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Re-living Italy (Read: Australian Times)

11 Oct

It’s been three weeks since we arrived back to Australia. We’ve had drinks with friends, hugged so many of our family, met babies and puppies, awoken to the sound of a good downpour of rain on the tin roof, laid on the beautiful beach of the Sunshine Coast yet again, had a good number of BBQ steaks, driven the car (and the scooter!) and even managed to get back on the Australian pay roll.

Looking back to our three months travelling home, it seems like a lifetime ago that we were in Italy. But luckily, I was able to re-live it by writing about it (yes, that’s what it will resort to now!) And hopefully if you are planning on travelling to Italy anytime soon, this article will help you decide the cream of the crop experiences in the good ol’ boot of Italy.

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First Australian Car Show in over 2 years

6 Oct

Well I have been back in Toowoomba for just over 2 weeks and was starting to wonder how long it would be until I would see some amazing cars on home soil, as seeing the likes of Ferrari and Aston Martins in London was a common occurance. I opened The Chronicle news paper on the 26th of Septembeer and to my amusement I read that there was going to be a Holden car show at one of the local football ovals. Becuase it had been a while since I had seen some home grown cars I couldnt help but make sure I checked out these beauties. After reading the date wrong and going up the day before the show, I revisited the park on the correct day and managed to take a few photos of my favourite cars on show which you can see below. Even though they are not Astons or Ferrari, I felt the same excitment when seeing these bacause it made it feel much more real that I am home and we also have amazing cars, at half the price. Thanks to the Toowoomba Holden FJ and FX Car Club for putting on such a great event.

Five sights to see in Dubai and Singapore

30 Sep

As it came time to leave Egypt and Jordan, we knew we were getting closer and closer to the end of our time overseas (sob!). We had only two last stops before we would land in Brisbane – Dubai and Singapore. And while we were itching to just get home it didn’t stop us from enjoying the most of these two fascinating places, both great spots for general ‘chillaxing’ (perfect stopovers to break up long-haul flights!). Here’s what we got up to in Dubai and Singapore:

Dubai:

{1. If you only get a night stopover in Dubai, it’s worth it for the shopping! The Dubai Mall in particular has over 1,200 stores including all of our high-street favourites. It’s worth getting lost for the day (which is exactly what we did!). The Mall of the Emirates is another good one, is much smaller but more manageable. This pic below shows the Dubai Mall.}

{2. Dubai seems to get ahead of the rest the world with so many things, but it’s the Burj Khalifa that is getting the most attention still (including ours). It’s not only the tallest building in the world it’s also the tallest free-standing structure in the world, boasts the highest number of stories in the world (160), has the highest occupied floor in the world, the highest outdoor observation deck in the world, the elevator with the longest travel distance in the world and lastly, has the tallest service elevator in the world (phew!). We travelled only half way to level 124 to reach the observation deck. The views are well-worth it.}

{3. Jumeirah public beach is a beautiful beach to visit in Dubai. The beach is sandy, the water is blue and there are waves! Out of frame in this photo is the Burj Al Arab, the only seven-star hotel in the world.}

{4. Despite this picture showing ‘the souk’ inside the Dubai Mall, there are good souks to visit at Deira (old Dubai). As we visited  Dubai during the end of summer, temperatures were soaring so we didn’t even stay out long enough to get a good picture of the souks here! The Deira souks are more local where you can shop for gold, Arabian slippers and spices.}

{5. If we look cold in this pic, it’s because we were! At minus three inside, the Ski Dubai centre is an excellent way to get away from the relentless 40-plus degree heat outside. Unfortunately we couldn’t ski (our third person had to take lessons and wasn’t guaranteed to get on the slopes) so we spent the day playing in the snow, racing each other on the bobsled, zorbing and tobogganing. We also got close to the resident penguins!}

Singapore:

{1. Eating is the number one thing to do in Singapore. There are sooo many places to eat, it’s hard to choose! A good rule we were told to follow is go where the locals go especially the hawker centres. The hawker centres are basically massive complexes housing numerous stalls all offering inexpensive food. This is our meal we got at the hawker centre at the Vivo City mall… dry beef noodles with a side of beef ball soup! Yummo!}

{2. As we swelted in tropical Singapore, we made a bee-line for Sentosa, promoted as ‘Asia’s favourite playground’. It’s basically an island resort with some good public beaches to visit (basically the only free thing to do on the entire island!). It’s also the southernmost point of continential Asia. At least the water was chilly enough to cool us down. It’s good for a lazy day out.}

