Archive for Europe

A Winter Trip To Bavaria

After my last trip to Germany – a disastrous few days in Berlin – I was really excited to visit the country again. And at Christmas time as well; what more could a girl want? If I wasn’t in the mood for Christmas before, after my few days in Bavaria, I definitely am now…

Flying with Flybe

As I may have mentioned a couple of times, Cardiff is a pretty great city. And we are lucky enough to have our own airport which is really up and coming, offering flights to here, there and everywhere or as they like to call it, “Wales to the World.” Which has a pretty nice ring to it. My flight to Munich was with Flybe; my first time flying with this particular company and I would 100% fly with them again. Cheap flights, great staff, and good on-board service, it’s all you need. The best thing about Flybe is their ability to offer super cheap direct flights to different destinations including Paris, Verona, Algarve and wait for it…GERMANY! I mean being able to fly to these gorgeous European cities for cheap, literally straight from my doorstep? Now that’s what I call easy travelling.

flybe

Due to the windy weather, the flight down into Munich was a tad bumpy. However, the views from the plane definitely made up for it. With German countryside peeping through the layers of clouds, a patchwork landscape of fields, rivers and housing suddenly became clear.

Before heading off to our first stop, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, it was necessary to indulge in some proper German grub. Therefore a visit to Airbrau – the world’s only airport brewery – was in order. Pigging out on meats and cheeses and washing it down with some freshly brewed cider is definitely the best way to say “Guten Tag” to Germany.

Munich Airport is less like an airport, more like a country. It’s huge. And it’s got everything. Best of all, it’s got a Christmas Market, or more precisely a Weihnachtsmarkt. And there’s an icerink. Seriously. If the airport was anything to go by, Bavaria was going to be awesome. Due to the pretty ferocious winds, the Christmas Market was unfortunately closed so after a nasty incident involving a smashed mug blowing away in the winds (yes, it was that strong), we jumped in the car and made haste to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

The two hour drive to Garmisch allowed us to catch some stunning slights of the Alps, in all their glory. A milky, colourful sunset behind the prominence of the Alps was simply magical.

 

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Garmisch-Partenkirchen – a film-set city

Garmisch is one of those cities, that Germany is full of, that just doesn’t seem real. That look like film sets – all colourful buildings with cobbled streets and sloping roofs. After a quick walk around the place, familiarising ourselves with its charm, a visit to the Christmas Market was in order. My first, proper German Market was everything I expected. Full of twinkling lights, festive music, sizzling smells and chatting locals, it was easy to amble around and feel right at home.

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After dinner at a local restaurant, it was time to head back to the hotel for an early night and preparations for the next day. And can I just say that, the view from my hotel room was pretty spectacular. All purple haze and soft snowy mountains in the distance. I don’t get views like that at home, I’ll tell you that for nothing.

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A visit to Garmisch of course isn’t complete without a trip up the Zugspitze, or the “top of Germany”. At 2962m, Zugspitze is Germany’s highest mountain and given the right conditions, you can see 4 different countries from the summit. Of course, the day I went was not that day. It is me, after all, and bad luck seems to follow me around. This is the girl who went all the way to Hong Kong to go up Victoria Peak and ended up seeing not the promised spectacular view but a thick, dense fog.

A 40 minute cable car takes you to the first “stage” of the mountain, and the guides are more than happy to fill you in with its history along the way. The cable car was built in 1928 and took only 2 years to finish – considering that they had to dig a tunnel through a honking great mountain, that is damn impressive. We jumped out of the cable car at 2600m and were instantly greeted by a face full of snow. Now, as a resident of Britain, which gets the bare minimum of snow, this was pretty exciting. Although, my decision to wear fingerless gloves was possibly not my smartest move ever.

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We then headed up to the summit after a quick mug of steaming hot chocolate to warm up my shivering frame. Being at the top of the mountain, it was of course absolutely freezing. Due to the ferocious winds and thickening snow, there was no view at all which was highly disappointing but I guess gives me a reason to head back there when the weather is all blue skies and sparkling sunshines….

Lunch was had in Sonnelpannel, a cosy restaurant which was bustling with people and had snowy views of…well you couldn’t really see anything because of the fog but I can imagine that it’s a cracking view when the weather is good. A warm, hearty goulash equipped with a cold, hearty lager was definitely needed and was definitely appreciated. Ahhh, what a way to end my experience at the “top of Germany.”

Oberammergau

Our next port of call was Oberammergau – which is famous for three things – its painted buildings, its history of passion plays and its landmark industry, woodcarving and nativity sets. Similar to Garmisch, the buildings are all perfectly quaint and covered in colourful paintings.

The architecture in both Oberammergau and Garmisch is full of history and interesting stories. For example, the “Pilathaus” was once in discussions to be developed into a supermarket which would have completely changed Oberammergau’s quaint and peaceful streets. This kind of proposition did not go down well with the locals and soon there was a petition with the leading slogan “drink two beers less a year” to save Oberammergau. This caused every villager to spare themselves of a couple beers and instead put their money towards the restoration of the building instead. Such a great little story of community spirit and determination.

So after a brief tour of Oberammergau, we had a little peek into a Christmas shop which had been calling out to me since we passed it. And by God, does Oberammergau know how to do Christmas. It was literally like Christmas threw up. Choc-a-bloc filled with decorations, music, colour, lights, twinkles and shine….it was the perfect little Santa’s Grotto and a great place to pick up some tree decorations for folks back home.

