my car stolen, for reasons of which I only have myself to blame. I let my guard down at particularly important moments because for me, having grown up in Australia, safety has never been a great concern. If someone tells me a cash machine isn’t working I believe them, if someone says a carpark is safe they have no reason to lie. Such thinking can potentially be life threatening in South Africa, and because of this, even though I’ve been so many times already I’m taking advice from locals all the more seriously as I plan to return for the third time.

Having said that though, I’ve noticed how differently locals look at their own country and the great things to see and do compared with visitors in general. I was recently talking to an English friend in Aus who said the Whitsundays are at the top of her list of things to do. To me, those islands are overpriced and overrated – all-inclusive resorts aren’t the real Australia, seeing beaches that are undiscovered will give you a much better idea of the beauty of the country than these manicured surroundings ever will.

In the case of South Africa, when my friend got married there we all travelled over for the festivities, and went to a small private safari park before the big day. It was so amazing, we saw all of the ‘big 5′ and then some, washed and walked with elephants and went a quad bike ride around the park that left us covered in dirt and me feeling like I was having one of those perfect travel days that remind you why you spend all the money and make all the effort.

White lions at Inkenkwezi private park... Such an amazing creature and to see them so close was magical

White lions at Inkenkwezi private park… Such an amazing creature and to see them so close was magical

But for my friend, this park is only ‘ok’ and certainly not the kind of place she would consider having a wedding. To her it’s cheesy and has nothing on Kruger National Park, a place which costs 5 times the price to visit and shows you exactly the same animals from what I understand.

But that’s the thing about us being tourists in our own country; we don’t want to follow the path most other tourists do, we feel like we know it better because we’ve seen the highs and the lows of the place over years of existing there. This whole experience of preparing for South Africa has taught me to be a little more careful about dismissing some of the more cheesy – in my mind anyway – touristy things to do in Australia. And in turn, when my South African friends tell me to give a lion park on the way to Cape Town a miss, I will kindly explain that I do in fact want that ridiculous photo playing with a tiger cub ;)

How a travel screw-up turned into a fantastic 36 hours in Italy

Ever had one of those travel moments when everything your entire itinerary falls to pieces because you realise you booked the one thing that held it all together on the wrong day?? On the back of a very busy summer in which I’d been to England, Hungary, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ireland and Oktoberfest, I had organised everything perfectly with the only major stuff-up being our terrible decision not to hire a GPS system while we attempted to drive across the Irish countryside. So, on the back of all these wonderful travels, as my mum prepared to come and visit Europe I made plans to take her to Italy and France, with the latter country setting the scene for our national football team to play in a friendly. Both myself and my mother are massive sports nuts so it was perfect timing for her visit to Germany.

While we were packing for the trip I texted a friend about meeting up on the Saturday before the game. She responded, ‘but the game is on Friday?’ and then it all started to fall apart. Mum was desperate to see a football match in Europe and we were arriving in Paris on Saturday morning after three nights in Pisa, Italy. Suddenly I was calling Ryanair and hoping that a flight might be available to get us from one place to the other earlier, changing accommodation in both places and hoping it would all work out. Luckily it did and we would have to squeeze what I had planned in Pisa over three full days down to just 1, with our flight leaving on Friday at 6am.

We arrived at our apartment thanks to a lift from the owners at around 9pm on the Wednesday night. While they were lovely, their English was limited and they explained it was probably better to have hired a car in this area with a 20 minute walk on the side of the road to the nearest bus. We didn’t have time to learn to drive on the opposite side of the road, let alone deal with Italian drivers, so we agreed for them to give us a lift into town at 8am the next day.

We made it to the leaning tower early on and although there were tourists around it wasn’t as packed as I remembered from my first trip there. The rain was threatening and the cafes nearby were almost empty so we found a lovely little restaurant to have some breakfast – pizza and prosecco – then we had our obligatory pictures with the tower and looked around the area. Considering many call it a tourist trap, I feel like I’ve been to a lot worse places than Pisa in that respect (Paris being one) – the locals are so lovely and the buildings are fantastic to look at even if they are swarmed by said tourists.

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Breakfast in Pisa – Pizza and prosecco, delicious!

 

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The picture just has to be done…

 

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By the river in Pisa, you feel like you’ve gone back in time – the buildings are all so old and have so much history

So after breakfast and our stroll around the area we headed for the train station to take us to Florence. Buying tickets and finding the right train was easy enough and within just over an hour we were in one of Italy’s most historical and artistic cities.

