Tag Archives: Europe

Now this is a holiday…

9 Jul

As I lounge at the hostel, book in hand and coffee at my side, I feel completely and utterly relaxed. Matt looks content too, watching an episode of Top Gear on the laptop. We’re refuelling after a day in the sun. Later we will go to the pub and perhaps take another stroll around Krakow’s massive and picturesque market square. Or maybe we will get delicious lody (ice cream) or stay in and play a game of pool at the hostel bar. This is the extent of our decision-making at the moment and its so refreshing, a massive change from the numerous weekend breaks we spent in Europe over the last couple of years, hastily cramming in as much as we could see in a spare couple of days. Now as we make our way through Europe at a much slower pace, we feel like we could travel like this forever.

Following a visit to Disneyland for my birthday, of which was even done at an extremely slow pace, we made our way to Prague in Czech Republic. It is a city of beautiful architecture, churches and synagogues, an impressive castle (not to mention the biggest in the whole world in terms of the entire complex size) and tasty food and refreshing beer. The heat completely encapsulated us as we spent a few blissful days filled with sightseeing and eating and drinking in the culture. We’re now in Krakow, Poland. Similar to Prague but with much more impressive and untouched beauty, Krakow features a grand market square – another biggest in Europe (it is 200m square). It is surrounded by cafes and restaurants, St Mary’s Cathedral, the Town Hall Tower and right in the middle, the Cloth Hall. In the town, there is also a castle, a grungy but very fashionable Jewish quarter and medieval streets and buildings. It also has an unbelievable history and a visit to Auschwitz will leave you with chills after learning about the genocide that occurred here. It’s a city which is first on so many travellers lists and for good reason.

Unfortunately and as much as we would love to, we cannot stay in Krakow forever. Budapest, Hungary is in our sights which we will welcome on Wednesday. For now, we have much more laying back to do, so if you’ll excuse us, we think a beer is calling.

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The luxuries of hostel travelling

5 Jul

I’m standing in the small common room that has a table, a couch, a fridge and kitchen facilities. I’m staring into space as I hold down the lever mechanism on the side of the toaster that is meant to click in place to hold down the bread and which ignites the grill on either side, in turn creating toast. I am the replacement ‘click’, standing here, toasting bread for my husband and I. Every now and then, I release the lever to check on the progress of our toast. It’s taking a while…

Matt is sitting at the table in the same common room next to a guy who has cooked couscous and is stuffing it into a water bottle with a teaspoon. He then proceeds to add chopped capsicum and something else which resembles cheese. I guess he is trying to stretch his lunch budget. Right next to where I am standing, still toasting our bread, is one of two bathrooms in the entire hostel. There is a line up to use it, as there is with the one upstairs. They will quickly discover there is limited hot water…

Enter the British girls I share a room with. They have just finished their A Levels (the equivalent of QCS in Queensland) and are travelling around Europe to celebrate. They are bright-eyed and excitable for 10am. They are lovely girls. Matt stayed in the room next door last night and tells me that he tossed and turned on account of the heat so he hasn’t had much sleep. The pedestal fan in his room was hogged by an Australian couple. The other fan in the room failed to work. The still of the night dragged on for him…

This is hostelling as we know it. Our hostel tucked away behind a wooden gate on a small sidestreet in Prague is not unlike other hostels we’ve stayed in. Yes, they all vary to a degree, but essentially, they do what they say on the box… it’s a cheap place to lay your head. This morning Matt asked me if I think we’re getting ‘too old’ to be staying in hostels. He’s 26, going on 27 in November. This begs me to ask the question… how old is too old to stay in a hostel? Even now as I write this blog, there are nine people in the very small common room slash kitchen slash living room slash dining room with us, all most likely not over the age of 22… well, apart from Matt and I. They are nice enough, talking about their studies, their crushes on the character Harry Potter (no, not Daniel Radcliffe, the actual Harry Potter). But they come from a different generation.

As we make our way through Central Europe, will we encounter the same demographic of hostellees? Will we stay in the same room as girls and guys who have crushes on movie characters and not the character’s real-life persona? I think you know the answer. So do we. Still, we cannot deny the fact that hostelling pushes you outside your comfort zone. It pushes you face to face with some of the most interesting, albeit lovely, people. It allows us a cheap place to sleep after a day of exploring a new city, something we’ve relied so heavily on while were using London as a base to travel. It allows you to feel at home by cooking your own breakfast. It allows us to say: “Do you remember that awful/nasty/surprisingly good value-had-everything-we-needed-and-was-an-awesome-place-to-stay hostel?” “Ah… yes, I remember it well.” I’m sure that as we travel further into Europe, our list of interesting – good and some not-so-good – hostel experiences will grow. I do mean it when I say, it’s going to be a fun-filled three months.