As I mentioned earlier, Oberammergau is also famous for its woodcarving and you can tell this by looking in every window of every shop which proudly show off beautifully carved nativity sets. Having read “The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey” every single Christmas Eve since I was three, I was extremely excited to see a wood carver in action. And it is extraordinary. He had a block of wood and then all of a sudden it was a face. I attempted to have a go myself,  and I’d like to say I found my calling in life and created a masterpiece but I basically just made a hole and then carved off a few slices of wood. Hm. Maybe wood carving isn’t for me then. It was very therapeutic though, I think they should consider having wood carving as part of anger management classes. That would be a great idea.

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Auf Wiedersehen

The next day meant it was time to say “goodbye” to Bavaria. I woke up horrifically early (5.30am) and could not, no matter how hard I tried, get back to sleep – which was slightly annoying but meant that I was up and ready for the day. After a light breakfast with a view of a sleepy Oberammergau, it was time to check-out and get on with the day’s activities.

With blue skies but a thick fog settling around us, we drove to our next destination – Linderhof Palace. Linderhof is one of the three palaces owned and built by King Ludwig – a man who the people of Bavaria at the time, did not like. They thought that he was selfish spending money on doing up castles when there was such poverty in his district. Ludwig spent a lot of time alone and the design of the castle reflects this – for example each room had a small room before it which the servants had to stand in and wait until they were called. The castle itself was incredible. Ludwig was inspired by history, so much of the design has taken influence from previous decades. A very extravagant place, full of colour and knick-knacks and I’ve got to say, a bloody massive bed. Honestly, it was huge. It was basically the size of a small house.

After spending a short time at the Palace and marveling at other people’s fortunes and wondering what the heck I was doing with my life, it was time to head back to Munich airport. After check-in, there was some time to have a wander around the Christmas Market before boarding the plane. Wandering around a Christmas Market has got to be my favourite way to wait for a flight. Perfect end to a perfect, Christmassy trip.

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So, flying back to Cardiff equipped with my Kindle, a cup of tea and a four finger KitKat (luxurious, I know), I was sad to say goodbye to the bright blue wintery skies of Bavaria and the land of Christmas. Honestly, of all days, why did the weather decide to perk up when I’m leaving? This was possibly the best weather for a trip to the Zugspitze! Oh well, maybe next year…

 

 

A Scottish New Year

A nine hour car journey was all that separated us from spending the last days of 2014 in my sister’s home in Aberdeen for a Scottish New Year.

Nine, long hours. Nine, long hours in a cramped car with the half the family. Hmm…now I love my family, don’t get me wrong. But nine hours in one confined place? It was going to be tough.

We emerged nine hours later, bleary eyed, numb-bummed, dead legged and wondering if we would ever be able to walk again without looking like the second man on the evolution chart. By this time, it was nearly 5pm, so resisting the urge to have a quick power nap, we headed to my sister’s flat and settled down for the evening, munching on cheese and crackers and a steaming bowl of delicious pasta.

New Year’s Eve was spent preparing for the evening, relaxing and eating, and eating some more. Myself, my sisters and my Mum headed to a blissful little place called Almondine, a family run cafe selling a rainbow array of handmade macarons. We indulged in the most exquisite hot chocolate which was quite simply perfection. And I realise I say that a lot about hot chocolate. But it really was amazing.

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The evening was spent dining on homemade pulled pork with homemade brioche and chicken marinated in different types of delicious spicy sauces. My sister is literally everything I want to be when I grow up. Homemade brioches? Homemade pulled pork? For Christmas she even made me homemade Nutella. And homemade bodyscrubs for other members of the family! She can do everything I swear. Setting impossibly high daughter standards since 1989 that girl…

After drinking copious amounts of wine, champagne and Mojitos, we headed out to see the Midnight fireworks which were pretty spectacular. Beautiful colours filling the sky marked a fitting end to a pretty great year – full of travel, family, friends and amazing memories. And uni work. And uni stress. And uni panic. Moving on…

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So 2014 is over; a fabulous last few days of the year spending time with family before heading back to Portsmouth for my last few months in university before I graduate. Whilst that is a daunting and slightly terrifying thought, it only makes me all the more excited for 2015 to get under way! Here’s to 2015 and all the memories, good times, and most probably mistakes that come with it!

Happy New Year everybody!

When in Rome…

We arrived in Rome early afternoon, and were greeted by our Budapest friend, Francesco (told you he’d pop up again) who had offered us his apartment to stay in for the few days we were in Rome. After a quick catch up and freshen up back at his place, he drove us into Rome city centre in order to be our personal tour guide.

Rome is boiling. Seriously boiling. I thought I was going to pass out. And burn. Probably both. That sounds like me.

So we made our way through the crowded, hot city seeing all the typical tourist sites – the Colosseum (wow), Roman Forum (wow), the Pantheon (wow), Piazza Venezia (wow), Vatican City (wow), Trevi Fountain (wow), Parliament building (wow),  Basically everything was just wow. You can’t help by walk around this city and be enthralled by everything – how you can be walking down a quiet side street only to be greeted at the other end by a beautiful, elegant building or a beautiful, serene fountain. Everything is just so expressive. So elaborate and over the top.
We decided to pay in order to get into the Colosseum because you know, when in Rome, and it was pretty impressive and definitely worth the extra bit of dollar in order to see it.

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It’s just amazing to see a building which has lasted for so many years – you can almost feel the history pouring out of its walls, it’s just incredible. It’s difficult not to compare it to buildings now, in this modern era, where they are built up and built quickly, not quite like the elaborate and vast buildings that pop up in Italian cities, especially Rome. I found Vatican city truly amazing, however at the same time strangely disconcerting with all the statues staring down at you in a massive semi-circle, but you can see the affect that this magnificent place has on people – with our Italian friend saying “in here, I am a good boy”.