{3. A good day out in Singapore is the Singapore Zoo, said to be the world’s best rainforest zoo. It didn’t fail to impress us as we strolled around the lush grounds (including Matt almost getting hit by a snake falling out of a tree! Eek!). It’s always hard to pick a favourite at any zoo, but the Australian exhibit was close to our hearts (something which Steve Irwin apparently had input in designing).}

{4. We found Singapore’s Chinatown a tourist attraction in itself. With endless options to eat, drink and shop, it’s a good place to get a reasonably priced meal and pick up some souviners at the same time. The best thing to see here though is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. We visited during chanting where we saw practicing buddists do their thing (if you go, just remember to respect their ceremony) (see bottom pic).}

{5. Singaporean’s love to relax with a few drinks, something we thoroughly embraced. While many of the locals probably don’t frequent Raffles Hotel (where the classic Singapore Sling can cost you £15 a pop) or the Marina Bay Sands Skypark, Ku De Ta bar (where my white wine cost £20), it’s a must-do as a visiting tourist.}

{6. (We couldn’t help but add this last one!) We saw garden upon garden of endless pretty-ness at the Singapore Botential Garden’s orchid gardens, including Singapore’s national orchid flower (see pic directly below).}

Travelling through the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

24 Sep

Did you know that Jordan is actually located on the continent of Asia? We officially crossed from Africa into Asia as we travelled into the Sinai Peninsula (located in Egypt) as part of our tour. We spent a total of five days in Jordan, but despite the short amount of time we were there, we saw the lion’s share. Take a look…

{We spent two hours getting from Taba in Egypt to Jordan overland via Israel. Customs were nice enough but we had to be careful not to get any Israeli stamps in our passports (no offence Israel). Thankfully we had no problems getting into Dubai (our next stopover on the way home), even though we had an exit stamp showing we left Taba}

 

{Just east of Aqaba is Wadi Rum, known for Lawrence of Arabia. We took jeeps through the desert, went rock climbing to watch the sunset and camped under the stars. The desert is so peaceful, quiet and beautifully still. It’s a pity we only had one night here}

 

{You would know the ancient city of Petra from this photo alone (the first pic below). Known as the Treasury, it was carved out of the rock face from the top down. We literally spent hours at Petra, including walking the 900 steps up to the monastery, a similar structure to the Treasury. It took us over two hours to walk from the monastery to the entry/exit point, so it gives you an idea of how massive this historic site actually is}

 

{There is nowhere quite like the Dead Sea. (It’s actually a lake) and is the lowest point on land at over 400m below sea level. The almost 35% salt content means that you float, no matter what! The Dead Sea is quite deep at over 300m at its deepest and borders Israel and Jordan. It’s surreal to feel so buoyant in the water.}

 

{One of the best vantage points to see Jordan is from the top of Mount Nebo, the place where Moses saw the Holy Land looking out to Israel. There is also a church and a monastery at the top, unfortunately both of which were being renovated when we visited. This sign (shown in the first pic below) shows the distances to the Dead Sea, Jerusalem and Bethlehem}

An Egyptian holiday

11 Sep

Egypt is one of those mysterious countries that a lot of people dream to visit. With an ancient history that Egyptologists are still only speculative of, there are many treasures Egypt has to offer. While making our way home to Australia, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to drop in – it was on our way after all – so we too could experience what every visitor raves about.

Taking on a 16-day tour (also including five days in Jordan, a neighbouring country) we were taken around Egypt to visit the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Sphnix, Hurghada and Dahab on the Red Sea, Luxor Valley of the Kings and Karnak Temple, Aswan, Abu Simble temple and many more historic sites, tombs and temples in between. But we’ll focus on our favourite Egyptian experiences we were lucky enough to have while here:

Relaxed Dahab
Starting with Dahab, probably our most favourite city in the whole of Egypt! It has a small beach-town feel (probably because that’s exactly what is it), super-sweet locals and the draw-card for all tourists, the blue-blue waters of the Gulf of Aqaba (part of the Red Sea). We spent our full day in Dahab snorkelling the infamous Blue Hole dive spot. It is exactly that – a 130m-deep hole in the ocean that is about 22m across with coral walls and an abundance of colourful fish. We began snorkelling at a chasm which drops to blue nothingness in a matter of meters from the beach. The visibility is amazing. We could see about 15m below and around us while we slowly snorkelled our way down the beach until we reached the Blue Hole itself. It was spectacular, although Matt has said that it has nothing on Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef – our next snorkelling trip for sure!