A walk around the town with a tourist map was all we needed to keep us busy for hours – the winding streets full of markets and interesting shops, as well as the beautiful churches and historical buildings gave us lots to see and do. When we eventually got hungry and the clouds gave out with rain, we headed for a small restaurant off the beaten track with mussels and spaghetti – one of my favourite dishes in the whole world – and lots, and lots of Prosecco. Two hours in, the restaurant had closed and the owner started talking to us about where we were from and our plans for the day. When I mentioned I wanted to go to the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo’s David she insisted on taking us through the back door as she knew the security worker. When we saw the line out the front we couldn’t believe our luck! And she refused to accept any tips for having helped us.

The beautiful church in the centre of town

The beautiful church in the centre of town

 

Even when you look up Florence is amazing

Even when you look up Florence is amazing

 

Mussels and spaghetti - after living in a landlocked city for so long any seafood is divine!

Mussels and spaghetti – after living in a landlocked city for so long any seafood is divine!

A quick snap of David before I got told off :p it is a magnificent statue though

A cheeky snap of David before I got told off :p it is a magnificent statue though

This was something I noticed often around this part of Italy – how nice everyone was and they were simply doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. You get a lot of horror stories from the touristy parts of Italy like Rome and Milan, and I still remember having to pay a tip and a waitress fee for every meal in the Amalfi Coast because of small print in the menu that was impossible to find without assistance. But in this corner of the country it was a different story completely, and a good reminder of how we should all be with people visiting our own parts of the world. After seeing David and the many wonderful artworks in the gallery we made our way back to Pisa, just in time to visit a small restaurant for dinner with a big sign out the front insisting it had no touristy food (i.e. no spaghetti! in big letters). We had lasagne but not like I’ve ever tasted it before – the main ingredients were pasta, different types of mushroom and beans with some cheese sprinkled on top. It was absolutely delicious.

We got a taxi home and on the back of a brilliant day in which we covered two Italian cities, we packed our bags and got ready for Paris. It might not have been the way I planned it, but 24 hours in this country had been grand and we were both rather proud of how we fitted everything in.

Of course just 12 hours after arriving in Paris we got to got to the football match we had changed all our plans for, to see Australia lose to France 6-0. :)

 

xx

Visiting Frühlingsfest For The First Time

One of the fairs which Stuttgart is particularly proud of is Frühlingsfest, with the city’s major beer festivals taking place bi-annually as opposed to Munich’s once a year Oktoberfest event. Stuttgart has it’s own version of Oktoberfest in the Autumn too – Cannstatter Volksfest – and my boyfriend made a visit last year while attending an interview for the job he now has. So having been to the last three Oktoberfests and loving every one, for us the prospect of having a similar festival on our doorstep twice a year was pretty exciting. My collection of dirndls continues to grow and with lederhosen for girls becoming more popular it might just include some of that soon too. Oktoberfest to me is everything that’s great about Germany; from the relaxed beer gardens to the party atmosphere, to being able to make your own fun with cheesy English music in the background, it’s a great couple of weeks spent by all. And not to forget the fantastic food and beverages on offer; sorry to say Aussie friends, but it beats any BBQ in the backyard hands down. IMG_3347 IMG_3351 IMG_3353 So we travelled across Stuttgart on Saturday night to the festival feeling particularly excited about what would be on offer; I’d heard it was a younger crowd and obviously it wouldn’t be as big as the Munich version but so long as there is dancing on the tables I’d be happy. My first impressions of the festival were mixed; smoking was allowed in the tents which was probably the biggest downside of the night. For some reason it still seems to be very acceptable in Germany to smoke in public places, and coming from Australia which is at the forefront of getting rid of the deadly habit this still comes as quite a shock to me that so many people smoke in a seemingly well-educated country. That aside though it was definitely much more of a nightclub atmosphere than in Munich with flashing lights playing a big part in the beer tents after the sun went down. There were only three tents which was slightly disappointing but apparently that number rapidly grows for the Autumn festival, and the tents on offer this time around weren’t overly packed. At about 8pm we were able to get into one of the beer tents quite easily while the other two advised us to get there early in the day to either line up for the free tables, or try and purchase a day ticket. Finding a place to sit/stand/dance would prove somewhat more difficult, making getting there early a must in the future, but the party was certainly in full swing as we wondered through with Oktoberfest classic ‘Sweet Caroline’ booming from the band up front.