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The next day was possibly the most stressful day of my life. And I’m not even exaggerating. The muck up after the whole Genova/Florence debacle meant that we had to shift our dates around, especially since we had already booked our Megabus home from Paris. However, we were stupid and never got around to booking a train to actually get us to Paris. Which you know, is probably the dumbest thing ever to do seeing as Rome is one of the most popular tourist destination in the world and getting out of Rome at this time would prove to be the most difficult thing to do in the world. Ever. We spent the morning trying to find a train to book which would get us to Paris, however every one we found seemed to be fully booked so with growing frustration we headed to Roma Termini to see if the ticket people there could help us out. We found the ticket booth and headed over full of confidence and eagerness. And then we saw the queue. The massive queue. We took a number from the machine and sat down on the floor in the boiling hot furnace of a station and waited. And waited and waited and waited. What seemed like a day and half later, our number was finally called. We heaved ourselves up and went over to the woman behind the desk only to find that our number had been replaced with another. No. The ticket lady finished talking to the number after us and we made our move.

“Hello” we said “We’d like to book…”
“What’s your number?” the kind and ever so helpful lady asked (she wasn’t).
We told her our number and she looked at us like we were complete idiots and said “No I’m on the next number now”

We stood with open mouths trying to work out if she was serious. If she had seriously waited a split second for us to get up to her desk before she moved on to the next number. If we had seriously waited 3 hours in a boiling hot station in the middle of Rome for her to tell us that we had spent to long walking over to her. She was serious. We hated her. We stalked off and sat down and wondered what to do next. We were not going to pick another number and wait another three hours for another moody Italian ticket booth lady to just go straight past our number and not even talk to us. Full of despair and with our stress levels rocketing, we made our way back to Francesco’s apartment where we spent the whole day trying to find another way to get to our Paris Megabus in a couple days. There seemed to be no route out of Rome which got us in on time. We hit ourselves for being stupid and dis-organised. After a number of phone calls with my Mum who was trying her best on her end to help find us cheap plane tickets, we decided our best way was to forget about Paris and the Megabus and spend a few extra days in Rome before flying out. We found a flight from Bologna and went to book it. My friend booked it, no problem. However, of course, my payment didn’t go through. Not the first time I tried, not the second time I tried, not the third time I tried. I was close to tears at this point, the stress was just too much. My step-dad and Mum paid for the plane ticket for me under my promise that I would pay them back, and finally we were set and organised to leave Rome. By this point, it was early evening and I was starving. Apparently I don’t eat when I’m stressed which is news to me. So, we made our way along the river and had some dinner in a Steak restaurant. Lots of wine and lots of food was the perfect end to one of the most stressful days of my life.

Feeling very hungover and not so fresh the next morning, me and my fellow travel buddy made our way into Rome central in search of porchetta. However, by the time we finally got to the delicious porchetta shop we had found the day before, they had stopped serving which made us very sad. Instead, we had to make do with gelato, so we ambled around eating our ice-cream and taking in the beautiful city.

Our final day in Rome was a sad day. It meant our trip was over. We were going home. We awoke once again feeling hungover and not so fresh (this is becoming way too much of a regular occurrence) and packed up all our belongings and popped them into Francesco’s car. And then he and his flatmate drove us to one of the most amazing viewpoints Rome has to offer – Gianicolo (Janiculum Hill).

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A large piazza offering sweeping views of the whole city made for the perfect end to our stay in Rome. After a walk around the park and a quick dip in the small swimming pool, we finally had to say our goodbyes to the amazing city we had grown to love. We headed to the train station and said our goodbyes to the two Francesco’s (Francesco’s housemate was also called Francesco. Fancy that).

As the train pulled away from the station to take us to our last and final stop of Bologna airport, we felt a flurry of bittersweet emotions – sad to be leaving Rome and ending our trip but excited to head home and sleep in a comfy bed and not have to pay to go for a wee. And to see friends and family. Of course.

Europe, it’s been a pleasure.

Here’s back to reality!

Flittering around Firenze

So after the debacle of actually getting to Florence and finding our hostel, we had a couple of hours to fill before we were able to check in. We deposited our bags, freshened up (as best we could in a cramped hostel bathroom after spending the past 25 hours travelling) and got on our way.  We spent our time wandering around the city, aiming to get to the famous Ponte Vecchio. I have been to Florence in the past and didn’t think too much of it. But this time, for some reason, the city seemed to be more beautiful, more interesting. Despite the mass of tourists crawling around the streets, the city still manages so stay alive with Italian magic and authenticity. Upon arriving at the Ponte Vecchio and seeing it logged down with tourists, we decided against walking along it, instead choosing to head over to the statue of David in order to see him in all his naked, very naked, glory.

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By this point, we were literally walking with closed eyes so we made our way back to the hostel in time to check in. As soon as we got into our room, we lay down on our beds and finally submitted ourselves to a couple hours catch up sleep. Ahhh, bliss.
I awoke feeling disorientated and slightly confused but infinitely better. Once we were feeling more alive and fresh, we headed back out to experience Firenze by night. We ate some dinner, ambled slowly around the city, finally making our way down the slightly less frazzled Ponte Vecchio and finished the night off with a quick glass of vino, in one of the (what we discovered later) the more expensive platzas. Oops. We also discovered that in Italy, they give you nibbles such as crisps and bread and then expect you to pay for it even though you didn’t order it. We just thought they were giving us free food. We were loving it. And then we realised. We did wonder why our food bills were more expensive…

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The next day we headed to Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower). We walked around the beautiful cathedral marveling at its height, its design, its general vastness in such an otherwise small city. The exterior is beautiful; covered in intricate designs and elaborate panels, it’s hard not to lose yourselves in its beauty. What I’ve taken from Italy so far, is that everything is so elaborate, so glorious, so momentous. Gorgeous buildings tucked in amongst small, tourist clogged streets, fascinating designs smothering their walls, making even viewing them from the outside an amazing experience even if you do miss out on exploring the inside (In all fairness, I would have loved to explore the inside of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore but after seeing the queue and feeling the heat on our backs, we decided to continue exploring the streets of Florence, basking in the afternoon sunshine and preferably stuffing our faces with gelato. We’re in Italy! If you can’t stuff your face with gelato in Italy, where can you hey?!).