From the crystal clear ocean to the desert, which we drove Quad bikes through for a couple of hours, becoming dusty versions of ourselves by the time we arrived at our starting point back in Dahab. But we were soon refreshed again for our second night along the main strip, a colourful street full of restaurants, cafes and shops. With ‘mates rates’ including massive portions, free starters (a main meal in themselves), dessert and shisha (that sweet-smelling and tasting tobacco from a water pipe), we enjoyed the good life in the restaurants of this small town. Our time in Dahab came to an end all too soon!

Felucca’ing
The one thing you have to do when in Egypt is a sail on the Nile in a traditional sail boat, the felucca! This experience is either a must-do or must-don’t for pretty much all visitors to Egypt. There is one reason why people don’t – the simplicity of the feluccas means no amenities or toilets. But we loved it. Spending two nights aboard the felucca is an amazing way to relax, something we certainly needed after two super early mornings travelling to Abu Simble temple and hot air ballooning over the Valley of the Kings two consecutive days previously. With nothing else to do but to read, snooze, swim or chat to our fellow felucca-goers, our day on the Nile was one of the best days we spent during our whole time in Egypt.

Fit for a King
Valley of the Kings was another highlight for us.  It is a historic sight is Egypt that is packed with the tombs of nobles and Pharaohs, including King Tutankamun. The temples are brilliantly preserved – hieroglyphics and original colours adorn the temple walls. It’s incredible to see the tombs as they were (although without the treasures) when they were used to mummify the Pharaohs after their death and to send them on to the afterlife, which the Ancient Egyptians passionately believed in.

It’s one of the most interesting sights in Egypt, but with it come vendors…. lots of them! In fact, we came into contact with vendors at all the Egyptian sights offering us camels (for a wife), ‘good prices’ and ‘free to looks’. They love bargaining, now as much as ever since tourism has dropped a massive 95 percent since the revolution began in early 2011. They are screaming for tourists, and we wholly encourage you to go! It’s not only a safe, but an incredible country to visit.

The Great Pyramids of Giza
Why come all the way to Egypt and not see the pyramids?! Yes, crazy people do do this! It’s like going to a water park but not enjoying the rides. What can we say about the pyramids anyway… they are awe-inspiring and it’s quite surreal to see and touch them when after seeing them in movies, in documentaries and in books. Go see them… they are cool!

After Egypt…
After Egypt comes Jordan… so stay tuned for the next blog!

Italy at its best

10 Sep

It seems like a lifetime ago that we were in Italy. In fact, it was only 17 days ago when we left and we’ve done so much since. Italy is one of those countries that I don’t think anyone could get sick of. We did a whirlwind tour of three weeks, covering the major bits of the country. Here’s out whirlwind blog to match:

All Roads Lead to Rome
We started in Rome, arriving from Dubrovnik. We did what anyone would do when they first arrive to Italy and set out to experience the best of everything, namely espresso, pizza and gelato (like Caffe Sant’ Eustahio, pizzeria ai Marmi and San Crispino for those who want to try!) We took in all of the sites like the Trevi Fountain (one of our most favourites), the Pantheon, the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, Capitaline Museum, the Vatican and beautiful piazza after beautiful piazza all over the city. Rome is also full of fountains spewing out water that is as chilled as if it was straight out of the fridge, the perfect way to splash your hands and feet to cool off. We also took a day trip further south of the city to Naples and Pompeii; and Rome was where we started at least one pizza or pasta dish every day (a good idea at the time!)

Beautiful Florence
Reluctantly leaving the epic city of Rome, we then took a slow train up to Florence and based ourselves there for seven days while we travelled out to the rest of Tuscany. We explored Siena, Lucca and Pisa and of course the city of Florence itself, not only on foot but also by Fiat 500 (complete with wine, olive oil tasting and delicious Tuscan food). We also got our hands stuck in and covered in flour during a pasta making course (we have recipes to test on you all back home – look out!), shopped for leather, saw David, the Uffizi and Pont Vecchio and most importantly, set our eyes on what has to be one of the most beautiful landscapes anywhere… the Tuscan countryside with its patchwork of wheat fields, olive trees and vineyards, rolling hills and medieval villages dotted in between. Oh, and one pasta or pizza dish a day… still going strong!

Bella Ragu and Ferrari’s
Next up, we dropped by the city of Bologna for a couple of nights. We were there for two things – so Matt could drive a Ferrari and so we could all sample the deliciousness that is Ragu pasta (or Bolognese) in the town where it was invented. Delicious? Yes! Fresh? Oh yes! Fulfilling? 100 percent! Dare we say it, but it was probably the most delicious Bolognese we’ve tasted (although we’ll give it a good go following our pasta making course!) While Matt spent our only full day there speeding along the highways of Maranello (a town close to Bologna and the home of Ferrari) in a Ferrari F430 Spyder at 160km, Steve and I took a leisurely bike ride at, I would say, 5km tops around the quiet city of Bologna.