Netherlands in the Spring is the definition of colour

2 May

 

Type “tulips in Holland” into Google and what appears is photo after photo of bright and colourful bulbs sitting formidably in their rows in the Dutch countryside; a windmill in the background of a few. Seeing fields of tulips in images on the computer screen makes them seem made up, like you’re looking at a picture of a dinosaur – not able to fully imagine them to be real unless you were to see them with your very own eyes. We can’t vouch for the dinosaurs, but let us assure you that these tulip fields are actually there and the photos on Google are real; of course they are, somebody had to have taken them. But it’s hard to actually know they are real until you’re physically there, cycling past them, taking in the bright colours, row after row, field after field.

Upon glimpsing the first of the tulip fields, we were like Dorothy the moment she stepped out of her damaged house in Munchkinland, suddenly coming into a bright kaleidoscope of Technicolour. We were seeing the colourful fields of the Netherlands and they were beautiful. Amidst all the other ‘colourful’ things you can do in this very easy-going country, making a day of cycling around the infamous tulip fields was high on our list (pardon the pun). For our last Spring in Europe, we had to make a trip to Amsterdam to see the flowers for ourselves. And we didn’t regret it.

 

Berlin will never be Berlin

10 Jan

The history of Berlin itself is enough to draw anybody to visit the city – the Berlin Wall, world wars and the Holocaust. However we were also heading to the capital of the great country of Germany for another reason: to see in the New Year in true German party style. Getting there seemed simple enough – we had booked our flight and well, after you do that, you simply go to the airport, board the plane and get flown for a bit to your destination. That is if you in fact double-check your flight times and don’t assume anything has changed, which we learnt the hard way. After arriving to the airport with more than enough time to catch our 3.30pm flight, we were informed that our flight time had changed and were meant to be in the air and half way to Berlin that very moment. After painfully parting with 600-odd Euros for new flights from Helsinki to Berlin (that’s £5 for every minute we were on the two-hour flight!!), we touched down in Germany. Needless to say we enjoyed a strong and refreshing drink that night. Germany is loved for its attitude towards the need for its people to get merry in a massive tent with hundreds of fellow citizens all dancing on the tables and drinking beer from massive steins (read: Oktoberfest!) – and we love it too and is definitely a great way to wind down after a stressful day!

Burnt holes in our pockets aside, the next day we set off to see what it is in Berlin that so many people rave about… everything. We embarked on a walking tour which took us to the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the book burning memorial and various other historic monuments that tell us about Berlin’s interesting history. There are many memorable sights but perhaps the one that stands out the most is the Holocaust Memorial. It is a massive public space with 2,711 concrete columns standing, all of varying heights and thickness. The memorial is open for interpretation as the artist hasn’t conveyed the actual meaning of the structures. We immediately think of tombstones but after snaking our way through the memorial, the blocks seem to resemble the city itself where the smaller blocks on the outside build up to the taller ones at the end, perhaps conveying the re-building of the city of Berlin. Or perhaps it reflects the popular saying “Berlin will never be Berlin”, meaning that the city is constantly changing and perhaps the different sized blocks indicate the non-constant that is the city. Whatever the artist intended the blocks to represent, he has certainly got us thinking and I think it’s powerful that the memorial could mean so many different things to everyone who sees it.

Another highlight no doubt is the East Side Gallery – the longest surviving stretch of the Berlin Wall. It is basically a 1.2km long art gallery where each section is painted with beautiful graffiti and murals. Each panel reflects a different story such as the prevailing peace that the city now exists in, of the wall being torn down by Berliners and pictures of hope and survival. There is also the small fascination that is Hitler’s Bunker which is buried beneath a car park not far from the Holocaust memorial. We are taken here on our walking tour and are told how the car park now exists over the historical site and resembles the attitude Berliners have towards the tyrant, that he in no way deserves a dedicated place, but just a car park.