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We decided to head back to Palazzo Vecchio and sat on some steps with said gelato, people watching and shading ourselves from the Italian sunshine. A mime, Grey the Mime , began a performance nearby where we were sat and he was surprisingly good. Not much of a clown/mime fan me, find them a bit odd, but this guy was actually quite funny. That’s about as praising as I can get towards a clown to be honest. I did love however, how whatever language, whatever nationality his  audience were, he managed to make everyone laugh without even speaking, just with his actions. What a clever clown. Slash mime.

After a full day of wandering around Florence, we made a move back to the hostel. Hostel Tasso was one of my favourite hostels that we stayed in over the duration of our three weeks in Europe. It wasn’t the best, there are probably a hundred better hostels but the atmosphere and the laid back nature of this hostel made it relaxing and open to be in (no, it didn’t have anything to do with the really attractive receptionist. At all. Not even a little. Well, okay. I admit, he was nice to look at).

After three weeks of traisping around Europe spending all our hard earned cash on meals out, we decided to stay in and cook in the fully equipped kitchen. The kitchen was amazing, seriously. All clean and sparkly and white washed surfaces, and best of all a disco ball which bounced off the light and danced around the room. Being a rubbish cook but fantastic wine drinker, I sat on the table drinking my glass of vino and relaxed as my friend went about the business of cooking a gorgeous Paleo infused dish which was so delicious I was nearly tempted to start the Paleo diet myself. And then I remembered that I liked cake.
We sat outside, in the hostel courtyard, with another glass of vino, munching on our food and generally loving life. Florence is just so….ahhh….I don’t even know. It’s the kind of place you just don’t want to leave.

10644841_10154638084885602_6473101834181324144_nWe enjoyed an eventful night of drinking lots more vino, meeting some Americans (plus some rather boring Germans. It was okay, they left after a while and party moral was restored) and making our way out (eventually) to one of the platzas for (another) glass of vino. The night did end however, whilst we were chilling back at the hostel, with afore mentioned attractive receptionist managing to drop my friends phone, cracking the screen and nearly making her cry. It was okay, in return, he gave her two bottles of wine. Because you know, two bottles of wine apparently makes up for a smashed up iPhone screen. Ah well, all’s well that ends well. Well, not for the phone. But hey! Free wine!

We awoke the next morning feeling sad and dejected that we were leaving Florence but soon perked up when we realised that in a few short hours we would be in Rome. Rome!

ROME! 

 

From Venice to….

We weren’t supposed to go to Florence. We had such a simple route planned, it was supposed to be so easy. We were going to leave Ljubljana, stop for a few hours in the beautiful Venice and then head over to Genova, and from Genova we would have a long train trip all the way up to Paris. See? It sounds so simple. We’d even got organised and booked a Megabus back to Cardiff from Paris. We’d even booked our hostel in Genova as well. We were so proud of ourselves for being so organised, and then everything just kind of…went wrong. Completely and utterly wrong. We were so certain that everything was going to run smoothly. But it didn’t. It really, really didn’t. Even writing this is bringing back horrific memories. So this post is dedicated to one day/night. The one horrific trip from Ljubljana to Genova. The one horrific trip which subsequently destroyed our organised route home and forced us to spend yet more money on a plane ticket. But more on that later. Here’s to Genova! (not).

Okay, so it started innocently enough. We found ourselves in Venice train station, ready to explore the water city. We left the train station and were greeted by lots of rain and lots of buildings and not a lot of water. We were confused. We walked up the street, telling ourselves that maybe, if we kept walking, the water and the canals would just magically appear. They didn’t. We resisted the temptation to ask someone where the water was, instead turning to the wonder that is Google Maps, therefore discovering that we were in fact in Venice City, not Venice. That explained a lot.

We finally made it to Venice where it was absolutely tipping it down with rain. I’d been to Venice before and was enthralled by the beautiful canals and the tipsy-topsy buildings but this time, in the rain, it didn’t seem quite so magical. We ate in a restaurant (an extremely expensive restaurant) where we were practically pushed out by the staff once we had finished eating before wandering off to check out the rest of the city. Venice is beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but it was raining and we are incapable of reading directions correctly so we ended up wandering around random streets and walking over gorgeous bridges until we eventually found our way back to where we started.2014-08-23 18.01.542014-08-23 15.05.08

We’d checked our bags into the luggage cupboard at Venice City train station and had to get them out at 6pm, however our train to Genova was at 10pm. So after making our way back to Venice City train station, we got our bags and set up camp on the train station floor, eating our snacks and reading our books. This was all fine and dandy until we got approached by various creepy old guys who couldn’t take no for an answer when we kindly rejected their incessant offers of “coffee? coffee? come on, coffee?”. Ummmm, no thanks kind sir, we are quite happy here on the floor eating our slices of ham and drinking our water.