Venezia
Yet another train and we arrive in Venice. Ahhh Venice… what can we say about it? It’s a city you could visit again and again. It’s romantic, fun, beautiful, historic and just lovely. We spent four days wandering around the narrow pedestrian streets, over sweet little bridges that cross over canals with passing gondolas and their gondoliers crooning sweet Italian songs. It’s a place where you come to get lost – trying to work out the labyrinth of narrow streets on a map is too time consuming – and to soak up the beautiful atmosphere of Piazza San Marco, the epicentre of the ‘floating’ city. It’s a place to take your time, stop for a canal-side antipasto picnic and watch the world go by, which we did most days. And lastly, pizza or pasta a day… starting to wane… a lot!

Milan and Eloping in the Cinque Terre
The end of our time in Italy was the beginning of a very special time for two very special friends. We made a beeline for Milan, not only to shop and enjoy some much-needed down time, but to meet up with Noni and Gez. They were sorting papers for their wedding ceremony in Riomaggiore, one of the five villages of the Cinque Terre, a few days later. We were there as witnesses to this very special moment in their lives.

The cliff-side villages of the Cinque Terre (literally five towns) make a perfect setting for an eloping couple. The special day arrived and after the bride and groom took their separate ways to get ready, they met at the beginning of Via dell’Amore (lovers lane), a 1km walkway along the cliffs which connects the towns of Manarola and Riomaggiore. The day was scorching, but it didn’t stop the fun as Noni and Gez said ‘I Do’ with the colourful town of Riomaggiore as a backdrop. After their Italian ceremony and photoshoot, we slowly made our way back to Manarola for swimming. A celebratory dinner that night was back in Riomaggiore at La Pie Del Ma with a five-course seafood meal that was more than mouth-watering. We were completely honoured to be part of their day and what made such a beautiful ending to our time in Europe.

Leaving Europe
A day after the wedding, we bid farewell to the newly married couple and took the long journey back to Milan and out to Malpensa Airport for the night. We had a next-day flight which would take us to Cairo, via Athens, and what would be our very last take-off out of Europe for some time. Italy had been amazing to us but it was time to inch closer to Australia. Next stop: Egypt.

Croatia – from Zagreb to Dubrovnik

1 Aug

We’ve just left Croatia, an arid but beautiful country along the Adriatic Sea. It is a country we spent 15 days in, soaking up plenty of sun rays, getting in lots of swims in the cool sea and where we certainly made the most of Croatia’s cafe culture, enjoying the fruits of the country like it’s delicious golden olive oil, refreshing beer and wine.

Zagreb
We began by arriving in Zagreb for a night, the capital in the north. We arrived there from Slovenia and it was the first time we had to produce our passports at the border since arriving in Paris a month ago. Zagreb was simply a stopover town for us. We ended up with a few days to spare before we planned to meet Steve in Split (further south along the coast) so we decided to hire a car in Zagreb and head to the Plitvice Lakes following a recommendation by the friendly hostel owner way back in Poland.

Plitvice Lakes National Park
Most famous of the National Park is an area of 16 lakes, all connected by cascading waterfalls. It’s very lush and we spent two days walking around the blue waters and up into the forest surrounding them. Like Lake Bled in Slovenia, it was a nice change to the cities we had spent most of our time in at the beginning of our trip.

Coastal Croatia
After Plitvice, we drove west to the sea. Just before we hit the coastal village of Karlobag, the sea came into view after plenty of winding through the mountains. We were finally there – a much welcomed sight after many hot days… We would soon take our first dip in the clear Adriatic Sea! We drove the rest of the day down to Split, following the coastline the whole way. It was beautiful to drive mere meters away from the sea, only occasionally the road would lead us inland and we would come face to face with the desolate landscape once again.

We finally hit Trogir, an ancient fishing village a few kilometres from Split. We spent the night there – dinner was thanks to the fresh food markets there, while we strolled around the Old Town and along the marina in this busy little town. The weather was amazingly refreshing with a sea breeze, a change from the constant heat we had been travelling through. Perhaps this is making up for the endless overcast days we spent in the UK!