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The party gets going in one of Stuttgart’s beer tents.

The rides outside the tents were as ridiculously scary-looking as in Munich with every type of torture you could inflict on yourself imaginable. I’m not a big rides fan but RZ is and the prospect of returning here during the week with his work colleagues to give the roller coaster a test drive is certainly appealing for him.

One of the rides takes you through some kind of waterfall backwards and all over the place. I suppose it speeds up the hangover process!

One of the rides takes you through some kind of waterfall backwards and all over the place. I suppose it speeds up the hangover process!

For anyone coming to Germany for a holiday in the spring (end of April to beginning of May), I would definitely recommend giving this festival a go if you’re looking for the Oktoberfest experience of dressing in traditional German gear, drinking good beer, having a plate of chicken and a good old dance on the table. And even in the Autumn I’m told it’s a much cheaper option than it’s more famous brother (a beer is 10 euro with tip in Munich, in Stuttgart it’s 6.80) so it could be worth a visit then as well.

Spring and Easter in Holland

I’ve been to Amsterdam twice now and not once have I seen a tulip growing in it’s natural habitat. This trip, as some friends from Australia prepared to come over to Europe for a wedding, that was going to change.

Amsterdam is one of my favourite cities in Europe – it has everything you need for a great weekend holiday. There’s the cultural side from the Van Gogh museum to Anne Frank’s house, all the artistic museums on show and the war history, to the party scene with great bars and clubs all across town. There’s the seedier side which is interesting for any traveller and then there’s the beauty of the canals and the fabulous looking houses which make it look strangely romantic considering said seedy side. And with the country being so small it’s also easy to make day trips elsewhere if that’s not enough, though with the good weather and beautiful parks on offer it’s hard to run out of things to do.

So after driving to the city from Frankfurt with a friend we spent Friday night checking out the bars and figuring out the laws relating to marijuana – lots of rumours had been flying around that Holland had banned tourists from using drugs, partly because Germans come and buy it and then take it over the border. This was clearly not the case though, with every bar smelling of the stuff and full of English guys sampling Amsterdam’s finest. And considering it was far cheaper to buy a joint (around 7 euro for a pre-rolled one) than a drink (3.50 for a small glass of wine) it wasn’t hard to see why!

The next day was the one I have been waiting for for so long – heading out of Amsterdam to Keukonhof tulip park. Located in Lisse, it’s only open for 6 weeks of the year when the tulips are blossoming and is believed to be one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Tulips are my favourite flower – when we moved into our place in Stuttgart one of the best things was the tulip garden the landlord keeps in our garden – so this was particularly exciting. And despite a 2 hour wait for the bus in the morning (would advise people to get there earlier than 11am to avoid this!!) it was definitely worth it. The garden was very busy but that’s to be expected and it could certainly still be enjoyed.

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Is that enough tulips for you? :) It really was well worth the day out and I want to go back again next year. It cost 28 euro for the bus and ticket from Schiphol airport and the package can be purchased at a number of stores listed here.

After arriving back to Amsterdam at about 18:00 we headed back to our apartment – a lovely place right on the canal we found on Airbnb – and had some Champagne to get ready for the night ahead. We ended up relaxing at the house until the neighbours were complaining about the noise and then headed out to Rembrandtplein where the world renowned Australian bar Coco’s is situated. Before you think ‘typical Aussie place’ it’s also a bar and club frequented by Amsterdam locals and as well as cheap drinks the music is always good.

By morning the hangovers were setting in, and after a big day before we didn’t really get going until about 1pm. Lunch near the canals and then a trip to the ‘iamsterdam’ sign rounded off a great sunny day (which was supposed to be rainy) and then a sunset tour of the city made for a great finish to our trip. Dinner and drinks afterwards in the red light district made for some great people watching – particularly the men trying to get out of the brothels as inconspicuously as possible!

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Driving home on the Monday took closer to 6 hours than 4 but it was great to see the countryside and as an Australian, it never gets old and boring going across a border to another country in a car. I know I’ll be back to Amsterdam for a fourth, and fifth, and six time, and even though it’s such a small city i don’t feel like i’ve seen it all yet.

 

xx