Our train finally arrived and we made it to our stop over in Verona where we had to wait 2 hours for our connection train to Genova. “Okay” we thought “we can survive this”.
We set up camp again, this time inside the warmth of the waiting room on the platform (it wasn’t warm at all. It was freezing. Really freezing). We wrapped as many layers around ourselves as we could, set an alarm and attempted to get some sleep. Getting some sleep whilst in a platform waiting room in the middle of the night is extremely difficult, yet we still sprang up at 2.15 with the sudden realisation that our connecting train was in five minutes. We panicked, grabbed all our belongings and ran like the hell to find the departure board. We found it, only to discover that our connecting train was not on the board. It wasn’t anywhere. It was cancelled. We screamed internally and quickly looked up other trains to Genova, and found that there was on at 7.30am. Five hours from now. We cried internally. We headed back to one of the waiting rooms and set up camp for the third time and again attempted to get some sleep. We made it through to 5.30am feeling disgusting, tired, crabby and hungry. We then discovered, upon looking at the departure board, that the 7.30am train was also not running. At this point, we were too exhausted to even cry internally, so we sat back down on some seats and wondered what to do next. Being a fairly big train station, you would have thought that there would be some things open. But apparently not. So we sat there tweedling our thumbs, waiting for the ticket office and for the loos to open. Finally, at around 6am they opened (thanks for that) and whilst I ran off to empty my bladder, my friend headed to the ticket office to get some advice on how we should get to Genova when there seemed to be no trains. After a conversation with a right moody mare of a man who told her that getting to Milan was fine, but from Milan, he wasn’t sure of the trains so we’d have to see, she made the executive decision of crossing Genova off our lists and booked two train tickets to Florence instead. And then finally, finally, after more than 23 hours of waiting around since Ljubljana with very little sleep and very little food, we were seated on a train heading to a destination we knew and we loved. After booking a hostel whilst on the train, we nestled back in our seats and relaxed properly. Of course, on arriving in Florence and walking at least 45 minutes across the city in the streaming sun and with massive backpacks, we discovered that we could not check in to our hostel until 3pm.

That was hard. That nearly put me over the edge.

But after a quick freshen up, quick check in of our bags and a quick drink, we shook ourselves off and went to experience the beautiful city.

More on Firenze in the next post!

Sidenote: okay so I just read this back and it doesn’t sound that bad. But it was, I promise. It really, really was. Moreover, the basic thing we took from this lovely experience, was that we shouldn’t be organised and book things in advance as when we do that, everything goes wrong. Screw organisation, let’s just go with the flow!

Lovely Ljubljana

Well, well, Ljubljana was just something else. Despite the hurried decision to extend our trip to Slovenia, I was never really sure what to expect. But Ljubljana has some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen and is definitely worth a visit.

Our first day was spent walking up to the castle which overlooked the city. Possibly the steepest hill I have ever seen but we (eventually) made it to the top, breathing heavily, sweating profusely and to a victorious applause from a group of people who were sitting there. We made our bows and after a slurp or six of water, we continued on our way. The castle showed off some spectacular views of the city so after a quick lunch of bread and ham, we ambled our way slowly around the castle walls. We sat on a ledge, dangling our feet over the edge and taking in the amazing view (sidenote: we weren’t dangling our feet into the abyss. It was a three metre drop..). 2014-08-20 18.29.19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our time in Ljubljana also consisted off walking around the Emona village which is the remains of the historic roman town. Whilst following the guidance of an extremely unhelpful map, we finally found our way around all the key features including the village walls, the church and the museum, where we enjoyed putting on masks, dressing up as gladiators and as a cab driver (the history part was also very interesting. Of course). After our history lesson, we sat at a riverside cafe called Cacao which overlooked the triple bridge and ate the biggest ice cream known to man. It was delicious. I love ice-cream.

Whilst in Ljubljana, we experienced a thunder storm. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have experienced a thunder storm before. But Ljubljana just went all out. After finishing our dinner whilst sitting outside along the river enjoying the sunshine, we felt a few drops of rain. We shrugged our shoulders, assuming it would most probably stop. Boy, were we wrong. Starting to get heavier, we made the sound decision of heading inside the dry haven of the restaurant, sitting by the window and watching in awe as the rain pounded against the glass. Being British and polite, we gave our table up to a group of people who were squeezed around one small table so finished up, paid the bill and got ready to leave.

Hmmm, it doesn’t look that bad I said to a look of dismay from my friend
Oh come on, it’ll be fun, we’ve seen worse in Wales! 

And then…CRACK….the biggest crack of thunder I have ever heard in my life. I jumped a mile.

See? I said it’s only drizzle 

We waited a bit longer and then decided to brave the outdoors, thinking the rain had died down a bit. It hadn’t. Coat-less and umbrella-less-ness, we pushed our way through what I can only describe as monsoon rain, which soaked us right through to our skin. We soldiered on even as we saw people cowering in the safe dryness of restaurant umbrellas and ignored their looks of pity (or was it, “why are those girls so stupid?”). We made it to the bus station and applauded ourselves. And then hit ourselves for being completely idiotic. And then the rain stopped. Of course.
Once back at the hostel, we changed into warm clothes and found a comfy sofa to sit on where we proceeded to drink the most delicious hot chocolate I have ever had in all my life. It was literally just warm chocolate goo. It made up for everything. Man, now I want one. Congrats to BIT Center Hostel for making the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. And that’s saying something, because I’ve drunk a lot of hot chocolate.

Just outside of Ljubljana is Lake Bled. Lake Bled is a huge lake (funny that) which has a small island with a church on in the middle. With pristine, blue waters, the lake offers a different side of the hustle and bustle of Ljubljana centre life. Just an hour and half away on a train, it allows you to explore some of the most beautiful parts of the country. It took us around three hours to walk all the way around the lake, with a few stops along the way, including sitting on a jetty and looking out at the expanse of lake that was in front of us (and making friends with some ducks. Ducks are scary when they want to be fed).
Of course, no trip of ours is done without a dilemma so my shoe breaking whilst half way around just had to happen. I’m not even joking, my shoe actually broke in half,  leaving us (well, my friend) to sit on a bench for fifteen minutes trying to put it back together again using plasters. Surprisingly it worked. I helped of course. And by that I mean, I used my new found foot freedom to dip them in the crystal waters and enjoy the view. We eventually made it safe and sound back to where we started where it proceeded to start chucking it down with rain again. I, having learnt from my mistake had bought along a raincoat so was tucked away safely from the downpour. My friend, however, had not. I did try and warn her but whatever. No one ever listens to Megan.