There is also the New Year’s Eve party – obviously a big reason why we were here. It is the biggest outdoor party in Europe to bring in the New Year. There was beer, lights, live entertainment, DJs, excited locals and visitors alike from afar, fireworks and all with the Brandenburg Gate as the backdrop – quite spectacular. It is no doubt a very cool way to see in a fresh, new year, one that we are as excited about as the last. I think it’s fitting for us to be in Berlin, a city of change, to reflect the changing of the years.

I wish we had time to re-visit Berlin and certainly more of Germany as it’s such a fascinating country. There is bratwurst, sauerkraut (no matter what your thoughts are towards it, it’s a weird and wonderful food), steins of beer, the fascinating history and the fact that this is the second time we have experienced good times in this great country. Here’s to an amazing new year and Berlin and Germany, we will always love you!

Girly fun in Portugal

20 Oct

There are a lot of places that we would absolutely love to visit but will probably never get the chance to while we’re still living in London. There is just too many places on the list and let’s face it, we’ve had to prioritize our ‘must-do’ list. But when Kristy and Amy suggested a girls weekend to Lisbon, Portugal, famous for its Portuguese cock (no… a symbol of a rooster… just think Nandos!) in a bid farewell before Kristy returns to the brown land indefinitely, how could I say no? Another city to explore and another country to experience, if only for a weekend. Sorry Matt for leaving you at the airport again, but you just wouldn’t fit in on a girl’s weekend!

We were glad we had all made it to Portugal in the first place after our weekend got off to a stressful start. With Kristy nowhere in sight, Amy and I reluctantly got on the early tube to Heathrow. When we eventually had service on our mobiles, Kristy revealed she had slept through her alarm and was only just leaving her house, whereas we had been on the train for half an hour. Thinking that three may become two, we prayed she was able to make it to the airport on time. Out of breath and incredibly thankful, Kristy made it to the gate just before we boarded.

It still amazes me that we can reach colourful destinations all around Europe within the space of a couple of hours from London. Before we knew it, we were making our way to our hostel in the middle of all the action in the capital of Portugal, Lisbon. Even though it’s small, it really does offer a lot as a city… It has a riverside location and close proximity to the beach, temperate climate, gorgeous tiles that decorate the city’s buildings, peri-peri chicken, delicious wine, old-school trams that still run through the city’s old streets, an active nightlife and a beautiful and colourful cityscape to goggle at. It’s a chilled out city, as well knowing how to party into the wee hours, and we could have easily spent more than just a couple of nights there.

The hostel we stayed at offered pub crawls starting at the respectable time of midnight. The nightlife begins late here. Of course we took advantage and allowed ourselves to be shown the best pubs and clubs that Lisbon had to offer. We put on a bit of glam and danced the early morning hours away; repeating this on the Saturday night. For good measure and of course what every girl’s weekend needs, we threw in sightseeing and (a lot of) shopping in between our nights out. Sleep didn’t really come into the equation much, but when you’re in a city for such a short amount of time, something has to give.

We made a trip to the seaside town of Cascais, which also is the closest beach. It was tiny at that, but there was sun, sand and water. We ate olives, fresh-as-can-be bread with mouth-watering cheese and wine to wash it all down in the afternoon and ate peri-peri chicken for dinner. We visited Belem, a short tram ride from the centre of Lisbon to let our taste buds experience one thing, the delectable warm custard tarts that are famous in Portugal. They are said to be made with a secret ingredient and whatever it is, they taste absolutely incredible with a crunchy pastry on the outside and warm custard filling. Definitely worth the trip. We also went on a tram ride through the old town and got a taste of the hilly and cobbled streets. We walked from the bottom to the top of Lisbon for views over the city and chilled out for lunch with refreshing drinks when the weather got a little too hot. On our last day we visited Sintra, a town in the hills not too far from Lisbon. It’s like the hinterland of Lisbon with a craggy castle that sits atop the biggest hill. It’s a gorgeous town with beautiful buildings including a palace and other mansions.

But alas, before we knew it, we were back on the plane heading to London. That thing that has four letters and begins with ‘W’ was beckoning. Well, we do have to fund our girl’s weekends away somehow… where to next?

Time is going too fast… Oktoberfest flashback

20 Sep

To prove that time is going waaayyy too quickly for us over here, this time last year we were flying back home from Munich after enjoying all the fun and frivolity that can only be Oktoberfest. Ahhh… good times. Wish we were back there: http://www.australiantimes.co.uk/travel/cheers-to-oktoberfest.htm

today was meaningful

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

Liv Hambrett

An Australian Writer in (North) Germany

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