Split!
Only 10 minutes from Trogir is Split airport, where we met Steve the following day. A familiar face makes its way to us through the crowds and its the first time I set eyes on my little brother in two years! We spent the rest of the day catching up at a cafe along the Split promenade, drinking ice coffee and eating cool cream cakes, similar to vanilla slice back home (delicious!) We spent the next two days swimming in the sea, drinking cocktails and, when we felt motivated enough, made the short trip inland to the old Roman city of Salona. We spent an hour or so wandering around the olive groves that now grow there amongst the ruins.

Split’s Diocletian Palace, which forms the Old Town today, is stunning and we spent our nights soaking up the atmosphere at the bars there and along the promenade. The town is quite beautiful, especially when a night-time storm would roll in and we would sit along the marina watching the lightning over the mountains behind the town, cooling things off before a massive downpour of rain.

Hvar
Following three days in Split, we made the quick catamaran trip to Hvar, one of Croatia’s thousand islands. It is known as the lavender island for its lavender fields, which are harvested in June. On our first full day on the island we came across lavender growing while driving around in an old convertible VW Beatle. We could scent the aroma of lavender in the air as we drove along the easterly part of the island. The island also grows and produces olive oil and plenty of wine, which we eagerly sampled and bought bottles of. Sightseeing from our bright green Beatle was a nice way to see more of the island.

Korcula
After more days of swimming, lounging on sunbeds and generally soaking up the island lifestyle, we caught another catamaran to the island of Korcula. The town of Korcula sits at the tip of the island and there are marble streets and staircases which make their way up to the church which sits pretty much in the centre. Many restaurants and bars are located along one side of the town which overlooks the sea, looking south to Italy. Again, we are met with beautiful clear seas surrounding the island. There are hardly any sand beaches in Croatia, so swimmers spend their time lounging on the rocks, diving straight in almost from where they lay as the water is deep enough close to the rocky shores. Just a short way out, we are unable to touch the bottom of the sea bed as we take a dip to refresh ourselves most days.

Dubrovnik
Only a night and a day in Korcula and we are then on a bus to Dubrovnik, the gem at the bottom of Croatia. It is part of the mainland but is separated from the rest of Croatia as the Bosnia and Herzegovina border splits mainland Croatia in two. Dubrovnik is indeed everything you hear it to be – an ancient walled city (about 56 per cent is now reconstructed due to the Homeland War with former Yugoslavia which began some 20 years ago), which wraps itself around a sea of terracotta roofs and marble streets. Outside of that is the clear Adriatic Sea, just beautiful, cool and refreshing, as it has been our whole trip along the coast of Croatia.

There is a lot to see in Dubrovnik, like a walk around the almost 2km of thick walls that surround the city. It’s hot and thirsty work in the plus-30 degree heat but the rewards in terms of the views is amazing. All we see is the complex labyrinth of terracotta rooftops beneath us contrasting with the blue Adriatic Sea. The Old Town itself is full of bars, restaurants and cafes, there is a beach a few minutes walk outside the city walls and a cable car zooms visitors to the top of the mountain which overlooks the city, offering some great panoramic views. We took the trip up to see  the setting sun over the sea and some of Croatia’s other islands north of Dubrovnik on our last night in the city.

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Dubrovnik is also close to bordering countries Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. We took a day trip to Mostar, a small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s the hottest city in Europe and we were met with 45 degree heat. We were sweating the whole time we were wandering around the streets… But it was worth it to see Mostar’s famous Stari Most (Old Bridge) which connects the two sides of the city over the river Neretva. The bridge stood for 500 years before it was destroyed in 1993 by The Homeland War with former Yugoslavia. The bridge is also famous for its ‘jumpers’, local men who jump the 25 meters into the river below. For 25 Euros, we could have jumped too. But the river below is incredibly fast-moving and actually quite freezing… It rarely gets over 10 degrees. It’s true… We went for a paddle and it felt like ice against our hot skin, although it was amazingly refreshing.

Moving on…
We’re now in Rome and our romp around Italy begins. It’s time for pizza, pasta, wine and gelato for the next month! Caio!

today was meaningful

a collection of thoughts, life lessons, and days full of meaning.

Liv Hambrett

An Australian Writer in (North) Germany

I am the world's oyster

Photography, Aviation, Nature, Culture, Nikon, Canon, Qantas, Airlines, Emirates, Airports, A380, 747

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Love for hand-knitted & -crocheted beauty. Proud designer & founder of LN|Beanies and LN|Andes, my two knit brands, my two loves.

...our traveling without moving!...

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w a n d e r l u s t .

it courses through my veins

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Matt & Hannah's Overseas Adventures

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The ramblings of a girl chasing her dream

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Our London come Toowoomba Life

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