For all you travellers out there, I would definitely recommend Lake Bled as a top place to visit. The photos don’t do it justice, you must see it to believe it! 2014-08-22 16.53.37 2014-08-22 17.36.14 2014-08-22 17.21.58

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Buda Buda Buda Budapest

We arrived at Budapest train station feeling optimistic and pleased to say, we knew how to get to the hostel we were staying in. To be fair, all you had to do was get in a taxi but whatever. We still knew how to do it without getting lost. “Only 13 euro in a taxi”, the hostel had said “not much at all”. We made our way confidently over to the taxi stand and were instantly swarmed by taxi drivers. Reminiscent of the seagulls in Finding Nemo, they all engulfed us in a circle as they tried to bargain with the price. “Grand Hostel Budapest?” they said, shaking their heads “no way for 13 euro, that’s on the other side of town. That’ll be over 20 euro.” We stuck to our guns and prepared to walk away, secretly hoping that one would take pity on us and sure enough, once we’d turned our backs a little voice piped up “okay, okay, I take for cheaper!” Check us being proper travellers and bartering and stuff….we didn’t quite get it down to the 13 euro we were expecting but still. Clap on the back for us. Our hostel was around twenty minutes out of the city centre so as we drove, we were able to see lots of the city and what it had to offer. And it looked awesome.

Seriously, Budapest is awesome.

Our hostel, The Grand Hostel Budapest, was a small one, a house which had been converted into around 15 rooms and some bathrooms. Despite this, it was really friendly and all the staff were happy to help and tell us the best places to go and how to get there. Our first night consisted off going out to find some food (I’m pretty sure most of our days consist of walking around aimlessly searching for food….) (we realised afterwards that the hostel had given us a whole sheet of paper with a list of different restaurants to eat in, arranged by distance. I seriously worry about our lack of brains sometimes). We headed into the city centre and walked along the river and saw the Parliament building for the first time, and it was incredible. I was not expecting to see something like that, but as I looked across the water, the building loomed, lit up and magnificent. It was pretty impressive.

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On our first full day in Budapest, we again headed into the city centre and spent much of the day, walking (we spend so much time walking. If my legs aren’t super toned after this, I will not be happy). We were attempting to find the park which was absolutely massive and at the other end of the city to our hostel. Equipped with a castle, restaurants and a lake upon which we endured a very boring pedal boat ride, somewhere in this massive park were some roman baths. We had gone to some baths the day before but were left a bit disappointed. I for one, felt like I was in an underground dungeon which smelt. Smelt real bad. So yeah, we were looking forward to going to some baths that had been recommended as the “best ones in Budapest”. We just needed to find them first….

The baths were lovely in comparison to the others, they were big and spacious and there were lots of different rooms. Best of all, there was a huge swimming pool outside which was lovely to bask in in the afternoon sunshine and play “rate the hottie”. Wait, what? We didn’t do that. We are two sophisticated, grown women who don’t do that kind of thing…

That night, we had our first Budapest night out. We went to a club called Instant. Instant is a really cool block of flats renovated into a massive club with loads of different rooms. One of the best clubs I’ve been too, it was so much fun and after one too many we found our way back to the hostel, getting some disapproving looks from the locals starting their day and going to work. It was 6AM to be fair. And we were taking selfies on the tram. Oh well, when in Rome….

On our last day we hiked up Gellert Hill in order to see the Liberty Statue. Being totally unfit and a steaming hot day, it was quite a struggle (not quite, it was a struggle. Thank God for view points) but we conquered onwards and finally made it to the top where there were t2014-08-18 16.26.14he most spectacular views of Budapest. Feeling sweaty and disgusting, we made our way back down after a walk around the top and after a near miss when my friend slipped and nearly fell down a flight of stairs (of course I helped her. I didn’t just stand there laughing at all…) we found our way to the bottom and went on a search for some more roman baths to relax in for the rest of the day. Of course, once we found them we discovered they were only open for men that day. Typical. Feeling rejected and still disgustingly sweaty, we headed back to the centre of Budapest in search of food. Food helps ever2014-08-17 15.17.41ything.

We still weren’t sure on where to go next on our Europe adventure after we seemingly discarded our original route, so after talking to the two super organised British girls in our room (who had booked train tickets and hostels even before they had left the UK…whaaaaat?!) we decided to book a spontaneous train to Ljubljana that afternoon once we’d got back to the hostel.  Why not eh? We seem to be the most unorganised travellers in the world. Everyone else has plans and things booked and mini croissants and chocolate spread to eat for breakfast, and then there’s us. Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee getting lost and stumbling our way around Europe, spending all our money on food and ice-cream and beer. Fingers crossed to us making it through this alive.

After another night out in Instant where we met the Italian Francesco (he’ll pop up again in later posts) and friend Peppe, we made our way back to the hostel in the very early hours (again, sorry people of Budapest for ruining your commute to work) in order to get some sleep for checkout the next day (well, same day. In three hours time. WE CAN DO THIS!).

Onwards to Ljubljana!

Vienna Waits For You

Oh Vienna, you were a beauty. I loved Vienna. It was so beautiful. I found myself walking around humming Billy Joel’s “Vienna Waits For You” feeling all European and Summery (I didn’t look European at all, with my pale sunburnt skin and tourist backpack but I can dream).

After a casual stop in Prague for a bite to eat and a gander (you know, as you do), we got to Vienna late evening so once we’d found our hostel (quite easily this time, we may be improving), we relaxed and had a drink in the hostel bar. We’d been travelling most of the day and after the traumatic stay in Ritzpack hostel in Berlin, we’d both required horrific colds and coughs (curse you French man that passed this to us!). We were both feeling pretty sorry for ourselves, all sniffly and pathetic and in desperate need of a Fisherman Friend. We stayed up for a bit, relaxing in the hostel bar and abusing the free wifi, before deciding the best shout was to head to bed.

The next day, we made our way to Schönbrunn Palace. By God, it was magnificent. After a couple photos pretending we were royalty on top of 2014-08-14 14.11.27the massive balcony overlooking the platza, we ambled slowly around the gardens. I say gardens lightly, it was absolutely massive, more like a small land or you know, a country. The gardens were so beautiful, acres and acres of amazing flowers, statues, trees and plots. We made our way up to the hill overlooking the palace and marvelled at the incredible view. Overlooking Vienna and the palace, it was pretty immense to look at. After staring rather intensely for far too long at one imageof the statues trying to decide what it was made out of, we headed back down through the gardens and past the zoo. That’s right, a zoo. These gardens were so big they actually had a zoo in there. We decided to give the zoo a miss and instead headed to the maze area where we ran around a big (it wasn’t that big really, but it took us far to long to figure out so let’s just pretend it was, okay) maze trying to find our way to the centre. With onlookers who had already found their way to the centre laughing at us from aboard the platform which overlooked the maze, we desperately sought the centre whilst maki2014-08-14 16.22.42ng an embarrassing amount of wrong turns. We finally found our way to the centre and were feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves before we looked over the whole maze and realised it was actually pretty simple. We hung our heads in shame and made our way to the other smaller mazes.
After a day of walking around massive gardens in the sun, we were feeling pretty hungry so made our way to the Big Wheel which is apparently one of Vienna’s most popular tourist attractions. It was okay, nothing special, just a big wheel really…. After some dinner, we decided to give the wheel a miss and instead headed into the funfair. We acted like complete kids going on lots of different rides, laughing, nearly chundering and on one occasion, flashing (I was wearing a dress. And it was breezy. And the ride was super fast. I handled the situation well I think, you know, full of grace and dignity.)
We made our way back to the hostel and got ready for our first night out in Vienna. One of the guys from our room, Cas, deciding to come along with us so after a couple beers at the hostel bar we headed out. We ended up at a club where you pay 20€ entrance fee and then it’s free drinks all night which was pretty good and of course, we completely abused this.

The next day we said our goodbyes to Cas and made our way to Vienna centre for a wander and a look-around. After looking at the massive cathedral, we decided to find a park and have a sit down in the sun. I promptly fell asleep of course, listening to music and getting sunburnt (the sun hates me).
After an uneventful evening of a Mexican dinner and getting tipsy in the hostel bar because we were stupid and couldn’t find anywhere else to go, we headed to bed feeling all merry and even more ill even though we were practically living off Fisherman Friends at this point.

Side note; I love Fisherman Friends, every time I get a cold, I get worryingly addicted to them. They’re amazing.

Anyway.

Budapest, let’s have ya!

Berlin

Well Berlin was interesting.

I’ve always wanted to go to Berlin – from a fascinating history to amazing night life, I’d heard such great things. But in our case, after a series of unfortunate events, we wound up escaping our hostel at 2am in the morning and heading to the safe haven that was Berlin Central station.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Berlin. The city itself, is amazing, and we spent a lot of time exploring and appreciating its history. However, to be fair, it was basically the hostels fault (and our lack of ability to read maps) that made Berlin hard. We didn’t really start off in the best of moods. We arrived late. It was raining – we were tired, we were cold, we were hungry, and we were wet. We found our way to the street our hostel was on and span round in circles desperately trying to find it, wondering if we were on the wrong street. We asked a passer by who pointed us in the right direction. Ah, there it was – a massive sign in bright lights proudly proclaiming the name – Rixpack.

“Hmmm…this is interesting” we thought as we approached the darkened alley leading up to the hostel. “Hm…what an interesting set up this is” we continued as we passed what I can only assume were old bus seats around a rickety table in a small bin area. We were then greeted by a locked door. With no door bell. Well not if you call string tied to a pan a door bell. No? Me neither. “Hm…what a conundrum.” We stood for a few seconds wondering what to do and then knocked tentatively on the door and waited. And then, a man approached, all smiles, and blonde hair and tall limbs. My friend and I looked at each other with the same look on our faces – well maybe this place won’t be so bad after all…Oh how wrong we were.

The hostel itself was a converted prison, although if you ask me, no conversion was done. Actually, they probably have better facilities IN prison. We were in a 12 bed dorm so we walked in expecting to see a full house, but no, just one middle aged man with a mass of curly hair sitting on the moth eaten sofa in the middle of the room. We said “hello” and he responded with a flurried German rant about “always locking door when we open and close the door”. Nice to meet you too.

The next morning I decided to brave the showers. The bathroom facilities were already pretty grim – dirty, small and the one shower I had seen was broken. I found some more showers and hoped for the best. It didn’t work. They were even worse, if that’s possible. As I stood in a small, cramped shower holding a shower head over my hair which occasionally spurted out some warm water, knowing that I was about to step into a dirty, wet room with a pube filled basin, I wondered if things could get any worse. Evidently, they could.

We decided to head to the typical tourist attractions – Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall…however this wasn’t as easy as it sounds. After consulting our map and fin2014-08-11 16.19.44ding the street Checkpoint Charlie was on and actually getting there we failed to find the actual checkpoint. We walked around like headless chickens for nearly 45 minutes wondering if the map was wrong and eventually resorted to checking out the only Checkpoint Charlie related thing we could see – a museum. The museum consisted of a series of tiny rooms with masses of information on which didn’t actually inform us of anything, and more often than not was repeated on other boards around the museum. So after wasting 9€ on that, we were feeling pretty deflated but then, as we left the museum and turned to our right, shining like the lights from Heaven were upon it, was Checkpoint Charlie. Right in front of us this entire time. We nearly cried with relief…and then hit ourselves for being so stupid. After a couple (I say couple, I think it wound up being around 30+..) with the guards (who managed to make me giggle and blush like a school girl) we headed over to the information quarter which basically told us everything the museum didn’t, for free.
We hit ourselves again for being so stupid and then continued on our way. We headed over to the biggest section of the remaining part of the Berlin Wall that was still standing. We walked down down it reading the graffiti and wondering what it must have been like to have a wall separating you from2014-08-11 15.57.22 parts of your own city.2014-08-11 15.50.41

We spent the afternoon in one of the local parks, reading in the sun. After spotting a few people completely starkers in the middle of the park, we discovered that it was in fact, a nudist park, which made for an awkward retreat back to the less naked part of society. On our way there we indulged in some specialty German cuisine – currywurst…probably one of the strangest concepts ever and I’m not going to lie, I think I can probably live the rest of my life without eating another!

Exhausted after a day of getting lost, being wooed by uniformed guards and averting our eyes from naked Germans, we were in desperate need of a drink and were excited to experience the famous Berlin nightlife. This being Berlin, we assumed we’d be able to find a bar or a club almost instantly but of course, this wasn’t the case. After walking up and down around 4 different streets desperately seeking for somewhere which didn’t sell kebabs we admitted defeat and bought Internet in order to find the nearest bar. Finally, we were seated in a cosy little bar having a couple of well deserved beers. Bliss. After calling it a night and telling ourselves tomorrow would be the night, we made our way back to the hostel where we were stalked by a man on a bike and then on arriving at the strange bus seats outside the hostel were set upon by a skinny Italian with a pony tail (no thanks). However, Mr Cute Receptionist was there too so it wasn’t all bad.

The next day we checked out some more tourist attractions including the TV tower which was demanding a 3 hour wait. After hitting ourselves for not being more organised and ordering tickets for things like this in advance, we decided to give it a miss and go catch the last few rays of sun out and about. We arrived back at the hostel and thought it was a good idea to “rest our eyes for 5 minutes”. This meant that we promptly fell asleep and woke up at 10.30 feeling confused and even more tired. We fought through our tiredness and headed out anyway (after being scolded by a bunch of French people in our room for keeping the light on too long. Sheesh, lighten up. ‘Scuse the pun). Again, we made a dismal attempt of trying to find somewhere to go but failed miserably. We seemed to be staying in the only part of Berlin which did not have any decent bars or clubs. Rather than staying out and spending unnecessary money, we decided to get back to the hostel and get a few hours sleep before our 6am train. But the night does not end there….
A couple hours later, we were escaping the hostel, jogging like turtles with our massive backpacks to find a night bus to the station. Whilst my friend (who was on the top bunk) was laying in bed on her phone, one of the middle aged men from our room made a disgusting attempt to try and make her go sleep in his bed whilst basically feeling her up. We decided enough was enough, and once he had finally got the message and gone to his own bed, we packed up our belongings and got the hell out of there. On checking out, we mentioned the encounter to the receptionist but it seemed he didn’t really understand and he laughed joyfully like we’d just told him a joke. Never mind. Sorry Mr Cute Receptionist, not even you can make up for our stay in Rixpack.

Berlin, you have exhausted us. Here’s to Vienna!

 

Amsterdamned

I have just spent three days in Amsterdam and what an adventure it has been! I love Amsterdam – the beautiful canals snaking their way around the city, the elegant houses overlooking the streets, the thousands of bicycles owning the roads – and more often than not getting angry at you for walking on what you thought was a pavement but was in fact a cycle lane..
On arriving at the airport, we managed to (4 hours later and one journey in the opposite direction later) find our way to hostel and after checking in and freshening up, we headed out to explore the city. It being 10.00pm by now, we IMG_6615-2.JPGstraight away wanted to find somewhere to eat so after a good meal we were ready to discover the Amsterdam night life. And it is crazy. So many people milling around, bright lights and possibly what excited me the most, vending machines which allow you to buy burgers and snacks right there in the middle of the street. Food coming out of the wall! Whatever next.
We spent our first morning desperately seeking somewhere to eat some food. After a short ride on a boat, we stopped off at a cafe called Mashua which overlooked the canal. We enjoyed a glass of fresh orange juice and a delicious meal which I wanted to re-eat once I had finished. So good.
We then, after a few wrong turns, found our way to the Electric Lady museum. The only way to describe this place is as follows; a tiny basement room full of things which glow in the dark when under UV rays. Oh and you have to wear some strange slipper shoes which you know, are designed to make the experience that just more pleasurable. Not my cup of tea – seemed slightly pointless if you ask me, however I did enjoy the pretty colours.IMG_6654.JPG

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Our few days in Amsterdam also included a visit to the Van Gogh museum, plenty of rides on the tram (whilst simultaneously marvelling at how many bikes there were), a sunny afternoon spent in Vondel Park where I proceeded to fall asleep for 2hours and subsequently get sunburnt, and of course a visit to the Anne Frank house. We got up “early” thinking we were being super smart and would miss the queues but no, after three hours (including half hour where NO ONE was let in due to an “important person” being in there), we finally made it to the front. Was an amazing exhibit where you could go around at your own pace, absorbing the history – and definitely worth the long 3 hour queue. (However it probably would have been best to actually be organised and buy tickets in advance but that’s neither here nor there….)

Next stop Berlin!

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